Spiritual Practice

Open and Affirming Churches – Are YOU SEEN, Welcomed, Affirmed? Do You See, Welcome, Affirm?

Some really are Open and Affirming churches (ONA), or “Welcoming and Affirming.” Some merely claim or wish to be.

Open and Affirming ChurchesThe church I joined last year later voted to become officially one of UCC’s  “Open and Affirming Churches”. It was the product of much thought, discussion, even research, over a period of years.  (Related or alternative  terms: “Welcoming and Affirming”, “Welcoming”, “Affirming”, “Gay accepting”, “multi-racial” … )

I think we really mean it and we truly work on practicing it.

But you know, it’s demanding on persons and groups to be truly aware and welcoming of others who are in some significant ways unlike them – unlike “us”, whoever “us” is.  We like to be comfortable, we need at times to be comfortable, and comfort often means being with people like us; we want interactive and other cultural patterns to be familiar and predictable.

Open and Affirming Churches, VERSUS “Homogeneous Units”

Scholars used to argue that churches should be more or less “homogeneous units” if they want to grow. It’s probably true. People like to be with people quite a bit like themselves.  The first professor I had in seminary strongly promoted that idea. He made a heresy out of it. (C Peter Wagner)

Then he went on to be a major voice on behalf of Christian Dominionism. It figures! We humans want to be comfortable. Beyond that, in fact, many of us want in some way – or even in every way! – to be in control.

So, church leaders still tend to pursue that standard – a church or movement composed of “people like us” will be more “successful.”  Make people comfortable; AND be in control (dominate).

But, to the contrary, here’s the statement we adopted:

FCUCC Hastings, NE,  Welcome Statement

First Congregational United Church of Christ of Hastings, Nebraska, is dedicated to welcoming all people.

  • We celebrate, recognize, and give thanks for the diversity in which God created us.
  • We seek to embrace the rich variety of our congregation and community.
  • We affirm the dignity and worth of every person created in God’s image.
  • We advocate for human rights for all persons.
  • We recognize our prejudies and oppose discrimination and violence.
  • As members of Christ’s church, we celebrate our Creator’s love for people of different
    1. genders,
    2. gender identities,
    3. ages,
    4. races,
    5. sexual orientations,
    6. nationalities,
    7. faiths,
    8. ethnicities,
    9. socioeconomic backgrounds,
    10. physical capabilities,
    11. neurodiversities
    12. and relationships.
  • We work to invite all God’s children into our church family.

Following the examples of Jesus Christ, we commit ourselves to be an Open and Affirming Church.

“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

That last sentence is spoken at the beginning of every Sunday worship service here.

Being welcoming often requires the humility to be willing to risk “not saying it right” or “not doing it right” in order to nevertheless make an approach, a true connection. That shows respect and welcome.

Did you notice? There are twelve items on that list

– and every one is legitimately a big deal to the persons involved.

Twelve different categories of human situations that we are commiting ourselves, our church, to be welcoming of.

Only 2 have directly to do with LGBTQ+ issues.

That means there are TEN MORE types of people who differ from the majority in significant ways and that we intend to truly welcome. (As to whether those 2 LGBTQ+-related items represent choices, and sin, see this recent post: 6 Anti-Gay Clobber Passages – Biblical Authority (Mis)Used Against People. Ouch! )

And every one of the twelve can be an area where a lot of us feel uncomfortable.  Do we really want to truly welcome people into our churches

  • around whom many of us feel a bit out of place?!
  • Around whom we are not entirely sure how to act?
  • With whom we are not even sure how to converse?

Isn’t church also supposed to feel comfortable and welcoming FOR US? Well, human life can be a bit complicated. Church life, being built around humans, can be a bit complicated. But we are, after all, mostly grown-ups are we not?

Look at these active, affirmative verbs in the statement!

  1. celebrate, recognize, and give thanks
  2. seek to embrace
  3. affirm the dignity and worth
  4. advocate for
  5. recognize our prejudies
  6. oppose discrimination and violence
  7. celebrate our Creator’s love for people [who are minorities in our church in some way or other, who thus differ from many of us]

“WELCOMING” is a REAL PROJECT FOR EVERYBODY

How We Feel.

Maybe we could think of this “welcoming” or this “openness” in terms of how welcome WE feel in “our own” churches. It will not be exactly the same – everyone truly is different, in personality, experience, etc. Still, do I want persons from these 12 categories to actually feel as welcome as I do?  Do I want to treat them as attentively, as respectfully, as welcoming as I usually feel treated?

We’re Not Cross-cultural Experts.

There’s no way all of us – or even any of us – will fully understand the culture, or the life experience, or the ways of relating, of all 12 of these. We won’t “fully understand” even one if we are not part of it. And even then it’s a bit tricky! But we must at least get our feet on the foundation – treat people as humans! Treat people as humans.  What an idea.  Remember what Jesus said, and emphasized? “WHATEVER you have done (or not done) for ONE of the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done (or not done) for me.”

Equality.

We are not free to think of other people as less or “least”. Duh. But Jesus knows that society does that. The societies and groups we live in tend to look on various groups and individuals as less or least, unimportant, bothersome, even contemptible. THOSE people we are to treat with the  courtesy and solicitude we’d offer to Jesus. Because that’s how we’d want Jesus to think of our behavior – as respectful, open, affirming, welcoming, loving.

Humility.

Being welcoming often requires the humility to be willing to risk “not saying it right” or “not doing it right” in order to nevertheless make an approach, a true connection. That shows respect and welcome.

Lots of Other “Minority” People.

What about people who’ve done time in jail or prison? What about addicts? What about women who’ve had abortions, or the men who have supported them through that? Recent immigrants or refugees?  People who grew up in a large city when your church is rural or small town – or vice versa? There must be others you can think of.

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OTHER RELEVANT SITES:

RELATED ARTICLES on this SITE:

6 Anti-Gay Clobber Passages – Biblical Authority (Mis)Used Against People. Ouch!
Jesus and Racism – Samaritan Lives Matter – Black Lives Matter
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  • Indeed. Jesus rejected violence toward anyone. He did not throw stones when everyone else was throwing stones. But He did NOT say to people, “Go and enjoy yourself.” He said, “Go and sin no more.”

    We too, can be gentle and welcoming to all who are coming to Jesus. But we cannot weaken the Gospel to reject the reason Jesus had to come and had to sacrifice His life on the cross. He paid for our sins. Both “soft” sins, like loving sexual sins and “hard” sins, like anger and cruelty. We all need to repent and go and sin no more. We all need to learn God’s ways and be obedient to the Spirit of God.

 
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