Believe Out Loud Campaign Targets Gay-Friendly Mainline Pastors

Last year I asked whether Christian leaders who quietly support increasing the rights of gays and lesbians in society and church should be outed.  I asked because I have publicly stated my position, and I’m often asked told by others that they just know what so-and-so Christian leader/author/pastor thinks about “the gay issue.”  In other words, some people suggest that particular Christian leaders are being coy about how they feel about same sex marriage or gay/lesbian ordination in order to not be punished in the Christian marketplace.

I was chastened by a friend of mine who leans toward full acceptance of gays and lesbians in all spheres of ecclesial and secular life.  He’s a pastor, and he told me that there’s even more at stake for him.  To make the gay issue a major trope of his preaching or pastoral leadership has implications for both his gay and hetero congregants.  In fact, he told me that several lesbian couples in his church have asked him not to vocalize his opinions on the matter.  They want their church experience to be free of the politics that their sexuality brings up elsewhere in their lives.  Fair enough, I said.

Well, along comes the Believe Out Loud Campaign, meant to encourage mainline pastors who favor gay inclusion in church and society but fear congregational dissension to come out about their beliefs.  [UPDATE: their website does not seem to work -- not a good sign for the campaign, which launched yesterday (Valentine's Day).] [NEWER UPDATE: Free advice: If you're trying to launch a social media campaign, pay the $19.95 on GoDaddy to get your own URL. And have your subpages up and running before you launch.]

Religion Dispatches quotes Robert Chase, who is running the campaign, saying,

Believe Out Loud signals that the effort to achieve LGBT justice within American Christianity has reached movement proportions. By reaching out to those who are still uncertain about homosexuality in the church, we expand the conversation. As individuals begin to move from fear to empathy, from ignorance to understanding, and from apathy to action, a new space is created for extravagant welcome to all.

The RD piece, by Peter Laarman, goes on to note that, depending on one’s perspective, the untold thousands of gay-friendly clergy who keep their mouths shut about their opinions on the matter are “silent friends” (so says author Steve Clapp), or the “uncertain middle” (so says author Robert P. Jones).  Laarman goes on,

Believe Out Loud has serious ambitions: it does not simply aim to lay the groundwork for healthier conversations and new perceptions within Christian communities; it expects to spur a significant increase in the number of congregations that are actively engaged in formal processes either to become officially welcoming for the first time — or to upgrade the quality of their LGBT-related ministries, in the event that they are already officially “on record” as welcoming queer people.

What Laarman does not do in the RD piece is cast a critical eye toward the campaign.  Instead, the end of the article is populated with adoring quotes from denominational wonks and a Human Rights Campaign staffer.

But it reminds me of the spate of United Church of Christ ads that I referred to as “silly” in my book, The New Christians.  Why silly?  First, because they caricatured evangelicals.  And second, because ad campaigns are not going to rescue dying denominations.

Believe Out Loud is a bit different.  The goal, it seems, is to foster conversation among moderate mainline (and even evangelical) congregations.  That, it seems to me, is a good thing.  But will it work?  I doubt it.  (First, they’d better get their website up.)

Do you think it will work?

  • http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com Bob Cornwall

    Tony, I think they’ve changed their URL overnight — http://www.rmnwitness.org/ As to whether it will work? I know in my case, I would say a majority of my members know my views, even though I’ve not been overly vocal from the pulpit. My elders talked about how to move forward in the conversation with the congregation. We want to move carefully, in part because those members who are gay or lesbian don’t want to be the focus of attention.

    The other questions concern how we move forward — do we make it a matter of civil rights based on the current science? Or, do we take a route that’s focused on developing a more mature theological and biblical understanding of sexuality? My view is that we should take the latter course. So, will outing “silent clergy” work? Not all that sure it will, but if the group can provide access to resources for conversation, well then it might have value.

    • http://tonyj.net tony

      Bob, I thought of you when I wrote this post, and I wondered how you’ve handled it in your congregation.

      Brian, I’m not suggesting that anyone stay silent. I tend to get frustrated when others stay silent. But I am trying to understand their motivations.

  • http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com Bob Cornwall

    I think I may have stumbled on to the cause of the problem. The URL I provided in the earlier comment takes one to a UMC Reconciling Ministries site. Perhaps the organizers of this effort didn’t realize that another group had already taken on the idea and the graphics. Very confusing! But, I can’t load the site provided in the Laarman essay. So, something is messed up!

