Maryville couple denied church membership, they claim due to sexual orientation

MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) - A Blount County couple says they were denied membership at a church because of their sexual orientation. 

Jessica and Courtney Wright say Faith Promise rejected them as official members, based on their beliefs that marriage is between a man and woman.

The Wrights were attending Faith Promise in Maryville for the last two years. The married couple stopped attending at the end of January, after trying to become official members of the church. They claim they were told they can only attend regular services. 

Faith Promise's website reads, "A place where anyone can come and connect with God without the risk of being judged."

This statement is what first brought the Wrights to the Blount County campus. They felt accepted during their time at the church and thought their sexual orientation was not an issue. 

"We want to be able to walk in somewhere and feel comfortable, regardless, and we did," said Jessica Wright. "We felt like family for a really long time until after the baptism."

The couple and their daughter were all baptized at the Faith Promise church last month.

"We wanted to make sure we took that plunge of faith and we wanted to get baptized. Be proof to the world that we were accepting Christ. Not just someone who was attending, someone who was whole-heartedly in it," said Jessica Wright. 

The following weekend, the couple talked with church leaders about being a part of the Core, as official members. 

According the church's website, Core members are committed believers who have attended the Next Steps class, accepted Christ, have been baptized and pledge a 10 percent tithe to the church. 

Jessica and Courtney took the Next Steps class, were baptized and were ready to sign the papers to make it official as Core members. 

"They let us know that we would never be able to sign the paperwork to be an official Core member because of our marriage," said Wright. 

According to the church's core beliefs about family, marriage is the unity of one man and one woman. 

"Our marriage doesn't agree with their core beliefs. That's the reason why we wouldn't be allowed to move forward and be in leading roles," said Courtney Wright. 

"We could attend, be a seat, give money and be attendance numbers and that was it," added Jessica Wright.

The Wrights say they don't understand why Faith Promise waited until after the family had gone through the process of becoming official members, only to tell them they aren't allowed to be ones. 

"They are saying they still love us, they still want us to come. And then in the same breath, saying you can't be a part of church, though," said Courtney Wright.

Faith Promise Church provided this statement to WATE 6 On Your Side: 

"At Faith Promise we love and embrace all people because people are made in the image of God. We welcome anyone who desires to take their next step in search of the God of the Bible and invite them to be our guest at any of our campuses. Although we believe the Bible defines marriage, sharing this view is not a requirement to be a part of our faith community."

As for the legality behind this, Akram Faizer, a law professor at LMU said, "A church group has a First Amendment right to accept members based on freedom of religion and freedom of association. This is especially so in this instance because the anti-discrimination laws we have do not explicitly protect gays and lesbians. They only have a federal right to marry at present." 

Jessica and Courtney Wright want to find a new church that will accept them, even though it will be hard to start over and form new relationships. They hope their story will inspire other people to stand up for what they believe in. 

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