My Mixed Reaction to the New Believe Out Loud Video

My Mixed Reaction to the New Believe Out Loud Video May 9, 2011

Now for those who know me, there should be no doubt where I stand on homosexuality and the church. Not a sin, not a choice, not an issue for me. Still, there is much work to be done to address how the church responds to the still controversial “issue” of homosexuality. My own denomination, the PC(USA) is about to pass a constitutional amendment that, for all intents in purposes, will no longer exclude LGBT folks from holding the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament and there is a group of us who will be in Washington DC as part of the Human Rights Campaign Clergy Call to lobby legislators around issues of civil rights, bullying and more. Much work to do indeed.

One of the groups that has been doing some really powerful work around creating positive postures in the church is the cross denominational, Believe Out Loud campaign of Intersections International. Recently an ad that they created was rejected by Sojourners of Jim Wallis fame and needless to say this has created quite the kerfuffle [Good post from the Episcopal Cafe].

I think that Sojourners took the easy way out [see Robert Chase OpEd] so my initial reaction was not based on whether or not the video should be shown, it should,  but the assumptions made in it.

Take a view and then I’ll offer my thoughts.

So I obviously have no opposition to the intent of the video and I think Sojourners big-time missed the mark on this one.  The church has been both a violent perpetrator of exclusion as well as healing community of welcome and we must be diligent in speaking out against the former and creating the latter.  What struck me as off,  was the tone and assumptions set by this particular ad.  There was just something that struck me as off a bit.  The ad seems to say that the pastor is the one who is more open and the congregation members are the ones who create the sense of exclusion and discomfort.  I simply have not found this to be the overwhelming story of the church.  While there are certainly many places where the congregation is more “conservative” than the pastor, in my experience it is the pastoral leadership of most churches who are the most outspoken against LGBT folks with many people in the pews simply remaining silent in their disagreement.

Now maybe this was supposed to be a challenge to those pastors who would NOT act as the one in the ad did, kind of a “If you speak out, the church will change too!” but that was not my first reaction.  Again, I am not denying that this particular version of he church exists, but I would love to see two or three version of this that would/could flesh out the different ways in which LGBT folks experience both exclusion and welcome in the church, thus sharing both the blame and the love across the community.

[UPDATE: During the time I was writing this post, the Believe Out Loud Team left this comment in the video, “Hi there, we here at Believe Out Loud agree that lay leaders and congregants have historically led the efforts of welcoming LGBT folks in the church. This video was made to drive the point that more clergy need to take an active stand and be public about their welcome of LGBT individuals. Hope that clarifies our intention and goal for this video.”]

I actually like this Believe Out Loud video a little more:

And another really great video comes from the Human Rights Campaign and the most recent clergy call.

Would be interested in how you responded to the video and if there are others that you think are worthy of adding to the playlist!


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  • Peter

    Every denomination so far that has opened the door for gay ordination has suffered massive losses of membership, giving and vitality.  Does anyone believe the PC(USA) will be any different?  Do you seriously believe that people will now start flocking into our churches – or does that not even matter.  Look at the National Presbytery Church of Canada, which made this move a long time ago.  Their churches have turned into ghost towns.  Of course, I don’t think the advocates of gay ordination even care about the life and health of the church at all.  The only concern is endorsement of their sexual immorality. 

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  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts about the Believe Out Loud campaign. I hope their comment update clarified their intention for the video. And thank you to everyone sharing their impressions of the video as well.

  • Bruce and Mark, I am curious as to your sources. Looking at http://www.pcusa.org/resource/presbyterian-panel-survey-2008-presbyterian-panel-/ I believe bears out my statement.
    Bruce, clearly elders have changed in order to pass 10a. My sense is the ministers were already there. Or in other words, clergy position on the issue is not changing to the degree that lay folk are. I am not trying to start a war here, just stating what looks obvious to me.
    Of course, there may also be significant differences between rural and urban dominated presbyteries as well as small / large church.
    peace.

  • I would have to concur with Bruce on this, David. Historically, yes, the clergy of the (PC(USA) church have been more liberal than their congregants; however, within the last decade, the paradigm has shifted. –This is particularly true in the church I serve (I am merely the youth director, not ordained pastoral staff.)