  • http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com Bob Cornwall

    Tony,

    I think it might be instructive to note the differences between Brian’s UCC tradition, and my Disciples tradition. Our two communions have a partnership relationship, but we work very differently. In the UCC, the denomination has taken a stand on this issue. Pastors can stand up and say, well, shall we get on board with the denomination?

    Disciples, even if a General Minister or a General Assembly should make a certain statement, congregations will often say — so what. And because we are non-creedal, with the Bible (New Testament) supposedly being our guide, then a slower route is usually advisable. First you work with the way in which scripture is interpreted and experienced, then you get to application — in this case, how do we welcome our gay brothers and sisters into the community?

    In my previous congregation, which was not yet “open and affirming” in its orientation, the search committee was asked whether they would consider a gay pastor (to succeed me). The answer was, while they weren’t sure they were ready to call a gay pastor, they surely wanted to have one who was open and affirming (and they pointed to me as the model). It did take time to get to that point, but I think we had made a lot of headway!

  • Susan

    I’m totally with you Brian. And the UCC, by the way, is also not “creedal,” so there are even more similarities with Disciples than Bob might think. I do hope to learn more about Believing Out Loud, so I thank you, Tony, for calling attention to it. I would much rather be part of a “dying” congregation that lives out the radical inclusiveness of the Gospel than to be part of a burgeoning movement or church that thinks it’s ok to reject or suppress or diminish certain Children of God based upon their God-given gifts for same-gender-loving relationships. It’s also feels so incredibly unChristlike when one encounters one’s own heart and soul torn apart and examined and critiqued as if it were a scientific specimen. I’m not at all saying that is happening here in this forum, but it happens constantly within Christian conversations about this subject. I’m not sure God’s love is so easily “acquired” through rigorous deconstruction such as that, but better to have conversation than no conversation; and better to be open and honest about our beliefs than to be duplicitous or deceptive or withholding of God’s love.

  • http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com Bob Cornwall

    Susan,

    I don’t mean to be picky here, but the UCC isn’t non-creedal in the same way the Disciples are. The UCC does have an official Statement of faith. http://www.ucc.org/beliefs/statement-of-faith.html. For Disciples, while the Preamble to the Design has the flavor of a statement of faith, we have from our beginnings declared ourselves to be non-creedal, looking to the New Testament and to Christ as our guide.

    But, that said, I don’t think either Tony nor I have suggested that we make anyone a scientific specimen. The question is, what is the most effective way of going forward, so that inclusion isn’t merely the domain of a few. Civil rights and women’s ordination took time and continues to take time. I will tell you, that it was a combination of personal relationships and the study of scripture that opened my eyes to the role of women in the church, just as it did for my opening to the issue of gays in church and society.

  • Susan

    I’m studying polity right now with the most recent president of the UCC. I can see how this statement of faith can be seen as a creed, but according to Rev. Thomas, any statement of faith in the UCC is a testimony and not a creed. No one is held to a creedal statement in the UCC. As for the scientific approach to the radical inclusion idea for LGBTQ people, my previous post pointed out that I don’t at all think that’s what’s going on in this forum. Not here. But in so many other places. I got a chance to glance at the Believe Out Loud Campaign page (I’m at work, can’t do more than that now) and I have some hope that indeed they will work on exactly what helped you: relationships and scriptural study, and that the objectification will be kept to a minimum. That would be progress!! So glad your eyes (and clearly heart) opened up to greater love and inclusion!

  • nathan

    First, because they caricatured evangelicals.

    Wait…you mean you actually care about fair portrayals of evangelicals?

    I thought you hated the Church and embodied the greatest threat to evangelicalism…

    my bad.
    ;)

    On a serious note, fascinating post.

  • william j

    I think the church I work at does a fair job at navigating this difficult issue. I w0rk at a mainline church, but I come from an evangelical tradition, and am unsure of where I stand regarding homosexuality and sin. The majority of the staff, however, is convinced that there is nothing sinful about committed, monogamous homosexual relationships, with probably a large part of the congregation as well. The church has decided, though, not to label itself as “open and affirming.” Instead, it tries to be a place that welcomes all people and that genuinely values a diversity of opinions. We do have several gay couples who are a part of the church. So I feel (mostly) comfortable working there. I’d rather be a part of a church that places a higher value on finding a way to be the church together, even with great differences of opinion on very important issues, than be a part of one that ends up in one camp or the other and then blasts the other side for being wrong.

