As both a pastor and a participant in at least two Open & Affirming Congregations in my life (so far), I have reflected quite a bit on the question of what difference being in an O&A Congregation has made in my life and ministry. Besides the obvious – that it makes having employment far more likely and enjoyable as an openly queer minister – I firmly believe there are many more widely shared reasons how being involved in and committed to such congregations deepens one’s faith and broadens our perspectives.
Most especially, being a part of an Open & Affirming Congregation expands my understanding of welcome at God’s table because it demands I look beyond myself and my own specific needs for acceptance, affirmation, and access to see how others are being welcome at the table – and why so many are not. This isn’t a necessary connection, as we sadly acknowledge that some who are oppressed move to a more base response by seeking to take out their anger and frustrations by oppressing others. But those who truly follow the words, actions, and spirit of Christ are open to more possibilities to turn towards openness, generosity, and inclusiveness.
In 2000-2001 I had a significant amount of time between moving from one ministry setting to another which allowed me to rethink some of my original and perhaps a bit more myopic understandings of justice. My perspective on justice was closer to “just us” than “justice for all.” With prayer, study, and visiting other dynamic and diverse congregations my perspective and commitment became broader and more expansive. My work for justice also became exponentially harder and more time consuming.
By the time the Elders of Franklin Circle Christian Church began to substantially consider what it would mean for our church to officially become Open & Affirming, I had fully moved to the point of recognizing, in the words of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.” It reminded me of the pin I used to wear (to many a General Assembly, if I recall correctly) that said “Recognize The Connections: Homophobia – Racism – Heterosexism.” I think I wore that button then more as a way to convince those committed to the other “causes” to come over to mine, rather than to honestly work for the full equality of all God’s people.
I’m at a different place now when I wear that button. When Franklin Circle Christian Church began to examine it’s Mission Statement in light of our new commitment to being open to and affirming of all of God’s people, we at the very same time committed ourselves to being an Anti-Racist/Pro-Reconciling Congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) through the Ohio Region’s program and an Accessible Congregation through the National Organization on Disability (a program that has unfortunately become nonoperational though information is still available at http://www.da-edomi.org/con-nod.html). It was also important for our congregation to name in our Mission Statement the full inclusion of others, including folks with differing economic circumstance and ethnicity, as there are folks in our community whose lives span these and other varied spectrums.
One of the primary points of resistance to the “list” we have in our statement (now a part of the preamble to our Constitution & Bylaws) was that it would invariably “leave out” someone. We address this through a great deal of creative and experiential education, including regular Widening The Circle Forums which cover many diverse perspectives on hospitality, inclusiveness, and diversity. We also came to the agreement as an entire community that this Mission Statement was a working document that can and should change as society and our congregation developed. What was paramount was that we begin somewhere! Without a inventory of sorts, we would be prone to acting generically and thus ineffectively.
So what it means to me to be part of an Open & Affirming Congregation is that I have the invitation – and I would say a calling from God – to be committed to the full inclusion and participation of ALL of God’s children in what Martin Luther King, Jr. so beautifully described as The Beloved Community. And in working for and recognizing the liberation, empowerment, and utter joy experienced by a sister or brother who realizes they are completely welcomed and affirmed I am made more whole. So is the Body of Christ. And for this, I am forever grateful.
God’s Grace Is Abundant,