The Church of the Nazarene’s Growing Minority Population: LGBT Allies

FELDER

Ben Felder – Special contributor to Nazarene Ally - 

(Oklahoma City, Okla.) It just so happened that one of the biggest moments in LGBT equality coincided with one of the biggest events for the Church of the Nazarene. Earlier this summer, while the United States Supreme Court rendered two decisions that were a victory for the gay rights community in Washington, D.C., the Nazarene Church was holding its General Assembly in Indianapolis, Ind.

Officially the Nazarene Church’s position on same-sex marriage is that it is a sin and that God’s will is for marriage to only be opened to couples of the opposite sex. There are many in the church that hold tightly onto that belief, and while the majority of Americans celebrated the Supreme Courts’ rulings on June 26th, it should come as no surprise that many in the Nazarene Church wanted to make it clear that the denomination is not a part of that celebration.

Nazarene Communication Network News reported on June 27th that a church delegate requested that the Board of General Superintendents reaffirm the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage during the last day of the assembly.

The Superintendents obliged the request and even held a moment of silent prayer.

The COTN’s stance is what it is and there isn’t much that can change that in the near future. But, while the Nazarene Church took a public stance to discredit the idea that same-sex couples can be legitimate families, let me reaffirm the fact that not everyone who calls themselves a Nazarene thinks that way.

Those of us who support the cause of Nazarene Ally are in the minority within the church, but that won’t always be the case. The Nazarene Church is made up of diverse individuals, even more so than a weeklong event in Indianapolis might imply. There are many of us who love our church, and we also love you, no matter what your sexual orientation is. Further more, there are many of us who refuse to reduce you to your sexual orientation and are seeking to create a culture in our congregations that is more accepting.

We are the minority, for now, in the Nazarene Church, but that is changing. Over 700 individuals have “liked” the Nazarene Ally’s Facebook page (hey, that’s a mega church anywhere outside of Kansas City). The impact of Nazarene Ally might not have changed anything at General Assembly but enough people were Googling “Nazarene Ally” that it appeared ahead of NCNNews.com the week of Assembly. Those aren’t scientific measures, but further proof of our Church’s growing culture of acceptance is the comments you see left on the Nazarene Ally Facebook page each week, encouraging those in our pews who feel isolated because of their sexual orientation to know that they are not alone nor are they unloved.

Same-sex families don’t owe the Nazarene Church – or most other protestant denominations – more time to figure this issue out. But I still ask for you patience and to at least know the culture of fear and intolerance that sadly does exist in our church isn’t the only culture to exist.

During General Assembly when the church took time to reaffirm its stance on same-sex marriage, the Superintendents asked that the delegates stand for a moment of silent prayer. Maybe they requested silence because they understand a vocal petition to God might reveal that not everyone is on the same page concerning this issue.

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10 thoughts on “The Church of the Nazarene’s Growing Minority Population: LGBT Allies

  1. Stating you are in the minority is an understatement. Just talking numbers, 700 seems like a lot on its own, but compared to the 2,150,883 CotN members, your “likes” are just .03 % of the CotN membership. That’s a very small number. Then, take away all of the “likes” that aren’t even Nazarenes and the “likes” are even more miniscule.

    Off course, the number comparison would get much better for you if the CotN ever rejected the traditional position and swung in favor of same-sex marriage–it would go (or would have already gone) the way of the other major denominations who have accepted homosexuality, that is the membership in the CotN would take a nose dive, thus tilting the percentage better in your favor.

    Again, just referring to your numbers . . .

    • Ben makes it perfectly clear that using Facebook is not a scientific method, but considering in December of 2012 we had some 330, and the Dec before that was 150, we are growing.

      Our goal was to double our ‘likes’ on Facebook by the end of our fiscal year, and we accomplished that with 4 months to spare.

      Your assumption that Church membership would “nose dive” is faulty. First it assumes that people only become Nazarene’s because of the Church’s marriage views. Second it assumes that everyone in the Church only sees marriage that way. Which they don’t on either presumption.