  • Susan

    William J., it sounds like your church is doing good work and has made it some distance along the path toward the Gospel’s radical inclusion of all God’s children. I commend them for that. But welcoming “all people” is a common, churchy phrase that means nothing, especially to most LGBTQ people: absolutely nothing. A church that cannot go public with its support for the population that is perhaps the most reviled, persecuted, condemned, excluded, and damaged by the Church still has some soul searching to do…still has strong reservations somewhere in its collective psyche about LGBTQ Children of God and still, on some level, equates the gift of God’s same-gender-loving capacity with sin; a judgment that is very damaging to the Body of Christ. The public statement, for most LGBTQ people I know, is paramount. Without it, that church is not safe (and, in fact, is in the closet with respect to this issue) and the perception, at least, is that the potential for spiritual abuse of LGBTQ people in that closeted church is high.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Interesting post and some great comments.

    As a pastor of a small, rural, mainline (UMC) church, I have learned that while all things may be permitted (Believe out Loud!) not all things are beneficial. If I were to move as quickly and decisively as some seem to insist on I would find myself alienating many and ruining my chance to lead this congregation from where they are now to where I feel we ought to be. Ears and eyes would close and conversation would cease.

    I recently wrote an essay titled Homosexuality: God’s Gift to the Church. A portion of that essay can be found on my blog here: http://chadholtz.net/?p=956

    I have shared that with people who know me well and have gotten mixed responses – anywhere from being told I have been turned over to Satan (from a family member) and others thanking me for giving them a theological and biblical reason to be affirming.

    So my question to some of you more seasoned pastors or church leaders is: How do you navigate the road ahead when you are in a church that is not ready to hear this? I am grateful that in 3 years here I have been able to stop the pledge of allegiance being recited in church on national holidays! Change, I have found, is slow coming. I’d love for it to be different, but….

    peace,
    Chad

  • Susan

    Change is slow, and necessary, and so is patience. And yet the reality is that the hard-heartedness that constitutes the rejection of LGBTQ people in the church will continue to damage the Body of Christ and the Church will continue to suffer for it, but not as much as will LGBTQ people who long for a place of inclusion and acceptance in the Church. So it is a tragic slowness, a sad slowness, and it will continue to keep many open-hearted and loving people–rightfully– from the Church, perhaps just as much as embracing the Gospel of radical inclusion would drive others away.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    “And yet the reality is that the hard-heartedness that constitutes the rejection”

    Susan,
    I’m not so sure I can chalk up the ignorance of some as “hard heartedness.” Most of the people I know who draw a line in the sand when it comes to homosexuality are very loving people who just have strong convictions about this based on how they interpret Scripture. So I wouldn’t say they have hard hearts – only that they are ignorant. Most likely, they have never even met an openly gay person who follows Jesus.

    Also, there are degrees of affirmation, I think. There are those who are all in, saying ordination is OK. Then there are those that say gay people can be church members but not ordained. Then there are others that say gay people can attend church and be welcomed (like any other “sinner”) but cannot become members.

    I think it takes a skilled leader and shepherd to navigate a congregation through each of these plateaus. And, as you point out, it takes patience.

  • Susan

    Definitely one needs a skilled leader and shepherd to navigate a congregation on its way to understanding and embracing the Gospel, and I am grateful for all of those who do this hard work. I guess I see the adherence to scriptural literalism as a form of hard-heartedness because of the pain and suffering it causes so many people and because it does, in fact, create a spiritual rejection of one person by another, but one could also call that ignorance as well. I also see fear in it, and I do have sympathy for those who are fearful enough to embrace biblical literalism, as long as they don’t use it to abuse others. The church can be a very safe place for people who use the Bible to exclude others, but that means it is not a safe place for those it excludes, or not a place at all… So here’s a question that is as the heart of this issue: is the old maxim “Ignorance is no excuse,” not applicable in the Church? Most people, even if they have not met gay Christians, have met gay people in this day and age. Gay people who are not Christians are also God’s children aren’t they? In fact, they may not be Christians precisely because of the hatred and persecution that biblical literalism promotes against LGBTQ people in society. Looking forward to reading your post about all this when I get a chance.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    “Ignorance is no excuse…”

    That is a great point, Susan, and one I need to think over. At first blush I feel extremely convicted because as a pastor I take it as one of my chief responsibilities to teach. If someone is ignorant, who’s fault is it? If my kids come home without adequate knowledge in science to prepare them for the next grade I may wonder briefly about my kids ability to learn (of course, though, they are brilliant like their dad! ha!) but I will certainly wonder whether or not the teacher is teaching.

