I sometimes wish that we did not have to modify the word “Christian.” Orthodox Christian. Catholic Christian. Protestant Christian. Conservative Christian. Progressive Christian. Those of us in the club know what questions to ask to make quick determinations? Oh, you’re Lutheran? Which Synod? We know what ONA, More Light, Reconciling Ministry, Opus Dei, SBC, and other ingredients in the alphabet soup signify. My home denomination, the United Church of Christ, was formed with the goal of fulfilling Jesus’ words in John, “That they may all be one.”
Alas, that has not come to pass. So it was in such a context that our lovely church secretary Tina answered the phone today to be told, “We googled ‘conservative Christian churches’ and yours popped up!” Tina had to go on to explain that we are More Light, which means we affirm the GLBT community without reservation. The conversation quickly ended. Tina burst into laughter and told me the story. I immediately laughed and put the story on Facebook, as I am wont to do.
The thread unfolded much as one would expect with my diverse, intelligent, and snarky group of friends. There were jokes about how Tina should have said, “Our pastor is finishing getting his hair dreadlocked today because yesterday he had to bless a transgender girl, but I can have him call you when he gets back into the office.” It was riotous, clean, good-natured fun. Then someone posted, “Inclusive means everyone.” I immediately liked the comment and nodded; I completely understood what she meant and decided that it is an important message to unpack.
I had a hard experience early in my preaching career (long before I can to First Presby). I made an overtly political reference to a named candidate; it was not quite enough to violate the law, but it was toeing the line. The person who objected was not who I might have expected (because, assumptions) as she is trans* but is politically quite conservative. There were a few other people who objected, and one who still refuses to ever hear me preach. I did the hard work of introspection, apology, and reflection. Through the mentoring of my pastor, I internalized an important mantra: “Would a conservative Republican Evangelical feel spiritually nourished by my sermon?” One does not have to agree with what is said to be spiritually challenged; and my job is to preach the gospel, not political opinions. Sometimes the gospel helps me form my political opinions, and I certainly call people to action through my sermons. But as the pastoral leader of the church, am I being invitational with everything I say and do?
But here’s the rub. I feel called to pay particular attention to those left out and abandoned by most churches. I feel called to enter into relationship with people who are hurt by religion, and with those who are even downright hostile to it. I do not seek to convert them. I do not seek to save their souls. I seek to invite them to investigate a community in which they are affirmed for their intrinsic personhood, where they are provided opportunities to volunteer, lead, and to express their gifts in ways that are authentic and loving. I do this because that is the gospel, at least to me. For me. It was that invitation that helped me get through the death of my brother. It is that invitation that helps me get through my mental illness. I believe that I am loved, even when I feel unworthy of it.
So, yes. You are welcome to come and worship with us if you are a conservative Christian. But you will not be able to come into the community and begin commenting on other people’s relationships and perceived sins. We don’t do that; we don’t hold others up for ridicule. We hold up others for love. Period. And if you think that I am doing the wrong thing as a spiritual leader, you are welcome to tell me. Tell my bosses. Tell the denomination. But you will not be able to intentionally hurt or judge one person who comes to the church I pastor. That will not happen. Not on my watch.
This does not mean that we have to agree on theology, scripture, tradition, or liturgy. If you want to be part of the community because you feel challenged and believe it is important for you to be here to offer a differing view, that’s great. Come on in. I love vigorous discussions and I am comfortable with positive tension. But there is no room for the agitator who simply wants to disrupt the wayward Christians who love the wrong people and refuse to declare any of God’s creations to be “abominations” for simply being who they are. There is not room for the person who believes that trans* persons, gay persons, and child molesters are somehow the same. That they set forth equal arguments for why they should be allowed to be themselves.
I absolutely agree with the person who posted “Inclusive means everyone.” Yes, it does. And part of our role at FPCYS is including those who are refused at most other houses of worship. Our preferential option for these types of persons does not somehow infringe upon the rest of the population. You are welcome here, all of you; but there are requirements. If you are unable to love and affirm someone else as being no more or less sinful and worthy of grace than are you, then you are not being inclusive in the way we are, and there is probably a better church for you down the road a piece.