Over the past year, Church Clarity has sparked a global conversation among churches about why #ClarityIsReasonable. We firmly believe that ambiguity is harmful to people, as illustrated by many stories we’ve highlighted on the Church Clarity blog. We are on a mission to see the Church become a place where honesty and integrity are held in high regard, for we know that Clarity will reduce the harm that is affecting the most vulnerable populations in the church.
However, in this conversation, sometimes the nuances of Church Clarity’s unique vision can get misinterpreted in all the noise. Our mission to increase the standard of clarity can get muddied and misconstrued through misleading, misused and misunderstood language, even among our fervent supporters. It’s even helpful for us as a team to recalibrate internally from time to time.
So if you’re like us, and you want to advocate for clarity in churches everywhere, we’ve got a few tips and conversation points for you to keep in mind.
Church Clarity is more than a database of just affirming or egalitarian churches. Our primary goal is that churches should be clear about their policies, whatever their policies are. This means that we celebrate churches that choose to be Verified Clear even while disclosing the reality that they will not officiate same-sex weddings or hire LGBTQ+ people. A great example of this is Church of the City in NYC.
We believe churches must be explicit about how certain groups of people can or cannot participate in local churches.
By establishing a new standard of clarity, what we are ultimately trying to do is to give power back to the people. We want to equip them with critical information (which is currently difficult to come by outside of most of the churches in our database) that they need in order to make the best decision as to how to engage with a specific church.
This is critical: Our goal is not to tell people which churches they should go to based on what their policies are. Many queer people, after all, choose to attend non-affirming churches, and many egalitarian women choose to attend non-egalitarian churches. But we believe that the choice should be made based on full and clear knowledge of the church’s policies. No one should ever have to find out the hard way, through discrete acts of exclusion which typically happen on a one-to-one basis behind the scenes. This includes scenarios that occur by the hands of well-meaning church leaders. Intention is not the issue, theology is not the issue, clarity is the issue.
We’ve seen folks celebrating Church Clarity’s work, excited that we’re finally asking churches to “state what they believe.” But that’s not actually what we are doing. We’re not interested in a church’s theological stance or even how they arrived there. We’re interested in their actively enforced policy. For example, a church can say that they “believe in the dignity of every human.” This sentiment seems lovely in theory. However, it says very little about how this platitude is lived out and practiced in their church. That’s why we look at policy.
This distinction between policy and belief is particularly crucial when it comes to certain denominational churches. There are many churches within the Evangelical Covenant Church, United Methodist Church, and so on, where the pastors and congregations hold affirming beliefs in contrast to the overall denomination’s non-affirming policy. This creates a confusing dynamic where the misalignment between the individual church leader’s position contradicts their own actively enforced policies.
In other words, many of these churches policies still fall short of our standard of what it means to be “affirming,” as they do not officiate weddings for same-sex couples, due to denominational restrictions and penalties. (Some churches, however, do choose to resist their denomination and publicly declare that they will officiate same-sex weddings regardless of denominational standards.)
Some people have said that our scoring grid is too binary and doesn’t allow for a nuanced approach that many churches have towards LGBTQ+ participation and women in leadership. That’s true. Church Clarity doesn’t attempt to score how a church treats LGBTQ+ folks or women in leadership beyond examining their actively enforced policies. So, yes we understand that a church with non-egalitarian policies may still have a “culture” that is very supportive of women’s leadership -- to an extent -- and vice-versa. There are limits to our methodology, and we readily acknowledge that.
So when you’re talking about Church Clarity’s work with friends, churchgoers, or even on social media, try using language that focuses on clarity of policy, not belief or “stance.” This is the same reason Church Clarity doesn’t score churches based on their theological beliefs or doctrines surrounding topics like baptism or resurrection.
Some folks see what we do as amounting to creating lists of “good” or “bad” churches, or “loving” or “bigoted” churches.
Once again, we score policies and not “motivations” or “character.” So by scoring a church as “non-affirming,” we are simply making an objective evaluation of based on whether the church will hire, marry and ordain all LGBTQ folks. Those are “yes” or “no” questions. That’s all. Providing a non-affirming score is not the same thing as labeling a church “hateful” or “trans/homophobic,” as that would be an evaluation of “motivations” and “character,” not policy. The score definitions we’ve created are precise and deliberate in the language we use.
Despite that intentionality, we’ll occasionally still hear: “Well even if you are just focused on policies, you’re still labeling churches by scoring them as ‘affirming’ or ‘non-affirming,’ ‘egalitarian’ or ‘non-egalitarian.’” That’s a fair point. And that’s why we created a Verified Clear survey where churches can answer simple yes-or-no questions about their actively enforced policies. Churches that complete the survey, regardless of their answers, receive a “Verified Clear” score and the language about “affirming” or “egalitarian,” is replaced with a clear list of their survey responses. Verified Clear churches are establishing the new standard of clarity. If you're interested in having your church verified, have someone on your church staff email us for our survey.
If you’re into the Bible, you might know that it’s full of scriptures that encourage truthfulness in speech, including the tweetable Jesus quote to let your yes be yes and no be no. Some faith leaders have suggested that Church Clarity is trying to “shame” churches for what they believe.
Nah. It just feels that way cause churches are not used to the pressure and insistence to be clear about their policies regardless of what they are. That’s why all “unclear” or “undisclosed” church entries, regardless if they are “Unclear: Affirming” or “Unclear: Non-Affirming,” have a few social media buttons available for the public to click to tweet or email to request clarity. Without this simple disclosure, people will continue to get hurt.
Nothing is more divisive than churches hurting the people they are meant to serve, especially once they are made aware that this practice is harmful.
It’s time to end the practice of ambiguity in the Church.
It’s time for a new standard of Clarity.
If you want to learn more about our process of how we score churches, join us next week for our first webinar on Tuesday, September 18 at 12:00 PM EST.
Is your church clear on their policy? Check out the Church Clarity database to see it’s listed.
Don’t see your church? Submit your church for review.
Want your church to be verified clear? Have a staff member at your church fill out our survey.