Sunday, December 2, 2007

So ... who's in your church's directory?

I sent this to The Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week. They ran it as an editorial. 11/30/2007 So ... who's in your church's directory?

So ... who's in your church's directory?
Broadway Baptist Church is putting together a directory for its 125th anniversary. Photos of member families were to be included. Some same-sex couples -- members of the Fort Worth congregation -- made appointments to be photographed together but were told they could not.
This has caused some controversy about same-sex couples within a Christian community. We church members will vote on the issue Sunday.

Some of our members believe that homosexuality is a sin, and to include committed same-sex couples as a family in the church directory is to approve of their lifestyle.

Other members welcome same-sex couples and gay or lesbian individuals to participate in leading, teaching, serving and tithing. They believe that there is a legitimate conflict between homosexuality and interpretations of Scripture that condemn it. But they prefer a "don't ask, don't tell" approach, and allowing committed same-sex members to be photographed together for the directory would be too highly visible.

Still other members just wish these issues would go away. They wish that God had created everyone with the same orientation: political, spiritual and sexual. They see the directory conflict as embarrassing, a distraction from the church's mission. They would prefer to focus on the hungry people to be fed, cold people to be clothed and lonely people to be comforted. These Broadway members perceive our directory dispute as a waste of emotion, time and resources.

A final group, which includes me, sees this as an opportunity for inclusion: In Christ, there is no black or white, rich or poor, Gentile or Jew, gay or straight. This is an opportunity for a Baptist church to be among the first to get something right.

Each group is composed of good people who want to do the best they can, in light of what they know.
Jesus made a consistent practice of not turning away anyone -- the diseased, the outcast, tax collectors or sinners. "If you've done it for the least of these, you've done it for me," was his memorable phrase. All four strongly committed groups of Christians in Broadway Baptist Church want to emulate his love, his outreach and his understanding.

But enough about Broadway Baptist. Let's talk about your church.

A recent Star-Telegram article reported that Fort Worth is home to 10 times as many same-sex couples as it was 16 years ago. Other statistics report that gays and lesbians make up as much as 5 percent of the population, spread out across all neighborhoods, professions, income levels and faiths. If your church has more than 100 members, some are probably gay or lesbian.

Congregations such as those in the Metropolitan Community Church provide some of the only outlets for openly gay and lesbian people to worship. Scant few other mainstream Protestant denominations allow gays and lesbians to be who God made them.

Some people believe that sexual orientation is a choice and therefore, according to one interpretation of Scripture, a sin.

I don't know a single person who chose to be heterosexual, nor do I know anyone who would choose the (now diminishing) shame, ridicule and ostracism associated with being openly gay or lesbian.
Within 20 years, most Christian denominations will accept openly gay members. Society is accepting openly gay and lesbian people, and the church will follow that trend or become increasingly irrelevant.

Regardless of how Broadway Baptist votes, I believe that I will see the following within my lifetime:
More theologians will become embarrassed by the church's prejudice and discrimination. Scriptures will be re-interpreted.

Sermons will claim that the church should be open to gays and lesbians.

We will then claim that we were instrumental in the liberation of gays and lesbians and were never really opposed to it.

That has been the pattern with slavery, women's rights and civil rights. We could belabor the point by pointing out that the church tried to suppress scientific truths about the movement, shape and age of Earth, all with biblical justification.

I cannot believe that the Creator of the universe made "defective" people for the purpose of condemning them for their defects. God is bigger than we can possibly imagine -- big enough to create everything we see around us. God is big enough to be in all of us.

I just hope that our church directories are big enough for God.

Prior to our meeting that Sunday, the church asked that all non-members from the news media leave the room, stating that The Deacon Chair would make a short summary of the meeting available afterwards. I'll post a link to this summary as soon as it's published elsewhere.

My 17-year-old daughter made a point of finding me prior to the meeting so she could sit beside me. (Publishing this for all the world to see has caused some controversy....)

"I don't think you should be sitting by yourself, Dad," she said. "I want everybody to see that I've got your back."

That's how you know you've raised your kid right ! ! !


Anonymous said...

Kudos Allen. You have accurately summarized what many in our church feel!

Anonymous said...

One aspect of the church directory issue that is confusing to me is the meaning of "family" in the context of "family picture."

The traditional view has been that such a directory involved two types of pictures--individuals and family groups. And the family groups were pictures of people related in some way by traditional marriage.

Traditions, of course, should be re-evaluated in terms of the times. If a local church is willing to accept a "family picture" in their directory of an unmarried couple living together in a heterosexual relationship, then isn't it both inconsistent and unfair to refuse such pictures of a homosexual couple?

Also, the future should be considered when homosexual marriage is finally legalized. A church already accepting "family" pictures of both unmarried heterosexual and homosexual couples would not find themselves
in the position of having to decide that a married homosexual couple's picture would be permitted in their directory, but that of another such couple, who preferred not to get married, would not.

As one "King" said: "It's a puzzlement!"