Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Mitchell Kesller Is Helping To Change Our World

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Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to confront it. Writing this book was scary. Seeing the amount of hate I often get online because of it is scary. Seeing how people would rather hate than love is absolutely terrifying. But the more they do it, the louder I’ll be, not because of who I am but because of who I’m fighting for.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mitchell Kesleer.

Mitchell Kesller’s book Broke The Bread, Spilled The Tea aims to explore one of Christianity’s most marginalized groups and breaks down exactly what the Bible says about queerness through a contextual, historical, and lexicological lens. Bridging the gap between identity and faith is possible when we conclude that perhaps the God preached on the Sunday pulpits isn’t the fullness of who He actually is. For 14 years serving the ministry, Kesller battled with his own identity like many bi and queer individuals who come from a faith-based background; through his personal experience with the Church, marriage, and study, he provides a new perspective on the relationship of faith and queerness.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Thank you for having me! So, I was born in Brazil and moved to the US in ’97 where I lived in Boston for most of my life. My childhood was a bit… different. I come from an extremely religious household with a long ancestry of pastors and church leaders. For this reason, God and church were always at the center of everything we did. Whether we liked it or not, we were at church two to three times a week, and I was involved with every ministry that would have me. There’s a video somewhere of me at four or five years old holding a microphone singing worship at church.

I think there’s a big difference between the Brazilian branch of Protestantism and the American branch that extremely affected my upbringing, such as the level of dedication to religious teachings from a very young age. Although we cover teachings of the basic Bible stories you would typically hear at Sunday School (i.e. Noah’s Ark, Adam and Eve, Jesus, etc.), my branch of Protestantism in Brazil immediately starts deeper theological studies by the time we’re in the fifth or sixth grade. I remember learning high-level eschatology, or the theories relating to the “end times” by the time I was in Junior High — that’s how deep we would get into our studies. Personally, I have always loved theology and took a deeper attachment to it than my peers. Combine that with the fact I was part of the Pastoral family and you can assume that my life had always been looked at with a closer gaze. Oftentimes, this pressure was overbearing. Aside from that, I would say I had a pretty normal childhood, albeit a lot more restrained due to my family’s religious and pastoral responsibilities. I had to be the “poster child of faith” in my church community. A responsibility that was pretty rough to carry from such a young age.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

As funny as it may sound, I was obsessed with Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” These kids faced so many terrible events in life, but they still fought and clawed their way to better circumstances. That series made a pretty big impact on my life, it taught me to persevere no matter how many “unfortunate events” I faced in life. One particular quote has always stuck with me: “at times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough, and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may be the first steps of a journey.” I had no idea at the time how true that quote would apply to my life.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or takeaway did you learn from that?

The biggest mistake I’ve ever made was trying to be someone I was not. In the professional field, we’re always led to present ourselves as this sort of corporate and strict persona that so few of us actually ascribe to. I tried adapting to this kind of persona in many of my roles and positions, but I always found that it only caused me more harm than it gave me any sort of credibility. I learned pretty quickly that the best way to approach anything in my career was to be genuinely me. I’m extremely flawed, empathetic, dorky, curious, and oftentimes very self-critical, but in all of the many characteristics, whether viewed as good or bad, I can be sure of one thing — I put 100% of myself into any work I do. If people can’t accept that and prefer a robotic corporate persona, then my deepest hope is that they encounter some color in life.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

In my experience of growing up heavily involved in the Christian sphere, I also faced disastrous turmoil trying to suppress my bisexuality. It’s terrible to be torn in half when you so deeply love God but cannot control something so innately intertwined within you.

Honestly, I hated myself. I hated myself to the point that I allowed the Church’s teachings to drive me into deep bouts of depression — so much that I eventually tried to commit suicide on three separate occasions. I know the pain people feel when you can’t help who you love and you also can’t help who you are. And no amount of prayers, fasting, or Christian counseling could change that. I still have faith and love for a God that the Church constantly hammers, “doesn’t love your sin.” All of that changed when I started taking my skills and education in theology to dig out the truth of what scripture says about homosexuality. The information is there, though buried deep under the centuries of pragmatic teachings plastered across the internet. You just have to look deep enough, and I did.

Through this book, I hope to share that knowledge with others, who like me have lived a life constantly torn between their faith and identity, and show them just how wrong the Church’s teachings were on the matter and just how loved they truly are.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

One of the biggest verses used against the LGBTQ+ community is found in Leviticus 18:22, “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” For most people who read things superficially, that’s enough to condemn homosexuality, right? In an era of misinformation, we are constantly hammering the fact that things shouldn’t be taken out of context, but when it comes to the Bible, all those rules seem to go out the window. If you read the entirety of Leviticus 18, you’ll see that these laws were being established by God to the people of Israel as they made their home in the newly conquered land of Canaan. The chapter begins with, “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them,” says (Leviticus 18:3–4).

