Critique of the “Church Clarity” Scoring System on LGBTQ Policies

Church Clarity is a recently-launched website that promotes churches — especially evangelical ones — clearly stating on their websites their policies on LGBTQ participation. In the homepage section “Our Solution,” they state “Church Clarity is not advocating for policy changes. Together, we’re establishing a new standard for church policy disclosure: We believe that churches have a responsibility to be clear about their policies on their primary websites.” They also state that they “believe that ambiguity is harmful and clarity is reasonable.”

To these ends, their team created a classification/scoring system for how a church website communicates their policies on LGBTQ. So far, their team has applied this system mostly to mega-churches, and they also provide a means for crowd-sourcing information and assessments.

I am for transparency and clarity. And on this issue in particular that has been so contentious, it seems reasonable to expect a church’s or denomination’s overall stance to be accessible and clear for those who seek that information. However, is that assumption fully and really so, does the scoring schema work for all contemporary systems of theologies and policies, and is this enterprise potentially about something besides seeking clarity in disclosure?

A Religion News Service article by Jonathan Merritt was posted October 18, 2017, about the launch. The title of the article is: Church Clarity pressures pastors and churches to disclose positions on homosexuality. Before I got into the article, the word pressures in the title made me wary about what was going on. Then, early on, Mr. Merritt said this:

The organization claims to be neutral on the issue [of “affirming” or “non-affirming”], but visitors will be excused from assuming otherwise based on the organization’s leadership. Two of CC’s co-founders, Tim Schraeder, who identifies as gay, and Sarah Ngu, who identifies as queer, are clearly more progressive on the issue. The third, George Mekhail, identifies as straight but serves at the LGBT-affirming Riverside Church in Manhattan. Mekhail formerly served as a pastor at Eastlake Church in Seattle, an evangelical megachurch that famously created controversy when TIME magazine reported it had quietly become LGBT-affirming. Julie Rodgers, a lesbian writer living in Washington D.C., is also listed as an advisor to the organization.

Even still, CC’s mission is one that many conservative Christians should embrace. Many evangelicals have decried the theological ambiguity of some churches and have called for greater clarity on the matter.

On the Church Clarity homepage, a section headed The Problem states that, “In the first phase of Church Clarity, our focus is on policies that directly impact LGBTQ+ people.” Why the emphasis on the evangelical stream of Christianity? And what happens after churches/denominations are scored? Check out the FAQ page to see what you discern. One point they make there is that they are laser-focused on policies, not theologies.

Church Clarity is not interested in evaluating theology or doctrine, but rather organizational policy. Policies are much more straightforward and have clear impact on people. Will your church let a trans woman join a women’s group? Will your pastoral team officiate a wedding for a gay couple? These are the policy questions we are seeking to clarify. What we’re not interested in: A church’s theological position on whether queer Christians go to heaven, whether same-sex attraction is natural or chosen, how gender plays out in the story of Adam and Eve, etc. You get the point. Conversations around LGBTQ+ issues often drift needlessly into theological debate. That is why we painstakingly emphasize our laser focus on evaluating the level of clarity in regards to a church’s actively enforced policy.

From a systems point of view, I would suggest that policies are intertwined with theologies, so if you are evaluating policies you are evaluating doctrine. So, I’m finding their statement disingenuous, and perhaps will be able to specify more elements to that intuition some other time after more reflection.

Meanwhile, another Church Clarity point addresses potential issues of harm — something that always catches my attention. “We believe by identifying ambiguity as a fundamental issue that creates harm, we can collectively encourage more churches to aspire for clarity, regardless of their convictions.” That bold-faced phrase (emphasis added) is an important assumption to evaluate, in light of paradoxical, “third way” theologies with paradigms geared for complexity and concrete relationships, far more than for precision and abstract concepts.

I have longed preached that the ways we ask our questions precondition our answers. The same goes for definitions. Based on those working principles, one potential flaw I see in the Church Clarity system is that it seems reductionist on the scoring options for church involvement by LGBTQ people. Church Clarity offers five possibilities, and if you go to their Crowdsource Form and click on an option, you’ll see the definition they are using for that term.

  • Clear: Non-Affirming.
  • Clear: Affirming.
  • Unclear.
  • Undisclosed.
  • Active Discernment.

