LGBTQ+ church bid

— ‘I was told being gay would send you to hell’

Betty Harper’s first attempts to talk about her sexuality with her family did not go well

By Natalie Grice

Betty Harper is so “sick and tired” of trying to find a church where she feels truly welcomed as a gay woman that she is planning to start her own.

The 21-year-old charity worker from Llanddulas, Conwy county, is engaged to her partner of two years. Both are Christians who want to find somewhere accepting to practise their faith but have so far not found what they are looking for locally.Betty has travelled a long road to accepting her sexuality. Raised in a “very, very strict” Christian household, the message she heard growing up was that same-sex relationships were sinful.But she knew from an early age that was what she wanted.

She explains: “When I was younger I felt different to my friends. I wasn’t attracted to the boys [but] I was attracted to the girls.

“My dad was a pastor of a church at this time and all I’ve known my entire life is ‘being gay is wrong, and being gay will send you to hell’.”

‘It didn’t go down very well’

Betty remembers first mentioning her ideas about her sexuality when she was in Year 8 and entering her teenage years.

“I told my dad, I think I like this girl at school, and it didn’t go down very well, and that’s when I kind of shut off conversations any further about that,” she said.

Betty Harper Betty Harper (right) and her fiancee Hannah
Betty and her fiancee Hannah first met through a church

“As a Christian, when you’ve been brought up to be taught it’s not OK to be gay or to be in a same-sex relationship, but you are. You can’t change how you feel.”

She even tried to use her faith to alter who she really was because of her conditioning.

“Believe me, I’ve prayed and prayed and prayed to try and change how I see boys and how I see girls,” she says.

“[But] I was made this way. God made me who I am.”

Betty’s life is intimately bound up with her religion. She works as centre manager for a Christian charity offering community support and aid to the people of Rhyl, Denbighshire, taking over from her mother who helped establish the charity out of a church during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Her personal faith and relationship with Christianity is strong – it is clear to see it permeates every aspect of her life, and this remains the case despite some of the experiences she has had with churchgoers who disapprove of homosexuality, and have made that plain to her.

However, when she initially embarked on a relationship with a woman, she went through a crisis of belief.

“It was the first serious relationship I’d had with a woman and I really struggled.”


She and her current partner are now “unravelling” elements of past conditioning after “all those years of being drilled, ‘you’re going to hell, you’re going to hell'”.

It has led to a breach with her father’s side of the family. “We no longer speak. They’ve kind of disowned me because I’m with a woman,” she says.

She has been told by one family member they pray they can go to hell in her place so she can go to heaven.

Andrei Daniel Production Father Lee Taylor, Fabiano Da Silva Duarte and Right Rev Gregory Cameron
Fabiano Da Silva Duarte, left, and Father Lee Taylor were believed to be the first same-sex couples to receive an official Church in Wales blessing on their marriage in 2021, even though they could not wed in church

“That is so hard-hitting for me, because I believe there is a heaven and a hell. That’s really hard for me to hear and it made me doubt myself, and it’s that conditioning that needs to be unravelled,” she says.

Perhaps ironically, it was through a church that she and her partner Hannah first met, after Betty and her mother visited an old place of worship that her future partner attended.

Although Hannah had not come out at the time she became a Christian, she still experienced anti-gay sentiments through Sunday services.

Getty Images Two women getting married
Marriage between two same-sex people is still a “taboo” in some churches, in Betty’s experience

“She was preached at and told it was not OK to be gay just in a general Sunday service. She was like, ‘hang on that’s ridiculous, why can’t you be accepted for being gay?’,” she said.

Betty acknowledges steps have been taken in some Christian churches to welcome and accept LGBTQ+ members, but so far has not found somewhere she feels accepted.

“We’ve been to many, many churches around the area and a lot of them say ‘you’re welcome’. But if you’re married it’s a bit of a taboo subject,” she says.

At one church, initially welcoming to the couple, Betty says she was told after consultations with members of the congregation that she could attend choir rehearsals.

But she was also told not sing or perform on stage because “we wouldn’t want you to influence the younger people, and you couldn’t be a role model for them”.

