What’s the difference between welcoming and affirming homosexuals?

In the wake of all the flap about the, rather specious, albeit on the surface, good and hopeful news from the now defunct Exodus International, a friend who is on this journey with us, asked me to explain the difference between welcoming and affirming.  He honestly and openly is concerned about those who are drawing a line in the sand and doesn’t entirely get what the big deal is.   Here are my thoughts on that very sticky wicket.

See, I grew up at southern supper tables where, in one moment I might hear an elder say something to the effect of, “I don’t hate black people, I have even invited one to my own dining room table!” uttered just hours before or after a couple of N-word jokes or other dehumanizing banter was sloshed around like a stinking pot of rancid collard greens.  I have seen with my own eyes the difference between welcoming and affirming.  Hell, the church I grew up in on Confederate Ave. (in downtown Atlanta of course) “welcomed” the custodian to keep our Sunday School classrooms all nice and tidy and even eat a bit of food on Wednesday nights (well, after we were all done) but had a real hard time affirming this gentle, old black man as a member when he came seeking God amongst our pasty white faces.

So to be honest, I am just a little flummoxed myself that the difference between welcoming and affirming is so hard to understand. Maybe it  goes back to one question before we can move forward: can people in loving, respectful relationship have differences of opinion? As I have said many times, sure, we can be great friends (hell, even partners) and have differences of opinion about all sorts of ideas and issues, tastes and preferences.  We simply can not have a difference of opinion about my full humanity before God. We can not simply have difference of opinion about whether or not my marriage to my wife is real. We can not simply agree to disagree whether or not I am my stepchild’s other mamma – these are not about simple differences of opinion, these are not theoretical issues for me, this is my very life we are talking about.

But back to the question at hand. What is the difference between welcoming and affirming?

Welcoming but not affirming feels like a lot like a cunningly set trap. “Welcoming but not affirming” tells me that it is cool to come to church and that you might not be outwardly mean to me but that you are still praying for me to change into someone contrary to who God created me to be in order to get into your idea of heaven.”Welcoming but not affirming” leaves room for people to to tell me that my “lifestyle” is contrary to the will of God (do they mean this lifestyle? - or maybe this one?), to pray that my marriage will be broken, that my children will be subjected to a broken home and for me to live into a falsehood that in fact would be exchanging my natural passions for unnatural ones. “Welcoming but not affirming” leaves dangerous room for people to abuse my children with notions that their mamma’s marriage is not real.  It leaves room for saccharin-sweet folks to look my babies in the eyes and tell them to be praying real hard or their mammas to change so we don’t all go to hell… For this mamma, a’int none of that gonna fly no matter how we play our pretty marbles of semantics.

The difference between being welcoming and affirming is all about whether or one can regard me as a fully human or not. The difference is between whether or not those who merely “welcome” can go so far as to acknowledge that I am a child of God created equal to them, capable of living into my Christian faith as a lesbian with a wife and family. If someone were to invite me to a church that is “welcoming but not affirming” I simply could not worship alongside people who can only “welcome” me and not affirm my full personhood, can not truly affirm my love for my wife or affirm the reality of my shared parenthood with her. If someone truly believes I have no access to heaven, or that my wife and children are not fully worthy of the sacraments of the church (or that the sacraments are going to magically “cure” us) as long as we are living as we have been created to live then they are relegating us to a second class personhood that is not ok with me and never a place I would bring my family to worship because I would not be free to worship with my whole self.  I would never consider subjecting myself to that level of degradation.

I do not want or need a person or church to magnanimously grant me their shallow welcome.  Thankfully I am surrounded by Christians and a whole host of other loving, compassionate folks – family, friends, church and wider community – who already affirm what I know in my heart of hearts (through my own personal, tangible experience of God’s presence) to be real and true. I am living into God’s will for my life as faithfully and fitfully as this world and mortal coil will allow.

What’s the difference between welcoming and affirming?  Equality.

 

 

About Kimberly Knight

Kimberly has a long history of back-pew sitting, Wednesday night supper eatin' and generally trying God’s patience since 1969. She's lucky enough to have made her technology addiction a career and serves as both the Director of Digital Strategy as a southern liberal arts college and Minister of Digital community with Extravagance UCC.

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  • cassandratoday

    Since moving to the ATL three years ago (howdy neighbor!), I have written I-don’t-know how many introductory e-mails to pastors of churches who advertised themselves as “welcoming” on their web sites. I’ve always struggled for the right language, and now you’ve finally given it to me. I’ll have to tuck it away for the next time I move to a new city, though — if there is one — because just a week ago, I finally joined a church formally.

  • Lawrence Mckechnie

    loving one’s enemies is, I would say, pretty easy on the surface, I guess. But what did Jesus actually mean? I think he could have meant that we have to love and ACCEPT (not merely tolerate) those who might be a wee bit annoying or simply different (maybe enemies of ego). We have to look to the “other” and look to Jesus. God acted in this world through Jesus FOR everyone. We are all one in Christ Jesus. We are the bits in-between the three aspects of the Trinity. Jesus was fully human and fully divine, and therefore we have to express our wHOLE humanity (including whatever our orientation might be, for He has created all things), for ALL things hold together in Christ Jesus (Colossians somewhere… 4, I think). Sorry to go on. I just feel passionate about this..

  • Lawrence Mckechnie

    worship is deeply participatory and, therefore, we have to put our whole selve’ in. That doesn’t just mean “this part but I’ll hide that I’m gay” sort of thing. Everything is part of the fabric or canvas of who we are IN God. And, if someone is not able to express this in a place of worship (which is supposed to a pointer or a manifestation of the Kingdom itself), then that is introduces an unnecceary doubt into their minds. To approach the throne, we have to put our whole selves in. Our whole humanity, including our sexuality, is God’s handiwork. Affirming a gay person means that, yes, they are able to participate in the divine, ultimate reality; welcoming is simply just passive tolerance. In fact, “tolerance” is not really word I like. Saying “I tolerate you” is hardly a endorsement: it’s more or less saying that “I’ll put up with u in spite of your inadequcies”. “Turn or burn” theology is so utterly unbiblical. There are many, many places in the bible calling for us to care for the poor and only a few (when taken out of context…important) which appear, on the surface, to suggest that same-sex relations are wrong. Also, Jesus calls us not to judge and I think he means what he says. Just a hunch here but I think the plank could mean the myriad of worldviews people project onto their world and what they perceive. In church no one is perfect and all of us are broken. To judge one group of people, in this case case the gay community, simply because of prejudice and expediency is definitely not Christ-like. As Christians, we have to be more than tolerant. We have to be utterly non-conformist to the extent that we affirm the outcast (in this case, I would say an example of an outcast in society is the gay person) and not conform to the societal norms which dictate some of us respond to those who are different. We are all one in the body of Christ.

  • Darryl Wooldridge

    The ubiquitous poor exigesis of the scriptures amazes me. Who reads and remembers history and science? Heliocentricy was considered heterodox until science could no longer be ignored. Slavery was supported from the Bible until social and human conscious looked for a different interpretation. Inter-racial marriage was frbidden by law. Segregation or water faucets, resturants, neighborhoods, schools, and all manner of society was legal and expected until recently. And it still remains as an ugly vestage.

