UPDATE: A national church spokesman said a pastor's agreement with "ECC positions" is one of "a variety of contributing factors" that determine the denomination's support for local churches.
(RNS) An up-and-coming evangelical pastor has been told his denomination will no longer support his new church in Portland, Ore., because of his support for gays and lesbians.
The Rev. Adam Phillips arrived in Portland in 2013 to start Christ Church, a new congregation sponsored by the Chicago-based Evangelical Covenant Church. Phillips, 35, had previously worked in Washington with a number of advocacy groups, including as director of faith mobilization for the ONE Campaign, the relief and development group started by U2 frontman Bono.
On Feb. 4, Covenant officials told Phillips they were dropping support for Christ Church because of his "personal convictions and advocacy for the full inclusion and participation of LGBT Christians in the church at all levels of membership and leadership," he said in a statement.
Phillips said he agrees with the denomination's position that calls for "celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage," but said the same standards should extend to LGBT members. Since 2004, the Covenant's official position has been to not allow gay marriages, and pastors are told that individual beliefs "must never overshadow" denominational policy.
In an interview, Phillips said "there was a clear red line ... in terms of performing gay marriages, and I was more than ready to uphold that," but he also said he supports "the invitation and welcome of gays and lesbians into full inclusion of the church, and that includes the invitation to marriage, or the invitation to celibacy."
Phillips said he was assured "that the Covenant was a safe place for me to hold these personal convictions" before and after he was ordained in 2007, and that wide-ranging discussions would continue.
"The Covenant assured me everything was OK, until it wasn't," Phillips said in a video posted to the church's website, adding that he was "heartbroken" to be told he and his church were no longer "Covenant-compatible."
"I've been on a journey," Phillips said in the video. "I once believed that fully welcoming and including the LGBT community into our churches could not be reconciled with Christian teaching. These beliefs began to change, however, once I encountered good faithful Jesus followers who happened to be gay."
Phillips said including LGBT parishioners "was not only consistent with the whole arc of Scripture, but was where the Holy Spirit was guiding the church today."
Phillips' change of heart mirrors a larger shift among evangelicals and even Pope Francis as believers reconsider their positions, or tone, on homosexuality. In recent months, evangelical ethicist David Gushee and longtime activist Jim Wallis announced their support for same-sex marriage, and author Matthew Vines' Reformation Project and his book, "God and the Gay Christian," drew attention from top evangelical leaders.
The vast majority of evangelicals, and most conservative Christian churches, however, remain opposed to homosexuality or civil marriage for LGBT couples.
The Covenant, founded by Swedish immigrants in the late 1800s, has not made homosexuality a marquee issue and has not been torn by the same internal fights over human sexuality that have divided Episcopalians, United Methodists or Presbyterians. The church bills itself as "evangelical, but not exclusive; biblical, but not doctrinaire; traditional, but not rigid."
Calls to the church's Seattle-based Pacific Northwest Conference were not returned. Ed Gilbreath, a spokesman for the national church, declined to speak about "personnel matters," but said in a statement that "ECC congregations care about ministering to everyone, including the LGBT community. Decisions on any particular church plant are made between the regional conference and the ECC, taking into account a variety of contributing factors, only one of which is agreement with ECC positions."
For now, Phillips calls himself "a son of the Evangelical Covenant Church" and said he remains an ordained Covenant pastor. His church plant plans to continue, even without the three-year $150,000 support from the denomination. "This idea of being companions to all undergirds all that we do," he said.
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