CrossWalk is a Welcoming and Affirming church. Recently I saw a Facebook post about a church that refused to baptize a woman unless she renounced her lesbianism and her marriage to her wife. For the woman to get that far into engaging the church says that she felt pretty welcome, but when push came to shove, she definitely did not feel affirmed regarding her sexual orientation. Why? Why are most churches NOT LGBTQ friendly while others are?
Here are three reasons that I believe top the list.
Biblical Inspiration and Interpretation. Most churches in the United States believe that the writing of the Bible was so inspired by God that it must be viewed as without error and incapable of being incorrect. The related fancy words to look for in a church’s Belief Statement include plenary inspiration, inerrant, and infallible. The words appear to make the Bible seem super-duper holy and final. I do not believe that is how the Bible was viewed by the earliest rabbis (remember that Christianity comes from Jewish roots – Jesus was not a Christian, but rather a Jew). The original handlers of the text viewed it as a living, breathing document that was meant to be wrestled with and interpreted in light of its original context as well as the context in which is was read, with all the available information from both contexts on the table to help in its interpretation. Jesus and Paul, I am quite certain, would not sign off on the view held by the loudest churches and traditions that hold to the position formally adopted by Fundamentalist Christians in the late 1800’s (!) whereby literalism was affirmed as the only valid approach to the Bible and its interpretation. In fact, if you did not adhere to this doctrinal position, your very Christianity was placed in doubt. If a church hails from an Evangelical camp, this view of the Bible is baked into their cake, making it extremely challenging for them to be truly affirming of the LGBTQ community because there are a few texts – very few! – that condemn homosexuality. For them, the original context is moot. Their motto is: “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” There is another way of approaching the Bible which I believe is more faithful to the approach Jesus and the Apostle Paul took, as did the scholars before them. See the resources below.
Denominational Constraints. Most Evangelical traditions will not allow their churches or pastors to affirm the LGBTQ community, which in many cases means that membership is off the table, as is becoming a leader at any significant level. Forget about marriage. In their view, homosexuality is a sin, and therefore must be renounced as such before being truly welcomed. Baptists comprise the largest swath of Evangelicals in the United States, but Assembly of God and most “Independent” churches are not going to be open. Some “Mainline” denominations make room for the LGBTQ community. United Church of Christ (UCC) are boldly open and affirming (not to be confused with the very conservative Church of Christ). United Methodists are struggling with this as you’ve seen in the news. Some Presbyterians are cool with this. CrossWalk is an American Baptist Church (ABC-USA) which is divided on this issue. So long as we have a place at the table, we will remain at the table and offer our perspective and encouragement to become increasingly inclusive. Heads up on this: the constraints are real. Because CrossWalk’s tribe does not dictate what we do locally, we can do whatever we please. Other traditions are not in the same boat, and their LGBTQ-affirming pastors are caught in a very tough spot. Another heads up: nearly all churches that are attractional (often large with really impressive production value in their services – great band, staging, multimedia) are Evangelical and therefore not LGBTQ affirming. Catholics as a whole are not affirming of LGBTQ or gender equality.
Homophobia. Let’s not underestimate prejudice. What we don’t know or understand scares us. That’s operating here. I do have a few friends who hold to their Evangelical position who I believe are not homophobic. But most of my Evangelical friends have not spent much time getting to the know people behind the label. The Bible, in their view, supports their prejudice and the discrimination it fosters and therefore justifies their attitudes and behaviors that hurt so many. It sucks.
To the LGBTQ community at large: I am so sorry if you have been hurt by the church in some way. It is almost certain that you have on some level. This does not reflect the heart of Jesus who was a rebellious reformer in his day (which got him killed). Coming to new ways of thinking – changing our paradigms – is a very difficult process. Throw deeply-entrenched faith perspectives into the mix and it only gets harder. I know – I shifted. There was a time when I did not approach the Bible in the same way I do now. Expect the process to be clunky at best.
In spite of the hatred (which is real), know that there is cause for hope. We live in a time when the conversation can be had in the daylight, and the law of the land allows for marriage! What a time to be alive! And there are churches right here in Napa that will truly welcome you and affirm who you are as created in the image of God. CrossWalk is one of them, and I am proud to be her pastor.
Making Sense of the Bible by Adam Hamilton
How the Bible Actually Works by Pete Enns
Jesus and Homosexuality, a teaching by Pete Shaw at CrossWalk