The Christian church has had an ongoing struggle with homosexuality. However, during the past quarter-century we have seen amazing advancements. First, a careful and serious hermeneutic of biblical passages pertaining to "homosexuals" has begun. Second, advancements in psychology and science have shown that sexual orientation is more a result of nature than previously thought. Third, we have humanized those in the gay community realizing that many are sitting in our pews, working in our congregations and even preaching from our pulpits. Fourth, many denominations are struggling with the decision on whether to include gays and lesbians as members, on ordaining them, and on performing "same sex" unions.
Churches that welcome
gays are growing
Amid this struggle, one truth emerges: The gay community is establishing a greater presence in our churches.
In 1968, Troy Perry founded the Metropolitan Community Church, the first denomination born from within the gay community. In 1969 the Roman Catholic group Dignity started, being the first gay-lesbian organization within a major denomination. Since those days, supportive groups have developed in every denomination. Even the evangelicals have come on board through Evangelicals Concerned. The most recent group to join is GALA (Gay and Lesbian Acceptance) of the Community of Christ.
Congregations that openly affirm the gay community are on the rise, numbering more than 2,000 now compared with 1,000 in 2001. Many churches, though officially deciding not to declare themselves "welcoming," have made statements of support. According to Emily Eastwood, executive director of the Lutheran welcoming program, Reconciling in Christ (RIC), "the process of education and dialogue on whether or not a given church will welcome gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members often transforms that church from a congregation to a community of faith."
Because of the growth of the welcoming church movement, denominational program leaders decided to launch the first major joint gathering. In 2000 the "Witness Our Welcome" conference drew more than 1,000 in attendance. This event brought together the diversity, the breadth and the power of the welcoming church movement.
A larger and more comprehensive conference, WOW 2003, will be held in August at the University of Pennsylvania.
The welcoming church movement has evolved. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning persons have never given up their place in the pews or in the pulpit. They envision a new day when all will be truly welcomed and affirmed.
The Rev. Vaughn Beckman is the pastor of First Christian Church, a member of the GLAD (Gay, Lesbian & Affirming Disciples) Alliance council and a board member of the Institute for Welcoming Resources.