Where Are You?

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6795764?utm_hp_ref=religion&ncid=tweetlnkushpmg00000067

I just posted the above article and the following comment on our church’s private FB page for our LGBTQ support group The Open Door: “As you read thru this article about the high price that evangelical churches like ours is paying for breaking from the herd on the LGBTQ issue, I hope you’ll contemplate a few things:

1) Attendance, giving, and standing among other churches, etc., are seriously impacted. Lay offs of valued staff, cuts in pay, harmful accusations and recriminations, departure of long time members and close friends, etc.  Every pastor and every church that feels led in some significant new ways to love and include LGBTQ brothers and sisters pays a big price. (As I meet with pastors of established “Welcoming and Affirming” churches, I find that they are often surprised to hear how costly this is to churches like ours because, in their churches and in their present circles, this has long been a ‘settled’ issue. For historically evangelical churches, however, this is far, far from being the case.)

2) While many LGBTQ Christians applaud these efforts and changes, it doesn’t seem like many of them increase their serving or giving (if they were already attending these churches) or become regulars or tithing/serving members to offset the losses. My sense is that some are still waiting to see/hear/experience how newly inclusive churches like EBCLA will be towards LGBTQs, and as the senior pastor, I think I get that. Maybe even more then some of you might think. But if you think back to the Civil Rights Movement, the few White churches that stood up against racism and segregation suffered myriad losses as many from their base left for ‘whiter’ pastures. But even as many Blacks vigorously and gratefully commended them, only a smattering ever chose to start attending and become contributing members. I’m sure that they too were still naturally suspicious or at least wondering how affirming these churches really were or would become. But imagine how this came across to the beleagured White pastors and leaders, who were paying high prices for swimming against the tides of racism, prejudice, injustice, and oppression. As they surveyed their now-nearly empty sanctuaries, they must have had moments where they wondered internally or aloud why more Blacks, especially Christian ones, weren’t coming now to be part of the transformation of these churches.

I know that we are still quite early in this effort and there are substantive issues like performing same-sex weddings that still aren’t resolved. But I hope you will at least begin to imagine how the straight remnant might feel at times when, despite all they’ve done and all they’ve suffered, they don’t see more LGBTQ brothers and sisters joining them to forge this Redemptive Community. It can get quite discouraging.”

I’m guessing that some of LGBTQ group regulars (gay and allies) will respond by insisting that however our church and I are suffering and experiencing disparagement and disenfranchisement, our current discomfort doesn’t hold a candle to how terribly and how long LGBTQ Christians have suffered all this and more. And they would be right. I can’t begin to imagine how it must be to grow up–especially in ‘Christian’ environments–struggling with one’s gender identity without any affirming support, without any constructive help and guidance. And to top it off, even wondering whether you are loved unconditionally by God.

This post is not to diminish or dismiss the very real, very deep, and very intense suffering that our LGBTQ sisters and brothers have suffered in their families, in our churches, in our Christian schools, and in this country. In fact, it’s the fact of how terribly most of you have suffered yet still cling to your faith in Christ that fuels my relentless pursuit of a way back home for you in our churches.

I felt led to write this post because I wanted you to know that pursuing my call from God has come at a cost to me, yes, but more importantly to our church.

The number of giving units the past two years has dropped. Thankfully, we ended last fiscal year in the black, but part of this was due to unplanned reduction in payroll (our Office Mgr passed away suddenly and we decided not to replace her.)

Our Sunday attendance has gone down the past two years, too.  Many with young children appear to have shifted to the earlier service, but this doesn’t account for how much emptier second service is. And I hear from my staff that there are still other regulars who are nervously waiting and wondering if they can stay.

So I guess what I’m saying here is that, similar to the post-CRM White churches that paid a gigantic price to become integrated churches but never really saw a significant influx of non-White regulars and members, evangelical churches that believe the Lord is leading them to find meaning-filled new ways to love and include LGBTQ Christians  are still hoping and waiting to see if they will not just applaud their efforts but commit themselves to joining in the effort and thereby lessening the churches’ pain and suffering.

Far more evangelical churches are still firmly against moving in this direction. And there are unknown numbers with pastors who are secretly wrestling with what to do, but are afraid of the real cost it will require. So when both of these sizable groups don’t see LGBTQ Christians responding in kind, the former will feel validated in their lack of effort and the latter will deem it not worth the high cost.

I don’t have any data to quote, but my guess is that, following the Civil Rights Movement or even the end of apartheid in South Africa, very few Blacks joined the courageous churches that chose to take a stand against the injustices and exclusions. Let’s hope and pray that, going forward, this will not be the case in the journey of a small but growing number of historically gay-excluding or -condemning churches to allow Christ to destroy the walls of hostility that have kept gays and straights from forging redemptive communities.

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About pken1997

3rd gen American Born Chinese, originally from Sacramento, CA, but moved to LA in 1978 to finish seminary @ Fuller in Pasadena. Joined the staff of Evergreen Baptist Church of LA in 1981 and became senior pastor in 1997 after the church 'hived.' Re-imagined our church to be Faith Village, a picture and preview of what God is doing in and for all creation. I was a trustee for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Westmont College, and the Asian American Drug Abuse Program. I wrote one of the first books on the future of Asian American churches ("Pursuing the Pearl") and was the Bible expositor at Urbana 2000. I am a organizational transformation consultant with The Genysys Group and a North American delegate to the 3rd Lausanne Congress on Evangelism in Cape Town, South Africa (Oct '10). I've been married since 1981 and our daughter was born in 1999.
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