The way I see it, however, this five-option system does not fit the real-world well enough. At least in the U.S., there have been at least three major theological stances articulated over the past few decades about access to discipleship/community and involvement in activities. Two will fit into the Church Clarity format:

View #1. Welcoming, and Affirming [i.e., Clear: Affirming]. Generally at the liberal and progressive regions of the theological universe.

View #2. Welcoming or Rejecting, but not Affirming [i.e., Clear: Non-Affirming]. Generally at the conservative and Neo-Calvinist/Neo-Puritan regions of the theological universe.

However, I’m not sure the third really does.

View #3. Welcoming and Mutually Transforming. This “third way” approach *tends* to be found in Anabaptist and missional streams. My own view is closest to this, which is why I’m aware of it. I don’t know that it’s all that prominent a perspective, but then, most “third way,” paradoxical paradigms have historically been in the minority, haven’t they?

And it’s difficult to tell how long it’s been in development, because there have likely been third-way advocates for as long as there have been attempts to keep polarization in power: Welcoming and Affirming versus Rejecting and Condemning. Anyway, here’s a milestone example in the development of this approach, from a 2010 blog post by Northern Seminary professor and church planter Dr. David Fitch: Being Missional with the Gay/Lesbian Peoples Among Us.

Note especially the third comment in the thread, which is where the “mutually” came from. This comment clearly expresses the core of the Mutually Transforming part of this third-way paradigm on Christian community with broken gender and sexuality.

I’ve been fairly heavily influenced by 12 step groups, and I would only want to change your 3rd way to “welcomes and mutually transforms.” This, as you no doubt want to do, acknowledges that we are all in a moral mess, sexually and otherwise. By God, we are all moving towards Christ-like humanity through Spirit and community. Newcomer and oldtimer alike (and hetero and homosexual) affirm their continuing moral failure and continuing need for mercy and transformation. The Church needs to learn the posture of not “you’re broken and need Jesus” but “we (churchman and outsider) are broken and need Jesus.”

It’s not that there is no view on gender and sexuality in this approach, more that it assumes it is unhelpful to have a bunch of checklist points and abstract concepts when the concern should be about in-person people and concrete relationships. There are many things that may not be codified in this kind of church’s statements or found on their website. This is purposeful on their part; you’ll more likely find instead discussion about *not* creating such checklists (other than basic beliefs of orthodoxy) and that all else is worked out on-the-ground, relationally. Does that not quality as a form of “clarity”?

For the purposes of the Church Clarity scoring system, this third way of Welcoming and Mutually Transforming isn’t exactly Clear: Affirming, because people are not going to get a concrete policy statement. And it isn’t Clear: Non-Affirming, because people are typically welcomed regardless of background/identity.

It may not be Unclear or Undisclosed if there is some kind of notice about concerns being worked out relationally. But again, is this form of ambiguity automatically “harmful,” and if so, how?

And Welcoming and Mutually Transforming isn’t Active Discernment because the on-the-ground practice is their community’s established mode already. The mode is settled, though the everyday living-it-out thereof is probably always unsettling. But then, isn’t there always an unsettling edge involved in personal and communal transformation?

Those seeking clarity/precise disclosure may find this paradigm unsatisfying and potentially harmful for its imprecision. After all, as the commenters who added “mutually” suggested, this should be less about specific policies and more about redemptive/transformative posture:

The Church needs to learn the posture of not “you’re broken and need Jesus” but “we (churchman and outsider) are broken and need Jesus.”

I’d suggest those of us who wrestle within the Welcoming and Mutually Transforming approach find it spurs us to listening and discerning on an ongoing basis. It seems to me this third way requires open-ended perceiving instead of quickly coming to closure, which are core differences between the “P”/Perceive and “J”/Judge in the Myers-Briggs Temperament system. So, once Church Clarity has identified evangelical churches with/without LGBTQ policies, that brings their scoring to a point of closure. Then what?

Final Thoughts: Back to the title theme for the launch report article by Jonathan Merritt, those who live in a third way reality know already what pressures there are to reject paradox and ambiguity. But in this case, is the actual goal not clarity, but certainty? They are not the same thing, and I believe the differences here are worth reflecting on …

 

 

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A “Systems Approach” and Some Historical Background on Dealing with Abuse and Violence

To deal with “systemic abuse,” we must understand systems, victimization, and what makes individuals and institutions vulnerable.

