Hanging an ‘unwelcome’ sign on the church

Hanging an ‘unwelcome’ sign on the church January 13, 2012

Hurting people is wrong.

Hurting people in the name of the church hurts the church.

I don’t want that second point to detract from the priority of the first one, but it’s also important.

I was reminded of the UCC’s banned-from-the-Super Bowl ad above when reading Timothy Kincaid’s response, at Box Turtle Bulletin, to “An Open Letter from Religious Leaders in the United States to All Americans.”

That letter, of course, isn’t really to “All Americans” any more than it’s from all religious leaders. It’s from a very select and particular kind of religious leader and it’s addressed only to those Americans who are inclined to share that selectivity and particularity.

Or, as Kincaid puts it, the letter is a vehicle through which “Anti-gay denominations align and identify themselves“:

A selection of denominations have joined ranks to present themselves as a force advocating for preference for themselves and for the unabashed mistreatment of their neighbor. And while acronyms are employed to give the appearance of a broad coalition, this bunch consists mostly of the usual suspects: the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), the Southern Baptist Convention, several Pentecostal / charismatic churches, a number of Brethren groups, Wesleyan-holiness denominations, Orthodox Jews, a few composite groups, some ‘me too’ folks, and those offshoots of mainline churches that left due to their denomination’s pro-gay positions.

Missing, of course, was any mention of those denominations that find Christ’s Commission to be inclusive and who believe their neighbor to be not only the Samaritan but also the gay couple across the street.

I find these declarations useful. They establish, lest there be question, those churches that feel entitled and privileged and who actively serve as a danger to the freedom not only of gay people, but of all Americans who dare to differ with them in any area of doctrine or dogma.

Kincaid is right. Public statements like this exist only to take sides, draw lines and build walls. This letter serves no prophetic or pastoral purpose. But it is — unintentionally — useful and helpful for identifying the dead-enders determined to make exclusion and condemnation the hallmarks of their communities.

This pronouncement is an explicit “Unwelcome” sign hung on all of their churches. And as Kincaid notes, that cramped inhospitality applies not just to the GLBT folks they’re demonizing here, but to “all Americans who dare to differ” with the letter’s signatories.

So in a sense what these signatories have just done is they have turned to nearly every American born since, say, Thriller came out, pointed a long crooked finger and declared, “We don’t want your kind in our congregations.”

OK. Message received.

It is now, thanks to this open letter, increasingly unlikely that members of this unwelcome generation would want to be there either. (And, No, a more “contemporary” worship band won’t lure back a generation you’ve just told to go away.)

This open letter gives the signatories and the churches they represent all the appeal of the Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann campaigns. Those campaigns, like this open letter, promoted exclusion, division and condemnation with the conceit that doing so made them bold and courageous. As Dan Savage recently noted, that brand of hogwash no longer fools anybody:

America is waking up to the fact that we’re not bogeymen, and we’re not coming to do any harm, and that we’re your daughters and sons and neighbors, sometimes your parents, your co-workers, friends, colleagues. The Republican party, in this desperate [nod] to its dying evangelical base, is just ramping up the homophobia, and they’re doing themselves real long-term damage.

It’s hurtful, foolish and wrong to tell “your daughters and sons and neighbors, sometimes your parents, your co-workers, friends, colleagues” that they are unwelcome because of their sexuality. And it’s foolish not to realize that these people also have friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors and colleagues who know them and love them, and that you have also just declared all of those people unwelcome too because they are not going to want to belong to a group that doesn’t allow others they know and love to belong as well.

Of all the people who listed their names endorsing that open letter, I feel sorriest for Samuel Rodriguez. Rodriguez is a year younger than me and thus he may still be around 25 years from now when most of his fellow signatories will be, like the ugly reasoning of their open letter, long dead and buried, thereby escaping the enduring shame that Rodriguez will have to live with.


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  • FangsFirst

    Apparently, CBS and NBC banned that ad outright–not just from SuperBowl placement.

    And then, of course, accepted the Tim Tebow Focus on the Family ad.

  • Anonymous

    I’m English so I might be missing something here, but looking down the list of signatory’s of the letter it does not seem to be just the “usual suspects” not only does it include the denominations mentioned but also the Methodist’s, the Lutherans the Anglicans The Jehovah witness’s the Salvation Army, so which major denominations are missing?  I’m not saying I agree with the contents but I’m not sure you can just dismiss it as a few cranks on the extreme of the church.

