UPDATE (January 5, 2018)
A new website seeking to encourage churches to clearly state their policies toward LGBTQ people has launched. ChurchClarity.org is specifically targeting evangelical churches, which the site states are the ones most likely to offer ambiguous policies—if they offer them publicly at all.
“Our goal is to eliminate the prevailing reality—among Evangelical churches but also beyond—where ambiguity is acceptable, where accountability is rare and where pastors are able to conceal the policies that they actively enforce,” ChurchClarity.org states.
Why LGBTQ Policies?
The specific policies the site has drawn its attention to—the inclusion of LGBTQ people in a particular church—constitute “critical information” because these policies “directly impact queer people’s ability to participate, or not, in a church.”
ChurchClarity.org does not state its intention is to encourage churches toward one stance (affirming versus non-affirming) or another, rather it is advocating for churches to publicly communicate (and thus be held accountable to) where they stand on the inclusion of LGBTQ people in their congregations. The goal is to avoid the harmful effects of ambiguity on this subject. On its FAQ page, the site states its reasoning behind why an ambiguous policy is harmful:
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. Even when directly asked, many church leaders do not give straightforward answers about the church’s policies towards LGBTQ+ people. 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.
What the Site Is Not Concerned With
While the site wants a church to clearly state certain things such as its whether or not it will allow a trans woman attend a women’s Bible study, it is concerned with policy and not theology. From the FAQ page:
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.
How Are Scores Determined?
The ratings given a church are crowdsourced, meaning anyone can potentially give a score based on the clarity of the policy stated on the church’s website. The crowdsource tool offered to users keeps the scorer’s information confidential but asks extensive questions about the church being scored.
Scores are broken up into four categories
Undisclosed – This score is reserved for churches that do not have a policy toward LGBTQ people on their public website. The site indicates “many churches” will likely fall into this category.
Unclear – A church that features “vague or ambiguous language about its actively enforced LGBTQ policies” on its website will garner this score. This might mean that instead of a clearly stated policy, the church has a policy that is “buried in peripheral sections of the website (e.g. sermons, blogposts, media), or it is alluded to via an external link that redirects outside of the local church’s primary domain (e.g. external article, denomination’s website, parent church’s website, etc).”
Clear – Churches that have clear policies stated on the primary pages of their websites are divided into two categories: affirming and non-affirming. An affirming church would clearly state that LGBTQ people “are eligible to participate in all areas and every level of leadership, church life and liturgy.” A non-affirming church with a clear policy would likely list the restrictions it places on LGBTQ people. Limitations for LGBTQ participation might include “restricting pastoral officiation of weddings to those between one man and one woman, or not allowing a trans man to attend a Men’s Bible Study.”
Actively Discerning – This score is a “temporary placeholder” for a church that is currently trying to land on a policy toward LGBTQ people. Since ChurchClarity.org feels this score could potentially be abused, a church will only be allowed to hold on to this score “if it publicly commits to delivering clarity within a reasonable, specific deadline.”
Numerous churches have already been scored, including well-known ones such as North Point, Saddleback, Redeemer Presbyterian, Willow Creek, and Hillsong NYC. Each church includes its own scorecard page and describes the rationale behind the score. A church’s page also has links to try to get people involved. For instance, Hillsong NYC has an “Unclear: Non-Affirming” score. A visitor can click a link to “Tweet to request clarity.” There are also links to the particular church’s contact information. A search by region on the score database shows only bigger churches in more populated cities in the United States have been scored so far.
You might want to check if your church ends up on the score database in the near future.