There is a problem


I often hear this: “There isn’t a problem.”  I hear of churches that are “open,” and from that perspective alone I’m told there is no problem.  It is nice to know that there are churches that are welcoming to all, and that there are churches that allow people to be people, but I still hear a denial.  Based on experience alone people have decided one of two things: 1) There isn’t a problem, or 2) It isn’t their problem, because their gathering is welcoming.  When I hear these words I get frustrated.  I get frustrated because experiences of LGBTQ people are overlooked.  Some have had true and deep hurtful experiences at the hands of those who call themselves Christians.  There is a problem.

I got a lot of attention from my last post.  It touched a nerve.  For some it touched a nerve because their church is welcoming and they only hope for me that I find that.  Then came a woman, I don’t know her, but she commented on my blog.  She said something that rings in my ears.  She said that her bad experiences were enough to keep her away from the church.  She said that it wasn’t fear and it wasn’t her responsibility to deal with the box.  In her opinion it was the church’s responsibility to deal with.  She had suffered greatly at the hands of those who call themselves Christ followers.  Here is what she said, “My trust with the church has been shattered as that is where the damage was done for me. It not only closeted me, but made me acutely aware of what happens behind those doors. Now, I choose not to hide who I am and feel like I have no interest in changing the minds of a community of people so strongly opposed to me as an individual. I agree with the part about accepting the whole person and not compartmentalizing, but to me it’s not fear that holds me back but experience.”   You see, there is a problem.  She’s not alone.  Sadly, she has a lot of company.  Having a little bit faith in God’s people just isn’t enough.  That faith and trust was damaged.  There is a problem.

For all the churches and people who say they welcome everyone to their gathering there is still a problem–a PR problem and a denial problem that must dealt with.  I admire Rich McCullen.  I was privileged to meet him at Transform back in May.  I listened to his story which included his gathering reaching out to those in his area with a public apology on behalf of Christians who voted for California’s Proposition 8, calling for a redefinition of marriage to include only a man and woman.  They put up the following billboard that says, “MissionGathering Christian Church IS SORRY for the narrow minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative, actions of those who took away the rights and equality of so many in the name of GOD.  Our hearts are with you!”  We are sorryRich and his gathering got something right.  They knew that there was an apology and acknowledgment that needed to happen and they did it.  They knew of people who were pushed further away from the gospel by the approval of Prop 8.  They knew, as the commenter above said, it was beyond fear; it was experience that drives the hurt.  MissionGathering took a chance and decided to acknowledge that there is a problem.  They decided to get past the PR and denial problem, they embraced it.

Can we admit there is a problem?  Can we, for a second, say that although it is nice that we have been given a gift of inclusion, there are way too many gatherings out there that don’t have this gift?  I don’t want to denigrate the idea that we should celebrate gatherings of inclusion, but there is still much work to do.  There still are those out there, like the commenter, who need for gatherings to testify and to embody the gospel.  It isn’t just about me, but about two communities I believe in–the LGBTQ and Christian communities.  I don’t want LGBTQ Christians out there to be the focus of whispers, or worse, to be ignored.  One’s faith is too valuable to put up in a shelf.  I want the silence to become a roar, but one that envelops the whole church, so that we might walk held hand-in-hand with all members on the journey.  We can’t do this unless we acknowledge that there is a problem, so that no more will the experience of our youth push them into the closest, but will let them celebrate the community of Christ.

By Jules Kennedy

Julie Kennedy lives in the bootheel of Missouri.  She works with special needs students and a full time student at Southeast Missouri State University. She is a constant spiritual wonderer with a never ending love for the gathering of Christ followers.

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25 thoughts on “There is a problem

  1. Jules – I appreciate what you have to say. My comment, however, is a boring request for information. What does the letter “Q” represent in LGBTQ? Your post was the first time I have seen that.
    Thanks!
    Brian

    • Hi Brian!

