I identify as Lesbian, Secular Humanist / Atheist and am an Officer of our local PFLAG support group (Parents, Family/Friends of Lesbians And Gays). I have a question about how a church sect can say they 'accept Atheists'.

In this small Arizona town, only United church of Christ (UCC) claims to be 100% Open-And-Affirming, meaning they welcome, embrace and empower ALL peoples including those of diverse sexual orientation and gender variations. UCC apparently also has the longest history of empowering LGBT in clergy positions. UCC 's Reverend (a straight ally) is also a committed and visibly-active PFLAG member as are many of their congregation; she's also a friend of mine. As a PFLAG Officer, I often refer our religious members to UCC so they can have a caring spiritual 'family'. Often our LGBT members have been rejected by both their families and their former church so they need a sense of belonging, of which I understand. When the new PFLAG folks hesitated about going to UCC (as they were brainwashed by their own church), I've accompanied them so he/she does not feel alone going the first time. If you've seen the movie Prayers for Bobby, you'll know why I take my stance.

I respect UCC's Reverend for being very active for Equality and Human Rights. She also is VERY active in try to get other churches/religions to accept LGBT's. What I'm confused about is The Reverend says UCC aslo welcomes and accepts Atheists, Pagans also. She says 'spirit' can mean that 'gut feeling' one gets when they do something right. While I applaud the Reverend's supporting all peoples, I found the UCC services to contain a fair amount of the usual 'god', bible references, religious hymns and even a communion once (with the s 'body of christ' script) - I felt guilty for not participating once when Reverend handed the wafer/wine to me which I accidentally flubbed by eating my wafer immediately, ha. Granted, this Reverend does not 'push religion'... it's just that flock mentality behavior that tends to kick in when you are in the midst of most people doing 'the same thing'.

So, I pose this question to all you have come from clergy background or who have church marketing skills: can a church or religious sect (i.e. UCC) truly accept Atheists or is there an underlying clergy hope that us Atheists would 'become religious' once we see how accepting they are? Truth be known, I'll never go backward and can only see religion for what it is (a Business)... but I'm somewhat envious of religious people who have that 'home/family' of like-minded folks.

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Tags: atheists welcomed at church, churches accept atheists

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Comment by The Flying Atheist on July 4, 2013 at 3:12pm

I recently saw poll statistics that showed that a majority of LGBT individuals are non-believers.  (Unfortunately I don't have the link.)  I'm not surprised by this considering how organized religion has treated this community and has ferociously driven people away from belief.  So....among a minority population (LGBT's) the believers in that group are an even smaller minority still.  We are talking about small numbers here. 

But the question in the original post is whether there is an ulterior motive by the UCC reverend to accept atheists into the church.  I may be a Pollyanna, but I personally don't think so in my opinion.  It just sounds as if this person truly wants to be welcoming to all persons, and let the chips land where they may.  It's more about community and acceptance than conversion.  (And a little extra in the offering plate just sweetens the deal.)      

Comment by Loren Miller on July 4, 2013 at 2:49pm

Well, there's the rub, LBGT ... the gays and Lesbians who join such churches are BELIEVERS, despite the crap laid down in Leviticus and by Paul.  That gives them something in common with the organization they're joining.  Being atheists, we would have NOTHING IN COMMON ... other than, perhaps, a desire for community.  Somehow I don't think that would be enough for them to ignore the proverbial 800-pound-gorilla-in-the-room.

To any pastor or rabbi who would allege that they accept and welcome atheists, my response is simple, if to the point: Under What Conditions?

Comment by LBGT Atheist/Secular Humanist on July 4, 2013 at 2:21pm

I'd like to clarify: I in NO way desire to or will 'join' any church. I support this church's efforts because they embrace gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgenders (GLBT's), they're visibly active for Human Rights and their clergy leadership works with other church's homophobic, bigoted beliefs to try to get them to love all peoples. GLBTs, especially youth, have a high % of suicides as a direct result of their family AND church reject them- this is THE only open-n-affirming church here and many GLBT's have sought peace, acceptance and 'refuge' there. I'm just curious as how any church (or minister) can say they 'accept, welcome' Atheists (unconditionally) and not have an agenda to convert them.

