It is now one year since Andrew Freeman and I launched this blog! Our purpose in doing so was give voice to our desire to see the Evangelical Covenant Church become more welcoming of members of the gay and lesbian community by creating a space for Covenanters to share their “coming out stories.” Coming Out Covenant is our first attempt at blogging and it has been both informative and rewarding. As a way of celebrating our one year anniversary I thought I would share 5 things I’ve learned from this first year of our blog.
1. First of all, COC has reinforced for me the power of the internet and social media to create community and to bring about change. Just a few years ago any interest or support for a more accepting view of gay and lesbian people in the Evangelical Covenant Church was limited to a small advertisement in the Covenant Companion. While I’m certain that many people across the covenant were rethinking this issue there was no way for people of like mind to communicate with each other or to offer mutual support for a different point of view. Now however, it is possible to quickly and easily establish “a community”within the larger Covenant community in support of LGBT inclusiveness. This is what COC is beginning to do.
2. Second Coming Out Covenant is part of a wave of change regarding homosexuality that is sweeping the Evangelical world. This past year, groups have been established at Wheaton College, (One Wheaton) and other Christian Colleges, Universities and institutions. (Resources from One Wheaton) Just as in the past God’s Spirit changed people’s understanding of scripture regarding such issues as slavery and the role of women, the Spirit is at work today to open our eyes regarding what the bible says and doesn’t say about people who are created in the image of God with a same-sex orientation. I am convinced more than ever that anyone who believes that change is not coming in the Evangelical world regarding this issue has their head in the sand and that wise church leaders and congregations are beginning to discuss and study this issue rather than ignoring it and hoping it will go away.
3. Third, the changes that are occurring in the evangelical world are coming from the grass roots up. The covenant does not have an ecclesiastical hierarchy which declares dogma or policy. We operate in a congregational system in which congregations function autonomously. The Covenant will become inclusive only as individual congregations decide to become open and affirming of LGBT people. This is how other denominations of congregational polity have progressed on this issue. I look forward to that day when individual congregations will have studied, prayed together and by congregational process decided that their doors are open to fully include our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. When that happens then we will be tested to see if can live by the historic covenant principle of “agreeing to disagree but not breaking fellowship” and by the founding verse of our denomination, “I am the companion of all who fear thee.” Our true and complete companionship needs to be expanded!
4. The response to our blog has been at one and the same time incredibly supportive and painfully disappointing. First of all THANK YOU to everyone who has posted, commented, “liked”, linked, forwarded, or reposted from our blog! This is how the internet works! I don’t know how anyone can read the stories that have been published this past year and not be moved to tears. These are real human stories often of people who have suffered in silence, feeling trapped in their own skin, beset by the condemnation of others from the outside and self loathing from within. Many of the people who have posted have chronicled their experience of coming to a deeper understanding of God’s grace and acceptance that challenges my understanding of God’s grace and makes me leap for joy.
However at the same time I’m deeply saddened by the fact that so many people choose to stay on the sidelines of this issue. If you read the stories published this past year you must realize that our silence is creating an environment within our churches that causes individuals irreparable emotional and even physical harm. It is time for people to have the courage to let others know where you stand on this issue. Please understand I’m not advocating for argument or dissension instead I am advocating “for the freedom in Christ” that creates openness for respectful dialogue and which recognizes that there is room for a differing “biblical” points of view on this issue. While we are grateful for retired covenant clergy, and for Covenant clergy serving in other denominations who have posted and commented, only a few “active” Covenant clergy have made comment on this blog and only one “active” covenant pastor has written a post.
Many other clergy while sympathetic have chosen to remain silent. I understand this silence for it was only after I stepped out of serving a church that I found the courage to speak out. I am told by some that conference and denominational leaders have counseled clergy against associating their name with this blog for fear that doing so will limit their ability to receive call to a church. After all who wants to see anyone in this economy loose their source of livelihood? Despite all these factors I am forced to ask a question, “Where is the prophetic voice within our clergy and church leadership?” Who will be the prophets and the missionaries of this movement? Who will the Doug Cedarleafs of our generation?
5. Finally I have learned first hand the difficulty of being an activist. I think that I can speak somewhat for Andrew in this regard also. Perhaps you have noticed that this blog has had its periods of activity and inactivity. There have been two causes of this lack of consistency. First it has been due to the sporadic submission of content. Our foremost stated purpose has been to publish “Coming out stories” of people. These stories include straight people such as myself whose understanding on this issue has changed and more importantly the stories of LGBT people within the Covenant. Our reason for this is the belief that the one thing that changes people’s mind is knowing someone who is gay and hearing their story.
Most post submissions to the blog have come unsolicited as the spirit has moved. Typically when we have content we publish it but this is not completely true because the second reason for the up and down nature of our blog is the waxing and waning of our energy. While both Andrew and I feel strongly about this issue we live somewhere between enthusiastic activism and discouragement. We struggle with how much of ourselves we are able to invest in this issue especially when both of us have other dimensions of life that require our energy. Bottom line is we don’t want to be the sole carriers of this flame. If this issue is to move forward it requires other people’s involvement. So please don’t sit on your hands and think that we have it covered. If something moves in your heart regarding this issue then contact us. We welcome your ideas, comments, posts, and involvement in ways that we have not even thought of yet.
So that is what this past year of COC has taught me. I am curious what you have observed and learned from the “Coming Out Covenant” experience. Has it made you mad, sad, or glad? Are you empowered, afraid, or just so-so? Do you think we are prophets heretics, or apostates? After all Jesus did say, “beware if all men speak well of thee?” So please post a comment on the blog or on Facebook.
For your information here is a score card of Coming Out Covenant’s activity for this past year. From 37 posts, we have received 446 comments, 26,410 unique visitors, 71,279 visits, 451,045 page views and 543 “Likes” on facebook. At first I was impressed by these numbers but I have learned that by internet standards they are small indeed and yet for a denomination the size of the Evangelical Covenant Church they are significant. Most important, I know for a fact that the blog has given individuals who felt they were alone and isolated, HOPE and comfort and the knowledge that they are loved by God and others and for this reason they no longer need to be afraid for the scriptures tell us that “….perfect love drives fear away.” I John 4:18
Philip K. Brockett 1-30-12