Last week a new organization launched their online platform: Church Clarity (churchclarity.org).
What is this organization?
At its core, Church Clarity wants to see churches become clear on where they stand with issues regarding the LGBTQ community. Particularly, are these churches affirming or non-affirming? Their website states:
Church Clarity is not advocating for policy changes [regarding whether a church affirms or does not affirm LGBTQ people, same-sex marriage, etc]. Together, we’re establishing a new standard for church policy disclosure: We believe that churches have a responsibility to be clear about their policies on their primary websites. Following a simple, yet consistent method, our crowdsourcers submit churches to be scored on how clearly their website communicates their actively enforced policies. Once the information is verified by Church Clarity, it is published to our database.
We believe that ambiguity is harmful and clarity is reasonable. Learn more below, about how you can help us create this new standard.
Now, at first glance, this may seem a good thing, both for those on the right and the left, the conservative and the liberal, the non-affirming and affirming. Right?
Some conservative, evangelical leaders believe clarity is key on this ever-increasingly important issue in today’s world. The Bible is clear that marriage is about the union of one man and one woman, so churches need to be both clear on their stance and take a stand for the traditional, biblical view. Those on the affirming side – in favor of same-sex marriage, transgenderism, etc – also want to know where groups stand. Not only that, but they too want to know who is with them, who is advocating on their behalf as they increasingly find their voice in our modern world.
It’s clear (pun intended), both want clarity. And both groups want people to take a clear stand for what they see as the correct view.
But, while that first glance at Church Clarity’s website may seemingly look to offer a positive opportunity of clarity for both sides, I would argue the proverbial statement, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Why is that? I personally believe something bigger is at play here.
For me, that bigger play is this: Both sides, including the newly formed Church Clarity, believe it’s best to push people and groups into laying their cards on the table concerning this issue. It’s a subtle tactic of force, but a tactic of force nonetheless.
“Tell us where you stand and if you don’t, we’ll dig and push until we get an answer, all to let everyone out there know.”
Let’s take a step back here and consider a bit of the historical setting, at least as I have observed over the years.
For decades upon decades, the religious right (part of conservative Christianity) has led the way in the culture wars of America. By “culture wars,” I refer to the fight that has taken place between conservatives and liberals in an effort to solidify their values within American culture. For years on years, conservatives have fought to keep evolutionary perspectives out of schools (seeing science as a threat to true faith); they have stood against pro-choice options for women (preferring a pro-life perspective to protect the unborn); and their power has been used to sway the courts from approving same-sex marriage (arguing for a traditional man-woman union).
There are other things that could be discussed, but these are three biggies from the past 100 years.
Those on the conservative side see no harm in this. Faith first, science not first; protecting the unborn is dear to God’s heart; the Bible presents marriage as the union between a man and a woman. These are biblical values that must be upheld.
And for a very long time, it was fairly easy to maintain conservative values in America, knowing evangelical Christianity was the predominant socio-religious culture and religious system of the land. Those in power will generally find they can maintain their rules, systems and practices. Ask Rome how things were for 1000 years following Constantine’s rise to power. It was even easier to maintain the status quo back then.
However, over the past few decades in particular, the religious right has slowly lost its grip on the American culture wars. Evolution has made its way into the classroom following the Scopes Trial. Roe v Wade happened in the 1970’s, allowing for women to have abortions in certain cases. And more recently, we had the federal case of Obergefell v Hodges in which the Supreme Court determined that same-sex couples are guaranteed the right to marry.
Yes, the religious right’s power has slowly been waning. Today no longer looks like the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. But those intent on maintaining the old religious landscape through culture wars would love to get back to that day.
Here is the even more painful reality. With American evangelicals in power, it was very easy for this group to treat those on the other side as outcasts. Disdain, public humiliation, and even physical mistreatment at times are part of our ugly history. In recent years, we’ve become increasingly aware (or we should be aware) of how bad the church has treated the LGBTQ community. It grieves me even now as I think of what these beautiful people made in God’s image may have endured over the years. Or to think of how the predominantly white evangelical church has treated African-Americans. It’s simply terrible.
For those in power, it’s not only easy to maintain that power, but it’s also easy to mistreat those with differing views from the powerful.
Let me re-state a fact: our history is filled with such practices.
