Inclusive Churches See their Congregation Grow
By Meredith Jenkins
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” -John 4:7-8
A new report out of the United Kingdom called Religious Marriage of Same-Sex Couples has found churches that embrace marriage equality have seen an increase in their attendance. In fact, churches receiving a license to carry out same-sex weddings can have “a positive ‘brand’ for a place of worship.” Academics from Leeds and York universities posit that having an LGBT positive image benefits the institution. Currently, just 182 of more than 40,000 churches in the UK hold same-sex marriages.
One Unitarian church reported, “the commitment to same-sex marriage ‘gives us something distinctive to promote’.” Similarly, one Baptist church stated, “As a city centre church, this has positioned us more clearly in the ‘market’ – meaning those who want such a church know clearly who we are and will travel to come to us (very few live nearby).” The new research paper concludes, “Being known for solemnizing same-sex marriage may, therefore, be a positive ‘brand’ for a place of worship and not, as some members of some congregations experience it, a negative attribute.”
44% of the UK’s roughly 170 Unitarian churches welcome of LGBT and celebrate same-sex marriage, the highest percentage of any denomination. These churches have found projecting a more liberal set of attitudes has seen worshippers feel more welcome and, thus, more likely to attend church services.
According to the paper, several churches that opted to conduct same-sex weddings have attracted new LGBT visitors or congregation members (this reminds me of what Whoopi Goldberg did in Sister Act). One Unitarian church reported, “there has been an increase in attendance at services by gay and trans people;” another believed their decision to embrace marriage equality “may have encouraged some LGBT people to join the congregation.” Derek McAuley, chief officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, told The Telegraph, “We have seen people join and become active in several local congregations as a direct result of our welcoming stance on same sex marriage.”
It’s worth noting that although our friends across the pond enjoy marriage equality at the secular level (with the exception of Northern Ireland), marriage between people of the same-sex is banned by law in the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the global Anglican Church, has said that the church is divided on LGBT issues and even admitted that it is “not handling this issue very well.”
The global Anglican Communion has been torn apart by a rift between largely pro-LGBT Western churches and hardline anti-gay Anglican churches in Africa and the Global South. Some churches in the US, Canada and Scotland have sparked anger from hardline African archbishops by modernizing on LGBT rights, embracing gay bishops and performing same-sex unions. In an attempt to keep the Anglican Communion from splintering, the Archbishop of Canterbury has the more liberal Western churches of making “a fundamental departure from [Anglican] faith and teaching” on gay people. However, in an interview with Alastair Campbell for GQ, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby admitted that the rift on LGBT issues within the church was “irreconcilable.” When asked what the church should do about the rift, the Archbishop replied, “We have to be holy, above all [else]. We have to be people who look like God wants us to look like. When people look at the church they should see Jesus, and really, they don’t very often… particularly when we are totally hostile to people, judgmental, unpleasant [and] nasty.”
Perhaps, one day, the Anglican Church will embrace the LGBTQ community and welcome marriage equality. In so doing, the church would, arguably, not only be love; but, It would also see its flock grow.
Special thanks to Benjamin Butterworth of PinkNews who helped make this story possible.