      Ben is saying that we are not a church that is 100% on board. (70 delegates voted against CA 703…) Ben is saying that its okay that we disagree, but we can one make room for other who don’t share our point of view, and secondly that this minority point of view is growing, so at some point in the future, (my guess is 3 more GA’s) we’ll have a tipping point, so the Church of the Nazarene needs to be ready to handle that, not write reactionary fear based resolutions.

      Thanks for commenting, I miss you and my pals at NazNet, send them my love.

      • Yes, I know he said it wasn’t scientific, I’m just making the point that neither is it something that makes you a contender for forming doctrine in the CotN. It could be said the growth you describe in that time frame is significant, but it’s not likely to keep pace with the CotN membership growth. Additionally, as I said, I believe there’s a good chance that most of the Nazarene Ally “likes” are from non-Nazarenes who are already accepting of the homosexual lifestyle.

        No, there’s no assumption that people join the CotN because of their views of marriage alone-that would be ludicrous. It is likely, however, that the majority of those who give membership any thought do join because we are a conservative, Evangelical, Holiness church that has a high view and traditional understanding of Scripture. For this reason, I maintain that if the CotN ever turned from their current stance on gay-marriage, its membership would take a nose-dive. If nothing else, we could look at the other major denominations who have accepted gay-marriage. As they have strayed further “left” (gay-marriage being one of those areas) their memberships have declined dramatically.

        You’re making a big assumption that those 70 who voted against CA 703 are in favor of gay-marriage. More likely, they just opposed the wording or the need for an additional statement (for example, I would have voted against the resolution made by the FL district because of the wording, not because I don’t view homosexual activity as sin). My assessment of the opinion of the 70 “no” votes is based on the fact that the delegates were elected by their districts so likely are more vested in Nazarene doctrine and polity than most.

        I agree that we can have differing views in the CotN and that there is room for those differing views-on some issues.

        As has been discussed over at Naznet, the likelihood of the CotN changing their position on this issue is slim to none-that slim not even likely in our lifetimes . . .

  2. Do I need to point out that our Church is only 108 years old, so not centuries, and our policy against gays is only 41 years old? So the majority of our COTN history we didn’t have a policy. Daryl, it would be nice if the Church got advice from people this directly affects, meaning, include gay Nazarenes in the decision making process. Should only men make policies about women’s issues in the Church?

    • [This comment was edited to remove inappropriate phrasing]

      The “centuries” I referred to is referring to the Church (capital “C”) not the CotN. The CotN continued the centuries-old view of orthodox Christianity on this issue.

      Just because the Nazarene position has just been stated in the Manual for 41 years, doesn’t mean that it was a new view of homosexuality; it just didn’t need to be stated while the culture accepted the references to it in Scripture. The change in the societal view required a clear statement in the Manual-same as other societal issues like drinking alcohol, military service, stem-cell research, tobacco use, etc. They all had a point when our stance was put into print, but that didn’t begin our opposition or support, it was just when it was stated in the Manual.

      You’re incorrect in suggesting that homosexuals should be involved in the decision making process of what we believe and accept as a denomination on homosexuality. What we believe isn’t based on the feelings of individuals or groups of individuals. It isn’t based on how others will interpret what we believe or what people (even those affected by it) will think about it. We don’t formulate doctrine or policies based on who we will upset or who we need to appease.

      What we believe as a denomination is based on Scripture, influenced by tradition and reason.

      As for your example of men making decisions about women’s issues in the Church: that is irrelevant to this discussion. There is no mandate in Scripture (however liberally interpreted) against being a practicing woman, as there is about homosexuality. So woman theologians and scholars can contribute to developing policies on women’s issues in the Church (and on any other topic) as they have for the life of the CotN.

  3. Daryl, I completely respect your opinion and appreciate you taking the time share your thoughts on this site. The thrust of my article was not to play the numbers game in an attempt to prove one side has the momentum. We can both look for statistics that make us feel better about our position, but you are right, we are a minority and I agree that substantial change doesn’t appear likely anytime soon. However, the main point I was trying to make is that when our LGBT brothers and sisters feel isolated in the COTN – and, respectfully, your posts do just that -, I want them to know that there are some of us (even if only a few) that love them and will advocate on their behalf.