      The Q is for Queer, some also add “questioning”, but that would be the other Q in the long ABC of LGBTQ, such as “LGBTQQ”. I’ve been considering doing a post on the acronym itself. 🙂

      Jules

  2. The Q stands for Questioning or Queer, if I may jump in. I agree, there is a huge problem. I know FAR too many churches that say “we are welcoming of LGBTQ folks” but refuse to become an O&A church or publicize it anyway. If they aren’t willing to take that prophetic stance, just how welcoming are they? Are they really saying, “We will welcome the occasional gay IF THEY FIND US?” I think they are. I have said on here before, it is easier for me to be a lesbian in a room full of hostile conservative Christians, than to be a Christian in a room full of LGBTQ folks….the pain is palpable and tangible and REAL. I have worked with three congregations to become open and affirming (Or reconciling in Christ, for the ELCA) congregation. It is hard work to open up your preconceptions and be willing to take a public stance. But it is necessary work. And you can’t leave it to the LGBTQ folks to do. That’s like saying that people of color need to do all the racism work. It’s just wrong. There is a problem and I’m glad you pointed it out.

    • Wow, well said Sherrill! I found the same as you. I find myself able to leap the hurdles of words from conservatives than of our own community. How do I explain my love for Christ to them when all they know is closed doors, repairitive therapy and debates about them. However, I feel so deeply about opening up that discussion for them and to them. I don’t want another brother or sister walk away from their faith because their sexuality SEEMS to be in opposition to their faith. It’s one reason I feel so deeply about writing here.

  3. I think for some of those that chose to call themselves Open & Affirming it is an economic choice. Being ” Gay Friendly” seems to have become the new contemporary worship in many faith communities. I see many labels but little action. Where are the “Open & Affirming” folks at the rallies? Where are the “Open & Affirming” folks on the corner protesting injustice? Where are the “Open & Affirming” folks telling their story and testifying to a radically inclusive faith that embraces the dynamic diversity of God’s fearlessly and wonderfully made creation?

    I am all for “Open & Affirming” faith communities. I pray that the “Open & Affirming” faith communities that are out there really come out and with the same passion they defend their bricks and mortar that they defend the injustice perpetrated upon the LGBTQ community. If you are going to be “Open & Affirming” be “Open & Affirming”. There is no room for a lukewarm inclusive Gospel.

    • I cannot add any more to that Ryan. When I wrote this it was several weeks ago and now with the PCUSA making strides and falls in this I can’t help but think how deeply your words are needed. With in “Opening and Affirming” it seems there is this line with a “but” always included. This does not help in having a gathering of full confessors of the Gospel. I’m just haunted by the voices from “Save Us From Your Followers” and the women who posted the comment I used in this blog. Those voices scream to me and I can’t let it go.

  4. “Fear is the mind killer.” Frank Herbert, sci-fi author, wrote that in his epic “Dune.” However, 1st John 4:18 tells us, “Perfect love casts out fear.” Uh, if you let it.
    The churches find themselves closer to the former than the latter as they struggle (or not) with the current “problem” of what to do with all those pesky faithful gays.
    Fear drives the arguments and the schisms that are occurring throughout Christendom, as bible verses are parsed and paraded out to justify an exclusionary theology.
    Fear of a political takeover by “gay factions” is real, as was/is true about racial and ethnic groups doing the same. (What would happen if “my” church became known as a “gay” church? Would people think I’m gay?)
    Fear of sexual misconduct, ever the bugaboo, also makes the collective skin of the churches crawl. Never mind that the same ethical and moral precepts SHOULD guide all Christians, and that the straight-Christian community has its own failings in that particularly well publicized area.
    Good thing we have reconciliation and redemption to fall back on in a pinch. Good thing God’s eye is on the sparrow and not on our sins. Good thing that perfect love is available, right?

    • Can’t help but feel the gospel fall over me in a sweet picture of light! Thank you for this comment Janet! I just wish so many in the LGBTQ community could know and understand your last words, “Good thing we have reconciliation and redemption to fall back on in a pinch. Good thing God’s eye is on the sparrow and not on our sins. Good thing that perfect love is available, right?” How I wish they knew of this and felt it. I watch and read so much hurt from my brothers and sisters in the community. I want them to know what you have stated here. Lord hear our prayer!

