Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Open Letter to the Gay Christian Who Doesn't Want His Gay-Affirming Church to Fly a Rainbow Flag...

I received the following question on an online forum for United Church of Christ members:
I am a gay man in a UCC church. As time goes by, I see the writing on the wall that the day is coming when we will discuss becoming officially O&A. We aren't officially O&A now, but we are a "God is still Speaking" church. There are about 6 Friends of Dorothy including myself who are members in good standing and attend regularly. Can a congregation be O&A without flying the rainbow flag out front? Isn't it more about the welcoming hearts of the church members and pastor/staff? Can't a church be O&A and involved with pride events, cross promote with PFLAG and other support groups for the gay community, actively advertise in local gay publications, etc without flying the flag? I am out and proud, but I also intimately understand the need some gay folks have to practice discretion for a variety of reasons. These folks wouldn't be comfortable entering a gay bar, community center, or other business that fly's the rainbow flag. What do other O&A churches do? What's the stance on the rainbow flag? Input is appreciated and anticipated. 
For the record, ONA stands for Open & Affirming. An ONA church is one that has gone through the process to publicly welcome people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expression within their fellowship and ministry. Some ONA churches do it better than others. But that's it in a nutshell.

More than once, I've had people ask me why it's important to become ONA. "Of course, our church welcomes gay people. We welcome everyone. But why do we need to advertise it?"

You don't. You really don't.

But if you don't advertise it, LGBT people who are seeking a faith community will be unlikely to try out your church. This country is filled with churches who say that they welcome all people -- but the default church position is to welcome LGBT people with strings.

You are welcome to come worship every Sunday morning, but you are not allowed to become a member. You are tentatively permitted to attend some educational programs. You are not allowed to sing in the choir. You are not allowed to serve as an usher. You are not allowed to help out in the nursery. You are not allowed to serve as a lay leader. And you're definitely not allowed seek ordination.

But you're definitely allowed to come hear our sermons!

My experience is that most LGBT people research prospective churches. They are aware of most churches' reputations for not really welcoming gay people or our families. So when churches have come to a point where they actually welcome and affirm all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, it's important to put that out there -- by including it on their website or by making a presence at a local pride event or by hosting LGBT-friendly community events. Somehow, ONA churches need to advertise that they are ONA. Otherwise, people outside of the church likely won't know. And then what's the point?

But back to the original question. "Can a congregation be ONA without flying a rainbow flag?"

Yes. I'm sure that there are ONA churches who lovingly wave their rainbow flags all of the time. But I've rarely seen one. It's totally up to your church, its pastor, and its membership.

1 comment:

Donny Jacobs said...

"This country is filled with churches who say that they welcome all people -- but the default church position is to welcome LGBT people with strings.
You are welcome to come worship every Sunday morning, but you are not allowed to become a member. You are tentatively permitted to attend some educational programs. You are not allowed to sing in the choir. You are not allowed to serve as an usher. You are not allowed to help out in the nursery. You are not allowed to serve as a lay leader. And you're definitely not allowed seek ordination. But you're definitely allowed to come hear our sermons!"

Yes, Jon, and they love the clinks and crinkles of our hard-earned money sounding in their collection plates, too! I have a hard line on this: Withhold membership and withhold tithe from churches that hold LGBT folk at arm's length!