“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world.” — Matthew 5:16, MSG
There was great joy on Palm Sunday, April 14, as my congregation, Immanuel Lutheran Church, celebrated the decision to adopt a welcome statement officially welcoming all people, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. We now hold the Reconciling in Christ (RIC) designation, which makes a special point to welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Our congregational meeting that day was a celebration, but it took a lot of work and dedication to make it to that point. Immanuel Lutheran Church has had a long history of being a “church without walls.” This means that we turn outward to serve the community; it also means that we do not want any barriers preventing people from entering our community. To live into this mission, our congregation has been involved in advocacy work through JONAH, we have volunteered in the community, and we have done the hard work of examining our own privilege and biases. This passion for justice has been present for a long time at Immanuel, well before I started as pastor there. It only made sense to continue this work in the area of sexuality and gender.
Over the past year we have used the tools from Reconciling Works to help educate and equip us on this journey. We prayerfully considered how the Spirit was leading us in this work. Our core team led informational sessions for the congregation and shared resources. Along the way, people asked many questions including, “What does the Bible have to say about this?” To address this question we turned to our Lutheran lenses of reading the Bible. Our Lutheran perspective on scripture looks at the Bible’s overarching central messages and themes. This helps us to avoid proof-texting a handful of scriptures referring to same-gender sex and taking it out of context. Overall, we found God’s radical and inclusive love as a repeating story throughout the scriptures and sought to model this in our expansive welcome to all.
Other questions included, “Why do we need this specific welcome? Aren’t we already welcoming?” The answer became clear as we went along. Many people have been hurt by the church, especially marginalized people including people of the LGBTQIA+ community. Some folks do not feel comfortable entering a church where they fear they may not be accepted. When they see a rainbow and the RIC designation, they can be confident in knowing they will be welcomed and accepted in love. Here they will be treated as equals who are able to fully participate, get married and even serve as ordained clergy if they so desire.
RIC welcomes people of all sexuality and gender identities, and yet it doesn’t stop there. When we are able to have difficult conversations about faith and sexuality, we also build the vocabulary to tackle other hard issues. We hope to extend our conversations to consider other areas of justice including dismantling racism, sexism, and other forms of separation. We as the church need to model having these difficult conversations, so that we can be a part of the change. We can talk about difficult issues while still be respectful, loving and kind. As our welcome statement reads we do this, “in response to the world’s deep hunger for hope, love, grace, justice, and peace.”
I believe the Church is meant to be a space where all people are fully loved, known and embraced for who they are. In living into this vision, we help build God’s kingdom here on earth. We allow each person to shine their light in the world sharing the love of Christ with others.
The Rev. Jamie Brieske is pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Eau Claire.