Comment by Loren Miller on July 3, 2013 at 3:25pm

What we got here ... is a failure ... to excommunicate ... or something like that.

Comment by Pat on July 3, 2013 at 2:07pm

And the secret word is "Excommunicate." OK, where's my C-note?

Comment by Loren Miller on July 3, 2013 at 11:21am

To paraphrase Groucho Marx: I wouldn't belong to any church that would have me as a member!

(Say the secret word, the duck comes down, you win a hundred dollars!)

Comment by The Flying Atheist on July 3, 2013 at 11:05am

Pat, I agree.  Even though the Unitarian Universalist church welcomes atheists and agnostics, it's still a bit too "churchy" for me.  As a musician, I've twice attended a service here in Chicago in recent years as part of a group to provide special guest music.  They read from the bible, quoted Jesus and sang hymns.  I understand that they're using the Jesus character and his stories as examples to promote a good and moral foundation to living one's life, but to me it was just another christian worship service. 

I can contemplate how I wish to live my life just as well at home on a Sunday morning with a pot of coffee than I can getting showered, dressed and spending an hour as part of a boring, monotonous quasi-religious ritual. 

Comment by Pat on July 3, 2013 at 8:38am

Maybe I'm missing something here (probably am), but why in the name of the Wide, Wide World of Sports, would an atheist want to be a member of a church? I can understand wanting to belong to an organization that promotes the ideals of secular humanism. However, churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, shrines, etc., all - in my humble estimation - promote the belief in a supernatural being of one sort or another. On a personal note, I just don't see myself participating in a group that is based on the idea of giving deference to a non-existent entity. I can certainly understand working with such a group for a common goal, e.g. disaster relief, aid to the stricken, etc. But active membership in one?

Comment by Grinning Cat on July 2, 2013 at 11:21pm

There are Unitarian Universalist churches that are a good fit for nontheists -- I know an atheist who's past president of her UU congregation, and still comfortable and active there.

As Eddie Hicks noted in A|N's Unitarian Universalist Atheists group:

Some congregations are more theist than others. I was lucky to join a newly organized congregation with a very large Atheist and Agnostic membership. I have visited other UU churches over the years and if some of them were my first UU experience I may not have returned to any UU church. Not that they were bad, just too Christian for me. [...] I always tell people that are considering checking into UU is to try more than one congregation if possible and even go to the same ones more than once since they can be different from week to week.

Comment by The Flying Atheist on July 2, 2013 at 10:57pm

I grew up as a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC), and it is everything you describe.....very liberal, pro-LGBT, pro-female clergy, staunchly supportive of human and civil rights locally and worldwide, and very liberal on social issues such as abortion, etc.  If you believe in god and want to attend church, this should be the one you go to.    

But like any other Protestant religion, Jesus, god and the bible are at the core of their beliefs.  Communion is a normal practice as well.  (At my church, Instead of wafers we used an actual loaf of bread split in half and passed around and we drank wine from individual shot-glasses.)

One very important distinction about the UCC is that each local congregation/clergy is free to conduct services and interpret doctrine in any manner they choose.  Although there is a head synod, it only provides a simple blueprint of the core doctrinal beliefs of the greater church body.  There is no hierarchy of rules or regulations set in place to force any type of specific practice or belief upon each individual congregation.  But make no mistake, the core beliefs of the church are indeed bible based.

So, while your reverend friend is being welcoming to all (which is commendable) I would say that the atheist/pagan angle is a quite a bit of a stretch.  As I said, the core beliefs of the church are indeed bible based.  One of the main, major doctrines of the UCC is the Apostles' Creed as I've referenced below.  There's not much wiggle room in there to include atheists.

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,

creator of heaven and earth.

And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried.
He descended into hell.
On the third day He rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
And He will come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost,

the holy catholic Church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen

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