By Salina Brett, More Light Blog Contributer
“I’m an atheist, but when I’m in Provincetown, MA, I like to go to the Unitarian Universalist Church. It gives me a good start to my week.”
This was told to me by a man who expressed his appreciation for my keynote speech on “Rainbow Radiance” at the Pride Gala sponsored by Equality Alliance of West Chester, PA earlier this month. In my presentation, I spoke a bit on how I have a deeply spiritual life with roots in the Christian tradition, but branches that reach out to touch anyone who believes that love is our most divine quality.
I’m thankful that this man was comfortable enough to share his link between atheism and a church. This set me to thinking: “Why Unitarian Universalist (UU) and not Presbyterian (USA)?”
I did a Google search to find out where LGBTQ+ people feel most welcome at a church. UU was top of the list. Others ahead of us include Nondenominational (non-evangelical), United Church of Christ, Catholic, and Episcopalian.
So, again – “Why?”
I’m sure some sort of exhaustive study with fascinating data-driven results for a doctoral thesis could answer that question, but here’s my salt-of-the-earth answer:
They feel free to be their authentic selves.
Now – it can be easy to say, “Well … the UU church doesn’t really have a theology – they let anyone in.”
Kind of funny when you say “they let anyone in” out loud, doesn’t it?
Okay so what about the Catholics and Episcopalians? If there are churches that DO church, it’s those! Lots of theology and structure there, plus some serious membership hoops.
Coming back to my point – Why can’t the Presbyterian (USA) church be the definitive “LGBTQ+ Empowering Denomination?”
I think we can!
We’re already high on the list. We’re making real progress in accepting people as open and authentic. We have a long history, lots of places to worship, and people who are every bit as welcoming as any of the other denominations.
I believe the answer is found in creating community within a community, like the way sports fans within a neighborhood gather to watch games of their favorite team.
Imagine this: Every church in your area has an outside, evening event and hands out glow-necklaces. All the gals get pink and all the guys get blue – unless you identify with the LGBTQ+ community. They get rainbow-colored glow necklaces in addition to pink or blue, as they self-identify. How many rainbow necklaces would be in each church yard? If your church has less than a 150-average attendance (which most do), you probably don’t have more than 5 rainbow glow necklaces in your yard.
Only 5-ish percent of the population identifies as LGBTQ+, and a lot of them won’t have anything to do with church. The stories of people who’ve been tormented in some way or another by people using “Christ” as the whip are rampant within the rainbow community. So – very few are likely to be part of any single congregation. But what if we can connect them with each other, like the way men’s groups and women’s groups and choir groups and youth groups connect with each other? Imagine if the Presbyterian (USA) Church was able to create an active LGBTQ+ social and spiritual network within the denomination!
I’ll tell you what will happen. Others will come. Not just LGBTQ+ people, but those who have family members and friends who are in that community and those who think, “If they are welcome, I will be too.”
One thing I’ve noticed – LGBTQ+ people love to get together, but it’s hard to find each other to do that unless someone sets up an event like Pride Day or a Pride Parade. But OH MY … when that happens … the result is simply amazing in its color and energy!
As Christians, we are called to be Light to the world. You probably see where I’m going with this, so let’s get the scripture out there:
James 1:17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.
John 8:12 Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”
Matt 5:14-16 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.
I like these three passages because they show a path of Light. In James, we see God as the perfect Light. In John, we see Christ as the perfect man of Light. In Matthew, we see that we are called to be Christ’s Light to the world and in a very visible way.
Light stands out in darkness, just like glow necklaces on a summer night.
It fascinates me that to be successful at anything we must stand out, be different, be a light in the darkness, but when it comes to our day-to-day lives we default to a herd mentality of “don’t stand out.”
One of the qualities I adore about the LGBTQ+ community is that we stand out individually and collectively. Jennifer Real, a musician I met at the Pride Gala, said this: “We’re like a herd of unicorns.”
I love that!
To be sure, we do have our hide-in-the-herd (or closet) moments, but when we are free to be authentic, we stand out – some of us in glorious and spectacular ways!
I’m not saying that LGBTQ+ people are better than anyone else. Not at all. We are human, too. My point is this: Different stands out and LGBTQ+ people are inherently “different.” We are the rainbow necklaces in a sea of pink and blue.
Funny thing about churches, for the most part, we prefer the herd and we build theology and by-laws to clearly define how this herd operates. Even in our routines, we have our particular pew, our style of music, and the “thing” we always do at Easter and Christmas and VBS or other special event. We even print out an “ORDER of Service” so that no one gets lost on our trail.
Apart from long-standing interpretations of scriptures and traditions or the aforementioned hostility of others using Christ’s name, it’s no wonder LGBTQ+ people haven’t felt comfortable in most Christian denominations.
Different isn’t the church way.
So, how can the Presbyterian (USA) Church embrace and empower a minority community of rainbow radiant LGBTQ+ people who are well … different?
Making a rainbow radiant person feel welcome is a big first step, and many congregations already do that. Amen and praise God!
Include them in leadership roles. Again, many congregations already do that. Hurray!
A big step forward is coming up THIS MONTH! The denomination will be holding its 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis. On the docket are overtures regarding the LGBTQ+ community. I can’t begin to express how much accepting these statements will cheer my heart. I’m very eager to see that denomination-wide affirmation take place.
More pragmatically, and regardless of the General Assembly decision, I encourage each local Presbytery to think of ways to connect their LGBTQ+ members and attendees with their sister churches. I’m already exploring those options within the New Castle Presbytery. It might be via Facebook or Meet-Up groups or in conjunction with More Light or even old-school church bulletin announcements.
Whatever it is, I intend to find a way that works for our Presbytery. I hope you’ll join me by finding a way that works with yours. I believe that when we succeed – the result will glow with Christ’s love and Light like rainbow-colored necklaces dancing on a summer’s eve.