    Some of you might ask why would I bring up race in a debate about homsexuality. Because, just as no one can choose thier color; no one can choose there sexuality. I am black and a product of interacial coupling: “what an abomination.” Listen just as science drove us to reconsider the flat earth dogma, soon everyone will wonder why we fought so long against evolution and homsexuality. The universe is some 14 billion years old, and the earth is over 4.5 billion years old. Need I say that humans are 100s of thousands of years old? One’s disbelief will not change the science.

    Some of you may claim natural law and a short history of homosexuality as proof. This is just not defensible. Nature is full of homosexual examples in the animal kingdom not tp mention human antiquity. Do the research. Homosexual coupling is older than history’s recording. Do the research. Before I understood that sexuality is not a choice, I was offended by homosexual comparisons to the black plight in this country. At bit of research will inform anyone interested and open to learning the truth, just as I did not choose my ethnicity, Kimberly did not choose her sexuality; nor did you or I choose. Who would choose these things in a white heterosexual world and all the pain it brings?

    As one who has studied the languages and theology, let me assure you that the fundamentalist right-wing (I used to stand in thier camp) rhetoric on this subject is off.

  • Alex G.

    I file this under “clever uses of biblical polemic” which I’ve used
    against (to try to educate) certain kinds of bigots and racists. What or
    who would have a burning interest, or would go out of it’s way to block
    access, or cause access to be blocked, at a Christian church? To join a Christian community? Makes you wonder if bigots and racists are aware of who they might actually be serving without even realizing it. Because it isn’t Christ. More like the one power that struggled to block him (and his ministry and mission on
    earth) three times? I can tell you that this tends to make for very
    lively conversations with certain kinds of “Christians” who have a more
    than passing affinity for that part of the New Testament to the extent
    that they like using it as a brush to paint others with. Christianity is
    supposed to lead by example so that ALL feel loved and ALL feel
    welcomed. Otherwise, we might as well go work for other guy.

  • Y. A. Warren

    You are so “on message.” I am a heterosexual woman, brought up in the “Christian” church, who has been as vilified for who I am, as you have been. I do not need to be accepted by the holy hypocrites who believe that my acceptance affirms their holiness. I seek those of wholeness (holiness) who seek me and my partner and children as parts of their community.

  • brian

    Same old excuses. People unwilling to die to themselves and deny their sinfulness will forever be outside of Christ, as He said. I will never affirm you until to affirm your sinful lifestyle, sorry, I believe Jesus will not affirm you either.

    • mrichardson84

      Prove it, bigot. Your ignorant, presumptuous, un-Christian attitude is not welcome here. Get lost.

  • Former Racinite Returning

    Affirming means more (IMHO) than being welcoming and inclusive. It means to recognize and elevate the specialness of each other, our humanity, and our diversity. After each act of creation God said, “It was good.” After creating humankind God said, “It was very good.” Now that’s affirming. For a pastor, especially, being affirming means finding — and holding up as exemplary — the beauty and godliness in same-sex relationships … especially as portrayed in Scripture: Ruth and Naomi, David and Jonathan, Cornelius the Centurion, the eunuch baptized by Philip.

    • Ron

      Could you tell me where in the biblical record, in which these individuals are spoken of, that God, or human writers, described their relationships as an example of marriage or that their relationships included same sex sexual activity? I would like to be made aware of proof of that. It seems that you are implying that.

      • Former Racinite Returning

        Who said or implied anything about sexual activity or marriage? (That’s another matter.) Here, I simply maintain that healthy, loving, same-sex relationships are affirmed in the Bible.

        • Ron

          The topic here is about affirming and welcoming homosexuals in a church setting. I assumed you were attempting to supply biblical proof for doing such. My bad.

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

            Sounds a little like you are elevating the bible to nearly idolatrous levels. It is Jesus the Christ made constant in my life through the Holy Spirit that is elevated above ALL else, including above a collection of texts written by men over 2,000 years ago and redacted by men in a particular time and place to address specific cultural concerns based on closely held world views. The bible is NOT the literal/factual word of God, inerrant and without self contradictory passages. It does not need to be literal/factual in order to be true. Jesus is the Word and God is still speaking. Christ is risen indeed.

            • Ron

              You are right, I tend to do that and how easy it is to take the focus off Jesus and just trying to be right about something. I still am left though with the nagging question of “who interpretes the facts” about Jesus, the Holy Spirit etc. We all have our collection of facts about everything. Is it my interpetation of what the facts mean or is it someone else’s? Does the interpetation of “what is” come from within me or are the facts interpreted by something outside of myself? I agree that the bible does not need to be literal in order to be true. I believe though that when, in the bible, it says that Jesus is the logos, it means he is the “written word of God” made into flesh. Well, I am off on family vacation.

  • William T. Langill Jr.

    This is a great question and one that needed to be asked, not that it will change the minds of those convinced a committed loving and monogamous relationship can only be between hetro couples. It will however cause many to go “All In” and the end it is only in agreement that progress can be made, and it’s better to know honestly agendas up front before you invest your heart.

  • joejmz

    Actually, the difference between welcoming and affirming is one that Christians deal with, or should deal with regularly. We are all sinners, and are all welcome to attend the one place where we might hear the message that we need to hear in order to “see” our chains and seek the freedom-giver. But the church that affirms me in my adultery, be it, “pre-marital” sex, sex outside of marriage, or sex with a partner of the same gender is probably going to struggle to bring the message that will lead me to seek freedom from sin.

  • mrtspambox

    Ahh to use the pro homosexual propaganda that “God created you that way” is really just a cover, and contradicts God. The God you claim to follow. Do you honestly think God sits around all day every day “making” people, some gay, some with mental issues, some with chemical imbalances, some prone to schizophrenia etc? No God gave the power of pro-creation to the first humans who quickly corrupted it and doom the ones to come after. But you dont care about that because you, to be a “christian” is just a cover.

    The whole point of seeking God since you conveniently forgot, is to find out what GOD REQUIRES and COMMANDS and do it. Many “christians” like yourself seem to forget that as followers of God we need to seek HIS thoughts and will and do that, allow HIS thoughts to take precedence and guide our every decisions. You see Kimberly Knight, the bible is clear at Jer 10:23 that we are NOT fit to choose even out own steps. Many times Paul counsels us to keep our minds not on FLESHLY things like you are doing but on spiritual things. To live in a homosexual lifestyle is minding fleshly things, and choosing not God’s thoughts but as per Prov 3:5,6 seeking YOUR OWN selfish longing.

    See the issue here is you conveniently choose to forget Adam and Eve and why we ALL have sin. You choose to forget what you can learn from Adam and Eve. Eve sought and made her own decision without consulting God or Adam. Adam when he found out didn’t consult God but sided with his wife CHOOSING independence over allowing God to continue to make the decisions as to good or bad. Do you think God is looking for ones in heaven who want to continue to following the paths Adam and Eve set, a path of independence from God? No! God is looking for ones who no matter what will ALWAYS follow his thoughts on any and EVERY matter. Why? Because then he doesn’t have to keep wasting time correcting the screw ups of those that cannot follow direction, those that misuse their free will. Do you think God will magically make you want to practice obedience once you get to heaven? Or is it logical that God would want us to practice OBEDIENCE long before we get there?

