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This Church Split From Its Denomination Over LGBTI People In Leadership Positions

"If that was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us."

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The Activate Church in Bowden, South Australia, announced on Sunday it has ceased to be a member of the Australian Christian Churches (ACC) denomination, which has over 1000 churches nationwide.

Pastor Brad Chilcott, who has headed Activate for nine years, told BuzzFeed News the split came about due to a fundamental disagreement on the place of LGBTI people in the church.

"We've had members of the LGBTI community as part of our church for quite a long time, also in leadership positions. We knew from the outset that was outside the rules, the position on human sexuality the ACC has," he said.

"It became clear our stance wasn't compatible and we parted ways."

The split from ACC has seen Chilcott stripped of his marriage celebrant licence and leaves Activate, which is incorporated in its own right, without a denomination.

The ACC's decision to join the Marriage Alliance, an anti-marriage equality group, was also a factor in the split. Chilcott said he found out ACC had joined the controversial group through media reports.

"Not having the opportunity to make a comment or not opt in or out of that was the first part of it being a red flag," he said.

Chilcott, who supports marriage equality, added that he felt the tone of the group was not consistent with his understanding of Christianity.

"The tone and the content of the Marriage Alliance as it has engaged in the marriage equality debate has been something. I don't think it reflects anything I understand of Jesus and his characters and the way he shows love to marginalised and excluded people," he said.

Discussion about the place of LGBTI people in various churches has been a point of contention as the marriage debate has heated up in Australia.

The Catholic Church attracted criticism last year for a document titled Don't Mess With Marriage that was distributed at Catholic schools and other venues. The pamphlet was the subject of a now-dropped complaint to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission.

In September, the Melbourne Archbishop of the Anglican Church, Philip Freier, released a letter he wrote to Australia’s Anglican bishops, saying the church “must accept” same-sex marriage as part of the landscape if a national plebiscite is carried.

“We can still stand for and offer holy matrimony between a man and a woman as a sacred ordinance given by God, while accepting that the state has endorsed a wider view of marriage,” he wrote.

However, earlier this month, a document written by Bishop Michael Stead from the Sydney Anglican Diocese warns that same-sex marriage is the “greatest threat to religious freedom” Australia has ever seen, and equips people to make the case against marriage reform.

The Uniting Church has confirmed it will not play a role in Australia's proposed national vote on same-sex marriage if it goes ahead.

Chilcott said often church leaders can have the "best of intentions" when it comes to trying to help LGBTI people, but fail to sufficiently reflect on how the things they say might hurt.

"They say 'We are welcoming, we want people to come and feel at home and feel loved, but there is going to be a limitation to their involvement'," he said.

"That might sound conceptually nice to the straight, married pastor... but if you're the person on the end of that message, it can sound like 'You're half welcome here. You're a bit welcome here'."

Chilcott also stressed Activate's support of LGBTI people is not "despite our faith, but because of it".

"This is the way we express our faith. It is about learning from Jesus, who consistently stood in solidarity with the excluded," he said. "If that was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for us."

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at lane.sainty@buzzfeed.com.

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