Pittsfield has six major mainline Protestant churches within walking distance of each other downtown. Moving from south to north:
- South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
- First Baptist Church of Pittsfield (American Baptist)
- First Church of Pittsfield, United Church of Christ
- St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church
- First United Methodist Church of Pittsfield
- Zion’s Lutheran Church (ELCA)
All of these churches welcome LGBT people. Two of the churches, First Baptist and First Church of Pittsfield, have their respective denomination’s designation as affirming LGBT people. However, LGBT people who wish to worship at any of the other four churches listed above will not encounter any hostility. Really, it seems quite amazing that all the traditionally stalwart mainline churches in this city are on the same page regarding LGBT people.
Recently, an ad hoc group of us have been meeting to talk about ways we can be more supportive of the LGBT community. Although there is a Stonewall Coalition in town, there isn’t any group that is doing a lot of advocacy and support from a justice perspective for LGBT people.
We’ve talked about how wonderful that our churches are open to all people regardless of sexual orientation, but the reality is that the percentage of people who come to church is statistically small. Recently, I attended a workshop in which the presenter said that in New England only about 9.8% of the people attend any sort of worship service regularly. (And that’s across the whole population, not just LGBT people, who are probably statistically even less.)
We know we can do better as churches to make our openness better known in the community. None of us for example hang out a rainbow flag. Although the church I serve, First Baptist, says that we are “Welcoming and Affirming” in our press releases, it only means something if one is a Baptist.
But as a group, we’re not content to hang a flag and say we’re done. We want to make clear to LGBT people that we are supportive. With our churches we want to make a positive impact.
We had an idea at our meeting a couple of weeks ago to work with the local public schools to see how we can support LGBT students. I contacted the principal at Pittsfield High School via e-mail to invite him to our meeting.
I introduced myself as the interim pastor at First Baptist Church of Pittsfield and that I was concerned about LGBT students at the school. I then had to say that I was supportive of LGBT rights.
Having to do that struck me. Since when does a Christian have to make clear s/he stands for justice for all people? Having to make clear my stand on LGBT is a sad commentary on the state of Christianity in this nation.
I’ll lay a lot of the blame on the mainstream media – they can’t seem to cover progressive faith well. When Christians are interviewed in the media, they seem to draw from advocates from the right who somehow speak for me as well.
Yet, I can’t help to think that those of us on the progressive side have not exactly helped to boost our own cause. I know I’ve let several letters to the editor that condemn LGBT people or marriage equality pass without rebuttal. I also believe that the Christian right can express its theology in succinct sound bites, whereas we have too many qualifiers and caveats. I’ve often said that the Christian right can put its views on a bumper sticker while the Christian left can’t find a bulletin board that’s big enough.
The assymetrical quality of the Christian message, whether by the media or our own failure, has cast Christianity in a poor light. We may not be able to do much about the media, but we can do better about making clear that there are Christian voices who are not homophobic – indeed there are LGBT Christians.
I hope that one day when Christians introduce themselves they won’t have to tell people that they stand for justice. It should be assumed that a Christian will support LGBT people.