Monday, October 05, 2009

Why Welcome Isn't Enough: The Story of the Part Time Flag

I had a lovely time preaching at a church near Cape Cod yesterday. It was one of those New England early churches, with built in pews, towering organ, and high wood pulpit. A rainbow flag hung over the front door.

I preached an updated version of what I think of as my "travel sermon" on sexual morality, justice, and healing, and I was warmly received by the parishioners, many of whom were quite senior. One of my favorite moments in the service was when an older gentleman in the choir, in coat and tie, sang the line "We are gay and straight together" as a solo during the Holly Near anthem, "We are a gentle, angry people."

After the service, I did a workshop with church leaders about how to be a sexually healthy and responsible congregation. The church had completed the process and voted this spring to be a welcoming congregation. I congratulated them for their work and for the flag announcing it to those passing by the town green.

They reported to me that it only flies some times -- that they had reached a community agreement to only fly it periodically.

I asked why.

There were many answers. It's a historic district. It's too much to fly it all the time. People don't want us to be known as a gay church.

To be honest, I was stunned. I asked them what message they thought they were giving LGBT people by sometimes having the flag up, sometimes not. I told them if it was me, I'd probably think that some weeks I was more welcome than others - or maybe not welcome some Sundays at all.

I've been thinking a lot about this since yesterday. There is what a colleague calls a "heart lag" on these issues. Jet lag is when our bodies haven't caught up to the new time zone. Heart lag is when our innermost feelings have not caught up to our intellectual understanding. Most people know in their heads that it is wrong to discriminate against LGBT persons and that they are called to full inclusion. It's just that their hearts haven't totally caught up. They are on a journey, and over time, I pray that they will get there.

The Religious Institute's new online guide, Acting Out Loud, is designed to help congregations move from welcome to full inclusion. I hope you'll check it out.

1 comment:

John Riedesel said...

I am a 'recovering Christian fundamentalist', who is honestly attempting to open their heart and mind to the gay community, among others. Understanding that your position of full-inclusion for gays influences you to conclude that anything less than obvious, continual, and complete advertisement of gay-acceptance by The Church is neither honest nor ideal, I think that your zealotry might just lead you to require more of the Christian Community than all other equal demands could possibly be realistically expected. While it would be nice for The Church to advertise it's welcoming (or more) of any particular group of people that have, heretofore, been excluded from the congregation, it can't posssibly hang flags for ALL of them--ALL the time. While they are flying a flag that represents the GLTB Community, should the Biker Community feel left out? Or, should the 'Single Mothers with children from three different men' community--when the Biker flag is flown? The body of people who truly represents the Creator SHOULD be an atmosphere where everyone that Jesus accepted, IS accepted; however, by the nature of the definition of "the Body of Christ", not everyone can be included--simply because some are in a state of 'non-conformity' to the principles of Christ, and therefore, while part of God's loved creation, they're not part of the Body. The snag seems to be that there are honest differences of interpretation regarding the guidelines for what constitutes the status of "inclusion"; therefore, leaving the reasons for condemning those who don't fully agree with your premise/principle on less than solid ground. Thank you for considering my sincere thoughts on this subject. I'm sure I still have much to learn, and I do appeciate your efforts to get us to face ourselves, our ignorances, and our fears.