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You Are Welcome Here

you are welcome hereA tagline often used by Christian churches to advertise themselves to non-Christians is this: YOU ARE WELCOME HERE! This statement is meant to convey to people that their church is friendly and accepting of everyone. When mainline churches use this line, they often are just that: friendly, accepting, and welcoming. Years ago, Polly and I, along with our three youngest children, visited the Episcopal church in Defiance. On our first visit there, an older woman — whom we learned later was a pillar of the church — came up to us and said, WELCOME! We don’t care what you believe, you are welcome here. This congregation sincerely didn’t care what you did or didn’t believe, though there were several members of a Fundamentalist persuasion who likely were not as indifferent about our beliefs, especially our pro-choice view on abortion. There’s another church in Defiance, St. John’s United Church of Christ, that advertises the fact that they are a welcoming church. St. John’s caused quite of bit of controversy when they came out in support of same-sex marriage. Both of these churches genuinely accept people as they are, where they are, and don’t try to evangelize. They are more focused on good works than right doctrine.

However, when Evangelical churches, such as the one outside of Ney, say, YOU ARE WELCOME HERE!, I chuckle, knowing that they mean something far different when they say this than do the aforementioned Episcopal and UCC churches. Evangelical churches want to be perceived as welcoming places where anyone and everyone can walk through their doors and feel at home. Little do first-time visitors realize that this friendliness is a play; that the church’s welcoming of them has an ulterior motive attached to it — to evangelize them and turn them into another soldier in God’s Fundamentalist army. Evangelicals will piously say that they love everyone, just as God loves everyone. Sounds good, right? We all want to feel loved and accepted. With Evangelicals, however, their love is a means to an end. They might feign love for you for a time, but their objective is to save you, baptize you, get your checking account number, and add you to the church roll. Yes, Evangelicals say, we love you as you are. But, we love you enough to not leave you there.

Some Evangelical churches are content to leave sinners alone, trusting that the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the Word will bring them to repentance. Week after week, congregants will “love” on sinners, leading them to believe that they are loved and accepted as they are. Little do they know that there is no way for them to truly gain membership in the club until they first change their ways. This is why I laugh when I hear Evangelicals say that their churches LOVE and ACCEPT LGBTQ people. Sure they do. Or, they love and accept them enough to let them take two feet of real estate in one of the church pews, but let someone living in “sin” try to become part of the club and they will be told, sorry, only saved, sanctified, heterosexual people are allowed to be members. Want to sing in the choir, play in the church band, teach Sunday school, or work in the nursery? REPENT and believe the gospel. REPENT and stop being who and what you are. REPENT and realize you are a filthy, vile, broken sinner in need salvation.

It is really easy for anyone to test whether a particular Evangelical church is as welcoming as its members claim to be. Ask the pastor if you and your lesbian partner — whom you legally married last year — can join the church. Or, ask the pastor is you can recruit church members to work at the local Planned Parenthood. Take any of the hot-button social issues or any of the “bad” sins Evangelicals are obsessed with and work them into your life story. Ask the pastor if the church will accept you as a member as you are, with you not planning to change your ways. I guarantee you that Evangelical churches will let you in the gate so they can preach at you, but they sure as heaven aren’t going to let you be a club member unless you first go through their particular club’s membership rituals.

So, when Evangelical churches put on their advertising signs, YOU ARE WELCOME HERE! don’t believe it. When Evangelicals tell you that their churches love people unconditionally, feel free to snort, chortle, and laugh. They don’t love anyone unconditionally, and, according to the Bible, neither does their God. (Please read Does God Love Us Unconditionally?  Does God Hate? and Evangelicals Say They Love LGBTQ People, But do They Really?) I am sure Evangelicals reading this might say, Well, Bruce, you aren’t welcoming of everyone. You don’t love unconditionally. So there! Here’s the thing, I have never made such claims as these. I don’t live in a mythical world of cheap clichés. While I go out of my way to be kind to and respect everyone, some people are assholes and I have no interest in, nor do I have the time to be fake friends with, such people. The same goes for unconditionally loving everyone. While I generally am a nice guy — just ask anyone who knows me — there are some people who don’t deserve my love. One of the joys of unbelief is that I no longer have to fake-love people. As a pastor, I had to feign love towards countless boorish, nasty people. What would Jesus do, right? Now that Jesus isn’t in my way, I am free to choose whom I want to love and whom I don’t. I spent decades putting up with relatives such as my grandparents, all because I thought that the Bible taught me to do so. Now I am free to say to them, I have no interest in you being a part of my life. (Please read Dear Ann.) Goodbye, good riddance, have a happy death.

Perhaps it is time for Evangelical churches to be honest in their advertising. Stop lying to the public. Stop feigning acceptance and admit that the only people who are truly welcome are those who believe the right things and live a certain way. And that’s okay. It’s your club, Evangelicals. You have every right to have membership rules and obligations. But, please quit with being the small print at the bottom of an infomercial. Tell people the truth about what you demand and expect of them. Hiding your true agenda behind clichés and word salads only turn people off, especially when they find out you lied to them. Don’t tell LGBTQ people you love and accept them, when, in fact, you intend to do everything possible to turn them into Jesus-loving heterosexuals. Jesus said In John 8:32, the TRUTH shall set you free. It’s time for Evangelicals to put their Lord and Savior’s words into practice.

