Monday, I was shocked and disillusioned when I heard that Sojourners made the decision not to post on their blog a video ad made by Believe Out Loud (ad is on the right after you click). It was “deja vu all over again” reminding me of the rejection by CBS in 2004 of the United Church of Christ “Bouncer” ad as “too controversial” when it demonstrated that all people should be welcome in church. And then in 2010, CBS accepted an issue ad by a conservative group, Focus on the Family. CBS defended their flip-flop, citing the economy as the reason for accepting FoF’s advocacy ad.
Tuesday, I was overjoyed when I heard that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has voted to allow the ordination of openly gay and lesbian ministers.
So, you never know. Sometimes progressives take an unexpected giant step backwards and sometimes the church takes a long-overdue step forward. And sometimes it’s hard to tell what exactly is going on.
This “controversy” about who is welcome in church and who isn’t, and why, reminds me of something that happened at the first church I served. After one Sunday morning worship service, a woman came up to me, out of breath and excited (not in a good way), to report that there was a new couple in church that day. They were both men, young men, she said — “a couple!” I was secretly excited to think that a same sex couple would come to our church! So I asked her how she knew that they were gay. “You can just tell,” she said, sour-faced. She went on to describe how they sat close together, even had their arm around each other at one point, and talked to each other in a way that you “could tell” she insisted.
I still couldn’t imagine this in 1994 in our American Baptist church. I mean, why would a young gay couple think we would be a cool enough church for them? At least that was my thought! So I asked her what they looked like. The woman then began to give a great description of my 17 year old son (whom she didn’t recognize because he had shaved his head during that week) and his 19 year old cousin (who was a “stranger” in our midst with long curly hair at the time). They had grown up favorite cousins and didn’t see each other often, so they were affectionate to the point of being labeled correctly a same sex couple, but not in the way that she assumed!
She was relieved.
Really? What had changed? The only thing that had changed was her own perception.
In the midst of my own disillusionment with Sojourners, and now in light of my delight with the PC-USA vote, my own perceptions are challenged by an inspiring blog post written by Katie Mulligan entitiled “Believe Out Loud and the Sojourners Kerfluffle.” Katie’s challenge is to go beyond disillusionment with Sojourners and, I would add, beyond celebration with PC-USA, to self examination and local action. Katie asks the very direct question: What about your church?
How would a queer person know they are welcome in your church? How would they know that they could come to the potluck and not have to endure another conversation on how the gay are ripping the fabric of America? How would they know they could come to Bible study and know that they could talk about the fullness of their life without people praying that they straighten out. How would they know that you won’t look at them and their family as if you’d just eaten rotten fruit? Because it’s not on your church websites, friends. I look, and it’s not there. It’s not on my church website either. We’re all just pussyfooting around this whole welcome the gay thing–and golly, I’m a queer pastor!
We have a ways to go! The church’s welcome is still too often full of pre-conditions not limited to sexual orientation and gender identification. Progress seems too slow. My comfort: the great cloud of progressive and liberal Christians who are disillusioned right along with me, and also determined. Even when it’s with baby steps and measured voices, we are still working for justice and full inclusion and the good news of God’s love for all people.