The two gay men at the center of a controversy regarding their involvement with popular and influential Hillsong Church insist they have been open about their relationship from the very beginning, and "have been in conversation with Hillsong NYC's lead pastors regarding the church's non-LGBT affirming stance."
"The drama that is unfolding at the moment all revolves around the fact that we have been heavily involved in our church, Hillsong NYC," reads a public statement written by Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly, the gay couple highlighted in a viral blog post critical of their involvement with the megachurch.
"Josh has been with Hillsong for eight years in a variety of ways: choir director, vocal director, and worship team. I've been there since the beginning of our relationship, over three years ago, and eventually began singing in the choir and opening my apartment as the gathering place for a connect group for Hillsong members in the Broadway and theatrical communities," the statement continues.
The men add: "We have been open and forthright about our relationship from the get-go."
The gay couple, who are engaged, go on to refer to their "openness and very public appearance together" on the CBS reality show "Survivor" as the reason for their "conversation with Hillsong NYC's lead pastors regarding the church's non-LGBT affirming stance."
"Hillsong has many campuses around the world, many in places where gay marriage is now legal, so this has been an ongoing dialogue trying to figure out how and where we, as part of the LGBT community, fit in. As a church family, we have been wading through these uncharted waters of shifting culture and social change," Canfield and Kelly add in their statement.
The men point to a viral blog post at nowtheendbegins.com that is critical of Hillsong NYC "for allowing us to serve when we are 'unrepentantly embracing [our] sin' as homosexuals." The viral blog post, and the ensuing public attention it prompted, "worked up Christian communities around the world, as many look to our church as a model of modern Christianity to be emulated," the men add.
Hillsong Church's senior pastor, Brian Houston, released a public statement on Aug. 4 in an effort to "correct" news reports about the New York City congregation, headed by Carl Lentz and his son, Joel Houston.
Houston also re-affirmed Hillsong Church's biblical convictions on human sexuality and its position regarding LGBT worshippers in his own lengthy blog post titled, "Do I Love Gay People?"
Hillsong NYC, which reportedly welcomes thousands of worshippers to weekly services, remains a popular spiritual community for celebrities like Justin Beiber and star athletes like Kevin Durant, both reportedly baptized by Lentz. Due to its popularity and Lentz's apparent unconventional style, Hillsong NYC has been covered extensively by the religious and secular press since it launched services in October 2010.
In his statement, Houston writes:
"I wish to correct reports that Hillsong church has 'an openly gay couple directing a choir' at our New York City campus. Hillsong's position on homosexuality and gay marriage has not changed and is consistent with Scripture. As I have stated previously, I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject. Several months ago when one of our choir directors made an unexpected public statement regarding his engagement to a man who sometimes sang in the choir, it was a complete surprise to us as well. It is my understanding that they have not been involved in an active leadership or ministry role since. That said, we still love them and acknowledge that they – like all of us – are on a journey, and our role as a church is to assist them on this journey with grace and compassion."
The public statement referred to by Houston regarding "one of our choir directors" comes from Canfield, whose interview with Playbill.com was published Dec. 16, 2014. However, The New York Times mentions in an article dated Oct. 17, 2014: "Josh Canfield and Reed Kelly, a gay couple featured on the current season of 'Survivor;' worship and sing in the choir at Hillsong New York; Mr. Canfield is a volunteer choir director at the church."
"I became truthful with my church. I'm a part of Hillsong NYC. I'm one of their choir directors. I also sing on their worship team. They've been amazing as well," Canfield told Playbill.com. "Nothing has changed there now that I'm completely out and with Reed. He sings in the choir as well. I found that being an honest person has actually come with a lot of benefits. People are more sincere with you, and you find out a lot more about other people when you become honest."