After conditions were also put on her partner working with the Sunday school, Betty says she “walked away”.

“I said ‘we’ve been together two-and-a-half years and we need to find a church that is completely accepting, and I don’t think we’re going to find that. So I’m going to start something’,” she added.

“And that’s kind of how that snowballed.”

She says the “spur of the moment” decision is something she has run with “because it is so needed”.

‘Everyone is accepted for who they are’

She is now trying to find a wider group of people who are interested, locate a building and a “wholly accepting” pastor for the church, and has already had positive responses to the idea online.

“It’s not specifically for only LGBT people. Straight people are welcome. Everybody is welcome, even if you’re not a Christian,” she said.

Betty is looking for “anywhere in Wales” where there is a good building in a welcoming community, suggesting somewhere “youthful” and “modernised” such as Llandudno.

“I think of a church I would like it to look like – [such as] the churches that have very upbeat music. I suppose it would be mainly directed at younger-ish people, unless some of the older people love the music; they’d be more than welcome,” she grins.

She envisages a place where people can “do what they want” in worship.

“It shouldn’t be something you’re reading [from a leaflet] constantly. You should dance, express yourself how you best express yourself. That’s the kind of church I’d like to start.”

Getty Images St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh
The Scottish Episcopal Church is one of the religious groups in the UK which carries out same-sex weddings in its buildings

Betty and Hannah are hoping to marry in 2025, and if things go to plan hope they will be able to have a blessing in their own church after a civil service.

Currently, same-sex couples are unable to marry in Roman Catholic churches, the Anglican Church of England or the Church in Wales, although the Church of Scotland has voted in favour of the move.

Other denominations, such as the Methodist Church, United Reformed Church, Quakers and the Scottish Episcopal Church perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples.

After years of hearing her sexuality was sinful, Betty just wants to be in a place where she and other gay people are accepted.

As she says: “All you’re doing is loving somebody. It’s not like you’re murdering or anything like that.

“You’re just loving somebody, and God is love, so how can he discriminate [against] you for loving someone?”

Complete Article HERE!

How to deal with same-sex unions?

— It’s a question fracturing major Christian denominations

FILE – Shelby Ruch-Teegarden, of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, joins other protestors during the United Methodist Church’s special session of the general conference in St. Louis, Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019. United Methodist rules forbid same-sex marriage rites and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” but progressive Methodist churches in the U.S. have increasingly been defying these rules.


Catholics around the world are sharply divided by the Vatican’s recent declaration giving priests more leeway to bless same-sex couples. Supporters of LGBTQ inclusion welcome the move; some conservative bishops assail the new policy as a betrayal of the church’s condemnation of sexual relations between gay or lesbian partners.

Strikingly, the flare-up of debate in Catholic ranks coincides with developments in two other international Christian denominations — the global Anglican Communion and the United Methodist Church — that are fracturing over differences in LGBTQ-related policies.

Taken together, it’s a dramatic illustration of how – in a religion that stresses God’s love for humanity – divisions over marriage, sexuality, and inclusion of gays and lesbians are proving insurmountable for the foreseeable future in many sectors of Christianity.

Ryan Burge, a political science professor at Eastern Illinois University and pastor of an American Baptist church, says it’s become increasingly difficult for Christian denominations to fully accommodate clergy and congregations with opposing views on same-sex relationships, particularly as such marriages have become legal in much of Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

“A lot of denominations are in the position where you have to make a decision — you can’t be wishy-washy anymore,” said Burge, a specialist in religious demographics. “That’s the tension they’re facing: how to keep older conservatives in the fold while attracting younger people.”

For global denominations — notably Catholics, Anglicans and United Methodists — Burge sees another source of tension: Some of their biggest growth in recent decades has been in socially conservative African countries where same-sex relationships are taboo.

“African bishops have this ammunition,” Burge said. “They say to the West, ‘We’re the ones growing. You have the money, we have the numbers.’”

Kim Haines-Eitzen, a professor of religious studies at Cornell University, said Christianity — throughout its history — has been divided over differing theological views, such as whether women could be ordained as clergy.

