LGBT Parents & Allies

When ‘Non-Denominational’ Really Means ‘Homophobic’

by Chris Azzopardi

Because I didn’t know how to tell her, my mother was one of the last people I came out to, but it’s funny—she’s always been the first to have my back.

My mother would never let anyone shame her son—even her own church.

Not now, not ever. That unwavering support was demonstrated yet again last week when she approached me, looking angrier and letdown than I’d seen her in a while. Her longtime church isn’t as accepting, welcoming or progressive as she, and a lot of other parishioners, though.

My mom’s church, a massive, hip and inviting establishment located in Plymouth, Michigan, seems to welcome, with open arms: parishioners who are divorced, those who have had sex out of wedlock, even convicts and other “sinners.”

The church’s marketing is perfectly in sync with today’s youth culture—it’s pithy, it’s non-judgmental, it’s downright comical sometimes. “Come one; come all,” they seem to proclaim. Except if you’re homosexual.

Because being gay? That’s just unforgivable in the eyes of God, at least according to this church.

On March 25 and 27, the pastor emailed the entire congregation, including my mom, using God to rationalize an offensive, embarrassing and deplorable truth: Northridge does not welcome and affirm gay people.

So much so, in fact, they turned their backs on World Vision—a Christian-based humanitarian aid for poverty-stricken children—when it was announced the charity had recently decided to employ gay people…gay people with big hearts, gay people with strong characters, gay people wanting to reach out to needy children.

Citing the Word of God as justification for their inexcusable self-righteousness and un-godly condemnation, they wielded pervasive church hypocrisy to shun the gay community.

As for my mom, she was feeling outraged, but also deceived.

Understandably, she thought NorthRidge was a forward-thinking, “non-denominational” church free of judgment. It’s the image they promote. Sighing as she handed me a printout of the email she sent me earlier in the day—with the subject “I’m fired up! I’m done with NorthRidge!”—she noted this blurb from the church’s statement, which has since been been removed from the church’s website:

Unfortunately, without notice, WV has just announced a significant change. They have decided to hire (and endorse as fulfilling the biblical standards of sexual purity) individuals involved in same-sex marriages. In so doing, we believe that they have compromised the clearly expressed truth of God’s Word about marriage and sexual purity.

“Marriage” and “sexual purity”? So how about the divorced? How about those who’ve engaged in pre-marital sex? Maybe World Vision, the nation’s 10th largest charity, should prohibit everyone – even “sinners” with tattoos—from working for them.

After NorthRidge released two letters detailing why denouncing homosexuality is more important than committing to the hungry mouths they promised to feed, World Vision reversed their decision to hire gay employees. The charity ultimately caved to pressure from NorthRidge and other congregations around the country, casting married gay Christians aside two days later, reversing an honorable, common-sense decision.

Nearly 10 years ago, I introduced my mom to NorthRidge.

I had found it to be a welcoming place that wasn’t preachy, political, and seemed far more progressive than this recent turn of events has revealed. Maybe it was the latte you could grab at the coffeehouse before mass, how they turned a Kings of Leon song into a spiritual experience, the hashtags used in their promo materials—but no, it was more than that.

It was Pastor Brad Powell. Powell spoke about faith, but not in a forceful or restrictive way. Kind, fair, compassionate, loving—that’s the God I came to know through him. That’s the God my mother came to know through him. NorthRidge was an inviting place of worship, and it gave me, my mother and other faith-seekers false hope.

But even worse, they’ve used “God’s Word” to justify their discriminatory denouncement, choosing to single out one specific group of people—the gay community—as if others at NorthRidge, at World Vision and around the world are also, in some way and according to the church, not “compromising the clearly expressed truth of God’s word.”

It isn’t just hurtful—it’s hateful and hypocritical. It’s everything but Christian.

But NorthRidge, it turns out, isn’t as “non-denominational” as it might appear. Behind the smoke and mirrors is a creed rooted in a literal interpretation of the Bible and strict Southern Baptist beliefs. That mega church serving mochas before mass used to be in Detroit, and it used to be called Temple Baptist Church.