  5. Here is my question: How do we engage those in our faith community who oppose an open and affirming label/agenda in a constructive dialog on the issue?

    I am especially concerned about choosing to become open and affirming when some in the community do not agree, and either won’t talk about it because they are embarrassed to be in a minority, or feel so emotionally connected to their opposition that they just cannot engage in a reason-based dialog. Our community cannot go forward in this area without making the effort to include the whole community in the decision making process.

    And a second question: if 30% or even 10% of a faith community opposes embracing the label/agenda, can the rest of the community go forward? Do progressives just ignore the loyal opposition and force them to make their own peace – or force them to leave? Very typically the opposition is rooted in the oldest segment of the community’s membership, the ones who have contributed most to the community’s legacy, and its current vitality.

    John

    • You ask great questions John! I would love to see some discussion on this! I’m about to head out for the day and I have some thoughts on this. I’ll come back later today to answer! However, I challenge anyone reading this article to give weight and deep thought to your questions because in my honest opinion, these are the kinds of questions that need to be considered a long with what I have stated in this article!

      Thank you John!

    • “Here is my question: How do we engage those in our faith community who oppose an open and affirming label/agenda in a constructive dialog on the issue?”

      By not being confrontational or oppositional. By being non-threatening. By being actively supportive and conciliatory of those congregations.

      Something to the effect, “We appreciate your faithfulness and the joy and sacred fullfillment it gives to your lives. We support it. We affirm it. To anyone who threatens your faithfullness, we will actively protect and defend you. All we want is the same Christian kindness, consideration, and freedom. Here is what my faith means to me…”

      “If you do not want a gay minister, you do not have to hire one. If you do not want to host same-sex weddings/commitment ceremonies, there will be no obligation or expectation to do so. Your faith practices do not have to change.”

      – – – – – –

      I am still trying to tweak the language, but hopefully this will give you some ideas.

    • I just finished reading an article about the “survey” the Pentagon is taking about ending “don’t ask, don’t tell (an adored if unacknowledged principle in the Church). I’m always amazed when people use this argument about inclusion of lgbtq people openly…what if 10% of the population sincerely believed in racial separation. Should we then be quiet about our racial inclusion in order not to offend the racists and be sure they feel included? I know some of you think this is a stretch, but I’m old enough to remember when the mainstream teaching was that segregation was a Biblical idea.

  6. I was just thinking that it is ironic that those hostile to LGBTQ participation in Christian faith communities usually rely on writings by Paul, but Paul seemed to spend a huge amount of his time and energy both within and and without the Apostolic community trying to open the doors to entry into the Christian community for more and different communities of potential believers.

    John

  7. I would like to offer that being “Open & Affirming” has more to do with the call of Christ for all than is does for a “pro-Gay” agenda. Being “Open & Affirming” is not complete if you purse the GLBTQA community only. Being “Open & Affirming” means you adhere to a witness of the Gospel that holds no human division.

    “You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, [Gay nor Straight] for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28

    I firmly believe that the community works to call its members to serve in leadership. I do not think that the church universal is where many of us are in regards to embracing an “Open & Affirming” mission. I also do not think that the “Disciples” essence will allow for the exclusion of communities that are “Open & Affirming” and the isolation from the Table and conversations of the church.

    I do not want to push upon anyone the “Open & Affirming” ethos. I only want the ability to live a faith that is “Open & Affirming” according to my conviction. I will not thrust it upon you if you do not want it. I do hope we may have a discussion regarding it.

    • You said something exactly what I was thinking as I drove home today. I cannot ask for the gathering to focus just on the LGBTQ community a lone. To ask that would to forget those in other edges of our society. At the same time when reaching some of those edges you are still reaching LGBTQ. Homeless? The percent of LGBTQ youth that are homeless is outstanding! To reach and open doors to homeless you are reaching them. The fact is “Opening and Affirming” means or should mean one thing only, that all confessors of the gospel are welcome. All those who are on the journey MUST come to the table, confess and to be confessed to. I don’t remember Jesus saying he wanted diversity, but I do know that he said he wanted ALL of us, all his children at the table!

