Inclusion and Identity

The following blog was written and published by a group of people who have been given the task of updating Metropolitan Community Church’s Statement of Faith…
Two years ago when we first surveyed members and friends of MCC, we heard many different points of view. Some urged us to use inclusive language that makes room for many different gender identities. Others advised us to steer clear of overly exclusive statements that privilege one teaching over another in matters where Christian traditions are diverse. But the overall message was loud and clear:

The new Statement of Faith should be inclusive.

Inclusion is in MCC’s very DNA. In sermons, membership classes, and introductory conversations, we often retell the story of the gathering in Revered Elder Troy Perry’s living room on 6 October 1968 that launched MCC. As Troy recounts:

Twelve people showed up in the living room of my home. And I always tell people, there were nine friends and three strangers, one person of color, one Jew, and one heterosexual couple. It was a view of things to come for the Metropolitan Community Churches.1
Our inclusivity has taken many forms. In 1972 Reverend Elder Freda Smith became the first woman to be licensed as clergy in MCC. The following year at General Conference IV in 1973 in Atlanta, Georgia (USA), Freda led the effort to make MCC’s bylaws gender inclusive. Before the conference had ended she was also elected as MCC’s first woman elder. In 2005, the delegates of General Conference XXII in Calgary, Alberta (Canada) adopted the MCC Core Values that begin with these words:
Inclusion. Love is our greatest moral value and resisting exclusion is a primary focus of our ministry. We want to continue to be conduits of faith where everyone is included in the family of God and where all parts of our being are welcomed at God’s table.2
Though commonly referred to in its early days (and even now) as the “gay church,” MCC is much more. Our gatherings include the full rainbow of LGBTQIA identities, many straight allies, and a generation of children with all new questions. In addition to sexuality, our denomination is an experiment in what it means to be a people of many national, racial, and ethnic identities, as well as different socio-economic backgrounds. From our early days we have been an international denomination, and we continue to answer the call of people around the world who hear of us and want to “Be MCC.”
Our inclusive stance leaves room for many worship styles, interpretations of scripture, sexual ethics, and even matters crucial to our faith like how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ “work” for the salvation of humanity and the world. Our congregations strive to be safe spaces where people can ask tough questions and learn to live in the tension of not having all the answers. These are also ways we express our commitment to inclusion.
But inclusion into what?
Over the course of our work, the Commission has received some suggestions that this might be the time to change the focus of the MCC Statement of Faith. Proposals for a new center have included human rights advocacy, a less Christ-centered statement in the hopes of greater theological diversity, a more open-ended understanding of Deity to replace Trinitarian thought, or spirituality more broadly conceived. In each case, the commitment to radical inclusion has been a fundamental concern.
The new Statement of Faith begins and ends with the invitation to the Open Table. While our theological understandings of what happens there are diverse, Holy Communion remains the central symbol of our shared faith. It is the very core of our communal identity, and the practice through which we most universally show our commitment to inclusion.
As a part of our commitment to inclusion, we also recognize that there are multiple spiritual and religious paths. While the invitation is always open, we are not in the business of forcing anyone to join us. MCC has a long history of acknowledging religious diversity while maintaining our own commitment to historic Christian belief. A few examples from our history are instructive.
MCC and Interfaith Cooperation
As Troy’s account recalls, the first MCC worship service included one Jew. Before long, MCC Los Angeles included several more Jewish congregants. These men and women, estranged from their own religious communities, found respite in MCC. While welcomed into the life of the congregation, they were unable to participate fully as members. Rather than proselytize, Troy chose to honor their devotion to Judaism and encouraged the group to start their own congregation:
Obviously, I’m not Jewish, and I didn’t know much about Judaism or starting a synagogue, but I told them, “No matter what you do, make sure you make it really Jewish.” 3
In July 1972, MCC Los Angeles and the newly formed Metropolitan Community Temple celebrated an interfaith service together, and MCC Los Angeles continued afterwards to host the new congregation. Years later, when MCC Los Angeles was damaged during the 1994 Northridge earthquake, the renamed Beth Chayim Chadashim (House of New Life) offered hospitality in return, opening their doors to MCC.
On the American East Coast, MCC Miami encouraged and supported the formation of Congregation Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) in 1974. And in Washington, DC, the local MCC aided in the organization of Metropolitan Community Temple Mishpocheh (Family) in 1975. Before either group had its own building, the MCC congregation helped to arrange space for MCT Mishpocheh with their own hosts, the First Congregational Church. MCC DC and the renamed Bet Mishpachah4 share a long and fruitful cooperation in the planning of the annual LGBT Pride service in DC that endures even today in a broader network of partnerships. MCC continues similar interfaith cooperation today with Muslims in East Asia, and we embrace opportunities for interfaith cooperation in local communities throughout the world.

Even as we respect and affirm our partners, our own identity remains firmly grounded in the revelation of Jesus Christ. Working with our neighbors of different religious traditions, we identify opportunities for collaboration on common interests while acknowledging and celebrating our religious distinctives. In this way, our interfaith work is an outgrowth of our continuing commitment to inclusion, grounded in our Christian identity.

Some Questions to Consider

We’d like to hear about your thoughts and experiences. Join the conversation on our Facebook page, or send your private reply to us through the MCC website. See links below.
This month, we’re particularly interested in the following questions:
  • What are the identities that are important for you? (e.g., lesbian, trans, active, passive, Black, Latina, German)
  • What is meaningful to you in these identities?
  • How have you changed over your life? Are there new identities you have grown into?
And as always, we want to hear from you!
  1. Reverend Elder Troy D. Perry. “Imagining the Church’s Ministry Based on Luke 4:18-19,” Lancaster Theological Seminary, 2008. [access the recording]
  2. The full list of MCC Core Values is found at http://mccchurch.org/overview/.
  3. http://www.bcc-la.org/about/history/
  4. http://www.betmish.org/
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Thank you for being a part of the conversation. We look forward to continuing the dialogue.
Your Commission on the MCC Statement of Faith

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