In service from 1934 and 1951, Temple was known to be so fervently conservative it barred African Americans from attending. If banishing minorities is part of NorthRidge’s mission statement, they should be really proud. I mean, Fred Phelps certainly would be.

In light of the church’s shamefully biased declaration, they cornered World Vision into making the unfortunate and dishonorable decision to un-hire gay people in same-sex marriages, reinstating NorthRidge as a partner—but only for now.

In a second letter, Pastor Brad writes that he “will remain skeptical” of World Vision. He states that if the church does not believe “their confession and repentance is genuine,” they will not pursue any further opportunities with the organization:

Since it’s impossible to fulfill our mission without both showing His love and telling His Truth, we believe that the partnership we began with WV to advance our mission now threatens it. Rather than helping to expand our capacity to show God’s love, their decision will significantly hinder and hurt it.

Unfortunately, the church’s decision also hurts many others.

It hurts that gay parishioner who, year after year, volunteers his time to “The Glory of Christmas,” working tirelessly to get those lights just right for the production that annually pulls in lots of money for the congregation. It hurts that 11-year-old who read the letter condemning him, who now believes he’s not worthy of God’s love … or of life, period.

It hurts that mother who goes to Sunday mass and has to tell her son that she can no longer attend because the church has turned against him. It also hurts the children around the world who were almost abandoned because of poor, disgraceful handling of a circumstance that wasn’t even about gay people in the first place. It is, and always was, about helping people in need.

My mom worries she’ll never find a church that shares her affirmation of LGBT people.

To be frank, I’ve long given up on it. I’m discouraged by homophobic dogma I find at every corner, but I do hold out a sliver of hope thanks to a woman I met while attending a retreat at Christian music icon Amy Grant’s Nashville farm last fall.

The retreat was magic, bringing together fans from every walk of life. My mom was there with me, and so were many other people. We connected with strangers, some similar, but most very different. We shared stories about our lives, and fans asked about my experience of speaking with Amy Grant for her first gay press interview.

Unbeknownst to me, within earshot, was a pastor’s wife. I heard her talking about the congregation she serves, and I just froze. My heart skipped a few beats. I felt the way I usually do when I know I’m within a pastor’s presence: judged. I figured we’d have nothing in common.

I figured she would condemn me.

I figured wrong. This woman expressed not just the enlightening takeaway she had from that Grant interview (it ended with Grant asserting that the only relationship with God that matters is the one he has with you and only you, emphasizing the inclusion of “everybody”), but I’ll never forget this: She and her husband—the pastor—shared it with their congregation.

Her God was the kind, compassionate, loving God that my mother and I, and many other faith-seekers, thought we’d found at NorthRidge.

So, it is a hopeful thought to know these pastors do exist; you just won’t find them at NorthRidge—a revelation that is both sad and surprising.

But most of all, it’s heartbreaking.

It’s heartbreaking to the gay community, and to allies like my mother, but it is most heartbreaking for the thousands of children who lost their sponsorships over a disagreement that had nothing to do with them.

Find a welcoming & affirming church near you.

Photo via Flickr user cromedecay; Originally published by Between The Lines News 

Comments (29)

Brian Kneeland

I remember well Temple
I remember well Temple Baptist on Grand River Avenue in Detroit. We all knew it to be a negative influence. It is sad that they have continued under a new name (It should be noted that Temple Baptist was their name when they first moved.). Sadly, so many think quoting old testament lines justifies them – yet they eat ham and pork chops and divorce and do so many other things that are condemned. those are ignore because it is convenient. I go by what Jesus said “neither do I condemn you!’

Ben Janken

God’s word is what certain
God’s word is what certain Christians use to justify what cannot be justified by any other means– including god’s word.

Tobey Slagenweit

Once again the mission of the
Once again the mission of the church is set aside for those who want to call names… Did this church give significant amounts to World View? Who knows… we just know that World View’s word is worthless and toothless..