      As I drove home I kept thinking of all the tensions we feel must be spoken about, LGBTQ, immigration, homeless, and all the variations of diversity we seek. I can’t help but feel that one or the other gets ignored. I can’t help but feel sadness this happens. How to keep the tension of FULL inclusion for ALL without one being forgotten or hurt along the way.

  8. Jules, you have identified the right concerns and I think the discussion so far bears that out. I have my own thoughts on these issues that are sufficiently lengthy that I might have to put them in a separate post. A couple of initial ones:

    I agree that even openly Open and Affirming churches struggle with what that commitment truly means. I would say that about my church, which is Open and Affirming. I think we are OK, but then again most of us are people who, like me, have had generally positive relationships with the church. Certainly I haven’t experienced the hurtful treatment so many LGBTQ folks have. So I think it can be hard for folks like me to understand.

    Another problem is that I think more affirming congregations have a hard time seeing why they should have to apologize for other Christians whose beliefs and dispositions they do not share. It’s a dynamic shared with discussions about race and reparations. The people who have the most for which to apologize are also, sad to say, the most unrepentant (or they are long dead and have no ability to apologize), and so I think “welcoming” Christians feel put upon to assume responsibility. My brief response to that concern is that even “welcoming” Christians tend to benefit from church institutions that oppress LGBTQ folks to a sufficient extent that they can apologize in their own person. That’s a big thesis for a blog comment; if it seems implausible or requires further defense, I would be happy to explore further.

    • “even “welcoming” Christians tend to benefit from church institutions that oppress LGBTQ folks”

      A couple of issues here: how does anyone benefit from oppressing “LGBTQ folks”? I am not suggestion that the oppression doesn’t occur, just that to me, the oppression appears wholly gratuitous and without benefit to anyone, except to provide a rallying point for those who fear their faith community is on the verge of disintegration.

      I agree that all faith communities are at different points in their journey and thus cannot justly be called to adopt identical postures in their larger communities. Does it make sense for a community which is composed largely of LGBTQ members to be apologizing to the larger LGBTQ community for the oppressive conduct of their non-LGBTQ Christian sisters and brothers? Does it make sense to impose upon a fledgling ‘open and affirming’ community a responsibility to step the forefront of the LGBTQ struggle and champion LGBTQ agenda?

      John

      • Being able to appeal to exclusion as a rallying point to promote group cohesion is a benefit. More generally, non-LGBTQ folks, even those whose attitudes are non-discriminatory have the benefit of normativity. Their existence is considered normal (and normative), which brings with it a whole host of privileges. One of those is the privilege of being able to choose whether they even have to talk about or think about LGBTQ issues at all. There is also the benefit of not having their self-worth constantly put into question.

        There is also the benefit of interpretation over one’s own experience (really a corollary benefit, I think, to the benefit of normativity). No one tells me, a straight white male, what the meaning or significance of my own experience is. No one ever tells me that anything I am experiencing is “all in my head” or is the result of hypersensitivity or fundamental bias. They give me the benefit of letting me tell them what I am experiencing. (Not that what I say is always taken seriously.) I am not told in advance what my experience MUST be like and MUST be about. Yet I have LGBTQ friends who experience this on a regular basis.

        Neither of these is exclusively a feature of LGBTQ oppression. A classic treatment of these issue’s is Barbara McIntosh’s “White Privilege and Male Privilege” (link here).

    • I’m thinking on your comment. I think you are right it does seem like a big and unfair task for already welcoming churches to apologize for acts or an act that they themselves did not do. I have further thoughts and like you, I think its turning into another blog post. 😉

  9. I am chewing on so many of your comments! John, specifically your’s. I may not have a great response now and because of that I have decided to wait a bit. My response may turn into another blog post or I’ll soon post a comment here.

    I want to say I am very encouraged by the comments here. My first goal here is to just TALK. To talk further than thumbs up or thumbs down. My next goal is to get passed talking to true dreaming to true change for the full gathering of Christ followers.