    However, if we are going to talk about numbers of support, it would be hard to argue that the church’s members will not continue to grow in acceptance of same-sex relationships. I would love for the church to get ahead of the cultural change, and begin to create a Christian atmosphere of love towards LGBT members that is ahead of the curve. The reality is, when my two-year-old son is my age and hopefully engaged in the church, he won’t be able to comprehend the church’s previous views on LGBT members. I have theological positions that cause me to take a posture of acceptance, but I also understand that the church (not just ours) has long ended up on the wrong side of history when it comes to social issues of injustice and inequality. Change is coming and some change is already here. I wrote an article in order to comfort those who don’t see if that it is in fact here.

    • [This comment was edited to removed inappropriate phrasing.]

      While you may have intended your post to be an encouragement or comfort to gays and lesbians who may be in the CotN, there actually appears to be at least two points that come out of your post more clearly, whether it was your intention or not:

      1) The suggestion that your position, while now a minority, is one that is growing in the Church of the Nazarene.

      2) The hope that this growing minority will cause the Church of the Nazarene to change its view on the sinfulness of homosexual activity.

      I was simply showing how neither of these “future-hopes” have any foundation in reality. I don’t need to restate what I already shared in my earlier comments.

      However, if, as you contend (which the numbers still don’t support), “the church’s members will … continue to grow in acceptance of same-sex relationships,” and those growing numbers are able to overturn what the CotN has always held, then this “liberal” increase will just be the other side of the coin of the “conservative” decrease (as a result of this and other “liberal” issues being accepted) which will lead, as it has in the other denominations that have traveled your suggested route, to a nose-dive in attendance & membership and eventual extinction of the CotN. This isn’t speculation, but a process that can be clearly observed and seen in the membership numbers of those mainlines that have gone down the road you propose.

      But contrary to your suggestion, I contend that this isn’t our future. History seems to indicate that as the mainlines lose their conservative membership, the CotN will continue to inherit some of those members while maintaining the evangelistic growth that we’ve experienced the last decade (especially in the more “conservative” regions of the world where they are even more opposed to homosexual activity) to solidify the CotN’s current view on this and other “liberal” issues. So we will grow -because of who we are- and this growth will contribute to our remaining faithfulness to Scripture.

      Now, while I have yet to see an adult Nazarene member or church who shows disrespect toward gays or lesbians or closes their doors to them, the challenge is for our churches and people to be more loving and accepting of *people* regardless of their orientation . . . An effort toward this end is one that would be welcomed and could make an impact in our church.

  4. Daryl, once again, I don’t necessarily disagree with your predictions about numbers, but I’m also not that concerned with the whole “conservative” vs “liberal” debate, nor was it what my article was about. You may be right that if the church takes on a more accepting posture we will lose members. Then again, I think there are lots of things the church can do that would be more Christian that would cause us to lose members. If your trying to scare me into thinking that a more accepting posture towards LGBT members would cause the church to become less conservative, well, I have to say, I’m not going to shed any tears.

    The larger church has always been slow to embrace equality on many different issues, but Christians have always led the charge. The African American and LGBT comparison is not necessarily a great one, but in the same way many churches claimed that an acceptance of equality for African Americans would spell the end of church, there were other Christians that were fighting for equality and eventually got it. 60 years ago I’m sure arguments were made in the COTN that embracing African Americans would lead to the church’s decline in membership, but I’m thankful that didn’t become the message that ended up sticking. (By the way, I’m not calling you a racist). I will advocate, write and have these conversations because I know that there are LGBT members in our churches and teens in our youth groups that feel completely isolated and unloved. I want these people to stay in our church and I want them to realize that while the majority of people may not value their equality, some of us do. I want them to know that not everyone believes that if they are excepted the church will see a mass exodus in members as you claim. I mean seriously, how defeating do you think that message sounds to our brothers and sisters who are LGBT? Hopefully some of the counter messages that Nazarene Ally can provide is enough to keep them in our congregations so they can grow to be disciples and builders of the Kingdom. That’s what my column was about. Honestly, the rest just doesn’t concern me.

