"All Are Welcome" . . . isn't enough
Open and Affirming (O&A) is an official designation of church congregations that affirms full inclusion of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons (LBGT) in the church's life and ministry. NCC is currently going through an educational process about Open & Affirming. Our O&A study group has been learning what being open and affirming really means and why its important. We have always been a church that respects people with different views and that is what makes us stand apart from many other churches. We believe that the Church envisioned by Jesus Christ is a place where absolutely everyone has the opportunity to connect with him. What Christ calls us to do is not supposed to be easy. We doubt that His vision for Church includes members gather in segregated rooms, each of us choosing the room where everyone looks like us, agrees with us and enjoys the same music we do. LGBT people of faith often experience emotional and spiritual injury in churches that condemn their capacity to love God and want to be in community. Because they've learned that "All Are Welcome" usually doesn't apply to them, they can't assume that any church will be safe for them and their families.
Down through history, many churches have been exclusive rather than inclusive, despite Jesus' desire to the contrary. Exclusions have applied to women, African Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, people with special needs, senior citizens, singles, mentally ill and many others At times, church history has been down right discriminatory. I think most of us can think back into our lives and have seen examples of some type of discrimination. North Community Church (NCC) has always tried to be an inclusive church to those who enter its doors.
A story told by Rev. Angela Denker: 'A friend of mine once told me he was desperate to find a church where he could not only worship but perhaps join the choir and get involved with music ministry. He brought his friend, another professional musician, to check out area churches. They found one they liked and were surprised when the minister asked them into his office. Ascertaining that they were both, indeed, gay, the minister said: "Well, you can attend. But just sit in the back row."' Too many of us have seen these types of stories in the news, where the congregation saw single folks and irrelevant. The congregation that scorned Spanish-speaking immigrants. The place that found people with special needs disruptive.
Fortunately, many churches are becoming aware of the way they had been contradicting the primary, freeing message of the Gospel: that all may be one in Christ Jesus and that there is no longer Gentile or Jew, man or woman, black or white, slave or free, gay or straight, rich or poor. . . (from Galatians 3:28). Churches need to become inclusive rather than exclusive and many hit upon a simple formula - expressive slogans. They added "All Are Welcome" to everything they published and made WELCOME the center of all they do. The problem is that churches don't always practice what they preach. Many churches say all are welcome, but don't plan for anyone new actually coming. In going down the list of things a church should do to truly be "welcoming," NCC does welcome people in our bulletin, at the door, tell new people how to take communion, after church during coffee hour, by sticking our hand and saying our name first. But we realize that more could always be done, if we take the time to think about it. Unfortunately, "All Are Welcome" in some church bodies has meant that abusive priests and pastors have been allowed to shuttle from one congregation to another. All Are Welcome in some churches has meant that for decades a small cadres of bullies has been allowed to dictate the tone and timbre of the congregation. No church is grand enough to be the right church for every single person. Churches, like Christians, are encouraged to discern their spiritual gifts and how these gifts might serve the needs of their community.
As stated above, the O&A Committee is learning that "All Are Welcome" is not enough for the LGBT community as is certainly true for other communities of people that may be different from the so called mainstream. The O&A process is just an extension of what our church already tries to do - be open minded, accept one another as Christ accepts us, respect differences.
*Some of the content in this writing is taken from an article published in the Sojourners Magazine by Rev. Angela Denker, Nov 11, 2014.