Churches that welcome gay couples see congregations grow
A new report has found churches that embrace same-sex weddings have seen an increase in their attendance.
The research says that churches receiving a license to carry out the services can have “a positive ‘brand’ for a place of worship”.
According to academics from Leeds and York universities, having an LGBT positive image benefits the institution.
Just 182 of more than 40,000 churches in the UK hold same-sex marriages.
The paper said: “As one Unitarian church reported, the commitment to same-sex marriage ‘gives us something distinctive to promote’.
“Or, as one Baptist church stated: ‘As a city centre church, this has positioned us more clearly in the ‘market’ – meaning those who want such a church know clearly who we are, and will travel to come to us (very few live nearby).’
“Being known for solemnizing same-sex marriage may therefore be a positive ‘brand’ for a place of worship and not, as some members of some congregations experience it, a negative attribute.”
Unitarian churches, which number about 170 in the UK, have been among the most welcoming of LGBT people with 44% of their churches celebrate same-sex marriage, the highest of any denomination.
The churches have found projecting a more liberal set of attitudes has seen worshippers feel more welcomed and more likely to continue attending their churches.
“Several places of worship also reported that opting in to same-sex marriage had attracted new LGBT visitors or congregation members.
“For example, one Unitarian church stated that ‘there has been an increase in attendance at services by gay and trans people’, and another Unitarian church stated the decision ‘may have encouraged some LGBT people to join the congregation’,” the report, entitled “Religious marriage of same-sex couples”, found.
Derek McAuley, chief officer of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, told The Telegraph: “We have seen people join and become active in several local congregations as a direct result of our welcoming stance on same sex marriage.”
Marriage between between people of the same-sex is banned by law in the Church of England.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the church splits on LGBT issues and previously admitted “not handling this issue very well”.
Deep divisions have arisen in the Anglican church over LGBT issues, both within the Church of England and globally.
Church of England bishops have been accused of discrimination in recent years, after opting to ‘punish’ gay clergy who enter same-sex unions under hastily-implemented new rules.
Meanwhile the global Anglican Communion has been torn apart by a rift between largely pro-LGBT Western churches and hardline anti-gay Anglican churches in Africa and the Global South.
In the past few years, the US, Canadian and Scottish churches have sparked anger from hardline African archbishops by modernising on LGBT rights, embracing gay bishops and same-sex unions.
In an attempt to keep the Anglican Communion from splintering, the Archbishop of Canterbury has dolled out ‘punishments’ for the US and Scottish churches, accusing them of making “a fundamental departure from [Anglican] faith and teaching” on gay people.
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But in a interview with Alastair Campbell for GQ Magazine, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby admitted that the rift on LGBT issues within the church was “irreconcilable”.
The Archbishop, the head of the global Anglican Church, said: “It is just irreconcilable. There are some disputes that are irreconcilable. I don’t know [where it goes] at the moment.
“What I know is we have to be faithful to the deposit of faith, the tradition of scripture. We have to be holy, above all.
“We have to be people who look like God wants us to look like. When people look at the church they should see Jesus, and really, they don’t very often, particularly when we are totally hostile to people, judgemental, unpleasant, nasty.”