The church where I’m the Associate Pastor (First Christian Church in Minneapolis) is considering becoming an official Open and Affirming Congregation in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The congregation has a long history of welcoming gay and lesbian folk into the life of the congregation, so in many ways they have been a living example of being Open and Affirming. I wrote this for the church newsletter sharing why the church should take this next step. My one frustration is that I really didn’t do as good a job on making a theological case. The text is below.
So, What’s the Big Deal?
At the April board meeting, a proposal was put forward to have First Christian become officially an Open and Affirming congregation. For those who are unaware, Open and Affirming is a network of churches within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that openly welcome gays and lesbians.
This isn’t the first time First Christian has considered this. Whenever the issue has been brought up, there is a common refrain that I hear: “we already welcome gays and lesbians. Why do we need make this step?”
I understand this because I’ve seen how you have lived out your welcome to everyone that enters the door of the church. You have welcomed gay and lesbians to not only worship and participate in the life of the congregation, but you have also supported having LBGT persons in positions of leadership. Speaking as an openly gay man, I am ever thankful for your acceptance of me and allowing me to be one of your ministers. So, I don’t doubt for a moment that you while you might not wear the name “Open and Affirming” on your sleeves, you live it out in your daily walk. You truly believe that God welcomes everyone to the Table and you put that faith into action.
So, why should First Christian take this step?
I have two reasons: one is more practical and the other more theological.
People wonder why we need to publicly welcome gay people in a way that we don’t do when it comes to other groups such as African Americans or Hispanics. The difference though is that being gay is somewhat different that being African American. You all know that I’m African American by looking at me. But you can’t tell by looking at me that I’m also gay. Being gay can be somewhat of a “hidden” difference. You can’t really tell someone is gay until they say they are gay. Because it is hidden, this leads to a lot of assumptions. If a young woman comes to church, people might assume she either has a boyfriend or husband instead of thinking she might have a girlfriend. Also because there has been a history of churches not being so friendly to homosexuals which causes gays and lesbians to assume that a church is not friendly towards them- unless there is a visible sign that says they are welcomed.
The second reason is theological. The ministry of Jesus and later the ministry of the church was one that tended to cross various boundaries. Jesus engaged people who were outside of the Jewish community he was born into. He talked to Samaritans and Romans and always brought salvation to those who crossed his path. The early church also was led by the Holy Spirit to minister to the wider Roman world, which was a melting pot of various ethinicities. The church of the 21st century is also a diverse place, and the Spirit calls us again to go out and minister to various cultures, preaching the message of salvation in Christ. Welcoming gay and lesbians publicly is a way of stating that the gospel is for them as much as it is for anyone else. The apostles of the early church were witnesses to the saving acts of Christ, and two millenia later, we are still called to be witness to the Jesus we encounter.
In the words of the design of the Christian Church, First Christian really has “In Christ’s name and by his grace we accept our mission of witness and service to all people.” We have lived our inclusive witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I think it might be something we want to tell the whole world about.