Don’t Tell Me “Welcome” is a Dirty Word!

 

March 18/17 |
by Rev Gordon Taylor

I was brought up short recently, while reading some material about sexual identities and gender justice.  As a pastor of an Affirming Church, I was reviewing some of the resources for this area of ministry.  It began with a comment that “Being an Affirming Ministry is not merely about welcoming people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.”  I was unconsciously ready to hear my views confirmed: “Right, people need to be much more active in learning about the spectrum of ways in which people are physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually formed.”  I was not ready for what followed – it was a truth I needed to hear.

“Words like welcoming or inclusion suggest those on the inside have the power to choose to accept those on the outside.”

Yikes!  Welcoming is one of my favourite words and values.  It is the atmosphere I am hoping people experience in this congregation.  Is there something missing from welcoming?

The article went on to say,

“This makes it sound like an act of charity to welcome those who are different or marginalized. However, it is not our place to welcome anyone because church is not a private club and we are not the gatekeepers.”  Jesus’ parable of the great dinner (Matthew 22:1–14) reminds us that the true host of our faith community is the Risen Christ. When we participate in Christ’s church, we accept an invitation to which others, including LGBT folk, have already been welcomed. By showing up, we agree to sit at table together. By accepting the welcome offered to each one of us as individuals, we encounter God’s inclusive love for humankind in all its wonderful diversity.

This come-uppance helped me appreciate another layer of my privilege (and ignorance, and hetero-normative perspective).  It helped me recognize another way in which I very subtly assumed a position of power.

It also helped me realize, why we need to be more than welcoming, that is to be overt and explicit, in declaring that all sexual orientations and gender identities are a gift from God.  Without that explicit declaration, our welcome may still communicate the subtext, “so long as you are become like us.”

“Most marginalized people spend their lives surrounded by messages of hatred, judgment, and negativity about themselves and their relationships. Some may have grown up with a terrifying and unnameable sense of otherness, punctuated now and again by words such as queers or fags or deviants. In schoolyards, children and youth frequently hear words like gay and dyke and lesbian used as putdowns and insults. Many of the aforementioned people receive strong messages of condemnation from and their loved ones, co-workers, friends, or faith communities when they come out about who they are. Sadly, churches have often been the loudest and most vitriolic in their messages of hatred and condemnation.  These words of hatred are spoken in the name of Christianity, and many LGBT hear only that side of the story. They think that all Christians think this way. They may believe that God really does reject them.”

“Because those who reject LGBT people in God’s name are very specific, Christians who are grateful to sit a Christ’s table (per Mt. 22) need to speak up about love and compassion for LGBT neighbours using the phrase “of all sexual orientations and gender identities.” We cannot assume that newcomers or people in our communities will know what we believe unless we tell them, so we have to be explicit.  In our worship, programs, and community life, to affirm is not merely to welcome, but to name and honour the diversity of family configurations, relationships, and life experiences Christ welcomes.”

I needed to hear that truth.  How do you feel about your minister “declaring that all sexual orientations and gender identities are a gift from God”?  How do you feel saying this out loud?

“Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” 5But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them.”  (Matthew 22:4-6)

Comments are welcome and encouraged at the UCiM Facebook page.

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Open Hearts: Resources for Affirming Ministries of the United Church of Canada. 2017. Online at ause.ca

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Growing up in the United Church is where I developed my passion for social justice issues which has really shaped my life.

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