Celebrating Pride Month at University Christian Church
Why We are an Open & Affirming Church
It is June. It’s Pride Month. And that’s important to us here at University Christian Church.
But before I explain why, here’s some background information on Pride Month:
“Every year, during the month of June, the LGBTQ+ community celebrates in a number of different ways. Across the globe, various events are held during this special month as a way of recognizing the influence LGBTQ+ people have had around the world. Why was June chosen? Because it is when the Stonewall Riots took place, way back in 1969.”
“It is a movement that celebrates sexual diversity. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBTQ+) people, it is a way of protesting about discrimination and violence. It promotes their dignity, equal rights, self-affirmation and is a way of increasing society’s awareness of the issues they face.” [i]
For those of us who are not part of the LGBTQ+ community, this is the time of year we can and should reflect upon our personal history – as well as that of the Church – with this community, especially in terms of any issues or struggles we’ve had in the past.
My earliest encounter with the LGBTQ+ community was wrapped in religious concerns. I did not come to claim Christian faith until I was 16, and soon thereafter, I was off to college. Very early on there, I was swept into Campus Crusade for Christ and the fundamentalist religious perspective it engendered. At that time, I would have been absolutely clear that any sexual contact between persons who were not married – man and woman — would have been deemed wrong.
Going any further, I would have understood LGBTQ+ sexuality as wrong. Any expression of it would’ve been wrong. For a little over a year, that understanding was quite strong and quite inflexible for me.
My second year in college, I joined with 5 young Christian men from Campus Crusade and another Pentecostal group in securing one of the rare on-campus apartments. We were absolutely certain that God had acted in our favor through the lottery system for those units.
However, not long into that year, one of the young men, Jim, confessed to the rest of us that he was homosexual. He was in tears – he had been living in the closet, hiding the truth about himself from everyone until that point.
Very conservative Christian groups tend to have a hierarchical understanding of their organization, and ours was no different. Byron was the name of the man who was the ultimate authority within our group. When Byron learned about Jim, he told all of us living in the apartment to cut off contact with Jim.
We were not to eat with Jim. We were not to be in his presence alone. We were not to pray with him. We were to ban him from any form of fellowship while Byron arranged with the University to have Jim moved out of our apartment.
That was the day my fundamentalist faith died. It was clear to me and to a couple of other guys living in the apartment that to ostracize Jim was a very unloving way of responding to his confession. The fact that Byron had ordered us to do something that was so very un-Christlike fractured my tight shell of fundamentalism, and it shattered to the ground that day. If Byron was wrong about this instance, what else was he wrong about?
Religiously, the next two years were a desert experience for me. I limped along with a couple of other graduates from fundamentalism into a Christian understanding that was fuzzy and imprecise. I still had a Christian faith, but it was far from ordered. On my way to a high school science teaching career, I gave myself a year at a seminary to work out these God questions.
At seminary, I had opportunities to clarify my theology in a way that was more than satisfactory. I discovered fresh realms of Christian thinking, and, indeed, found Christian faith again strong. The path was now very mainline, embracing biblical scholarship that had a much richer and wider range.
I also had the opportunity to meet and befriend a number of gay, lesbian, and transgender students and staff while at seminary. I came to understand how tragically difficult it was to live as a societal outcast. Just as importantly, I realized that the LGBTQ+ community is just the latest in a long list of peoples who have been traumatized by a society that is fearful of what it does not understand. And this went double for how the Christian Church has treated members of the LGBTQ+ community.
To this day, when I talk with others in our congregation and throughout the mainline Christian churches, I hear similar stories shared by others. It took an encounter with someone from the LGBTQ+ community who was brave enough to share their story. It took connecting with someone who wasn’t exactly like us, someone with gifts to share with the wider community, someone who God loves.
It became hard to believe God would damn to hell someone you know to be a good person and a good Christian.
So, when our congregation faced this question of whether or not UCC would declare ourselves an open and affirming congregation back in 2014, we had some humanizing conversations with a number of members of the LGBTQ+ community. We also had long and sometimes challenging conversations between us and about who we wanted to be as a church. Eventually, we created the following Welcoming Statement, one that the congregation roundly endorsed:
Responding to the call to be a movement for wholeness
in a fragmented world, University Christian Church
extends the grace-filled welcome of Christ
to ALL persons equally,
regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, class,
sexual orientation, political affiliation or ability.
This message of openness is on our sign out front, on our website, in our publications, and most importantly, in our hearts. May we always live up to this high standard of big tent welcoming!
July 17, 2019
June 19, 2019