God and the Gay Christian: A Wesleyan Perspective

Screen shot 2014-04-22 at 6.37.23 AM

When I read Matthew Vines’ new book, God and the Gay Christian, I wished my younger self had had this book. I was a closeted gay guy who attended the very conservative, evangelical Church of the Nazarene, which for all intents and purposes is the little brother to the United Methodist Church, both of which are under the WesleyanArminianism faith tradition.

Whenever there is a situation that is hard to reconcile the first place a Wesleyan gets help is from the Bible. But we, Wesleyans, don’t use the Bible alone. We approach the situation using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, a four-pronged test that helps us make sense of it. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral views the situation in the context of scripture, experience, reason and tradition. Vines’ book has put the issue of being a gay Christian perfectly into the framework of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

In my many years as a closeted gay, I would secretly read articles about Christianity’s view of homosexuality and faith and feel hopeless. The pro-gay texts would negate the importance of scripture and emphasize experience. Which made me feel good because I wasn’t being told I was going to hell, but also made me feel heretical because I had to become a Marcionite to get there, which then made me feel like I was going to hell. The anti-gay texts would do the opposite; they negated all my experiences as a gay Christian in order to honor what the Bible says, and I’m back to hell without passing Go.

Vines’ book is different. He approaches the topic by placing high value to the role of scripture. The same way Wesleyans view it. He continues to balances that high value of scripture; with his experience of growing up a gay Christian in Kansas; defers to church tradition on its application of celibacy, marriage, and sexual orientation; and walks you through the reason and logic of supporting the case for same-sex marriage. This book could be the new benchmark in which all conversations about Christianity and homosexuality start.

The topic of homosexuality inside the Church is not without controversy. Critics are already saying that Harvard educated Vines has misused biblical hermeneutics (how scholars interpret the Bible) in order to manipulate his readers. I could write ad nauseam of the clichés and scare tactics opponents are saying about this book. My favorite critique says that Vines wrote the book as part of the larger gay agenda, timed perfectly to “introduce confusion within the evangelical firmament.” The Wesleyan Quadrilateral can test claims of the opposition too. How do they look on the backdrop of what we know of scripture on this topic; the experiences voiced by gay Christians; the traditions regarding the treatment of the other; and the reasoning’s behind such accusations?

I feel like God and the Gay Christian will have a depolarizing effect on a topic that has become über polarizing for the Church. A part of being Wesleyan means that I have to make room for everyone at the Lord’s Table, even those completely in opposition to my stance on same-sex marriage. Doing so unites us. Vines’ book lets us make room even for them.

Vines’ central theme isn’t solely finding Christian blessings of same-sex marriages, but rather our awareness of treating everyone as being created in the image of God. Vines masterfully bankrupts the church’s policy of exclusion and blanket celibacy for gays and lesbians by pointing out that we are to called and created be in relationship with one another because God is in relationship with God’s self (Father, Son, and Spirit). This lines up perfectly with the Wesleyan doctrine of social holiness. To paraphrase Jürgen Moltmann we are invited to participate in the perichoresis, or the circle dance, with God, and invite others to join.

My hope is that God and the Gay Christian will help people who are struggling to reconcile their personal faith with human sexuality like I was before I came out. Or maybe it will encourage people who are on the fence about this issue to boldly step out and engage in ways that help restore broken relationships and invite more people to the Table, and into the great circle dance.

Keeping Up Appearances

Hyacinth

Every Sunday night on OKC’s PBS affiliate OETA, a British block on the tele airs that includes: Keeping Up Appearances. It follows the antics of middle-class socialite Hyacinth Bucket (It’s pronounced Bouquet!). Nothing embarrasses Hyacinth more than her chav-esque brother-in-law Onslow. She can hear that he isn’t wearing a shirt even on her “white slim-line telephone with auto re-dialer.” She wants to be more like her wealthier sister Violet, who has “a Mercedes, sauna, and room for a pony.” Hyacinth’s biggest fear is that her neighbours will find out that her life isn’t as perfect as she projects it be. Hyacinth insists on formality and proper form as she tries to climb up the social ladder. Her rigid adherence to etiquette sends her falling embarrassingly back to the ground.

The Church shares some personality traits with Hyacinth Bucket; correcting people on trivial facts; insistence on tradition at the cost of relationships; the whitewashing of one’s past or current well being. The result is a Church that caters to the rich board member rather than the homeless non-church goer. The Church’s track record on women in ministry, science, LGBT issues, all have been swept under the public relations’ rug and ignored.

For example, the policy for women in ministry for the Church of the Nazarene has been inclusive since the church was founded, but the practice has been far from it. From 1920 to 1988 there were only two District Superintendents elected. 2005 was the first and only time a women has held the highest office as General Superintendent. Three of the General Superintendents currently elected only had a total of 3 women pastors on staff at two of the top ten largest Nazarene Churches in USA/Canada. When we retell the myth of inclusion for women, and still don’t have the numbers to back it up, that is keeping up appearances.

One doesn’t need to look any further then the story of Galileo. He was convicted of heresy for telling people the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth. The Church pointed to scripture to ‘prove’ Galileo wrong, that the sun in fact did rotate around the earth.  It would be another 500 years before Galileo would be exonerated by the Church that formerly banished him.

