The Welcoming Journey

Becoming and being an Open & Affirming Ministry is a journey of ever-expanding welcome. Every congregation can travel this journey and there are resources for every step along the way, from the congregation that hasn’t thought about the welcome of LGBT persons to the congregation that named itself Open & Affirming decades ago.

Below are some suggested resources for each step of the journey. Remember, these are only suggestions. Each congregation has different and unique needs. Don’t hesitate to be in touch with Mark Johnston, Executive Director of GLAD’s Open & Affirming Ministry Program for more suggestions.

It’s important to remember that our goal is always graceful engagement.

Graceful engagement is a commitment to listen and honor another person’s faith. When we disagree with another graceful engagement invites them into further conversation. We don’t argue or debate, rather we honor where they are and invite them one small step at a time into deeper conversation.

Graceful engagement doesn’t use a resource to say “No, you’re wrong, and here’s the resource that explains why.” Rather, graceful engagement encourages conversation; and when a question arises, graceful engagement offers a resource to answer the question – and to nurture the next question.

In the first several steps below Bible study about LGBT welcome is not part of this work. To debate and argue disrespects the faith others hold and does nothing to increase welcome. Bible study about LGBT people is not part of this journey until people are already moving into a place where they begin to ask ‘but what about the welcome of LGBT people?’ These first few stages are setting down the stepping stones to bring people to this place.

If your congregation is…

Here are some suggested resources.

… Saying the Bible is clear that LGBT people are not welcome …

If your congregation has many members who are quick to say ‘the Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin,’ then the place to start is learning to read the Bible not literally but rather with a deeper understanding of the text:

Books such as those by Marcus Borg about how to read the Bible can be quite useful. Read a review of these books by Rev. Terrye Williams of Hilton Christian Church here.

… Starting to ask the question “It’s difficult to read the Bible literally in the 21st century…

If your congregation is asking “How do I honor my faith and the scripture in the midst of this struggle with the Bible?” These resources will help further the move from a literal reading towards a deeper reading of the Bible.

Check out the resources listed under the heading Reading the Bible.

… Ready to read the Bible in depth, but not ready to talk about the welcome of LGBT persons …

If your congregation knows how to do its theological homework, reading the Bible in context and able to apply its message and themes without a literal/fundamentalist reading, but not yet ready to talk about LGBT welcome:

Resources on welcome and inclusion in general are helpful at this stage. For Disciples congregations, the book Inclusion: Making Room for Grace, by Eric Law and published by Chalice Press can be a great starting point.

… Talking about welcome, and starting to look, with some discomfort and skepticism, at welcoming LGBT people …

If the members of your congregation are starting to say ‘yes, the gospel calls us to welcome everyone into our church, but does that really include welcoming LGBT people?’:

This is an important turning point in a congregation’s life. If you haven’t already started following the guidance found in the Building an Inclusive Church Toolkit, it’s time to download that resource and contact Mark Johnston, Executive Director of the Open & Affirming Ministry Program for suggestions and recommendations.

This is a time for building relationships and community. This is not a time to challenge people around their view of homosexuality and LGBT people. The best approach is to open the discussion carefully around welcome and expanding that welcome until questions about LGBT welcome start to surface.

… Starting to wonder if LGBT people are included in the Biblical call to welcome all …

When the members of the church are talking about welcoming everyone and starting to suspect that this might include LGBT people:

This is the time expand the discussion about welcome in a way that starts to include discussion of LGBT people. One excellent resource to do this is Hearts Unbound, a free download from the Institute for Welcoming Resources.

Another excellent resource for study at this point is Scott Hamilton’s book Making Sense of the Bible.

… Starting to welcome LGBT people, but uncomfortable because in the past they were taught that LGBT people are not welcome …

When people start saying ‘I can see that there are Biblical themes of welcome that include LGBT people, but still, I was taught that homosexuality is sinful and I’m still uncomfortable with this’:

Many of us were taught that homosexuality is sinful. Often we see leaders from conservative churches repeating this message in the mass media. It’s important that we come to an understanding of the Biblical message of welcome and look at the passages that are often referenced when LGBT people are discussed.

A good way to continue this discussion is through personal story. There are several good resources that weave in personal story with Bible study. Torn, by Justin Lee, is a good resource for those coming from a conservative background. In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God, by Gene Robinson who was raised in a Disciples home and became the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, is another good resource. The God Box by Alex Sanchez is an excellent resource for teens and young adults.

Another volume that will be especially useful for those steeped in a more conservative or evangelical reading of the Bible is Changing Our Mind by David Gushee.

… Seeing that welcoming everyone includes LGBT people, but wondering why it’s important to welcome openly …

When people see that LGBT people are included in the welcome of everyone yet still uncomfortable with being open about that welcome:

There are many reasons that welcome is important. Because there are so many voices saying that LGBT people are not welcome, no one will know we welcome unless we’re open about it. Many of our neighbors and often our own children are hurting and looking for an open and explicit welcome. Two resources that make it clear that an open welcome is important are For the Bible Tells Me So and Prayers for Bobby: A Mother’s Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son.

There are also many resources listed under the tag The Curious on the GLAD website.

… Asking for in depth Bible study about LGBT people …

When people are getting comfortable with the idea that LGBT people are welcome in the church and want to know how to explain their disagreement with the fundamentalist preachers they see on the TV:

There are plenty of resources for Bible study on those scripture passages that are usually discussed when LGBT people are the topic. The classic is What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality by Daniel Helminiak. A newer and excellent resource is God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality by Jay Michaelson. There are many other resources listed under the Resources tab on this website, especially the Bible Study category and the General Introduction category.

There are also resources available designed for African American, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific congregations.

… Open & Affirming, and proud of it. What now? …

Being an Open & Affirming congregation isn’t the end of the journey. Perhaps it’s only the beginning:

Welcoming all means a constant vigilance for the needs of our neighbors, those people around us who yearn for welcome, those people whom God calls us to join as sisters and brothers in Christ. One resource that challenges us to continue moving into God’s inclusive realm is Radical Welcome: Embracing God, the Other and the Spirit of Transformation by Stephanie Spellers.

There are more resources for Open & Affirming congregations under the Going Deeper tag on the GLAD website resource list.