I have come to find that the UCC Open & Affirming churches are welcoming of our community…

Sadly, no matter where you go, it is the church that will always play politics and games rather than do its job of ministering to those in need…

Steve Davis

I always assume that these so
I always assume that these so called progressive non-denominational churches are homo-phobic. In my experience they are. Or they will tell you that you are welcome to attend but then try to change who you are. Anytime they start talking about being ‘bible based’ it’s just code for ‘we cherry pick the bible to find the things we agree with or don’t like and use the bible to justify our actions”. If a church doesn’t explicitly state that they are open and accepting to all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, then they are not. Trust me on this one.

Nancy Schloss

Please don’t give up on
Please don’t give up on finding a loving, affirming church. The church I attend is College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC. Yes, I know it has “Baptist” in the title however we are American Baptists not affiliated in anyway to Southern. This is from our website: “We are the only Baptist congregation in Greensboro that is welcoming and affirming of everyone who follows Jesus as Lord. So we accept gay and lesbian Christians as well as straight ones! Being radically inclusive is not our thing—our thing is radically following Jesus, or doing the best we can, and trying not to embarrass Jesus by our following. Some would call us liberal or moderate. We are an inclusive, fun faith community where persons from all walks of life feel comfortable worshiping and working together to bring Christ’s love to the world. We are not affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention. We are affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA, Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.”

Jason O'Neill

You and your mom are always
You and your mom are always welcome at any MCC church, too!

Leslie Scoopmire

Come to the Episcopal Church,
Come to the Episcopal Church, all you who truly want “open and affirming.” We really do love and affirm, as well as ordain all, and we have mass. For real.

Teja Spearman

There are two Vineyard
There are two Vineyard churches in Ferndale and Ann Arbor that accept the LGBT community. My friend and I created a group on FB for those misplaced by the NorthRidge incident who are now looking for a new church. Please direct your mom to our page if she is interested in hearing about some loving churches in MI that we’ve found so far. I know a few of us that were just as livid and hurt as she was. Such a sad an unexpected event. People love to use the Bible to justify their hate. What they fail to realize is that by doing so they push millions away from experiencing the joy of God’s love. I really hope that all Christians can someday truly mirror Jesus’s character and just love people.


It was very saddening to read
It was very saddening to read your post, but at the same time it is heartening to know that one is not alone in finding it difficult to find fellowship (impossible where I am because the whole country is anti-gay and even has laws against gay people so the non-denominational/homophobic church thrives). Thank you for sharing and praying that you soon find a loving, welcoming, non-judgemental, Christian (in the true sense of being Christ followers) fellowship.

Angi maxwell

Unfortunately, I experienced
Unfortunately, I experienced the same thing in Toledo Ohio with Cedarcreek church. Our whole family were active members my husband and I were youth leaders. My oldest son was a High School student leader and devoted much of his junior year of hs volunteering for every event. He came out the summer between his junior and senior year of high school. He was asked to step down from his volunteer positions and basically made to feel like he wasn’t worthy to be there. Needless to say we are no longer with that church and I physically cringe when I see all the advertisements on tv saying the accept everyone .. It sickens me ! We would love to find a church who is truly accepting of all people !

Britton Witter

Hi Angie! I know you posted
Hi Angie! I know you posted this over two years ago, but I want you to know that I am so sorry to hear that your son and family were treated so poorly. What a terrible experience that must have been. If you are still looking for a church home, my church (Sylvania United Church of Christ) would be honored to have you and your family visit. We are an Open and Affirming congregation just down the street from downtown Sylvania, Ohio. To say that our church is “Open and Affirming” (ONA) means that as a UCC church we have made a public covenant of welcome to persons of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions (LGBTQ) into the full life and ministry of our church. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.
Here is our website:
You are welcome any time! We will be participating in Toledo Pride on August 26 as well.
My husband and I have two little ones and love raising them in a truly welcoming, inclusive, diverse church.
Take care!

