More than 2 weeks ago I started a series on my concerns about different churches for different reasons regarding their treatment of transgender and gender non-conforming people. The first in the series was the least concern, but an important one. In the wake of expressing honest concerns in my entry about the UCC, Andrew Lang, the executive director of the UCC’s Open and Affirming Coalition, came into the comments with a defensive response and did not engage in either private or public conversation after accusing me of not reaching out. Now I am crossing a line I never wanted to, criticizing a leader in an important ally group.
Let me sum up the column in an elevator pitch. I addressed the fact that the UCC has a well structured Open and Affirming program. Despite having this program for over 30 years, the UCC has has less than a third of the UCC congregations buy in. The UCC uses the open and affirming program and position in their national marketing which gives the impression that this is the position of the entire UCC denomination. Using a real life example of my son’s encounter with a non-affirming UCC church, I pointed out how this is harmful and dangerous. If an LGTBQIA person, or a parent of an LGBTQIA person sees these marketing materials, they may come to a local UCC church. That church has a 1 in 3 chance (at best) of being affirming. If they are not an affirming UCC church, you could have well intentioned people with no training or education from the O&A resources inadvertently harming that family. Worse, the church may have an anti LGBTQIA position where this family will not be equal or affirmed.
This was never a recrimination of the Open and Affirming program of the UCC. This was a 2 fold concern.
- After 30 years there should be greater adoption. The O&A cannot control adoption, that is in the hands of the UCC at large.
- The UCC should not market something as if it is a unified national position when it is not. When challenged, the answer that they value the autonomy of each congregation is not a proper response to misleading information.
When I first published this blog, I had several UCC members make kind comments on social media regarding the column and the point. I had a UCC minister contact me through email and ask permission to swim this information upstream to the president of the UCC. After a refreshing and honest conversation, I gave him the permission he sought.
In the LGBTQIA community, good ally groups and good allies are used to this. Members in the LGBTQIA community or parents of members in the LGBTQIA community will point out something that could be done better or differently. Good allies and groups will respond by listening and responding responsibly. Sometimes the people bringing up concerns will neglect to say, “We appreciate what you are doing and you are swell for doing so..” as a lead in. They are under no obligation to do so.
I have been talking to ministers and open and affirming representatives in the UCC since 2008 regarding these issues. I also used statistics I found in the UCC’s website that were inaccurate and dated in my column.
Andrew Lang announced his position as the executive director of the UCC’s Open and Affirming Coalition, and then spoke his mind. He gave what he claims as correct numbers without citing a link or source (other than him), went on to say he had no idea where I got the incorrect information from (even though my statistics had hyperlinks going back to their sources), accused me of misinformation and not having made attempts to reach out, and as an aside apologized with seeming flippancy that my son, a minor, was hurt. Actually, what he said was,”I’m sorry about the negative experience Patrick had with a local congregation.” LGBTQIA people responded to Andrew with hurt and upset feelings. My contact that sent the information to the UCC president reached to Andrew, claimed that Andrew understood and would be contacting me soon. It has been over a week since that promise and neither I or the LGBTQIA readers and commenters of my column who were hurt by his comments has received a response.
Was he right to correct the statistics? Of course that was correct. Is he right to take pride in the program that he is a leader in? Yes. Are my points still valid? Yes.
In his reply, he said of the trauma my son and other LGBTQIA minors were going through due to actions and inactions of a non affirming UCC church, he said, “I’m sorry about the negative experience Patrick had with a local congregation.” In that phrasing, in the context, you would think I got a happy meal and they forgot to put a toy in the box. No. LGBTQIA children and their families faced harm.
This defensive and callous response was further proved with the next sentence. “Before generalizing (or factually misrepresenting the size and growth of our movement), it would have been helpful to talk to us.” I have spoken to the UCC for years. First, as a fellow minister who has been doing pulpit supply and even emergency interim services with the UCC for years, then as a parent, then as a civilian of the public square who is the parent of an affected minor. The simple fact is, no one in the UCC ever felt my concerns warranted the attention of leadership or response until I wrote my column.
Andrew never once addressed the core concerns other that to say he was sorry I had a bad experience. All he did was correct the stats, hint that I was deceptive in misrepresenting the numbers, and tell me everything I should have done differently.
That is victim shaming.
LGBTQIA people who the Open and Affirming program is meant to be for have responded in the public square with hurts, concerns, and questions. It has been 16 days and they have been met with silence.
The UCC has a good program. In my original post I gave credit to the quality of the information presented. I recently learned that everyone in positions of authority in the ONA program are LGBTQIA. That is wonderful. It is because of all of these reasons and more that the response to me and lack of response to the LGBTQIA community from the executive director of the UCC’s Open and Affirming Coalition is concerning.
It is because of the unexpected response from a leader of a denomination that has the self proclaimed fastest growing open and affirming program in the nation that I am not continuing the series. Constructive and important feedback of something essential to the well being of the LGBTQIA community was met with defensiveness, accusation, and then silence. This was an ally. I am honestly scared, as a parent, to speak openly and honestly about the evangelical church and other non affirming or supporting traditions. There is too much risk of harm to me, my family, and the LGBTQIA readers. A leader of an affirming program has made that clear.
To those who run the UCC ONA program and to those congregation members of ONA churches, thank you for being allies. It is my hope that we can all find ways to be better allies. There is too much at stake to be thin skinned while people are dying and being denied civil rights.