Interview by Robin Rose Parker
I would say if you had taken a vote, I would have ended up least likely to succeed in my high school. I was one of the most profane, unrighteous, sociopathic human beings you’ve ever met. I was a therapist’s dream. There was nothing in my early background that indicated I was going to grow up and live a healthy life, much less be a pastor.
I first came to Christ when I was 22 years old and I was a student at UNC-Chapel Hill. I was a chemistry major, and my goal was to be a research chemist, but I’d also been spending most of my years there trying to figure out where there was real meaning in life — through the drug culture, through lots of partying and drinking and lots of other stuff. I had a big Afro out to my shoulders, smoked dope, dropped acid and had bell bottoms and love beads. I was like, I don’t know what God could do with someone like me, but I want my life from now on to be just completely consumed with telling other people about Him.
I grew up in Portsmouth, Virginia, in a Jewish home. And so I grew up in a synagogue. I was not a native Washingtonian, so I’ve had to learn the Washington way. I think one of the greatest challenges in Washington is: Everything is political. I don’t care what you say; people read politics into everything. So we have to be so careful what we say and do that people don’t misunderstand it or misinterpret it. I had a lady one time who wrote me a note in big capital letters: GOD LOVES DEMOCRATS TOO. Exclamation point. I must have said something in a sermon that got her upset. But, yeah, God loves everybody. He doesn’t care whether you are Democrat, Republican. Animal. Vegetable. Mineral. We have to be so careful that we are not perceived one way or another on the political spectrum. If we are, we lose our opportunity to minister to the other part of the political spectrum. We’ve got a higher mission.
When I preach I’m kind of reminding myself what the Lord laid on me and then letting everybody in on it, so to speak. I just think people out there don’t want their minister to be high and mighty and above them. They just want him to be real and authentic and just talk from his heart. I still consider myself to be Jewish. I’m just a Jewish person who believes Jesus is the Messiah. But being raised Jewish, I knew so little about the traditional trappings of church. I came in and didn’t feel constrained by any of them. I think it’s given me a lot of freedom to say: “Okay, what does the Bible say church ought to be? Let’s just build it that way. No traditions hanging on. Let’s do this the way the Bible says. Straight up.”