Thursday, September 23, 2010

An Open and Affirming Stament for an Open and Affirming church?

Currently, the church which I am proud to serve, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, Mo, is having an interesting discussion: What Do We Mean By Welcome?  In the coming days and weeks I'll be publishing here on my blog thoughts from FCC members on the subject in hopes that it will reach a wider audience not only in the church but also in our community--and who knows it might prove helpful to other people and congregations who are working through what it means to welcome all people in Jesus' name.  These articles or essays are being shared with the authors' permission and they were also published in our church newsletter.

An Open and Affirming Statement for an Open and Affirming Church?
by David Tushaus

The First Christian Church Board has approved our Welcoming Task Force's proposal to amend our bylaws to include an Open and Affirming Statement. You will now be asked to vote to approve this amendment at a Congregational meeting to be held later this year. With your approval the Open and Affirming statement:

"First Christian Church of St. Joseph is open to and affirming of all people whatever their gender, race, age, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic circumstance, family configuration, or difference in ability. All who seek to follow Christ are welcome into our community to share fully in its life and ministry.”

will be included in the bylaws of our church at Article III: Membership, as a new Section 2, with Section 2 becoming Section 3, etc.

Why should we adopt such a statement? 

Christ makes the Good Samaritan the hero of his parable because his first-century Jewish listeners would have recoiled at such an idea. Christ did this to challenge them and us to love our neighbor who we may not traditionally think of as “one of us”, who we may fear could do us harm, or who would not expect us to love and accept him or her. The proposed Open and Affirming statement embraces

Christ’s message of love and justice toward all people who seek God.  Church is intimidating to many. People fear they will not be accepted, or that they may be judged harshly. Single parents and interracial couples fear a church only wants white families with two kids. Low income people assume a church only wants people with means. Black people assume a “white church” is not for them.  Disabled persons wonder if a church is willing to accommodate them (and indeed our church does not have a handicap-accessible rest room).

Worse, the “Church” has condemned rather than welcomed many “who seek to follow Christ”. Those in different family configurations (e.g. divorced) were openly condemned at one time. They still feel unwelcomed in many cases. As for race, much of our society has become more integrated than our houses of worship.  Sunday is still the most segregated day of the week in America.  Those with different sexual orientations continue to be shunned and condemned by the Pharisees of our day. Issues of sexuality may present the most emotional response today. Family, friends, and sympathizers of the LGBT community have turned away from the church because it could not recognize the inconsistency of its own message. Traditional churchgoers may fear they won’t recognize their own church if it embraces such diversity, but all of us must resist our fears for the sake of those people who feel excluded from the church.

Since the Welcoming Task Force has been formed I have heard from some that First Christian Church is already “Open and Affirming”, that we welcome all who come inside our doors. But if this is true, then why do we not even want to whisper such acceptance. Why wouldn’t we want to shout from the mountaintop what Christ proclaimed so many years ago – that our God is a loving and accepting

God of inclusion, not condemnation?

If we do not stand with the churches that single out homosexual and transgendered persons for condemnation, then we should say so. The Good Samaritan calls on us to be bold and reach out to people in need. Our silence opens us up to the assumption that gays and transgendered persons are not welcome at our church. This is an assumption not only the LGBT community may make, but their family, friends and sympathizers too.  First Christian Church lays claim to providing a unique and important voice in our community. I know there are some fine examples of that. But there is so much more we can do, and we can start with the adoption of the simple Open and Affirming statement above.

Our Congregation has worked through some important issues in the last two years. We came to a consensus on adopting a resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty, approved building repairs that were daunting at the time, and conducted a successful capital campaign to help pay for them. Now is the time to come to a consensus again, to stand together as a community of believers for the way forward.  We have a significant number of new members who have joined FCC in recent history. Many have claimed that a gospel of inclusion is important to them, even if they are not members of a group that is being singled out for discrimination. These new members and others like them are eager for a church that embraces Christ’s gospel of inclusion. We can be that shining light in this community. I urge you to prayerfully consider and ultimately support this Open and Affirming statement for adoption into First Christian Church’s bylaws.

Please come and talk to me or anyone on the Welcoming Task Force if you have any questions or comments about this bylaws proposal.

David Tushaus, Moderator
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), St. Joseph, MO

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