VIEWPOINT: Celebrating Claremont as ‘open and affirming’
By Rev. Jennifer Strickland and Rev. Jacob Buchholz, Claremont United Church of Christ
In the United Church of Christ, we have a designation for churches that have publically declared their full inclusion of the LGBTQ community that is known as being “Open and Affirming” (ONA).
Usually congregations will gather together at a congregational meeting and take a vote of whether they want to adopt this label. It is a beautiful display of a church’s dedication to being a welcoming presence and it is a beacon of hope to those looking for a place where they can be fully accepted.
How did our society get to the point, though, where churches needed to vote on whether they should include someone? The LGBTQ community doesn’t need a church’s vote of approval to know that they are loved and accepted! And sadly, taking a vote doesn’t truly make a church Open and Affirming. I’m sure we have met plenty of people of all religious backgrounds who profess one thing but behave quite differently.
This year our church, Claremont United Church of Christ, will celebrate its 23rd year of officially proclaiming our Open and Affirming status. We are so grateful for everyone who led the way in our church to take a stand to declare God’s love for the LGBTQ community. While we celebrate, we are trying to take the time to understand what that phrase truly means.
At the heart of any faith should be a recognition that all people are created in the image of God and are therefore of infinite worth. Anything we do to demean or devalue that worth in the name of religion contradicts the essence of what world religions teach about the nature of God.
In the Christian tradition, we teach about Jesus, God incarnate, who included everyone. He ignored the rules of his society about who should be accepted and respected and instead went out of his way to include and affirm everyone he met. The idea of being open and affirming is nothing new—it is exactly what Jesus came to teach us!
But a church like ours might be committed to being Open and Affirming toward the LGBTQ community while perpetuating other divisions we are creating in our constantly more fractured society. Anything that creates divisions between liberal and conservative, black and white, male and female, employed and unemployed, old and young, citizen and undocumented, is only meant to separate us.
Jesus’ teachings erase these lines and compel us to see people as God sees them—worthy of love and acceptance. This is hard work in our current landscape, but the church must lead the way in breaking down the hostilities (Ephesians 2:14) that exist among us.
As we seek to more fully live out our calling to be Open and Affirming, we believe it is faithful to affirm, accept, and bless every single person who walks through our doors. We work hard to make it known that there is room at our table for all.
We will be celebrating our anniversary of being Open and Affirming on September 17 during our 10 a.m. service. And in case you were wondering, EVERYONE is welcome to join us!