  • Anonymous

    I love this in the “open letter”:

    Some posit that the principal threat to religious freedom posed by same-sex “marriage” is the possibility of government’s forcing religious ministers to preside over such “weddings,” on pain of civil or criminalliability. While we cannot rule out this possibility entirely, we believe that the First Amendment creates avery high bar to such attempts.

    “How weaselly can you get! One can say almost anything this way! How about:”Some posit that the principal threat posed by same-sex “marriage” is the possibility that the earth may suddenly cease to turn, causing the atmosphere to fly off into space. While we cannot rule out this possibility entirely, we believe that gravity and the conservation of angular momentum set a very high bar to such an event.”The “open letter” also doesn’t bother to persuade, or even explain, why the various consequences are actually bad things. They just assume “all Americans” will agree that they are. It is very much like saying “if English is not made the official language, our children may have to learn Spanish”, as if that were impossible or undesirable. Or, “without segregation, black people swim in the same pool as white people”, as if that were important.Another very subtle bit of weaseling is here:”

    By a single stroke, every law where rights depend on marital status … will change so that same-sex sexual relationships must be treated as if they were marriage.

    “Wait, “sexual relationships”? If they were just having a sexual relationship, they wouldn’t want to get married, they’d just hook up. I know same-sex couples who have shared their lives for decades. Whatever they do behind closed doors, which I don’t want to know, that is about a loving, caring partnership, not (just) sex. But then, I think a lot of the marriage-needs-defending-from-gays types are really obsessed with the sexual aspect of marriage. It really is a desecration of marriage to reduce it to a mere “sexual relationship”.

  • Anonymous

    A few years ago the late Michael Spencer, aka iMonk, wrote a post where he suggested that there was a body of people ready to leave the Evangelical church in favor of more liturgical mainline churches, except for the mainlines’ liberal agenda toward gays.  I never did succeed in getting through to him why we were not enticed by the suggestion that we turn our backs on our brothers and sisters in Christ so that a bunch of bigots would join us.  He was a smart guy in a lot of respects, but had not yet worked past the limitations of his background in this respect.  He also was wrong about the wave of the future, but that is another matter.

  • The “Lutherans” include the North American Lutheran Church (which I have never heard of before now) and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod which is a small denomination that broke away from the Evangelical Luthern Churches of America.  No one from the ELCA signed on to this document.  As the ELCA is the largest and most visible Lutheran denomination in the the United States, I think that’s saying something.

    Similarly, I see two free signatories from the Free Methodist Church, but the much larger and better known United Methodist Church is noticeably absent from anyone’s signature.

    The “Anglican” signatory is none other than Robert Duncan, formerly of the Episcopalean Church and now the Bishop of ACNA, a very small group of breakaways who got all up in arms because TEC affirmed openly gay and partnered bishop Gene Robinson.  (There are some wonderful posts in the Episcopalian blogosphere about Robert Duncan and other recent breakaways for those who love watching trainwrecks.)

    To the already mentioned Episcopalians, UMC, and ECLA, I will also note the lack of any Presbyterian signatories and signatories from the American Baptist Churches.

  • I also forgot to point out there are no Quaker or United Church of Christ signatories.  Or Russian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, or Coptic signatories.

    Trust me, we have more denominations and sects over here than you can shake a stick at.  ;)

  • Anonymous

    “I’m English so I might be missing something here, but looking down the
    list of signatory’s of the letter it does not seem to be just the “usual
    suspects” not only does it include the denominations mentioned but also
    the Methodist’s, the Lutherans the Anglicans The Jehovah witness’s the
    Salvation Army, so which major denominations are missing?”

    The part that is not obvious is that the traditional named denominations like “Lutherans” and “Methodists” have liberal and conservative wings, which are separate organizations and typically not in communion with one another. 

    I know the Lutheran versions best.  The liberal version is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  The largest conservative version is the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS).  The ELCA is about twice the size of the LCMS.  The other noticeable Lutheran church body in the U.S. is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS).  WELS looks down its nose at LCMS as a bunch of dirty hippies.  The ELCA doesn’t even enter into the discussion, so far as WELS is concern.

    So let’s look at that list of signatories.  There are two Lutheran signatories.  One is LCMS.  The other is from the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).  Who are the NALC?  They are a new body consisting of former conservative ELCA churches.  The ELCA allows for diversity within the church, so the idea of conservative ELCA churches isn’t really all that weird.  So what provoked these guys to split off?  The gay issue:  no surprise.  No one was forcing gay clergy on them, of course, but they could not endure the thought of having a sign out front that is somewhat similar to the sign out front of a church with a gay pastor.  They are a minuscule body.

