NASHVILLE — An apostate pastor in the Bible Belt who leads the congregation that country star Carrie Underwood attends recently announced from the pulpit that not only can practicing homosexuals be members, but those in sexual sin can now fully serve in his church and will be allowed to “marry” at the facility.
“Our position that these siblings of ours, other than heterosexual, … cannot have the full privileges of membership, but only partial membership, has changed,” Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tennessee announced earlier this month as some clapped and others sat silently in disapproval.
“Full privileges are extended now to you with the same expectations of faithfulness, sobriety, holiness, wholeness, fidelity, godliness, skill, and willingness. That is expected of all,” he continued. “Full membership means being able to serve in leadership and give all of your gifts and to receive all the sacraments; not only communion and baptism, but child dedication and marriage.”
Mitchell, 46, claims that God moved upon him three years ago to begin rethinking his position on inclusion in the congregation. Heretofore, GracePointe had allowed those who identify as homosexuals to attend the services, but drew the line at serving in leadership positions or being “married” by the leadership.
“We were thrust, I believe, by a divine wind, into a prayerful, painful, invigorating, careful and hopeful conversation regarding sexual orientation and gender identity,” he said, remarking that the “art of conversation … is a holy calling.” “This has been at the least painful, and at times, devastating.”
Mitchell said that some homosexuals left the congregation because they disagreed with GracePointe’s position, but others also left when he announced a time of listening over the issue because they were appalled that the matter needed to be discussed at all.
“We lost not only those who could bear the pain of partial inclusion no longer, we lost other brothers and sisters who were on the other side, who so deeply believed they knew God’s heart on this matter … as being opposed to any expression of mutual human sexuality other than theirs,” he stated before those gathered.
“These people left because in spite of the fact that they love GracePointe and they loved all of us, they could not bear even a conversation lest it promised to yield a conclusion they already had,” Mitchell said. “I do not blame them. They are on their journey, and I’m on mine.”
The evangelical minister acknowledged after announcing that he had decided to fully embrace homosexuals in the congregation that others may choose to depart.
“Inclusion means that we can live together in agreement and disagreement, but if this stretches you to the point of having to compromise your soul, and you do need to separate, I would be a hypocrite to say I don’t understand that,” he stated. “Because, conversely, my soul has been stretched to the point that if I do not say what I say today, I cannot be here any longer. I have felt this way for many, many years.”
But Mitchell also expressed doubt over his conclusion.
“I am not sure I am right, but I am sure I sense the presence of God, and I know I’m doing my best,” he said. “And I believe before God almighty to this we have been called, and here we stand.”
According to TIME, Mitchell’s congregation continues to shrink since he first made the announcement two years ago that he was going to open a listening period over the issue. Two years ago, GracePointe had an average of 800-1000 members in attendance, and after he announced full inclusion for homosexuals this month, attendance went down to 673. Last week, it stood at 482.
Country pop star Carrie Underwood, who attends GracePointe with her husband Mike Fisher, announced in 2012 during the same time that the congregational “conversation” was underway that she supported same-sex “marriage.”
“I definitely think we should all have the right to love—and love publicly—the people that we want to love,” she told The Independent. “It’s not about setting rules or [saying], ‘Everyone has to be like me.’ No. We’re all different. That’s what makes us special. We have to love each other and get on with each other. It’s not up to me to judge anybody.”
Video: Discussion begins at 44:00