City Church service, photographed by Steven Sarfas
In a letter to members, senior pastor Fred Harrell Sr. and board members of City Church in San Francisco announced that they would no longer demand LGBT congregants be celibate. Across the religious spectrum, institutions have been struggling with the question of LGBT members who wish to engage with the church, but whose lifestyles are contrary to prevailing interpretations of scripture. City Church, which regularly sees 1,000 attendees at services across two locations in the city, is the third major urban-centered Evangelical church to change its attitude towards LGBT congregants this year. In January, GracePointe Church in Nashville and Seattle’s EastLake Community Church both reversed their celibacy policy.
The letter sent out by City Church reads:
“Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community, ‘If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.’ This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”
Reactions have been mixed, but Laura Turner, communications coordinator for City Church, said that the decision was a carefully considered one. She told the Religion News Service that the move is a result of more than nine months of debate and close examination of religious texts. Furthermore, she added:
“Churches are slowly coming to recognize that if God is bringing people to them who are LGBT they have to meet them where they are and not demand that they change. Telling LGBT people they have to change before they can become Christians is leading to depression, suicide and addiction and we won’t do that anymore.”