January 26, 2009

Church Experiment #4: Clifton United Methodist

The Methodists know how to do church. Sixty minutes and out the door. Wham, bam, thank you I am! (That is what you call bad Christian humor.) [I thought it was funny.]

Clifton United Methodist Church (www.cliftonumc.com) caught my attention for a couple of reasons. First, it is located in my neighborhood, and I want to make sure I visit at least one neighborhood church every two months. It was nice to see familiar faces from the community.

Second, Clifton United Methodist appeared to be a pretty liberal church. They have a female lead pastor, which is unique. (Unfortunately, she wasn’t there on the Sunday of my visit.) Also, they claim to be very welcoming to the gay community. Their website states, “The congregation is a very diverse group, reflecting the breadth of our welcoming statement. Truly all are welcome in this community of faith, having been a welcoming and safe harbor for gay and lesbian people of faith for many years.”

After three traditional, (mostly) conservative churches, I thought it would be nice to mix things up a bit.

To finish reading about this experience or any of the reflections from my 52 visits, please purchase the full book here.


DanThoms said...

Just out of curiosity where in the New Testament is homosexuality even mentioned? Does it talk about it?

Anonymous said...

I vote you go visit Mars Hill, but make sure Rob Bell is speaking to get the whole experience. I think you will be surprised at the simplicity of how they do Church.

Liz said...

I told you this yesterday, but as a child I loved the "child time" at my grandparent's church. The minister would gather the children up front, give a little message, and then send us off to Sunday school-usually with a piece of gum or candy in hand.

I like that it involves children in the service. Usually kids are carted off to a "child's program" before the service, and if they are in the actual congregation most people just stare at them with contempt for making noise (I do this too!).

j steg said...

Dan, See Romans 1:10-32 for one instance.

j steg said...


DanThoms said...

or I Cor. 6:9 & 10

I was just curious as to where Steve's Biblical perspective on it came from.

Steve Fuller said...

My Biblical perspective is that God calls us to love others. I can cite numerous verses if you would like.

There was a time when Christians justified slavery and racism with Bible verses. Thankfully, that time has passed and we look back with shame on those days.

I have had this debate too often on here, and prefer to avoid it at this time. My point is that some churches really do accept all people, and some churches claim to. Clifton United Methodist truly is diverse.

ylmurph said...

I often wonder what it means to have a church "accept all people"?

I don't know of many churches that ask people to leave - I honestly don't know of even one that's done this - but I don't doubt it happens.

So...is accepting someone simply telling them that what they're doing is great?
Acceptance = Agreement?

This church agrees with you on this one issue, so they love more? There's this thought in parenting that if you tell a child that what they're doing might be harmful...that this will hold back the child's development...and that's not loving. It's mean. You must hate your child.
(I'm not comparing anybody to children - there's more below)

There's also this view of loviing a friend means not wanting to stir the waters by disagreeing. It doesn't feel good, so it must not be loving. My friend that I have lunch with on Wednesdays sometimes says stuff that feels a little harsh, so he must not love me.

I personally think that's a shallow view of love. (and I know shallow)

If we throw up that definition as loving, then it'd be hard to define this 52 week experiment as loving - I think? If you're writing an unbiased analysis of each church based on your opinions - if you disagree with something they did (a political speech from the pulpit - bad singing, etc.) does that mean you aren't loving them - or that you don't agree with them - or both?

Having said all this - Dan, your changing pictures are freaking me out and if I have another seizure I'm suing Embracing the Mess - or Henry David Thoreau's estate...

Steve Fuller said...


Based on my experience, I was just communicating that I bet gay people feel more welcomed at Clifton United Methodist than most other churches out there.

And that seems like a good thing.

These are real people with hopes and dreams and passions and all they want is the same rights heterosexual people have been given. Not sure why that is so wrong.

DanThoms said...

Come now, you have to love the attention getting qualities of my rotating picture. It screams look at me.

