“Open and Affirming” is a term that describes congregations, regions, general units, ministries, and institutions of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) that have formally declared that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, queer, questioning, intersexed persons and their allies are welcome to participate in their full life and ministry (e.g. membership, leadership, employment, etc.) It bespeaks a spirit of hospitality and a willingness to live out that welcome in meaningful ways.
Recognizing the contributions of transgender persons of faith who are part of the DOC and the interconnection of gender and sexual identity, GLAD also encourages the welcome and inclusion of persons who identify as “transgender” (or those of all “gender identities.”)
Today, as settings consider declaring and living “O&A,” we strongly urge that they include in their discernment processes and statements both those who are “lesbian, gay, bisexual” (or those of all “sexual identities”) and those who are “transgender” (or those of all “gender identities and expressions”).
Why is "O&A" used for "Open and Affirming"?
“O&A” is the abbreviation for Open and Affirming. The Open and Affirming Ministries program of our sister denomination, the United Church of Christ, the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns uses “ONA” to identify their welcoming congregations.
No. The General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the Assemblies of each region, together with each local congregation continue to be in discernment about the place of LGBTQI persons in the life of the whole church. Our General Assembly has called for respect, tolerance, and understanding, encouraging the whole denomination to study the issue and decide in each manifestation (General, Regional, and Congregational) what action, if any, will be taken about the place of LGBTQI persons in the life and ministry of that manifestation. Believing that God calls the whole Church to be just, welcoming, and inclusive, GLAD and the O&A Ministries program work to challenge, nurture, and empower each manifestation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and their varied ministries to be fully inclusive of persons of all gender and sexual identities. As all manifestations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are in covenant with one another, we are called to prayerfully consider all actions taken by General Assemblies, Regional Assemblies, and congregations; other settings of the church are then free to respond faithfully, according to their discernment of the leading of God’s Spirit.
Most local churches and many other settings engage in a time of study, prayer, and conversation before adopting an O&A statement. An average process is about 2 years. Each process is different in order to address the interests and concerns of the setting. Please see our resources section for more information on developing an O&A process.
Since 1985, GLAD and the Open and Affirming Ministries program have maintained the listing of O&A congregations, regions, general units, ministries, and institutions that have publicly declared themselves to be open and affirming (O&A). Once a manifestation of the denomination votes to adopt and O&A statement, they are encouraged to contact the Open and Affirming Ministries program so that they can be added to our list of O&A settings. Once they are added, a certificate of recognition is presented by GLAD and the Open and Affirming Ministries program.
We already say: "We welcome everyone." To whom does it matter that DOC settings make public statements of welcome specifically to LGBTQIA persons?
Too many LGBTQIA people and their families live with the pain of having believed that “everyone” meant them, only to discover otherwise. No one should have to guess about the “boundaries of inclusion” of a congregation or other ministry. A clear welcome matters to LGBTQI adults who, seeking to share their faith and gifts with the church, often wonder if they will meet with silence or condemnation if they are “out” in church. It matters to LGBTQI youth who need the guidance of faith communities as they question and establish their understandings of sexuality, spirituality, and relationships, but fear the same disapproval of their lives or dismissal of their gifts. It matters to families which too often hide the fact that they have LGBTQI children or other relatives. Fearing the indifference or rejection of their church, they are cut off from support and sharing which would enrich them and their congregation. It matters to LGBTQI clergy who often feel that to serve the church they must hide their true selves and lives. It matters to all Christians who believe that God’s affirmation of the gifts of loving relationships and sexuality are not restricted to those who are heterosexual, and who look to their church to witness to God’s inclusive love and help them to better understand and live it.
If a local church or other setting already functions in an "open and affirming" way, why become officially "O&A"?
Every congregation, region, general unit, ministry, and institution that adds its name and commitment to the O&A movement helps to counter the widespread perception that "Christians think being gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, and/or queer/questioning is wrong/sinful." The O&A message is that sexuality is a good gift from God, as is its responsible, loving expression. God's love, Christ's church, and the Spirit's power are for people of every color, age, ethnicity, gender identity, economic status, and ability - whether they are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. As the list of churches and other bodies which affirm this grows, so does the proclamation of God's wondrous, inclusive love!
In our O&A statement, may we welcome persons in regard to other identities in addition to sexual orientation and gender identity?
The short answer is: yes.
Given the ongoing, often bitter struggles around LGBTQI concerns in church and society, it remains clear that there is a need for DOC settings to be specific about their inclusion of LGBTQI persons. This is the primary focus of the O&A movement.
However, the misinformation, stereotypes, and prejudices which fuel heterosexism, sexism, racism, ageism, , ableism, etc. are numerous and interwoven in our society. Thus, a setting’s welcoming persons in regard to color, age, abilities, economic situation, etc., and expressing commitment to continually work against all oppressions are encouraged, in the name of God’s extravagant welcome. Knowing that the many aspects of who we are welcome in church life enables all of us to bring our whole selves to the worship and service of God. (Such a wide welcome involves, of course, ongoing education, prayer, and advocacy about the spectrum of who we are so that we may better understand one another’s experiences and help shape a world that is just, equitable, and sustainable.)
No. It is one of the ecumenical “Welcoming Church,” programs: networks of churches and other settings in eleven denominations in North America. Their work is strengthened by the participation of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches and there are also “Affiliates” of the Welcoming Church programs, which share their commitment to a LGBTQI- affirming Church (e.g., The Shower of Stoles Project) For more about the ecumenical efforts of the Welcoming Church Movement see the Institute for Welcoming Resources (a program of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force) atwww.welcomingresources.org.
There are many people in the DOC whose ministries include support and education about human sexuality, relationships and family life, LGBTQI concerns, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, and Open and Affirming. Here are some key contacts.
Or contact the Chair of the Open & Affirming Ministries program: Rev. Dr. Derek Penwell.
These FAQs are adapted from the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns.