Greater NW Pride: Publicity! How to Affirm LGBTQ+ People in Our Churches


Publicity! How to Affirm LGBTQ+ in Our Churches

In a recent article published on-line in The Advocate, Sam Brinton, who works with the Trevor Project, wrote an interesting article about the difference of being a “welcoming” community of faith, which simply “welcomes” those of us who are LGBTQ+ , and nothing more. Meanwhile, an affirming church affirms that God created us all—male, female, and non-binary, LGBTQ+ —in God’s image. In other words, God is not only male, female, and non-binary, but also LGBTQ+ and straight. “Welcoming” is right up there with barely accepting us, toleration, and a luke-warm reception at best. Brinton rightly notes: “We talk about toleration and acceptance in the LGBTQ+ activism world. We find toleration to be offensive. I think I found the religious equivalent. Accepting but not affirming is a space where LGBTQ+ youth can think that that is all they deserve.” And we LGBTQ+ people deserve far more.(https://www.advocate.com/commentary/2018/4/03/difference-between-welcoming-church-and-affirming-one-huge?fbclid=IwAR12ecw9M-fMgsLuaGIYccObR_sCzn4wqTQUVWGdmt-YnwQcBzojvSCq6mg).
Having written a few weeks earlier in a blog about LGBTQ+ people expressing a desire to be “wanted” by a church rather than merely included, welcomed, and accepted, this article caught my attention, and I wanted to see how UMC churches in this Conference advertise to the world that they are more than “welcoming” congregations. I started to read various United Methodist Church websites, especially churches’ website home pages, in which there is often times a short statement or letter of “welcome” and perhaps, on another page, a vision statement for how a congregation sees and understands itself, and who it is trying to attract or welcome, let alone affirm and celebrate. I especially looked for language in these opening home pages, letters, and vision statements in which I, as an openly gay Christian, would be drawn to go beyond reading the website, and make the move to attend the church some Sunday morning. This means going beyond all the rainbow flags and Reconciling Ministries Network insignias buried or blazing on a page. After all, this is part of my job as the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Coordinator: seeing and hearing and feeling how are the churches in the Oregon-Idaho Conference are not only welcoming but—to use language from the United Church of Christ (UCC)— “open and affirming,” and respectful and desirous of LGBTQ+ people of faith to attend and fully join and participate actively in the life of a church.
I can’t state loudly enough how important church and Conference websites are in terms of broadcasting and airing to the world that LGBTQ+ people are important in the life of a faith community. Having pastored nine churches, and as the current Organizing Pastor of Community of Pilgrims Presbyterian Fellowship in Portland, OR, I know that the first place many people who are searching and seeking a church go on-line and look at a church website ever so briefly. One tech-savvy expert said people’s impression of a website takes 50 milliseconds, and that the average attention span for reading a website is 8 seconds, and we read only a quarter of what is on a website. 
So, some suggestions, if you want to be a church that goes beyond “welcome and acceptance” of LGBTQ+ people, and is striving to be “open and affirming” (UCC), and desirous of integrating LGBTQ people of faith in your community of faith, consider the following:

  • Website: It is no longer the street sign of your church that gets people’s attention, but the website is now the “street sign” of your church. If you have a rainbow flag or Reconciling Ministries Network logo on your church street sign, fine. But consider carefully the wording you want to use in order that people notice that your faith community is either part of the Reconciling Ministries Network, or at least open and affirming of LGBTQ+ people. This is what many people check out before physically coming to and through the front doors of a church.
  • Church street sign: yes, include the rainbow colors somewhere or a flag insignia somewhere, or the Reconciling Ministries Network symbol if your church is part of the Reconciling Network. It still gets people’s attention. But be ready to have literature inside that demonstrates that the church knows what being more than welcoming of LGBTQ+ is all about.
  • Wording on websites, bulletins, and other church publications. Saying “gay and straight” on a website, or that "all are welcome" will not be enough to placate lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, intersex, queer, non-binary identifying, questioning, pansexuals, asexuals, and many allies. Not everyone in the LGBTQ+ community is "gay," and "all" is too nebulous and undefined. The alternative is LGBTQ+ , with the “+ ” which is understood, universally, to cover the other parts of our fascinating alphabet, though you can always choose to go with the entire alphabet: LGBTQQIAAP.
  • You, the church, have 8 (eight) seconds to let me know whether or not I want to go further on your church’s website to see if I want to read any more about your church and whether or not you are going to welcome, accept, and affirm my entire being, let alone my family and friends. My best bet? State openly, in light of the General Conference, if your faith community is pro-LGBTQ+ .

Finally, one of the other projects a church may undertake is coming up with postcards that "sell" what a church has to offer those of us in the LGBTQ+ community, and distribute these postcards in LGBTQ+ bars, brew pubs, wineries, and restaurants, pool halls, yoga studios and gyms where we hang out, bookstores with LGBTQ+ books and periodicals, bakeries, coffee shops, and clothing stores. Come out of the church building and come to places where LGBTQ+ people frequent. In other words: evangelize.

Hopefully these helpful, best practice “tips” are only the beginning of doing the more important work: going beyond welcoming and tolerating LBGTQ+ people, to open, affirming, and integrating LGBTQ people in the life of a faith community.

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!