  • Bruce,

    I serve a church which is poised, along with other members of the presbytery, to openly recognize the 1998 Book of Order language (“faithfulness and chastity”) alone. Needless to say, I am at odds with my employing body. However, I am not alone amongst the congregation in my dissent and disappointment.

    Thank you for being a courageous, and prominent, voice for the inclusivity and radical justice of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is our leaders, such as yourself, that give me hope and reignite my passion for ministry in our church.

    Grace and Peace,
    Mark Horner

  • Yep, and that is why standing the middle with a posture of graciousness towards all is dangerous to one’s ego 😉

  • @facebook-715620794:disqus Thanks for commenting. You are right and to some extent this is a case of mental gymnastics. I have simply seen in too many cases, that it is NOT the people pews furthering negative postures, but the clergy themselves. Hope you are well!

  • Agreed.

  • @google-72f81f81615c10ef570fd65b8fdcfd82:disqus I think I will have to disagree on this one. I think there is a growing understanding that the reason that 10a is going to pass is because of Elders who have changed. I believe that the reason that 10a passed in San Francisco might be because Elders may have voted in opposition to pastoral stands. Both situations to exist, but not sure it is as clean cut as this ad makes it look.

  • I responded better to the story than the talking heads. I loved this ad.
    Bruce, you know as well as I do from any survey in the PCUSA that the clergy are more liberal than members at large. And whether we “bishopless” presby’s are willing to admit it or not, we ministers do have priestly roles that we fill. Eucharist for one. Personally I think we need to own our power as the “called” instead of trying to denigrate it.
    Are we dancing around the question of the role of clergy in the emergent church?

  • Agreed. I think that’s why it missed the mark a bit.

  • Will Byrd

    I honestly did not see the Pastor warmly welcoming them .. I saw him scolding the congregation for their hatefulness, but to me the ONLY heros in the video are the family who walked through that gauntlet of hatred and exclusion .. and stayed, while most of us would have walked out. I am pleased to see that BOL is doing a great project; but I’m sorry to say that this video did nothing whatsoever for me.

  • Hey Bruce. Thanks for sharing. I watched the video and was not overly put off by it or felt the same way you did. Humans are generally scared of what they don’t know. I felt that the pastor was the representative of God. And by the pastors actions, God was accepting those different into the church. Notwithstanding, in general if people (humans) spent more time of fining similarities with each other instead of hating…we would not have so many issues in the world today.

  • I’m with you on the assessment. Of course those faces could have just as easily been made in response to a crying child or misbehaving tween or provocatively dressed young woman or….

    I still think the UCC commercial from a while back is the most powerful statement I’ve seen about hospitality for all.

  • Jeff Straka

    I totally agree, Katie! I strongly feel that the mainline church is far more ready for this conversation than the evangelicals, but no one is pushing the conversation locally. Once the mainline congregations
    get beyond the “tipping point”, the evangelical church will be forced to confront its own theology/stance.

  • Reading these comments about Sojourners reminds me of some of the comments I’ve read about Obama’s presidency. While folks on the right seem to be convinced that he (and “they” for Sojourners) are about as far to the left as it’s possible to be (obviously not entirely true), folks on the left chastise him (and them) for not being bold enough for more liberal causes. Truly, I don’t think it’s possible to avoid criticism from either side, especially when it comes to issues that are as divisive as these are.

  • katie.mulligan

    you are missed on twitter!!

  • Adam Walker Cleaveland

    I had a similar reaction – it was just a little ‘odd’ in some way. All of the congregants were the ones who were having the odd looks, etc., but as soon as the pastor warmly welcomed them, then everyone changed their minds and seemed to smile, offer them a place to sit, etc.

  • riled

    I stopped attending a church very much like this one about 5 years ago. Their bias wasn’t about my being queer so much as it was my being single. The video may be a little stark because yes, some congregation members did speak to me, but there were many weeks when the only person I could have a conversation with was the pastor. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Countless awkward fellowship hours, tons of work on the Church Council, and still only about five people ever spoke to me. One time I brought a female friend and her baby with me and everyone wanted to talk to me. I thought I had finally broken the ice, but the next week it was back to the cold shoulder. I’m a Cali girl in New England, so part of it is definitely cultural, but three years into it I couldn’t take anymore.

  • @9bbee208cb2515eec5ec9fc556b7b244:disqus Yep, of all people, we Bishopless Presbyterians should understand this . . . or maybe that is why we do not.

