Can human sexuality be a nonessential issue for a denomination that seeks to “stand in the center”?

The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) does not ask its pastors to subscribe to extensive statements of faith. The denomination wants church leaders to unify around six essential doctrines concerning salvation, the Bible, the significance and mission of the church, the role of the Holy Spirit, and freedom in Christ.

And since 2015, it has also asked ECC ministers to refrain from participating in same-sex weddings.

That last detail has become a sticking point for some ECC pastors who have changed their position on whether or not faithful Christians can be in same-sex relationships—and whether or not that should be a litmus test for fellowship.

“We agree on 99.9 percent of things,” said Micah Witham, an LGBT-affirming pastor at Awaken Church in St. Paul, Minnesota. “This one matter … I would contend is a nonessential.”

This summer the denomination’s pastors will vote on whether or not to expel Awaken and Quest Church, in Seattle, for their positions on LGBT issues. The Covenant Executive Board voted in October 2022 to remove both from the roster of ECC churches after pastors from the Washington State and Minnesota congregations participated in same-sex weddings.

This isn’t a new fight for the ECC. In 2018, the denomination suspended a North Park University chaplain who officiated a wedding for two men. The following year, First Covenant Church, a prominent and historic Minneapolis congregation, was expelled after church leaders said they would affirm LGBT members, host same-sex weddings, and ordain married gay people.

Some hoped the decisive action would settle the issue. But Dan Collison, pastor of First Covenant, said at the time he didn’t think the conversation was over.

“Ultimately, …

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