The Church’s power and influence is much like Hyancith’s. Those who wish to turn down Hyacinth simply because she won’t accept no for an answer. Similarly, those who wish to stand up to the well polished PR machine of the Church find themselves in an uphill climb. Wouldn’t the conversation about LGBT issues in the Church be different if the Church acknowledged that LGBT people go to Church and included them in the conversation?

Hyacinth has a desire to be around people of the best breeding in higher socio-economic classes like her sister Violet, and doesn’t her best to hide any connection she has with the lower ranks like that her two other sisters. Sadly the Church will cater to those who fit a certain mold instead of focusing on the people the Church is instructed to cater to, the outliers. The PR machine glosses over the homeless and those in poverty when putting pictures up on the Church website.

The Church’s effort to become a “glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle” has hurt many people. Because of it people have legitimate reasons never to step foot into a Church again, or associate themselves in any way with Christianity. The Church has got it backwards. We don’t become spotless and then show up on Sunday, we come as we are full of our sins, dirt, soils and stains. It is only when we acknowledge our faults to one another that the doors are open for the awesome power of redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation to come through. We play this game of keeping up appearances so to look perfect. That game backfires and hurts the people the Church is supposed to protect.

It is embarrassing to admit mistakes. It is awkward. It is hard for the Church to admit it has gone about things in the wrong way because the Church is made up of people who hate to admit they are wrong. But God is stubborn just as much as we are. God will wait, and God won’t budge on loving us or loving on God’s Church. We don’t have to keep up the appearance of perfection when we are in the presence of God. Why should we when we are around God’s people? Let us all acknowledge our dirt together, for when we finally do, the sooner we shall be clean.

Much to Hyacinth’s chagrins her neighbours and friends know about her brother-in-law Onslow, and her sister Rose whose skirts are too tight and too short for public viewing, and they don’t care. They know, and they don’t care. Everyone seems to know that sinners go to Church except for the denominational Facebook page. How much more will God pour out God’s love on a Church that recognizes its faults and seeks forgiveness from the people it’s wronged?

Haven’t We Been Here Before?

Dinosaurs

Ty

I grew up in Kansas’ public school system when evolution was removed from the curriculum. As a student I was getting mixed messages about what to believe regarding evolution; my Church said one thing, my school said another. It took time for me to reconcile both voices. 90 years after the Scopes Monkey Trials, those who oppose evolution have lost their steam, even amongst evangelical circles. My church has taken great strides to tone down its rhetoric and open up the conversation to allow for more voices to be heard on this topic.

As the tide for opposing evolution was waning, opposition toward the LGBT community was waxing in the evangelical church, and used the same arguments taken along. Again I was receiving mixed messages. I heard that we are subject to the “wrath of God” and being gay is “not compatible” to being a Christian. It took time me even longer to reconcile the dueling voices.

As this process was happening for me I noticed something very odd. The more I talked to people who opposed LGBT individuals being involved in the rythms of the Church; I couldn’t help but think that we’ve already used these flimsy premises and weak logic before. History is repeating itself. The labels have changed and the Bible verses have been swapped, but the underlying logic of the debate is the same: How do we use and interpret the Bible? It goes one level deeper. Deconstruct these debates and the motivation behind the opposition is clear: fear.

It is a fear of falling down the “slippery slope” which changes long-held positions “supported” by scripture, which erodes everything else in the Bible. If Genesis 1 is not literally true, then how can the rest of it be true? There is an underlying fear that if change occurs then everything else would innately be wrong as well. Why should we, The Church, fear new perspectives? But learning a new perspective on any topic doesn’t eliminate the rest of one’s belief. For example, learning Algebra doesn’t negate basic math elements like addition and subtraction. These conversations shouldn’t scare the Church; they should excite it.

The debate seems to be guided by a gripping fear of losing power and authority. The Church is especially bad at seeking forgiveness as an institution. The irony is that a central teaching of the Church is seeking out forgiveness from God and others. It took nearly 500 years for the Church to apologize to Galileo. Hopefully, it will not take the Church another 500 years to get on board with ordaining gay and lesbian pastors or officiating over gay and lesbian couple’s weddings.

Using the Bible as a science textbook doesn’t get us anywhere theologically, nor does using the Bible like Match.com, well in this case, ChristianMingle.com. There is dating advice in the Bible; it is love one another and be faithful and loyal to your spouse. Use the Bible to love. That’s it! Radical love. Loving your enemy as yourself. Replace fear with love and it changes everything.

It took nearly 90 years for the evangelical Church to tone down its rhetoric concerning its stance against evolution. Likewise it will take time before the Church starts to tone down its rhetoric against those of us in the LGBT community. This won’t happen through scientific studies and peer-reviewed essays like it did with evolution, but through radical love that casts out all fear. It will cause the Church to graciously reevaluate its ignorant rhetoric against LGBT people and the role we play in our communities of faith as pastors, laypersons, and mentors. It challenges the status quo and allows the decision makers to focus on people instead of a policy. Radical love starts one person at a time, one story at a time, one church at a time, and spreads like wildfire on the plains. Suddenly it’s not so radical after all.