  • @cfec43d80674743365fe893cc9750f7e:disqus No doubt that this vid will indeed make a great impact. I hesistated posting this because it is not at all that it is a BAD video, just struck me with unexpected feelings.

  • Good stuff . . . as always!

  • Thanks for sharing part of your story. Sadly, like many, not too surprised by Sojo, but folks are pressing on.

  • @facebook-532671110:disqus That’s kind of the feeling I got as well: a good general welcoming 101 video.

  • Ps. thanks for the link to the episcopal cafe. i didn’t know it existed.. i was mbrooker over on twitter until i gave twitter up for lent last year. in the intervening year my dad died and because the episcopal church is where the religious roots lie i’ve jumped from the PCUSA over to the TEC. i still maintain ties to y’all though (obviously) and love that i have been a part of the PCUSA and, while i’ve found myself to roots that i can’t explain in the TEC, am grateful that get to view from first hand experience multiple denominations struggling and working towards what is right and just in the world.

  • i just left this comment over at the episcopal cafe.. rather than think of something else to say, i hope you don’t mind me posting this here too..

    a) when i walked into our local episcopal church for the first time nearly a year ago it was our rector who was the most welcoming. during passing of the peace someone who knew me from the university walked all the way around the sanctuary to come give me a welcome because i wasn’t exactly being warmly welcomed by those around me. so, having a pastor in the lead of being welcoming in a video like this resonates with my own personal experience.b) i am not happy with sojourners. i was wounded by growing up in southwestern virginia. having the voices of pat robertson and jerry falwell surround me culturally left me with a big distaste for the church. considering that my parents were academics, and my father wasn’t inclined to continue going to the episcopal church (which he was raised in), that was my view of the christian church. it’s taken me a long time and a lot of soul searching to be able to accept the church into my life. messages like this by a group like sojourners, i believe, only continues to injure people who have already been injured enough.i hope that jim wallis and those who run sojourners come around and recognize that they are one of the front voices of the progressive christian movement, even if they don’t intend to be. if they aren’t willing to be one of the front voices then they, particularly jim wallis, needs to step back and allow for truly welcoming and justice seeking christians to take lead.

  • I’ve linked to this on my FB page, and have had one colleague respond negatively. My openly gay daughter, on the other hand, responded in the affirmative. Part of the reason I shared it is because I believe that the perception on the part of folks who are different (gay, lesbian, interracial couples, tattooed, etc.) DO perceive a silent shunning in our churches. What is powerful to me is how that perception is shattered by the words spoken by the clergy…. and the response is that folks move over in the pew to make room. The perception is that we’re an unwelcoming, homophobic bunch – but that perception CAN (and should) be shattered.

  • katie.mulligan

    I also responded to this kerfluffle http://bit.ly/k98Od6. My point is that Sojourners’ response was not at all new or surprising. And a challenge to those who are dismayed might consider taking the video to their own church boards for discussion. Updating our church websites to offer specific welcome to lgbtq folk is important. Very few churches are specific in their welcome–Sojourners is not the only organization wary of taking sides in this.

  • Karen B.

    I’m just a random Presbyterian living in North Florida, and I’m a member of a church that as a whole is MUCH more conservative than I am. Personally, my favorite video is the first one. The looks on the faces of the congregants and the body language are dead on and I think it delivers the message right on point. I’m sure that there are many churches where your pastor/congregation tolerance comparison is correct, but I think the most important thing about a message like this is its ability to engage the viewer and hopefully have them consider more deeply the lives touched by this. I think it has more impact than the second one. But hey, I’d be delighted for either to air in my community. Sadly, I doubt it will happen.

  • VThibeaux

    Bruce, I had the same sense of “there is something not right with this video”. Let me put it in a different perspective, and it is this: It is all too easy to place pastors on a pedestal, as if what they say, do, is somehow morally superior to the average “pew sitter”. And although in the case of the video, this is true, none of us is absolved from making moral choices, and it is up to all of us to believe out loud; to go to the front of the church, proclaim from the rafters and at all the points of entry of a church that “all are welcome in this place.”
    It is a pet peave of mine that Presbyterians I know don’t get that ministers are set aside for functional reasons, and not having anything to do with, to put it bluntly, being “more holy.”

  • While I don’t disagree with your assessment, when I watched this video I found it to be realistic in the way that ALL strangers are treated in many churches — not just LGBT visitors.