The Kansas City Coalition of Welcoming Ministries is a network of organizations promoting “dialogue within the faith community on the inclusion of all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.” On July 26 I attended the monthly meeting of the KC Coalition for the second time.
There are many denominational groups working to help churches become “welcoming and affirming.” They include Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, GALA (Gay & Lesbian Acceptance, Community of Christ), GLAD (Gay, Lesbian & Affirming Disciples Alliance, Disciples of Christ/Christian Church), Integrity USA (Episcopal Church), More Light Presbyterians, Open and Affirming (United Church of Christ), and Reconciling Ministries Network (United Methodist Church). There are others.
In spite of these several organizations, except for the UCC the vast majority of the churches in other denominations are not welcoming and affirming, and at this point most of them probably have no intention of becoming so. But as knowledge about and understanding of gay/lesbian persons is increasing, more and more Christians are seeing their responsibility to become welcoming and affirming.
On July 25, the church of which I am a member had a welcome luncheon for four Muslim families, a lunch provided by fellow church member Ed Chasteen and his HateBusters organization. June and I were happy to attend the luncheon and to welcome our church’s guests. The purpose of the meeting was dialogue, not conversion, but I have no problem with our church welcoming and accepting people with other than Christian faith commitments.
But it saddens me to think that our church would be reluctant (or would refuse) to welcome gay and lesbian persons in a similar manner, even if (or maybe especially if) they were Christians. Our church’s position, it seems, is pretty much “don’t ask, don’t tell.” There are probably gay and lesbian persons who attend our church services, but they can’t be open about their sexual orientation the way our Muslim guests could be open about their religious identity.
Many gay and lesbian Christians have a difficult time maintaining their faith, for opposition and criticism (condemnation) is rampant, especially in the church and by Christians. For that reason I am a supporter of persons such as Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge. Candace (b. 1965) grew up as a Southern Baptist PK (preacher’s kid), left the church when she came out as a lesbian at the age of 17, came back to Christian community through a Metropolitan Community Church in Atlanta, graduated from the Candler School of Theology, and is now associate pastor of the Garden of Grace [there’s that word again!] United Church of Christ in Columbia, SC.
Rev. Chellew-Hodge is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians and is also the founder of “Whosoever: An Online Magazine for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Christians.” (If you know of gay or lesbian Christians who are struggling with their faith, these would be helpful materials.)
On her webpage, Candace says she is available for speaking engagements. I hope at some point she will receive an invitation to speak in the Kansas City area. But if she came to visit at my church, I am afraid she would not be publically welcomed or affirmed. And I find that very sad.