First Baptist Church, what a legacy you have of standing on the right side of history. Though there are differences of opinion in our congregation about how to interpret particular scriptures, in practice we have been a welcoming and affirming congregation for many years. The LGBTQIA group Together Works has been meeting at First Baptist for 25 years (really – they’ve got a party scheduled for August to celebrate that milestone. Listen for more details soon!). The congregation decided to allow same-sex marriages in the sanctuary. We are known around town for being a “safe place.” Our dedication to the kind of compassion and justice described in Matthew 25 compels us to do these things. Some of our members and friends have come to be in fellowship with us specifically because of these commitments.
It might be easy to look at the fights about sexuality that are currently tearing through other congregations and denominations and rest easy, since FBC McMinnville had those things figured out long ago. But in the wake of the queer lives lost in Orlando, and the violence in both word and action that continues against that community, we are called to do more than be proud of our past. As a progressive, justice-minded congregation, it’s important to be looking for ways to continue to be faithful out loud, in public, and to share the gospel of love.
One step we could take would be to formally affiliate with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB – for more information, see www.awab.org, or stop by my office for literature from them). Many American Baptist congregations like ours have made this move, though none in Oregon have. Our affiliation might cause a stir in the region. It might also allow us to have conversation where we can witness about why we believe this kind of welcome is part of how we can best follow the example and teachings of Jesus.
In the end, joining AWAB is not a move we would make for ourselves. It’s not about the people already in our pews. We already know we’re committed in this way. An outside statement of affiliation is for anyone who hasn’t found us yet: for a gay kid in Sheridan who’s been kicked out of his home and youth group; for a closeted bisexual woman who is afraid to tell her friends, who each week sits by them in a pew and listens to a sermon denouncing who she is; for a transgender elder whose church has let him know he’s not allowed to lead the prayer time anymore. LGBTQIA people have good reason to be scared to ever set foot in church, given Christianity’s track record. Groups like AWAB exist so that a person who is gay can find FBC McMinnville, and congregations like ours, without risking entering a church only to learn the hard way that they’re not welcome. AWAB affiliation would be a way for us to extend our welcome to people who don’t yet know about us, who are looking for a community to worship and learn and serve with just like ours.
I’m still new enough that I don’t know whether to expect this conversation to be an easy one or a difficult one. I wanted to write this letter to let you know that this is what’s on my mind lately. The board will begin to discuss it at our meeting on July 6th. Before or after that, I’d be glad for any thoughts you want to share with me related to this decision – please email me, or call, or stop by my office during the week. Ultimately, this decision will be up to all of us to make together.