An Oklahoma City church has declared that it welcomes members of the gay community — and has no plans to preach against homosexuality.
Tuesday, the Rev. Don Heath, who is co-pastor of Edmond Trinity Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) with his wife, Mary, said the congregation voted March 25 to become an Open and Affirming congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
He said some Christians use certain biblical Scriptures he called “the clobber passages” to condemn homosexuality. He said it is important to note the Bible was written by man and some passages “reflect the prejudice of the time” and not necessarily the inspired Word of God.
The metro-area church at 1400 NW 178 becomes only the second Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Oklahoma to formally become an Open and Affirming congregation recognized by the Gay Lesbian and Affirming Disciples (GLAD) Alliance. Bethany Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Tulsa is the other Oklahoma church that is listed in the alliance's Open and Affirming church registry.
Heath said he sent a letter about the church's decision to the denomination's leader, the Rev. Sharon Watkins, a former Oklahoma minister who now serves as general minister and presbyterian of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the U.S. and Canada, based in Indianapolis. He said his church was free to make the Open and Affirming choice on its own with no interference from the denomination's leaders.
“It's a congregational effort rather than a hierarchy saying this is the way it has to be,” he said.
‘Cupcakes and punch'
He said he is unsure how the community-at-large will react to the church's stance. He said his wife has said if the Rev. Fred Phelps of Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church — infamously known for protesting homosexuality — brings his church to protest against Edmond Trinity Christian Church, “she would bring them cupcakes and punch.”
Karen Barr, president of the GLAD Alliance, said it is an organization that keeps a registry of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations that formally vote to be known as Open and Affirming churches. She said the organization is independent of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination.
“Open and Affirming means that the church has intentionally considered that they wish to be known as a place where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals will be accepted as who they are, and where it will be acknowledged that they, too, are created in the image of God,” Barr, of Washington, D.C., said Tuesday.
Heath said a committee of lay people was formed in 2010 to discuss issues of interest to the congregation and the treatment of homosexuals in the body of Christ became a topic of discussion. He said the group met several times, watched films and read books on the issue. He said in 2011, the group began talking with the congregation about the possibility of becoming known as an Open and Affirming congregation through the GLAD Alliance.
Heath said the congregation voted unanimously to be placed on the alliance's registry. He said the church has now placed the alliance's logo on its bulletins and its website. Heath said the church's marquee also notes its Open and Affirming status.
“We are in the process of spreading the word,” Heath said. He said the church has reached out to a gay student alliance group at the University of Central Oklahoma and members seemed very receptive.
Heath said about 100 of the more than 3,600 Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations in the U.S. and Canada have been recognized as Open and Affirming congregations and several hundred more are in the process of becoming formally recognized as such.
Barr said people often contact the alliance in search of a church that accepts lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual individuals as they are. She said many of them have had bad experiences at a church and it is disappointing to tell them that there are no such congregations close to them.
The Rev. Thomas R. Jewell, regional pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Oklahoma, said while Edmond Trinity may be one of only two Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregations in the state that have formally been recognized as Open and Affirming with the alliance, other Christian Church congregations in Oklahoma — there are about 170 — also are inclusive.
“We don't have any criteria for membership other than that they proclaim the ‘Good Confession' of Jesus Christ as savior,” Jewell said.