Guest contributor Ben Felder is a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University where he studied theology. He is now a journalist living in Oklahoma City with his wife Lori and son Satchel. The three of them attend Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene.
Changing the posture of the Church of the Nazarene towards same-sex relationships may seem like a daunting task – and it is – but for those who seek change, take solace in the fact that our holiness tradition is well equipped to handle this conversation and to ultimately evolve.
The Nazarene Church remains hesitant to not only change its theological principals concerning same-sex marriage and relationships, but often unwilling to even have a conversation on this topic. But that opposition is more about the church’s cultural standards, rather than its theological belief.
The holiness tradition has always been rooted in a disciplined way of living, where morality is seen as means to a Christian life. However, the definition of morality has constantly changed because the church’s foundation on love mandates that kind of change.
“It is one’s context that largely decides which acts are loving and which are not,” writes Thomas Jay Oord in his book “Relational Holiness.” “What form love should take depends upon a variety of factors to which we intentionally respond to God and others as we seek to promote abundant life. To say this in a relational way, the relations we have with others, especially our relation with God, largely determine what counts as love in any particular moment.”
Not all same-sex relationships are theologically acceptable, just like not all heterosexual relationships are. However, a same-sex relationship rooted in fidelity and commitment can be a holy relationship that is acceptable by the church because, as Oord writes, context is everything when it comes to love and relationships.
Many in the church will dispute this claim and they will copy and paste scripture to make their point. But, once again, our holiness tradition prevents us from simply leaning on one-liners from scripture in an attempt to justify a theological belief. A strict and legalistic interpretation of scripture and theology has never meshed with a church that continues to exalt the experience of entire sanctification as the Nazarene Church does. In his book “A Layman’s Guide to Sanctification,” H. Ray Dunning calls entire sanctification a “personal experience” and criticizes the one-size-fits-all concept that what holiness looks like for one is what it should look like for others.
“There is an endless variety of personalities, and if every one became the standard for every other person, the result would be chaos,” Dunning writes. “The unfortunate result is that people either submit to the pressure and become clones or else flee an uncomfortable situation.”
Nazarene Ally refuses to become clones and it is unwilling to flee.
No doubt Dunning was not arguing for an acceptance of same-sex relationships and given the era in which he comes from, he would most likely dismiss any attempt to use his words to support a tolerance. But he nonetheless does a great job of explaining that the holiness tradition has always taken personal experiences into consideration, along with scripture and theology.
By not allowing a conversation about same-sex relationships to take place in the church we disregard an individual point of view. Forget for a moment about attempting to change the church’s stance on the practice of same-sex relationships, we don’t even allow the conversation to take place and that fear is holding us back. Preachers demonize gays and lesbians from the pulpit in a way that keeps those living in this world from making their experience known, thus keeping them from having a seat at the table. There is nothing holy, nor Nazarene, about silencing a particular point of view.
You can continue to say that scripture and theological history prevent an acceptance of same-sex relationships, and you could make a compelling case. But the Nazarene Church and its holiness tradition mandate that we should at least hear out our gay brothers and sisters who claim to also be on the journey toward salvation.
“Rather than citing proof texts for the doctrine of sanctification,” Dunning adds, “we must appeal to the larger structure of biblical theology.”
So continue to cite scripture in an attempt to silence people that makes you feel uncomfortable, but do so knowing you lack the “larger structure of biblical theology” that the Nazarene Church was founded on.
Nazarene Ally is an attempt to expand the conversation and to convince the church to take into consideration the personal experiences of those in its midst who love differently, but are nonetheless loved by Christ. Personal experience still counts for something in our church. And our theology – and our God – mandate that we at least hear out our gay brothers and sisters.