Progressive Christian message goes viral by speaking to the ‘lukewarm Christians’ trend and in favor of LGBTQIA+ inclusion
by Beth Waltemath | Presbyterian News Service
During the pandemic, the Rev. Bethany Peerbolte was making phone calls to members of the youth group she led as a way of checking in while remaining socially distant. The youth started using terms like “lukewarm Christian,” which struck Peerbolte as “not very Presbyterian,” so she started searching online for their source.
“What I found of Christian content online was horrendous — very emotionally manipulative, very focused on the afterlife and not on social justice,” she said. Peerbolte then decided to become a content creator and speak into the conversation so that her youth group had another perspective. “Pretty quickly, a video of me with a transgender stole went viral,” said Peerbolte. “People were shocked by that and by the fact that I was a female pastor.”
“I smiled a lot when I first heard of Bethany’s ministry on TikTok,” said the Rev. Fernando Rodríguez, associate presbyter for mission of Denver Presbytery, which is sponsoring the new worshiping community she started on TikTok called Our Tapestry. “The internet world is full of a Christian message that is not what the PC(USA) does,” said Rodríguez, who admires Peerbolte for speaking into those spaces with a more inclusive and broader view of God’s love and making pastoral relationships with people who have been hurt by the church or who cannot physically access an accepting congregation.
“What’s fascinating about Our Tapestry is that throughout the nation there are folks asking these questions, that are struggling, that have been rejected by their churches and communities because of who they are,” said Rodríguez, who points out how Peerbolte “creates a space that isn’t limited by geography and ‘does what a pastor does’ by leading studies, making pastoral care calls and follows up with what people share in the comments.”
Denver’s lead presbyter, the Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper, admires how Peerbolte, who goes by “Rev. Bethany” online, engages her 287,400 followers “in a way that is safe, translatable and speaks their language.”
“We really hold this value of that this is a new expression of faith and of God’s love in our world,” Cooper said at a recent event of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement hosted by Denver Presbytery. The 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement partners with presbyteries like Denver through its 1001 Pathways to Flourishing program to foster “ecosystems of innovation that allow new ministries to get their footing and thrive,” according to its website.
“It’s an exciting time because we are seeing not only the investment in leadership in creating these new worshiping communities, but also seeing how they are having a radical impact,” said Cooper. “They then inspire our congregational leaders over new ways of being Church.”
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