(RNS) — Quest Church, an influential Seattle megachurch, is leaving its denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, over its differences with the ECC over acceptance of LGBTQ Christians.
Quest’s move to voluntarily disaffiliate from the denomination comes as the ECC was prepared to vote this summer on expelling Quest and another LGBTQ-affirming congregation, Awaken Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.
“We have discerned that, to be the body of Christ, we must embrace the fullness of God’s life in all of our members, including our LGBTQIA+ siblings,” said the Rev. Gail Song Bantum, lead pastor of Quest, in a written statement shared Monday (June 5) on Facebook.
“This belief emerges from our identity and values as an ECC church, not despite this identity and these values. We leave the denomination grieved that the ECC refuses to recognize God’s work in our midst, and yet hopeful for the ways the Spirit is moving in our community.”
Song Bantum wrote on Facebook that Quest sent a formal letter to the ECC that morning informing officials of its withdrawal from the denomination.
The ECC did not immediately respond to a request for comment by RNS.
The Rev. Eugene Cho — who left the church in 2018 and now leads Bread for the World, a prominent Christian advocacy group dedicated to ending hunger — planted Quest Church in 2001, initially holding weekly services at Interbay Covenant Church.
In 2007, Interbay gave Quest its building, as well as “everything the church owned and who they were,” Song Bantum wrote, describing the church’s history of “generosity and radical inclusion in response to the call of the Spirit.” That continued in 2021 when Quest became “fully affirming of our LGBTQIA+ siblings (in theology and practice),” she said.
Quest’s social media pages include rainbow-colored logos with wishes for a happy Pride Month, which the LGBTQ community celebrates each June, and its website describes it as “fully affirming.” Membership and leadership, including the role of pastor, is open to anybody who “calls Quest home,” the website says, “including, but not limited to, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Asexual, and Queer folks.”
That created tension with the ECC, which has asked its ministers to refrain from participating in same-sex weddings since 2015, although LGBTQ inclusion is not among its essential doctrines, according to reports by Christianity Today.
In October 2022, the Covenant Executive Board voted to remove Quest from its roster of churches after one of its pastors participated in a same-sex wedding, the report said. Delegates to the denomination’s annual meeting were set to vote whether to formally expel the church from the denomination during this summer’s meeting, it added.
The meeting, called Gather 2023, is scheduled for June 28 to July 1 in Garden Grove, California. Quest’s removal did not appear on its agenda Monday, although Awaken’s does.