    You see the whole pick up your torture stake that Jesus said was not for others, or for other parts of life but for you and me and everyone who wants to be a christian. To be baptized means you dedicate YOUR ENTIRE being to God, to do his will. I shouldn’t have to tell you that of course you should know being a pastor of God like you claim.To pick up our torture stake means we have to DENY ourselves things. Things that conflict with God thoughts or things that dont. What did Jesus give up Kimberly? He gave up his heavenly position, he gave up he chance to take a wive, have kids, live a perfect life on earth AND he gave up his perfect life forever when he gave it over to God when he went back to heaven. NONE of those things he gave up conflicted with God’s way of doing things, yet Jesus was willing to forgo. Yet, YOU cannot, and will not even refrain and wait on God, to repair the sin what makes your sexual orientation incorrect. Instead fooling yourself that God accepts what YOU chose for yourself, while claiming to follow him.

    You should take note of this guy’s actions http://imgur.com/lZ2xW Once he found out what God was truly offering in exchange for obedience. We can be sure he decided to wait on God. Because he is wise enough to now see that 60-80 years living outside God boundaries does NOT compare to everlasting life in a paradise earth Ps 37:29 with the sin removed and a wife and children and his resurrected family members by his side John 5:28,29, Acts 24:15.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      I only approved your comment so others can see how far we have to go to heal the deep wounds created by fear and ignorance such as this.

      • mrtspambox

        Not to get into a debate, my comment does NOT come from ignorance and fear as you are trying to claim to throw up a smoke screen. The thrust of my comment is, that if we to truly follow God we need to leave out own personal preferences, our likes and dislikes behind and adopt God’s thoughts. That is what seeking God means. Where is the ignorance and fear in that? You know the bible, you are bright enough to understand that Adam and Eve chose independence, something God never designed us to be independent of him and his choice for us.

        What you are trying to do is tantamount to me saying I want to immigrate to a country but, I WANT to decide for myself what right and wrong. Is that acceptable? What If someone wanted to immigrate to the USA yet they wanted to follow their own rules and not the rules of the land is that ok? To gain entry to God paradise IS to immigrate. We BOTH know where i’m going with this. We both know the the thrust of my last argument, and it was something you did not want to hear. How is YOUR way of thinking different then Adam and Eve? So here you are claiming “ignorance and fear”. No i’m not the one who is living in ignorance, but you are you are fooling yourself with your statements that God “made you that way”. You are being ignorant to the fact that God says thru Paul that those who live like that will NOT enter his paradise, or heaven as you beleive. You are being ignorant to the fact that God says thru Paul that those Paul was speaking to he says WERE living God displeasing lifestyles but REFRAINED to wait on God 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.You are being ignorant to what disowning yourself and picking up your torture stake and following Jesus truly means.

        No Kimberly you are being ignorant and in fear thinking that straight or not that we need a person, a mate to make us complete. You are being ignorant and in fear thinking that God cannot or will not correct the sin in us, so YOU need to live life to the fullest and “get yours” before going to heaven. That is the issue with those that think the bible says we are going to heaven, is that you need to do everything before YOU miss out. Would Adam and Eve really be in heaven if they didn’t eat the fruit? That’s the difference between waiting on God like that guy in the link and what you are doing. To refrain and wait on God for 40-80 years will NEVER equate to living for 100 billion ++++ years. Really what God is asking for refraining and patience on all of our parts is really NOTHING in the stream of time. Just like the worst problems in our past seem insignificant now, looking back. 40-80 years of abstinence will seem like NOTHING even 1000 years from now much less with everlasting life.

        Instead of looking out for the best interests of your partner and showing her what God actually says about your lifestyle, you are selfishly seeking your own interests at the detriment to yourself and her. Both of you can do right and live forever, but one or both of you are choosing the selfish path that leads to death. I’m not condemning you as much as feeling sorry for your short sightedness, by not seeking as Paul said the REAL LIFE 1 Timothy 6:19 God is offering.

        • Doreen A Mannion

          I really wanted to read your reply, but I couldn’t get past this: “Eve sought and made her own decision without consulting God or Adam.”

          • mrtspambox

            And your problem with that statement is?

        • Susan H.

          If you were thirsty, I would give you drink. If you were hungry, I would give you food. Your understanding of Scripture is far from mine, yet I would hope that despite our divergent theological views you would do the same for me, Kimberly, or anyone here. There are many good Christians who do not hold what could be considered a “Biblical literalist” point of view. I find literalism difficult (if not impossible) to understand, but it does not make my relationship with God any less than yours.

        • Father Jack

          A case in point. Adam and Eve. Real people or representatives of humanity? History or religious myth?

      • Father Jack

        I think the issue is more about levels of theological literacy and the broad churchmanship which attaches itself to both ends and the grey space between, than it is about ignorance and fear, although sometimes the manifestations are ignorance and fear. I struggle with black and white. My theological worldview and life experience is full of shades of grey. Because I have a God-given intellect I can not uncritically accept dogma – and believe me I can quote scripture with the best of them, but being able to quote verses at the drop of a hat neither implies nor proves an understanding of the wider context of the whole passage theologically-socially-historically or its relationship with other Biblical passages. Am I really to believe that something which as written six hundred years before the birth of the Christ, the Son of the Living God would a) mean the same to him b) mean the same to us? You can not lay the world of the first century, its customs, practices and beliefs over our current world. The Bible is not trans-historical, trans-cultural or trans-theological. Think for just a few minutes about the randomness of the whole process by which the canon of scripture was set: the Emperor Constantine locked two thirds of the bishops of the church in a room until they could come up with a definitive list of “authorised” writings. Some of the ones that made the final cut only did so because of the limits of understanding at the time: Revelation made it – against much opposition -because it was believed to have been written by the author of John’s Gospel. Except it was written by someone else. Yet some Christians virtually deify the Bible and raise it to almost idolatrous status. The Bible is what it is: an inspired but pretty random selection of writings where the authors, probably unconsciously, included clues and reflections of their own religious worldviews and social situations as they interpreted the word of God in their hearts. Read with care and allow the Holy Spirit space to work.

    • Doreen A Mannion

      Do you really believe some people have chemical imbalances and other medical issues because of “original sin”? If so, I’m curious where in the Bible you find confirmation of that. Are some species of animals same-sex partnered for life due to Adam & Eve also?

      • mrtspambox

        >Do you really believe some people have chemical imbalances and other medical issues because of “original sin”?

        Yes and Kimberly’s blog is from a christian is it not?

        >If so, I’m curious where in the Bible you find confirmation of that.

        Ahh the old distraction argument. You do know what deductive reasoning is right? Does or does God not say that Adam and Eve where made perfect? Does or does God not tell them if they disobey they will die? Did Adam and Eve obey or did they not? Have YOU spoken to Adam or Eve? Does heaven have crippled and defective angels? Angels with other mental issues or any other things that would make them less then perfect?

        >Are some species of animals same-sex partnered for life due to Adam & Eve also?

