Michael Adee, Ph.D.

When we create our stories each week, one of the most agonizing decisions is what to call people. How do you distill a life—in the case of our storytellers, an otherworldly life—into the three or four words of a title scroll?

A growing number of Americans—maybe you among them—consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” These “nones” who don’t identify with any formal religious group, are fleeing from organized religion. So where do those hungry for spiritual nourishment go? What common spaces do we have to support both renewal and action? How can the next generation of leaders learn wisdom from elders who refuse to separate the sacred from the secular? Here, we are in a deep spiritual crisis.

And there, Kirkridge Retreat & Study Center stands. In quiet dignity on the side of a mountain simply whispering, “I’m here.” As its motto states, Kirkridge is “a place to be, and to become, a people of hope, compassion, justice and service.” I came to Kirkridge Retreat Center to capture some of the stories that surround this sacred site as it celebrates its 75th anniversary.

When I arrived, I could feel the words of Kirkridge leader Father Daniel Berrigan vibrate across the beautiful vistas of the Delaware Water Gap: This was a place that welcomed “the widest (and wildest) variety of human. No outsiders, no pariahs, no stigma – an utmost, unforced hospitality. A place shaped like a heart.” Berrigan needed this place more than most. Here, he found the solace and renewal necessary to live out his convictions. Not the least of which was leading an anti-war movement against crushing detractors, many within his own faith. You can almost feel his famous “don’t just do something, stand there” quote emerging as he gazed out over the mountains.

Stepping into the main Kirkridge gathering space, the residue of the love and the yearnings, the reckoning and the joy that have marinated in this sacred space for decades penetrated my body. In a fleeting moment of transcendence, I felt them gathered in circles, swimming below the noise, opening to what makes us human. Let’s just say those walls hold some good freakin’ juju.

Over its 75 years, Kirkridge has lived into that mission by contributing to and shaping the major peace, equality, and social justice movements of that time. But to say that it was at the forefront of LGBT equality movement is an understatement. Our first storyteller hosted a retreat celebrating 40 years of LGBT faith and love at Kirkridge. It’s that ongoing story of faith and love that we share with you here.

My first conversation of what we hope will be a long and loving relationship with Kirkridge is with human rights advocate MICHAEL ADEE. As an openly gay leader in the Presbyterian Church USA, Adee has played a key role in shifting the church culture and doctrine to be more inclusive of the LGBT community.

Since, as we joked, that wasn’t hard enough, when he saw the changes the Presbyterian Church USA was making, he considered what impact that would have in the global church. In more than 70 of these countries, homosexuality is illegal, and in a handful of them, having a same-sex relationship is a crime punishable by death.

When the west exported colonialism, its systems of patriarchy, racism, and homophobia came along with it. Central to Michael’s work is shining a light on the truth hidden beneath the layers of colonialism: the innate beliefs in these cultures show evidence of being inclusive and accepting of gender and sexual variation.

So not only is homophobia imported from the west, but the ancient indigenous wisdom from places as far reaching as Ghana, Peru, and India hold blueprints for an embrace of our differences, and at its core, for a truly just and equitable society.

How staggeringly, breathtakingly hopeful. As Gloria Steinem writes, “what is can be again.”

Michael’s is a story of widening circles, ever expanding, like Dan Berrigan’s, to include “the widest (and wildest) variety of human.”

Adee begins our conversation sharing his experiences coming out in a conservative, southern, religious community. Drawing on early instances of love and acceptance from his parents enabled him to walk the difficult journey towards his truth.

Then he widened his circle. His intimate understanding of the struggles of LGBT Christians fueled his compassionate advocacy to help the Presbyterian Church USA be more accepting so others wouldn’t have to struggle as he did to bring wholeness to their worship.

Then he widened his circle further still.

He talks about the responsibility he feels as a white, Christian, western man to undo some of the damage done by colonialism. Not to fix or save, but to stand by his fellow advocates for sexual justice in some of the most socially conservative countries on the planet. With each outward step to love his neighbor as himself, it gets more dangerous and the stakes get higher.

But with each expansion, Michael Adee’s widening circles bring brighter and brighter light. Follow Michael’s work at The Global Faith and Justice Project: www.lgbtglobalfaith.org

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