“UNFAIR” study-guide helps church become reconciling and affirming

1studyBack in July of last year I got an email from one Sue Gunter of Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Sue wrote to say that her church, Fairlington United Methodist, was using my book UNFAIR: Why the “Christian” View of Gays Doesn’t Work  as a basis for discussing whether to become openly welcoming to people of all sexual orientations. She wanted to know if a study-guide for UNFAIR was available for her church’s use.

Weirdly, I was just then maybe a week away from finishing that very thing. A study-guide for UNFAIR was something I’d been working on for quite a while; I wanted it to serve as both a guide for UNFAIR and a readily accessible, stand-alone, conversation-ennabling, essentially condensced version of it.

Here’s a bit from its introduction:

This guide is meant to foster thought and conversation shared in four weekly group sessions. Its overall purpose is to usher the group through the process of fully considering all aspects germane to the relationship between gay people and Christians, which at this point has become too problematic for Christians to ignore. Week 1 (“Getting to the Hurt of the Matter”) looks at the pain being generated by that relationship; Week 2 (“Throwing the Book at Them”) assesses the Bible passages largely responsible for that pain; Week 3 (“All in Love is Fair?”) considers the real-life challenges inherent in the alleviation of that pain; and Week 4 (“When completeness comes”) acknowledges God’s role in forever eradicating this particular pain from the body of his church.

Anyway, I sent the guide to Sue. And her church used it.

Then, last week, Sue forwarded me an email sent to all Fairlington members from the Chair of the Fairlington Church Council, which read in part:

Dear Congregational Family:

This email is to share the outcome of our congregational vote on whether Fairlington United Methodist Church should become a Reconciling Congregation through the adoption of this welcoming statement:

Fairlington United Methodist Church proclaims without reservation God’s unconditional love and grace, and affirms the dignity and worth of every person as created in the image of God. We commit to extend Christ’s gospel hospitality, creating a place of safety and spiritual sanctuary for all people. Therefore, this community of faith welcomes into membership, participation and leadership all persons regardless of age, race, ethnicity, gender, family structure, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic background, political affiliation, physical or mental ability, faith history, or life experience. We recognize among us differences in theology and biblical interpretation, and covenant to accept, respect, and love one another along our faith journeys. As God loves us, so let us love one another.

There were 399 votes cast by professing members, with 373 voting yes (93.5%) and 26 voting no (6.5%); thus, our congregation has voted affirmatively to become a Reconciling Congregation.

Right on! I love it. And I’m certainly honored to have played any role at all in Fairlington reaching this great decision.

It was really encouraging to see how thoughtful Fairlington was throughout their whole discernment process. They made sure to do it right.

If your church or study group would like to see or use the study-guide for UNFAIR, drop me a line (here, or at john@johnshore.com). I won’t ever charge much for the guide, but I’ll let three more groups have it for free in exchange for their input on it.

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About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. John is a pastor ordained by The Progressive Christian Alliance. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. And don't forget to sign up for his mucho awesome monthly newsletter.

  • Matt

    This is how it happens. Slowly, but surely. Thank you for facilitating this, John.

  • gregory

    Bravo, again John! … i keep finding myself sobbing when I get to your site. don’t worry …they are those sweet kind of tears which seem to be the soul washing, and releasing years of sorrow borne as a gay person, having grown up in a strict Pentecostal environment. Life has brought me much richness, since “coming out” and to terms with my spirituality and homosexuality, … but indeed as well as great beauty – certainly it’s share of pain, and difficulty. Yet to me, the most tragic aspect is, that even while battling the frontlines, and sorrow of the AIDS crisis claiming friend after friend, …. it seems nothing has caused me more pain along the way … than the indifference, outright ugliness, judgement, condemnation, division and hurt in deep family relationships …which have I have encountered directly from “the Church”. You really are an invaluable and timely prophet … a “voice in the wilderness”, at a time when I, and, I believe fellow Christian gay brothers and sisters are just exhausted and weary with the debate. In fact, most of the gay community having resolved to simply leave fundamentalist Christians be, and to show love in our daily lives and allow our spirit to bear what witness possible … and find our own paths, trusting in our own inner truth and direct relations with God. Re-entering the territory just became too much pain. Yet voices such as yours are more healing, more powerful, than you could possibly know. Keep on keeping on! How we need you!

    • Jill

      Hi Gregory. I just wanted to say to you that I’m a mushy-hearted girl who needs to hug people who are crying and enduring all this stuff you have gone through. That’s all, I’m sending hugs to you and my thanks for sharing your story.

      • Maria

        ~sneaking in for a group hug~

        love you guys…((((hugs))))

        ~sneaking back out~

        • Jill

          Maria, don’t leave! :) You are getting hugs from me too. I love to hear you are kung fu fighting your way to health.

          You’re a cat that’s fast as lightning.

  • Kerry

    Wow – love their statement and love that you played a big part in it.