    The same thing is going on with the signatory from the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  The uninitiated might imagine them to be members of the Anglican Communion.  This is not the case.  That would be the Episcopal Church.  The ACNA is a group of schismatics (they get upset by that word, by the way) who split off from the Episcopal Church over–wait for it!–the gay issue.

    So while the Evangelical Protestants get most of the discussion here at Slacktivist, in the context of religious reaction to the gay issue, yes, these guys are the usual suspects.

  • The ACNA is a group of schismatics (they get upset by that word, by the
    way) who split off from the Episcopal Church over–wait for it!–the
    gay issue.

    They get even more upset at being called “pilferers in purple robes.”  ;)

  • Anonymous

    Jarred and Rrhersh,  Thanks for the info that is much clearer now I thought England was bad for splits, (see the Anglican church, women priests and flying bishops!!) But it would seem it is the “usual suspects” glad I didn’t go in feet 1st!

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure how many more generations Christianity is going to be a thing in existence. Looking at the numbers, it is not that many until America looks like the Czech Republic religiously.

    That’s more or less entirely the fault of Evangelicalism. By making themselves a political movement, they set an expiration date on their religion.

  • and flying bishops!!


  • Kish

    Thirty-seven names signed the “Christian Leaders Against Same-Sex Marriage” thing.

    A few of them are somewhat gender-ambiguous, but it looks to me like…one woman, thirty-six men.

  • B

    I notice that none of the examples they give of “curtailment of religious freedom” that’s actually happened (as opposed to strictly hypothetical) actually involve curtailment of religious freedom.  They all involved withdrawal of public funds or tax-exempt status.  

    No one told the Salvation Army or the Catholic Church they have to change their beliefs.  They just said that, due to actions these organizations were taking because of those beliefs, they weren’t going to give them any money any more.

    Religious freedom means that the government can’t prevent them from worshiping (except for specific forms of worship that violate the law).  It doesn’t mean the government is obligated to PAY them to worship.

  • B

    And actually, come to think of it, forms of worship that violate the law is actually exactly the problem here.  You can’t sacrifice babies as a form of worship, you can’t smoke pot as a form of worship, you can’t accept government money but then practice discrimination that’s not allowed by organizations that accept government money as a form of worship.

  • FangsFirst

    but the much larger and better known United Methodist Church is noticeably absent from anyone’s signature.

    Unfortunately, they feel the same way, though:

    United Methodist Church law prohibits clergy
    from performing same-sex marriages and a minister who takes part in such
    a ceremony may have ordination revoked.

    (My mother is a retired UMC minister, actually…she keeps trying to find exceptions to this mentality. I kinda challenged her on why she didn’t speak up, but it fell back to not losing her job…)

  • Anonymous

    People have already addressed this, but the mainline Protestant groups that signed this are mostly all breakaway groups from larger associations. The one I know best is Lutheran. It split once over whether or not to ordain women, back in the 70s, and then again over whether to ordain QUILTBAG people in the early 2000s. The largest group, the ELCA, did not sign. But Lutherans seem to do this all the time. There are (it seems like) dozens of teeny little Lutheran denominations. ELCA is by far the largest, though. 

  • Anonymous

    I’m really glad to have seen this.  I’m an Episcopalian but have been trouble finding an Episcopal church with any sort of children’s program–or even any other children–in our area.

    Some very nice friends invited us to their Vineyard church.  They have assured me that people have “different opinions” on homosexuality but that being pro-gay is completely okay.  But seeing that the Vineyard president signed this makes up my mind that this is NOT the church for us.

  • No one told the Salvation Army or the Catholic Church they have to change their beliefs.  They just said that, due to actions these organizations were taking because of those beliefs, they weren’t going to give them any money any more.

    Not quite. Any changes in funding were not about what they believed. It was about their actions. They’re free to believe as they like.  Contrariwise, if they choose to act in a discriminatory way, that’s a problem even if it’s not because of their beliefs

  • Anonymous

    This is really an excellent ad. I’m glad to have seen it.

    It really is a desecration of marriage to reduce it to a mere “sexual relationship”.

    Yes. This.

  • Lori

    B did note that it was about their actions, taken because of their beliefs. That really is the thing that folks like the Salvation Army and the Catholic Church don’t want to acknowledge. None of the funding issues are about beliefs and no one’s beliefs are being discriminated against. The government is simply refusing to grant their beliefs special privileges. And we all know how they hate special privileges, so that should be fine with them. 

