Angela Denker 11-11-2014
Jaret Benson /

Jaret Benson /

I see it on nearly every church sign, every church mailing; on the inside fold of every bulletin:
All Are Welcome!

Worship at 9 a.m. Sunday, All Are Welcome!

Potluck Dinner at 5 p.m. Saturday, All Are Welcome!

Vacation Bible School 9 a.m. Monday - Friday, All Are Welcome!

As the pastor of a Lutheran congregation outside Chicago, I find myself tagging it on — almost thoughtlessly — to our invitation cards and mailings as well.

It's almost an auto-signature for churches today: “All Are Welcome!”

And the impulse is a good one. For centuries the church has been exclusive rather than inclusive, despite Jesus' desire to the contrary. We have excluded women, African Americans, immigrants, gays and lesbians, people with special needs, senior citizens, singles, 20-somethings — at times the church has been downright discriminatory.

A friend of mine once told me he was desperate to find a church where he could not only worship but perhaps join the choir and get involved with music ministry. He brought his friend, another professional musician, to check out area churches. They found one they liked and were surprised when the minister asked them into his office. Ascertaining that they were both, indeed, gay, the minister said: "Well, you can attend. But just sit in the back row."

Thanks be to God, my friend didn't give up his search or lose his faith. He has since found an affirming congregation and leads incredible music there.

But too many of us have these stories: The congregation that saw single folks as irrelevant. The congregation that scorned Spanish-speaking immigrants. The place that found people with special needs disruptive.

Fortunately, many churches became aware of the way they had been contradicting the primary, freeing message of the Gospel: that all may be one in Christ Jesus, and that there is no longer Gentile or Jew, man or woman, black or white, slave or free, gay or straight, rich or poor ... (from Galatians 3:28).

As a needed corrective to become inclusive rather than exclusive, churches have hit upon a simple formula. It goes something like this: "Let's add ‘ALL ARE WELCOME’ to everything we publish. Let's make WELCOME the center of what we do."

Andrew William Smith and his father, via Andrew William Smith

Andrew William Smith and his father, via Andrew William Smith

For the better part of the last 30 years, my father has been a social justice activist serving as a leader within his Christian denomination, most specifically in various leadership roles where he could be an advocate for anti-racism education, universal health care, peace with justice in the middle East, and for full inclusion of our LGBTQ family within the body of Christ.

His activism actually dates back further, to the early 1960s when he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Ala. His work in the 1990s and 2000s reflected a great depth of thought and commitment as he educated himself and others like him about the importance of recognition of the role of white heterosexual privilege in society and the need for collective repentance for ignoring structural sin regarding race, gender, class, and sexual preference. He worked to transform institutions that might inhibit the full expression of personhood for all of God’s children.

Brandan Robertson 03-25-2014

It is easy to see that over the coming weeks thousands of evangelicals will withdraw their support from World Vision. And Dr. Moore is absolutely right. As this begins to take place, thousands of children will suffer because of the lack of funding from their former sponsors who decided that this theological and political issue was more important than their life. It is a sad day when followers of Jesus Christ will chose to make a theological/political point by withholding funds from children in life-and-death situations.

It is indeed a sad day for evangelicalism. It is sad because we have willingly put on blinders to hide our eyes from the truth of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have chosen to ignore the entire example of his life and the bulk of his teachings and instead pick up our weapons and engage in culture wars instead of working to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, which, by the way, sums up all of the biblical laws. We have chosen to ignore Jesus’ harsh words to the Pharisees who valued doctrinal rightness over the sacrifice of justice that God has always called us to.

Julie Polter 03-06-2014

Just Jesus by Walter Wink with Steven Berry / On "Strangers No Longer" by Paulist Press / Eve by Angélique Kidjo / O Taste and See by Bonnie Thurston

Danny Duncan Collum 03-06-2014

Pete Seeger (1919-2014)

He didn't just sing for the audience. He got them to sing for themselves.

Liuan Huska 03-06-2014

Nora Howell modeling her dress made of crackers

From galleries to the street, artist Nora Howell is unafraid of tough topics.

Patty Kupfer 03-06-2014

While the battle for immigration reform continues, more than 1,000 people are deported every day.

Jason Byassee 03-05-2014

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a hipster pastor with a medieval soul. And her church—House for All Sinners and Saints—is practicing ancient Christian arts in a post-modern world.

Jim Wallis 03-05-2014

Changing the world requires the leadership of women.

Brittany Shoot 07-01-2013

Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change at a Community Called Glide. HarperOne

Martin L. Smith 06-05-2013

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C.

Peggy Flanagan 03-11-2011

During my Lenten journey this year, I will be looking to my Muslim brother, Congressman Keith Ellison, to understand what it truly means to live a life grounded in love, respect, inclusivity, and justice. Yesterday, I watched Rep.

Johnathan Smith 07-23-2010
The NAACP recently roared into the national spotlight when, during the organization's 101st Annual Convention, its delegates unanimously passed a
Seth Naicker 06-02-2009
Homecoming is on my mind in this day and this hour.
Julie Clawson 05-01-2009
As I process the conversations I had recently at EVDC09 (a gathering of emerging church participants to discuss the future of Emergent Village), I realized that one of the topics that keeps surfaci