    That is just great! Keep up the good work! :-)

  • Lymis

    John, that’s wonderful! Congratulations! And wonderful of them, as well!

  • charles

    yeah… thats pretty damn awesome. Congrats to you John!

  • Matt

    Hey John,

    In the (sort of) same vein of your post, I wanted to share something I have going on this Thursday. I have made a date with my mom and stepdad to treat them to dinner, and at this dinner, I will come out to them as transgender, as Female-to-Male. I will explain to them what’s been happening in my life for the past year, explain my plans to transition, what that entails, what that means for me and them, and allow them space to ask questions. A trusted friend of mine will be calling me the morning of to get me in the right spirit and mindset, and encourage me.

    I have heard and seen story after story of painful coming-outs from my trans siblings. I want to acknowledge that gender transition is an intense experience, with a lot to talk about, a lot to think about, and a lot of feelings to feel. But I want the overall theme (for every person) to be about joy, love, and new possibilities. I am tired of hearing the hurt, and pain, and rejection. So I want to start with me. I have no control over what others will say, but I want to create a transition story that will give others true hope that they, too, will still have those most important to them during and after their journey.

    Right now, I feel like the actors must feel backstage before a play. I have that same feeling of stage fright, like I have been preparing intensely for this moment, and things will be permanently altered the moment I step out and say what I need to. I am having fear, and mistaking fear for not wanting this. But I realize that it’s just plain fear, fear of change, knowing the enormity of it all. So if you need someone to pray for, or just would like to, I would really appreciate that.

    I also just want to acknowledge everyone here, for encouraging me and loving me this entire time. It really means more than I can put into words.

    • Anne

      Matt – what a beautiful approach. I’ll be praying for you.

    • Jill

      Matt, you know you rock. And we know it too. You’re a power conductor, a force of nature that has amazing things happening. You radiate kindness and intelligence in these pages, and I believe you have everything you need inside to honor your true path, to speak intelligently about who you are and where you’re going in life to those who may not yet understand it like you do.

      You may very well have had innumerable reasons to experience fear throughout this process, but I am confident in you and your ability to do this. Of this I have no doubt. Consider yourself prayed for, my friend. :)

      • Matt

        Thank you, Jill. You’ve always been the brightest light here for me.

        • Jill

          There’s not a kinder, more generous compliment you could’ve paid me, Matt. It brought tears. I take it graciously.

          Peace to you, my brother. You have no idea how much you inspire us.

    • Maria

      Matt,

      I am praying for you. I do pray that it turns out to be a positive experience for you and your family. There are few experiences comparable to having your parents accept you for who you are when all you have had so far is fear of rejection and despair.

      But in the end, you know you have to go through this because this is who you are. It is time for them to love the true you instead of loving that false charade you have built for their benefit. After tomorrow they will have the option of loving the true person that you are, or continue loving a person that was never there except as a construct you made to shelter yourself from the world. I pray they wisely decide to love you you for who you are. I pray that they do so right away though, absent that, that they will give you the time and opportunity to let them understand who you are but without any of the distortions placed there by fear.

      I love you brother Matt and wish you the smoothest of paths.

      Maria.

      • Maria

        I would write you more but the nausea from chemo is preventing me from doing so.. and all I have is more of the same slated for tomorrow… but do know that you are loved and worried over… and also know that in the end it is really, really worth it.

        Maria.

        • Matt

          Thank you so much, Maria. I didn’t know you were undergoing chemotherapy. I’ll pray that your treatment team can keep your nausea at bay, and ask for God’s help as well. Get some rest–you’ll need it. I’ll let you know how the dinner goes.

    • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

      Blessings, Matt! You are very brave! *hug*

    • spinning2heads

      I’m pulling for you!

    • Allie

      Praying for you and your family, Matt! It’s been joyful watching you find the strength to come out to your family as you’ve expressed it on this site, and I hope the best is yet to come.

  • Dennis Dawson

    Ha! You’re all having an impact on the world and spreading tolerance, when all you’ve ever wanted was to be liked for being you.

    Well, I like you for who you are, not the decency, humanity, humor and brotherhood you spread through your good works.

    Just so you know.

    ~D

    • http://www.facebook.com/bill.steffenhagen?sk=wall Soulmentor

      HUH?!?!?!

      • http://www.enesvy.com Nicole

        Jeez! What Soulmentor said!

        • vj

          I think Dennis means that he likes John for being John, and that “the decency, humanity, humor and brotherhood you spread through your good works” is an added bonus…?

  • Owengirl79

    I would love to hear from one or more of the 26 from the church that voted no. Why, if you are a Christian, would you want to exclude anyone from your church? Even if you disagree with or don’t like their sexual orientation, political views, race, or whatever, why wouldn’t anyone be welcome, AND LOVED, in and by your church? I am not trying to bash you, just really interested in answers.


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