So anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor, has not yet succeeded in understanding them.– Augustine, On Christian Doctrine
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Fort Smith is an open and affirming congregation. This means we understand that the church should be a place where all people are welcomed to join a community of grace, love, and forgiveness. We are committed to being a people of grace who welcome all of God’s children regardless of differing in race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, class, income bracket, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, physical or mental ability, political stance or theological perspective. We affirm the faith, baptism, and spiritual gifts of all Christians and celebrate that all people are part of God’s good creation.
My hope for all people in the LGBTQ+ community here in Fort Smith is that you would be fully supported on matters of justice. You deserve a church that is on your side, and your full identity is worth upholding and fighting for. At the same time, I hope that you will not be essentialized or treated as a demographic for your sexuality here at First Christian Church. You are valuable and worthy of grace as a full person. You are not a “gay Christian,” you are a Christian who happens to be gay. Below are some resources and answers about who we are and where our commitments are at. Please do look through them and reach out via phone, email, or by coming to worship with us.– Rev. Nick Koontz
A Few Helpful Answers from the Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance:
What is an Open & Affirming Congregation?
Open & Affirming (O&A) churches strive to be welcoming places, places that welcome you whatever your skin color, accent, clothing, or the gender of your spouse. An O&A church seeks to welcome all people without judgment and to provide a welcome that honors and accepts the diversity that is the image of God in creation. An O&A church works to ensure that when we say ‘all are welcome,’ we truly mean everyone.
What is the Open & Affirming Ministry Program?
The Open & Affirming Ministry Program started in the 1980s when a group of members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) gathered and began to dream of a church that welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people into the full life and leadership of the church. Thus began the Disciples LGBTQ+ Alliance (AllianceQ) and the Open & Affirming Ministry Program.
Doesn’t the Bible condemn homosexuality?
In short, not so much. Many of the passages commonly cited as condemning homosexuality have either been mistranslated or stripped from their context. They have been cherrypicked by folks with an agenda, not read as a straightforward look to scripture. There are considerable resources available that can walk you through each verse that has been used like this. Keep in mind, too, that finding verses that supposedly condemn gay people amidst the entire Bible’s witness to love, welcome, and care for those who have been pushed to the edges of society is like finding a needle in a hay stack. If you’re reading the Bible and take away more hate towards your neighbors, you have misread it.
So is this just about LGBT people?
Not at all. Because many people still believe that God rejects LGBT people, AllianceQ encourages congregations to start by examining their acceptance of LGBT people. However, AllianceQ understands that no one is truly welcome until we understand that God welcomes everyone.
So who is everyone?
Good question. We’ve all known places where ‘all’ and ‘everyone’ doesn’t really include ‘people like me.’ When it was first written down, the proclamation that ‘all men are created equal’ didn’t include women and black people. An O&A church knows that we always have more to learn about welcome. We strive to continue naming and expanding this vision. In order to start, we name what we mean when we say ‘everyone.’