“All are welcome!” It rings like a refrain over the event. Speakers use it and every time people wildly applaud. We should be a church where all are welcome! Over and over again.
On the one hand, I get it. I know these people are using it to call out the places that have often excluded people. I know they are saying “Our churches should welcome LGBTQ+ people, people of color, women, and other marginalized people.” I know what they mean.
All are welcome starts to sound a little hollow when that’s all there is to it. A sense of open doors for anyone to come in.
But if there are still transphobic people sitting in the pews, am I really welcome? If I don’t have a place to safely pee in your church am I really welcome?
If a person of color is looked at suspiciously when they come for worship are they really welcome? If someone gets annoyed when we talk about respecting immigrants are immigrants really welcome?
If we never challenge bad behavior are we actually being welcoming?
If everyone is welcome, is anyone actually welcome?
I don’t want to be in a place where someone who consistently uses homophobic and transphobic language and never gets called on it is welcome. I don’t want to be in a place where every viewpoint and opinion is regarded with the same level of respect. I don’t want to be in a place where white supremacy isn’t being confronted.
So yes, let’s welcome people! But let’s also be a place where oppression can’t continue to exist unchallenged. Where hateful speech and behavior isn’t allowed to persist unchecked.
And if calling out injustice, if calling out bad behaviour, if calling out oppression makes people feel unwelcome? Good.
Because all are welcome is a nice sentiment but it doesn’t work unless it’s backed up with a commitment to living in a community that is pursuing equity, that is willing to be uncomfortable, and that is rooting out oppression in all forms. If those things aren’t happening then what “all are welcome” really means is that you can come and sit in “our” church as long as you don’t mess how “we” worship.
Welcome means more than putting a rainbow flag on your church or putting a Black Lives Matter sign in your yard. It means doing the actual work to be a community of equity. Which probably means that people who hold a ton of privilege that they don’t want to deal with won’t feel welcome anymore.
And you know what? I’m okay with that. Because those folks can go anywhere in the world and feel welcome and safe and comfortable. And the Gospel of Jesus is always, always, always about centering the lives of the marginalized and oppressed.
So yes, all are welcome, but only if you’re willing to be a part of the equitable community. Stop saying it unless you (and your entire community) are ready to do the work.
Want to work on your church’s welcome? This might help.