Hoping for Inclusivity, Riding for Equality
Posted 14 October 2009on:
This past weekend was one that gave me great hope, great courage, great knowledge, and great people. Where was I that this happened? At Community Mennonite Church of Lancaster for the Institute for Welcoming Resources‘ training “Building an Inclusive Church.” Led by Anita Bradshaw of IWR and by Carol Wise of the Brethren Mennonite Council, I was among 15 people of Mennonite, Brethren, Baptist, Catholic, and UCC background, learning what we as individuals and as congregations could do to make our congregations and our denominations welcoming and affirming for queer-folk. Amongst the participants, we had a wide spectrum of where our home congregations are on this matter. So a few things I learned, or was reminded of, perhaps?
*There are times when silence has the loudest voice
We have a tendency to not articulate exactly what we are talking about. When you are talking about welcoming queer-folk, say that this is what you are talking about. Don’t cushion it in language the obscures the fact that we are among you. This is just another form of denial and silencing the voice of the queer. If we can’t use the words, how are we supposed to really be welcomed?
*This is for the Church
For obvious reasons, the discussion around queer inclusion is often about those we are trying to include. But that is only part of the story. Ultimately, these discussions are about giving the Church a chance to be the Church. Are we truly extending the Gospel message to all? Even those that society has told us are not worthy? And will the Church accept the gifts that the Spirit has given to queer-folk? Denying them is risky business for if God has declared them clean, who is the Church to say otherwise?
*It’s not just queer-folk who are looking for welcoming church
In fact, you may never have any LGBT people walk through your door, even if you’ve been very public about your welcome. For one thing, we will always be cautious in dealing with a religious group. We have experienced too much pain not to. But even if you don’t get the queer to come, you will get the young. Recent studies show that there is a definite generational divide in regards to acceptance of queer-folk, both in society and the Church. And 90% of young people see the Church as a homophobic institution. Young people do not want to be a part of a Body that denies their friends the inherent worth that is due to them. Stories at the training showed that it is not the queer people that will mention the church’s publicly affirming stance when asked why they came to the church, it is our heterosexual allies. The welcoming churches are actually the fastest growing churches in their denominations.
We are always defending ourselves from the attacks of the far fringe, those people who will never change their minds. The thing is these people are only 16% of the population. It is not them that we need to convince, especially because we really only need to convince 20%. This is the number that has been found to be the tipping point. Seem low? It did to me. But with any social change, this is apparently what they have found. Once we’ve gotten to this point, we don’t need to worry anymore. The change is a done deal. And this is what gives me so much hope. We’ve already achieved this!
My Call to Action
So what will I do this new energy? The fire burns within me, and I will not be silent. My prayers for the queer will be heard in the congregation. It will be known that I have resources, and that they are available for use by everybody. And the congregation will know about my recent application to the 2010 Equality Ride. One of the Mennonite women at the training, I discovered is actually the mother of the director for this year’s Equality Ride. I have pondering for a few months about applying to be a part of this, and when she heard about this she strongly encouraged me to apply. And then she told her daughter how fabulous I was(?) But anyway the encouragement from the weekend was apparently just what I needed to get over my little hump, and I got my application submitted within an hour of the deadline. Participating in this would be an enormous step for me. And since we have a congregational meeting on Friday, I plan on making an announcement/prayer request regarding it. Obviously, I don’t know yet whether I’ll be accepted, but the voices of the People of God need to be sent in petition regarding this. And also, the congregation needs to be aware because a gay Mennonite from Rochester might bring attention to them. Since the congregation has not gone through an affirmation dialogue, it needs to be prepared for potential attention, and potential backlash. I’m not doing this to force the discussion, but perhaps that is what the congregation needs for this to happen.
So this weekend was huge for me. It might even have been one of those turning point moments in my life. But whatever happens, I pray that the Divine Peace remains in mind in all that I do.