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-sycrifically 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.