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 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 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.
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? Who is doing damage to the gospel? 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 is as simple as the name: to delivery Church Clarity. To literally map out the Church, and clarify what it is. This requires a different approach to conversations among those who identify as followers of Jesus. 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 church. Counterintuitively, Church Clarity is not exactly for ‘churches’ it is for ‘THE Church’ - it is for people.
Our goal is to create a consistent standard of clarity for how church policy should be communicated. We believe that policies should be communicated on a church’s website. Why?
An organization’s website serves as a centralized location for the public to understand critical information about an organization. It is the main place that people turn to in order to find out what they can expect.
We believe that policies, especially those who have been historically marginalized, qualify as “critical information” because they directly impact people’s ability to participate, or not, in a church. While we recognize the pastoral desire to discuss nuances of a particular theology, actively enforced policies are much more straightforward. They can and should be communicated explicitly from the start (see the question below “Why do you evaluate church “policies” and not “theology”?”).
It is not enough to abdicate this responsibility by allowing policy information to be buried in sermon or media archives, to float around in external press articles or denominational pages—the information should be easy to find and centrally located on a local church’s primary web domain. Why do we insist on evaluating local churches instead of denominations or movements as a whole? Because policy is always enforced at a local level.
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 does in secret?”
“...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, or how you describe your faith, 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.
That’s great news! We understand careful study, prayer, and conversation needs to happen before you clarify your policies. We are working to compile resources that could be helpful in your journey to clarity. Contact us as we would love to help you.
In the meantime, you can take a look at our Scores Database and see examples of church websites who have a “clear” score.
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.
Church Clarity is not interested in evaluating theology or doctrine, but rather clarity of organizational policy. Policies are much more straightforward and have real world impact on people. Will your church allow a trans woman to join the pastoral staff? Will your clergy officiate a wedding for a gay couple? Can a woman serve as senior minister of your church? 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, how gender plays out in the story of Adam and Eve, what “servant headship” means, etc. You get the point. It’s almost as if we have been conditioned to respond to anything that can be perceived as “church controversy” by immediately drifting 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.
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 (e.g. 6 months, 9 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.
Two primary reasons:
It’s safe to say that Church Clarity and its Advocates are not alone in believing that greater clarity on LGBTQ+ policy is needed. The signers of the Nashville Statement, Christians United, Liturgists and The Denver Statement appear to agree as well.
We mean all lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer identities. A church website that contains non-affirming policy language addressing either sexuality or gender identity will be scored as “non-affirming.” If, for example, a church policy permits some gay individuals to fully participate in leadership and liturgy so long as they are pursuing celibacy, but does not permit those who aren’t pursuing celibacy, its policy would be scored as “non-affirming.” To be scored as “affirming,” a policy must affirm all expressions of the LGBTQ+ spectrum and address both sexuality and gender identity, either specifically or with the common acronyms. How’s that for clear?
See our Score Definitions (Women in Leadership) page. Note: Women and/or non-binary folks must be adequately represented in a church’s leadership for a church to receive a “Clear: Egalitarian” score.
It’s 2018. Personnel is policy (H/T @BroderickGreer). Representation is essential.
Our metrics for policy are focused solely on whether women can preach, lead as senior minister and serve as elders in a church. Our metrics for representation, however, expand to include all those who do not identify as male, which includes anyone who identifies as a woman (cis or trans) and as non-binary/gender-expansive. This is because we believe that patriarchy affects more than just women; male-centric leadership excludes all kinds of genders. The more gender diversity, the better. We designate gender based on available information on a church's website (pronouns when available; name and/or photo if not); churches will be sent surveys to provide more information and they can also submit corrections to their entry.