Gay-affirming, diverse religious communities in the American South? Yes.

This New York Times article, Parenting by Gays More Common in the South, Census Shows, offers a nuanced look at the census–and perceptions of religious institutions.

In 1980’s Jacksonville, Florida, a church was bombed 3 times because it was known to be welcoming to the area’s gay population. The NYT articles counts 8 churches that openly welcome gay members, one of which is known to be very supporting to couples with children.

One would hope for a higher count of gay-friendly churches in Jacksonville–and any other area, for that matter. The article takes the tone of surprise–and unfortunately, realism, when addressing the unlikely locale for a vibrant and racially diverse gay community–the American South.

But wait..there’s more!  Gay-affirming as a litmus test for gay and straight parishioners, Lars and the Real Girl, Apologetix…after the jump.

Social conservatism and a high density of churches with conservative politics and/or fundamentalist leanings fuel this unfortunate stereotype.

Ms. Maffett appreciated the safety of the church in Jacksonville. Her father was a Baptist preacher, and her former husband was a member of the Church of Christ, so she knew how unwelcoming some churches could be for gays.

The article highlights another key point for church choices: people have a higher affinity for empathetic congregations that reflect a demographic they identify with:

Even so, she felt little connection to the gay congregation in Jacksonville — mostly white, male and childless…So last summer, Ms. Williams became pastor of St. Luke’s Community Church, one of the oldest gay-friendly churches in the city, and immediately set up a youth program. Attendance by the mixed-race congregation swelled to more than 90 from 25 in just a few months.

Does this article mean that the NYT can identify and write about a verifiable trend?

A church’s attitude toward gay parishioners and homosexuality is, of course, a litmus test for LGBT parishioners, but if it also becomes a litmus test for straight but supportive parishioners, churches and congregations will have to take a definitive stand, or risk a DADT environment in the pews and hetero-normative programming and services. Many denominations curate lists of gay-affirming churches (IntegrityUSA,Reconciling Ministries Network,Reconciling in Christin addition to this interfaith list)  –but what about the rest?

Conservative and fundamental churches offer a higher degree of certainty to the uncertain, proscribing lifestyle choices, worldviews, and values from their theological perspective. All churches do this, but these churches tend to embrace the opportunity to do so on topics ranging from political views, bedroom morality, and entertainment–often endorsing “Christian media” and regulating tastes and consumption habits.

(I already wrote a research paper on this, so I’ll be concise: Apologetix, Plugged In, Focus on the Family)

Possible bias? At the church I attend while I’m at home with my parents, Lars and the Real Girl was the subject of a sermon. A clip was shown. The sermon revolved around how people seek, express, and long for love.The rather prominent sex toy was not addressed. Imagine a sermon on that subject byJoshua Harris, who is well-known for Kissing Dating Good-bye.

(Or, you could say that Lars takes a very hermeneutical approach to the idea women are created to be a helpmeet for men.)

To say that theologically conservative and liberal offer different “brands”–certainty and acceptance, respectively, is perhaps, reductive.

However, conservative churches, in their offerings of political and lifestyle choice ‘certainty’ would do well to make acceptance of God’s created, no matter their sexual orientation, a certainty, as well, should be offered a celebrating and affirming church community.


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