This coming Sunday, the church where I serve will be voting on whether or not to become what is called "Open and Affirming" in our denomination, which means accepting all people into the full life of the church, including LGBT people. Over the last few months, people in our church have been sharing their perspectives on why we should do this, and I've been meaning to post them here, but I just never got around to it. With a little less than a week to go, however, here they are. This one was in our church newsletter on September 28.
The Administrative Board has approved the following change to the church by-laws that outlines what our church means when it seeks to welcome all people. This by-laws change will be voted on by the congregation later this fall.
“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.”
The statement, if taken seriously, is a challenge to our church as we seek to welcome all people as Christ welcomes us. Such a welcome may mean moments of discomfort, changes to policies or even facilities and potential for misunderstandings as we seek to welcome the groups of people mentioned above, but such a welcome also offers us possibilities for joy as we experience the grace of Jesus Christ in new ways. Theo Tushaus, a junior at Savannah High School, offers his perspective.
One Youth’s View of First Christian Church
by Theo Tushaus
There’s no other way to say it. I’m leaving. I’ll be in college soon, and my involvement in our congregation’s activities will steadily diminish. I’ll move somewhere else. At first I’ll visit often, every summer, on holidays, and the occasional three-day weekend. But as I get older, I’ll visit less and less, until I’m basically gone for good. I won’t have much impact at all on the church that I have grown to love over the past decade. I’m starting a new chapter in my life, and moving on. For that reason it may seem odd that I’m giving the congregation advice, but as a member of our church’s youth, and someone looking at the church from this new perspective, I feel as though I have valuable input that can benefit the congregation as a whole.
Let me start by saying that I have always loved one thing about our church. Something that has been apparent from the day I first walked in. It is not only that I feel welcomed in this group of wonderful people; it is that I feel more than welcomed. It has always seemed as though our church would welcome me no matter what race, gender, social status, or sexual orientation that I was, or what creed or disability I possessed. If anyone entered into our doors, that person would feel welcome, safe, and secure. That, I think, is the primary reason I absolutely love our congregation.
With that said, I have almost no doubt in my mind that a majority of members, old and new alike, share my sentiments. I think that though many of our members differ greatly in doctrine when it comes to theological or political specificities, we all share the common notion and spirit of nonjudgmental welcoming.
As I view it, our church is a departure from the conventional Bible belt place of Christian worship. To me, most of the Christian religious presence in America seems cold, uncaring, bigoted, and discriminatory towards people who defy conventions of any sort. What may or may not be surprising is the fact that I am only one of the many in my generation who think so. A recently conducted nationwide analysis of Americans aged 16-29 done by the Barna Institute reveals some surprising statistics. It found that 91% of people within this age range that were outside the church, saw the church as anti-homosexual. Of those who attended church, 80% agreed with that sentiment. Furthermore, 87% of church outsiders thought Christians, as a collective group, were judgmental overall, while over half of those inside the church agreed. Let me reiterate that last statistic. Over half of the 16-29 year olds who actually attend church in America, think Christians as a whole are judgmental.
Because of this, I feel that it is a necessity that our entire church embraces the recent open and affirming statement, which will publically announce our congregation’s acceptance of all people. My generation’s views on Christianity are dismal at best. Many of us are looking for a church that isn’t like the rest of them. We’re looking for a congregation that won’t judge us for who we are. If this congregation fails to adopt this statement, then in the eyes of young people, it becomes just like the rest of Christianity, judgmental, unforgiving, and unwelcoming.
I know that this church is accepting. I know that it is loving and caring. Adopting this statement proves that not only to the world, but also to ourselves. As I have already said, I’ll be leaving this church soon. Wherever I decide to go, I hope to be able to say that when I was young, I went to a church that didn’t judge people. I want to be able to say that believe it or not, there is a church in small-town Missouri that accepts people for who they are and that somewhere in America, there is a congregation of Christians who care for people who are different than them.