Churches: where everyone should feel welcome

29 Jul

The other day, a friend of mine posted a link to this article. I have noticed a lot of chatter on this topic lately and it’s really all over the place. So, this post is not a post about the issue of why millennials are leaving the church. But, there is one sentence in the piece that struck me and stuck with me for a few days. It’s one of those things that I think about when I’m vacuuming or taking a shower. And usually I have to write about and discuss these things with others before my brain will leave them alone and move on. It works and works and works on ideas against my will. I’d rather be thinking about ice cream. Anyway, let’s get into it.

The line that keeps replaying in my mind is this one: “We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities.” Of course! We want EVERYONE to feel truly welcome in our faith communities, especially our friends!  This is such a difficult issue. Here are some things that I think make it sticky.

1. Homosexual activity is clearly called a sin in Scripture (yes, even in the new Testament). So, many are waiting on churches to say something like “We do not think there is anything wrong with homosexual behavior anymore.” And, in a Biblically-based faith, that will not ever happen.

2. People are human, including those within whom the Holy Spirit dwells. Sometimes they will not handle things the right way.

3. Churches are full of people who really aren’t filled with the Holy Spirit- Churchians rather than Christians, if you will. Churches are also filled with people who are true servants of Christ so I don’t want anyone to think I’m down on churches. It’s just that there is a mixture of people there and we need to realize that so that we don’t meet one bad apple and assume the rest are bad too. Everyone there is a work in progress so don’t get mad if people aren’t perfect.

4. Many people think that if it doesn’t affect you, then it is none of your business and you shouldn’t say anything about it. This causes division because those who have studied the Bible know that we are supposed to admonish one another. (Which, btw, most people really don’t want to admonish their brothers and sisters. It’s very uncomfortable.)

I think what we have going on is a whole bunch of defensiveness and emotionalness (I feel like that should be a word). If straight people and gay people could talk openly about these issues without automatically assuming the other person is going to hate them or be disrespectful towards them and actually really listen and consider what the other person says, I think we could all feel a lot more comfortable with each other. When you get mad because someone disagrees with you, the opportunity to learn anything from the differences ends.

So, I think it’s important to think about what would truly make a gay person feel welcomed by a faith community, as the author put it.  (Side bar: This could probably apply to anyone who is OPENLY and continually engaged in a certain sin. Secret sins obviously don’t make the sinner feel unwelcome because no one knows about them. But, take a known drug user or someone living with their partner outside of marriage and apply the same ideas about being welcoming.) I think to make someone feel loved, it is important to tell them you love them. And, I think it is important to explain that God loves them. Where we run into confusion is that God’s love is not like the world’s love. So, Christians know that engaging in unrepentant sin is always harmful to people. And we want to help each other. And we are supposed to help each other. We just don’t always know how to. We are commanded to rebuke one another, exhort one another, speak the truth in love, etc. but we are also commanded to do it with gentleness. But, it’s hard to be gentle when you have the world telling you that you are not allowed to believe any offensive parts of the Bible and you are certainly not supposed to tell anyone else about them. We push back. Because we are people. It’s an impossible balance for the human mind to figure out, I think. How can we be gentle and loving AND speak the truth when the world tells us that it is hateful and in fact, not the truth?

So, while this post is mainly meant for me to organize my thoughts and clear out my head, I also wanted it to be about Christians needing to realize that some people might want to come to church but they think they aren’t welcome. And we really do want them to feel welcome (Seriously, if you have been wanting to go to church but you feel anxious about it, just go. The majority of people will be really nice to you.) But, now I think I also want to ask my gay friends to  extend some grace to the straight Christians who love you because maybe they just don’t always know the perfect thing to say. It’s hard to communicate to someone that even though you do judge their sexual behavior as wrong behavior (because you believe the Bible), you do also love them, they are still welcome with you, you do not think it is your job to force them to stop, and you are not denying that you yourself have also engaged in behavior the Bible says is wrong. Though eloquent it is not, maybe we should just say that? I don’t know.

For instance, Spencer and I lived together before we were married. So, clearly everyone knew I was in open, continual, unrepentant sin. Did I feel a little awkward when people at a new church asked if we were married? Um, yeah. Because then they were going to know. But no one was mean to me about it. And I didn’t feel unwelcome even though I knew that they knew I was sinning. But, I realize that heterosexual premarital sex is often not treated the same way as homosexual activity so I realize there may be more anxiety for the gay person  than there is for the shacking-up person. And church members need to recognize that and check their hearts to make sure they are not putting up walls sub-consciously. BTW, the author cited the church’s obsession with sex and I think that the reason for any obsession, if there is one, is that sexual sin is so common and so difficult to escape from. Therefore, I would say an obsession, if the obsession is to help those struggling with sexual sin, is totally appropriate.

Note: I do agree with some things and disagree with others in the article referenced above. For one thing, if she’s right, then how would she explain the explosion of churches that do offer the things she’s saying millennials don’t care about (think LifeChurch and those like it: coffee shops, light shows, concert atmosphere, etc.)?

Another note: We are still looking for our church home and trying to figure out how to attend both Sunday school and church right in the middle of Jack’s nap time. I am not an active member anywhere. We have been attending worship services randomly but I’ve been doing most of my learning through online communities and independent Bible study lately.

An additional note: I’m not a teacher, a theologian or an expert on anything. I am just a woman trying to do what is pleasing to God and to speak the truth in love. I like to discuss because it helps me learn. I know that every topic I write about has been discussed to death by others. But this is my way to open the dialogue with people I know rather than just the whole world-at-large.

A further note: This post is really not directed towards people who hate God or think Christians are stupid bigots. So, we don’t really have to argue about that. I understand that those people do not have regenerated hearts and to them I absolutely sound dumb. And, that’s fine. It’s just pointless to argue about.

A note in addition to the other notes: I really hate that “welcome and greet each other” time at the beginning of worship services. It’s super awkward.

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