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Welcoming, but not affirming

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By Janine Warrington

“Who are y’all?” asked the person at the front of the group shuffling under our tent to get out of the rain.

“We’re an affirming church here in Atlanta,” my colleague replied. We were tabling for this church at the Atlanta Pride Parade on Oct. 13.

The person snorted. “Yeah right.” My colleague and I insisted that our church is, in fact, completely affirming. Still skeptical, the group members accepted our offer of free canvas bags and drink koozies and shuffled back into the rain.

Is Everyone Really Welcome?

Distrust of churches who claim to be affirming is not uncommon among attendees of pride events. Many LGBTQ+ persons have been told they will be welcome in a church community only to realize that not all of who they are is welcome. Many churches, sometimes self-described as “welcoming but not affirming,” strive to make queer and gender-expansive folks feel welcome while firmly condemning same-sex relationships and gender transitions.

I’ve been to churches that fit into this category, and the intentions of the pastors are usually loving. They think that they are doing good for queer and gender-expansive folks in their community by being “welcoming” to them. This distinction, however, simply doesn’t work. One cannot be truly welcoming without also being affirming.

In fact, attempting to be “welcoming” to LGBTQ+ folks without affirming their sexual and gender identities can be harmful to the very people one is trying to welcome. By telling someone they are “welcome” in your church, you are implying that it will be a safe place for them. If you are not immediately clear on your stance on LGBTQ+ matters, you are deceiving them. I know people who have gone to churches feeling that they would be welcome there only to be caught off guard by jokes about men wearing dresses or off-handed comments like, “If a man has slept with another man, God has already forgiven him.” Such comments are not only non-affirming, but they erase any possibility of being fully welcoming to individuals who identify as queer and their allies.

Church Clarity Project

This is why the website Church Clarity exists. They score churches on their policies regarding same-sex marriage and queer and female pastors and how clear their websites are about said policies. Being clear and open about these policies with congregants is important, they argue, because:

“Ambiguity enables those with power to operate without accountability and cause real harm. Many people invest years of their lives into a church community, only to later discover the truth about the church’s policies, and end up feeling betrayed, deceived and ‘bait-and-switched.’”

If you truly believe that marrying someone of the same sex is sinful and therefore refuse to officiate same-sex weddings or ordain queer pastors, you cannot call yourself “welcoming.” You cannot claim to “love the sinner but hate the sin.” Such claims are not loving, but abusive and manipulative.

You cannot be welcoming to LGBTQ+ individuals and non-affirming of LGBTQ+ individuals at the same time. They are mutually exclusive stances. If you want to welcome queer and gender-expansive folks into your church communities, you must embrace and affirm all of who they are.

Discuss this topic more on the FāVS members forum

Janine Warrington
Janine Warrington
Spokane native Janine Warrington received her Bachelor of Arts in religious studies from Gonzaga University in 2017 and their Master's in divinity from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in 2021. Areas of interest include the history of evangelical America, sexual ethics, LGBTQ+ advocacy and scripture studies. They now live in Boston where they serve as a youth minister in a Presbyterian Church and run a queer Bible devotion Instagram account. Outside of work, Janine enjoys sewing, yoga, Broadway musicals and baking. Pronouns: She/They.

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