Powerful institutions tend to operate in ambiguity, rather than in clarity. And churches are no exception. Many churches fail to disclose their actively enforced policies on their websites. Can a woman preach? Will you officiate a same-sex wedding? Hire a queer pastor? Answers to these questions often remain elusive.
Ambiguity enables those with power to operate without accountability and cause real harm. Many people invest years of their lives into a church community, only to later discover the truth about the church’s policies, and end up feeling betrayed, deceived and “bait-and-switched.”
Church Clarity is a crowd-sourced database of local congregations that we score based on how clearly they communicate their actively enforced policies. Our mission is to increase the standard of clarity throughout the Church Industry. We are not advocating for policy changes; we are standardizing church policy disclosure, whatever the policy or type of church in question. People deserve to know the truth.
Anyone can use our crowdsource form to submit a church to be scored. From there, a team of Church Clarity Volunteers follows a simple, yet consistent method, assigning a score to each church based on how easy it is to find the church’s actively enforced policies on its website. We also reach out to each church that we review, offering them the opportunity to proactively disclose their policies and earn our best score, Verified Clear. Whether or not they reply, our team then triple checks the information that we have available and we publish the church to our public database. Once the information is triple checked, it's published to our public database.
Follow along and share your story on Twitter using #ClarityIsReasonable.
Church Clarity was borne out of a genuine desire to address very simple, yet profoundly impactful shortcomings of the church. It has never been about making money or building an empire. Quite the opposite in fact. A new standard of Clarity is redistributing power back into the hands of the people -- the actual church.
There's a lot of data to consider when evaluating Women in Leadership policies. We wanted to clarify how we do it.
Church Clarity Advocates agree that Ambiguity is Harmful and Clarity is Reasonable.
Learn more about our team below and consider becoming an advocate today!
Larycia Hawkins, Ph.D., is a faculty fellow and lecturer at the University of Virginia, a speaker, and an activist. She was the first and only black female tenured professor at Wheaton College, when she wore a hijab to call attention to the most visible targets of Islamophobia, Muslim women. In the wake of her act of embodied solidarity, she and Wheaton College parted ways in February 2016.
Julie Rodgers is a writer, speaker, and leader in the movement working for LGBTQ equality in faith communities. You can read more about her at JulieRodgers.com
Churches are unique organizations. In America, they enjoy tremendous public subsidies, as they are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt religious organizations. In exchange for these subsidies, churches are presumably expected to play a vital role in serving their communities. But there is very little accountability or proactive attempts to demonstrate that churches earn this subsidy. In fact, many churches fail to uphold the basic standards of transparency that we, as a society, expect from most other types of organizations.
These conditions have enabled an environment where ambiguity and misleading practices have become normalized. Many churches have avoided fully or clearly disclosing their policies out of a desire to be “seeker sensitive,” that is, wanting to attract “seekers” and convert them into loyal “customers.” This capitalist mindset is particularly dangerous in a spiritual context. It means that pastors will preach about “welcoming” and “loving” all people, no matter who they are, while quietly refusing to officiate weddings for LGBTQ+ people or skirt around questions of “why there are no female pastors.”
There are clear laws and regulations in the for-profit world that protect us from “false advertising” and “bait and switch” tactics. But while we, as a society, hold the “secular” marketplace accountable for such violations, we rarely insist that churches abide by similar expectations. Are the stakes not much higher when it comes to spiritual matters? Is a clearly communicated policy on a church’s website an unreasonable expectation? We don’t believe so.
No person should have to wonder the limits of their “welcome.” The vulnerability entailed in investing into a community is difficult enough -- LGBTQ+ people should not have to constantly worry about when the other shoe is going to drop. Women shouldn’t have to wonder about the height of every church’s glass ceiling. Even when directly asked, many church leaders do not give straightforward answers about the church’s policies towards the most marginalized. It often takes multiple conversations and years of relationship-building before clarity is delivered -- and by then, the damage is already done. It is unreasonable to expect people to jump through hoops to learn how policies that affect them will be enforced. See “News” section for stories of how ambiguity is harmful.
The prevailing reality of ambiguity, misleading rhetoric and absence of conviction is causing Christian institutions to wander aimlessly through a desert of confusion. We don’t even have a consistent definition of CHURCH. Who speaks for the Church? What does the Church stand for and what does it stand against? Why is ambiguity acceptable? Why is accountability is rare? Why are church leaders permitted to conceal the policies that they actively enforce? How do we even begin to address these questions?
The goal of Church Clarity, ever since we launched on October 18th, 2017, is as simple as our name: to delivery Church Clarity. To literally map out the Church, and clarify what it contains. This requires a different approach to conversations among those who are stakeholders of Christianity including those who identify as Christians as well as former Christians. Before we can address our differences, we must first acknowledge them. Clarity is Reasonable, and the goal of delivering Church Clarity should appeal to all people, regardless of their particular beliefs, or even if they are not involved with a local congregation. Counterintuitively, Church Clarity is not exactly for ‘churches.’ It is for ‘THE Church’ -- it is for the people.
Our goal is to create a consistent standard of clarity for how church policy should be communicated. We believe that policies should be clearly communicated on a church website’s primary pages. Why?
If a church has already made up its mind on its policy but is not clearly communicating it, then the question really should be: “Why doesn’t the church publicly declare what it actively enforces behind closed doors?”
“...with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” - Jesus
This is a Reasonable question. Church Clarity is unequivocally inclusive, affirming and celebrating of all people. We champion human flourishing. We value diversity throughout our community of advocates including our leadership team, advisory council, and our incredible volunteers. We make no apologies for this practical element of our governing policy and are eager to model explicit transparency. Regardless of your sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, regardless of your race, or socio-economic status, your abilities, your faith or theological views, you are eligible to participate at every level of Church Clarity’s mission. Thanks for asking! Please feel free to Contact Us with any questions about this or offer feedback on how we can articulate our answer to this question more explicitly.
