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Sexuality, race, and gender: 3 explosive insights about America’s 100 largest churches

Image courtesy of Edward Cisneros via Unsplash (https://unsplash.com/@everythingcaptured)

Last October, evangelicalism was rocked by the launch of ChurchClarity.org, an organization that reports churches’ LGBTQ+ policies and rates congregations based on their level of clarity. The website angered Christians on both sides of the issue. Some conservatives attacked the CC’s liberal leadership, while some progressives claimed that labeling churches undermined progress.

Nevertheless, Church Clarity persisted.

Over the past two months, CC published scores for 500 congregations and have 700 more in the pipeline. But today, they announced their most significant accomplishment to date: a detailed analysis of America’s 100 largest churches. Using Outreach Magazine’s popular annual listCC’s staff uncovered three explosive insights about America’s mega-churches.

READ MORE: “Church Clarity pressures pastors and churches to disclose views on homosexuality”

1. None of America’s 100 largest churches are LGBTQ-affirming.

While progressive Christians often claim that same-sex issues have largely been settled, America’s mega-churches have apparently not received the memo. None of them have policies affirming same-sex people and relationships. This staggering statistic will doubtlessly provide firepower to conservative Christians who claim that LGBTQ+ affirmation is a slippery slope to liberalism and a congregation killer.

And yet the data also provides progressives a counterargument. According to CC’s analysis, a paltry 35% of these mega-churches have clear LGBTQ+ policies, and 54% actually hide their positions (e.g. sermons and blogposts) deep inside their websites. This seems to indicate that many non-affirming mega-churches are not as boldly opposed as one might assume, and some of these large congregations may be currently reconsidering their positions and policies.

2. 93% of America’s 100 largest churches are led by a white pastor.

Only 7 out of 100 of the churches on Outreach’s list are led by a person of color. For context, people of color comprise nearly 40% of the American population. So despite the Christian calls to diversity, equality, and justice, America’s mega-churches are still lagging in the race department. These churches may preach a Gospel of inclusion, but they disproportionately prefer white men for their top leadership positions.

3. Only 1 of America’s 100 largest churches has a female pastor. 

Female pastors are on the rise in America, but not so for the largest mega-churches. Only 1 of the 100 largest churches on Outreach’s list cites a female pastor. Faith Church in West Palm Beach, Florida holds this honor, yet even that congregation lists Nicole Crank as a co-pastor alongside her husband, David.

Given that 8% of Fortune 100 companies are led by women CEOs, one might say that secular companies are more gender-inclusive than spiritual communities in America. In October of 2018, Heather Larson will join the list as she assumes the role of lead pastor at Willow Creek Community Church outside of Chicago. Even still, this statistic is surely deflating for those Christians who advocate for women in church leadership. 

The Outreach Magazine list is conducted in coordination with LifeWay Research, the public polling arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. Since congregations must disclose their numbers in order to be list, it is not fully comprehensive. However, the listed churches still represent more than 1.1 million American Christians.

With the New Year looming, Church Clarity’s leaders claim that their analysis arrives not a moment too soon.

“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,” said Church Clarity’s co-founder Tim Schraeder. “As people of faith commit to new resolutions, we wanted to set them up for success by helping them make the most informed decision.”

Church Clarity’s leaders added that their decision to analyze race and gender in addition to sexuality also hints at the organization’s expanding mission. In the future, they plan to also report on race and gender inclusion among church leadership. So this is not the first time Church Clarity has created a stir, and neither will it be the last.

View Church Clarity’s full report for more information and analysis.

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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