I ran across a recent review of a San Francisco church at Yelp.com that included this anecdote:
One Sunday morning, after the service, I approached Pastor Terry and introduced myself. I told him how moved and inspired I was by his summer lecture series. I then posed the question: I asked him, as a gay man, how am my viewed by his church and is there a place for me in his congregation. His mouth dropped. His body language contracted and he replied, "We adhere to STRICT biblical teachings and condemn homosexuality." For the the next several seconds he tried to maintain a constrained, polite, demeanor, but I got the picture loud and clear.This is the sort of story that I am sure gets repeated all the time--a gay or lesbian seeker is attracted to a church, only to find that he or she is excluded because of his or her sexuality.
I stumbled home in a daze back to my Mission apartment feeling as though I had just been whacked across the head by a psychic two by four. It was traumatic to say the least. In a nut shell, this is a traditional evangelical Christian church that tries to pass itself off as a "progressive" church and is NOT inclusive.
Yet, on the other hand, to be honest, I was at first a little surprised that the reviewer had this experience, since a quick visit to the church's web site shows all the code words and phrases that pretty much make it pretty darned clear that this is a conservative evangelical church. For example, the very first sentence in the "What We Believe" page says, "We believe that the Bible is the Word of God. As such, it is fully trustworthy in all it teaches and affirms", citing 1 Timothy 3:16. It goes on to say that "we believe that all people are born with a fallen and broken nature and cannot be saved except through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ. We believe Jesus is the way, the truth and the life." And so forth. Very traditional conservative Protestant theology. The odds would not have been very high that such a church would have been inclusive or progressive at any level--certainly not inclusive unless it proclaimed its inclusiveness somewhere, which it did not.
But the Yelp reviewer of this church mentioned something at the beginning of his review that gives a hint as to how this happened. He was invited to go there by a friend, and he mentions, "although I did not have a traditional Christian upbringing, I was moved by the music and full band at the beginning of each Sunday service." In other words, without a traditional Christian upbringing, he probably just didn't have the experience with Christianity that would have allowed him to identify who the intolerant conservatives were. Maybe because this particular church seemed hip or cool at some superficial level in terms of its presentation, he just assumed that it was theologically progressive.
Those of us with experience with Christianity know that there is a great deal of variety within the faith. Although conservative Christians do like to proclaim that they, and they alone, are legitimately "Christian", the reality is, of course, something else entirely. But for a person without the necessary background, they just wouldn't be able to discern all the differences within the broad stream of Christian traditions, or pick out the code words, or figure out what they were getting themselves into when they stumbled into a church--especially one that tries hard to exude a coolness factor. Those with the requisite experience are inoculated against the preachers of intolerance and know when to be wary or stay away; those without the experience aren't.