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by Rev. Jim Lynch
Interim Pastor, MCC-Detroit
Like so many, I read with interest these days about all of the religious bodies struggling with the issues of sexuality in general, homosexuality specifically.
I see denominational assemblies simply deny inclusion to our community; and that breaks my heart. I see churches who allow LGBT folks to be “welcomed” into congregations – as long as they don’t try to preach, teach Sunday School, or pass the collection plate with their “gay agenda.”
I see churches that ordain LGBT folks, but then make it difficult for them to find a pulpit. The combinations, policies, terminologies, and theologies are seemingly limitless. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely applaud the fact that nearly every mainline religious organization has dealt or is dealing with the LGBT inclusion issue on some level.
Fifty years ago, homosexuals inclusion, if raised, was for most a no-brainer. “Those people” cannot be a part of the body of believers. Period. End of discussion. So, the progress that is happening is amazing. BUT – just how much progress has been made toward the full inclusion of LGBT folks?
As interim pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit, I’m a ministering part — 20-plus years — of a denomination founded 44 years ago (one year before the Stonewall Riots) to meet the spiritual and religious needs of our rainbow community. Our congregations often include LGBT folks, straight folks, people of all makes, shapes, ethnicities, colors, backgrounds, models.
We have been through the discussions in which our mainline counterparts just now find themselves, and we have moved on. I share that piece of information only to establish my perspective.
My question to those who have included LGBT people is this: Are we welcomed and included and affirmed in all areas of church life or are we merely tolerated and kept on the fringes? Churches need to strive to move beyond merely welcoming and on to including, affirming, perhaps even to celebrating the uniqueness of these “newcomers.”
It’s difficult for an LGBT person to sit in a mainline congregation that lifts up the traditional family as the model to live by. We feel left out, out of place. Many of these churches celebrate life events like marriages, births, and such, with little thought to including the anniversary of that “gay couple” or “that lesbian sitting in the last pew.”
In many cases, LGBT people, welcomed as we may or may not be, are often still invisible in terms of full inclusion. Why be part of a church that tells me that I may attend, join, and participate, but where people like me cannot be in leadership?
Why attend a church that allows for the ordination of people like me, but where local congregations can still exhibit homophobia in the selection of leadership, leaving gay clergy hanging in the wind — voices crying in the wilderness for fair inclusion — unable to secure meaningful ministry positions in which they are allowed to exercise their gifts, training and experience?
To the bodies who are moving in the right direction, I say “Praise God!” “Thank you!” But I also encourage you to develop systems to properly disseminate the good news and to educate local judicatories and congregations, empowering them, perhaps pushing them forward to find the truth of God’s love for and inclusion of all peoples.
There are too many negative voices in the religious community. If you are going to take a stand for full inclusion, then you need to follow through to make sure that your new found awareness works its way down to the people in the pews.
This means new curriculums, new liturgies, new definitions of family, and often an entirely new paradigm for inclusion.
To do less is to simply give lip service to an entire ministry field; and while seen as well meaning, is often seen as a halfway measure and continuing hypocrisy. Churches are moving in the right direction, but I encourage you to “launch out into the deep”. Become the loving inclusive people that God has called you to be.