Tolerance and kindness towards everyone is a far better way to channel faith than through fire and brimstone threats, as one church in Wisconsin has beautifully demonstrated.
Open-minded, progressive and filled with the sort of empathetic compassion JC himself would no doubt approve of, the spirit of Clackamas United Church of Christ, Milwaukie, Oregon, has moved those from all manner of faiths. Even this cynical lapsed Catholic.
This church proudly promotes LGBTQ+ Rights and gender equality, and challenges the real evils of racism, healthcare inequalities and climate change. This refreshingly modern reading of the Bible is reflected beyond their congregation through inclusive and warm-hearted signs.
Many people will understandably be wary of traditional church signs, feeling as though they are being warded away from the property rather than invited inside. Made to feel that they are somehow lacking or sinful.
However, the Clackamas United Church of Christ could not be more welcoming, displaying signs bearing slogans such as ‘Our Transgender Siblings Have Heartbeats’ and ‘We Stand With Our Muslim Siblings To End Islamophobia’.
Signs have previously been used to condemn hate crimes (‘National Emergency 7,100 Hate Crimes In 2017’), as well as to rail against slut-shaming (‘Powerful Men Shamed A Woman Jesus Took Her Side’).
Worshippers are welcome no matter what their marital status may be (‘Married, Divorced & Single Here. Grace Extends To All’) or whether or not they have been born in the United States (‘Welcome Immigrants But Only If They Speak English – Said The Bible Never’).
This positive ethos extends to the church sermons, which are delivered with eloquence and humour by Pastor Adam Ericksen. Many of these have been filmed and uploaded to the church Facebook page.
In one uploaded sermon, Pastor Adam wore the rainbow colours of Pride and addressed the human tendency to see right and wrong in black and white terms, noting how religious institutions have been all too guilty of this.
During this particular sermon, Pastor Adam told his congregation:
Religion in particular has a reputation of being like this, of being dogmatic. Of claiming ultimate truth claims about the world.
And if we have our ultimate truth, then that means well, they don’t have ultimate truth. So we have to convince them that our ultimate truth is right and that they are wrong, and if they don’t submit to our ultimate right, then they are either sinful, or stupid or just going to hell.
There are some religious people who do that. There are some who look through the Bible and try to find what they think are concrete truths to claim that they are right and other people are wrong.
This right and wrong business, I think, misses the whole point of Judaism and Christianity. Maybe I should also say that it misses the whole point of the Jewish Jesus.
According to the Clackamas United Church of Christ Facebook page, the parish embraces a ‘tradition of progressive involvement in issues which uphold the rights, dignity, and equality of all people under God’.
Whatever you might believe, this is a truly uplifting sentiment which is far more in keeping with the kindness and acceptance which defined the biblical Jesus of Nazerath.
UNILAD spoke with Pastor Adam from the Clackamas United Church of Christ, who spoke a little bit about the inspiration behind the signs. They may at first glance appear quite radical, but yet they are simply an outpouring of the sort of decent neighbourliness championed in the New Testament.
Pastor Adam told UNILAD:
We love Jesus and his way of life. And during the last few weeks, we’ve noticed on our social media pages that many other Christians, atheists, agnostics, Muslims, Jews, and many others love Jesus and his way of life, too!
In fact, in the book of Acts that the earliest followers of Jesus were called followers of ‘The Way’. Jesus summed up the Way as radical, nonviolent love for all people, including for those we call our enemies.
I wanted to get this message of Jesus and the Way out into our neighborhood. Before our current sign, we had a wooden sign that just had our church’s name and a our time for Sunday gatherings.
I proposed that we purchase a new sign that that would allow us to put these kinds of messages out into our community so that people would know what we, as followers of ‘The Way,’ are all about.
For Pastor Adam, the messages conveyed by his forward-thinking preachings are perfectly in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ, who himself stood up passionately for those who faced discrimination and persecution.
Pastor Adam told UNILAD how God has ‘eternal love for our LGBTQ siblings’, a community which is all too often spurned by more conservative religious figures (Here’s looking at you Bishop Thomas Tobin).
According to Pastor Adam, Jesus would have far rather befriended those from the LGBTQ+ community than those who use faith as a tool to divide:
Our message is that God loves all people, because that was the message Jesus proclaimed. And in proclaiming that message, we state that God loves particular people – especially those who are often marginalized by religion.
This is why we proclaim God’s eternal love for our LGBTQ siblings. Jesus hung out with those who were marginalized by the religious elite.
In fact, his harshest language was reserved for those who used religion to divide the world into ‘us and them’.
For Jesus, God’s love washes away every category that separates us from them because when we recognize God’s universal love, we recognize that there is only ‘us’.
The signs outside the Clackamas United Church of Christ are gentle yet political, with references to health insurance and the terrifying rise of white supremacy in the US.
There has even been a very topical nod to the notion that walls make prisoners out of those who build them.
Pastor Adam told UNILAD:
It is often said that our messages are political. Jesus and his early followers were political. Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God while living in the Empire of Rome. ‘Kingdom of God’ was a subversive political term.
People called Jesus the ‘Son of David’. This was radically subversive political title. King David was the greatest king in Israel’s history and many people wanted someone from the line of David to come and be another great king. Jesus is also called ‘Son of God’.
The Son of God in the Roman Empire was the Emperor. But the early Christians essentially said, ‘Hey, you know the Romans, they say the Emperor is the Son of God. But we know that Jesus is the true Son of God’.
This matters because the Roman Empire used violence to exert its will over its subjects. But the Kingdom of God is based on the Way of radical, nonviolent love.
Although the Clackamas United Church of Christ challenges the hurtful beliefs which fuel fear of difference, their message is never confrontational or divisive.
They do not seek out to condemn or criticize, only to stand firm in their own beliefs and look towards bringing more justice to the world.
Pastor Adam continued:
Our messages try to follow the Way. We seek a more just world, not so much by ‘calling out’ people who we think are working against justice, but by pointing to a more just world where all people are included in God’s love and mercy.
In our messages, we do not emphasize what we are against. We emphasize what we are for.
It’s Pride month, and no doubt many LGBTQ+ people of faith will take comfort in the peaceful philosophy embraced by those from the Clackamas United Church of Christ.
Assistant Director of Public Affairs at LGBT Foundation, Emma Meehan, spoke with UNILAD about the importance of recognising LGBTQ+ individuals whose religion is also an integral part of their identity.
Meeham told UNILAD:
It is fantastic to see the work Pastor Adam is doing in publicly celebrating LGBT people and our identities.
It is important to recognise the experiences of many people of faith who are also LGBT, and the fact that many have found love and acceptance in both their religious and LGBT communities.
Places of worship should be a space where all people are welcome, free from prejudice and discrimination.
Sadly we know this isn’t the case. There are still some people in society who wish to use religion as an excuse to spread intolerance. We believe in a future where people are free to express all parts of their identity including sexuality, gender identity and religious beliefs.
Those who use religion as a cover for their bigotry should take note of Pastor Adam’s example. The moral integrity with which we live our lives, whether religious or otherwise, should spring from something far deeper than narrow minded and rigid interpretations.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 9am until 9pm Monday to Friday, and 10am until 6pm Saturday, Or email [email protected]
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.