SAN FRANCISCO — The leader of a megachurch in San Francisco has announced that it will no longer require members who struggle with feelings toward the same-sex to remain celibate as long as the sexual activity is within “marriage”—an announcement that has generated disapproval from Christian leaders nationwide.
“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,” Fred Harrell of City Church, the largest professing evangelical church in San Francisco, announced in a letter on Friday.
“We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,” he said. “For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage.”
City Church, a member of the Reformed Church in America, is stated to have been launched 18 years ago by the inspiration of Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Harrell said that during the nine-month decision-making period leading up the release of last week’s inclusion letter, he and other elders were influenced by Ken Wilson’s publication “A Letter to my Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor’s Path to Embracing People who are Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Into the Company of Jesus.”
“The generally unintended consequence [of our celibacy policy] has been to leave many people feeling deeply damaged, distorted, unlovable, unacceptable, and perverted,” Harrell stated. “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.”
As previously reported, Wilson, leader of Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor, Mich., claimed last year that he had received a “strong nudge from Jesus” to announce his changing views on homosexuality. But not everyone agreed.
“His ‘strong nudge’ contradicts everything the Bible has to say about marriage and homosexual acts, including Jesus Himself who declared in Mark 10:6-7, ‘But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,’” Matt Trewhella, pastor of Mercy Seat Christian Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, told Christian News Network.
Robert Gagnon, an associate professor of the New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, made similar statements in regard to Harrell in an article released on Tuesday.
“Although the City Church letter appeals to Jesus’ mission to outcasts as a basis for jettisoning a male-female requirement for marriage, it is difficult to claim that the Jesus we encounter in Scripture would have countenanced homosexual sex in the context of a ‘marriage,'” he said.
“Jesus appealed to the two-sexes requirement for marriage (and thus for all sexual activity) given in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as the foundation upon which all sexual ethics must be based, including the limitation of two persons to a sexual union,” Gagnon noted.
“Just as Jesus did not reach out to exploitative tax-collectors in order to justify their exploitation of the poor, so too Jesus did not reach out to sexual sinners in order to provide a platform for impenitent sexuality,” he continued. “He reached out to both groups in order to call them to repentance so that they might inherit the very Kingdom of God that he was proclaiming. That is true love, not the impersonation of love now being peddled by City Church leadership.”
Photo: City Church San Francisco