"We are less when we don't include everyone." - Stuart Milk
I came across this article just the other day, and it was a serendipitous discovery as I was also thinking of Stanley Congregational Church's celebration on March 16th of being an Open and Affirming church for ten years:
Evangelical Churches Refine Message On Gay Issues
I found this article interesting, because for all it says I still don't see a refinement on the issue of homosexuality and the Bible expressed by the Evangelical church as the article reads.
At the end of the day, in the Evangelical church's view homosexuality is still sinful and there is still a Biblical foundation for that claim to be found in Leviticus and in Romans if one is in any way a Biblical literalist. It's easy to do, and its right there on the page.
This is a profound difference from the viewpoint of my denomination, The United Church Of Christ. It is also a profound difference from the viewpoint of those churches and bodies within the UCC that opt to publicly designate themselves as Open and Affirming, and it is also a profound difference from my own personal viewpoint; so the UCC is a good fit for me.
I think most churches, including the Evangelical churches described in the article, would identify themselves as "welcoming", "friendly", "open" to everyone. All of our private prejudices aside (and we all have them), most of our churches do their best to live up to this description in the way they welcome people and include them in their community of faith.
What I take from the article is that many Evangelical churches are now doing the hard work of being open and welcoming to the LGBT communities around them...but these churches still regard the sexual orientation of their LGBT neighbors as sinful; just not sinful enough to garner special condemnation next to other "sinful behavior" also mentioned in the Bible.
Perhaps that's a small step in the right direction, but from my personal and theological view it is still fundamentally wrong. And that is why the "Affirming" part of the O&A designation is so incredibly important.
To be not only open, welcoming and inclusive but also to affirm, to validate that inclusion is a profoundly different thing. It says that we are not only an open and inclusive church, but that we affirm that our LGBT sisters and brothers are wonderful, miraculous children of God like every other person, are affirmed just as they are, and are welcome in the pews, the Sunday school classroom, in church leadership and in the pulpit.
There is nothing wrong or sinful in one's sexual orientation - period.
What is sinful is behavior, the ways that we so horribly alienate and mistreat those that we identify as the "Other" or somehow different than ourselves. We create all manner of evil and violence to enact on those that we cast in such roles, too often in the name of religion, and all I can wonder is how often we must break God's heart in such ways before we truly begin to understand who Jesus was and what his message was all about.
Jesus was not only open to those that his society cast aside or condemned, but he also affirmed them. He affirmed them as beloved, as blessed, as special and most certainly not forgotten in the eyes and heart of God. He embraced children, he touched the unclean, he healed on the Sabbath, he welcomed and valued women in his company, and he shared God's healing and restorative presence with both Jew and Gentile.
Just as powerfully, he had strong words for those that self-righteously felt they were part of the "In" crowd, or those who somehow felt entitled to receive good things before others. Through Jesus, we get a clear glimpse of exactly what God's heart is on the matter of not only being welcoming and open, but also affirming and life-giving. We are called, in equal measure, to be both.
I'm proud to belong to a local church and a national denomination that dedicates itself to this crucial, loving work. It isn't always easy or painless, but The Way never has been. Yet, if we profess to follow the carpenter from Nazareth, it is the path we are compelled to follow.
Rev. Shawn Garvey was born in Concord, NH and has lived in various parts of the Northeast US, now located in New Jersey and is serving as Senior Minister of Stanley Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Chatham, NJ.
You can find more of his posts at his website: Reflections of The Rev