Faithful and Welcoming?
John Dorhauer printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Mar 20, 2006 at 10:46:01 PM EST
To many people reading this, the words "Faithful and Welcoming" would serve well as apt descriptors of congregations living out their vision of the gospel. Who would not want their church to be `faithful;' would not want them to be `welcoming?'

Well, me, for one.

And it is certainly not because of what is implied by this seemingly innocuous phrase; but rather it is what is intentionally left unsaid that troubles me.

Sheldon Culver, with whom I have worked and from whom I have learned much of what I write about in this blog, has coined a phrase she uses to describe part of the strategy of these renewal groups: "mirror church."

In attempts to obfuscate, confuse, and subtly steer people into different theological territory, renewal groups like the newly created "Faithful and Welcoming" one borrow key phrases from the group they purport to be renewing and add a twist. Sometimes this is done just to satirize or degrade the denomination under attack. A perfect example of this happened in 2003.

The United Church of Christ was just launching its nation-wide "Still-Speaking" campaign (see to learn more about this award-winning ad campaign), highlighting a touching phrase spoken by a dying Gracie Allen to her grieving husband Goerge Burns: "Never place a period where God has placed a comma." In other words, what feel like endings in our lives that we shall never overcome are simply natural pauses beyond which God has more to say and to reveal.

Celebrating not only the wisdom of such an aphorism, but also the ways in which it reflected a fundamental presumption of the United Church of Christ - that `God is still speaking, - the Missouri Mid-South Conference of the UCC invited the campaign's Director , Ron Buford, to be their keynote speaker at their Biennial meeting at First Congregational UCC in Memphis, TN.

In a shameless act of mirroring its own denomination in an attempt to degrade it, the Biblical Witness Fellowship (an IRD sponsored renewal group) held its own conference one week after this one, and the theme of their meeting was "Never place a comma where God has placed a period: The UCC in crisis."

"Faithful and Welcoming" is another such attempt to mirror a movement within an existing denomination. The phrase they are mirroring is "Open and Affirming," an official designation with the United Church of Christ that identifies churches as both open to and fully affirming of all people, regardless of race, color, gender, physical abilities, age, or sexual orientation.

It is the `Affirming' language with which many people have trouble. The term `faithful' is intended to imply that those who are affirming are not; and the term welcoming is chosen as a more `faithful' designation than affirming. In other words, if you are gay you are welcome, but not affirmed.

I write this week about this group because I attended one of the 16 regional gatherings intended as both a coming out party for the newly incorporated IRD related renewal group (January 2006), and a recruiting junket for their National Gathering July 2 - 4.

Two moments in the evening are worthy of note, because they reveal the darker side of an organization whose name implies that they are anything but sinister. I was a mere observer of the first, and much more directly involved in the second.

Brandon Woosley, pastor of St. Paul's Evangelical United Church of Christ in Bloomingdale, Ill. served as the group's spokesperson for the evening. He was articulate and engaging while on point and script for the first part of his presentation, though it became clear that some of his information was less than accurate. (This would be pointed out to him later in the evening). But following his presentation, he took questions from what was predominantly a UCC friendly crowd who had some very serious questions to ask him.

One came from a lesbian women, there with her partner, who asked him what a "Faithful and Welcoming" pastor would say to her ten year old son who had been told by his father that his mother was going to hell. Brandon took a long time not to answer her direct question. When, after some awkward moments (and everyone in the room felt the tension inherent in this exchange) he said he would not talk to a ten year old about hell, the women asked what he would say if her son was fourteen.

After more uncomfortable moments, he pointed out that of course he thought her lifestyle was a sinful one he would not condone. At one time, he said he did not want to answer her direct question, but she pressed him. He would not say that he would tell her son that her mother would not go to hell. After long minutes of tense dialogue between the two, he finally said that he would never make such a judgment but would leave that to God: to which the woman replied "That's all I wanted to hear you say."

This is important, and I pause here for just a second. "Faithful and Welcoming" is more than a mirroring attempt; it is also meant to portray its devotees as warm, loving, and - well - welcoming. One slide shown by Brandon in his power point presentation even highlighted in large and italicized letters "Faithful and Welcoming..... TO ALL!"

But it was clear to all in the room that this is not true. A little later the question was put to Brandon: "Where is the welcome to the gays?" The standard answer, given by him was that of course gays are welcome in our churches. But this is never really true. They are welcome to hear how they are inherently evil; that in fact they are going to hell; that they can come and worship but never serve in positions of leadership and certainly never consider serving in ministry.
For those who are gay and lesbian, this is far from welcoming. It is also true that this renewal group that purports to be welcoming to all will not receive into its membership any church that has already voted to be Open and Affirming. In other words, you are all welcome, unless you too not only are gay, but affirm gays.

The second moment came when I addressed what I see as the most serious problem faced by these renewal groups. In literature handed out by Brandon as folk entered the room and took their seats, it was written that in July of 2005 General Synod delegates "declared their independence from the teachings of Jesus and the authority of scripture" when they voted to pass the Marriage Equality resolution. I asked Brandon to consider the possibility that those of us who support gay rights do so not in spite of what scripture says, but because of it. I asked him, since he had shown a slide quoting an aphorism that means a lot to us in the UCC ("In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity"), what he had ever heard from Jesus that led him to believe that affirming gays was the kind of evil for which readers of his gospel were afforded no liberty.