        Is the blog topic about animals now? Or is this just another diversion for a lack of a decent argument?

        • Ron

          You have no idea how strongly my convictions are based on an authoritative view of scripture and how firm my disagreements are with Kimberly and others who comment here. And you also have no idea how exceedingly ashamed I am of you and the attitude you display in your comments to Kimberly. You seem to ask quite often about whether she has spoken to Adam and Eve or something about Adam and Eve. May I ask you, “have you ever spoken to Jesus”? about one’s heart attitude toward others? Do you know who the ones were that Jesus had the biggest problem with? The religious leaders of the day. The people who may have had a few of the religious facts right but who were so pompous and hypocritical it made Jesus mad. You want to talk about obeying God’s commands? Jesus said, “love your neighbor” or, even, “love your enemy”. Me thinks you’ve got a lot to learn. Paradise will be full of people who know their need of God’s grace, not those who thought they obeyed all of God’s commands and were therefore worthy to condemn .others

          • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

            Daaaaaaaaaamn – preach brother-man :)

          • Seth

            +1

  • http://godofevolution.com/ Tyler Francke

    Dear Kimberly, thank you so much for this post, and for being so honest and willing to share about your experiences in general. I was just reading through this morning, when it struck me very suddenly what a load of BS it is that LGBT Christians feel like they have to write essays like this trying to convince others of your humanity and dignity. What is wrong with us when the inherent value of another human life is not a given, but a point of debate? If anyone should need convincing of this, the last group it should be is Christians, who believe every person is created in the image and likeness of a loving, perfect God. As a straight evangelical, I am so sorry for whatever part I may have had in perpetuating such a culture, or even in not standing against it more strongly and firmly. I know that doesn’t do much to ease your pain and that of the many others who have suffered, but I offer it up for what it’s worth. Thank you again.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Wow Tyler. Just wow. What a crazy, loving post. As you can see from the other comments that have come in today I, and other LGBT folks, really need to hear such from our Christian family.

  • John Shore

    “What’s the difference between welcoming and affirming? Equality.” Whoomp: there it is. Affirming is the only real welcoming. “Come on in, you horrible abomination to God!” lacks a certain warmth.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Daaang, my whole post summed up! I was way too wordy – I could’ve just said that :)

      Thanks for stopping by John!

  • James_Jarvis

    I recently had a conversation with two sisters (missionaries) from the Mormon Church. They wanted to know if I might consider converting to Mormonism. I told them I could not in good faith consider converting because of their church’s view on marriage equality. They told me how much their church loved gay people but they also wanted me to know that GOD had decreed that marriage was only between a man and a women and the only proper family was one with a mother and a father. I tried to explain why I believe this teaching is not consistent with loving people as they where created by God. In fact loving gay people means supporting marriage equality and the right to adopt children. You can not love someone and deny them equal rights. We are all equal before God.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Ooo, James, I want to hear more and how they responded to your steadfast testimony!

      • James_Jarvis

        I’m writing more about this for my blog. I will post a link for you when its done.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

          Yes please!

  • Susan

    I am glad to see the conversation about affirming those who hold on to a traditional belief about human sexuality. Although I would like to think of myself as open, welcoming, and affirming of all individuals, I come from a very traditional Protestant Christian background, and I am sure that I have lingering, latent, misdirected thoughts and ideas. I, like all of you, am a work in progress. And I embrace the work that God, through Christ is doing in me, all of you, and in the world! This dialogue is healthy, and good!

    I first wrestled with this issue (along with how to regard those who practice other faith traditions) when my children started to ask questions. I realized that their experiences and world view did not match mine or those we were dealing with in our church youth programs. I have also wrestled with my own sexuality in a variety of ways–as I think, if we are honest, most people do from time to time. The truth is that we are all born with a set of genes, into a cultural and familial context, and from there we are shaped by our experiences. Being human is a very complicated and wonderfully creative event! And, as a Christian, I believe that God is in all of that in some way. I especially believe that we are all unique and endowed with gifts for being in community, for being loved and loving others. That is challenge enough in itself!

    Adam Hamilton is a pastor in the United Methodist Church who has made a noble effort to help some of our more traditional thinkers to engage with such complex issues. Several years ago, he wrote “Confronting the Controversies,” and later, “Seeing Gray,” and “When Christians Get it Wrong.” These are basic works, presenting basic arguments and ideas to help Christians to take the risk of looking at the issues that divide us. For some, this is a huge risk, because to deviate from one aspect of a traditional belief, i.e. to accept other sexual orientations as a part of God’s plan, seems to force one to toss the whole belief system out the window. Rob Bell explains this well in “Blue Elvis.” To throw out everything means we lose our identity now, and it means we might not be accepted by God when we die.

    As Seth writes, there are many regional, traditional and denominational differences, and several realities must be accepted. First, sociologically, an open view and acceptance that sexuality and sexual expressions are as varied and unique as the human species itself is a fairly recent postulate, and we still have much to learn. A great deal of patience is required on all sides. Even in my own family, there are many differences in how we see and respond to this issue. Fear of the unknown and fear of change are also natural aspects of being human, and some can deal more gracefully with those challenges than others. If you have children, you probably can see the differences in how they each deal with structure, change and uncertainty.

    Second, neurological science is only just beginning to unravel the mysteries of the human brain. Clearly, though, brain structure and neuronal wiring, firing, and chemistry have been changing since the dawn of the human race. This is one reason that I find a process theological construct helpful. I believe that God is still very actively creating through us, with us and with all of nature. As the psalmist writes, we human beings are “fearfully and wonderfully made!” (Psalm 138).

    No matter where we stand, perhaps to “err on the side of grace” (the words of a beloved mentor) is a heart posture we can strive for. It acknowledges that I do not know or understand everything, that I could actually be wrong, and that I tust the Spirit to guide me in my growth toward understanding. Thank you for this thought provoking dialogue.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Approved

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Thank you Susan for such a faithfully cogent contribution to the conversation!

  • August Weil

    Kimberly,
    This post was just what I had been praying for! My friend just told me a week and half ago that he was gay! Our close group of friends had been waiting for him to tell us! We are so stoked for him! Reading this got me thinking of some great ways in which I can be a solid place for him, as it will be difficult as he tells his family! Your awesome Kimberly!
    Peace August

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Approved

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Thank YOU August for the truly loving and compassionate faith you share with your friend at a time when he needs it dearly. I am grateful you are there by his side as he traverses likely dangerous and painful territory with his family and community. Love and prayers headed your way :)

  • Susan Gerard

    This post, and the questions and answers in the comments section, are pure gold. Honestly, they are wisdom, the kind we should be tearing down our houses looking for. Kimberly, I don’t know how you do it, but I thank God that you do. Rick, I hope that you can remember that feeling of being discriminated against for *doing nothing wrong* (simply questioning) and use it when you think about the love Jesus had for all, and in all, I think, though he was quite angry with them, I mean the Pharisees, too.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Wow Susan, thank you so much!

  • Cameron Van Kooten

    Wow. Kimberly, I want to thank you for all of this. I just happened to stumble upon your blog and I have to admit, I think God’s hand was pretty clear in that.

