Nazarene Church is Well Suited to Handle Same-Sex Conversation

FELDERGuest 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.

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13 thoughts on “Nazarene Church is Well Suited to Handle Same-Sex Conversation

  1. And that is why my first thought when I read what the Manual has to say about homosexuality was that it is in stark contrast to the “big tent” ways of the Nazarene church. There are so many areas where the denomination does a beautiful job of allowing people with vastly different ideas about certain specifics to call themselves equals and brothers and sisters, but in this one area, it has inexplicably chosen to take a firm stance on one side.

    I can understand people holding the stance that the Church of the Nazarene currently espouses, but it seems out of place for this denomination, whose very foundation was a coming together of people who believed different things in some specifics but were united in their belief in the character of God and in the miracle and mystery of the Christ. Of all places to draw the line, to say “My God could never accept this,” it seems odd to choose to draw this line here, in regards to who a person may find attractive, with whom a person may share a monogamous relationship centered on a mutual desire to know God better, and in an area which science is increasingly tying to a person’s innate physiology and chemistry.

  2. SoulForce speaks in a generic way about this very issue. Their site is a great resource that is as knowledgeable and insightful as yours. If you haven’t looked into I would suggest it. They are awesome. God Bless you Ty! You have no idea how much what you are doing to help those who are proud to be Nazarene and know the love and foundation of our faith will win out.

  3. After reading many articles and being rasied in the Naarene chruch, everyone always “talks” about the “holiness” part of the church, but what happen to the ways of LIVING out the holiness way? I feel it should be in your heart but growing up i remember you could tell the difference between a “holiness” person by the way of dress, and activities. You could really tell in the women. But these days you CANT tell the difference. So if we are progressing towards being IN and Of the world ulike back in the years then lets MOVE ON..all the talk about holiness but yet the holiness living keeps fading away in the churches. Which i am all for the emergent movement and what they have to offer people in the church and bring the younger generation back to the church. You know there are many gays in our church I being one of them, but do not attend a nazarene church anymore but an MCC.But if you would sit down and we could explore together you find US no differnt in our walk with Christ!!! If the church would look at WHO we love and not HOW we love. When you look at a Hetro couple is sex the first thing enters your mind? NOT WITH ME. You look at a gay couple and all you can THINK about is OMG THEY ARE HAVING SEX. lol…come on church. Sex is a wonderful gift given to us from God. Lets focus on the persons heart and on there loving relationship with their partners and with the lord.

  4. I am a Nazarene Pastor and I have just read this article and I have to say that there is nothing in here that has anything to do with holiness. This denomination believes what the Bible says and that it is the Word of God!!!. And I know that you will look at this and say boy is he out of touch! Well I don’t think that I am out of touch with God. I believe that we should look at the person and not the sin. Don’t excuse the sin but do not focus on it. I have a lesbian young woman who attends my church and she is very welcome but she also knows where I stand on the issue of homosexuality. I am against it wholeheartedly. I believe that you hate the sin but love the sinner but you don’t condone sinful lifestyles or sinful acts. I also know that you can’t change someone by always looking down on them either. Yes we should sit down and talk but we should not advocate this lifestyle or support it. I will be praying that God will guide His Church to where it should be and where it should take a stand!!

    1. Hey Garry, thanks for the thoughts. This column was not necessarily about holiness; more about how the Nazarene Church’s stance on holiness gives us the foundation to have a conversation on this issue. One of the points that I also tried to make is that simply saying I believe in “what the Bible says that it is the word of God” is a faulty way of building your faith, or at least according to the Nazarene Church. The Nazarene Church takes a holistic approach to faith by acknowledging that the bible alone (text on paper) cannot be the only guide. We have to let our own experiences (led by the holy spirit) and the church (build by Christ) also inform our stance. The reality is we both could quote scripture in a way to support our claim. I applaud you for being a pastor has created a welcoming environment for those you disagree with. That’s a step that very few leaders in the church have been willing to make.

      1. Ben Felder, I think you are slightly mistaken on how you understand the Church of the Nazarene’s position concerning the bible; at least in how I read your post. The way that I read what you have stated is that the bible isn’t our only guide, but rather it is one guide with experience being another (equal; near equal?) guide. – If that is an accurate reading of what you have said, it is a misunderstanding of the CotN’s position and how the so called Wesleyan quad. works. Nazarenes clearly state that the bible is our rule of faith and holy living. The role of experience (along with tradition and reason) is the important one of interpreting Scripture. It is understandable that you would lift up experience, because I think that is the strongest argument that you have when looking at what Outler has called the Wesleyan quad. But I would suggest that (some of) those who disagree with the position of your article and that of the this site would suggest that they are not simply relying upon a few proof-texts. (And, by the way, when particular texts are taken in context, both immediate and extended, it becomes too easy and inappropriate to dismiss them as proof-texts. Therefore, it is often better to lean on the whole swath of Scripture, as you have indicated, and see how particular texts fit into the larger context, than to simply dismiss particular texts.) It is the whole swath of Scripture from creation to the telios as it views sexuality that many who disagree with you are, in fact, leaning on. – It is this larger swath of Scripture as it views sexuality (without easily dismissing particular texts) that I think you will have to argue with and from if you are to persuade many within the CotN.