FILE - Same-sex couples take part in a public blessing ceremony in front of the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, on Sept. 20, 2023. Pope Francis formally approved allowing priests to bless same-sex couples, with a new document released Monday Dec. 18, 2023 explaining a radical change in Vatican policy by insisting that people seeking God's love and mercy shouldn't be subject to "an exhaustive moral analysis" to receive it. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)
Same-sex couples take part in a public blessing ceremony in front of the Cologne Cathedral in Cologne, Germany, on Sept. 20, 2023. Pope Francis formally approved allowing priests to bless same-sex couples, with a new document released Monday Dec. 18, 2023 explaining a radical change in Vatican policy by insisting that people seeking God’s love and mercy shouldn’t be subject to “an exhaustive moral analysis” to receive it.

“Christianity is incredibly diverse — globally, theologically, linguistically, culturally,” she said. “There are bound to be these incredibly divisive issues, especially when bound up in scriptural interpretation. That’s what keeps world religions alive — that kind of push and pull.”


Among Christian denominations, the Anglican Communion is second only to the Catholic Church in geographic spread. Divisions over marriage, sexuality and LGBTQ inclusion have roiled the communion for many years, and they widened Dec. 17, when Church of England priests offered officially sanctioned blessings of same-sex partnerships for the first time.

The Church of England’s ban on church weddings for gay couples remains, but the decision to allow blessings has infuriated several conservative Anglican bishops from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific.

FILE - The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby walks through Westminster in London on Sept. 14, 2022. Welby, the top bishop of the Church of England and ceremonial leader of the Anglican Communion, says he won’t personally bless any same-sex couples because it’s his job to unify the world’s 85 million Anglicans. That hasn’t appeased some conservative bishops, who say they no longer recognize Welby as their leader. (Richard Heathcote/Pool Photo via AP)
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby walks through Westminster in London on Sept. 14, 2022.

Caught in the middle is the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby — the top bishop of the Church of England and ceremonial leader of the Anglican Communion.

Welby says he won’t personally bless same-sex couples because it’s his job to unify the world’s 85 million Anglicans. That hasn’t appeased some conservative bishops, who say they no longer recognize Welby as their leader.

The decision to allow blessings of same-sex couples followed five years of discussions about church positions on sexuality. Church leaders apologized for a failure to welcome LGBTQ people but also affirmed the doctrine that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.

“What we have proposed as a way forward does not go nearly far enough for many, but too far for others,” said Sarah Mullally, bishop of London.


A slow-motion breakup is underway in the United Methodist Church. A few years ago, it was the third-largest denomination in the United States, but a quarter of U.S. congregations have recently received permission to leave over disputes involving LGBTQ-related policies.

Of the more than 7,650 departing churches, most are conservative-leaning congregations responding to what they see as a failure to enforce bans on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of openly LGBTQ people.

There’s no firm estimate of how many members are leaving, as some who belong to departing congregations are joining other UMC churches. But UMC officials are preparing to cut denominational agencies’ budgets in anticipation of lower revenues from church offerings.

FILE - Pope Francis arrives to celebrate mass at the John Garang Mausoleum in Juba, South Sudan, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023. Catholics around the world are sharply divided by Francis’ December 2023 declaration giving priests more leeway to bless same-sex couples. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, File)
Pope Francis arrives to celebrate mass at the John Garang Mausoleum in Juba, South Sudan, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2023. Catholics around the world are sharply divided by Francis’ December 2023 declaration giving priests more leeway to bless same-sex couples.

United Methodist rules forbid same-sex marriage rites and the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” but progressive Methodist churches in the U.S. have increasingly defied these rules.

Conservatives have mobilized like-minded congregations to exit; many are joining the new Global Methodist Church, which intends to enforce such rules.

More than half of United Methodist members are overseas, many in conservative African churches. When UMC delegates meet this spring, they’re expected to debate proposals to liberalize ordination and marriage policies, and make it easier for overseas churches to leave.


