TCU experiences offer insight on future of church

Aside from General Assembly itself (which I am regrettably missing and desperately following via Twitter), Texas Christian University is one of main faces of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in modern society. That is, other than Colonel Sanders. (Sadly not kidding—there’s some trivia for you!) After all, we’re the biggest Disciples school! That, and we won the Rose Bowl. Throughout highschool, TCU was the beacon of  all things DOC for me. I knew at least 20 people who had gone there, and I imagined it to be one happy, close-knit community. It was largely due to this that I chose the school.

Once I got to school, I realized both how much and how little being “Disciples of Christ” really means.

On one hand, every time I met another DOC student, we were both particularly excited due to the rarity of meeting other Disciples. “Disciples” serves almost as a nationality or ethnicity, it is so deeply engrained in our faith identity. Whenever I meet those students, it is similar to the phenomenon of running into Americans outside the states. “No way! Small world!”

However, on the other hand, finding another “Disciple” doesn’t mean much in regards to beliefs.

Growing up at St. Andrew Christian Church, the home of the Rev. Holly McKissick (whom I hope everyone heard at General Assembly), I was under the grandiose impression that all Disciples congregations were like mine—explicitly open to all people regardless of age, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, financial status, etc. I thought all youth groups went to anti-war rallies together and spent Wednesday nights in the summer watching documentaries about immigration.

But as I grew older and started attending a regional church camp, and then especially when I got to TCU, this idea was quickly corrected. Not everyone has a faith tradition like mine. Not many do, really.

Whenever I talk about my congregation and all of its openly gay couples who adopt children, some of my fellow Disciples get visibly uncomfortable. It’s clear—that’s not at all what their churches would accept. Moreover, when a pastor in the TCU area recently came out, people were considerably upset.

It’s reasons like these why many in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) claim we should not make an official statement proclaiming the equality and acceptance of GLBTQ members of our denomination. We’re already divided enough, they say. It’s changing too fast, especially for Texas, they add.

But TCU itself has offered far too strong of a counterargument for me to agree with those opponents. The reason? Gay students with no faith home.

Almost all of my gay friends were spiritual or went to church when they were growing up, but quit shortly after coming out. Why? Why not. They don’t want to be part of an institution that doesn’t accept them. They don’t want to be part of an institution that makes meandering statements, beating around the bush about an “open table.” What does that really mean?

They want the church to reach out to them and say: “YOU are accepted. YOU are loved. God made you this way.”

And while Disciples of Christ, of course, does claim to seek “wholeness in a fragmented world,” what good is that when I am trying to explain what our denomination believes to my skeptical, hurt LBGTQ friends? “Uh, it’s this denomination, and we’re pretty progressive and it’s gay-friendly…Well, not officially, exactly…”

It’s when you mention this little loophole—“not officially”—that your LGBTQ friend stops listening. She’s heard it all before. He wants specific validation, someone who is willing to accept him for who he is. Although someone would claim it’s petty or unnecessary, they need it printed in black on the bulletin. Otherwise, it’s just an empty statement—to good to be true.

LGBTQ or not, most young people who have become disenchanted with the Church say it’s due to the Church’s stance on homosexuality. Why doesn’t the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) realize this and capitalize upon it? Why don’t we see this as a time to finally find something to believe in?

If the church can find the strength to officiate our stance on an “open table” for all—including during our hiring of clergy—perhaps we can reach out to those who want so badly to be accepted and actually mean it when we say—“Welcome.”

By Emily Atteberry