One of Cincinnati's largest churches has dismissed a volunteer youth leader because of his sexual orientation, raising questions about the church's reputation as a welcoming place for gays and lesbians.
In January, Jonathan Jones, 39, a research coordinator at Children's Hospital, began serving in the junior- and senior-high youth ministry at Crossroads Community Church. He felt he was having a positive impact, but that came to an end March 18 when youth group directors told him he had to quit.
Jones is engaged to another man. He and his fiancé are abstaining from sexual relations until their Aug. 28 wedding date because of their Christian beliefs.
"To put it bluntly, lust is not something God wants you to do," Jones says.
On this and many other issues, he considers himself fairly conservative.
"My understanding of Crossroads was that it might be the perfect amalgamation of doctrine and interpretation of the scriptures in such a way that it would be open and accepting toward gays and lesbians," Jones says.
That's apparently the perception of many in the gay community. Crossroads boasts a large congregation, with more than 5,000 people attending services every weekend.
Jones says many in the congregation are gay or lesbian.
A survey taken during a service more than a year ago revealed about 4 percent had homosexual encounters or considered themselves homosexual, according to the Rev. Brian Tome, senior pastor.
Nothing in writing
The church, which opened in 1996, meets in a former Home Quarters store in Oakley. It features contemporary services that might include clips from Tommy Boy or a song by Dave Matthews.
The church is also considerably light on doctrine. An eight-paragraph statement of faith and seven applications of biblical truth summarize the church's official beliefs.
Those beliefs include a section about the value of community: "Community is knowing and being known, loving and being loved, celebrating and being celebrated, serving and being served."
Such an attitude has appealed to many gays and lesbians, but Jones says it causes a problem.
"I think Crossroads presents a problem for the gay community, because gay people and their friends are going there thinking this is a church that is open and accepting," he says.
Leaders at Crossroads found out about Jones' sexual orientation after a member of his Bible study group told others what Jones thought had been communicated in confidence. When leaders ousted him, Jones asked for a written explanation. They talked to him over the phone but refused his request for something in writing.
"I almost feel it's because they're afraid to have a written policy stating anything that would stop someone from coming in and giving them money," Jones says.
As the church's pastor, Tome says he can't talk about the particulars of any dealings with individuals in his church. But he said Crossroads communicates openly and directly about the issue of homosexuality.
In a Sunday message last year, Tome addressed homosexuality in response to the many questions he'd received about the issue.
"You cannot say the Bible supports homosexuality," he said. "It does not."
Still, almost a year later, many homosexuals continue to attend the church.
"We would believe that homosexual sex is just as wrong as two people not married having sex," Tome says.
He admits that he has looked at Internet pornography, which he considers just as wrong as homosexuality.
"(Homosexuals) should not be singled out as committing the capital 'S' sin here at the church," he says.
There is a reason the church doesn't want a written policy on homosexuality, according to Tome.
"The church in America, and might I also say Cincinnati, is pretty much irrelevant, and it's because we make things like sexuality our rallying issue," he says. "The church is not supposed to be God's political weather vane."
Gays 'very confused'
The Bible speaks to particular sins in a manner that doesn't require additional written doctrine, Tome says. He interprets passages such as 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10 to clearly indicate that homosexuality, even within the confines of marriage, displeases God.
"Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God," the passage says.
Jones, however, differs in his interpretation. He says the reference is to homosexuality associated with male prostitution, not to homosexuality within marriage.
Jones suspects that Crossroads isn't just interested in what the Bible says. He thinks discrimination and stereotypes play a role.
When Crossroads let him go, he asked, "Is it because you want to protect the children from me?"
Jones says the response was, " 'We're sorry you interpret it that way ... We need to put the child first and err on the side of the child.' I asked them, 'What are you protecting them from?' "
Jones is a doctoral candidate in child and adolescent psychology at Xavier University.
But Tome says Crossroads doesn't advocate the false stereotype of homosexuals as pedophiles.
"We would not say that homosexuals are pedophiles," he says. "We would not say that and we would not say homosexuals cannot be around kids in any way shape or form. That has not been the way we practice."
Tome says an abstinent homosexual Christian who slips up sometimes but is trying to abstain is welcome to teach at the church, but that someone who believes homosexuality is not a sin would be asked to serve in some other role.
Jones says that doesn't work for him.
"My natural talents are with kids," he says. "There's a lot of ways I can contribute to that and there's a lot of ways I have helped engage kids."
Tome says a person in Jones' situation could still work with kids, but not in a teaching role.
The experience has left Jones looking for another church.
"Through these series of events, they've caused me to be disillusioned by another church," he says. "I'm not looking for people to leave Crossroads. I think gay people who are at Crossroads need to understand where Crossroads stands on that issue, though."
Tome concedes that it can be confusing.
"There is biblical tension on this," he says. "All people can be part of the church, but the church cannot be everything people want it to be."
Tome says churches that accept and endorse all lifestyles are not following the Bible. Churches that reject gays and lesbians and point to homosexuality as a more drastic sin than heterosexual sins are also not following the Bible, he says.
"It's very different for people who come here who are gay," Tome says. "They get very confused by what we say, because they are used to churches saying one of those two extremes."
It's a tension Crossroads seems intent on balancing, and one that has left Jones and his fiancé ostracized.
"I do believe what the Bible says and is true," he says. "I believe that life without Christ is life that's not lived to the fullest and life that could potentially end in separation from God. If I was less of a strong Christian than I am, I might begin to question my faith and wonder, is this what Jesus is all about — the rejection and the condemnation?" ©