By Brad Sargent with input from Julie Anne Smith.

Cross-posted as a guest post at Spiritual Sounding Board.

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How will our church serve those who’ve suffered the harm of childhood sexual abuse, and seek to prevent it from happening to others? On this difficult but foundational issue of human dignity and care, will we choose conscience and compassion – or corrosion and complacency? The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide and the range of other resources from GRACE equip us with clear definitions, well-organized knowledge, and practical skills to follow a right and righteous path on these global problems of violence and abuse.

In the previous post, I gave a brief preview of key features for The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide from a systems perspective, and listed other resources from GRACE and New Growth Press. In this post, I will add my thoughts on the big picture of systemic abuse, why we’ve needed a set of resources to deal with it, and share some personal and historical perspectives on how the Policy Guide and other books produced by GRACE represent answers to some longstanding prayers. Continue reading

Book Review: The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide, by Boz Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits

Key component in a system of resources on child sexual abuse for policy makers, survivors, educators, and advocates.

By Brad Sargent with input from Julie Anne Smith.

Cross-posted as a guest post at Spiritual Sounding Board.

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Spiritual Sounding Board was invited to participate in the Litfuse “blog tour” for the recently released Child Safeguarding Policy Guide. They asked us to post a one-paragraph summary of our overall response to this resource book, so that could be used as an excerpt on other sites. Here is what I wrote:

How will our church serve those who’ve suffered the harm of childhood sexual abuse, and seek to prevent it from happening to others? On this difficult but foundational issue of human dignity and care, will we choose conscience and compassion – or corrosion and complacency? The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide and the range of other resources from GRACE equip us with clear definitions, well-organized knowledge, and practical skills to follow a right and righteous path on these global problems of violence and abuse.

Available reviews of the Policy Guide share about its concepts and content from a variety of angles. Already posted on Amazon are great summaries, detailed insights from church leaders, poignant personal accounts from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Litfuse Publicity Group has review excerpts and links to full posts, and New Growth Press, which published this book, has additional endorsements.

In this post, I will give a brief preview of key features from a systems perspective, and list other resources from GRACE and New Growth Press. In a follow-up post, I will add my thoughts on the big picture of systemic abuse, why we’ve needed a set of resources to deal with it, and share some personal perspectives on how the Policy Guide and other books produced by GRACE represent answers to some longstanding prayers. Continue reading

Field Guide #1 Manuscript Finished! Launching into Publishing Steps Soon …

Done, done,

done, done,

D – O – N – E,

DONE!

There are many more steps to get from here to a printed copy. But, after all this time, it’s more than amazing to be able to stand still for a moment, recognize God’s faithfulness in bringing me this far along, and just give Him thanks! Amen? Amen! Continue reading

Opportunity to Participate in Research Study on Clergy Misconduct

I occasionally hear through the survivor community grapevine about academic-level research being done on issues related to survivors of spiritual abuse. When I do, I encourage people to participate. The resulting research data and descriptions have proven valuable to our communities. Here is an opportunity to respond to a doctoral research project on clergy misconduct.

This research focuses on clergy misconduct of a nonsexual nature. Case study participants are needed for a detailed online survey about what they experienced. It’s an anonymous survey using SurveyMonkey, and participants from any country worldwide are welcomed!

The requirements for participants:

  1. At least 20 years old.
  2. The person had something happen that reflects wrongdoing by a specific pastor (misuse of authority, breaking confidentiality, crossing boundaries, something financial, etc.).
  3. The wrongdoing was not sexual.
  4. It happened more than one year ago.
  5. The church where this happened was Protestant (Lutheran, Baptist, Alliance, United, Pentecostal, etc.).
  6. The person was a member of the church or a regular attender.
  7. The person was an adult when this happened.

The SurveyMonkey link for the study is:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/N5D8N2W.

The opening pages explain more about the survey, its purposes, and its length.

The study is being done by Marlis Krueger through California Southern University. Results will be accessible on the university website in approximately six months.

Thanks for considering participation in this important study!

~ brad/futuristguy

Five Reasons Why *5Q* by Alan Hirsch is a Need-to-Read Book

NOTE: The beginning section of this review is cross-posted on the Amazon site for 5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ, by Alan Hirsch (2017; published by 5Q).

