After a lawsuit, LGBTQ Christians can now internet-date equally.
In the book of Isaiah in the Bible, the prophet wrote that his heavenly mission was to "bring good news to the afflicted" and "bind up the broken hearted."
Today, some of that good news goes out to the Christians who identify as LGBTQ, too: Online dating service Christian Mingle is now open to singles in search of same-sex soulmates.
This exciting change was the result of a California lawsuit filed by two gay men against the website's parent company, Spark Networks, back in 2013 that alleged the company was discriminating against them.
While Spark’s websites still aren’t facilitating same-sex relationships, they are now allowing gay and lesbian users to search for users of the same sex who may or may not be single and looking to mingle. Instead of specifying an orientation, users will just be able to search for matches in the gender of their choice.
This inclusive change will apply across all 30+ niche dating websites owned and operated by Spark Networks.
With the exception of JDate, which has been helping nice Jewish boys find other nice Jewish boys since 2005, the change will roll out across Spark services such as Black Singles, Silver Singles, BBW Personals Plus, Military Singles Connection, and Deaf Singles Connection — which are all communities with LGBTQ members, too.
As you can probably imagine, Christian leaders across the country had a few things to say about this news.
Rev. Marc van Bulck is a Presbyterian minister who currently serves as the lead pastor for a small congregation in Seville, Ohio. He's a heterosexual male who grew up in a church-going family in South Carolina, but he's also been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ rights for as long as he can remember.
"My church family growing up really was made up of all sorts of people with many different points of view," van Bulck said. "I think I sort of learned by example that being part of a community of faith often means being part of a larger conversation."
While he couldn’t say for certain if any of his worshippers use Christian Mingle — I guess they don't ask their priest for dating advice? — van Bulck said this news is a big deal for the community.
"Our church is made up of folks from all over the political spectrum, and many of them are very diverse in their beliefs — including topics like this one," he said.
"But the one thing I’ve never seen them do is turn someone away. Because if the Gospel shows us anything, it’s that Jesus was willing to sit at table and break bread with anybody. Queer parishioners have always been here."
Rev. Jeff Mello of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brookline, Massachusetts, agreed with van Bulck.
"Those negative views of groups like the Westboro Baptist Church just aren’t the mainstream," he said. "They're loud, fringe voices, and we harm ourselves when we think of that negativity as a default."
Mello is openly gay and married. But he has never felt a conflict between his faith life, his emotional life, or his sexuality.
Still, he knows that that’s not the case for all LGBTQ Christians. "So many GLBT folks have been taught that they need to choose between being a Christian and being GLB or T, but it’s not either/or," he said. "It's about living an integrated life, which is what God calls us to do. Both parts of our identity are central to who we are."
And that’s one of the main reasons that he thinks this new shift for Christian Mingle is so important:
"It might seem like a trivial thing that this Christian website is opening up," Mello explained, "but that message is freeing people from that notion of having to choose between who God made you to be and following God. Because those should go hand-in-hand."
Christian Mingle’s new inclusive policy isn’t just a blessing for the LGBTQ community. It’s also a victory for straight Christians and the church as a whole.
Mello believes that this small change could actually drive more single Christians to mingle on one of Spark Network’s websites — especially if they’re straight.
"My straight colleagues and worshippers have felt that their relationships are strengthened and made more whole because marriage is made accessible to everyone," he said. "It feels less like a secret club and more of the cultural institution and support net that it's designed to be.”
In his seven years as rector at an inclusive church, Mello has also watched his church community double in size — a gain which he attributes directly to the larger social push for inclusion and equality.
"A lot of folks who aren't LGBTQI are now more drawn to a place where all are welcome," he said.
So while Christian Mingle is probably not going to replace Grindr anytime soon, this little piece of progress is still a powerful testament to the winning power of love — in romance and in the eyes of God.
Sure, there will be always be a few detractors. But it's worth celebrating this tremendous changing in the tides, where Christianity and homosexuality are no longer seen as irreconcilable odds in our society.
"Gay and lesbian people should know that no matter how people might treat them, there's a God who loves them, who made them in God's image," Mello said. "The church is a place to remind people of that powerful message."