Steve, I'm not going to debate you on the issue. I'm not afraid of conflict but there would really be no point. That being said, you compared the churches view on homosexuality to that of racism and slavery. Of course that's offensive. Fact is in America the Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterians all took a stand against slavery in the 1700s.

Steve Fuller said...

Facts offend you, Dan?

If you want to debate whether there was a time in our history when Christians defended slavery and racism with Biblical principles, I will be glad to do so.

In fact, your "offense" taken at my statement actually frightens me. I am not saying this to be mean, but you really might want to pick up a history book and educate yourself about how racism has influenced the American church. Even if a denomination officially denounced slavery or racism, Christians still used their faith to justify oppression and hatred.

That is why many churches are still apologizing to this day about those past offenses.

Gays and lesbians are being oppressed in this country. Jesus stood up for the oppressed. I follow Jesus. Therefore, I will continue to speak out on this issue until we acknowledge that all men and women are created equal and deserve equal rights.

DanThoms said...

I don't believe for a second that my point of view "frightens" you. The church as a wholes treatment of the sin of homosexuality isn't parallel to the issues of slavery or racism. To lump all of history's churches together and say that they were pro-racism and pro-slavery is silly. In retrospect, yes the church should have done more to bring slavery to an end. As a whole, they didn't do enough.

That being said, still not a good parallel to the issue at hand. Here's a short list of people who are welcome at my church: the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, passive homosexual partners, practicing homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, the verbally abusive,and swindlers. None of them are stopped at the door. In fact I've never asked someone if they were greedy or an idolater. Yep, I believe in loving the drunkards, the verbally abusive and the homosexual. If you were a homosexual I would still give you a hug and say welcome (assuming your the hugging type). Now if you were a thief of the pickpocket persuasion, I may have second thoughts about that decision but not because I didn't love you. However, since we disagree on the Biblical principles at hand here that's where I have to end my argument.

Steve Fuller said...


This does indeed seem like a good place to end the discussion. Thanks for your thoughts and feedback.

And despite what Murph says, I like the hats.

DanThoms said...

Thanks, I like my hat picture too. I do enjoy your blog.

ylmurph said...

that's it!?!?! no subtle digs and anonymous swipes?

You're really going to stop with the whole argument?

What's the weblogosphere coming to?

Steve Fuller said...

We are civilized people over here in my world, Sean. Unlike those barbarians that read your blog.

Anonymous said...

Hate the sin, LOVE the sinner

quietwitness said...

Interesting blog...I know this is about visiting "churches"...but let me throw in a little comment...about sex. orientation.

You said..."They tell them they have no right to love the person of their choosing. And they tell them they don't deserve the right to marry that person. That is not welcoming."

As believers we are not to live by our impulses and desires, right? Denying fleshly desires come with the journey with Christ.
As many as are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. So no matter what kind of "orientation" or desires one has...when we are reconcilled to God thru Christ...we seek to walk by the Spirit and not the flesh. Any kind of sexual immorality is of the flesh. We should love all people...and speak the truth. Not all sexual activity is God approved...neither is lying, stealing, coveting, murder etc.

The fruit of the Spirit is self control, love, peace, patience etc. Right?

Steve Fuller said...


I appreciate the comment.

I just think we have a fundamental difference in how we view homosexuality. I don't think two people who love each other deeply and want to spend the rest of their lives together in a monogamous relationship is the same as someone who steals or murders.

quietwitness said...

Hi Steve,
Yes we do disagree..but I think I understand your view point. And I believe you are attempting to look at this from a perspective of love. See if you can understand where I'm coming from.

Here is how I think (for what it is worth)...sexual immorality is wrong, correct?

Then the only question is...what sexual activity is moral? We know that sexual activity in the context of marriage is moral...(most of the time). It is pretty obvious from the "inspired" scriptures that this is so.
No other kind of sexual activity is encouraged other that that of a married man and woman in our new covenant era.

Now if a married man falls in love with another woman...does the "love" justify a sexual relationship? No...adultery...correct?

If an unmarried man and unmarried woman love each other...does the love justify sexual activity? No..that would be fornication...correct?

