Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Big, Fat Gay Caveat Emptor

Another brilliant light bulb has just popped on over my head!

Cross Currents, now forming here in Phoenix, is a local GLBT social group. If it works out here, hopefully it will spread to other locations around the country. We're getting it together mainly for the purpose of socializing and mutual support. It's a chance to make friends, and for singles to meet that special somebody, without being bound to any specific congregation. As there are very few of us in any one church, being able to come together will strengthen us in our daily spiritual lives.

Now for my latest brainchild. This idea is totally new; I haven't even shared it yet with the others in our fledgling group. I think, however, that it would be an excellent endeavor for Cross Currents to undertake.

We could develop a website that functions, as we do, independently of any church or denomination. This way, it would not be subject to censorship from any outside interest. On this site, GLBT Christians could post their observations and experiences about the churches they visit. They could brag about the great ones they have found, and warn others about the not-so-great ones.

We can't necessarily go by what churches say about themselves. That tells us more about how the straight majority in these churches want to see themselves than it does about how WE may see them.

Official designations (varying from one denomination to another) like "Open and Affirming," "Welcoming and Affirming," "More Light," "Rainbow," or whatever else, are as much about marketing as they are about ministry. They are somewhat helpful, but not much. Very often, they were adopted after marketing "demographic" studies that informed their leadership we were a ripe group to target because lots of us happen to live in their area.

Some churches may genuinely want to include us, but if they're in an area where not too many of us live, they may feel that the punishment they would get from their denomination (and maybe their neighbors) would make publicly reaching out to us too big a risk. Others may include us simply because their denomination allows it with a minimum of hassle, and because there are a lot of us nearby. Our money, of course, being as green as everybody else's.

The bad news is that some of the churches that tout themselves as fully inclusive of us aren't nearly as inclusive as they claim to be. The good news is that many that don't officially advertise their welcome actually are. Some of the "unofficial" ones are really more hospitable to us than are some of those that boast about their hospitality.

In some cases, the larger religious body simply doesn't offer the opportunity for their churches to officially welcome us. There are some Catholic parishes, for example, that are very warm and friendly, even though there's no way the Church will let them bill themselves as such.

The degree of welcome we receive, in truth, has more to do with what's in the hearts of the individuals in that congregation than it does with their theology, their interpretation of Scripture or the politics of their denomination.

A welcoming congregation may be stifled by a rigidly homophobic pastor. And a welcoming pastor may be stifled by a congregation that refuses to go along.

This is exactly why a website of church "reviews" would be so helpful, especially for those of us who are new to a location and don't yet know our way around. All the ads in the local GLBT publications are going to tell us, again, is what the churches that advertise there want to think of themselves, and that they want our "business."

I know that I, personally, would have been spared a lot of heartache had I been warned that the church where I spent the last three and a half years was concerned with little more than butts in the pews and bucks in the plate.

We can have follow-ups and updates, tracking the developments made in the churches we review. Some of the folks in these congregations -- should they genuinely care about extending a welcome to us -- could read the website and learn what those in their midst may be afraid to tell them.

For example, should the people at my now-former church choose to stand up to their pastor and make clear that they WILL NOT treat the gays there like some shameful secret that must be hidden from those who might not approve, we can cheerfully include that good news. But if, on the other hand, the congregation chooses to sit back with their thumbs up their butts and simply let the pastor poison the atmosphere for gays, we can make darned good and sure that others are not suckered in.

We just have to think of a catchy title for our website. How does "A BIG, FAT GAY CAVEAT EMPTOR grab you?

Okay, so it's kinda grandiose. But I'm open to suggestions...


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