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I know it’s not normal to write a review before finishing the book. However, in this rare case of Alan Hirsch’s *5Q*, I am. That’s because I’ve read enough to know that I WILL finish it, because the first quarter of the book (preface, intro, and first two chapters) provided more than enough threshold details for me to recommend specifically why I believe you should read it, too.

In a nutshell: I am convinced from a combination of constructive and destructive experiences in 40-plus years working with non-profits, church plants, and social change activism that applying paradigm systems theory is essential to successful, sustainable transformation. And, the way I see it, *5Q* provides a conceptual framework for identifying deficiencies in our system compared to the revealed ideal, and a set of practical skills and tools for filling in gaps and filing off excesses in our systems.

This means 5Q can drive both context-based intervention when things have gone toxic, and prevention of problems in our start-up and sustainability efforts. So, 5Q is valuable to those working in situations that focus on Kingdom embodiment and personal discipleship: churches, church plants, social transformation endeavors, community development, missional impact metrics, and spiritual abuse survivor advocacy.

For those not yet acquainted with the core concepts of 5Q, here’s the kernel of the system. Ephesians 4:11-13 specifies a fivefold structure of giftedness in the Body of Christ. Using the acronym of APEST, these are: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, and Teachers. The APEST giftings are meant to work together. Christ manifests all five and they are key to the Church universal’s genetic code. As with any genetic aberrations, a deficiency or duplication of any fivefold chromosomal element can lead to chronic illnesses, sterility, or even premature death of a body.

*5Q* is an intermediate introduction to Alan’s lifetime work in missional ministry. In it, he presents (1) the revelational and incarnational bases for the APEST typology as the Body of Christ’s genetic system, (2) practical outworkings of the system for individuals and organizations, and (3) solutions for addressing related problems. Additional component trainings and tools are available from “5Qcentral,” making this a robust, holistic system for context-sensitive ministry movements.

Here are my five observations from the first 25% of the book that convinced me to read the rest. I hope you’ll find reasons to read it in these as well! Continue reading

Response to Ben Reed’s Article on “Post-Traumatic Church Disorder”

Introduction

One of my long-time friends who is a serial survivor of spiritual abuse in churches, contacted me about Ben Reed’s article on ChurchLeaders, about “Post-Traumatic Church Disorder.” He asked me what I thought about it. This post is the result of my spending the morning, working through the article.

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Overall Impressions

Since 2007, I’ve written extensively on spiritually abusive systems. This portfolio includes a dozen case studies (for links, see the navigation sidebar, 2 CASE STUDIES AND ARTICLES), content analysis of books on abuse and personal recovery, sets of indicators for identifying malignant leaders and toxic systems, and practical how-to’s for when rehabilitation is/isn’t appropriate. I’m currently completing the first of four volumes in a training course on how to deal with toxic systems and how to set up healthy systems (see Futuristguy’s Field Guides site).

Toxic systems are complex phenomena that can involve multiple sources (e.g., malignant leaders, troublesome congregants, toxic infrastructures) and sequels (staying when you should leave, leaving when you could stay, PTSD, “nones, dones, and gones”). In comparing Ben Reed’s article at ChurchLeaders on “Post-Traumatic Church Disorder” with those categories, I found some helpful points, but felt it was more problematic than not.

I do believe the article embodies his well-meaning attempt to address some very real problems in churches, and it does include some accurate indicators of sick leadership. However, in my opinion, Mr. Reed oversimplifies both causes and correctives. He also mixes up categories of people involved; there is a significant difference between a “troubled” congregant (who is being crushed by those in leadership) and “troublesome congregants” (who are attempting to override those in leadership). He seems to put the weight of change on those who genuinely experience misuse of power/authority in a Christian church or ministry context – rather than on those responsible to remove unqualified and disqualified leaders.

And, from all I’ve personally experienced and heard from other survivors of spiritual abuse, that flip of the responsibility script will inevitably bring more harm than help to congregants. I’m concerned that his article can easily leave conscientious people feeling guilty, as if they’re causing dissension in the church, when in fact they’re discerning overlording by those who should be removed from leadership in the church.

Also, Mr. Reed apparently recommends that people stay and try to change themselves and the toxic church they’re in. However, in my long-term readings of books and blogs on recovery from spiritual abuse, the overwhelming pattern suggests the wisest general course of action is to leave a church where there are indicators of overlording leadership. Here are details on my conclusions and why I find this article problematic … Continue reading