Welcoming, accepting, affirming – don’t get stuck

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Welcoming, accepting, affirming – don’t get stuck

People often ask me what is the difference between welcoming, accepting and affirming churches. This little pic will give you some idea.

Some churches refuse to go on the journey. Some began the journey then got stuck, afraid of the potential for controversy and conflict. Others have continued to take brave steps in faith towards creating a completely affirming  congregation where the sign at the front that says ‘All welcome’ actually means that. Whist this graphic is simplistic and other terms have been used such as ‘inclusive’ and ‘reconciling’ it serves a point. It’s a journey. Some are further behind than they think. Some have a long way to go.

Two things I have learnt over the years.

  1. This journey is one of many years for a church. No one moves from anti-gay to LGBT-affirming overnight. This is even more true for a church or denomination.
  2. The journey cannot be taken without involvement with LGBT people. No conversation about us without us.

welcoming, accepting, affirming

Extract from A Life of Unlearning – the Epilogue

“Whilst some Christian leaders have preached hatred and the media given oxygen to the fringe lunatics of Christendom, many others hoped if they just closed their eyes or buried their head in the sand, eventually the issue would go away. I’ve often said that the problem is not so much homophobia but subjectaphobia; they would rather just not go into the volatile space of the faith and sexuality ‘debate’. It’s such a divisive issue.

But now churches are having to come to terms with the fact that in a growing number of western countries marriage equality has or is becoming a reality. This means that gay and lesbian couples may come into their churches who have a nationally or state recognised, legal marriage. Some will be parents. They are no longer gay, lesbians or “homosexuals” they are believers, committed church members and families.

The longer churches put this issue on the back burner the further behind they become. Considering the progress made in scientific research, changes in the law, acceptance of diversity in the corporate world and that since 1973 homosexuality has not been considered a mental disorder; some churches are 40 years out of date on the issue of homosexuality. Church, you must catch up and make this a priority. Every day delayed means that LGBT people are harmed and lives lost.

If churches continue to hold on to the outdated Christian belief that homosexuality is a sin then it makes them increasingly irrelevant to those who have gay and lesbian friends, family members and work colleagues. The previous Christian labels of unnatural, perverse, evil and even abomination not only do not fit, they are offensive to LGBT people and their friends and family.

My hope and prayer is that this will be an ongoing conversation that takes ALL churches to a place where LGBT people are treated with respect and equality. Not just welcoming churches, or accepting churches but truly affirming churches.

Welcoming = you’re welcome BUT…….

Accepting = we accept you BUT……..

Affirming = we love you FULL STOP.

It’s a journey we MUST go on if we profess to serve humanity with unconditional love.

People of colour were once told to go to the back of the bus. Women were once told their place was in the home.  The paradigm shift in understanding that happened in the western world regarding people of colour and women’s equality, is now happening in regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s important to remind churches that having a conversation about us without us will usually be nothing more than a recycling of preconceived ideas and misconceptions. Imagine a group of male church leaders discussing the role of women in the church without females present? We would call that misogyny. Or church leadership discussing indigenous issues without consulting indigenous people themselves. How could they have any insight into what their life experience is really all about? We would call that white supremacy/racism/elitism. The church has done a great deal of talking about us but rarely has spoken with us. So when church leaders discuss LGBT people, relationships and the community without speaking with or spending time getting to know LGBT people it does beg the question why. What is there to fear? Why the exclusion? Is this further evidence of homophobia that is regularly denied?

It’s time for the church to invite LGBT people into the conversation. For some this is a conversation about their thoughts and beliefs but for us it is about who we are. You can ask questions.