    I’m a member of the Reformed Church in America, a church that officially states the homosexuality is a sin. There are a handful of progressive churches with the denomination that have signed a contract stating themselves as open and affirming, and they truly are (they are putting themselves at huge risk with this, but they really are genuinely o&a Christians and have meant the world to me.

    It’s funny, because as I’m typing this, I’m sitting in the churches General Synod (the highest decision making body/assembly) and later this week we’ll be discussing (and likely debating and probably getting very heated) about the anti-gay stance the church reconfirmed at last year’s synod. I am fearing the conversations that will happen, but have proudly worn my heart shaped pride flag sticker with “Jesus loves me” written on it all week.

    I want to thank you for being so genuinely open and vulnerable with us, as both a lesbian and a Christian. I have often felt marginalized by the LGBT community for being Christian, and shut out of Christian communities for being gay. I’ve been struggling with discerning God’s possible call on my life to enter the ministry (we do, surprisingly, have several openly gay pastors in the denomination, but because of the way the governing system works, they can’t get in trouble if their local peers don’t say anything- it’s confusing and a little weird).

    I’m just so grateful I found you and this blog. This is what I needed.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Cameron,

      First let me apologize for my tardiness in replying, I took a digital sabbath for 24 hours to detox a little from all the bits and bytes.

      Now let me say how grateful I am that you have found this wonky little corner of the blogosphere where I wonder and wander out loud with a motley crew of the faithful. I appreciate how you have articualred the paradox of being gay and Christian and how we are often treated with suspicion (at best) and hostility at worst in both Christian and LGBT communities. I hope your witness at your General Synod is received as a fruit of the Spirit by those who most need to hear and see!

      I look forward to hearing more from you on this journey.

      Peace,
      Kimberly

  • Darryl Wooldridge

    The pendulum must be forced to the other extreme. Clearly, as with heliocentricity, slavery, and women’s rights, homosexuality is in need of strident Christian voices to support. Putting aside the biblical defence which I feel I can lay out fairly well, there is simply a great need from love that the church affirm our brothers and sisters no matter their place in our scheme of “rightness” before God. Kimberly is is a voice I support in that effort. I personally affirm their place in the world and especially in the church. I propose poor exegesis as the problem of the church as it was for slavery. Kimberly is doing a yeoman’s job in representing a truth that needs to be heard for freedom and equality in Christ. I am on the final chapter of my PhD research, and I am the more firmly convinced of our deep call to affirm our brother’s a sisters living the life God has invested in them. I admit it was a bumpy road for me to come to this place. One day, in the not to distant future, we will look back and wonder why was the debate so vociferous as it was for heliocentricity. The earth revolves around the sun and homosexuals are created just as intrinsically so. Let’s not simply welcome them. Let’s affirm them! I, for one, as an ordained minister do just that.

  • Doreen A Mannion

    I used to frequent a well known congregation that was quietly welcoming. It was a whole different matter, however, when I wanted to be an intern there. Seems my attendance, my money, my singing in the pews, even my praying for others was welcomed, but my full participation was not affirmed.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      YES, this is what I am talking about! I hope you have found a church (maybe a UCC congregation) that welcomes and affirms your gifts into the whole life of the church.

  • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick Rice

    An honest question… what would affirming those who find homosexuality sinful look like?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Wow Rick, that is a great question and for some reason the simplicity with which you ask it makes me feel very open to try and answer it rather than dismiss it as a confrontational poke.

      Let me see if I can respond with some integrity and grace…

      I am not entirely sure that one can see a part of my humanity, that I understand as a gift from God, as sinful and for me to receive you as fully affirming. Now does that mean that we can not commit to learning more together through a relationship of humility and openness? No, I think there is room for the Spirit to do amazing things between people who are truly open.

      But can one hold the personal belief that part of my being is sinful and still hold that we all see through a glass darkly AND affirm that I should have equal civil rights while we work and pray to figure it all out? Yes. Can we both lay down our human hubris that pretends to know the ind of God and live into the lives we’ve been given without restricting the other from doing the same? Sure – that might just work too.

      But in the end I don’t have all the answers, I can just share from my lived experience how different encounters with folks all over the spectrum theologically and sociologically make me feel like they regard me as a beloved child of God or a vile abomination to be changed, healed or cast with my wife and children to the outer darkness. There are lots of feelings in between, more than a mere blog can capture. But hang with me for a while and see if we can figure it out together.

      • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick Rice

        There’s common ground here.

        I believe in human dignity and the respect that dignity requires.

        Your humanity is an absolute gift from God and as such, demands my affirmation… and with God’s help, I’m willing and able to grant it.

        I can’t grant full affirmation to that which my own lived experience and the teaching of my recently re-embraced Catholic faith considers disordered. And therein lies the problem.

        Can I affirm your humanity and dignity while disagreeing with the notion of homosexuality? I think I can. I think I must.

        The question is… can you affirm me despite my… disorders?

        • Doreen A Mannion

          Rick, I can affirm you, because I find you sinful also. Not trying to be flip when I say that. There’s a difference between finding sin in another and actively working to reduce the other’s self-esteem, knowledge and belief in the kingdom, etc. I have learned so much from listening to other people’s interpretation of holy works and the underlying principles of their faith. I do not learn when others only want to tell me I’m going to hell, I’m not a “real” Christian, I need to pray harder, etc.

          • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick Rice

            You won’t find me telling anyone they’re going to hell or that they’re not Christian or need to pray harder, whether they be homo or heterosexual.

            You might however find me questioning those who decry my alleged intolerance for holding to the traditional Catholic teaching, buttressed by Scripture and the Natural Law, that homosexuality is disordered, all while calling me a hateful homophobe.

            That just occurred to me today and all in the shadow or context of Kimberly’s post. Someone on Facebook, who I’ve known in the cybersense for nearly a decade, someone who is a pastor in a ‘welcoming and affirming’ church, took umbrage with my question to Kimberly in my first comment and my expounding on that question at my blog and on her wall (she had linked to Kimberly’s post and drew me to it) and unfriended me, blocked me just after messaging me to state that my question was evidence for hateful homophobia.

            So it seems that the notion of affirmation, in some circles, is not a notion those seeking affirmation are willing to grant to others. It seems more than a little hypocritical.

            I’m a hateful homophobe for merely clinging to the teachings of Scripture and my Catholic faith and attempting to live in that experience. I don’t find that all that affirming or loving or tolerant. I particularly don’t find it any of those things when it’s coming from those who are much less than affirming or loving or tolerant themselves.

            I hope I’m making some sense here.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

              Rick,

              I am sorry that happened to you. As I hope you can tell I did not take your original question as hateful or homophobic. I was grateful for the opportunity to answer a question asked plainly.

              I do take great umbrage with the use of the word disordered. My sexuality is not a disorder. Now, how I choose to live it out could be if for example I used my body and others people’s bodies as objects, costuming them with no regard for the souls within.

              I am happy that you are finding solace in your newly reclaimed faith but it is not your place to impose your faith on others any more than it is mine as a Protestant to tell you all that I find wrong with your chosen path (yes, I know there is MUCH beauty in your tradition…).

