by James Whitely -
SGN Contributing Writer
An evangelical church in Denver, CO, known as Highlands Church, recently opened its doors to LGBT people. Members of the congregation are now finding 'open and affirming' to be synonymous with 'evangelical.'
"Our position is not one of lenience, but a matter of justice," said Rev. Mark Tidd. "It's not that we don't acknowledge the reality of sin. It's not a sin to be Gay or act in accordance with your nature."
Rev. Mark Tidd, 55, a married father of five, runs Highlands Church. Because of his stance on homosexuality, Tidd has become an outcast amongst many other churches. His church is an evangelical Christian church guided both by the Apostle's Creed and the belief that Gay people can embrace their sexual orientation as God-given and seek fulfillment in committed same-sex relationships.
In most evangelical churches, it's held that the Bible condemns homosexual acts, and most evangelicals take the stance that they should "love the sinner and hate the sin."
"Highlands Church represents a breakout position, where you have a Gay-affirming stance that moves beyond the traditional kind of liberal-conservative divide," said Mark Achtemeier, an associate professor at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. "I'm finding lots of moderate conservatives just think there's something wrong with a default position of excluding Gays from the life of the church."
The congregation of Highlands Church has been met with a fluctuation of membership since Tidd took the church in an "open and affirming" direction. Some followers stood by him, others left, and new followers have since arrived.
"Queer or straight here, there's no hate here," says Tidd.
Years ago, Tidd was serving as a pastor of a Boulder, CO, Christian Reformed Church, when a couple from his congregation approached him for counsel. The couple had a young daughter - who identified as a boy - this got Tidd thinking.
He began questioning the application of Biblical text word for word - after all, the Bible, read as-is, suggests that the earth is flat and contains justification for slavery. Thus, Tidd began accepting the Biblical interpretation of other "open and affirming" churches; that verses condemning homosexual behavior refer to idolatrous pagan worship or violence.
If evangelicals can disagree about end-times theology and baptism methods and still be considered authentic Christians, he thought, why can't the same tent hold disagreements about homosexuality?
Now, his church, which is less than a year old, is "radically inclusive but still rooted in the essentials of the Gospel." The church discourages promiscuity and encourages healthy lifelong relationships.
Additionally, Tidd said he supports Gay marriage and would perform same-sex blessings if asked.
Since Tidd's exodus because of his "open and affirming" beliefs, the church lost half of its attendance and two-thirds of its financial support. However, at the same time, his position began to attract new members to the church as well as strengthened the faith of some of the existing members.
"We have no real reason to champion this thing, other than we think its right," said Chad DiPrince, a straight married member of the congregation. "I just didn't feel God would tell a person to deny a big part of who they are and to keep it a secret."
Currently, a Gay man in a committed relationship sits on the church's board of trustees, and Tidd says that his church is committed to social justice.
David Dockery, president of Union University, a Southern Baptist school in Jackson, TN, believes Highlands Church is - and is likely to remain - outside of the mainstream of evangelical churches.
"I don't think it can be taken for granted anymore that the traditional evangelical view will be adopted by the coming generations given the changes and shifts in our culture," said Dockery.
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