Read Part Two

About Bruce Gerencser

Bruce Gerencser, 60, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 39 years. He and his wife have six grown children and eleven grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist. For more information about Bruce, please read the About page.

Bruce is a local photography business owner, operating Defiance County Photo out of his home. If you live in Northwest Ohio and would like to hire Bruce, please email him.

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    I wrote this exactly on another blog this week. The words ‘All are welcome’ outside so many churches, are a complete lie. If you’re LGBTQIA, you most certainly are not.
    Here in Wales, the strong chapel culture of previous generations disappeared largely because of such hypocrisy. The innocent party in a divorce was not welcome, but the wealthy man who was also a bad employer, a secret drunkard and wife-beater had the best pew and was welcomed obsequiously by chapel-leaders.

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    Can I get an “amen” over here?

    My Southern Baptist church and fundamentalist evangelical Christian school were decidedly NOT welcoming of everyone. At least the school was honest about it in their mission statement and rules where the church was fake welcoming. It was more of a “conform or die” mentality.

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    Bruce, I think this is a very, very difficult conundrum. What should it mean to be loving and welcoming? Can any organization be totally open, and yet maintain it’s core identity? What are some issues that are absolutely central to the Christian church, and others that are open to variance?

    For instance, suppose someone wants to join the Christian church, and even is looking for a position of leadership who is an unrepentant racist or homophobic, or as Matilda shared a wife beater? Surely love does require that these issues be addressed for the spiritual health of the person, and the entire congregation.

    While I think the fundamentalist and the conservative evangelical churches feel too closed and judgemental, I honestly think we have the opposing issue in some of the mainline churches. Have you ever checked out the blog spot “Shuck and Jive.?.” Evidently, this pastor is an open member of the clergy project. His congregation is fully aware of this. Years ago I shared on his blog, and as far as I can humanly discern, he is not a Christian believer and has left his ordination vows. This appears to be no issue at all for him or the Presbyterian church. While I agree that all churches should be open, and caring, welcoming. . a place where people can explore their faith,.is there also the opposing danger that we can “lose the gospel,” and become nothing more than a kind of social action social club with religious and philosophical overtones?

    I realize that you are an atheist, but I would still value hearing your thinking in this?

    Where is the healthy and wise balance in all this?

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      The UCC church of my parents is just as open and welcoming as the one Bruce describes. The Pastor defines the Christian Bible not as literal facts but as the stories which have defined us through history. They focus on the works of Jesus, follow in his footsteps. They embody For the Good of All and May It Harm None, a very pagan if not Wiccan mindset.

      Haters are welcome but they don’t stay long. Haters gotta Hate and with all the Light, inclusion, and lack of fear there isn’t an audience for them to influence. Kind of fun to watch when viewed from the outside to be honest.

      At least that has been my experience with the UCC folk.

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      Chad Whiteley

      My cousin is a Sunday School Superintendent at a UU church in California. They are decidedly welcoming of everyone, but openly preach against conservatism (in all of its forms). I love the people there and the services were very similar to my Baptist services here in Texas, but I felt like this church was just as unwelcoming towards conservatives as some fundamentalist churches are to LBGTQ. So, I am not sure what the point is. Nobody can just swing a door open and say “y’all come on in now, and we don’t care how or what you do!”

      I am a public school teacher in math and technology. We are an open enrollment campus; therefore, everyone is open to come in. However, I expect over their time in the class for them to change. I expect them to leave with a better understanding of the subject material that we teach. If we never encourage people to change, we won’t have better people. So, being welcoming of someone, but expecting change, is the basis of human civilization.

      I cringed at the UU congregation when the speaker spoke about how we should fight for more redistribution of wealth (because I am economically conservative). I cringe at my church when anyone goes off on some right-wing diatribe about, well, anything. However, I understand how groups work. So, I am not sure how a church would handle things differently. The best thing I can do is attend churches that aren’t weirdly hateful towards anyone.

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    I have never been to a church that is totally welcoming. My only church experience has been with Pentecostal and Baptist. First the love bomb, then they unroll the garbage. I only stuck with church as long as I did because it took my husband longer to realize we did not need it in our lives. My kids celebrated when they found out we did not have to do church anymore. The grandparents thought we were dooming our kids to lives of sin,problems, and prison when we quit church. But our kids are growing into responsible,good, and loving people. Who knew? The kids in our extended family who were forced into church for years have had more problems holding jobs and adjusting to adulthood. The story the church sells about raise your kids in church to have them turn out right is total bull.

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    Ian for a long time

    All are definitely not welcome. To a raging Calvinist, free will means you are wrong at the basest level. The body of free will believer is welcome, but their mind and speech aren’t. It is also true for the other hot button social issues.

    It is funny that those issues have changed over the years. 100 years ago, it was the evils of alcohol that was the most important thing in the world. No mention of reproductive rights, very few believed in election, there was no rapture. Now, many Christians drink, people don’t care about the rapture (except to make money off of books), election has a strong foothold in many churches and the litmus test for republican politics is abortion.

    It almost seems like the church follows popular beliefs. Hmmmmm

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    i have gone into churches that claim that “everyone is welcome”, and i have not been made to feel welcome in any of them, and when i expressed my opinions, i have been removed from several of them. in one church, all i did was stand outside their door, and i was rushed and knocked down because they thought they were going to cast demons out of me. i get the very strong impression that those churches who advertise “everyone welcome” should qualify that with “as long as you want to be like us, and don’t upset the apple cart.”

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Bruce Gerencser