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Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog and Commentary

The Redefinition of "Welcoming"

I recently read an article which, once again, talked about a church being “welcoming” to the LGBT community.

Let’s define “welcoming,” shall we?

Historically, it has meant you, um, welcomed them. Said “hello,” that kind of thing. You were friendly and you seemed glad they had arrived. There weren’t cliques, there wasn’t racial or socio-economic bias or prejudice. You were an equal opportunity “welcomer.”

Yet today it means something different. It means “affirming.” As in, “whatever you do, say, practice or believe is fine by me and we embrace not only you, but ‘it’.” It means you condone, approve, and even facilitate their lifestyle. As a result, churches that are not “welcoming” in this sense are seen as, well, not “welcoming.”

Can someone say, out loud, that this is officially insane?

If acceptance becomes the same as affirmation, and welcoming the same as condoning, then Houston, we have a problem.

Here’s why:

It would mean that any relational embrace would necessitate moral endorsement. 

Let’s play that out, shall we?

I am a father of four. Any parent knows the two words “tough love.” You can love your child – fiercely – but not affirm their lifestyle. In fact, sometimes, a parent’s greatest act of love is “tough.” I can love you but not facilitate your drug habit. I can love you and not condone your life of crime. I can love you and visit you in prison, but not embrace what led you there. And this “tough love” is also going to add in a ridiculous dose of grace in the process that understands we could just as easily be standing in your shoes as you are.

Is this such a hard idea?

The church I lead is incredibly welcoming of… well, everyone. No matter their lifestyle, no matter their history. But we are not condoning of everything. The reason is simple: we so love people that when a lifestyle is damaging to them physically, spiritually, emotionally or relationally, we want them to know. We want them to turn from it. Even if they don’t agree, we’re going to stay in their corner and keep hammering away at what is best for them.

It’s what love does.

So come to our church. We welcome you.


James Emery White

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.