  • ‘What was it like to sit in church and hear the word abomination used to describe you?’
  • ‘What was it like to get to the point of accepting that you were gay and coming out, knowing you might be rejected by those you love and the church and God you’ve served?’
  • ‘How did you find resolution of your Christian beliefs and your sexuality?
  • ‘When you came out to your Christian friends at church and they told you that you could never fall in love or have a partner for life as they could – how did that make you feel?’
  • ‘What did it feel like when your mega-church pastor said you couldn’t serve coffee to people after church because you’d shared with him you were in a committed, monogamous three-year relationship?’
  • ‘How did you feel when you confided in your pastor that you thought you might be gay, resulting in him removing you from the kid’s ministry you loved so much, even though you had never acted on those feelings?’

In listening to our stories you will learn.

Over the years, I have been privileged to be a part of many of these conversations. Some have been mega-church pastors (but that’s another story). Until now, it has always been Anthony Venn-Brown knocking on the door asking ‘can we talk’. This is how the dialogue began. The day will come, and it’s not far away when churches, denominations and religious organisations will take the initiative and request ‘please come and help us, we have much to learn.’ Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International was founded to serve the church and religious organisations in these areas through seminars, workshops and consultancy. Through years of listening to the personal stories of thousands of LGBT men and women, together with many hundreds of conversations with Church pastors and leaders, I believe I have identified ten key issues, that if lovingly resolved, will build bridges of welcome, acceptance and affirmation to all men and women regardless of their sexual orientation.

To my LGBT family it is not only about them it is also about us. Homophobia and the closet are allies. Like an unhealthy co-dependent relationship they need each other to survive. One plays the victim living in fear and shame while the other plays the persecutor policing what is ‘normal’. The only way to dismantle homophobia is for every gay man and lesbian in the world to come out and live authentic lives. Once they realise how normal we are and see themselves in us….the controversy is over.”

© Anthony Venn-Brown

You can read more of the bestseller A Life of Unlearning HERE.

If you’ve read down this far you must think this is important/relevant. Why don’t you share it with others now using the social media buttons below. Thanks.

About the Author:

Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is one of Australia’s foremost commentators on faith and sexuality. His best-selling autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning – a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith', details his journey from being one of the first in the world to experience religious gay conversion therapy, becoming a married, high profile preacher in Australia's growing mega-churches, such as Hillsong, to living as an openly gay man. Anthony was the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b. He is an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy myth. Anthony is the founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International. Anthony has been recognised on a number of occassions for his contribution and impact including being twice voted one of 'The 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’.

19 Comments

  1. Steve Erickson March 12, 2017 at 12:33 am - Reply

    Do you ever suspect your chart could be overly generous? My definition of “accepting” does not include people who think LGB people need to be celibate. In some ways, it strikes me as worse than overt hatred, because it’s easy for people who subscribe to that philosophy to feel like they’re being fair to gays and resent those “militant radical activists” who want more, like equality and total respect.

    • Anthony Venn-Brown
      Anthony Venn-Brown March 16, 2017 at 9:20 am - Reply

      Hey Steve ….our experiences and perceptions/understandings don’t all fit in nice boxes or categories sadly. What I have created with this infograph is generally true. There are people in the accepting camp who believe that they are affirming or that they have become welcoming believing this is accepting and that their new positions are generous and enlightened …..unaware they still have a looooooooong way to go.

  2. Mar Metz August 1, 2017 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    Your info graph may work in Australia but here in the US the terms are often interchangeable. LGBT friendly churches use a wide variety of terms including Reconciling, Accepting, Affirming, and Welcoming. The Unitarian Universalists use Welcoming Congregation to designate an LGBT friendly congregation. Nothing about it would indicate it is an entry level understanding of queer equality. In fact, I think UUs (perhaps prematurely) believe they have graduated from sexual orientation to gender issues as a focus of inclusivity.

    • Anthony Venn-Brown
      Anthony Venn-Brown August 2, 2017 at 12:30 am - Reply

      Thanks Mar for the comment. It’s interesting. We dont use the term reconciling here. At least I have never come across it. I wonder if that at one time deisgnated that they were in the questioning phase. You know like reconciling some beliefs. I think also that possibly the term welcoming has stuck because initially for people such UU’s welcoming was such a readical thing for LGBTI people and there were, at the time only two options (you’re welcome or your not welcome).