He first admitted that he was troubled by the phrase I quoted in the literature handed out, and that he did not write it. (I pointed out to him that was irrelevant - he was handing them out). He was unable to answer the question put to him about the teaching of Jesus, saying only that when Jesus quoted the law he did so to make the law harder to follow (if even you look at a woman with lust you have already committed adultery). I followed this by telling him that I thought he and I could engage is some pretty enlivening conversation about how we interpret scripture, but that I had no idea how to begin the conversation when his presumption was that because of what I believe I have "declared my independence from the teachings of Jesus (one's he could not cite) and the authority of scripture."

I thought my response was faithful. I did not feel welcome.

...that the IRD-run "renewal" groups (I wonder just how many people here realise "renewal" is in fact a codeword increasingly used for dominion theology as practiced by the groups that invented the divide-and-conquer strategy targeting churches) are repeating two separate patterns I've witnessed for the past thirty-odd years of my life in the dominionist movement:

a) Use of terms meant to be deliberately confusingly similar to terms used by progressive groups or even groups unrelated to dominionism at all.

This has ranged from names or acronyms very similar to the very groups that are fighting dominionists (an example of this being the American Center for Law and Justice, whose acronym (ACLJ) is confusingly similar to the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU)) to deceptively marketing dominionist-run groups (a classic example being the multitude of "pregnancy counseling centers" that are run by dominionist groups and which advertise in telephone directories under "Abortion Services" (even when an "Abortion Alternatives" section exists in the phone book) to slogans on T-shirts, flyers, and the like designed to be deceptively similar to trademarks (and no, they aren't doing it as a parody of Pepsi et al; one example, now being researched by Microsoft's legal team, is using a flyer with designs similar to the X-Box 360 logo to market services at a dominionist church; other examples are on shirts et al, like symbols similar to Pepsi's saying "Jesus: Choice of the Last Generation" and such).

b) Appropriation of common, everyday terms that most people have positive associations of as specifically dominionist codewords.

"Family", "Liberty", "Heritage" et al have been appropriated in this way for quite literally decades (for examples simply look at names of dominionist groups--fully half have "family" or "heritage" or "liberty" somewhere in the name), and symbols of America for nearly as long as the dominionist movement has been in existence (for example, the Eagle Forum, Phyllis Schafly's group); on the more religious end, "Christian Life Center" and "Faith Center" (and increasingly "World Prayer Center" and "World Harvest Center", in particular among Assemblies of God and neopente groups in particular) have been codewords for years for dominionist churches, playing on people's faith (for example, one of the buildings that is on the New Life Church complex is the "World Prayer Center"; the actual dominionist group I'm a walkaway from (one with sufficient political pull in the state to have friendly legislators attempting to pass resolutions in the General Assembly saluting it) has referred to itself both as "World Prayer Center" and "Christian Life Center" in its history).  In fact, New Life Church itself is using a codeword--"New Life" is a very common codeword for neopentecostal churches friendly towards dominionism.  The whole term "Faith-based charities" and such is another example of this.

by dogemperor on Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 10:08:37 AM EST

John, I also attended a recent regional gathering for "Faithful and Welcoming."

Brandon Woosley critized the Biblical Witness Fellowship (BWF) for being too confrontive and thus this new renewal group will attempt to create dialogue within the UCC. That's funny...Brandon was recently elected to a leadership position on the board for Biblical Witness Fellowship.

And what about Rev. Bob Thompson, creator of the Lexington Confession...that's funny, in his book available on his church's website, Bob tells us all about his involvement with BWF. That's not all. He also tells us in his book that he once had a young couple stand up before the congregation and renounce their sins before he would marry them. Apparently, the couple was with child. He doesn't see this as a violation of pastoral authority, since the couple claims this actually strengthen their marriage. Where is the balance between judgment and grace? faithful and welcoming? give me a break!

And by the way, I don't recall my congregation receiving a ballot to elect Rev. Bob Thompson as the President of "Faithful and Welcoming" to be my voice to the UCC... I guess their organization is really not too interested in local autonomy afterall!

When asked how "Faithful and Welcoming" was going to "renew" the church, the speakers suddenly get very quite. In its more than 20 year history, the Biblical Witness Fellowship has yet to produce any resources for renewal if you believe renewal should include evangelism, stewardship, Christian education, outreach, etc.

And the bottom line is...faithful and welcoming is the new version of a hate group... they mobilize support against an identified opponent and so be it if someone leaves the denomination or acts out against gays and lesbians. Of course they don't want people to leave the UCC--without an opponent there is no reason for their organization's existence!

by An UnGodly Pastor on Tue Mar 21, 2006 at 02:05:31 PM EST

Let me start off by stating that i am not a scripture expert. I grew up in a lutheran church that had it share of problems but also did its share of good. Whether it was traveling to other states working on House for the poor with group workcamps or doing it in our own neighborhoods.I learned alot from the travel work camps i got to meet alot of people and witness the differences in the religions and the people in there churches and the hypocritical way things are done in different religions. I found myslf unable to process all the info i had seen and was given and completely stop going to church altogether. I guess my question is how can the Christian community be taught the same ways the same scriptures but have them translated so diferently.when i grew up i learned that thou shalt not worhip false idol or thou shalt have only 1 god before me, yet when i got married i was required by the church to go up and leave an offering at the feet of a statue of Mary.i just don't understand can you help.

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