Presaging the UMC schism, several other mainline Protestant denominations over the past two decades endured splits resulting from irreconcilable differences between supporters and opponents of LGBTQ inclusion. For example, after the Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop in 2003, some dioceses and conservatives formed the Anglican Church in North America.

Similar liberal/conservative differences prompted hundreds of congregations to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) after they embraced LGBTQ-inclusive policies.

Some conservative denominations — such as the Southern Baptist Convention and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — have adhered firmly to policies that reject recognition of same-sex relationships and ordination of openly LGBTQ people. These policies have prompted departures, but no major schism.

Brent Leatherwood, president of the Southern Baptists’ public policy commission, reiterated the SBC’s position in a statement asserting that the Vatican — under Pope Francis — “has been on a trajectory that seems destined for the allowance of same-sex marriage.”

FILE - The Rev. Catherine Bond, left and Reverend Jane Pearce react after being blessed at St John the Baptist church in Felixstowe, England, on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023 after the use of prayers of blessing for same-sex couples in Church of England services were approved by the House of Bishops. (Joe Giddens/PA via AP, File)
The Rev. Catherine Bond, left and Reverend Jane Pearce react after being blessed at St John the Baptist church in Felixstowe, England, on Sunday, Dec. 17, 2023 after the use of prayers of blessing for same-sex couples in Church of England services were approved by the House of Bishops.

“The reality is marriage has been defined by God … It is a union between one man and one woman for life,” Leatherwood said. “Southern Baptists remain anchored in this truth.”


The world’s second-largest Christian communion, after the Catholic Church, is the Eastern Orthodox Church, with an estimated 220 million members, concentrated mostly in Eastern Europe and Western Asia. To a large extent, Orthodox Christians disapprove of same-sex marriage and relationships.

In Greece, where the government is pledging to legalize same-sex marriage, the Orthodox Church has expressed strong opposition.

Russia’s Orthodox Church has supported tough anti-LGBTQ legislation enacted with the support of President Vladimir Putin.


Debate over LGBTQ inclusion hasn’t been as divisive in the world’s other major religions as in Christianity.

In the Muslim world, there’s widespread disapproval of same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage; many Muslim nations criminalize homosexuality. However, some LGBTQ-inclusive mosques have surfaced in North America and other places.

Among Jews around the world, there are varying approaches to LGBTQ issues, but relatively little high-profile rancor. Orthodox Judaism disapproves of same-sex marriage and sexual relations, while they’re widely accepted in the Reform and Conservative branches.

In Hinduism and Buddhism, there is no universal, official position on same-sex marriage. Many practitioners of the two faiths disapprove of such unions; some communities are more accepting.

Complete Article HERE!

Gay marriage debate still rages in religious circles.

— Here’s why.

By Ryan Sanders

Last week, Pope Francis announced that the Catholic Church will allow priests to bless same-sex couples, a move that is already drawing a ferocious backlash. That same day, The New York Times published another report on the slow-motion implosion of the nation’s second-largest Protestant denomination, largely over the issue of gay marriage and LGBTQ rights. While the legal standard of marriage equality in America was decided in 2015 with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges, debate in the religious sector still rages.

That’s because in these circles, the highest authority isn’t the Constitution, it’s the Bible; and the issue of marriage isn’t just about equality or progress, it’s about interpretation of ancient Greek and Hebrew texts.

Eight years is plenty of time to establish legal precedent, but in the project of redefining an institution that has lasted millennia, it’s the blink of an eye.

Having worked in church ministry for a decade, I’m familiar enough with the arguments around this issue to offer a short explanation of them. I’ll seek to be fair to all sides.

Both testaments of the Bible contain condemnations of gay sexual behavior. In the Hebrew Bible, the practice is explicitly forbidden: “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman,” Leviticus commands its male readers. In the New Testament, it’s issued as a warning: “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Gay sexual activity is variously labeled detestable, unnatural, or an abomination depending on the translation. In fact, nowhere does the Bible mention homosexuality in a favorable light. Reflecting those teachings, the modern Vatican has pronounced gay sex “intrinsically disordered.”

But there’s more nuance in this issue than it may seem. Eight years after Obergefell, the various interpretations of these passages have sorted the faithful into several overlapping factions.

