The evangelical religious landscape continues to shift with City Church San Francisco’s announcement that it will no longer require GLBT members to be celibate. You can read the Sojourner’s article here. Writing to the congregation, Senior Pastor Fred Harrell noted:
“We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,”
Apparently the polity of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) allows for congregations to establish their own membership guidelines. This is different from the Presbyterian Church (USA) where any person who professes faith in the Lord Jesus Christ may be received into membership. Typically, PC (USA) churches–even evangelical ones–will receive gays and lesbians into membership, permit them to receive the sacraments, but typically prohibit them from leadership within the congregation.
The church, which claims about 1,000 attendees and meets at two San Francisco locations, has long welcomed LGBT persons to attend, but has required life-long celibacy of those LGBT persons seeking membership.
What’s especially interesting about the larger City Church story is that this is a congregation that has fairly rapidly moved from a conservative denomination to a moderate denomination and then to the left margin of that denomination.
Ten years ago (approximately) City Church voted to leave the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) in order to join the moderate/liberal Reformed Church in America (RCA) because the church came to affirm the giftedness of women for leadership in all areas of the life of the church. You can read more here.
What City Church appears to have done is allow for there to be a difference of opinion amongst people of good will in the congregation and concluded that this must allow for a difference of practice. I don’t think that’s a necessary conclusion, incidentally.
The prior standard was if you’re to be a member then you must pursue celibacy outside of heterosexual marriage. According to the church, that standard is no longer tenable. According to Harrell:
“‘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.”
It seems to me that this is a faulty presupposition, however. Is it really true that it is impossible to enjoy “the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship apart from a romantic relationship?” Romantic relationships, even formalized ones, are not the sole and exclusive place where human beings experience companionship. It is, in fact, an indictment of both the church and of society that we even find such an argument plausible.