  5. I am in the process of preparing to preach to my congregation on the issue of homosexuality. I have visited this site several times to read material from a different view. I would like to critique some of your arguments about Nazarene and holiness theology.

    You write that “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.” Actually, that is entirely wrong. Morality is based not on a foundation of love, but as a reflection of the nature of God who is love. Our understanding of that morality does fall far short of perfection. But morality, genuine right and wrong does not change because the nature of God does not change.

    Your quote from Oord also reflects a common error. That we take a blank page, write “Love” at the top, and then fill in the rest. If God is love, as scripture proclaims, then a truly loving act is one that reflects who God is. God is perfectly loving but at the same time perfectly just. An act that we may say is “loving” cannot be truly loving if it does not reflect the moral nature of God.

    In support of the theologically acceptability of same-sex relationships you quote“. . .context is everything when it comes to love and relationships.” Again that is not true as you quote it. Context is not everything; the nature of God is everything.

    “A strict and legalistic interpretation of scripture” is not necessary. The broad picture of what the Bible presents in the area of sexual relationships is very clear. You seem to be using a form of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, scripture, tradition, reason and experience. The theologian who first coined the phrase, Albert C Outler came to regret the phrase for the very thing you do here. You seem to make all four legs equal with perhaps scripture and tradition being slightly shorter than the others. Wesley always made scripture preeminent, it is the first authority. The other legs help us to understand the truth of scripture.

    Christ died for all and all deserve to be loved because He loves all. His love sent him to die to deliver us from the penalty and domination of sin. That is what our holiness tradition mandates.

  6. I myself am a very devoted Nazarene, but Im having issues with this subject because the church I go to has a very different view on it. We believe that as long as two people love each other, and love God it doesnt matter whether they are same sex or not. God created all of us, and loves all of us the same. One of the core beliefs in my church is that a true Christian does not judge, nor condemn ANY creation of God. For these reasons I just cant agree with opposing views, because to me anything else is un-Christianlike.

    1. Krystle, Do you go to a Nazarene Church that approves of same sex relationship? Your basic argument is that “God loves all of us, therefore he approves of all of us, therefore, we are all going to heaven.” That is the logical conclusion of your argument. If that is your opinion, fine, it is not biblical, but you can have your opinion. If Christianity is a biblically based religion, than anything that the Bible clearly teaches cannot be unchristian. The Bible is very clear on sexual relations. You speak against judgment, but it is not judgment to read the Bible and follow its clear teaching. It is judgment to decide to ignore it.

  7. Thank you, Ben. I appreciate this article. I am trying to learn more about the Church of the Nazarene. I find the Church’s position on homosexuality appalling, depressing, and regressive. Your post is a glimmer of light more in keeping with nature of Jesus Christ as he wishes to be expressed in us.

    If we are going to love one another as Christ loved us, we must start listening to each other, without judging or condemning. Hardening our positions may lead to hardening our hearts to the voice of the Spirit. “Do not call common (or ‘unclean’) what God has declared clean” (Acts 10:15) reminds me not to be quick to condemn who or what I have no practical knowledge of or relationship to, such as persons of a same-sex orientation in a loving, monogamous, and holy relationship.

    “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” -Rom. 15:7 God’s love does not recognize human boundaries or limitations.

  8. I am a retired Nazarene preacher’s kid and grew up in the Nazarene Church. I attended a Nazarene college in the late 80’s for my first two years of college. I came out of the closet my second year there and was tormented so badly through hate mail, people breaking into my dorm room and leaving terrifying things on my door, and prank calls at all hours; I actually had to move off campus. Not to mention a myriad of so called “friends” that also turned their back on me. It was basically a witch hunt as there were two other individuals there at the same time experiencing the same thing. I refused to buckle though and stood up for myself with great pride. Needless to say 27 years later as a successful business owner, teacher, writer, and Psychology Ph.D candidate; I find it funny how so many within the church still desire to discriminate and hate despite pretending to be an advocate of love and truth. On a side note which was also quite amusing; this same college has been calling me asking for donations and one specific time I asked the other individual on the phone their full name and it just so happened to be the daughter of one of the guys at this college who had tormented me incessantly.

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