My HNOKC.com column "Welcome and Inclusion"
Recently a friend sent me a link to a story about a church I used to work with pretty regularly. Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, a moderate baptist church, is wrestling with the issue of how to be welcoming to gay folk. Some gay couples had shown up to have their pictures taken for the church directory and some in the church objected. This absurd episode compels me to reflect on what it means to be welcoming. But first, more of the story.
Bret Younger, Broadway's pastor and a colleague I have worked with, is quoted by the Baptist Press (the journalistic arm of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention – Broadway is not a conservative church):
"Broadway has for years had an amazing policy on including gay people. It's not a policy that a committee came up with, or the staff or the deacons. It's an unwritten policy that came out of the shared life of this congregation, a policy I believe was inspired by the Spirit," he said. "This church has for a long time included both gay people who are committed to Christ and members who aren't affirming and who have serious questions, but who are willing to share the church. This has allowed us to be a congregation where the conversation can take place about being gay and being Christians."
There are many congregations (and families, civic groups, schools, businesses, governments, etc.) who think this sort of "policy" works. Basically it means we'll let gay people join in our life together, as long as they really aren't gay about it.
One problem with this attitude is that sooner or later you have to face the issue. It is absurd that Broadway's attempt to quietly welcome gay people has finally erupted over pictures in a directory – hardly one of the great issues of equality and justice.
To be welcoming of any group that is "different" is difficult work. It takes training and continual maintenance. It is a highly intentional process. It requires getting people to consider the differences of another person. It is the crux of compassion, to "love your neighbor as yourself".
For example, it is not sufficient that a school system or a business adopt a policy of non-discrimination. They also have to have training. People need to learn something of the culture, worldview, and experiences of those to be welcomed and included. There have to be educational opportunities. Thus the importance of things like the Stop Hate in the Hallways Conference.
In my congregation (the Cathedral of Hope), we are launching a new deaf ministry. Not only are we providing translation of our church services, but I'm also requiring our leadership receive diversity training. We will learn something of deaf culture and the deaf experience and some easy signs, all so we can truly be welcoming and inclusive.
It's not enough just to believe in welcome and inclusion. The actual practice of it takes diligent, committed work.
Dr. King said that the civil rights movement's worst enemies were not the outspoken segregationists, but were the moderates. Bigots are clear, can be argued against, and their positions are open. Moderates generally assume that time will take care of the issue. But, as King also said, time is neutral, it doesn't do anything. People do.
In order to be welcoming, an organization must take productive steps to deal with potential issues. Some churches, for example, avoid having opportunities for education on LGBT issues because they want to avoid the issue blowing up, but avoiding education means that sooner or later it is going to blow up, usually in some silly episode like this. And they aren't going to be prepared to deal with it.
Welcoming without affirming doesn't work. Many people think it does, but they're wrong. If you don't think LGBT people, or any other category of people you define as "different" can openly serve in leadership, get married, or otherwise participate fully in the life of your group, then you simply aren't welcoming.
And for a religious institution, this gets to the heart of what their faith and what they proclaim. If a Christian church, for example, remembers, proclaims, and practices the gospel as Jesus' radical message of grace, compassion, liberation, and hope, then they must be an inclusive and welcoming congregation. If they aren't welcoming and inclusive as a congregation, then they must remember and experience the gospel of Jesus differently. Their gospel must not be one of grace, compassion, liberation, and hope. I then question for whom it is "good news."
Ultimately Broadway decided not to do a church directory. Seems like a further attempt to not face the issue. This "amazing policy on including gay people" seems neither welcoming nor inclusive to me.