TCU experiences offer insight on future of church


Aside from General Assembly itself (which I am regrettably missing and desperately following via Twitter), Texas Christian University is one of main faces of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in modern society. That is, other than Colonel Sanders. (Sadly not kidding—there’s some trivia for you!) After all, we’re the biggest Disciples school! That, and we won the Rose Bowl.

Throughout highschool, TCU was the beacon of  all things DOC for me. I knew at least 20 people who had gone there, and I imagined it to be one happy, close-knit community. It was largely due to this that I chose the school.

Once I got to school, I realized both how much and how little being “Disciples of Christ” really means.

On one hand, every time I met another DOC student, we were both particularly excited due to the rarity of meeting other Disciples. “Disciples” serves almost as a nationality or ethnicity, it is so deeply engrained in our faith identity. Whenever I meet those students, it is similar to the phenomenon of running into Americans outside the states. “No way! Small world!”

However, on the other hand, finding another “Disciple” doesn’t mean much in regards to beliefs.

Growing up at St. Andrew Christian Church, the home of the Rev. Holly McKissick (whom I hope everyone heard at General Assembly), I was under the grandiose impression that all Disciples congregations were like mine—explicitly open to all people regardless of age, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, financial status, etc. I thought all youth groups went to anti-war rallies together and spent Wednesday nights in the summer watching documentaries about immigration.

But as I grew older and started attending a regional church camp, and then especially when I got to TCU, this idea was quickly corrected. Not everyone has a faith tradition like mine. Not many do, really.

Whenever I talk about my congregation and all of its openly gay couples who adopt children, some of my fellow Disciples get visibly uncomfortable. It’s clear—that’s not at all what their churches would accept. Moreover, when a pastor in the TCU area recently came out, people were considerably upset.

It’s reasons like these why many in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) claim we should not make an official statement proclaiming the equality and acceptance of GLBTQ members of our denomination. We’re already divided enough, they say. It’s changing too fast, especially for Texas, they add.

But TCU itself has offered far too strong of a counterargument for me to agree with those opponents. The reason? Gay students with no faith home.

Almost all of my gay friends were spiritual or went to church when they were growing up, but quit shortly after coming out. Why? Why not. They don’t want to be part of an institution that doesn’t accept them. They don’t want to be part of an institution that makes meandering statements, beating around the bush about an “open table.” What does that really mean?

They want the church to reach out to them and say: “YOU are accepted. YOU are loved. God made you this way.”

And while Disciples of Christ, of course, does claim to seek “wholeness in a fragmented world,” what good is that when I am trying to explain what our denomination believes to my skeptical, hurt LBGTQ friends? “Uh, it’s this denomination, and we’re pretty progressive and it’s gay-friendly…Well, not officially, exactly…”

It’s when you mention this little loophole—“not officially”—that your LGBTQ friend stops listening. She’s heard it all before. He wants specific validation, someone who is willing to accept him for who he is. Although someone would claim it’s petty or unnecessary, they need it printed in black on the bulletin. Otherwise, it’s just an empty statement—to good to be true.

LGBTQ or not, most young people who have become disenchanted with the Church say it’s due to the Church’s stance on homosexuality. Why doesn’t the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) realize this and capitalize upon it? Why don’t we see this as a time to finally find something to believe in?

If the church can find the strength to officiate our stance on an “open table” for all—including during our hiring of clergy—perhaps we can reach out to those who want so badly to be accepted and actually mean it when we say—“Welcome.”

By Emily Atteberry

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6 thoughts on “TCU experiences offer insight on future of church

  1. Amen!! You said it! Many who come to a “Welcoming” church, soon find out that are not THAT welcome if they are LGBT. I pray that each individual church sees this. MANY in the LGBT community have totally stopped going to any church and curse “Christianity” as they have been “Bible Abused”. Many have turned to other “Spiritual places or leaders”. Let’s pray that EVERYONE can see that God made each of us the way we are–God makes no “mistakes”. Being LGBT is not a choice if you will see this if you jjust HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH AN LGBT PERSON. They don’t bite! Most all welcome a good conversation. All of us are ignorant on some subjects (meaning unknowing about the topic), So listen and learn and become educated. And do as Jesus did–LOVE UNCONDITIONALLY!!!

  2. Yes. Exactly. There is a really sad and irritating irony in all this, of course. On the one hand, an open and affirming statement by the General Assembly would be relatively easy to get, given the make-up of the General Assembly. We don’t do that for two reasons. The first is that we are afraid of blow-back.

    The other reason (actually a reason and an excuse) is that such a statement would have no effect on congregational practice, or on regional policies regarding ministerial ordination and standing. We need an organized campaign–campaigns really–region by region, to take the actions that would actually change regional polices about ordination and standing. On the congregational level, people like us need to speak up and exit congregations that are living in opposition to the gospel. (Easy for me to say;of course, I’m in an O&A congregation.)

    For too long we have let ourselves be held hostage to the implied threats of people who are comfortable denying other peoples’ humanity. However, a General Assembly statement is primarily a feel-good tactic. The real scene of action will be in the regions and congregations.

  3. A good friend of mine who is in seminary now, spoke at our regional assembly a few years ago about being “a person of the asterisk.” You know what I mean….”Our church is really welcoming *… (*) means unless you are gay, in our case. That phrase has stuck with me and I use it working ecumenically with churches who want to become open and affirming/reconciling in christ/welcoming, whatever their denomination calls it. I preach about “People of the Asterisk” and how different congregations can have different asterisks, but almost ALL of them include LGBTQ folks. My community (LGBTQ) is wounded by the church horribly, from childhood through today, and they are tuned in to that asterisk before the speaker is even aware they said it. It’s not enough to quietly welcome the LGBTQ folks who happen to find you and risk entering and decide to stay for some reason. We, the CHURCH, have battered this community for generations and we must take a prophetic, public stance and say, “We were wrong and we are welcoming and learning to be welcoming.” And we must always listen, in our speech, for the asterisk…Thank you, Emily, for your insightful writing.

  4. Hi Emily, I’m reading this blog…Ryan is a friend of mine. I don’t know if you are still at TCU or not. I’d love to visit with you regardless. I’ve just started working at TCU as the director of church relations.
    Janet Maykus
    j.maykus@tcu.edu
    817.257.7802

  5. Pingback: Holding Hands and Finding Home | [D]mergent

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