First Congregational Church of Camden, UCC
ONA Task Force FAQs
1. What do you mean by Open and Affirming?
Open and Affirming (ONA) is the United Church of Christ’s designation for congregations, campus ministries, and other bodies in the UCC that make a public covenant of welcome into their full life and ministry (e.g. membership, leadership, employment, etc.) to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. It bespeaks a spirit of hospitality and a willingness to live out that welcome in meaningful ways. Currently, the First Congregational Church of Camden, UCC, is not Open and Affirming.
2. Why do you say our church is not Open and Affirming?
The reason our church is not Open and Affirming is that we have not made a public declaration and demonstration of our commitment to be so. To become an Open and Affirming congregation we would need to draft and adopt a statement declaring ourselves to be Open and Affirming and, in addition, to model our congregational behavior in such a manner that our declaration rings true.
3. But we don’t discriminate—how can you say we’re not Open and Affirming?
To be an Open and Affirming congregation, we must explicitly state and demonstrate that we welcome—not just tolerate, but welcome—the participation of all people into the life of our church. In particular, we need to be clear that welcoming all people includes those with different sexual orientations and gender identities, that is gay men, lesbian women, bisexual people and those who are transgendered.
4. Why is the ONA focus on gay people? Shouldn’t we be open to everyone, not just gays?
Indeed we should be open to everyone. The reason the focus of ONA is primarily on gays is that they are the group that is still actively stigmatized and shunned by many in the church. In general, this is not the case for most other groups of people. There is no reason, however, that we can’t broaden our church’s ONA statement to include people in other groups that have, at one time or another in the church’s history, been stigmatized or excluded. These groups include people having a physical or mental disability, those who suffer from a mental illness, people who did not have Western European progenitors, people living in single-parent households, people with limited financial means, etc. Indeed many churches that have drawn up ONA statements have explicitly listed as many groups as possible in their statements.
5. What exactly do you mean by gay people?
Gay men and lesbian women are people who are naturally attracted to members of the same sex. Bisexual people can have feelings of attraction towards members of either sex. Transgendered people are those whose gender identity, i.e., the way they think and feel about themselves, is different from their outward biological characteristics. Please note, we are talking about feelings and attractions not about modes of behavior.
6. Are you talking about giving special privileges to gays?
No. We are talking about giving equal privileges to gays. Most gay people have experienced significant levels of discrimination in the church. In some congregations gays are actively expelled, in some they are allowed to show up for regular service, but are shunned or ignored. In many congregations gays are welcome only if they hide the fact that they are gay and hide their relationships from the rest of the congregation. That is, they must keep significant parts of their essential personality hidden.
To give a simple example of how this can affect people, most heterosexuals wouldn’t attend a church where they had to hide the fact that they were married. Most gay people aren’t allowed to attend a church if they don’t hide the fact that they are living in a committed relationship with another person who just happens to be of the same gender. So if, for example one partner in a heterosexual relationship falls ill, is injured or dies, the healthy or surviving partner will generally receive significant support and consolation from the rest of the congregation. Such support and consolation is not available to the healthy or surviving partner in a homosexual union if the union must be hidden.
7. Aren’t we taking an anti-family stance by welcoming gay people into the church?
No. From its very beginnings, the church has welcomed people that society might shun. New Testament writings in particular contain constant admonition that the people of the church take in widows and orphans. Neither of these groups of people live in what we would call traditional nuclear families. The phrase "widows and orphans” is, in effect, shorthand for all people who have nowhere else to turn and thereby properly includes the poor, the oppressed, the disadvantaged, the outcasts of society. Certainly a portion of society’s outcasts would include gay men and lesbian women and people who are bisexual or transgendered.
In reality, by accepting all people into the family of God, we are taking a pro-family stance. We don’t pick and choose who is fit for membership in our birth families. Neither should we pick and choose when it comes to membership in the greater family known to us as the church.
Furthermore, we would most assuredly be taking a pro-family stance if we provided support to families in which there are gay children. Some churches force parents to choose between their religious practices and their children. That is a decidedly anti-family stance that we should emphatically reject.
8. What is the process for becoming ONA?
Most churches engage in a time of study, prayer, and conversation before adopting an ONA statement. An average process is about two years. Each process is different in order to address the interests and concerns of the setting.
9. If we become Open and Affirming, won’t we lose members?
Whichever way we vote on the issue, we could lose a few members, but such losses are unlikely to be dramatic. A 1999 survey of more than 100 UCC congregations that voted to become ONA indicated that only 4% lost more members than they gained in the aftermath of their ONA vote. Almost 80% of the congregations surveyed indicated slight to significant increases in membership.
The decision whether or not to become Open and Affirming, however, should be made upon the basis of our understanding of Christian principles, not on what might least affect our current status as a congregation. We determine our understanding of Christian precepts by study and prayer, not by considering potential short-term prospects of our balance sheet.
10. Won’t this process risk dividing our church family and causing anger and hurt feelings?
We’re approaching this with as much sensitivity and care as we can, and plan to make the process one of prayerful study and open discussion. Kevin is open to discussing this issue with anyone who wants to talk privately with him, as are members of the ONA Task Force. The hope is that members of the congregation will take advantage of opportunities to learn more about this subject. Becoming an ONA church does not take away the right and privilege of private judgment of an individual. We are a congregation of 244 people, and we seldom will all agree on any one issue. We must recognize this and provide each person the space and time they need on their journey as a member of this church.
11. I’m ok with being "open,” but doesn't being "affirming” mean I think being gay is somehow a condition I should encourage people to attain?
No. People can't attain a gay condition. They are either born that way or they are not. What you are affirming is that all people, including those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, are children of God and deserve to be treated as such by us. We are, in essence, affirming the essential humanity of us all. It's one of those "many gifts, but all one body” kinds of things. That is something that, as Christians, we are expected to acknowledge. The point of being Open and Affirming is to make it clear to all that we take seriously our Christian commitment to "love one another,” and that we value the gifts each of us brings to the church or body of Christ.
Download our ONA FAQ sheet
These FAQs were originally conceived entirely by the ONA committee at the First Congregational Church of Reading, U.C.C. and written up by committee member L. G. Piper, then adapted for the First Congregational Church of Camden by Jane Babbitt, with some additions from the UCC’s website and from a document prepared by Bruce Cole of our church.
http://www.lgpiper.net/Spirituality/ONA_FAQ.html and http://www.ucc.org/lgbt/ona.html