A Northern California theology student who said he had a tough time meeting a same-sex partner through traditional Web dating services has launched his own site designed to match up gay and lesbian Christians.
"After having come out, I began to explore the Internet to meet other gay Christians, and I realized there really wasn't any dating sites that catered to us," said 22-year-old Justin Cannon, who is studying to be an Episcopalian priest at Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley.
From his small dorm room on the divinity school campus, on a portable laptop computer, Cannon founded Rainbow Christians.
Cannon, who said traditional religious online dating sites offer little support for same sex couples, now has nearly 2,400 gay and lesbian members. For $3.95 per month, they can search for potential mates who share their beliefs on God and family.
The site features personal information and pictures of members, and provides a search engine to select a potential date based on zip codes, age, and interests. Most of the postings also refer to the member's spiritual faith. Unlike some other gay dating websites, there is no racy sexual material on the site.
Bob Lawrence, 50, of Modesto, posted a personal ad on the site in 2006. "A lot of the sites I can meet gay men, but they aren't real thrilled about the fact that I'm Christian," said Lawrence, who is entering the clergy. "So this cuts down to just meeting Christian men, and that's an important part of who I am."
The concept of a gay Christian dating service could seemingly create conflict among some religious sects. While some churches have welcomed the concept of gay marriage, other denominations have chastised homosexuals as being products of the devil.
"This homosexual lifestyle is condemned by the Almighty," said outspoken pastor Rev. Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. Phelps, whose followers have been known to picket funerals of people who have died of AIDS, carrying signs proclaiming "God Hates Fags" says the "homosexual lifestyle will lead the individual to inevitably go to hell."
But Cannon, who since he was a teenager knew that he was gay and that he wanted to join the clergy, said he has found nowhere in the Bible a condemnation of the relationship he seeks. "It does not condemn committed and loving relationships which is the gay lifestyle I'm looking for," Cannon said.
While Cannon chats frequently with other online members, he said he is still searching for "Mr. Right" on his Web site. "I haven't met him yet. I'm sure he's out there," Cannon said.
Lawrence said he hasn't met his match yet either, but said that's okay because RainbowChristians.com is much more than an online dating service.
"It's also a tremendous political statement about the importance of gay Christians standing up and saying we're here and that we have a right to build our relationships the way everybody else does," Lawrence said.