  10. I’m finding this to be an interesting conversation.

    Jules, you wrote,

    “The fact is “Opening and Affirming” means or should mean one thing only, that all confessors of the gospel are welcome. All those who are on the journey MUST come to the table, confess and to be confessed to. I don’t remember Jesus saying he wanted diversity, but I do know that he said he wanted ALL of us, all his children at the table!”

    i’d be interested for some clarification on this. do you believe the church is only open to confessing Christians. am i understanding you correctly? you have written in strong terms (“should”, “MUST” and “ALL”) and (yet to my reading) “ALL” in your definition here appears to have qualifiers that that only includes “confessors of the gospel”.

    i’m not entirely clear what that phrase actually means for you but on my own journey i have found that a gospel that is based on demarcating humans is unhelpful, and potentially becomes a contradiction-in-terms.

    i found Ryan’s language, “Being “Open & Affirming” means you adhere to a witness of the Gospel that holds no human division” to be more akin to my own theology/perspective.

    if there was a sign on a church door that read,
    “we are “Open & Affirming” which means we adhere to a witness of the Gospel that holds no human division” i’d be far more inclined to enter than through a door with a sign which read:

    “All confessors of the gospel are welcome. All those who are on the journey MUST come to the table, confess and to be confessed to.”
    if only because i have to question if i fit the definition of a “confessor of the gospel” before knowing if i or anyone else am/is welcome or not. would be interested to know your thoughts on that. and my apologies if i am misunderstanding your words.

    on a slightly different point, i think this is a useful conversation that has been unfolding and i am reminded that it is always a benefit when attention is paid in these kinds of conversations to specific language. ie. when we say “churches” are we referring in each instance to specific congregations, or denominations or communions, or the worldwide church? or indeed to stated policies of congregations or denominations.
    personally, i’ve found the comments that are most helpful above are the ones that are most specific in their language.

    lastly, bcubbage makes valuable points to my mind about (hetero)normativity and i agree the seminal Peggy Macintosh’s writings are a vital read for anyone concerned with issues of exclusion based on normative privileges.

    anyways, glad to be able to follow the conversation,

    cary.

    • Cary!

      So glad to see you here! I’ve always loved our interaction and the hope you bring to myself, as well as the conversation. Second, sorry I’m just getting to this. I’ve been on vacation since the 16th and just getting back in the swing since getting back late Sunday night.

      First, when I speak of all confessors I (in my mind) am including all forms of which the gathering makes up. I believe the gospel is not restricted to those who are, in our language, “believers”. Just as Ryan stated and you have, that is my view. It is why I feel ALL is important and the words SHOULD and heavy language like that is important. Whether someone calls them self a “christian” or their label of choosing does not matter to me as much as the ability to come to the table and talk/confess. I have learned this past year what confession is and a new lens of it. I hope that clears that part up.

      I would also confess to being a little more “hard standing”(?) in this post and possibly others. The reason for that is to spur conversation. So I do use words that might and can cause someone to pause and possibly be a bit offended. I do this because I want people to talk.

      When I speak of “churches” I am speaking directly to the audience here who are mostly linked to the DoC or some type of organized gathering. I personally have drifted from using “church” and all the other forms that link to that. I am more comfortable with “gathering” or something more outside of “church”, because that word has become so distorted.

      I think I have hit on your questions. 🙂 Look forward to hearing from you more Cary! I gleamed when I saw your comment, by the way! Honestly, your one of my “heroes” and someone that has spurred me onto something deeper in a lot of areas in my life. Sorry to say that so publicly, but it is true. So again, thank you so much for commenting here!

      Jules

  11. hey Jules

    that’s all cool. thanks for those clarifications and responses – all useful and/or insightful. esp. the definition of confessors.

    and thanks for the kind words. very humbling. totally undeserving. but nice to hear all the same. 🙂

    hope you had a great vacation and that getting back into the swing of things is more like the sway of a hammock and less like a bungee fall.

    Beannacht,

    Cary.

  12. To me confessing the Gospel is about living out the good news to the best of one’s ability with a deep passion to love your neighbor…IMHO there are too many folks confessing a gospel that is wound up in politics and ho ha.

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