  • Anonymous

    And I also wish a network, or at least Jim Wallis’ site would run this ad, 

  • Otrame

    I really hadn’t thought about the affect that legalizing same-sex marriages, especially on a federal level, would have on the finances of churches.  Well, on churches that refuse to refrain from bigotry.  I certainly noted the Catholic Church bowing out of relationships with government in jurisdictions where same sex marriages are now allowed.  Since I believe they should never have been in those relationships anyway, I had no problem with that.

    But this letter focused for me just how much financial damage their continued bigotry is going to cause them.  I am delighted, because I know that the tide has turned. Same sex marriages will be made legal all over the country before too much longer.  Hatefilled churches are going to suffer financially.  They’ll claim their religious freedom is being interfered with but what is really making them squeal is the money.  Those people have done a lot of damage to a lot of vulnerable human beings over the years, especially in recent decades, when being gay became the Big Ghey Conspiracy. Their squeals as they contemplate having to obey the law is music to my ears. 

  • Anonymous

    A couple of posters have characterized the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod as having split off from the larger Lutheran body.  I am no great fan of the LCMS, but fair is fair.  The history of Lutheranism in America starts about two and a half centuries ago with independent immigrant churches.  They found it convenient to form higher-level bodies to coordinate stuff like seminaries and publishing houses and job pools matching parishes with pastors.  These tended to be organized along state lines.  They in turn gradually formed yet higher-level bodies, initially along ethnic lines (keeping in mind that Norwegians and Swedes are different ethnicities:  at least if you ask them!) which in turn gradually merged to form national bodies. 

    This process ran up to the 1970s, when there were three major bodies:  the Lutheran Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, and the Lutheran church-Missouri Synod.  They might have merged, but the LCMS instead held a good old-fashioned purge of any insufficiently conservative elements.  So the LCA and the ALC and the purged LCMS elements merged to form the ELCA.  There is no realistic prospect of the ELCA and the LCMS merging in the forseeable future, as the LCMS has the curious belief that if you talk to someone, someone else will assume that you agree with the person you are talking to in all respects, so it if very important not to talk to anyone you don’t already agree with.  It is actually fairly remarkable that they signed this letter, seeing as how there are other signatories who might not agree with them on everything.  It is kind of inspirational, that gay marriage can overcome divisions like this. 

    In any case, the LCMS is not a splinter group.  It is the long-established xenophobic right wing of American Lutheranism (not to be confused with the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, which is the xenophobic far right wing of American Lutheranism).  (Fun fact:  Michelle Bachmann is WELS.  But I digress.)

  • ReverendRef

    They get even more upset at being called “pilferers in purple robes.”

    One  blogger I know referred to them as the Purple Pirates.

  • Anonymous

    I’m an Episcopalian but have been trouble finding an Episcopal church
    with any sort of children’s program–or even any other children

    Don’t I know it.  There are a variety of reasons for that.  As a priest, all I can ask you to do is to go talk to the parish priest about the issue and then bring the kids anyway.  And yes, it’s probably more complicated than that, but you gotta start somewhere.

  • friendly reader

    Michelle Bachmann *was* WELS. She long ago started attending a non-denominational Evangelical church.

    But yes, thank you for clearing up the confusion so that I didn’t have to. Explaining the difference between the different Lutheran denominations adds years onto your life. My parents’ pastor was part of Seminex (Seminary in Exile), the purged academics from the LCMS.

    Bear in mind that “liberal” and “conservative” really boils down to whether you accept literary and historical criticism of the Bible being taught in seminaries. In other words, can you read the Bible in a historical context rather than as “literal”? Hence why the ELCA ordains women and doesn’t oppose teaching about evolution, whilst the LCMS won’t let women be heads of church councils and has a separate school system so that children don’t have to be subjected to such lies. While the ELCA has a reputation for being more liberal because of this as well as for its social outreach and interdenominational contact, in many other regards there’s a wide range within the church, from very liberal to rather conservative.

    The NALC used to be called CORE or World Alone, and they started getting pissy when we went into open communion with the Episcopalians. In retrospect it may not have been the best idea given the chaos that was about to hit the Episcopalian church, but at the time it seemed like a good idea (my dad supported it as an assembly voter). It was the issue of gay rights that really made them leave, though.

    And mind you, the ELCA hasn’t exactly swung completely over to being pro-gay. Our official policy now is that we agree to disagree. If churches wants to perform same-sex marriage, they may, but if they don’t want to, they don’t have to. If they want to call a non-celibate gay minister they may, but they don’t have to if they don’t want to.

    So basically the only reason the NALC crowd left is because they were afraid that somehow some of their offering money might someday trickle down to helping some church or seminary where people had a different point of view and that this would count as supporting sin. And since, as Lutherans we totally believe that works are what save you in the long run, that could mean they were going to hell!

