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Chris Stedman’s mother rifled through her teenage son’s diary and read about his struggles with homosexuality. But unlike many other parents, her response was to introduce Stedman, who had been going to an anti-gay evangelical church, to a local pastor at a progressive church. ”He gave me a different, affirming perspective on homosexuality and Christianity,” Stedman says.
So while initially angry at his mother’s violation of his privacy, Stedman couldn’t stay mad for long. ”I was very fortunate, actually, that my mother found out what was happening and intervened,” he says. ”I think she really sped up the process for me.”
(Photo by Alex Dakoulas)
Stedman, who grew up in an ”irreligious” home in Minnesota, turned to evangelicalism as a pre-teen in an effort to cope with his parents’ divorce and to find a sense of community among his school’s ”popular kids for whom life seemed really easy.” These days, the 26-year-old Stedman describes himself as ”ethically and philosophically a humanist, but I use the term atheist a lot because it needs to be de-stigmatized.”
And that is Stedman’s chief focus, as the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University. He helps non-religious students with their personal struggles, as well as engaging them in discussion with their religious colleagues. ”I think a lot of people, especially millennials, are just sick of the cable news style of discourse where people just shout past one another and don’t even really listen to what the other person is saying,” he says.
Stedman seeks to reclaim the word ”atheist” in much the same way the LGBT movement has made the word ”queer” less offensive. Stedman, who will talk about his work at the Newseum next Thursday, May 23, titled his new memoir Faitheist — its subtitle: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious — as one signal he’s more open to the faith community than many other, more vocal atheists.
Says Stedman: ”[Being] a faitheist means that I have faith in humanity’s ability to transcend our differences over questions like, ”Does God exist or not?” I have faith in our ability to have a different kind of conversation about religion.”
Chris Stedman speaks Thursday, May 23, at 7 p.m., at the Knight Conference Center at the Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. Free, but limited space. Call 888-639-7386 or visit newseum.org.