      Sadly life doesn’t always fit in neat boxes. My infograph has been of some value though to let people know that it is a journey and to wake some people up how far they are behind. What I have found is that it is not unusual for some people to think they are further along the journey than they actually are. This infograph is a bit of a reality check.

  3. Peter Chan August 5, 2017 at 2:45 am - Reply

    “Church, you must catch up and make this a priority. Every day delayed means that LGBT people are harmed and lives lost.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Problem is that some die-hard, gay-hating churches do indeed want LGBT people harmed and die . . .

    • Anthony Venn-Brown
      Anthony Venn-Brown August 5, 2017 at 2:55 am - Reply

      we’ll have to make sure the churches you mention are well and truly out numbered

      • Peter Chan August 6, 2017 at 7:35 am - Reply

        Better yet, outlawed (!!)

  4. Rev. Bosco Peters August 7, 2017 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    I think the graphic is significantly incomplete. I would not call it’s description “Affirming”. The next column to the right would have more than “you and your partner are welcome here” – “we give thanks for your relationship and so, if you would like, will bless your relationship formally”. And then there is another column to the right of that – “if you want to marry in our church, we will marry you just as any other couple”. That 6th column is “Affirming”. Blessings.

    • Anthony Venn-Brown
      Anthony Venn-Brown August 8, 2017 at 12:08 am - Reply

      thanks Bosco for your comments. The graphic is indeed simplistic but it serves a point. It’s a journey Some are further behind than they think. Some have a long way to go.

  5. Dawna Tracey March 19, 2018 at 8:52 am - Reply

    There used to be a time divorced people were looked down on… I should know, my parents divorced when I was about 5 in the early 1960s.
    A lot of what the Bible writes are norms of the culture and the times.

    • Anthony Venn-Brown
      Anthony Venn-Brown March 20, 2018 at 2:50 pm - Reply

      Yes…..it’s funny how so many have been able to do a biblical rethink and resolve things like divorce, women in ministry, tattoos, rock music etc etc etc etc they carry on as if there was never an issue……but can’t see the same can be done with homosexuality

  6. Dr Brennan Kerr Nelson May 1, 2018 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Tony.

    Thanks for all your efforts.

    Brennan Kerr Nelson PhD

    • Anthony Venn-Brown
      Anthony Venn-Brown May 2, 2018 at 11:22 am - Reply

      ….and thanks for your encouragment. It’s always nice to get positive feedback

  7. Joseph May 15, 2018 at 11:12 pm - Reply

    I am intrigued by what Bible passages you would turn to, to affirm your position? I believe this is an incredibly important topic and I thank you for raising it.

  8. Richard Sherwood August 27, 2018 at 4:48 pm - Reply

    As a Roman Catholic I find it very difficult the times I have been told it’s ok as long as you remain celibate and to discuss your feelings openly is a none starter .
    In spite off this I love my Church and the presence off the Holy Sacrement and stay in the Chuch praying for change I know God accepts me that is the most important thing to me.

  9. John Fitz-Gerald October 30, 2018 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    No Graphic can fully convey the subtleties of the human experience. There are complex shadings and overlaps which defy straight lines. Having said that, I think this graphic provides a conceptual picture upon which to build discussion. Perhaps, it might need some alteration to meet the needs and experiential needs of different countries in specifically in terms of local terminology to express equivalent concepts. I have forwarded it to others for their consideration. Thank you.

    • Anthony Venn-Brown
      Anthony Venn-Brown October 31, 2018 at 3:18 pm - Reply

      yes….things don’t fit into tight boxes…….but this graphic is only meant to do these things.
      1. Help people see the differences in the terms
      2. Lets people see it is a journey
      3. What their next steps might be

      Glad you found it helpful enough to share.

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