San Franciso's largest evangelical church welcomes non-celibate gay people as members


San Francisco's largest evangelical church is opening its membership up to LGBT people, regardless of their commitment to lifelong celibacy.

"The doors of this church are as wide as the arms of the Savior it proclaims," Senior Pastor Fred Harrell wrote in a letter to City Church dated March 13. "Our pastoral practice of demanding life-long 'celibacy', by which we meant that for the rest of your life you would not engage your sexual orientation in any way, was causing obvious harm and has not led to human flourishing."

City Church has welcomed many LGBT Christians through its doors over the years, Harrell said, but they have never been allowed to become members without agreeing to be celibate.

"This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond," he wrote.

"We believe the thrust and focus of the gospel is the breaking down of former boundaries of exclusion and the expanding of the welcome of Jesus to all.

"In all of this, we are looking to Scripture to understand how Jesus would counsel us to care for the LGBT members of our community. If Jesus were the pastor of City Church, what would he say to the people who are asking if they can belong? As we consider the life of Christ, his example of love...and his patience with those earnestly seeking him, what is a Christ-like response?"

Harrell notes that there are "skyrocketing rates of depression, suicide, and addiction among those who identify as LGBT" and it is the Church's job to "embrace the outsider and cast down".

City Church's board of elders hold a variety of views on homosexuality, but will "err on the side of grace and inclusion," he adds. However, two elders resigned from the board, presumably in response to the decision. "We received these resignations with sadness and understanding. These are fine members of our church who love Jesus deeply," Harrell said.

He also notes that all members, regardless of their sexual orientation, will be expected to practice chastity until marriage.

"We want to talk about this difficult subject in healthy, responsible, biblical, and even personal ways. As a church that is 18 years old, with a diversity of opinion on everything, I believe we can do this," Harrell concludes.

"We can hold our views with humility and respect the views of others. Let's give the watching world something they never see...grace, understanding, listening, loving, and yes disagreeing, driven and undergirded by the gospel of grace. I call us all to this higher road, and am confident we can do it!"

The decision follows the January announcement that GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tennessee voted to support gay marriage.