On Easter Sunday, a friend of mine posted this on her Facebook page. While my church was celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, other ‘Christians’ were standing outside an Open & Affirming church, proclaiming the ‘good’ news of Homosexuals burning in hell.
Is this what it means to be part of an Open & Affirming church? During certain times in our church’s history, our members were faced with the welcoming shouts of Fred Phelps’s church. But, it is a rare occurrence. For me, being a member of an O&A church is about what is happening on the inside of the church. If you have the courage to step through the door, it can be the exact opposite of what is going on outside: Love, kindness and acceptance vs. Hate, fear and condemnation.
When we discuss the part of our history that invited the Rev. Mel White to use our church as a launching pad for his ministry with Soul Force, one of my favorite stories is this: Fred Phelps and his followers held similar signs to the one referenced above, while members from First Christian Church, Lynchburg, crossed the street to deliver refreshments to their persecutors. It is that display of love and kindness that people, from all walks of life, receive every day at FCC.
Maybe your church has the same intent and message, but it isn’t Open & Affirming. First Christian did not change when it became an Open & Affirming church. They had been accepting of all people for years and studied issues like homosexuality extensively. So, why does it matter? It matters because: In a world where people still picket churches to proclaim the wickedness of homosexuality, and most other churches in town are proclaiming it from the pulpit, gay people need to know, up front, that, “our congregation welcomes you, not to change you, but to affirm you as a loved child of God who has a place at the table, equal to everyone else’s place at the table.” That publically affirmed place at the table has meant more to me, than ANY other single milestone in my spiritual journey.
I have been a member of three Disciples of Christ Churches. First Christian Church Lynchburg is the only one of those three that is Open & Affirming. One of the others is my home church. I have no doubt that the members there love me and accept me for who I am. Most probably believe that God loves me just the way I am too. But, how does a person in the community know that this church is a safe and affirming place? This is an important time in our country’s history to take a stand for love. We can show the true theme of Christ’s teachings through our open acceptance of all of God’s people: Love.
Written by Miranda Cook, Elder, First Christian Church Lynchburg, VA