It’s Time For Clarity: Churches Should Be Honest About LGBTQ Matters
A new online tool helps pastors and congregants figure out the score
I’ll never forget the day a few years ago a neighboring pastor I had looked up to asked me out for coffee. The subject matter? I wasn’t quite sure — I had just gotten kicked out of our shared evangelical denomination for my stance on LGBTQ inclusion. I thought maybe the elder pastor, known for his care for other pastors, might be offering to help our church plant in prayer and discernment. But his online invitation that day was a bit difficult to understand; I may have gone with a heavy heart but hopeful we would be able to have a clear pastoral conversation once we sat down.
Turns out, he was very clear once we sat down: my pastor colleague was furious with me for bringing “the issue” of LGBTQ up at all in our big little city because now he was going to have to be honest with his neighbors, friends, family… and congregants about his own stance.
Quite taken aback by his anger (he was visibly shaking) I said to him calmly: well, if this is a gospel issue for you, then you should be very clear with the people in your life. We owe it to them to be honest — especially if we think it is about their salvation or flourishing.
We never spoke again.
I can’t tell you how many times one of the following has happened since that time nearly three years ago:
- A new attendee of our church tells me: We thought our old church was inclusive because they seemed cool and gave all the signs and signals they might be, but when we tried to serve or asked to get married by the pastors they told us what they really believed. We felt lied to.
- I get an email or direct message from out of state saying: do you know of a church that’s inclusive like yours in my area?
- Another local pastor is thrilled with her church’s decision to come out clearly for inclusion and they want to celebrate far and wide and let others know their proud stance — and they ask me if there’s a way to do that.
ChurchClarity.Org, a new online tool and database, achieves just that.
Their goal is quite simple:
There are millions of churches around the world. They represent a wide spectrum of beliefs, which are translated into actively enforced policies. At the level of the local church, policies are often communicated unclearly, if they disclosed at all. In many churches, especially evangelical ones, clarity is elusive.
Church Clarity is simply trying to help bring — wait for it — clarity around LGBTQ policies at local churches around the country.
And for church folk out there who think this is just some public shaming project to change fundamentalist and evangelical church positions, it’s not — Church Clarity is not actually looking for church’s to change their policies, they’re just setting a new standard: to be crystal clear about what churches actually believe and practice around LGBTQ matters.
Clarity comes by straight forward scoring: does the church provide direct, honest language on their website about LGBTQ and their local church family?
Churches are scored Clear, Unclear, Undisclosed, or Actively Discerning and then tagged “Affirming” or “Non-Affirming.”
I’m very proud that Christ Church: Portland, our three year old faith community is listed on Church Clarity because it is a matter of Christ-centered faith for us to tell the good news that all are included by God (and by us!) no matter if they happen to be LGBTQ or straight. In our faith community we believe that everyone is made uniquely and purposefully in God’s beautiful image and to be part of God’s hopeful, unfolding dream for the world, we all have a part to play.
There are around 100 churches listed already — some big, some small — and more will be added and scored by crowdsourcing. You can go over and do so right now — and if so compelled, join in as an advocate!
Now, some churches and their leaders are going to be grumpy or downright angry like my colleague above about Church Clarity because they will feel either that their convictions about LGBTQ matters should remain behind closed doors.
But Jesus never said our faith should be private — he called us to take to the streets and the public square to share his good news in all arenas of our life.
There is a passage out of the Gospel of Matthew that encapsulate God’s hope in how we would have an integrity to our word in public about what we actually believe:
‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. — Matthew 10:32, 33 (NRSV)
Our faith is always personal, but never private. Long gone are the days where people of faith aren’t “supposed to” talk about their faith and how it applies to money, sex or politics. An integrated faith and public life is what is especially called for in these times of division.
But church leaders, especially, seem all too reluctant to talk about their policies or teaching on LGBTQ matters because I believe they fear it would be unpopular, lead to loss of members or church financial giving.
I specifically know of two large, growing churches that have sermon series up on their websites about Biblical principles on dating or sexual relationships that have intentionally omitted their sermon or teaching around LGBTQ. It’s like that hotel elevator that jumps from floor 12 straight to 14 — what happened to 13?
Church leaders need to be more honest about their convictions — even if they are exclusionary (Ok I know these pastors and church leaders would say “traditional” or “orthodox” — but I don’t agree with that for a minute). It saves everyone more time when needing to eventually deny that job or that leadership position or that marriage ceremony because someone happens to be gay. And, inclusive churches like ours want those folks who have so painfully been denied jobs, roles and marriage in their local churches to find us — because we want to share their courageous, bold faith with pride!
Ambiguity by churches actually hurts our LGBTQ siblings in Christ — folks too often feel like they’ve experienced a bait and switch when honesty eventually prevails. And if churches actually believe this is a matter of human flourishing or salvation, then they should go ahead and preach their bad news of exclusion from the mountain tops… or at least their websites.
Adam Phillips is the founding pastor of Christ Church: Portland, an open, active & inclusive faith community. He recently gave a TEDx talk on inclusion that will be posted soon.