And, so, when a group from the other side (such as Church Clarity or any LGBTQ-affirming group) tries to create space for their values in our progressive world today, guess how these folk will be drawn to react? With very similar tactics as their opponents.
“They pushed us around. They forced us to obey their rules. Now, with some power in our world today, it’s our turn to do the same. It’s our time to push people around.”
And that is what I gather from reading Church Clarity’s website and interacting with them a little on social media.
Again, read their statement:
Church Clarity is not advocating for policy changes. Together, we’re establishing a new standard for church policy disclosure: We believe that churches have a responsibility to be clear about their policies on their primary websites. Following a simple, yet consistent method, our crowdsourcers submit churches to be scored on how clearly their website communicates their actively enforced policies. Once the information is verified by Church Clarity, it is published to our database.
It sounds harmless in stating they are “not advocating for policy changes.” However, to declare what is and is not the responsibility of another group and to then create an entire system where churches are scored (yep, scored!), I would argue that they are merely using similar tactics as the waning religious right.
“We’re here to declare what all must do. And if they don’t want to do it, then we’ll do it for them through our new scoring system.”
Now, as I noted earlier, I can understand the why. As I made clear, the church’s track record is not good regarding how we’ve treated the LGBTQ community (and other minority groups). We’ve used our power to declare who is “in” and who is “out,” shame and mistreat others made in the image of God. And plenty of religious right leaders willingly jump in bed with politicians in order to sway the public policy of this country.
As broken humans, in the midst of our hurt, pain, anger, and bitterness, we want to get back at other people if the opportunity presents itself. We want to lash out, and we can simply name it with a special word: “justice.”
But the reality is that those on the left, including those within Church Clarity, fall into the trap of doing that which they despised for years and years. Such will be denied; it’s been denied already. But, again, to declare what a group must do because it is their responsibility to do so, and to do it for them if they refuse, this is a forceful tactic. And to add in a scoring system pulls them way off track.
Both groups miss the point.
What is that point?
The perspectives and practices of both religious-right conservatives and folk like Church Clarity preclude relationship. They are not interested in walking with people who differ from them. Both are in it to clarify so they can ultimately determine who is “in” and “out” according to their own self-defined perspectives.
Yes, Church Clarity declares they don’t want to get churches to change their policy. However, if they can dig deep enough to find out what a church (or its pastor/leadership) believes, they will let everyone else know so that everyone else can determine whether that church is “in” or “out” according to their chosen view. Church Clarity can wash their hands clean, all in the name of “clarity.”
In the end, I believe it’s all about power – power on both sides.
But there is a better way.
That is to truly walk with people, hear their story, actually talk with people rather than engage in concepts, learn where others come from, struggle with them, and more. But it all comes from the central place of relationship.
I don’t expect the LGBTQ community to want to run to the church for this. The pain and hurt is deep.
I don’t expect the American culture-warring church to want to walk with the LGBTQ community. They’ve generally closed themselves off from such through history.
Something is going to have to give. One side is going to have to truly consider the ways of Christ – the cross and the centrality of relationship. Otherwise, the culture wars will continue.
And one side may “win” the culture war. Historically the evangelical church has won. The left is hoping they’ll win going forward. But while one side may “win,” they won’t ever truly win. We’ll continue to lose one another. And people have literally lost their lives and may continue so in the midst of the wars.
There is a better way. Christ makes it clear; the cross makes it clear.
Will we take up that better way and self-sacrificially walk with one another? Or will we continue with our efforts to win the war?
Here are two articles I have appreciated reading the past few days on this issue.
- The Loving Militancy of Church Clarity by Geoff Holsclaw.
- ‘Church Clarity’ on sexuality – or church control? by David Bennett.
I, for one, welcome Church Clarity. People should know what they are getting into up front if the issue of how LGBTQ people are perceived by the church is an issue to them. After all, the church will ask a person to donate of their time, talent and especially treasure. Isn’t it better for people to know up front that they may be supporting an organization that would treat them as second-class, or worse, as the most heinous sinners on God’s green earth?
I am not LGBTQ, but as a single, middle aged woman, if I know where the church stands on LGBTQ people, I can be pretty sure how I will be welcomed there. Or not.
