The Benefits of Welcome
Every congregation that goes on record as a Welcoming Congregation makes a statement – a statement that affirms the lives of LGBT persons, and counters the myth that all people of faith believe that to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is wrong or sinful.
The welcoming process also contributes to the vitality of the congregation. In April 2009, two national surveys – the broadest exploration ever of the impact of the Welcoming Movement – demonstrated a direct connection between being a Welcoming Congregation and involvement in other social justice issues. Welcoming Congregations are on the front lines in economic justice, homelessness, racial justice, immigration and other areas of religious witness.
According to the surveys, Welcoming Congregations also are less concerned that LGBT advocacy will reduce membership and more comfortable addressing sexuality issues than other congregations. Some congregations do lose members when they take steps to welcome LGBT people and families to their community. But many others find that the welcoming process attracts new congregants, heterosexual and LGBT alike, who want to worship and raise their children in an inclusive environment.
The effort to embrace LGBT persons can also lead a congregation to examine its theology of welcome and its practice of hospitality. A welcoming process can be adapted to any population on the margins, enabling the congregation to bridge differences not only of sexualities and genders, but of age, class, race and abilities as well.
“Marginalized people,” writes Bishop Yvette Flunder, “respond to a community of openness and inclusivity where other people from the edge gather. Such an atmosphere welcomes people to feel it is safer to be who they are.”
Ultimately, writes Rev. Deborah Johnson, "the greatest advantage is standing in spiritual integrity." Johnson, the founder of Inner Light Ministries in Soquel, CA, links integrity to integration and wholeness. In such a congregation, "hearts open, walls come down. Loving relationships are established that might not otherwise have even been considered."
Taking a New Look, a booklet published in 2008 by Christian Community, posited 10 healthy traits of Welcoming Congregations.
A congregation that chooses to be welcoming and affirming of LGBT people:
Contributes to a positive image of inclusive religion.
Creates an atmosphere fostering congregational growth.
Gains the considerable gifts of LGBT clergy, professional staff and lay members
Offers safe places for LGBT youth.
Provides opportunity for LGBT members to participate more fully in the life of the community.
Provides support to families and friends of LGBT persons.
Positions itself better to offer sexuality education for children, teens and adults.
Demonstrates the kind of expansive hospitality God expects of us.
Demonstrates solidarity with persons pursuing human rights and justice for all people, including LGBT persons.
Frees silent friends of LGBT people from damage to the soul caused by the disconnect between their personal convictions and their public vocalization.
Adapted from Taking a New Look: Why Congregations Need LGBT Members (LifeQuest, 2008)