The following is a guest post by Anna Snoeyenbos. A lifelong Unitarian Universalist originally from the Ballou Channing District, Anna writes at www.deepriverfaith.com. She lives in Georgia, where she is a proud member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta.
I was moved this week by the outpouring of love and embrace from Unitarian Universalist churches towards the GLBTQ community in the wake of recent tragedies. There has been no better moment to live our welcoming theology.
But in the midst of the response, I was also reminded that our welcoming efforts haven’t really helped our growth. While we have been embracing all people – no matter their gender, race, sexual orientation or beliefs for most of recent history, we have also been shrinking. Intuitively, wouldn’t you think that keeping the door open for everyone would bring more people over the threshold?
The most common UU response to this all-too-familiar paradox has been to chastise ourselves – saying over and over again that yes we are welcoming but not welcoming enough or not in the right way. Yes we are multicultural in theory but we need to stop assuming x, or stop worshipping like y, or bring in more of z in order to get our Sunday morning pews to look a little less like a liberal arts college reunion.
In my opinion, this line of reasoning is not only demoralizing for congregations, but it’s also missing the mark and in some ways patronizing towards the groups of people we are trying to attract. The focus is only on bringing people into our community. But who is asking the question of what we give them when they get here? Yes, community is a vital component to our faith – but is it really enough for most people seeking, and in many cases desperately needing, faith to want to hang out with us?
I think the answer is no. Most people are looking for more than just being welcomed. They want to be welcomed into something that will take them somewhere – give them something. This is especially true for our marginalized neighbors who need faith to be more for them than just a community of book discussions and debates about God’s existence.
When our message to the GLBTQ community is “you are welcome to come here” we are missing an opportunity to say “God loves you and so do we. Please come and share your beautiful light with us.” Which message would save you in an hour of need?
I bring-up this one example to warn us that pushing our message of welcome without backing it up with a faith that will heal people will neither accomplish our mission nor increase our numbers. I know we mean well – but we can do better. The world needs us to.