Oliver White, St. Paul minister, named 'Brave Thinker' by The Atlantic magazine

Oliver White lost most of his congregation and his church after speaking in favor of gay rights.
Oliver White lost most of his congregation and his church after speaking in favor of gay rights.

The Atlantic magazine has included St. Paul minister Oliver White in its annual list of 21 "Brave Thinkers."

The list spotlights prominent people who have risked their "reputations, fortunes and lives in pursuit of big ideas."

White, who spoke out in favor of gay rights, appears in the November-issue list -- in both print and online -- alongside Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, Chinese civil rights activist Chen Guangcheng, Supreme Court Justice John Roberts, R&B singer Frank Ocean, and Girls TV show creator Lena Dunham.

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On its website,

The Atlantic

is allowing its readers to rank the "Brave Thinkers," and White is currently in the top 10 at No. 9.

In 2005, White voiced his support of same-sex during a national synod in Atlanta. Within weeks of returning to St. Paul, he had lost two thirds of his congregation. 

Then last summer, unable to keep up with payments on the church because of the dwindling attendance, White lost the Grace Community United Church of Christ, despite receiving $65,000 from supporters all over the world. He needed $200,000.

When we spoke with White from his home this week, he said he was holding up despite feeling distraught about the displacement of his church after speaking up about what he believes to be a civil rights issue to his predominantly African American congregation.

"You can take my finances, but you can't take my faith," he says. "I'm also amazed by having such an honor and being seen in such a way. I saw it [The Atlantic] on a magazine rack and I said to my wife, 'That's a national magazine!'"

Still, even though it has been an honor to be recognized as a Brave Thinker, he said, the national attention to his story over the past several months has also been challenging.

"I have received threats and insults from across America from ministers who have told me I'm not preaching the gospel, and that hurts," White says. "Many of my brothers and sisters are criticizing me because I said it's a civil rights issue. I see a definite comparison. I think people assume that homosexuality is a choice and it's not."

White says he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King in Detroit, and that that experience has always stuck with him -- it has inspired him to strive continually to work for justice for all people.

He and his remaining congregants have been worshipping at other churches all over the Twin Cities each Sunday. They are currently trying to raise money for a $150,000 down payment on church in Minneapolis that they believe will suit them. White is setting a deadline of Martin Luther King Day (January 21) of this coming year. 

"I want to celebrate that day by moving into our new church," he says. "I see that day as a symbol of justice."

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