Dad used to say to me, “You’re just like your mother.” It was not meant as a compliment. Mom and Dad didn’t get along very well. He saw her as weak and indecisive while at the same time claiming she was scheming and manipulative. In reality, my mother is none of these things. After his death, I gained access to Dad’s medical records which included a diagnosis of “narcissistic personality with a histrionic flair.” This meant that he had a tendency to view himself as persecuted. Dad was gay, and he did have deeply wounding experiences of homophobia. But it was as if he had persecution goggles welded to his face. No matter how much Mom or any of us tried to love him, he had a very difficult time accepting it. The point is, Dad’s accusations weren’t personal. It was the mental illness talking.
It’s also possible that Dad heard the words “you’re just like your mother” said to him when he was a boy. He shared with me that in his mind he was “special” and his mother’s “favorite.” In Dad’s time as in ours, the accusation of being a “momma’s boy” often meant bullying was on the way. Clearly, Dad enjoyed the attention he got from his mother. And he was very close to her. But the relationship between mothers and sons can be complicated. This is due in no small part to sexism and discomfort in the wider culture with males who display “female” qualities (the premise of which I reject all together, by the way. There are no essentially “male” or “female” qualities, only human ones.)
Dad’s accusations often had no basis in reality, but I hope he was right that I am just like my mother. She is strong. She is good. She is an adventurer. And she has never stopped growing and changing in all of the time I’ve known her. She is a happily retired minister and chaplain who has traveled the world and blessed countless lives–not least, mine.
This coming Sunday, June 30, First Congregational Church of Granby is celebrating Open and Affirming Sunday. Open and Affirming (ONA) is a designation created in 1985 following a resolution that was approved at the United Church of Christ (UCC) General Synod that year encouraging UCC congregations to welcome (or consider welcoming) gay, lesbian, and bisexual members. Following later General Synod resolutions affirming transgender members of the church, the welcome was extended so that, today, an ONA covenant typically welcomes members of any sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
The Open and Affirming program is administered by the UCC Open and Affirming Coalition, which supports congregations and other church settings as they consider the adoption of an ONA “covenant” and maintains the official registry of ONA congregations and ministries. The Coalition encourages UCC congregations, campus ministries, seminaries, regional bodies and other settings of the church to engage their members in serious study of sexual orientation and gender identity and to declare publicly their full welcome and inclusion of LGBTQ people. With more than 1,400 congregations, the UCC’s ONA program is the largest of several LGBT-welcoming church movements in U.S. and Canadian churches.
FCC Granby adopted an Open and Affirming statement in 2009. Here it is: “We affirm the dignity and worth of every person, regarless of age, gender, ethnicity, race, mental or phyiscal ability or sexual orientation. We offer sacraments and rites to all who enter our circle of faith. We celebrate the gifts that each person brings to First Congregational Church and invite them to share in all areas of its service, leadership, activities, responsibilities, and privileges.”
I’m new to FCC Granby. I was not around when our ONA statement was adopted. I was not part of the conversations, and I’m only beginning to understand what ONA means here. I find the people of FCC Granby warm and welcoming. There seems to be an easy rapport among people of different sexual orientations. This is all good. But I don’t think it’s safe to assume that everyone here understands ONA in the same way. And the statement leaves room for interpretation.
While it is good to affirm the worth of every person regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, race, and mental or physical ability, the ONA designation was specifically created to affirm and welcome LGBTQ+ people. When we broaden the statement it can create confusion. People interpret the statement to mean, “We just welcome everyone here.” So for example, when I recently had a Sunday morning off and volunteered to sing in the choir of my wife’s church, one of the choir members said to me, “It’s a good thing we have an ONA statement so that we can welcome you into the choir.” My response: “What do you mean?” The man’s face reddened. “You know, as married to the pastor.” “Oh,” I said. Another choir member jumps in for the save: “It’s just his weird sense of humor.” It was an interesting interaction. Is “pastor’s spouse” a marginalized category that needs special inclusion? Was he was using ONA in the “we welcome everyone” sense? Is the fact that I’m both a man and the pastor’s spouse a violation of this person’s gender role expectations? In the end, who cares. But this encounter, and many others that I’ve had with church people over the years indicates to me that people can be confused and uncomfortable with the ONA designation. Folks are frightened of being labeled “the gay church,” so they water the welcome down. I don’t want to water it down. I was to focus it up.
For me, the need to clearly and specifically extend welcome to LGBTQ+ people arises from the fact that churches as institutions as well as individual Christians have excluded, tortured, killed, made laws against, and have attempted to erase from existence LGBTQ+ people for thousands of years now. That’s a lot of hate to overcome. And the only way to overcome it is to apologize profusely, make amends, face our own homophobia, actively communicate to LGBTQ+ people that we want you here, recognize that every one of us lands somewhere on a spectrum of gay, straight, or in between, and celebrate Pride! Shame has no place in God’s house. God loves every part of you and every part of me. Let’s not hide who we are. Let’s be brave! Let’s be bold! Let’s be fabulous!