Creating Open & Affirming Faith Communities

Earlier this week I was asked what was something that I praised God for. To phrase it another way, what were some things I was thankful for? My first answer was that I thanked God for the open and affirming communities that had been a part of my life like The Well at Springfield, The Wild Goose Festival, and most recently House For All Sinners and Saints. I added a second piece to my answer saying I was also thankful for the people who put in the hard work to make sure that these places exist.

Now, it’s no secret that there is a serious need for more open and affirming Faith Communities (and communities in general for that matter). It’s something that has been written about in great length around the blogosphere and something that has been written about several times on this blog as well. But with the rise of the religious liberties evangelicals and an administration hell bent on screwing over everyone but straight white rich men this work is more important than ever! What doesn’t get written about as much is who is doing this work. Fortunately for people in the LGBT community this isn’t work reserved for saints like Mother Theresa. This is the work of ordinary people. This is the work of ordinary mothers and fathers, of brothers and sisters, of millennial with too tight jeans and baby boomers with too much starch on their collars. This is the work of all of us. All we need is eyes to see and ears to hear as Jesus says.

It’s all too easy when talking about big problems to get overwhelmed or even cynical that change is even possible especially with problems that involve the church, an organization known for slow progress. I understand both of those sentiments trust me I’ve held both of those views. Depending on the day I sometimes still hold those views, but the work that is in front of us is too important to let them stand in our way. Throughout history the church has been know for how they treated the foreigner, the outcast, the minority, and the misfits. Okay, that may not be entirely true. In reality the Church has a very mixed track record with this, but it’s at least what we’re supposed to be living up to. So, on a practical level what can we do to expand LGBT inclusion in faith communities? By and large it depends a lot on who you are and what kind of community you’re a part of.

LGBT People: Show up! (As much as you safely can) it’s been said the greatest spiritual practice is just showing up. I firmly believe the theological work has been done to support full inclusion of LGBT people. There are plenty of books that have been written in great detail on the subject. However, as much as we’d like to think its true hearts and minds are not changed by theology alone. Hearts and minds are changed by relationships. We as LGBT people must get to know people on the other side of the aisle. Within evangelical circles especially there is a lot of fear toward LGBT people. Much of this fear lies in the fear of the unknown and fear of the other. By befriending people with whom we do not agree and by sharing our lives and our stories we are able to undo a lot of the fear based tactics many evangelical and conservative Christian preacher spew from the pulpit on Sunday. This year I had the opportunity to go to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Conference and do just this. While not known for being as a super conservative sect of the Baptist tradition, CBF currently hold discriminatory hiring policies toward LGBT people. At the conference this year I had the opportunity to speak at an open mic style session as part of the illumination project where people from CBF congregations could weigh in on the policy. I’m happy to say most of the people that spoke we’re overwhelmingly in support of doing away with the outdated hiring policy. Person after person, both LGBT and ally fearlessly shared their story of how this sort of discrimination had affected them. My voice shook, but I shared anyway. This is what it takes to enact change. Stories change Hearts. With that being said please DO NOT mishear me here NEVER EVER put yourself in a situation where your emotional or physical safety may be put in jeopardy. It’s a sad reality that there are plenty of churches that are just plain unsafe form LGBT people, and there are plenty of LGBT people still recovering from trauma caused by a church that treated them poorly. That is not our fight. Always take care of yourself first.

Allies; this is why we need your help. Many hands make light work, and this is no exception. It is crucial to have allies speak up both along side of their LGBT brothers and sisters and in the places where it is still unsafe for us to go. Being an alley takes many forms and even small actions can have an impact. For starters do small things like speaking up if someone makes a homophobic statement around you. Even if it seems like a small thing don’t let stuff like that slide. You never know who’s listening or who will notice. Get involved in your church leadership. If your church has a session or elders try to get nominated. These groups are often the main decision makers for what goes on within the church. This is where your voice as an ally can really make an impact. Check your churches website and/or Facebook page. Is inclusive language used anywhere on the page to let LGBT people know that your church is welcoming? If not, find out why or propose more inclusive language be added to the site. Find out if your church has made any changes to become an open and affirming church. If not the United Church of Christ has great resources for this, and no having a sign saying “All are Welcome” does not Check either of these boxes. Personally anytime I one of these signs my first thought is “Yeah, sure they are…” 

If your church has already taken steps to become open and affirming, first off awesome! That’s a great start! Second, does anyone actually know about it? This is an odd circumstance I’ve encountered relatively frequently. A church will go through steps to become a more open and affirming congregation, but not do anything to make this known to the larger community/town/city where the church is located. I’m not sure if this is done to avoid conflict from the more conservative and outspoken members of the community or if it’s simply an over-site on the part of church leaders. Either way it’s damaging. It’s a lot like buying a wheel chair accessible van then using it to drive for Uber. If the right people aren’t aware of what you have then it doesn’t do much good. There are many ways to show that your church is an ally to the LGBT community here are just a few ideas

  • Add your church to a database for LGBT affirming church. It’s Super helpful for LGBT people looking for a faith community
  • Hang up a rainbow flag or two, and don’t tell the conservative members its to do with Noah’s Ark either.
  • March in your city’s pride parade. While it’s becoming more and more common to see churches in pride parades it’s equally as common to see groups protesting along the route.
  • Partner with a local LGBT charity. Charities in general can always use a few more hands or a little extra financial help and LGBT charities are no different.

These are just a few options of many different things we can all do. The important thing is not so much how exactly we go about challenging injustice and initiating change it’s that we do it. LGBT people have the highest rate of suicide of any group. There is no doubt much of this stem from being ostracized by their families and their peers. Much of that comes from toxic theology. LGBT teens make up the majority of homeless youth. Most of whom have been tossed out by their religious parents. This is also a direct result of toxic theology. The Bible says we as Christians we are produce good fruit. The fruit of this theology is rancid. We must do better. With the new year upon us I’m hopeful 2018 can be a year of change. If we all picked out just one or two things to do to move the needle toward full LGBT inclusion imagine the impact we could make.

– Cody

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