If you read the entirety of the chapter and pull out the historical context of both Egypt and Canaan at the time, you will find that every single item in that list, from the incest to the sacrifice of children, our infamous verse included, they all had to do with the context of actions the Egyptians and Canaanites would take to worship their gods. Once you start pulling historical literature from that time, it further confirms it. In terms of what it has to do with the “gay-bashing” verse, I bring up academic literature that shows how the land of Canaan was infamous for its many temples to the fertility goddess Ishtar/Inanna who used homosexuals and transsexuals as its prized form of temple prostitution. In the context of everything else the chapter is speaking about, it is very easy to conclude that Leviticus 18:22 is quite clearly talking about same-sex temple prostitution the Canaanites would commonly partake in worship to their gods. The sin, was above all else, worship to a foreign god and further through prostitution, where one would hold the power over others who were expected to give themselves up for the ritual. I cover all the alleged “gay-bashing” verses in my book, but this one seems to take people by surprise the most!

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

I talk about this a bit more in the book, but my lesbian aunt had one day called me with a divine revelation she received. She said to me, “God says our family [who are vehemently opposed to homosexuality] is wrong, but so were we.” At first, I didn’t understand the meaning of the message, what did she mean, “so were we?” She went on to clarify that we were wasting so much of our energy trying to provide our family with Biblical facts to try and convince them, that we were completely ignoring the fact that so many in our community need to hear the truth. Her message was the very basis of this book: a book not meant to be wasted on religious zealots who refuse to open their minds to a deeper study of the topic, but on those in our community who need to hear the truth that God loves them regardless and that the church’s interpretations were wrong — not unlike many other times in its history when it was wrong, i.e. slavery, interracial marriages, etc.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I don’t think I can name a specific one, but rather a community of them. I’ve had the pleasure of being surrounded by so many the church would consider misfits or “back-sliders” in the faith, but have some of the strongest examples of faith I’ve ever seen. I’ve had many of my friends relate to me, how they once struggled with our modern Christianity’s salvation by works. To them, you’re only saved if you check off certain boxes (straight, go to church every week, posting Facebook Bible verses, etc.) — but they were transformed by seeing how I lived out my faith and the message of love I preached. We’ve spoken so many times of the real Christianity that’s lived out by Jesus’ teachings rather than a mask put on to please others. Once some of them read my book, they mentioned to me how they were blown away by the truly infinite nature of God that goes far beyond the box that our modern-day Church tries to place Him in.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

To our politicians: stop using religion as a façade for your bigotry. There are countless Biblical verses about how much God despises the oppression of the few of us. Read the Bible past a superficial level and see just how much more your political careers will change once you live out a real faith and not a lobbied one.

To our community, specifically our church community: love as God loves… unconditionally. Adding any “but’s” beyond that violates the two biggest commandments left for us: Love God, love people.

To our society: the LGBTQ+ community are humans just like you. We feel, love, dream, aspire, we bleed the same as you, and we want acceptance the same as you.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the ability to take the first blows for the community you lead. It’s being the first one in line to roll a boulder up the hill and inspiring others to join in on the struggle. That is true leadership.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

It’s OK to be flawed. After living under a microscope for so much of my life, I realized just how wrong it is to pretend like we’re not just humans. We all fall short. We all make mistakes. Stop acting like we don’t!

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to confront it. Writing this book was scary. Seeing the amount of hate I often get online because of it is scary. Seeing how people would rather hate than love is absolutely terrifying. But the more they do it, the louder I’ll be, not because of who I am but because of who I’m fighting for.

Stop doubting yourself. There will always be someone better than you, more educated than you, or more capable than you… but if you have a calling, that calling is meant for YOU. Do it and let yourself be surprised by the outcome.

You won’t be liked by everyone, and that’s ok. There are way too many people in this world with different backgrounds and opinions for you to be loved by absolutely everyone. If your goals are dependent on the opinions of others, you will never get anything done.

Just start. No matter how messy, imperfect, or insufficient it is at first — simply begin. Everything can be finetuned as time goes on, but you can’t fine-tune something that doesn’t exist!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also.” — Marcus Aurelius. Story of my life: first-generation immigrant, undocumented for 14 years, finally gained my citizenship, graduated with two diplomas, and now writing a book. Life is hard, but it is sure as hell conquerable.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Two people come to mind for different reasons. Oprah because she has been an ally back in the days when it was “uncool” to be an ally. Her segment where she defends Ellen and her faith to a studio audience consistently plays in my head when I feel as though I’m fighting an uphill battle in the faith community. David Archuleta also recently came out and faces similar struggles with faith. I would love to sit down for coffee and discuss our journies being queer men of faith.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can find more information on my website or follow me on Instagram @mitchellkesller.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Author Mitchell Kesller Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.