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There’s no doubt about it. She transformed the religious service experience for many thousands in Metropolitan Detroit. Now, after six years, Marianne Williamson, the international lecturer and best-selling author, is moving on.
“I leave with a lot of love in my heart for many, many people,” she told Between The Lines on Sunday. “I’ll be coming back regularly to speak – at least once a month – so I don’t feel like I’m really leaving the community.”
But in a physical sense she is, in fact, leaving, selling her Grosse Pointe home and moving to the Big Apple.
“Each of us has an internal navigating device, and I was pretty surprised when mine led me to Detroit,” Williamson said. “I’ve lived in California and New York for most of my adult life, so either one feels like going home to me. I’m pretty much a gypsy at heart.”
Detroiters, for the most part, where thrilled when the gypsy, whom right-wing fundamentalists lovingly refer to as a “new-age guru,” made the move to Motown in 1998. As senior minister of Warren’s Church of Today, which had been struggling to find its footing since the death of founder Jack Boland in 1992, Williamson gave the church a much-needed revamp. She called for the formation of a thumping gospel choir – the perfect counterpoint to her soft-spoken metaphysical lectures – and preached a sound spiritual message that strongly resonated with African-Americans and LGBTs, who flocked to the church en masse.
Her vision for the church, however, was bigger than its Christian-based roots and a rift formed as Williamson worked to pull the church out of the Unity movement and transform it into an interfaith resource center. Eventually, after five years, she stepped down as senior minister but continued to lecture there frequently, until the end of 2003 when things escalated so drastically downward that Williamson, via a statement on her website, said she had been banned from the church and told she’d be considered a trespasser should she step foot on its property again.
“Those with eyes to see can pretty much tell what happened there,” Williamson said after much consideration, clearly still not comfortable discussing her departure from the church at all. “There are those who don’t choose to see it, but I have no power over that. I just want to leave Detroit remembering the good and learning from the bad. I preach forgiveness, after all. As long as I practice what I preach, I’ll be fine.”
She also preaches miracles, and like the mythical phoenix, Williamson’s congregation was reborn when she began holding bi-monthly services at the Marriott in downtown Detroit at the start of the year. After several highly successful months, she moved to the Royal Oak Music Theatre, where she will continue to hold services once or twice a month for the foreseeable future. And as she leaves for New York, her future looks busier and brighter than ever. She’s just finished her tenth book, “The Gift of Change,” which is due out in November. She has lecture dates scheduled well into next year and several of her lecture tapes will be available on iTunes by the end of the year.
Her biggest passion, though, is undeniably the proposed Department of Peace, a cabinet-level position within the executive branch of government that she has been promoting for some time.
“Its sole purpose would be to research, articulate and facilitate nonviolent solutions to domestic and international conflicts, and then present those options to the president,” Williamson explained. “We need to become as sophisticated in the ways we wage peace as we are currently sophisticated in the ways we wage war; we need a peace academy as much as we need a military academy. The forces of peace are as powerful as the forces of war, but we don’t yet harness them, leverage them or in many cases even acknowledge them. Until we do, violence will continue to plague us, and it will get much worse.”
Williamson is finally making some substantial headway with the concept, and she’s calling on all like-minded individuals to lend their support to the cause.
“So much is going on, and Michiganders are doing such a wonderful job,” she continued. “Congressman John Conyers and Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick are co-sponsors of the bill. People can read more about it at www.dopcampaign.org. Everyone has a role to play, getting the word out there and turning this idea into reality. I spoke at a meeting of the House of Commons in England a couple of months ago, and will be going there again next year. There is an effort in the United Kingdom to establish a Ministry of Peace, which would be much like our Department of Peace. So there’s a global movement to bring a deeper peacemaking conversation to the table. Peace is more than the absence of war, just as health is more than the absence of sickness. Those of us who understand that perspective have a lot of work to do to bring that worldview to the forefront of American consciousness.”
Then there’s her latest passion: the upcoming election in November.
“I think this is an all-hands-on-deck type of moment in America’s history,” Williamson said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a more important election, or a greater need for the average American to wake up and smell the coffee. The gay community has already had a brush with the right-wing fanaticism of this current administration, so I would think I’m preaching to the choir here. The proposed amendment to ban gay marriage was typical of the Bush administration’s perspective on American life. Four more years would be disastrous, in my opinion.”
Williamson, herself, supports marriage equality for gays and has performed several commitment ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples.
“Whether or not you get married does not affect my life in any way; and yet it can affect yours profoundly,” she said. “To me, being an American means everybody has the freedom to live as they wish to live as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. And I believe the founders of this country did not intend religious dogma to be inserted into governmental policy.”