While I’ve never seen it in a congregational mission statement, it certainly would be appropriate: The mission of the church is to open its doors as wide as God’s heart. Not more. Not less. Christian community is only “Christian” when it reflects the magnanimous nature of God’s welcome, and at the beginning of the 21st century, that is especially true regarding gay and lesbian persons. From my perspective, three insights should guide our practice of welcome.
The first involves how one reads biblical texts in the modern world. Clearly, at least on the surface, there are certain Bible readings that seemingly condemn homosexual activity. Yet, upon closer reading of these texts, what is being condemned is not homosexual behavior because it is homosexual behavior, but abusive behavior that happened to be homosexual in nature. Sodom and Gomorrah was about violating human rights; it was not about sexual orientation. Abusive behavior was and should be condemned, whether perpetrated by a gay person or straight person. The recognition of this biblical distinction is essential for any faith community.
Secondly, understanding the biblical text should be joined with another critical awareness, namely, that during the time when the Bible was written there was very little understanding of someone being gay or being lesbian. There was homosexual behavior, to be sure, but a clear sense that a person was gay or lesbian because of a psychological / genetic / social orientation in the depth of a human person was neither understood nor was it appreciated.
As a clergy person, I have had many gay or lesbian persons say to me: “This is who I am.” That’s not the same as saying, “This is what I want to do or this is what I feel like trying.” One of the most sacred things that can ever be articulated is when we can know and say and be at peace with who we are as human beings. This goes to the heart of the Christian gospel, because religious experience is not so much about becoming something we’re not, but becoming who we really are. When women and men are allowed (and encouraged) to be who they most deeply, most authentically, most joyfully are, the truthfulness of faith is discovered. Over and over again the gay community is saying – this is who we are – and that declaration must be heard and respected and honored.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the third insight that should guide churches on this matter is nothing less than an understanding of the Christian gospel itself. While it can be said in many different ways, the Christian gospel is about God loving every human being, indeed the whole creation, and offering every human being creative, transforming, and welcoming acceptance. The church does not have to make anything up or invent some kind of new model for what it means to be a church. What churches should do is rooted in what God has already done, namely, offer love, practice acceptance and celebrate welcome.
Thankfully, it feels as if we are reaching a tipping point in our nation regarding gay and lesbians persons, not only our recognition of who they are, but also that they simply want to lead full and meaningful lives, free of discrimination, and open to every facet of life, including the right to celebrate their marriages and participate in their churches. It’s time for people of faith to stand up and say, “Yes! Of course. Now is the time to do the right thing. The joyful thing. The Jesus thing. Now is the time to open the doors of our church as wide as God’s heart.” When you think about it, that really is the mission of the church – and today, right now – is the perfect time to fulfill it.