This is an important and complicated question. First, it would be the height of hypocrisy for an organization with our mission to have an ambiguous policy (see previous question). But that does not mean that the goal of our organization is to convince others to conform with our policy. The nuance of our mission is that regardless of the policy, we believe disclosure is essential.
That is why we are eager to enlist those who simply agree that Clarity is Reasonable and who represent the full spectrum of theological positions. We also desire to be an organization where those who work for us, partner with us or are ambassadors at any level can freely and publicly voice their convictions at their individual discretion.
We acknowledge the inherent tension between the policies we enforce and our organizational goal for Clarity, but we also believe that remaining completely free of bias is impossible for any organization. We are comfortable with this tension and welcome feedback on how we can improve in this regard. Please feel free to Contact Us with any questions or comments.
We evaluate local church policies, NOT denominational policy. If a church belongs to an affirming denomination, but has a non-affirming policy, it would be scored as “non-affirming.” Same goes for a non-egalitarian church within an egalitarian denomination.
However if a church belongs to a non-affirming or non-egalitarian denomination, the burden of proof resides on the church to demonstrate on its website that it is going against its denomination's policy and is practicing a fully affirming or fully egalitarian policy. Otherwise, the denomination's policy will be assumed to be the local church's.
The unit of analysis is the locally enforced church policy, not the denomination’s policy or the opinion of the pastor(s) or church members.
Beliefs are what churches think. Policies are what churches do. Policies are what churches “actively enforce” in their actions. Does a church permits women to preach? A same-sex wedding to be officiated in its sanctuary? A trans woman to join the women’s retreat? These actions are either, “Yes or No.” There is no in-between. (Unless a church is “Actively Discerning.”)
What we are not evaluating is the “why” behind a church’s policy. Sometimes that has to do with a church’s beliefs, but not necessarily. For example, there are plenty of LGBTQ-affirming pastors who do not conduct same-sex weddings not due to theological belief, but due to other reasons (e.g. fear of denomination discipline, loss of donors).
We painstakingly emphasize our laser focus on evaluating the level of clarity in regards to a church’s actively enforced policy.
We acknowledge that there are churches who have not disclosed clear policies because they are genuinely and actively discerning what their policy should be. We believe that publicly acknowledging this process is in fact an example of delivering clarity. Because this option has a high potential for abuse, however, we only score churches as “active discerning” if the church has communicated a public commitment to deliver clarity within a reasonable, specific deadline (<12 months). We are excited about the potential this option could offer church leaders and hope to be a resource whenever possible. 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. If you want some guidance, contact us as we would love to help you. Many churches declare their discernment process through our Verified Clear policy survey.
We take into account: public information available on church’s website, denomination’s website, and pastor’s statements (including social media).
We do not take into account: stories submitted by people, news articles, offline PDFs, etc.
That said, we do regularly link to the latter category of information (e.g. stories, news, PDF’s) in church entries, even if it doesn’t affect the church’s score. Feel free to email us with a story that you want to publish on our blog; we do not publish anonymous submissions.
Clear scores are given to churches whose policies can be easily found on their websites’ primary pages (e.g. About, Beliefs). The language in the policies is clear and contains all necessary information.
Unclear scores are given to churches whose policies are difficult to find on their websites (e.g. located in sermon archives, blogs). The language in the policies may also be unclear.
Undisclosed scores are given to churches whose websites provide inconclusive evidence as to the churches’ policies.
For more detail, see our Score Definitions page. Please note that we score Women in Leadership policy a bit differently than LGBTQ policy as we factor into account gender representation on leadership teams. Why? Because personnel is policy (H/T @BroderickGreer). Representation is essential.
All scores, except for “Verified Clear,” are assigned to churches by our volunteers based on our scoring definitions and publicly available information online. The “Verified Clear” score is the highest and best score a church can receive. It is also the only score that a church obtains by proactively self-disclosing its policies through our Verified Clear survey, which is sent to all churches that have been scored in our database. If you're a pastor at a church, email us to receive the survey.
That’s great news! Take a look at our Scoring Definitions, to begin with, to understand the difference between Clear and Unclear websites. Then, read our Church Clarity resource PDF, “How to be clear: For Church leaders.” You can also email us to receive our Verified Clear survey so you can obtain the highest score available on our database.
Each church submission undergoes three levels of review and verification by our volunteer team so it takes up to 2 weeks for each submission to be processed. If you’re interested in joining our volunteer team, first register to be Verified Clear as an individual.
This means that the church is being processed but it is not published yet.. Typically it takes a few weeks to be scored. If you’re interested in joining our volunteer team, go here to first register as a Verified Clear individual.
Please review the Score Links & Notes section for the rationale for this church's score.
There are typically two reasons. The first is that the church has a statement affirming "sexual orientation" but not "gender identity." Similarly, the chuch may mention they affirm people, "gay or straight," but not mention "transgender" folks.
The second reason is that the church does affirm the full LGBTQ+ spectrum, but it is hard to locate the church's affirmation statement on the church's website.
Please see our score definitions for more.
If a church has an egalitarian policy, we provide a Clear or Unclear score based on whether the leadership team consists of at least 50% women and/or non-binary people. If so, then the church will get a Clear: Egalitarian score. If the senior minister is a woman, then that counts too. If not, then the church will get an Unclear: Egalitarian score. We factor representation into our scoring for Women in Leadership. Why? See this. Additionally, if it's hard to locate the leadership team on the website, then we will also score the church as Unclear.