Today, we’re learning about the variety of groups that make up the rainbow community of people.
The identities illustrated in this graphic help us to understand the differences or variations—the diversity—that exists in the arena of human sexuality. Through awareness of and respect for this diversity, we come to recognize people who are often too excluded and made invisible.
According to the Cumberland Presbyterian Confession of Faith, “The church recognizes and ministers to people living in a variety of family patterns, including those persons who by choice or circumstances are single. It seeks to EMBRACE each person and all groups of persons within the family life of the covenant community.” COF 6.16
To “EMBRACE”, according to Merriam-Webster, is to hug, to cherish, to love, to welcome, to take in or include as part of an inclusive whole.
What does it mean for the church to embrace all persons, including those who are lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, and pansexual?
First of all it means cultivating and nurturing an appreciation for the vast diversity of God’s work in creation. It means loving all the members of every group represented in the rainbow community. It means befriending people who may be different from us, eschewing legalism and judgment. It means humbly putting ourselves in the shoes of the other. It means listening in order to understand, rather than listening in order to prepare our next argument or rebuttal.
It also means recognizing that members of the rainbow community are faithful members of the body of Christ. Oftentimes we are blinded to their presence because of prejudicial attitudes and discrimination, even as the number of persons identifying with one or another segment of the LGBTQIA+ community within the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, as a reflection of the broader human race, likely reaches into the thousands. Trusting God means accepting, as Paul asserts, that “God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be” (1 Cor. 12:18).
Rainbow people by the tens of thousands are touched by Cumberland Presbyterians day in and day out, be they family members, neighbors, friends, classmates, co-workers, or strangers on the street or in the marketplace. Recognizing and embracing the LGBTQIA+ people in our lives is how we strengthen our particular community of faith. It helps us stay connected. It means not writing them off and not marginalizing them as a particularly blame-worthy class of sinners.
Another way to EMBRACE others is to refer to them with the name, title, or pronoun by which they desire to be known. It is common courtesy to do our best to respect one another’s wishes, even if we disagree.
How are we to respond to people who are often marginalized, stigmatized, and mistreated because they are considered “different”? Do our words cause them to hide in fear of condemnation? Or might we leave the judging to God, while we simply love and accept them, just as Christ loved and accepted us?
To live out our Confessional calling to EMBRACE is to demonstrate Christ’s gracious and unconditional love for every individual and all groups of people in the life of the church, regardless of how they may identify with respect to gender preference and sexuality. Our calling is not to judge them; our calling is to love and embrace them as God created them.
People of good character and principle may differ on questions related to sexuality and gender identity. As Cumberland Presbyterians, however, we hold that it is the duty of all Christians and religious bodies to exercise forbearance toward one another in these differences.
As Christians, we acknowledge that Christ calls us to live in love. That means responding with love for each person we meet and with whom we worship. We may start doing so simply by being open to friendship, seeking to understand LGBTQIA+ people, and not only listening to, but hearing their stories.
Having ourselves been embraced by God’s love, we seek in turn to embrace others both within and outside the church with that love. We cannot embrace those we may view as “different” and at the same time exclude them from the joys both of worshiping and serving in the ministries of the church.
For a video presentation on the letters of the rainbow community, see: