America’s oldest gay rights group has announced plans for a partnership with Protestant congregations, in a move which leaders say will be their biggest challenge yet.

The move by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, is an unprecedented joining of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups with secular and faith-based organisations. Their work with the Institute for Welcoming Resources is aimed at increasing the number of people of faith supporting equality for LGBT people.

“We are extremely proud the Institute for Welcoming Resources (IWR,) an essential leader in the effort to win support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in key denominations, is joining forces with us,” said Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman.

“More than 1 million individuals in the 1,300 congregations supported by IWR are some of our movement’s most valuable allies in the fight to reclaim ‘moral values’ from those who try to justify anti-gay bigotry as ‘deeply held religious beliefs.'”

IWR works with the welcoming church movement in seven mainline Protestant denominations: the Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Community of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and the American Baptist Churches.

Through this movement, congregations decide, through a formal vote, to offer an unconditional welcome to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities and their families. To date, more than 1,300 congregations, with more than 1 million congregants, have adopted statements that explicitly welcome LGBT people to full inclusion in the life and ministry of their congregations.

“Those of us in the welcoming church movement see it as our job to proudly claim the witness and language of our faith traditions,” said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, executive officer of IWR.

“Unfortunately for those of us who are Christian, some of that language has been hijacked by the radical right and used to attack and abuse LGBT folk. We are determined to change that.” Voelkel, a minister in the United Church of Christ, will continue to lead the IWR program as a member of the Task Force staff.

The place of homosexuality in Christianity has been a hot issue over recent years with controversial protests and debates over the ordination of gay priests, gay marriage and gay adoption.