Also, it feels like to me that you want to hide thr fact that there are churches out there who see LGBTQ people as a particularly loathesome group of wretched sinners. If they think fellow human beings are so awful, so sinful, shouldn’t people know before they go there?
Personally, I’m outside the charmed circle of the household of faith but I occasionally go to an affirming church. And on occasion, I have heard attendees talk about why they are there. For many of them, it’s because they did go to churches like some of the ones listed on Church Clarity. And they found out that either they themselves or someone they loved would be or was treated like garbage because of their secual orientation.
People need to know that the church they may be thinking about attending is potentially very harmful to their mental health. If the church in question is embarrassed by the fact that they’re non-affirming, they can either double down or change.
Thanks for the comment. In a sense, I feel like my article grieves exactly what you have expressed here. It dearly pains me in my heart and gut to know how we have treated our LGBTQ friends. Please know I am not against clarity. But I am against finding ways – strong or subtle – that force people to do something. Think of how the conservative evangelical community forced certain things upon not just LGBTQ folk, but so many others – not just in their churches, but in American culture as a whole. I think of women, African-Americans, Muslims, and other minority groups. So, while clarity is not bad, I am convinced any kind of forced clarity is. I hope you can understand a little of what I’m trying to share.
Dude, you are drawing a HUGE false equivalence between how the church has treated LGBTQ people and the Church Clarity website. The two are not the same thing. At all. For one thing (and this isn’t even the biggest issue), the Church Clarity website isn’t going around saying that non-affirming Christians aren’t real Christians.
What this boils down to is whether one believes LGBTQ Christians* and their allies deserve to have informed consent or not. Listen to all the stories from gay Christians who have talked about attending churches, getting involved and invested in a community, only to be FINALLY told that gee, their relationship is second-class in the church’s eyes and that they can’t be leaders or get married in the church. Tell those people to their faces that there’s no problem with what happened to them, that it was fine for the church to not disclose their true positions from the start because hey, it lets them “love on” and rope in the gays before they know the truth! Another version of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”
Frankly, the only reason to not support Church Clarity is because you are supporting the “right” (put in scare quotes for a reason) of the churches to be opaque as they want. And sure, churches do have the right to be opaque. But then it’s fine for Church Clarity to call them out on it.
Church Clarity isn’t FOR churches. It’s for gay/bi/trans Christians and their allies who want to know what they’re getting into. They deserve that. If you (general you) are worried about people being driven away because they find out that your church is non-affirming… well, so what? It’s my choice if I decide I want to take a chance on a church with non-affirming theology. (Which I don’t, since I’m gay and I don’t believe that same-sex sexual activity is wrong.) And I deserve to be informed about it instead of being given the runaround by pastors who are too cowardly to tell me to my face if I’m going to be fully/equally affirmed in their church as a straight person.
* People bring up celibate or side B Christians as a rebuttal, saying that side B Christians are being erased in this conversation. They’re not. Yes, Church Clarity is obviously geared towards side A Christians – as I don’t think they draw a distinction between churches that might say that referring to yourself as gay is fine but that same-sex sexual activity is not and churches that denounce even calling yourself gay in the first place – but there’s nothing wrong with that. There are sites out there that pander mostly to Side B and you don’t see Side A whining about it. If Side B wants to make their own database site offering that distinction, then they can go for it. Or, heck, I wouldn’t mind if Church Clarity provided the information itself, just because I think more information is always good. But this is not some situation where side B is being hard done by.
Thanks for the comment. I want to clarify. I am not a huge equivocation of how the church (or the evangelical church) has treated the LGBTQ community and what Church Clarity is doing. I’m primarily looking at one communication tactic at play here. But do know I absolutely grieve the way the beautiful LGBTQ community has been treated for so long.
Do I think clarity is a good thing? Yes, in general. But when it comes to sensitive issues, I believe walking with people and considering situations case by case is more important than forcing any kind of public statement. Church Clarity is not just asking for clarity – they are promising to push and dig until it is found. I can think of multiple situations where people or groups have been pushed toward something and it’s not ended well. Of all people, I would believe LGBTQ advocates would understand that to some degree.
Church Clarity has a right to exist and to find a way to support the LGBTQ community. That is important. But it can feel (it may not be, but can feel) vindictive when groups (any group) pushes with any kind of force for something.