Behavior vs. identity

One dividing line is about proclivity. There are generally three camps here.

Camp 1: Homosexuality is sin

Not only is gay sexual activity condemned in the Bible, but so is the desire for it. This isn’t explicit in any biblical text, but this camp infers it.

Backing off the popular 1980s talking point that sexual orientation is a choice, this group has shifted the choice issue away from attraction to identity. They assert that if orientation isn’t a choice, embracing it is. A Christian who experiences same sex attraction shouldn’t identify as gay. They should reject that identity and fight the gay agenda that seeks to normalize homosexuality.

This is the camp that has produced conversion therapy programs that seek to “pray the gay away.” This is also the camp that most often makes arguments about church purity, asserting that the presence of gay people in the church endangers children or dilutes the church’s witness.

This camp can’t condone LGBTQ people in any sort of church leadership.

Camp 2: The Bible condemns gay sex, but not gay people

Sexual desire toward a person of the same sex should be treated like any sexual desire. It should be categorized under “temptation” and kept under control.

Indeed, there are many places where the Bible preaches this very thing, regardless of gender or circumstance. The faithful are told to “flee from sexual immorality,” “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires,” “abstain from sexual immorality” and “put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”

For people in this camp, orientation itself is not sinful, but succumbing to temptation is. But there’s one big caveat: since no sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage between co-religionists can be condoned, that means celibacy for the gay Christian. This camp promotes what are called “Side B” Christians: openly gay and celibate.

It also means this camp can support ordaining gay celibate ministers.

Camp 3: The Bible doesn’t condemn monogamous gay relationships

This camp is small and often misunderstood. Opponents of this view often assume that departing from a traditional view of marriage means abandoning Biblical teaching. But people in this camp point out that there are extenuating circumstances in many (though not all) of the Bible passages that condemn gay sex.

For instance, in the famous story of God’s judgment at Sodom — the passage from which we get our word sodomy — there were several awful things going on, not least of which was gang rape.

So biblical injunctions against gay sex are really about other things like rape, pederasty, promiscuity, excess, idolatry, syncretism or even being inhospitable. Monogamous gay marriages weren’t part of the cultural imagination for the Bible’s human authors. They can be blessed by Bible-affirming churches.

This camp sometimes notes how uneven biblical examples of marriage are. For instance, polygamy is common in the Old Testament with no condemnation of the practice. So are arranged marriages. And there’s no small amount of hypocrisy in modern Christians who oppose gay marriage laws but do not oppose no-fault divorce laws.

A related topic here is the degree to which ancient culture may have influenced the writers of sacred texts. That’s an important point though a fraught one because it opens other large topics for debate: namely, the authority of Scripture itself, the authority of church leaders (or anyone else) to interpret it, and the question of whether modern culture is influencing a more inclusive interpretation.

Civil vs. religious marriage

Parallel to the debate over behavior and identity, there’s another dispute over the definition of marriage and who gets to choose it. Here, there are at least four camps. Maybe more.

Camp 1: Marriage must align with traditional biblical interpretation

God has given us moral standards for our own good. Societies thrive when they follow them. A nation whose laws and customs adhere to biblical standards will be a nation with less injustice and more flourishing. Therefore, society should define marriage the way the Bible defines it.

This approach often leaves little room for minority biblical interpretations like those from Camp 3 above, and often leads Christians to wage culture war.

Camp 2: The traditional Christian view of marriage must compete in a marketplace of worldviews

God has given us moral standards for our own good, but to impose those standards on a society where not everyone is Christian contradicts the meaning of free exercise. Faith cannot be coerced. In a pluralist society, a nation must define its own standards of good behavior. If religious people want those standards to adhere to their sacred text, they can influence the cultural debate like any other group.

This approach often leads Christians to support organizations that promote strong marriages and healthy families within the church.

Camp 3: Christians shouldn’t expect governments to affirm their beliefs

On many issues, not just marriage, Christians should not expect the moral standards of their nation to match their own. The church was always meant to be a minority voice, “salting” society with a countercultural way to live.