Love justifies nothing except keeping the other person's best interest in mind.

We can live a whole life without sexual activity and be totally fulfilled spiritually. It's not a right nor necessary...(except to keep the human race going.)

But we can't live without love...and love calls us to account.


~*~KIMBERLY~*~ said...

This week is quite a touchy subject!

Thank you Steve for sharing with us.

samarahuel said...

Hi, I discovered this blog through this one: http://www.thisisreverb.com/, and I've been catching up on the past churches. I am really enjoying it so far. I don't know if you'll read this comment, and I hope I'm not stirring up old conflict, but your original response about the Biblical perspective gave me a thought. I read the Romans and 1 Corinthians verses that explicitly talk about homosexuality and call it a sin. You say you can cite numerous verses about loving others, and I've no doubt you can. However I have been taught that the Bible does not contradict itself and that wherever there is a vague or implicit meaning in a verse, there should be an explicit verse somewhere in the Word that clarifies it. It seems to me that the verses on love would lead one to your perspective, but when we read also the explicit verses that specifically mention homosexuality, they show us that it is a sin, not a right, and that's "why it is so wrong," (to reference your 1/26 comment).

"Love" is also a pretty vague term, I guess, so maybe it would be helpful to study some verses that explicitly define how to do that as well.

Heather said...

Regarding the hymns... I don't know what the worship leader would say, but I like singing hymns.

I don't find hymns hard to sing, because I've been singing them since I was a little girl, like my parents and grandparents. There are many hymns that are as familiar to me as "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." I find singing them profoundly comforting, because they connect me both to my own past and to a history in the church that goes way beyond me. This is something my great-grandmother did, and her great-grandmother, and I like being part of that.

I like them because the lyrics are complex; not choruses with a few repeated, simple phrases, but complete poems, many of which express some fairly complex thoughts about God.

Every church has its own favorites hymns, and when I hear them, I remember that part of my life. "They'll Know We Are Christians by Our Love" sends me instantly back to my childhood, while I can't hear "The Trees of the Field" without flashing back to college chapel services, in the same way that hearing Olivia Newton-John or Prince takes me back to specific points of my youth.

So that's why I like hymns: I like the complexity of thought they contain, and I like the connection they provide me to my own past and the church's past.

Heather said...

I sort of wish I could edit my previous comment now that I've noticed that the two examples I used are not actually hymns. Oops. Just replace those songs with "There is a Fountain Full of Blood," my favorite gruesome hymn that Clifton UMC never seems to sing, and "I Surrender All," which my college friends used to quietly edit to "I Surrender Some."

Suzanne said...

I've only just recently learned about your church experiment and your blog. As the pastor of Clifton United Methodist Church I want to thank you for your visit and your comments. We're honored that you chose us to be one of the 52 churches in your interesting experiment. I'm sorry I missed you and hope that after your experiment is completed you will come back to visit us when I'm here (which is almost every week!).
I did want to respond to your curiosity about the hymn singing. We try very hard to include a variety of styles of music in our services. Hymns are meaningful to many of us who grew up in the church, and while most of us here at Clifton have outgrown the theology behind some of the words, we still hold on to the roots of our tradition of singing hymns in church. In fact, the United Methodist denomination grew out of a movement in which singing was significant (part of a longer and interesting church history that I won't elaborate upon here).
It's interesting that most of those who responded to the article did so because of your mention of our radical hospitality. Not only are we welcoming and affirming of persons with a variety of sexual orientations, but our welcome statement reflects our desire to be a fully inclusive and pluralistic faith community so we can represent and celebrate the fullness of God's creation.
I also appreciated your response to the word "harbor" and realize it may have a different connotation than the one we're striving to communicate. Our experience is that persons whose sexual orientation and/or gender identity is anything other than heterosexual have found church not to be a safe place. We could just have easily used the word "sanctuary" to signify its real meaning as a place of safety. Again, thank you for your visit and your reflections about your experience with our faith community.