Out of the 100 largest churches in the United States, zero have LGBTQ+ affirming policies and almost all are led by white men. This is based on research by Church Clarity, a crowd-sourced database that scores churches based on the clarity of their actively enforced LGBTQ+ policies. The organization scored the 100 largest churches as featured in the Christian publication, Outreach Magazine. Church Clarity scored these churches not only on their LGBTQ+ policies, but also on the race and gender of the church’s senior pastors.
Church Clarity defines an “affirming policy” as “much more than ‘welcoming’ LGBTQ+ people, it means that the church will ordain, hire, marry and baptize LGBTQ+ people.” The research found that 54 percent of churches profiled had obscure policy language and did “not clearly and accessibly communicate” their LGBTQ policies and were categorized as “Unclear: Non-Affirming.” Thirty-five percent of churches had “clearly indicate non-affirming policies in a way that can easily be found on their website” and Church Clarity categorized these as “Clear: Non-Affirming.” Eleven percent were categorized as “Undisclosed,” meaning their “policy cannot be found on their website.”
Thirteen of the churches on the list are located in Texas. The largest church in the state on Outreach Magazine’s list is Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas, which ranked third on Outreach Magazine’s list, and is categorized as “Clear: Non-Affirming” by Church Clarity. Locally, the Austin Stone Community Church, which ranks at 71 is also categorized as “Clear: Non-Affirming.” The church’s Affirmation of Faith clearly shows anti-LGBTQ+ policies with regards to marriage, gender and sexuality:
The term “marriage” has only one meaning: a covenant between one man and one woman, in a single exclusive union, by which their status changes from two individuals to one flesh as God joins them together. This covenant creates a new family such that their lifelong primary human loyalty is now to one another before anyone else. It is an earthly covenant between one man and one woman that God created and sanctioned to image the unbreakable heavenly covenant between Christ and His Church, therefore intended not to be broken by anything but death. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity [sic] of man and woman. The Lord Jesus Himself said that marriage was created by God from the beginning, so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects.
Regarding gender, God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. Rejection of one’s biological gender is a rejection of the image of God within that person.
God created sex as a gift to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage. We believe that God intends sexual expression to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of this marriage covenant. We believe that the exercise of sexual expression outside the biblical definition of marriage in any manner, including but not limited to adultery, homosexuality, premarital sex, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography, is contradictory to God’s design for sexuality and marriage.
While Austin Stone Community Church was the only church in Austin that made the list, San Antonio had three churches on the list, with Houston hosting two churches. The Dallas-Fort Worth area holds the most with seven churches on the list, including the previously mentioned Gateway Church in Southlake.
Leadership at the top churches is markedly white. People of color make up 38 percent of the population in the U.S., but only 7 percent of the churches on the top 100 list are led by a person of color. The study was based on “visual appearance, last names, or any mention that the senior pastor makes online (e.g. blog posts, social media posts) of his/her ethnicity or heritage.”
Out of the top 100 largest U.S. churches, only one had a senior female pastor, who is a co-pastor with her husband. According to Religious News Service, this number will double in October 2018 when Heather Larson will become the lead pastor at Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago bringing the total number of female pastors leading America’s largest churches to two.
According to a survey by the Barna Group, 79 percent of Americans are comfortable with a female priest or pastor. While only 39 percent of evangelicals said they’re comfortable with a female pastor. “Evangelicals aside, most other practicing Christians would be comfortable with a woman in the pulpit,” Barna Editor-in-Chief Roxanne Stone said. “[T]his is likely to become more of an issue for churches as women continue to gain equality in other spheres.”
“Part of the reason we chose to release this now is because the New Year is a time when people decide to reengage with religion by attending church,” Church Clarity’s co-founder Tim Schraeder told Religion News Service. “As people of faith commit to new resolutions, we wanted to set them up for success by helping them make the most informed decision.”