This approach allows Christians to embrace legal standards for gay marriage, while rejecting it in their faith communities. People in this camp see no reason the church’s definition of marriage should match the government’s.

Some readers might be surprised to learn that this was the approach favored by the famous apologist C.S. Lewis. Though the context was divorce, not gay marriage, Lewis wrote, “There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”

People in this camp may see an opening for churches to “bless” unions endorsed by the government without upending church doctrine.

Camp 4: The traditional way is not the loving way

The church must reexamine its doctrine of marriage and bring it up to date.

Redefining marriage to include LGBTQ people is not a diversion from biblical teaching but a reclamation of the biblical message of love that has been stained by ancient patriarchy or Victorian prudishness.

Churches in this camp are often described as “gay-affirming” and preach that the Bible’s message of love is Christianity’s central theme and overrides competing passages about sexual ethics, which are culturally bound.

Slippery slopes

Finally, there is a debate over the church’s purity.

The traditionalist blogger Luigi Casalini called the pope’s announcement heresy last week. “The church is crumbling,” he wrote. Another called it “an invitation to schism.” Indeed, a 2021 missive from the Vatican’s own department of doctrine said the church couldn’t bless gay unions because “God cannot bless sin.”

The logic here is that people in same sex unions are openly embracing behavior the Bible condemns. The church can’t bless that attitude, just as it can’t bless an open marriage or the marriage of two atheists. The issue is not sexual orientation, it’s alignment with the church’s core beliefs.

The counter argument is worth mentioning: All people in all unions are sinners, and churches seem to have no qualms about blessing the marriage of a man and woman who both drink too much, for instance, or who cheat on their taxes, or who hate their enemies, without contrition.

When you start withholding sacraments as a strategy for behavior modification, you lose the grace that underlies the sacraments.

Still, many who may agree with blessing gay unions rather than performing gay marriages may fear that one will lead to the next.


These three debates are independent of one another. Being in the most conservative camp on one issue doesn’t necessarily place you there on another issue, though there is certainly lots of overlap on that Venn diagram.

It also must be said that each of these views can be held in good faith by people of genuine devotion. Being in Camp 1 doesn’t make you a homophobic hatemonger, and being in Camp 3 doesn’t make you a godless apostate.

Do bigots and apostates use theology as cover? Of course. But these kinds of debates require precision, not bad faith assumptions.

Finally, as should be clear by now, these ideas are debated only among people who must square their lifestyles and viewpoints with the Bible. Adherents to other religions have their own, similar conflicts (the Quran also condemns gay behavior, for instance). And secular readers aren’t affected. In fact, to someone who doesn’t recognize any moral authority in the Bible, all of these arguments must seem hopelessly backward.

For each of the viewpoints above, there are mountains of writing and research: points, counterpoints, sermons and tomes. There are also lots of related topics that get pulled into these debates, from anthropology to tax exemptions.

But these are the undercurrents of the conflict. When churches split or priests vent about marriage and sexuality, these are the waters they are treading. They are troubled waters, indeed.

Complete Article HERE!

LGBTQ+ church leaders share reflections on service

LEAD WITH LOVE: The Rev. Sarah Hulbert, dean at The Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village, says those who aren’t welcoming LGBTQ+ parishoners with open arms are missing God’s greatest commandment: Love your neighbor as yourself.

by Greg Parlier

The Rev. Sarah Hurlbert says she can understand why some fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community never want to step foot in a church.

“Why would you want to be a part of a religious group that has oppressed folks?” she concedes.

But Hurlbert, who identifies as bisexual, says the same God that made her who she is also called her to the priesthood. She is disappointed in those who use the Bible to discriminate against minority communities because of what she says is an improper conflation of politics and Christian teachings.

“The more you study, the more you realize a lot of what’s being preached out there as the Gospel is not true,” she asserts. “And a lot of it is this cultural conservatism, and they’ve gotten the Bible and the flag and the Constitution all mixed up. And so it’s important for us to be in the public square, not proclaiming a political party.”

For Hurlbert, there are two primary commandments given by God to guide human life.