              All that said, I can tell you that I am not experiencing you as hateful but I am also not experiencing you as affirming. Even if you claim that label, if you use words like disordered, you are not.

              I welcome you here to continue the conversation as long as we can both proceed with compassionate grace.

              K

              • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick Rice

                Kimberly, I confess to you that I’m not enamored with the word disorder, that I wish there was another that conveyed the meaning a tad more compassionately but it’s the word the Catechism uses and frankly, I cannot think of another that sensitively conveys the teaching that homosexuality is sinful. You obviously disagree with it and I respect your right to do so. I’m not here to convince anyone of anything other than to attempt to state as plainly as I can that I’m not feeling welcome or affirmed in welcoming and affirming churches and particularly by those who attempt to suggest that they are more welcoming and affirming than faithful, gentle and loving Catholics.

                I of course agree that it is not my place to impose my faith on others but neither is it the place of the so called welcoming and affirming to force theirs upon me. Let’s face it, it is the welcoming and affirming who have the upper hand in imposing their perspectives on the rest of us. This is made clearer when you come to see who it is that is being ostracized in society today and how that ostracization is growing.

                Kimberly, it won’t be long now before faithful Catholics are forced, by governmental powers put in place by the welcoming and affirming, to accept and affirm that which is counter to their formed consciences.

                My only point in dialoging here, a point played out eerily by what took place today on Facebook, is that affirmation isn’t what is being pursued today.

                Proscription is under the guise of affirmation.

                This is dangerous for us all.

                • Seth

                  Rick, although you and I may be taking the counter-point perspective here, I can’t agree totally that the affirming groups hold the upper hand. Maybe in outward national media this is true, but vast pockets in the Mid-West and South are very anti-affirming and even anti-welcoming (as those 2 words are used in this context). I can’t speak for New England or the West coast, but the middle of the country is a pretty big segment still and I don’t see much change happening, except in the under 30 crowd. If I were to walk into the average church in Kansas or Missouri, I would be very surprised if it were affirming in any way.

                • Ron

                  Rick: Your comment and concern is spot on. It is not only catholics, but any church group that will soon be forced by the government to comply with what is counter to their beliefs. It is remarkable to note that anyone who holds to beliefs that are foundational to thousands of years of teaching in the christian faith, are now labeled oppressive, not “progressive”, judgemental and condemning. The gay community has suffered so much injustice by the extreme and political wing of the church, however in regard to your question, “what would welcoming and affirming look like to someone who holds to the belief….?” My answer is, I don’t think affirming each other is possible. The presuppostions about our humanity are too divergent. Kimberly does a good job of trying to keep this impossible discussion civil but the differences are too great in my opinion.

                • Susan H.

                  Ron – can you explain why you feel “any church group…will soon be forced by the government to comply with what is counter to their beliefs”?

                  I’ve seen this concern from others before, and case law would appear to prove that this should not be a concern from private religious groups. For example, Roman Catholics are not forced by the government to marry divorced persons. Private religious schools are not forced to accept LGBT students or even children of LGBT couples. Only when religious institutions are supported with public tax money do they have to comply with certain non-discrimination laws.

                  But perhaps you are getting at something beyond that, which is why I would appreciate if you can elaborate on your concerns. (I work in the legal field, so this stuff fascinates me.)

                • Ron

                  Admittedly my statement is based on feeling and conjecture. However when I listen to the public discourse about the issue we are discussing here, I am struck by the language that is used. It seems that it is more and more common to label as “hate speech” the teaching within a particular church, that homosexual activity is sinful. This ought not to be, because in spite of all the wacko behavior of some and hateful venom that they carry outside of their own church community, it is not true necessarily that “beliefs hate”. I am also concerned by what has happened in Sweden and Canada where I believe pastors were even arrested after simply preaching in their own congregational setting, after saying that in their belief the bible teaches homosexual activity is sinful and wrong. When the government starts deciding what is “hateful” towards others, then I think it rises to a different level than, will you marry divorced persons. I have much to learn in this area and perhaps you can enlighten me. I find the government very intrusive and “feel” suspicious about almost everything the government does. But it may be also helpful for you to know that I’m not a republican culture warrior, nor do I argue in any of this that I believe that homosexuality is a “sin” anymore than hetereosexuality is not a sin. I have strong beliefs about the topics discussed here and mostly am trying to learn how to be civil in my responses. disagreements with others.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

                  Ron,

                  I continue to appreciate your posture of humility as we try to sort all this out. It is complex to say the least eh?

                  I want to push back a little on a few points in this comment.

                  1. can you provide links to articles about pastors in other countries being arrested for preaching that homosexual activity is sinful?

                  2. we as a country don’t often base our policing behavior on those of other countries

                  3. I too am wary of a frequently inept an often suspect government. What I find ironic is the idea that folks who do not want the government to control their lives do want the government to control mine. All bloddy hell breaks out when we talk about the government regulating (not banning) firearms but folks sure do want the government to regulate and ban marriages like mine. See, in the case of DOMA or Prop 8 or any laws prohibiting marriage I simply want the government to BACK OFF and allow each church, each community to decide for themselves who to marry. I already have a church and community who has, does and will continue to bless my partnership as a holy covenant between me and my partner before God with our community as support – that is a marriage. What I expect, as an oddly patriotic tax-paying, hard working, community working citizen, is to be afforded every legal right that my straight sisters and brothers are afforded when the government recognizes their union as legal. Here are just a few of the rights I am fighting for.

                  Access to employer-provided health and retirement benefits for partner and nonbiological/adoptive children.
                  Access to partner’s coverage under Medicare and Social Security.
                  Ability to visit or make medical decisions for an ill or incapacitated partner.
                  Right to sue for wrongful death of partner.
                  Ability to sponsor one’s partner for immigration.
                  Marital children gain family stability and economic security because of their parents’ legal marriage that is inaccessible to nonmarital children, including the enhanced approval of marital children in society and streamlined adoption processes.
                  Access to health benefits and inheritance from both parents.
                  Right to maintain a relationship with the non-biological/adoptive parent in the event of the death of one parent (in states without same-sex second-parent adoptions).
                  Joint insurance policies for home, auto and health.
                  Joint parenting and Joint adoption.
                  Bereavement or sick leave to care for a partner or child.
                  Either grant these to all married couples or grant them to none. Period.

                  In the end I am talking about being treated equally under what laws are already in place and abolishing laws that prevent me from being so. If folks are not ready to make the theological and sociological jump to treat me as an equal child of God that is their business but it sure is not the business of the government to base laws on one set of religious codes erroneously based on a tiny handful of passages (while we conveniently disregard about 600 other laws).

                  Anyway Ron, I am still glad you are hanging around even if we do not see eye to eye.

                  Peace brother,
                  K

                • Ron

                  No I can’t, at least not right now. It is stuff I read a few years ago. Maybe I will look more later, I am now the “papa” in charge of organizing all the grandkids toys, beach toys need to be washed off etc and figure out how its going to fit in our little SUV…then off to Lake Michigan. We do disagree on some things but in regard to your list above, I cannot find anything I disagree with. Especially the rights in regard to health care decisions and benefits as that is the arena I work in as a hospital chaplain. I will fight and advocate for your rights and anyone else’s rights in regard to healthcare and the right to every benefit given to married couples. Lets hope the supreme court rules accordingly…but, there we go…should the government be involved in deciding who marries who? IMO they have NO business doing that.

