The elders at San Francisco's largest evangelical church, City Church, recently announced they will allow those engaging in a homsoexual lifestyle to become members, explaining that the church's previous policy of expecting those with same-sex attraction to practice life-long celibacy was causing "obvious harm."
The policy change was announced in a letter, written by Senior Pastor Fred Harrell Sr. on behalf of the board. The note reveals the nine-month process through elders went through before making their decision, and insists the that members of the LGBT community who attend City Church"desire to follow Jesus, and are eager to live faithfully to the gospel and desire spiritual growth."
"[This decision] aligns with our existing core vision: the doors of this church are as wide as the arms of the Savior it proclaims. We remain passionate about having as many people hear the gospel as possible. City Church will continue to receive into membership all those with a credible profession of faith and expect the same commitments represented in their membership vows," Harrell wrote in the letter.
"On the other hand, we want to be clear what this now means. We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining. For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage."
He explained, "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."
Harrell referenced social science research, which he said points to "skyrocketing rates of depression, suicide and addiction" among the LGBT people. "The generally unintended consequence has been to leave many people feeling deeply damaged, distorted, unlovable, unacceptable, and perverted," he says.
The board also considered the question, "Who belongs to Christ's body? And how do they belong?"
"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," he said.
City Church's board of elders hold a variety of views on homosexuality, but will "err on the side of grace and inclusion," Harrell explained. However, two elders resigned from the board, presumably due to the board's decision. "We received these resignations with sadness and understanding. These are fine members of our church who love Jesus deeply," he said.
"For so long this has been a 'case closed' kind of issue for evangelicals," he comments. "Scholars and leaders who have previously been united in their interpretations are coming to different conclusions. This does not mean that your view must change, but it does counsel humility with how we each hold our views. Given the status and variety of these opinions, what has become clear to us is that there is no longer clear consensus on this issue within the evangelical community."
According to the church's website, City Church is a member of the Reformed Church in America. Harrell was inspired by Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, which is pastored by Tim Keller, to start City Church (San Francisco) eighteen years ago.