“Love God above everything else; love your neighbor as yourself. Outside of that, we have created all these things, all these hoops that people have to jump through, none of it’s Gospel. So what Jesus came to say was a pretty simple message that we’ve managed to really, really make hard.”

Hurlbert joined The Cathedral of All Souls in Biltmore Village as dean in 2022. It is part of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, which, she says, has been on the forefront of expanding acceptance in the Episcopal church, one of the first Christian denominations to officially allow openly LGBTQ+ ministers in its leadership.

While the national Episcopal leaders voted to make the church “fully inclusive” in 1976, it was 2009 before they passed a resolution officially allowing the ordination of LGBTQ+ bishops, and there wasn’t full support for same-sex marriage until 2015, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

At All Souls in the 1980s, the Rev. Neil Zabriskie was on the leading edge, challenging the WNC diocese to “begin facilitating conversations around human sexuality as well as becoming a welcoming and safe church for gay and lesbian persons,” according to All Souls’ website.

That conversation continued into the next decade, and today, the Rev. José A. McLoughlin, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina, says it’s his goal to welcome and earnestly include everyone, regardless of background.

“In a world where division persists, we hope that our commitment to being open and affirming is an example of the transformative power of love,” he says. “We hope also to be a living example of a church where everyone is not only accepted but fully embraced for who they are and that each person can find belonging that leads to full flourishing in the divine light of love.”

Coming out in the church

The Rev. David Eck, who is gay, did not hide who he was from his congregation when he became pastor of Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in Fairview in 1993. That was a risky move at the time.

“I think early on a lot of us sort of flew under the radar,” he says. “In my denomination, I would have been fired had the bishop known.”

OPEN BOOK: The Rev. David Eck has been leading Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in Fairview for about 30 years and was always open with his congregation about his sexual orientation.

It wasn’t until 2009 that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, of which Abiding Savior is a member, voted to allow gay and lesbian clergy to serve openly, he says.

“I would perform all the unions for couples before it was legal to actually marry folks,” Eck says. “And my congregation was supportive of that. And so, you know, we’ve just been sort of quietly affirming a wide diversity of people.”

When Eck did come out to the bishop and his colleagues from other churches, he was the only openly gay Lutheran pastor in the state, but that was less important to him than worship and community outreach.

“Those who know me well weren’t surprised,” he recalls. “Some folks, you know, just can’t seem to get beyond that prejudice. I had to part ways with some people, and there are pastors in the community that won’t work with me. It just is what it is.”

Hurlbert’s journey to the church and self-acceptance went through Broadway. After being raised in the Episcopal church in Central Florida, she moved to New York City, where she worked backstage in Broadway theaters and attended an Episcopal church she liked. But something was unsettled. She met a few women who were ordained in the church and eventually started to realize what she needed to do.

“Something was being stirred up,” she says of her decision to go to seminary. “I took my time and told God a lot of times that God was wrong. And then I did some real conversation in spiritual direction with clergy, and I finally came to realize, yep, this is what’s happening.”

It wasn’t until she was out of seminary and in the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, where there were lots of other LGBTQ+ clergy, that she came out. By that time, in 2014, the church was much more accepting, making her transition to being open much easier than if she had come out during seminary.

Part of her delay to accept her own sexuality had to do with cultural norms around female relationships, Hurlbert says. There is a cultural acceptance that female relationships take many forms, so early on she was led to believe that certain feelings she was having were just a type of platonic female friendship. Later, when she entered the church, she fought the urge to get swallowed up by her ministry, not allowing herself to be loved by someone because she was so consumed by her duties caring for her congregation.

Eventually, she fell in love with her now-wife, Dee Hurlbert.

LGBTQ+ leadership

For Jesse Nelson, who is gay, the presence of LGBTQ+ leaders in the church is important to fostering a welcoming environment, especially with so much divisive rhetoric coming from segments of the Christian community.

“At the end of the day, you can’t be accepting of LGBTQ+ folks as a church and not accept them into leadership,” he argues. “To me, that’s just not possible. If you’re doing that, you’re playing a game that’s causing confusion.”

