Every time I see a church’s website, sign, or bulletin that publicly proclaims their support for all children of God, my heart swells with hope. Even more so, when they explicitly name queers, many of cannot believe they are loved by God. Central Presbyterian Church, of which I am under care, does this through it’s mission statement: “Deliberately Diverse and Fully Inclusive.” While queers are not named, I believe the message is clear to most, if not all; God loves you and we do too. I was raised in a county in which there is not a single church that does this publicly according to Believe Out Loud’s directory of welcoming churches. I am appreciative of any church that attempts to communicate the broadness of the gospel to queers in any way.
“Inclusive” and “welcoming” seem to be the most popular words to convey a pro-queer stance for churches. They are both great words. “Inclusive” conveys to a person that they are included in the family of God. “Welcoming” similarly communicates that the congregation is waiting to welcome them in to be a part of the community. “Affirming” and “accepting” are other favorite code words. I’m less fond of “accepting,” which feels nearly as patronizing as “tolerant.” “Affirming” accomplishes something the previous words do not: explicit proclamation that queer bodies are created as such. This is fantastic and many queers need to hear the truth of this. Queers need to be welcomed, need to feel included, and need to know they are accepted by churches that seek to proclaim the gospel. I hope not to discount this, but to dig further into what is attempting to be conveyed.
|It could be a lot worse.|
This language exists in the midst of heterosexist power structures in which straight people maintain privilege in society. And words make meaning. I’m not convinced that the language many mainline churches currently use seeks to correct this straight privilege in any way. Instead, it is the queer, the Other, that is welcomed, included, affirmed, accepted by the congregation—usually a bunch of straight folk who have made the decision to receive queers into their midst. The power continues to rest in the hands of the privileged, the straight, to whom the church seems to belong. Now, many of you may be thinking, “But, John! It is, of course, God who does the welcoming of all people no matter their sexuality.” I agree! But I have a feeling that most ostracized queers do not make this theological distinction. This kind of theological intricacy comes after being a part of a faith community.
I have been thinking about different ways to use language that is more reciprocal and does not reinforce the image that the straight church invites queers into its midst. Because it is not only queers who are blessed by inclusion in the church, but the church is blessed when queers choose to include the church in their midst. The word I like most is “embrace,” as in: An Embracing Congregation. When we imagine the verb “embrace,” it is more often than not a reciprocal image of two or more creatures embracing one another. This image of mutuality more accurately reflects the powerful relationship between queers and the church.
“Embrace” also has a strong suggestion of embodiment missing in the other words. This is important because it is the bodies of queers that have been most degraded and rejected. It is our bodies we have been taught not to trust, to hate. It is our bodies that we have been told are cursed with AIDS for what we have done with them. This is, of course, a lie. For the church to embrace queers—and queers, the church—is to push further into reconciliation. For previously anti-gay churches to claim they embrace queers challenges their own latent homophobia and transphobia. To embrace one another is to confront our own fear toward the other. To embrace one another is to work toward truly becoming the family of God in which no one has power of another.
I’m curious what other language you would suggest for churches to use in embracing queers.