What is “Welcoming and NOT Affirming”?

“Welcoming and not affirming” is a murky idea.  As an English teacher, it’s hard to read it and really understand what it means.  We all know what “welcome” is and how to welcome, but it seems “not affirming” is an odd way to express a verb.  It seems important to figure out what “affirming” is and then what “not” doing that would look like.  According to the dictionary, affirming is defined as:

  • State as a fact; assert strongly and publicly
    • he affirmed the country’s commitment to peace
    • he affirmed that she was, indeed, a good editor
    • “Pessimism,” she affirmed, “is the most rational view.”
  • Declare one’s support for; uphold or defend
    • the referendum affirmed the republic’s right to secede
  • Accept or confirm the validity of (a judgment or agreement); ratify
  • Make a formal declaration rather than taking an oath (e.g., to testify truthfully)
  • (of a court) Uphold (a decision) on appeal
  • Offer (someone) emotional support or encouragement
    • there are five common ways parents fail to affirm their children
    • good teachers know that students need to be both affirmed and challenged

Antonyms include: negate, reject, deny, nullify, renounce, refuse, decline

So, “welcoming and not affirming” could just as easily be said as “welcoming and denying ” or “welcoming and rejecting.”  We can probably see that no one wants to have a billboard say that they are both “welcoming and rejecting”….  but in a sense that’s what welcoming and not affirming means.

The other problem with this phrase is that for most evangelicals the adjectives don’t modify the same noun.  What are we “Welcoming” –all people, we might say.  What are we “not affirming”–a sinful lifestyle.  But without the nouns to make a difference, the phrase gets confusing—and we end up saying we are “Welcoming, but not affirming” actual people.  Because we’re not saying we’re “welcoming and not affirming” a lifestyle….  You’re not welcoming a lifestyle into your church are you?

But perhaps there is another definition that we need to consider.

How are churches using the concept?

Even though “welcoming and not affirming” is a murky idea, churches are flocking to the concept.  According to this 2004 Baylor Magazine article talking about the idea, the reason to take the stand is easy to explain:

Christians welcome homosexuals into their churches for worship and fellowship but do not affirm their lifestyles. We are “welcoming but not affirming.” Why do we welcome but not affirm? Because we are all sinners, but we cannot affirm persons in their denial of the sinfulness of their sins. Our approach would be exactly the same to a person who lives a greedy or gluttonous lifestyle: We welcome you because we are all sinners, but we cannot affirm you insofar as you are not repenting of your greedy or gluttonous lifestyle.

It would be interesting to see how this author would suggest someone “not affirming” the greedy or gluttonous person.  Would you pull the cake out of the hand of the gluttonous?  Would you require more offering from the greedy?  Would you publicly declare that the greedy–often huge financial supporters of churches–give up their greedy lifestyles?  How would you apply this to an actual situation?

Well, the article goes on, skipping over the practical, to come clear about the reasons why churches choose this concept:

Christianity has always considered sex outside of monogamous, permanent, committed, heterosexual marriage sinful. That is still true. Only a few churches have broken from that historic, biblical, ecumenical consensus, and the burden of proof for change lies with them and not with the traditional point of view, which is solidly rooted in Scripture and natural theology (see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Abingdon Press, 2002).

At the same time, Christianity has always acknowledged that we are all sinners without any righteousness of our own; our righteousness is Christ’s alone and, at most, given to us as a sheer gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it. Christ came to be with and save sinners; he spent much of his time with them. Therefore, to reject all fellowship with homosexuals merely because they are homosexuals is to depart from Christ himself.

The hard part is probably in the implementation, as the Baylor article points out:  “fellowship and acceptance are not the same as affirmation.”  Unfortunately the rest of the article has nothing to offer on the practical application of this concept.   Churches do not stop the greedy and the gluttonous from serving on their committees or in their choirs, or from working with their youth, or from praying, reading scripture or preaching in front of the congregation.  If they did, they wouldn’t have anyone left.  It’s really hard to say “all have sinned” and only punish the gays.  His excuse: he says that because they are lax on the greedy and the gluttonous does not mean that they need to compound the problem by being lax on homosexuals.  (Now he’s thinking practically–who would do the work of the church except for the sinners?).  It’s an interesting dilemma, isn’t it?  If you are to be welcoming and not affirming towards sin, you would have to implement this across the board.

It’s a very difficult thing, and not every church is capable of taking these kinds of steps.  This is a great article on “Welcoming and Not Affirming” (though in a Mennonite context, it still has universal application) and some of the difficulties that come with trying to define that stance.

Before your church makes a public stance saying that they are “not affirming” people–think about it for awhile. A negative in your church statement of beliefs is not a positive for church growth.  Do you really want to go around telling people that you are a “not affirming” people?  You can say all you want that this idea only applies to gays and lesbians, but newcomers to your church will feel the rejection in the phrase itself.   It’s not okay to single out one group and apply a set of rules to them.  Your members will sense an undercurrent of condemnation and judgment in your church.

“Not affirming” one group actually means “not affirming” anyone.

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If you’re still unsure, look at how Jesus practicd Welcoming and Not Affirming..

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