Frequently Asked Questions about the American Family Outing
1. What is the American Family Outing?
The AFO is a campaign between Mother’s Day Weekend and Father’s Day Weekend in which LGBT families and supportive straight families will seek peaceful and heart-to- heart dialogue with six of today’s most influential evangelical leaders and their mega- churches about faith, family, and LGBT people. We seek first to understand, and then to be understood, as we engage families and staff within these congregations.
2. Who are the sponsors of the American Family Outing?
The AFO is a collaborative project between Soulforce, The National Black Justice Coalition, COLAGE, and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.
3. Why is it important for LGBT people and our families to dialogue with these mega-churches?
The six pastors we plan to visit during the AFO have been ranked by Christian organizations as among the 50 most influential Christian leaders in America. In addition to pastoring large churches whose memberships often exceed tens of thousands, each has an enormous influence on American culture through best-selling books, radio and television programs that reach millions of homes, and frequent speaking engagements in packed churches and large coliseums in cities across the country. While some are actively involved in American politics, all have significant influence on public opinion and therefore, the rights of LGBT people and their loved ones. In some of these churches, LGBT people are welcomed – but they are not affirmed – often meeting resistance from church leaders when they offer their spiritual gifts and seek to take a more active role within the life of the church. Soulforce and our partnering organizations care deeply about the emotional, mental, and spiritual welfare of those in the LGBT community who choose to attend these churches. We want them to know that God loves and affirms them exactly as they are and that each of us can live lives of service filled with dignity and grace, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity. Our vision is that one day; every church sanctuary in America will truly be a sanctuary for ALL people.
4. Does Soulforce consider these churches and leaders to be our enemy?
Absolutely not. These churches are filled with good and loving people who want, as we do, to make the world a better place. The leaders of these churches are victims of misinformation, as we all have been, about sexual orientation and gender identity. Our ultimate goal is reconciliation – not victory. We believe these churches have the potential to be a positive force in ending the physical and spiritual violence perpetuated by some religious voices against LGBT people and their families. Some of these churches have exercised inspirational leadership on social issues such as poverty and AIDS, and we believe they can exercise comparable, courageous leadership in ending spiritual and physical violence against LGBT people. We believe that each of these churches will grow and prosper by welcoming us; recent research shows that a majority of young Christians are alienated by some churches’ hostility to gay and lesbian people. More and more people of faith now understand that there are all kinds of families in America, and what really matters is our love and commitment to one another.
5. What are the requirements if my family wants to participate?
a) If you welcome and affirm all people regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity, then you may participate with your family. Couples with or without children, single-parent families, supportive straight families, and single individuals who wish to participate with a member of their extended family (a parent, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, etc) may participate. All families must pre-register online.
b) Your family must attend a brief training in nonviolence prior to the church visit for which you register. The nonviolence training will be scheduled in the same city/area as the church we are visiting and will occur on the same weekend as our scheduled visit. The exact date, time, and location of the training will be emailed to each family once their online registration has been approved.
c) At the local training in nonviolence, each member of your family must sign the Soulforce Pledge to Nonviolence. Your signed copy of the pledge will be placed inside your name-badge holder during the meetings with the church. The Soulforce Pledge of Nonviolence was originally written by Martin Luther King, Jr., and was modified by Soulforce in 2003. "Soul force" comes from Gandhi’s term "Satyagraha" and the nonviolent principles for change taught by both Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. The Pledge to Nonviolence reads:
"As I prepare for this direct action, I will meditate regularly on the life and teachings of Gandhi and King and other truth-seekers. I will remember that the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation-not victory. I will walk and talk in the manner of love and nonviolence. I will contemplate daily what I can do so that all can be free. I will sacrifice my own personal wishes that all might be free. I will observe with friend and foes the ordinary rules of courtesy. I will perform regular service for others and for the world. I will refrain from violence of fist, tongue, and heart. I will strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health. I will follow the directions of Soulforce leaders during this direct action."
6. What are the plans for caring for our children?
We believe that these churches will agree to loving and respectful conversations at all times, despite our differences. All of these churches care deeply about families and children, and we believe they want to engage in dialogue in a manner that honors the human dignity of all children, regardless of the sexual orientation or gender-identity of their parents. We seek to share a meal with representative families, clergy, and leaders at each of these churches. If we have a more in-depth conversation after the meal, we will negotiate to have our children placed in the church’s childcare facility, with supervision by both church members and some parents from our delegation. This plan should address the needs of our children, and the children from the church, especially younger ones who may not have the attention span for such an adult conversation. Our transportation will be waiting outside the church at all times with childcare volunteers in place, should parents decide to leave the conversation for any reason. Again, while the dialogue may be intense as we discuss our differences and seek common ground, we expect that each of these churches will engage us as we seek to engage them – with love and respect.
Additionally, for youth who are older than 11, COLAGE is providing training and support for those who wish to take part in the conversations with the churches. We recognize that the voices of young people are powerful and that they can authentically share their experiences as children of LGBT parents. COLAGE will help youth and young adult participants in the American Family Outing have the tools and support they need to participate in the outings.
7. Where will my family sleep during the weekend if we are traveling from outside the city?
Soulforce will negotiate a reasonable room rate at a comfortable hotel nearby. The details of these hotel arrangements will be emailed to approved registrants once finalized.
8. Do I have to be a Christian to participate in the American Family Outing?
No. However, most of our family leaders (whose profiles can be viewed on this site) do identify as strong people of faith. We are seeking families who know how to have respectful conversations about differences, and are able to take religion and the Bible seriously since our dialogue will often be based in Scripture. Each family must be willing to educate themselves and attend the local training in nonviolence.