    • [This comment has been edited to remove inappropriate phrasing]

      Ben, got it, though while the rest doesn’t concern you, it is still a large part of the discussion.

      I can understand your desire to disagree with the numbers, since they don’t support your assertions. But disagree all you want, history and the statistics are hard to deny–as the mainline churches moved farther away from a traditional understanding of Scripture (let’s say, “conservative”) and closer to what society suggested should be “right” (let’s say “liberal”) their numbers continued to drop dramatically. All of those denominations resembled the CotN in their early years (not necessarily in specific doctrine, but in their orthodoxy). It is not a big leap to forecast the same result for the CotN (or any church) if your suggested course of action is adopted. History doesn’t provide the same precedent for a drop in membership as a result of doing things that are “more Christian” unless your definition of “more Christian” includes what would fall into the “liberal” movement away from orthodoxy.

      To clarify, the mass exodus I predict would not be due to the presence of homosexuals in the pews, but the departure of the church from its traditional (and inherited centuries-old) understanding of Scripture on a number of issues-just like the example provided for us from history.

      Your suggestion surrounding your statement, “…how defeating do you think that message sounds to our brothers and sisters who are LGBT?” is quite interesting to me. Clearly we understand Scripture differently on the homosexual issue, but think about how this appears from the orthodox pews: You want the church to be accepting of gays so gays remain in the church. Using that rationale… That doesn’t make sense.

      Understand, in the CotN’s position on gay and lesbians, the goal is to define our understanding of Scripture not drive away people. Obviously, we seek to draw people into relationships and pews that enable God to work in their lives and help them resist sin. Again, I have never suggested that we should be hateful or close our doors to gays and lesbians… but rather be more loving and accepting of *people* regardless of their orientation . . . but to encourage them and walk with them in their journey…

      Obviously, this debate will not be settled here, in this forum. We both see Scripture differently and want different things for the Church of the Nazarene but like you, I can’t keep silent and hope that a rational and reasonable discussion of the issue will help anyone…and that there are people in the CotN that regardless of what they view as sin, they still love them and will help them grow in Christ. If there is no room for discussion/debate because of how it may make someone feel, there’s no room for change.

  5. Assuming that this is just a hype that will fade away is an underestimation of what could happen. Daryl, you played the numbers game and you state that the church would decline in membership tremendously if they accepted certain things. I too believe they would. Right now the church membership in the US is declining anyway regardless of certain issues because not much new (young) people join the church and the old generation passes away – a generation that never had to deal with certain issues the way we have to today. I would therefore understand there reaction.

    Another point I would like to share with you as an outsider (to the US) is that it seems to be all about power. I was a delegate at GA and a member of the CA committee. Statements like “We need to take a stand on this or we will loose this battle.” or “The church has been invaded.” or “Our civilization are being overturned by the worldwide homosexual community.” make me seriously doubt the proclaimed loving intentions but remind me of politics and war. We are not fighting anyone and if we do we started it and I think the Bible says something about that.
    And I rather make the mistake understanding what the Bible says than commit sin by not loving people. And Jesus commanded me (a language appealing to power sensitive people) to love others. He didn’t subcategorize in conduct and person. We did that. He just said go and love others!
    Being at the CA committee at GA I felt that people try to express their fear in the amendments they suggested. Fear of loosing grip, fear of loosing the battle, fear of whatever and I believe that our Manual is not an expression of fear of the world but the result of a loving and embracing church.
    I think we should have better things to do than proofing all the time who we really can’t accept certain people and than explain ourselves. The declining membership in the US could indicate just that shifted focus. As church we mastered the art of exclusiveness and these days we seem to get the proof that we’ve done very well.

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