October 11th may just be another day in October for you, but for many people around the country it is the day they “come out of the closet” and tell their family and friends they are gay. This is a day that starts the process of being fully honest with themselves, and with the people they care about. It is marked by great personal anxiety because being gay is still subject to ridicule, bullying, and discrimination even in 2011.
In 2010, we saw tragic reports of teens being bullied because of their sexuality and then committing suicide. It was October 11, 2010, that I started a blog because I could no longer stand in the shadows as a closeted Nazarene pastor; I needed to act. I needed to know that our Church was doing something it. If family, friends and school reject them, then they could find refuge in the Church. It is a platform for reform. It is a wake up call to the Church that we are leaving people out.
Let me begin by saying that I love this Church! Nazarenes are awesome! I hear stories all the time from my local church and from around the world that makes me, dare I say, proud to be a Nazarene. But I don’t need to tell you how awesome this Church is and can be. This letter isn’t an ultimatum or threat. It was written with love with the intent to make this Church as great as God wants it to be and aware of the growing problem of homophobia that is entering many evangelical churches.
It is because I love the Church of the Nazarene, it pains me greatly to see how the Church is handling the issue of homosexuality. I would like to someday preach from the pulpit without hiding anything from my congregation. I don’t think we, Nazarenes, are ready for that just yet. But we can take baby steps to get there; we need to begin with welcoming those who have nowhere else to go.
Homosexuality is not a sin. The notion that one cannot be homosexual and Christian needs to end. Sexuality is not the root of sin, it is neither Original nor Personal as our Manual describes. Homosexuals, and heterosexuals alike, are only sinners because we are human. That notion creates policy that picks and chooses who gets to know Christ. It is dangerously close to legalism. Statements that single homosexuality out (e.g. only thing in the manual that is subject to the “wrath of God”) highlight that there is still some homophobic tendencies in the Church of the Nazarene. Fixing this problem is greater than just a policy fix at General Assembly (although removing the final paragraph of 37 and places in Nazarene Colleges and University’s student handbook where there is discrimination would be nice.)
We all need to work together to eliminate homophobia in our denomination. We all need to work to be a ‘salt and light’ Church that seeks out those who are struggling with their personal sexuality and point them towards Jesus. Our policies set the tone for local leaders. Instead of exclusion, we need to practice inclusion. Let us move forward, together, so that our children don’t have to worry about how we will react when they come out, for they will already know that they are loved. If they are bullied because of their sexuality, or for any reason for that matter, they will know that they are safe inside the doors and inside the arms of the people who make up the Church of the Nazarene. Let’s do this together so that no more have to feel hopeless. Every Nazarene worldwide should be an Ally!
Let’s start with actions and work our way up to a policy of inclusion, actions which fall 100% in line with John Wesley’s social holiness. After all we are holiness church. Holiness is greater than keeping Christians in, and sinners out. Jesus flipped the notion of ‘insiders and outsiders’ on its head when he proclaimed the ‘favorable year of the Lord.’
“But what about scripture?” I will not make any pretense that I am the greatest expert on this subject, but I do know a few things.
1) Scripture is complex. Paul makes statements that aren’t really ‘politically correct’ about slaves, women and homosexuals, but we make caveats for slaves and women, so why not homosexuals too? Does it make sense to focus on the seven times it is referred to and pay less attention to the other more frequently referenced prohibitions? Jesus is silent on the subject.
2) Keep scripture in context. Homosexuality in the Bible was different from it is in 2011. Just like Jesus’ agricultural rooted parables need some extra digging to figure out the context was (especially to those who live in cities, far removed from the ancient Jewish rural lifestyles.) Let’s do the same for the passages on homosexuality to figure out what is really going on, instead of taking TV preacher’s word for it. Much more can be said, but I will leave that up to the theologians like Walter Wink and Tony Campolo.
This letter will by no means solve things over night. And I realize that it will fall on mostly deaf ears. But there are hurting homosexual teens in my youth group that I am not able to share my testimony with at risk of losing my job. This young generation needs good Gay-Christian role models that they can look to as they navigate life, just like the heterosexual students have. We need to make that unpopular move and say, “It is okay to be gay, and Jesus loves you just as you are”. It will be highly unpopular, but it is the right thing to do. So how can you help?
1) Local churches can get involved in Nazarene Ally. A program based off the Gay-Straight Ally system. (http://community.pflag.org/document.doc?id=139)
2) Draft a resolution for General Assembly 2013 that puts the Church of the Nazarene on record as a denomination where it’s okay to be Christian and Gay.
3) Simply talk about it. Have an open and honest discussion about it.
4) Put your foot down. “If you see something, say something.” Being silent when someone is belittle homosexuals doesn’t help anyone. You maybe a minority in our traditionally conservative church, but speaking out against injustice is always the right thing to do.
5) Act redemptively. There is a growing gap between the Church and the homosexual community; we need to find ways to bridge that in a loving, redemptive way.
Again, this was written out of love, and a call for a small correction on an otherwise amazing course God has planned for this great Church. Thank you for reading this letter.
I’m a Nazarene and I am gay. I’m not the only one.
The Gay Nazarene