    And yes, gay people who are not Christians are God’s children, too. I am thinking baby steps here. For people who are biblical literalists and have been raised to think this way, meeting a non-Christian gay person will do nothing to convince them they are wrong – in fact, it may only further entrench them in their preconceived notions. But meeting a gay Christian can certainly disrupt their world view, if only for a moment. But perhaps long enough for the Spirit to move.

  • http://www.wesleyf.org Rev. Roger Wolsey

    Tony asks: “Do I think it will work?”
    Answer: it’ll work a heck of a lot better than doing nothing (i.e. better than the typical evangelical and mainline status quo).

  • http://jontrouten.blogspot.com/ Jon Trouten

    I think that most will agree that most Christian churches do not welcome GLBT individuals or leaders. Even if church leaders and pew-sitters deny this or minimize this, those of us who are G, L, B, or T have almost universally experienced expulsion, rejection, libel, and character assassination from otherwise well-meaning Christians. I mean, married gays are treated mostly with contempt and our families are compared to incest, murder, addiction, and thievery. But in the most loving manner…

    I acknowledge that things are changing and more in church leadership and membership are willing to silently tolerate or even accept gay individuals and/or families. That’s a good thing. But…

    1. How do GLBT folks know that your church is a safe place to worship or reconnect with Christ if you don’t publicly acknowledge this and if mostly every other church they’ve experienced condemns them?
    2. If your church can’t openly and civilly acknowledge GLBT inclusion, how will you handle it when members begin realizing that there are gay people present there and they don’t agree with it? I’m thinking a couple years back in that TX-based Baptist church that ran into this situation with their picture directory and one of the gay couples wanted to be photographed togehter as a family unit. Or an older lesbian couple that I know that were welcomed to their congregation church for nearly a year before the church members realized that they’re not roommates, but instead wives. Let’s just say, they don’t go there anymore.

  • http://pastorbobcornwall.blogspot.com Bob Cornwall

    John,

    Your raise a good question about signaling inclusion. That is the main reason for going open and affirming (the Disciples term). I think that churches need to work toward that status, lest they give mixed signals to the community.

    Your mention of Broadway Baptist Church, which was pastored at the time by a friend of mine, is a good example of a church that was open to an extent but they didn’t want to publicize the fact. That got Brett into hot water (and into the news). The majority of the congregation, by the way, supported the proposed directory, but a sufficiently influential minority caused enough of a huff that the congregation was divided. It is not an easy process to move forward on. That’s why I go slow!

  • http://existentialpunk.com Existential Punk

    i am a queer Christian and i believe people need to stand up for or community in the churches around the world. i’m so sick of hearing people say it’s just not the right time! What if this had been the attitude towards African Americans and women???

    Here’s a poem i wrote recently:

    i Am Queer & An American Citizen

    by Adele Sakler

    i am an American citizen.

    i am the queer citizen.

    They tell me i’m a 2nd-class citizen

    by the way they take my rights away

    by mob majority votes.

    i laugh in the face of adversity as

    i keep up the fight,

    though i get weary

    Will tomorrow bring freedom

    and equality

    Like it did for women and African Americans?

    One day i will be a first-class citizen, equal and on par

    with every other law-abiding, tax paying citizen.

    Nobody will keep this queer American down!

    Copyright 10 February 2010 by Adele L. Sakler

    All Rights Reserved

  • Jerry Leeper

    Why wouldn’t this work? Will it bring about the end of discrimination against LGBT people in the Mainlines all by it self? No, of course not, but I can’t think that it might get at least some clergy and congregations to actually confront the issue of how to deal with Christian sisters and brothers of differing sexual orientations.