Britton Witter

I apologize for the
I apologize for the misspelling of your name, Angi. Autocorrect was incorrect. 🙂

Stephanie Howard

This article makes me sad.
This article makes me sad. Not only sad for the people being discriminated against, but for God, actually. It saddens me that the way our culture perceives God rests solely in the way man (woman), interpret the teachings in the Bible. I know that it saddens the Lord too. I have personally walked away from “church” because of “man”, for 6 years. I was lead by the Lord to a church that is very accepting. But I am lucky, I know. I pray daily for the Holy Spirit to break down the walls of discrimination, hurt, heartache, and establish a church in its true form, for ANYONE who walks through its doors to be welcomed and loved.

Mary Sicilia

The Episcopal Church welcomes
The Episcopal Church welcomes you and your mom as well.

Hilary Marckx

I am saddened by Christians
I am saddened by Christians who exclude. The church I pastor is open and affirming and pugnaciously so. We are in a fairly conservative area, and our mission is service. Yet I feel the need to continuously state to non-Christians that I AM a Christian, too. That you don’t have to be a hater to follow Christ–just the opposite. I am not sure that I am believed. You are in my prayers.

Rebecca Crise

Your mother might find a
Your mother might find a church home at the Episcopal Church in Plymouth. As a denomination, the Episcopal Church not only welcomes GLBT as members but into full participation including ordaining as deacons, priest and bishops.


“Homophobic” has become a
“Homophobic” has become a slanderous and lazy epithet. It is lazy because it avoids engaging the substantial and nuanced issues in forming a biblical view of homosexuality. But why do that when you can hide behind name calling? Aren’t you simply doing what you are accusing the church of doing to you? NorthRidge is attempting to faithfully live out God’s word, which repeatedly and consistently upholds marriage as being between and man and a woman.
And you are guilty of cherry picking and reading selected verses literally when they suit you. What hypocrisy?!

Libby Serkies

I have been searching for
I have been searching for years for a church that would feed me spiritually and not condemn me for my passionate position as an ally of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I found that church today! Bloomington/Normal Illinois is home to Hope Church – a new (as in 3 months old!) start-up church where, according to their web page, “We exist for a new generation to learn to live Christ-centered lives. We believe that absolutely everyone is loved by God. We are an open faith community and all are welcome. We encourage theological thought and discussion. As we approach the Christian faith, we will do so with our heart, soul, mind, and strength.” I attended my first worship service at Hope Church this morning – and I have come home. Too often, much evil and shaming is done in the name of religion – because the God of grace I know and serve is not going to condemn anyone who wants to love and be loved. I am both sad and angry that so much evil is still done “in the name of God.” I am reminded of something I saw the other day online: We will not save the world by going to church; we will save the world by BEING the church. I plan to be the church… and I am glad to hear you are choosing to be the church as well.


Just out of curiosity, are
Just out of curiosity, are you (the author) an LGBT Christian? If you are I just wanted to say “I support you.” 🙂 I am a lesbian/bi (not sure which one yet) Christian and I understand the struggle to find an affirming church with interesting services and non-judgmental people. (I found a non-denominational church that is not affirming but is tolerant, respectful of other sexual orientations and above all loving. So for now I’m satisfied.) Anyway if you are still looking for a church don’t give up hope yet. 🙂 I know there is one out there for you somewhere. Also if you need a community of support check out the gay christian network. There are some pretty awesome people on there who may even know of churches in your area. 🙂 I will be reading your blog more now. Take care.


I have faith in Jesus and I
I have faith in Jesus and I will follow wherever he goes… But articles like this make me ashamed to call myself a Christian. I hope you find a church to call home someday that shows their faith by what they do, instead of in lip service only.

Bill Nolan

Unitarian Universalism is
Unitarian Universalism is nondenominational and actively supports the LGBT community.


I left the organized
I left the organized Christian church because every one I dealt with made me hate myself for something I couldn’t help. I stayed in the closet for over 40 years because of this. I am a Christian, but I hold to what JESUS said “Judge not, lest ye be judged” and love thy neighbor as thyself. He didn’t mention that it was supposed to be only the neighbor who saw things as I do. Curious…


great to see here i become
great to see here i become more and more remarkable to us,

Daneen A. Akers

I’ve often told friends
I’ve often told friends looking for an accepting church not to confuse contemporary music and casual dress code with progressive theology! Unfortunately, most non-denominational congregations I’ve known are as this article describes.