Nelson grew up in an evangelical Baptist church in Cashiers but began participating in a local Catholic church because it was a little more socially progressive, he says.

He moved to the Waynesville area about four years ago to help take care of his ailing grandfather and wound up joining Grace Church in the Mountains, an Episcopal church in town, because he liked the way the congregation preached “radical love.”

“They take ‘love God’ and ‘love your neighbor’ very seriously. I think that, for me, that’s pretty important to spiritual life,” he says.

Now, Nelson hosts “joyful fellowship events” for members of the church to share in their experiences as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Hurlbert says it’s vital for church leaders to actively show the wider community love and acceptance, through word and action, especially in the face of hateful rhetoric that is also being attributed to the Bible.

“I preach to our folks that we’ve got to be out there because there are young people growing up in this far-right Christian nationalism that know in their heart that something’s wrong, but they have nothing that they can go to,” she says. “They don’t even know that there’s a place where you can go and be gay and Christian. For a lot of people, it’s a matter of life and death for us to just be out there and be who we are.”

For Nelson, integrating LGBTQ+ people into the church is the only way to build a community that resembles the one taught by Scripture.

“The point of Christianity to me is to grow in love and understanding, and to build peaceful, loving communities,” he says. “And to do that, I think you have to be accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Not just tolerate it, but you know, integrate it into spiritual life. Because yeah, it is part of our life experience. So it is sacred.”

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Church of England backs plans for trial blessings of same-sex weddings

— General Synod’s narrow vote in favour means services to celebrate gay marriages could be held within weeks

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, backed the amendment to offer blessings to same-sex weddings on a trial period.


Dedicated church services to bless the weddings of same-sex couples could be held within weeks, after a narrow vote at the Church of England ruling body.

The General Synod backed a plan to hold standalone services of blessings for same-sex couples on a trial basis.

It means that gay Christians will be able to invite family and friends to a special service, which could be held on Saturdays, to bless and celebrate their weddings. Music, readings, confetti and other features would mean such services could look very similar to a standard church wedding.

The proposal for standalone services on a trial basis came in an amendment to a motion that noted progress made by bishops on the divisive issues of sexuality, known within the C of E as Living in Love and Faith. The amendment scraped through by one vote; the amended motion passed by 227 votes to 203.

Steven Croft, the bishop of Oxford, who proposed the amendment, said the “experimental” standalone services would be voluntary and no member of the clergy would be obliged to offer such services.

Last month, bishops agreed to commend special prayers of blessing for same-sex couples for use in existing church services. These are likely to begin before Christmas.

Bishops also agreed last month to begin a two-year process of authorising special standalone services under canon law.

The proposal for trial standalone services means they can begin at the same time as the process of permanent authorisation is under way.

In a joint statement, Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, and Stephen Cottrell, the archbishop of York – who backed the amendment, said: “We have heard loud and clear, through an extensive debate over two days, the depth of feeling across the church on these hugely important questions.

“While this motion was passed, narrowly, we do not underestimate the depth of feeling and will reflect on all that we have heard as we seek to move forward together.”

Sarah Mullally, the bishop of London and co-chair of the Living in Love and Faith steering group, said: “The truth is – and as we have seen again today – that the Church of England is not of one mind on questions of sexuality and marriage.”

Bishops would now “consider how best to implement” the synod’s decision, she added.

Jayne Ozanne, a campaigner for equal marriage within the C of E, said the decision offered “tiny scraps of hope to LGBT+ people”.

She added: “The C of E remains deeply homophobic, whatever bishops and archbishops may say. I fear that much of the nation will judge the C of E as being abusive, hypocritical and unloving – they are, sadly, correct.”

Daniel Matovu, a barrister and a lay member of the synod, told members that the proposal was “contrary to and wholly inconsistent with God’s word”. He said the Bible made it clear that a male who sleeps with another male cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.

The synod voted against a series of amendments seen by pro-LGBTQ+ campaigners as seeking further delay on the C of E’s glacial moves towards marriage equality. The church has been trying to avoid a split between progressives and traditionalists on the issues for more than 20 years.

Complete Article HERE!