The first question that is often asked is “Why do we need to become an Affirming congregation? Our Mission Statement already says that we welcome diversity.”
Becoming an Affirming Congregation is more than merely welcoming people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. They understand that the church is not a private club where we have the power to extend a welcome to marginalized groups. The church belongs to God who has already welcomed everyone, including gender and sexual minorities.
An affirming congregation acknowledges the hurt and pain that has been part of the church experience for many people because of their identity or sexuality. They seek to listen to the experiences of their members and strive to be a community of nurture and support for LBCTQ folk. They make their stance public and build a church community where people whose gender identities and sexual orientations are marginalized can celebrate life, love God, and serve others.
Voices of condemnation, exclusion and hatred are loud and persistent within the church and society. An Affirming ministry makes a public statement about who they are and what they believe. They believe it is important to be a public witness and role model for other ministries.
Most marginalized people spend their lives surrounded by messages of hatred, judgement and negativity about themselves and their relationships. These messages come from their loved ones, co-workers, friends and/or faith communities. Some churches still are, and many have been, the loudest and most vitriolic in their messages of hatred and condemnation. Such messages, spoken in the name of Christianity, lead many LGBTQ people to believe that all Christians think this way.
Therefore, Christians and Congregations who value inclusion and justice for people of diverse genders and sexualities need to speak up about love and compassion. We cannot assume that newcomers or people in our community will know what we believe unless we tell them, so we have to be explicit.
The Affirm Trinity Group invites you to visit Open Hearts: Resources for Affirming Ministries available at www.ause.ca under Resources and Affirming Ministries. There you will find more detailed information about this subject.
The November edition of Broadview has an excellent article about how hollow the words “All are Welcome” can be in some Christian churches. It is the story of Junia Joplin who was the lead pastor at Lorne Park Baptist Church in Mississauga. She was fired by the congregation because she spoke honestly about her feeling that she was transgendered. Please read this article to learn how well hidden and damaging discrimination can be.