    The one thing that I didn’t see that I think is important is a call for action for the ‘queers in the pews.’ Nothing strident or spectacular, but I think it is important for LGBT people to tell their story, esp. in fence sitting congregations. It’s not something that every LGBT people can do; you have to be very comfortable with where you are at in your identity and your spirituality, but I feel that strong LGBT laypeople telling their stories to their fellow congregants is the path to changing attitudes in churches. That’s why sometimes I’ve considered myself a ‘missionary to the straights’.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    I’d like to thank everyone for the sincerity and generosity in the comments here. Whether this campaign works or not is yet to be seen, I suppose, but I know just being part of this conversation has deeply convicted me and has had me thinking a lot about how I can lead/teach/instruct/shepherd/guide, whatever, better than I have on this issue.

    Existential Punk, your poem really spoke to me. Thanks.

    peace,
    Chad

  • http://existentialpunk.com Existential Punk

    Chad, you are welcome and THANK YOU! Glad it spoke to you!

    Warmest Regards,
    EP

  • Jules

    I am some where in the middle any more. I keep listening to the voice of Seth Donovan on her thoughts on confession. I think she states beautifully what the gathering should be. It shouldn’t be tied to my sexuality or all the compartments that I have outside of the gathering. What do we gain by putting on the outside door, “gay affirming”. I have found, for myself, those gatherings that have that stamped on their door are not the gathering I’m looking for. That doesn’t mean they are bad, they just aren’t what speak to me as a gathering. I wonder if we started stamping on the door, “open for those who are tired, hungry and need a place for confession.” That when I enter the gathering I am not seen as the lesbian, queer, or whatever label I hold in the world, but I come into the conversation a Christ follower who is need of the gospel and a place to celebrate, confess and a place to leave my labels in the back of the room. I can be fully about what the gathering is suppose to be about. I wonder if for pastors/ministers/leaders of gathering it is more about stamping the “OPEN TO ALL” on their doors than what label they are accepting.

    Just some rambling thoughts.

  • http://existentialpunk.com Existential Punk

    i resonate with Jules and also what Peter Rollins calls suspended space at their ikon gatherings. For one hour at ikon people enter and lay down their labels and neither are gays or straight, gentile or Jew, republican or democrat, conservative or liberal, christian or not, et al. It’s a really beautiful thing as i’ve been lucky enough to experience ikon. YET, at the same time queer people need to know they are welcome because there can be churches that express what Jules says, ‘I wonder if we started stamping on the door, “open for those who are tired, hungry and need a place for confession.”” and NOT be welcoming to queers. i think clergy who are embracing of Queers MUST STAND UP and OUTWARDLY support queers. We need straight allies because we are such a minority. i don’t know the answer to how to handle this but i know i do have a list of gay-affirming communities up at Queermergent.com. More thoughts?

    EP

  • http://ssoric@gmail.com Susan

    Some hope for the day when it will no longer matter who we are or what we love. I understand that one one level. But others hope for the day when it does matter who we are, at the core of our being, and that we actually MATTER. That we are not rejected, persecuted, and demonized for who God made us to be.

  • Gerri Magruder

    I will pray that you all have a true encounter with the True Living God and have His truth revealed to you. God nor do Christians hate homosexuals, however He does hate you sin. Homosexuality is not a gift, it is a sin. Don’t wait until it is too late to make it right with God.

  • Susan

    But Gerri,
    No one could separate you from your God-given heterosexual preference (assuming you are heterosexual), which means that sexual preference is part of who you are: a deep part of who you are. Just as no one and NOTHING, not even sexual sin, can separate us from the love of God, neither can God or anyone separate you from the way you have been made to love. It is just who you are. The same is true for LGBTQ people. If the God you speak of hates who LGBTQ people are deep inside, in the place where that love cannot be separated from who they are, then that God is a cruel and heartless God. I don’t believe in that God. We’re talking not about who does what to whom. This is not about behavior, but rather about “being.” It is about the essence of love, companionship, connection with God for LGBTQ people. Some people just aren’t heterosexual, and the prospects for becoming heterosexual aren’t even there. Would God deny someone who is made gay way the basic love and affection and companionship heterosexuals so take for granted? I will pray that you come to know that loving, embracing, forgiving, and empowering God through the love of someone who has been given, by God, the gift of same-gender orientation.

  • http://www.chadholtz.net Chad Holtz

    Susan,

    A beautiful, gracious, inspiring response. I am glad you said something before I did :)

    peace.

  • http://existentialpunk.com Existential Punk

    Gerri I’m so sick of know-it-all christians like yourself with your
    pious platitudes! Go love G-D and mind your own business and check out the planks/sins in your own life!


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