Sunday, February 23, 2014

Who's welcome in God's locker room?

NBA Hall of Farmer Charles Barkley (left) opined last week --- in the aftermath of Michael Sam's coming out --- that a gay basketball pro would have few problems being accepted in the locker room and elsewhere by his teammates. The problem, he suggested, would be the fans. 

"The public at large is more homophobic than guys in the locker room," Barkley said.

And of course he's right. Professional (and college and high school) athletes are young, bright and talented --- although there are a few exceptions in the "bright" department. But you generally figure that those who shoot off their mouths and say stupid things about gay folks were raised Southern Baptist and can't  help themselves.

So I'm guessing sexual orientation in the locker room isn't and/or won't be the issue old folks --- looking in vicariously --- think it might be. Unless you're talking about a locker room at a "Christian" high school, college or university. And even there issues most likely would be rooted in the prejudices of coaching staff, administrators and parents rather than students.

The more interesting question to ask on a Sunday morning is, how many problems would gay players aspiring to play on God's team, and I'm using "player" in a spiritual rather than athletic sense here, would have with acceptance in the Big Guy's locker rooms --- those places we usually call churches.


Let's take Chariton, for example. I did a quick count this morning and came up with 20 churches of various sorts and sizes here. That's a heck of a lot of holy for a town of 4,300 people.

Of that number, 14 don't want you, if you're gay, on their teams. Trust me on this. In the eyes of their coaches --- and most team members, too --- you're a hell-bound sinner, likely to spread gay germs and probably a liberal, too.

So far as the remaining six are concerned, I can only speak with direct knowledge about my own. Iowa Episcopalians will welcome you and commune you and, most likely, marry you, too. We'll ordain you, if you meet the requirements (and requirements involve neither gender nor sexual orientation). And, although the openings are scarce, just might make you a bishop, too. I wouldn't plan on the latter, however. That job market is tight.

Of the remaining five, three have the authority to make you welcome --- if they wish to do so. But --- although denominations have enabled local congregations, none have imposed. So the degree of welcome ultimately is up to the local parish.

So it's a challenge to figure out where you'll be welcome unless you call the preacher and ask.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America affiliates may, if they wish to do so, call gay clergy, include gay people in all levels of parish life and marry same-sex couples (stay away from Missouri Synod Lutherans, however). Presbyterian (USA) congregations have the options of calling gay clergy and being inclusive --- but are not authorized to marry. As of March 31, Community of Christ affiliates will be able ordain gay people into the priesthood and marry same-sex couples if they so choose.

The Christan (Disciples of Church) Church has no hierarchial structure, so while there's no reason other than local prejudice for a congregation to be unfriendly --- some are and some aren't. United Methodists have a Book of Discipline that officially makes gay folks second-class citizens. Some congregations do welcome us, however, in limited roles --- most of those are in larger places, however.


For LGBT Lucas Countyans interested in friendly churches, driving into Des Moines always is an option, too. There are affiliates there of the Unitarian Universalist Association and Congregational (United Church of Christ) Church, pioneers in the affirmation of LGBT people. There's even a Metropolitan Community Church congregation there, founded by LGBT people for LGBT people at a time when gay players were welcome in no Christian locker rooms. It meets in the chapel of First Christian Church out near the Drake University campus.

Many affirming congregations in Des Moines actually announce their welcome on Web sites, which makes sorting it all out easier. Look up Plymouth Congregational, First Unitarian or Westminster Presbyterian, for example. Lucas County's Web expressions are either sponsored by congregations that don't want you or are noncommittal.


I'm always tempted, when someone talks to me occasionally about finding an affirming church, to ask, "why bother?"

That, however, diminishes the determination, hard work and convictions of thousands of faithful clergy and parishioners in many denominations who at considerable sacrifice have propelled the church  in general to the point it is now --- where LGBT people can at the least find places at a few tables.

And it's the sort of question that discounts the spiritual needs of gay people, too.

So I don't ask it.

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