SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — Lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender people who have flocked to City Church of San Francisco are no longer required to practice celibacy in order to become members.

Since 1997, when City Church was founded, members of the LGBT community were welcome, but prevented from joining “if they were unwilling or unable to practice lifelong celibacy.” In a letter from the Elder Board on Tuesday, the church explained its change of policy.

…over the years, the stories of harm caused by this pastoral practice began to accumulate. Our pastoral conversations and social science research indicate skyrocketing rates of depression, suicide, and addiction among those who identify as LGBT. The generally unintended consequence has been to leave many people feeling deeply damaged, distorted, unlovable, unacceptable, and perverted. Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community: “If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.” This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.

While the precondition of celibacy is no longer required for membership, the church does expect “chastity in singleness until marriage,” regardless of sexual orientation.

Other evangelical churches have made similar reversals in policy recently. GracePointe Church in Nashville, and EastLake Community Church in Seattle stopped requiring celibacy of their gay members in January.

City Church of San Francisco serves about 1,000 members at 2 San Francisco locations, and has begun new churches in neighboring San Rafael, Berkeley and Palo Alto.

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