© 2010 John Casimir O'Keefe

What does it mean to be “Welcoming and Affirming?”

  • Sumo

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with the local association of the American Baptist Churches of US; the local association is called “Growing Healthy Churches (GHC).”  I spoke with two individuals (JD Pearring and Pamela Breen) in the office about connecting with a plant a friend a I are planning.  My desire was to seek my tribes (at this time) involvement in the plant,  I am talking with the Evangelical Lutheran (ECLA) and a friend of mine who is a ELCA pastor about planting a “joint church” between the ABC and the ECLA, we are both excited about the possibilities.  In my conversation with GHC I mentioned that I was a “welcoming and affirming” pastor, to which I was told, “Growing Healthy Churches are not welcoming or affirming churches.”

My very first response was anger.  I was angry that my own tribe, the place that holds my ordination, the place that claims that all people are God’s people, pushed me aside and said “We are not welcoming and affirming.”  I was so angry that I whipped off an email to Roy Medley (a great guy), the “head” of the ABC and shared how sad I was that my local association was close to others.  But soon after I emailed Roy, my reaction changed to one of sadness.  I was sad that my own tribe, a tribe I saw as inclusive and open was in fact closed and mean spirited.  But sadness soon changed to questioning, I got to thinking – what does it mean to be welcoming and affirming?

The statement, “Growing Healthy Churches are not welcoming or affirming churches” got me thinking – and you know they are right; they are not welcoming or affirming – to anyone.  You see, to me being a welcoming and affirming pastor, or church, is not limited to gender or gender identification.  It means I welcome all people, regardless of whom they are or their gender identity.  Being a welcoming and affirming church means I welcome everyone and affirm their humanity in Christ.  I am open to the needs of the people and I seek to help them find their walk in Christ – as God defines it to them, and not how I or others define it for them.  GHC churches are closed to accepting people, except those who are only “just like them.” GHC has “kicked” churches out of the association who think different; this means that those churches, for all intents and purposes, are “kicked-out” of the ABC – unless they can find another region to join.  Which is a complete violation of the freedoms the ABC is known for, and teaches; here are a few things the ABC stands for, but that the GHC forgot:

  • For American Baptists the local church is the fundamental unit of mission in denominational life.
  • American Baptists believe that the committed individual Christian can and should approach God directly, and that individual gifts of ministry should be shared.
  • American Baptists support religious freedom and respect the expressions of faith of others.
  • American Baptists acknowledge that God’s family extends beyond our local churches, and that God calls us to cooperative ministries.
  • American Baptists have been called to be Christ’s witnesses for justice and wholeness within a broken society. (Rev Martin Luther King, Jr. was an ABC Pastor)
  • American Baptist Churches USA celebrates the racial, cultural and theological diversity witnessed within its membership.

I am sad; because if this is what my tribe has become – a closed association of people who exclude – then I am sure it is not worth maintaining my voice in the tribe.  I will stop just short of calling them a cult because one of the main qualities of a cult is a charismatic leader, and well you get the picture

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