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Open and Affirming to All 

By Mary Robertson
June 2010

 

As we talk about becoming an Open and Affirming congregation here at First Christian, some members ask: do we really need to specify that we are open to LGBTQ folk? Is it fair--or even necessary--to single out this one group for inclusion? Why can’t we just say we are open to everyone? These are great questions.

When I was little, I was taught that God loved everybody, that we are put here on earth to love one another, and that the compassion of Christ knows no bounds. But that faith tradition—Southern Baptist—also taught me that one specific group—gay people—were different. They were not included in this grace, nor loved by the congregants; oddly enough, they were not even loved by God.

This didn’t make sense to me…how could a loving God create people, then be dissatisfied with them? As I grew up, I discovered to my dismay that I was part of this outcast group, and I realized that as a lesbian there would not be room for me in that church. But I consoled myself by believing that when I was grown, I would be able to seek out a loving church family for myself.  

It seemed simple enough. Most churches talk a great deal about inclusion and tolerance. After all, isn’t Christ’s message one of love for everyone? Surely that included me! So I started looking. At one church the folks seemed friendly enough. I showed up Sundays to pray and sing, shake hands and drink coffee. I set up chairs and turned off lights, baked cookies for the mission kids. But when I introduced my partner at a church supper, the cold looks began, invitations dried up, and eventually it was clear we were not wanted there. So I left. At the next church, I told them right off I was a lesbian. They said I would be welcome to attend…if I repented. Of what, I wondered?  

This was before most churches had websites or mission statements. Or organizations like Oregon’s “Community of Welcoming Congregations,” that list churches that publicly declare their openness to gay and lesbian congregants. Not many people wanted to even talk to me about how their church felt about having gay members. It took an awful lot of time and energy, work, hope and faith, to determine if a church would indeed accept me and my gifts.    

I tried a few more times—usually I had to guess whether a church was accepting or not, sometimes with amusing results, more often I left with sadness and anger. At one church I was told I could attend services but would not be trusted to work with the youth. Another invited me to a singles group (despite the fact that I was happily partnered) so I could meet a “suitable mate in Christ.” While I was trying to navigate this minefield, I watched prominent Christian leaders in the news continue to preach about Christ’s love for everyone--everyone, it seemed, but gays and lesbians.

By the time I moved to Eugene in 1998, I enjoyed a rich spiritual life, but had given up on finding home in a Christian church. Then one day, my friend Jeff invited me to services at FCC. He didn’t seem to think my being a lesbian would matter in the least. “I think that would be fine,” he said. And so it was.  

Thank God he asked me. What a blessing to have found a home here! In turn, I have been happy to tell those I meet they will find a warm and accepting place here at First Christian; all their gifts honored. But I have to overcome quite a bit of skepticism on their part; much of it earned, I’m afraid, as many of my brothers and sisters have had similar faith journeys to mine.  What if Jeff hadn’t been there to reassure me? How would I have known? How will they know?

Most Christian denominations still officially exclude gays and lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people, and anybody else they consider “other,” from full membership. It’s there in the fine print. Sometimes it’s there in the big print. It’s there in the culture. Lesbians and gays are the one population still targeted by religious groups for exclusion. Unless a church specifically states that it accepts LGBTQ folks, it probably does not, and most people looking for a church know this.

By welcoming the very least of us—the unchurched, the reviled and scorned—publicly and explicitly, we would, by extension, be welcoming all of us. Every one of us. What could be more consistent with Christ’s message?

First Christian of Eugene is so precious. It has offered me a sanctuary where I can worship and sing and laugh--as me. I would love others to know of this amazing haven. In a perfect world, we could say “yes, we welcome everyone,” and be taken at our word. That world is not yet. We can’t do anything about all those other churches that claim Christian ideals of love and acceptance and justice while promoting hatred and division. But we can be open to everyone, without exception. And we can say so, right out front. People won’t know…unless we tell them.

 

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