I know people who long to hear words of love and acceptance from the pulpit they face each Sunday. I have seen tears trickle down the cheeks of friends convinced that who they are displeases God. I have witnessed gifted, talented, skilled musicians and preachers walk away from the church and never use their gifts again. Others are so angered by negative messages they see no useful purpose for church at all.
Why does the denial of affirmation, recognition and celebration within ones faith community cause so much hurt? For many persons the first place, other than home and family, they are told they are loved is church. We have memories of the lovely tune and simple words, Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me, for the Bible tells me so. The song envelopes us and we hear within the chords a declaration of worth. Singing the song let’s us know we are beloved of God – a child of God.
Messages and sermons declaring one as flawed, unacceptable, alien and outside of God’s embracing love saps self-esteem. These messages stifle assurance of positive connection to God, and that’s devastating. Dreams become difficult to achieve. Goals are often diminished. Hope is crushed. One loving community is lost.
I have also seen the blessed light of affirmation and inclusion shine anew within congregations. It is as though the song once forgotten or discarded has been regained. Then gay and transgender people and the whole congregation are empowered to declare; I am loved of God, You are loved of God, All are loved of God. Refreshing hope bursts forth in the hearts of all who worship in these spaces and amazing gifts show up.
When someone knows that their religious community affirms, recognizes, and celebrates who they are, it opens up the possibility for them to achieve every dream, every goal, every hope that they hold within them.
Once we state publicly and express fully the unconditional love of God, by our embrace of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people and all persons; the transformative power of community and love presents itself for us in new ways.
I attend a very welcoming Episcopal church in NC, and it is great little pocket of inclusion in our small Southern town. So I know I’ve got it good, and really feel at home in my church. But I have to say that when the bishop of our diocese preached a sermon whose theme was “All are welcome here”, it really made me feel good. Hearing the welcome and acceptance stated explicitly from the pulpit was very powerful.