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

                  Have a great vacation papa, much love to you and your family. Safe travels and happy days.

                • Susan H.

                  I appreciate you explaining your thoughts with more detail, Ron. One thing that is great about our country is the freedom of religion we enjoy here. I can understand your fear of the “slippery slope” that can occur with government intrusion into religious matters, but what I’ve seen is the courts doing their utmost to *not* interfere with religious belief or doctrine. I wish I had been able to comment earlier today, and I apologize that right now I’m just so tired that I can’t give a more detailed and coherent explanation. Perhaps I can come back to this tomorrow? Peace be with you.

                • Doreen A Mannion

                  Rick, it is hard to feel welcomed at a closed communion table. Not arguing your denomination’s beliefs, but speaking my own truth.

                • Seth

                  My wife and I were kicked out of a church that practiced closed communion (because we couldn’t agree with it). It is very divisive, I agree with you Doreen, no matter what issue it is that causes the closed-ness

                • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick Rice

                  Doreen, only now seeing that. There’s a sound, theological, scriptural reason for this. I hope you’ll take the time to delve into it.

              • Seth

                Seeing as how I was the one who raised the original question that prompted this post, perhaps it would be appropriate for me to join in this conversation. :) Since I haven’t been around the terms “welcoming” and “affirming” very much, I didn’t realize there is a theological and practical meaning behind each. And because of this and other conversations, I can say I understand now what the difference is. So the conversation has been helpful to me so far, and I am grateful for that! However, there’s a couple things for me to add. I can certainly say that most conservative churches rarely use those words, and so if confronted with them, they’ll take a different meaning from them and a very difficult topic will suddenly become more so as people will be using different definitions. Just something to keep in mind perhaps.

                Secondly, even after I understand the difference, it is still hard for me to follow the logic behind it. Similar to what Magnum and Rick were bringing up, surely there are other issues that strongly divide Christians (to the point where one may think that the other is not real even). I can think of a whole pile of them, but let me throw out the idea of sacraments, namely the fact that I don’t believe in them. Any of them. To me, they’re more hocus pocus than much else. But say I were to go to a Presbyterian church where people believe much differently. There may be people there who say Im an inferior Christian for my beliefs and there may be some who say I’m not even a real Christian. And I wouldn’t like either of those considerations toward me, but I still would find it natural for someone who believes opposite of me to try in some way, to convince me to change my mind/actions. If people treat me poorly, then I would say that’s not welcoming. But if they truly believe in sacraments, how can I label them un-affirming (in a negative fashion) if they truly believe that? Otherwise, what I am saying is that to believe differently than I and to try to persuade me is non-affirming. And I can’t agree to that definition as the whole world will divide up into millions of microscopic affirming and non-affirming groups. So I feel that there must be a third category that is being missed. Isn’t there something in between those two?

                • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

                  Seth, as you know, I do not think the analogy holds when you compare/contrast affirming one’s theological understanding of the sacraments with one’s theological and sociological acceptance of me as a human. It really is apples and oranges. I am afraid we keep talking past each other on this point – it really is hard to understand I realize, but we really are not talking about things in the same way.

                  That said, I REALLY appreciate your faithful persistence in being present to the conversations. Your voice is one I value even if can’t seem to synch up on some core concepts.

                • Doreen A Mannion

                  There’s a difference in not believing in the sacraments and saying things like they are “hocus pocus,” much like there is a difference in not believing in affirming GLBTQ people and saying they are “all going to hell.” These language examples do not encourage dialog, plus one belief is about something inanimate and the other is about people.

                • Seth

                  sorry, hocus pocus is too strong. What I mean is I don’t think any divine grace is imparted from these types of religious traditions. And yes, Kimberly I see how one is a belief, and the other is a part of who someone is. And of course, I see that the 2nd can be a much deeper part of someone. I agree with you on that.

            • Father Jack

              It really isn’t good enough any more, after years of the development of the discipline of Biblical textual analysis, to talk of a view being “buttressed by scripture”. The church has found itself on the wrong side of history, morality and theology so many times for clinging on to dogma which can not be supported. The Biblical passages which condemn homosexuality can be taken literally today regardless of whether those writings in their historical , religious and social context meant what we take them to mean today. These anti- homosexual injunctions are actually about keeping the people of Israel free from the temptations of neighbouring religions with their practice of cultic prostitution and have nothing at all to say about loving, monogamous same-sex relationships. If the church is not teaching this it is being disingenuous. Neither does an appeal to “natural law” stand up to credible analysis. Homosexual behaviour is found in many species. Sexuality is a continuum, not two fixed extremes.

              • http://www.brutallyhonest.org Rick Rice

                Fr. Jack,

                There are many, a plethora, of Catholic intellectuals whose scholarship certainly exceeds my own (by far) and I suspect will exceed yours (respectfully) who will not just disagree but do so vehemently. I won’t get into a peeing match with you on this because I suspect it’d be pointless but you must know that your assertions are weak, lacking in substance and easily countered by very, very smart people.

                • Father Jack

                  No peeing match required, Rick! I am only too aware of my academic fallibilities, but this an area I have given a lot of theological study-time to. I suppose that the bottom line here, as in so many theological discussions, is the perception of the individual of the authority of scripture. Does one see scripture as set in stone for all time or is it part of the living, on-gong revelation of God which needs to be examined by each new generation to see what God is teaching us today? I know this becomes problematic because it raises the issue of interpretation, which is always a thorny topic: which are the theological absolutes and which are open to interpretation? I see nowhere in scripture the principle that salvation is dependent on sexuality so this, to many of us, becomes an issue up for discussion. You will tell from that that my view is that scripture is not set in stone for all time: if it were we’d still have slavery – which the church found many arguments for supporting, hence my comments about it being on the wrong side of history, theology and morality in the past. I know we are in danger of moving away from the original topic of affirming congregations but in essence the prophetic ministry of Jesus trumps scripture every time – particularly Old Testament Scripture, because of the theology of the New Covenant. Jesus made friends with the outcasts of his time just as we, as his modern disciples, are required to today and today the church is often the guilty party in marginalising homosexuals. Only history will judge whether the church has got it right or wrong: I suspect the judgement will be that it has got it wrong, but in terms of affirming and welcoming, it’s a no-brainer.

  • http://spiritofpeacekingston.org/ David Starbuck Gregory

    I was the first openly gay pastor of a UCC congregation in a rather conservative community outside NYC, and during my ministry we went through the process of becoming officially “Open and Affirming.” The biggest obstacle was with the folks who insisted, “We’ve always welcomed everyone.”

    These are the same people who referred to my partner as “David’s friend.” In my mind I was saying, “Yeah, a friend with benefits.” Or there was the case of the volunteer fireman who would ask, “How’s your buddy?” In my mind I’m saying, “Which buddy are you talking about? You mean the one with whom I share a house, a bed, and some really great sex? That one?”

