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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