OutFront: New Site Rates Churches Based on Transparency of LGBTQ Policies
By Julie Compton
Tim Schraeder, a gay Christian, has always felt torn between his religion and his sexuality. That’s something he is now fighting to change.
Schraeder has worked as a marketing consultant for some of the largest megachurches and Christian leaders in the country. In October, he co-founded Church Clarity, a new website that rates churches on how clearly they communicate their policies toward the LGBTQ community. He said many churches don’t disclose such policies upfront for fear of how they will be perceived, and this, according to Schraeder, leads some LGBTQ followers to be misled for a prolonged period of time.
“[LGBTQ believers] become active members of their church community. They start contributing financially. They’re volunteering. They’re leading in different capacities,” Schraeder told NBC News. “But at some point, they reach a moment where they want to take their engagement and involvement in the church to another level through membership, through baptism or through being married.”
That’s when a church will typically disclose whether they accept a follower’s sexuality, Schraeder explained.
“In most cases, that’s the first time [LGBTQ believers] find out that, actually, there is a condition to when we say ‘All are welcome.’ There is a condition to when we say ‘Come as your are,’” he said. “And that’s devastating, and that has caused tremendous harm to a lot of people.”
In June, former evangelical pastor George Mekhail reached out to Schraeder and Sarah Ngu, a deacon at the Forefront Brooklyn church, to see if they wanted to collaborate on Church Clarity. The three joined forces and turned the nascent project into an online resource for LGBTQ worshipers. Similar to online resources that allow users to review businesses and institutions, Church Clarity lets people submit churches to be reviewed and scored through a crowdsourcing form, Schraeder explained.
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"Church Clarity is not advocating for policy changes," its mission statement reads. "Together, we're establishing a new standard for church policy disclosure: We believe that churches have a responsibility to be clear about their policies on their primary websites. Following a simple, yet consistent method, our crowdsourcers submit churches to be scored on how clearly their website communicates their actively enforced policies. Once the information is verified by Church Clarity, it is published to our database."
Schraeder, a Chicago resident, recently left his own church over its lack of transparency. It was a difficult decision for the 34-year-old, who has spent his whole life in the evangelical church. He said he loved it, though he felt like a stranger there. He never hid his sexuality, he explained, but said he went through years of reparative therapy in a futile attempt to change.
“I gave about a good 10-year run trying to 'pray the gay away,'” he said. “And that was something every church that I worked at was aware of.”
He said he eventually realized it was possible to be both Christian and gay, but he continued to keep his sexuality out of public view. He reached his breaking point in 2014 after World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian organization, announced it would welcome LGBTQ employees in same-sex marriages but then reversed the decision a few days later.
“I just got sick to my stomach,” he recalled. Schraeder took his disappointment to Twitter. It was the first time he publicly announced he is gay.
On World Vision: What hurts the most is the thousands of LGBT Christians like myself who still struggle to find their place in the church.
He said a few of his evangelical clients — authors, musicians and Christian leaders whose brands he helped build — dropped his contract. But as doors closed, others opened. He said he found clients willing to work with him that didn’t care about his sexuality.
It’s a newfound freedom Schraeder wants other LGBTQ people of faith to enjoy.
“I hope that with Church Clarity, the LGBTQ community will value the churches’ honesty and transparency around these issues and that they’ll find places where they are fully welcome,” Schraeder said. “And I hope for the church community, it helps them see the grave need there is for clearly articulated policies.”
Church Clarity launched on Oct. 18 and is already popular with users, according to Schraeder. Reviews of more than 600 churches were submitted within the first week of the site’s launch, and Schraeder said he and his team have received requests to include other houses of worship, too, including synagogues and mosques.
Schraeder said he hopes the site will help pave the way for greater inclusion for people like himself within religious communities.
“I just hope through our efforts that we can help people who are in the LGBTQ community see they can be fully who they are and fully loved and accepted by God at the same time,” Schraeder concluded.
OutFront is a weekly NBC Out series profiling LGBTQ people and allies who are making a difference in the community.