    I spent a number of years as an elder in a Presbyterian church that was “More Light” and while I felt very welcomed there, it was at times like being a poster boy or some exhibit in a gay zoo–one of the token gays that proved they were progressive. I could do liturgy, but I was never once asked to preach. Welcomed? Yes. Affirmed? Not always.

    • Doreen A Mannion

      David, thank you for sharing your experiences. I can appreciate being viewed as a token. During my internship, I was always the one asked to preach during “Gay Pride Sunday.” No one ever asked me how I felt about “Gay Pride.”

  • Anna M. J. Holloway

    Here’s
    a semantic and theolo/scriptural note for this conversation: The Greek
    word “agape” (so often translated as “love”) is found commonly used in
    Homer (writing c. 800 bce) in the older form “agapazo” where it means
    “welcome.” This is part of the ancient hospitality cult, which is what
    bound the various city-states to each other in some form of civility and
    commerce (even when they were fighting each other). To offer “welcome”
    to someone meant to offer them membership in the family as long as they
    stayed, and it expected the guest to behave as such. (Paris violated
    this social covenant by stealing Menelaus’ treasury, including the
    prized woman Helen, thus igniting the Trojan war about which Homer
    writes.)

    In
    classical Greek and the Greek of the gospel period, the term agape is
    used to describe affectionate connection between people of varying
    social status. It’s the only Greek word for “affectionate relation”
    that has NO class indicators. All the others assume either equality or
    inequality of social status. Agape assumes nothing; ALL ARE WELCOME to
    the relationship. Hence “unconditional” love.

    The
    word “welcome” in English derives from a phrase, “It is well (good)
    that you are come (have arrived) to this place of rest and refuge” which
    long long ago was the formal way that a monastery welcomed (!) guests.
    If you were offered welcome, your value was already affirmed.

    The very idea that one can have welcome without affirmation and acceptance is ridiculous. IMHO, anyway.

  • magnummysterium

    While I appreciate how personal an issue this is for you (and clearly you’ve seen/experienced negativity from those who claim to welcome you), I think there are a few problems with the way you distinguish these words.

    1) I have an issue (in general) with making a 1:1 comparison between the situation you described with African Americans and the current situation with the LGBTQ community and the church. While there are some parallels when it comes to bigotry, I think you do injustice to your own cause when you make that argument. Whether or not it’s true, makes it seem like you’re riding the coattails of other people’s discrimination instead of legitimately showing your own case.

    2) There are “welcoming” churches and then there are truly welcoming churches, and I think you make a rather blanket assumption that Christian churches which have a theological disagreement with homosexual practice must also inherently think LGBTQ folks are not fully human and can therefore never truly welcome them. I think that is a false assumption and one that contributes to division in the church.

    I think the underlying issue, a more general issue, is that most churches aren’t truly welcoming, and that’s true of more liberal churches as well as more conservative churches. I’ve visited welcoming and affirming churches which were short on the welcoming side and strong on the affirming side (“we affirm you but we certainly won’t take the time to introduce ourselves to you”). And I’m part of a church that hasn’t made an official stance (though the congregation is mixed) and I know for a fact that there are LGBTQ folk who have stayed precisely because of how welcoming the church is and have never felt any level of condemnation. Our church is truly welcoming.

    I say all this because when I read your article, it felt more divisive than helpful to a church universal where every church is struggling to respond to Scripture in a faithful way. Many welcoming and affirming churches also affirm military service and patriotism, which I find offensive. And many peace churches condemn LGBTQ folks to hell. Also offensive.

    All the best.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      Everything you lift up here is true to a degree except the idea that I equate my own struggle for equality to that of my African American sisters and brothers. I do not because each population’s struggle is uniquely their own. I did use a personal experience to illustrate my understanding of how I ahve come to see one way Christians live out the difference between welcoming and affirming. I found this illustration helpful to ME as I sought the words to explain it to others who are unable to see the difference.

      As for the divisive tone you feel, yes, exactly. The church is divided and in some places I am truly welcome and truly affirmed. And yes, I have experienced both types of churches you mention. Our churches are messy places made up of beautiful and broken people but one blog post is hardly the place to cover all the ground that needs to be covered, no one would even read all that.

      I can not pretend that the church universal is hunky-dorey to make others feel good. It is my faith that calls me to speak truth to power from within my own context. I answered a particular question posed to me from my heart, based on my experiences to help some who might have no basis for understanding. Your comments here help further that goal as well. With grace I hope we refine one another.

  • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/ Chris

    I will never experience the same sort of discrimination as someone who is gay or lesbian, but it seems this is a common problem for the church on issues of disagreement in general. I have been the victim of fairly intense persecution on the part of fundamentalists twice now simply for my differences in belief and choice from their accepted dogma.

    Where I am sure I would be “welcome” at their churches — provided I kept quiet and in line — this is a far cry from being affirmed by the church as having done a great deal of study and simply decided for myself to differ from them on a number of subjects. The church is far too convinced that it is right.

    That said, I do know a woman who would likely disagree with you on homosexuality but still treat you properly. The difference in her faith, I believe, is that it is faith seeking understanding, not faith already understanding. The humility in her position is commendable, even as I disagree with her on this issue. Of course, I have not had to be around her as a homosexual and never will, but I imagine it is a much more gracious experience than the usual.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      I do hear that but again I would like to lift up – we can not simply disagree about homosexuality as if it were a hypothetical case. When we disagree about homosexuality we disagree about my humanity. I have been treated with great kindness and sweetness by people who would also tell me and my children we are going to hell. I have been treated with all the proper niceties by people who still want to deny me civil rights based on their religious beliefs. And I have also been openly abused by “good Christians” who have spit in my face and called me an abomination – some of them my blood kin.

      But, I truly love your distinction between faith seeking understanding and not yet understanding. I am grateful to walk alongside people who are open to the holiness of doubt and the grace of real relationship. This is hard stuff and some days I am making it as I go along, much like the rest of us eh?

      • http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/ Chris

        This woman whom I mention would — I believe — never, ever, ever say anything of the sort. Again, though, I am not gay, so I will never really know how she treats homosexuals. I believe, though, that while she has her personal convictions, misled as they may be, she also has the humility to say that she doesn’t know some things.

  • disqus_XubDlPuXDe

    I was “welcomed” into a local UMC – I mistook that welcome for equality – As soon as we met with the pastor and asked him to baptize our infant son, I was asked to leave the mom’s book study & told that they would not baptize him, because we could not promise to raise him in faith, as we were raising him in sin – Learning the difference between welcoming and affirming was a painful one

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

      I am sorry you experienced such pain at the hands of people claiming to represent a loving God. It truly hurts my heart to hear of your experience. I hope you have found a church home where your whole family is TRULY welcome AND affirmed.

      Thank you though for sharing with us here so others might better understand the difference.

      • disqus_XubDlPuXDe

        I have! We found equality in our local ELCA Lutheran Church – True equality! Our children are growing in faith & so are we – It is worth it to keep looking

        • LorenHaas

          Glad you found a home. My spiritual life blossomed when I quit swimming upstream and left to find what was right for me and my gifting. I wish more people would vote with their feet instead of putting up with wretched teaching.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

          PTL and alleluia!


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