This winter, EastLake Community Church outside Seattle is quietly coming out as one of the first evangelical megachurches in the country to support full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ people. It is almost impossible to overstate the significance of this move. EastLake is in many ways the quintessential evangelical megachurch–thousands-strong attendance, rock-music worship, Bible-preaching sermons. But pastor Ryan Meeks, 36, is on the front wave of a new choice. “I refuse to go to a church where my friends who are gay are excluded from Communion or a marriage covenant or the beauty of Christian community,” Meeks tells me. “It is a move of integrity for me—the message of Jesus was a message of wide inclusivity.”
Conversation about gay marriage is no longer seen as an automatic compromise on Biblical authority. Other big-time evangelical pastors like Andy Stanley of North Point Community Church in Atlanta and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek do not go as far as Meeks, but they are talking with congregants and other evangelical leaders about how to navigate the changes they are seeing in their pews. Hybels has been meeting privately for the past year with LGBTQ congregants to learn to better understand their stories. At the Southern Baptist Convention’s three-day, October bootcamp to train more than 1,300 evangelicals to double down against gay marriage, Stanley met together with both LGBT evangelical advocates and SBC leaders for a closed-door conversation about whether their different views on gay marriage put them outside the faith. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, has developed a friendship with LGBT activist Ted Trimpa and the Gill Foundation, and they are working together on topics like passing anti-human-trafficking legislation.
Evangelical colleges are both taking half-steps toward inclusion and then doubling-back to avoid appearance of change. Wheaton College for example, Billy Graham’s alma mater outside Chicago, hired a celibate lesbian in its chaplain’s office to help guide an official student group for students questioning their sexual identity, and yet also invited a former lesbian now married to male pastor to address the student body.