  • Perhaps it’s just my need for sleep talking, but the name WELS reminds me of the flesh-eating mutants from Xenogears. At least, I think that’s what they were. It’s been several years since I played that game. It’s probably just a bizarre coincidence.

  • Anonymous

    I wasn’t very clear, but that’s what I was talking about when I mentioned the 70s. The ELCA has only been around since the late 80s, I believe. Many of the churches that left the ELCA in the 2000s joined the LCMS at that time. But yeah, looking at my comment, it really makes no sense. Whoops. Thanks for clarifying for me. 

  • Anonymous

    Oh, I did say it was from a split. Shoot. Yeah, that’s wrong. 

  • Thanks.  I wasn’t exactly sure where the UMC stood on these issues these days.  It does make you wonder, though, why no one from the UMC signed if they’re inclined to agree.

  • Thanks for correcting and clarifying.

  • Guest

    What you’re missing is that there are a bunch of competing denominations for each sort of Christianity.  The main branch of Anglicanism in the US is the Episcopal Church, USA, which has gay bishops and supports same sex marriage.  The Anglican signature on this letter was from the Anglican Church in North America, a conservative denomination that broke away from ECUSA over such issues.  The largest Lutheran denomination in the US didn’t sign, though some of the smaller ones did.  I don’t see any of the largest several mainline Protestant denominations (United Methodist, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, USA, ECUSA, American Baptist Churches, UCC, or Disciples of Christ) listed.  AME isn’t there either.

    It’s certainly not just a few cranks (I mean, the Catholics and Southern Baptists are there), but a lot of large churches didn’t sign on.

  • FangsFirst

    I suppose it’s possible that they don’t strictly agree with the legal angle?

    I don’t know. Maybe these morons didn’t even go around getting all the support they actually could. Not that I’m complaining.

  • As someone who was actually, literally bounced by the Armorbearers from a church I was a member of after they found out I belonged in the QUILTBAG spectrum, that video is very, very uncomfortable to watch.

  • mexicanrag

    Evangelical Friends see themselves as the legitimate heirs to George Fox/Quaker heritage (even as they’re simultaneously possessive of and embarrassed by the label). It’s telling and perhaps a bit heartening to know others don’t seem to buy that.

  • Nacker15

    “It’s from a very select and particular kind of religious leader and
    it’s addressed only to those Americans who are inclined to share that
    selectivity and particularity.”  so is the video….

  • Guest

    I know this is an old post, and I’m not sure whether this is really the right place to post it, but I do find it disheartening that Archbishop Duncan signed this. My dad is a priest who left the Episcopal Church twelve years ago; while he does think that homosexuality is wrong, he does not think that gay marriage should remain criminalized–his view, as far as I can tell, is basically that LGBTQ individuals should have equal legal rights, and that individual churches should be able to decide whether they want to bless same-sex marriages, etc. The reason he gave for not staying with the Episcopal Church was a combination of things. One of these was the lack of rebuke of Spong, who denied the divinity of Christ and the existence of God from a place of episcopal authority. Moreover, his problems were not so much with the ordination of an openly gay bishop, but the way that was justified. I think that, if bishops had given him a response that drew from the Bible, he might have stayed. As it was, he was only met with what he saw as disregard for the Bible. For years he had heard superiors say things similar to Spong’s statements, including bishops saying that the Bible was no longer necessary at all, and should be discarded, etc.

    Anyway, the point is, while he didn’t agree with the ordination of a gay man, that wasn’t the reason he left. I had thought this applied to many others as well, so I’m disappointed to hear that Duncan signed this. Honestly, at this point I’m not sure what I think any more about all this.

    (By the way, the standing of ACNA and other breakaway groups have within the Anglican communion is complicated at best. While not officially recognized as part of the communion on its own (although who knows how Welby will deal with that whole mess), the clergy are seated in officially recognized provinces (my dad was ordained in the province of Rwanda), which are recognized by the communion. 

  • I am willing to make common cause with anyone who acknowledges my civil/secular equality. So given what you say here, I would accept your father as an ally.

    But I am not surprised that a significant number of your father’s
    contemporaries see the potential for the genuine acceptance of queer
    people as their equals in the Church as a real problem to be opposed, and prevented if possible, or that this view informs their denominational choices.

    If, as you say, your father is not one of them but finds himself making common cause with them anyway for other reasons, that is unfortunate. If I knew your father, I would be interested in talking to him about his priorities.