Being a part of an Open & Affirming congregation means:
Oh wait—did I mention I’m an ally?
I’m also married to a Disciples of Christ minister, and we have a wonderful teenage son, Jackson (if you were at General Assembly in Nashville, you may remember him—he spoke up rather eloquently on behalf of the Anti-Bullying Resolution).
It can be tough as a clergy family to be in a place where you can’t be yourself. Where mentioning the term “pseudo-Pauline” raises eyebrows. Where talking about the added resurrection appearances in Mark raises suspicions. Where mentioning equality for our LGBTQ friends raises . . . hackles.
I’ve been in congregations like this.
One day on the way to church when Jackson was 8 or 9, he asked a really wonderful question. It was the kind of question that might put a Sunday School teacher on edge—the kind that assumes a nonliteral understanding of the Bible, that assumes God is not “out there” somewhere. As we were walking into church, I told Jackson, “This is a fabulous question. But it’s best to only ask these kinds of interesting things at church when you’re around Dad, me, Mrs. Duncan, or Mrs. Meyer.”
I was worried my husband might get into trouble because my son was asking seemingly heretical questions, which, truth be told, started when he was 5.Instead of affirming his curiosity, I was in effect saying “no” to him out of my own fear.
You want to know what else I was worried about? I was worried that if our son turned out to be gay, we’d be in a congregation that wouldn’t fully embrace him—or us. That they might say “no” to us.
The real kicker: that not only would we have to measure our honest questions, we’d have to measure how we embrace others and that Jackson would learn this from us. I was worried that David and I could not be fully honest about what we believed about the inclusion of everyone, that we would be outed as allies. How do you control for the risk of asking those kinds of questions? How do you control for the safety of a welcome that is so large? I was worried that Jackson would see the church as being an exclusive place, a gated place. A place that screams NO.
I was embarrassed, and I felt hypocritical.
We’ve since been a part of two O&A congregations and have been there during the O&A process for both. Our current congregation became O&A a few weeks ago but has been behaving like it from its beginnings 14 years ago.
What’s different about being part of an O&A congregation for someone like me? A straight ally? You might find it surprising, but I have to say that it’s the automatic feeling of acceptance and welcome. Really.
Why is that?
Because O&A congregations welcome the whole person. O&A congregations fully embrace members as God created them. And knowing that my congregation actively affirms my LGTBQ friends means that they have gone through a very intentional process and have said they will say YES to each member.
The feeling of acceptance is immense. It is BIG. It is enveloping. It covers me like grace.
To know that each member of our congregation is welcome because of who we are, because of what we bring to the table and as who God made us to be—it’s a powerful thing.
By the time Jackson goes off to college, he will have spent his formative adolescent years in congregations that have openly embraced LGBTQ members. He’s been in a congregation where the board chair and youth minister were lesbians and where he attended same-sex weddings his father performed.
He’s been in a congregation that is often described as a “church of last resort” for many who felt rejected by the congregations they’ve grown up in—who have finally found a church home that is truly affirming. It’s a place that welcomes not only all people but everything about them—all their questions and passions. It’s a place where people can be honest about who they are, with no fear of reprisal.
An added bonus: I’ve noticed that O&A congregations tend to talk about sex more matter of factly and more often than other churches. When you’re talking about embracing people no matter their sexuality, the sex part is just out there. As the parent of a teen, I’m grateful he hears those conversations and is developing an understanding of sexuality within the context of a faith community.
Being a part of Open & Affirming congregations makes me a better parent. I can hold my head up around my son, because we are in congregations that take the Gospel seriously—congregations that truly love, that say YES to the people God created us to be.