Bishop Mike Rinehart of the Gulf Coast Synod posted a lovely letter this week, An Open Letter to the LGBT Community. In it he expresses sentiments I share. I love his invitation to the LGBT community to risk participation in an imperfect church. I love his statement of welcome, and his stand against discrimination.
His letter reminds me of the widely viewed video by the previous bishop of our denomination, Mark Hanson.
So I agree with both of these leaders, and I'd like to add one more thing. You are welcome. It does get better. And.
You are beautiful.
More than once, I have learned from others who have considered visiting our church or any church, how difficult it is for them to believe that they are truly welcomed. Yes, the church might post a welcome sign near the driveway. And the church won't exclude anyone from coming in.
But once they are in, many communities then exclude those included in other ways. Sometimes the inclusion is designed to welcome somebody in so the person can be changed. Typically this welcome is designed in order to make the person more like the people already present. Or they are welcome to the church, but excluded from certain roles, or certain ministries.
A friend once shared how many times it took her to get up the nerve to actually visit a new Lutheran church for the first time. She is African-American. She knew the church was predominately white. So even if the community intended to be welcoming, it was difficult for her to trust that.
No wonder something like the Black is Beautiful movement had such impact, or why some theologians emphasize Jesus as a Black Messiah. We need to overcome the internal critique so many place on themselves, and it requires positive outward affirmation.
In many instances, churches typically leave most of the work for the affirmation and welcome on the person being welcomed. They have to trust enough, conform their style and choices enough, to actually walk through the doors and join in. Even if they join, they may still feel like they are simply being tolerated.
This is why I'd like to say here what I often say to LGBT families in our congregation. Not only are you welcome. Not only are you tolerated. You are beautiful. Your same-gender partnership is attractive and a witness in our church. We want to learn from you.
I'm inspired to this view by my own experience, witnessing the strength and perseverance of so many families in same-gender relationships who have had to endure much hardship, have grown spiritually deep and rich in so many ways, because of their partnership and marriage. You have so much to offer the church.
I'm also inspired to this view by a growing range of theological resources that indicate not only that Scripture is quite a bit less opposed to same-gender relationships than has typically been assumed, but may actually be positive disposed towards it. For the theologians among us, I highly encourage a recent essay in The Christian Century on Same-Sex Complimentarity.
So together with Bishop Mike and Bishop Hanson, and with my denomination, the ELCA, I offer this also as an open letter to the LGBTQ community. You are welcome. Not only that, you are loved. It does get better. And not only that, you are also beautiful, and you bring many gifts to this body we call the church. Thank you.