churches respond to covid-19
October 23, 2017

Clarifying Church Clarity: What It's Not and What It's For

Sarah Ngu (she/they). Cofounder.

An Update

This week, we are shifting our focus to respond to the demand for #ChurchClarity! We have over 600 church submissions and nearly 200 advocate submissions. To keep up, we are increasing our capacity, and scaling up so that our website can be up-to-date. Our plan is to upload a huge batch of churches and advocates by Sunday the 29th. Moving forward,  #ScoreSunday will be our weekly release day for publishing newly scored churches.

In the meantime, we want to continue to be open to the feedback we are hearing by continually clarifying what we are not trying to say or do, and what we are trying to say and do. Church Clarity is fueled by crowdsourced demand that essentially  holds churches publicly accountable for their public communication. As far as we know, it is the first website of its kind, which means that there are a lot of expectations -- some true, some false -- projected onto Church Clarity about our mission and our motivations.

Church Clarity’s primary purpose is to create a new standard for how churches communicate their actively enforced policies. The default for too many churches is evasive obscurity; the default for too many churches’ websites is a carefully curated marketing-brand, instead of clear communication of reality.

What Church Clarity is NOT

  • We are not scoring Church Culture. Whether a church is “loving and friendly” or “hostile” to LGBTQ people is a culture question. A non-affirming church could very well have a friendly, welcoming posture towards the queer community; moreover, an affirming church could still be passively uncomfortable with queer people. Culture is complex. This is not  “Yelp” or “Glassdoor” for churches. Our scores should not be taken as evaluations of a church’s particular culture.
  • We are not scoring Church Tolerance. How much a church tolerates different theological views within its congregation differs from church to church and does not correlate with our policy-categories. There are non-affirming and affirming churches that allow a diversity of theological views on LGBTQ people within their congregation and leadership, and there are non-affirming and affirming churches that basically enforce a homogeneous theological view within their body. Our scores should not be taken as evaluations of Church Tolerance.
  • We are not scoring Church Theology. We acknowledge that LGBTQ theology is complex and each church has their own particular take on how to interpret Romans or Genesis, the exact hermeneutical approach to adopt, etc. There are tons of books and literature that represent the entire spectrum and unpack the theological nuances (resources in last paragraph). At the same time, while theology is complex, policy is straightforward. “Will you officiate a same-sex wedding?” is a question with a “Yes” or “No” answer. “Can a trans person apply to be a pastor at your church?” is similar. Churches already have a response to these policy questions, even if the response is, “We are actively discerning this question.” So aside from actively discerning churches, every other church does actively enforce a policy. And we believe it is reasonable to be clear about what that policy is.

The Limits of Our Approach

Church Clarity measures something even more specific than policy; we measure how churches’ websites communicate their actively enforced policies. Our focus on church websites fits in with our purpose to create a new standard of clarity as well as provides an objective standard of measurement. But this methodological focus also limits us.

Let’s take a look at the typical website language. From our initial review of churches’ websites, almost all websites that contain what we consider to be affirming policies make some sort of statement about “LGBTQ inclusion” or welcoming you “regardless of your gender identity or sexual orientation.” And almost all websites that contain what we consider to be non-affirming policies outline their beliefs on marriage as a union between “one man and one woman” (there are very few we’ve seen so far that address transgender or nonbinary people).

These policies indicate where churches plant their flag, but we acknowledge that they do not indicate the full spectrum of policy gradations that might exist (we heard you out there on Twitter!). A church that we score as "non-affirming" could mean that LGBTQ people aren’t even allowed to attend church. But another "non-affirming" church can also mean that LGBTQ people can take communion, serve and lead, but they can’t be elders/pastors and their weddings can’t be officiated by church staff. These policy-nuances aren’t currently captured by our metrics. That said, whether there is one restriction or ten restrictions, the point is that a restriction remains and thus fails to meet the Church Clarity affirming-standard. That’s why we use the term - non-affirming - to describe churches with these various restrictions.

When it comes to churches that we've scored as "affirming", there are also a few policy gradations, particularly when it comes to LGBTQ people who hold non-affirming views. An affirming church could mean that they are eligible to participate at all levels of leadership and liturgy, or it could mean that they aren’t. At this point, there are only a few affirming churches we’ve scored that specify whether LGBTQ, non-affirming people (e.g. same-sex attracted, celibate people or "Side B") are also included in their affirmation, and we hope that more will clarify this.

For now, Church Clarity is focused on capturing and categorizing what language does exist, but we hope to move to a next phase where we help clear + affirming churches become even more specific and clear in understanding and communicating their policies, as well as clear + non-affirming churches. In the future, we would love for churches to be clearer about how they specifically approach intersex people, asexual people, gender nonbinary people, and LGBTQ, non-affirming people (we’re thinking of creating a Clarity Badge that churches can add to their websites - yay? nay?).

That said, we hope all churches adopt the spirit of Church Clarity and go a step further and disclose the specifics of their policy, whatever they may be, on their websites. The clearer the better. If you do so, notify us via this appeal form so we can add a note to your score (check out this note we added to a church’s entry to indicate its inclusion of Side B folks and mixed-orientation marriages).

Lastly, one more note about what Church Clarity is for.

Why do we believe in clear websites?

Because having policy conversations are actually a lot harder than most people realize (see this from story from Amber Cantorna and another from Kevin Garcia).

Because people deserve to know when they step in a church’s front door—that is, its website. Imagine applying for a job only to be told, “Hey thanks for sending your resume; actually we don’t hire people in your identity-category.” You shouldn’t have to email the HR person to find that out.

We believe in clearly communicated policies because we believe people deserve to know all the information in order to make decisions that are right for them. Queer people, to put it frankly, are adults. There are plenty of queer people who go to non-affirming churches, even while having clarity about their churches’ policy! They know what’s best for them. You do you. That’s not a situation we are trying to change. What we do hope to change, among other things, is a situation where queer people think a church is one thing, find out it’s another, and then feel betrayed and hurt. And that’s a story that happens more often than we can count.

The goal of Church Clarity is not to shut down dialogue - -in fact, we hope this opens up more dialogue with churches (pssst, if you check out #ChurchClarity, you’ll notice it’s already doing just that! People are talking!). LGBTQ believers have been asking these policy-questions of their churches for awhile, and we want to amplify and strengthen their voices. Power to the people!

We believe that there should be more dialogue about theology, policy, posture, culture and environment for LGBTQ people -- in addition to Church Clarity, there are organizations out there such as GCNSpiritual FriendshipThe Reformation Project, and Living Out that can help, and we’re working to gather resources and partners at our resource hub, Together in This. We want these conversations to continue. Our specific goal, within this larger ecosystem, is that people continue their conversations while placing their policy-cards on the table as we believe this will lay the foundation for healthier and more authentic conversations.

Thoughts? Hit us up on Twitter & Facebook or email us.