In early July, we posted the following pastoral response to an ongoing Facebook discussion of Altadena Baptist Church’s openness to people with a variety of gender orientations. The conversation originally began with a letter posted by a young adult member of the church (see below), and nearly fifty others from the church family have responded in one way or another.  All this interaction has happened within the church’s closed Facebook group. We have been encouraged to share our journey more openly, especially with people who are part of other Christian fellowships that are trying to deal with this emerging social reality lovingly and creatively, so we are now posting it publicly through our website.   

A Word from ABC’s Pastors:

rainbow heart

We have watched with interest the Facebook discussion in the ABC Group Page about the issue of Gay Marriage and about our church’s openness to LGBTQ people. We want to commend you all for the tone of the discussion, for the mutual respect contributors have shown in their posts and for the restraint from using harsh or judgmental language. We’re sure this will continue to be the atmosphere of the discussion.

We want to say as ABC’s pastors that every person is welcome in our worship services and our fellowship, regardless of their sexual orientation. The arms of our God are wide enough to embrace all, and we believe our reach should be as wide open as his.
For more than a year the Fireside adult Sunday School class discussed Biblical and historical understandings surrounding matters of human sexuality. People came into that discussion with a variety of opinions; in the end, they may not have come to total agreement, but they did affirm that God’s love and Christ’s salvation are not withheld from people based on their sexual orientation. The class’ teacher, Matt Lumpkin, has written a post about the guidelines that governed the discussion, and he is in the process of developing a curriculum for other churches to use.

One of the things we value highly at ABC is our diversity. This means that we don’t all come from the same background, and we don’t all agree on everything. We not only have different ethnic groups worshiping together; we also have different ways of thinking theologically, politically and practically. So liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, sit together in worship. We don’t think we have to tell you how unusual this is on a Sunday morning in Christian churches. Most people choose a church that fits entirely within their comfort zone, where other people look and think just like them.

While our diversity is part of what we love about ABC, it can also be a source of friction and misunderstanding in our body. We are taking our value (Christian community across all lines that divide us), and working out our unity, elbow to elbow, rubbing against each other, determined to love each other even when it may be very hard. Many people approve of this in theory, but we are committed to working it out, step by step, day by day. It’s an exciting challenge.

All ABCers have had to give up something in their comfort zone in order to love each other. Many of us have had to be pruned in the process. Even though this may be painful, we think of these as growing pains. We are striving for a unity that comes from our faith in Jesus Christ the Son, a family bond that flows from the Father, and a love which is the gift of the Holy Spirit at work within us. One day we will get it all right. But in the meantime, we’ll practice at it, making mistakes, but learning and growing, expressing as well as we possibly can, God’s Kingdom on earth. In the meantime, we’re enjoying the adventure. We love you all.

Pastor Connie and
Pastor George

Additional materials:

  • Read a recap of our recent Bible Study series, and how that has affected the church’s response to our LGBTQ friends.
  • George Van Alstine and his wife Judy recount their experience with their son in this YouTube recording from ABC’s Sunday morning Bible Study (also embedded below)
  • Caitlin Eby-McKenzie’s letter (below)

This is the original message, from Caitlin Eby-McKenzie, that catalyzed the conversation on ABC’s Facebook Group page:

Dear ABC,

I would like to talk about Civil Rights. As a person of relative privilege, I am not speaking instead of, but rather as an advocate for a group of people whose voices are often silenced.

ABC-ers understand what it means to fight for Civil Rights. Several members of our congregation marched with Dr. King. Others have worked tirelessly in our community to ensure that students and youth have access to music classes and other services. We have members all over the world combating poverty on every level. Each member of our church cares deeply about our communities, and both locally and globally, in a multitude of ways, our church as a whole has a rich history of commitment to social justice. I think it is that deep-seated, God-given love that allows our beautifully diverse community to thrive.

Our church also has an immense propensity for welcoming strangers and forming deep and lasting relationships with new people. I have heard from families and individuals alike that the thing that made them stay at ABC was how welcome they felt. We truly have the gift of hospitality in our church.

There is, however, a group of people for whom ABC is not yet a safe or welcoming place. The group I am talking about has suffered greatly at the hands of the Christian Church. Even as they gain more political rights, their social rights are still being denied and Christian communities behaving in un-Christlike ways are the most culpable.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and other Queer people are still being denied the basic rights of love and acceptance in our church. The “issue” of LGBTQ identity has been discussed at length in churches all over the country, but the fact is that LGBTQ folks are not a theological problem that we need to solve — they are a marginalized people and they are being actively hurt, right now, by us. Our political diversity and willingness to debate theology respectfully is something that I love about ABC, but we do not have the right to debate cruelty. We do not have the right to ostracize, hate, or hurt other people and we most certainly do not get to watch silently while members of our faith and even our congregation use hateful and malicious words to demean our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

There has been a stirring in our church, of people who recognize injustice, who are agitated and ready to act. There have been wonderful Bible studies and quiet conversations, but it’s time for us to raise our banner, to defend the vulnerable, and to love unconditionally, like Jesus does. This need is urgent.

LGBTQ youth whose families are “highly rejecting” (usually for religious reasons) are far more likely to suffer from physical and mental health issues that those from accepting families. They are:

  • 8 times as likely to attempt suicide,
  • more than 6 times as likely to report high levels of depression,
  • more than 3 times as likely to use illegal drugs,
  • more than three times as likely to be at high risk for HIV and other STDs.

LGBTQ youth in general are at higher risk for the following:

  • Homelessness
  • Being victims of robbery, assault, rape and hate crimes, especially while living on the street
  • Difficulty accessing safe shelter while homeless
  • Entrance into foster care system
  • Imprisonment in the juvenile justice system
  • Increased likelihood of engaging in survival sex to meet expenses
  • Increased rate of mental, emotional and physical abuse by family members
  • Bullying and low self-esteem

(For more information, see Changing Our Mind, by David Gushee, Chapter 20)

Most sources estimate that 10% of people identify as being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer. This is our issue and it is time to start asking our LGBTQ brothers, sisters, and others what we can do to help heal the hurt we have created.

With love, hope, and blessings,
Caitlin Eby-McKenzie

George and Judy Van Alstine with a story from their family: