Friday, July 30, 2010

Can We Be Welcoming and Affirming?

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.


  1. Not long after posting this morning, I received this comment from a pastor in Canada, a Thinking Friend I don't know personally but wish I did.

    "Good Morning, Leroy!

    "Well said! There will be Christians who will disagree, vehemently in some cases, with your stance. I for one along with many others within The United Church of Canada have been 'on side' with the Affirming Congregations within our denomination. A number of our congregations (or pastoral charges) albeit small in numbers have declared themselves to be 'Affirming' congregations and I believe this 'movement' within our denomination will continue to grow. Growth comes when people are educated and become more knowledgeable with scriptures ... people are afraid of change, people need to get 'outside of the box' and look at the issues surrounding gays, lesbians, transsexuals et al. I believe once people begin to understand, they will step forward and be more accepting of different lifestyles."

  2. Here is the first paragraph of a lengthy e-mail just received (and I will respond briefly in a separate comment):

    "I'll have to think about that one. I understand that some claim they can't help their sexual orientation, but I'm not convinced that all are that way, and so I have a problem with that, where I don't, obviously, have a problem with welcoming Muslims at a church gathering...."

  3. I wonder why it is obvious that the Thinking Friend above doesn't have a problem with welcoming Muslims at a church gathering. The New Testaments has more negative things to say about those who reject Jesus as Savior than it does about those who are homosexuals.

    And if there are those who choose to be homosexual, as there probably are, they are quite likely, I believe, to be in the minority. But there are many who choose to be Muslims too, of course, including one of the Muslim wives who attended our church last week, a European-American who was born in rural Kansas.

  4. Not many comments. I hope that means people are thinking about the topic. For many it's not a jump-on-the-bandwagon kind of topic. Leroy, thank you for causing us to think about how we approach and better understand God's inclusive love and how we are sometimes challenged to discern that type of love in our own practices.

  5. Hi Leroy and June wow what a wonderful witness with this one brother. You might check out a advocacy group in our ELCA. They have been patient, smart, and compassionate as they walked through this mess for over 15 years in our church. Thanks for this! Have a good reunion.

  6. Thank you for this post, Leroy. The church that I was brought up in, the Presbyterian Church in Canada, has been unable to cross the bridge of affirmation, despite years of earnest effort by many ministers and lay people whom I respect very highly. Ironically, in light of the first comment, my sense is that we might have crossed the bridge by now if it wasn't for an influx of people who left the United Church over this very issue. I generally agree with LSK on this matter, except for the word "lifestyles." The word "lifestyle" places homosexuality in the realm of choice, as in HUMAN choice, whereas I'm quite certain that it belongs in the realm of nature, as in GOD-given nature. I say "I'm quite certain" because personal testimonies of homosexual people and scientific evidence from neuro-physiological studies are in agreement: homosexual is what you ARE, not what you CHOOSE...just like I AM heterosexual. When anyone now speaks of homosexuality as "sin" to me, I say, "I used to feel the same way. But now I know that a hefty body of scientific studies indicates that homosexuality is innate, which to me means God-given. This is why I can't bring myself to label what God has created a 'sin' any more." Often I get the response, "But it is up to the individual to resist his sinful temptation." My answer to this is, "Since I believe that sexuality is God-given, rather than man-chosen, I think God is honored when a homosexual person lives honestly in a loving, committed and fulfilling gay relationship, more so than if he deceives himself and others in an un-fulfilling heterosexual one. I know from experience that one lie leads to the next, and then the next, and I don't think this pleases God or improves this world."

  7. Sherry McGlaughlin, former Minister of Christian Education at Second Baptist Church, sent these comments by e-mail, and then gave me permission to post them under her name:

    "I am happy to be in relationship with New Song (Disciples of Christ) - a church in the Liberty area that is welcoming and affirming. I think (or maybe just hope/wish) that Second would be more grace-fully open than you suggest, but clearly the current 'policy' is don't ask, don't tell.

    "Thanks for writing about it and encouraging the dialogue."

  8. Dr. E. Glenn Hinson made this comment:

    "It would be sad indeed, Leroy. We all need to study the Zacchaeus story (Luke 19:1-10). If he could include a Tax Collector among the children of Abraham, how can we avoid doing the same for the rejected and despised of our day?"

  9. Leroy, I wish more in the church would struggle to live the faith as you do. Please do not let up in your effort to lead us.

  10. I believe you would find most historic and traditional churches welcoming, but not affirming. This has been the historic tradition of the Church. Most of my gay friends find this acceptable.

    In fact the only acquaintance vehemently opposed to this is an active lawyer with the ACLU who intentionally tries to cause divisions within Christendom over this issue. I am thankful that most gay Christians I know don't buy into making trouble.

  11. One semester in grad school I had the privilege of having the coordinator of the campus Gay Liberation Front for my roommate. He drove home the point that every homophobic verse in the Bible could be disarmed, just as each slavery verse can be. From the fire and brimstone over Sodom to the laundry list of sinners in Romans, there are explanations. For example, consider what Ezekiel says about the sin of Sodom, as he speaks to Jerusalem, "This was the guilt of your sister Sodom; she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy." (Ezekiel 16:49 NRSV) Hardly the modern American definition of sodomy!

    I am sorry to be posting this so late, but I just returned from a trip. This is one of those issues where I must confess I do not speak out too often, for while having a firm opinion, I have discovered that it is an issue where almost no one is subject to persuasion. So usually my subjects are of the peripheral sort, where perhaps some progress can be made. In a similar vein, I argue against lethal injection as often as against the death penalty, even though the death penalty itself is more important than the method.