Henry Ehrichs

This sort of story is just
This sort of story is just further proof of the bogusness of Christianity. The author is right about pre-marital sex or divorce being tolerated while other “sins” are not. It’s the same when it comes to abortion among other things. What about this WorldView honoring its commitment? After all, I’m sure they prayerfully went about trying to be inclusive. Somehow those prayers were wrong, huh? What if God said you are all saved, but then goes back on that statement? Hmmn.


I was greatly disappointed by
I was greatly disappointed by NorthRidge’s actions in this matter. I later learned that to even received the rite of marriage there as a straight couple you have to abide by very strict rules. One couple (who were in the fifties and both previously married) told me they applied to be married at the church and were refused because they were living together!!!! It’s like they will forgive your past sins, but not your current ones, LOL!

john st laurent

Sorry you don’t feel accepted
Sorry you don’t feel accepted. I attend the church, and I am accepting of the church’s stand regarding homosexuality. Regardless of the cultural pressure, you cannot change truth. Neither does God change. Sin is sin. Homosexuality is sin, you can get as angry as you want, the bible clearly states this truth. I congratulate Northridge on their strict adherence to the truth of God’s word. I would not attend a church that said homosexuality is not a sin. I guess you can make up your own religion if you want to. Truth is not relative, it is absolute. If my own son chose a homosexual lifestyle, I would say the same thing to him, hoping that he would turn to God and turn away from his sinful way. It would never change my love for my son, in fact, I would not be loving him if I did not tell the truth. What loving parent wants his son to endure divine wrath?


Jesus called us to “Be holy,
Jesus called us to “Be holy, even as I am holy”. When he ministered to sinners, he told them to “Go” and sin no more. Being a follower of Jesus means putting aside our wants, desires and feelings, and doing what He says to do exclusively. I have been in a terrible marriage for almost 20 years now, and I know what it is not to have the love and affirmation that I so very badly want. However, out of respect for God’s Word, I have not divorced. Things are going better, and even though happiness in this short breath of a life should not be anyone’s goal (holiness and pleasing our Creator God is the goal), I am happy. It took many years to even see the beginning of this, however.

I would challenge you to live for God. Read ALL of His precious Word. Don’t use catchphrases from the Bible. It’s too deep and too meaningful to be reduced down to sound bites. Homosexuality is definitely a sin. So are a lot of other things. We can only live a truly radical, successful Christian life when we put ourselves aside and live solely for HIM.

Best of luck to everyone who is struggling with homosexual desires. I know how hard that can be, because I struggle with opposite sex attraction that can never be fulfilled. But I am finding victory, and I know that you can too. And you can also find real happiness and contentment along with the victory against sin.


I wonder if the church (from

I wonder if the church (from being called Temple Baptist to NorthRidge) became accepting of African-Americans since their move (I bet they have)…are they known to accept people of different faithes (i.e. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism & Hinduism) are “of the same God?” …and do they view other Christians (Catholics, Mormons, Seventh-Day Adventists & Jehovah’s Witnesses) are “of the same faith”? … and do they allow Women to be pastors to preach sermons? (I guess they do).

My point is a modern, progressive & open-minded Christian church would not allow prejudice, bigotry & discrimination to judge any of their members, esp. sexual orientation & gender identity. God does not create mistakes: whether a person is born with a deformity or a disability, God nor Christianity does not view them as “inferior” or “cursed”. Homosexuality is an inborne trait in people, like being red-haired, left-handed or double-jointed. Organized religion has updated itself many times in history, I think more churches & faithes need to be inclusive of LGBT people, because it’s about time to preach the commonality of all of God’s children, which is not being practiced in NorthRidge or locally in Palm Desert CA where I live in this one church called Southwest Community, where a pastor resigned a year ago over the Biblical interpretation of homosexuality, oddly before the day of the Orlando nightclub shooting by a man who hated Gays, and there were churches where preachers cheered for the massacre across the country. + 

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