Nazarene Ally Founder, Ty McCarthy, wrote this piece for the April 2013 edition of The Gayly, the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender monthly newspaper in the South Central USA.

The Manual

The Manual

December 1, 2012. That is that date that all Nazarene Manual Resolutions are due to the Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kansas. That being said, what would I like to see happen at the General Assembly in Indianapolis, Indiana? In plain English: equality.

So I am formally introducing new resolutions to the floor to be adopted. Do I have a second?

http://nazarene.org/files/docs/gaForms/GA/English/Resolution%20Form%20-%20print%20(GA%20NMI%20NYI).pdf

GA 2013 Resolution 1.0 – (37 Human Sexuality)

Whereas, we move that any and all passages from the Manual that equate homosexuality as a sin be removed.

GA 2013 Resolution 2.0 – (437.8 Grounds for Removal)
Whereas, we no longer find homosexuality to be a sin, it therefore can no longer be considered as grounds for removing a pastor from office.

GA 2013 Resolution 3.0 – (37.1 Affirming statement on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members)
Whereas, we include a section that specifically welcomes the LGBT community into membership of the Church, and grants ministers licenses and ordination to them. Restores licenses all whom were removed under the old rules.

GA 2013 Resolution 4.0 – (35 Marriage and Divorce)
Whereas, we define marriage is between two consenting adults of legal age. Invites all to not go into marriage lightly, but only after prayer, and Christian marriage counseling. Allows pastors to marry same-sex couples and allows Nazarene Churches to be host to wedding ceremonies.

Whereas, piece of cake right?

Baby-Steps

If you have taken Financial Peace University from Dave Ramsey, one of the first lessons he teaches you is that your debt is too overwhelming to take on at once, but not impossible to overcome. Taking baby-steps financially in the right direction get you to living-debt free. So a month, a quarter, a year down the road you start seeing some improvements in debt reduction. That is how we need to approach this topic, baby-steps forward, together, to reach our goals.

Baby Step 1: Set Some Guidelines

Pastoral Perspectives on Homosexuality does nothing to help us out. (This is a reversal of the original opinion I had on it since the new version came out). We need our leaders in Lenexa to give us consistent information. I’m not sure what happened between Pastoral Perspectives I and Pastoral Perspectives II, but be it Church politics or genuine reversal of heart, PPII sets the conversation back into the dark ages. (Don’t get me started on why Pastoral Perspectives deals with no other issue… This is evidence enough that homosexuality is being treated differently.) PPI comes out and they immediately put some conditions on it in the follow-up letter. Basically the conditions are “this is just our personal opinions, and doesn’t reflect the views of the Church… aka ex cathedra.” Only problem with that is it wasn’t the General Secretary, or the General Treasurer, or NMI, or SDM, or NYI, or the IBOHE who issued it, it came from the General Superintendents, and ex facto they speak for the Church. Whatever the reason they tried to “washed their hands” of the issue by making it non-ex cathedra, and thus making PPI loses all its teeth whatsoever. So people were free to interpret that as a win for both sides.

We need a document that is ex cathedra, pro or against this topic. That allows us to shape the discussion and conversation. This topic is too complex for us to be constantly looking at it from different angles. We need people who have a stake in the matter, LGBT Nazarenes, to be involved in the shaping of that document. We need these guidelines from the Church to frame the way we ask questions. Having these guidelines helps us stay together.

These guidelines need to be adaptive to the conversation. When we get to a good ‘stopping-point’ in the conversation the guidelines are adjusted to reflect the progression of the conversation. That way we are not constantly starting from square one. (This frees me up to stop answering the same questions over and over again.) It is a waste of our time, talent and energy to constantly circle the issue without being guided into some sort of direction.

Baby Step 2: Talk about it
Let me be clear, I am sick of this topic being ignored and overlooked or treated as “too controversial.” What good does it do to not talk about something? It is okay to ask questions. It is okay not to have all the answers. It is okay to change long-held opinions. Discussing, posing interesting questions, and researching are all things that help, not hurt our faith. Just talking about the issue is progress for our Church; we have a lot of catching up to do.

Right now we hope that it won’t be brought up again. And there are people out there in our Church that wish to silence everyone and anyone who speak out for LGBT issues in the Church of the Nazarene. This culture of ignoring and silencing needs to change. Change is not scary it is a part of life. You can’t step in the same river twice. Progress is not a bad word it is how the Church has operated since Day 1 in Act 29:1.

Talking about something removes the fear and stigma so that the Truth can find its way out. People have told me they would love to speak out on this issue, but stay quiet because they risk loosing their jobs in the Church. That is scary! Ask two people to describe the same meal, and you’ll two different answers. We are not all the same, so it is okay to have different answers. But when we disagree, let us go about it Christianly. I am staying in a Church that I don’t agree with 100% on everything. When we become a LGBT affirming Church, I will still be around those who disagree with me.

Let me restate this, becoming a LGBT affirming church does not change the Article of Faith. It lets the Church recognize the salvation and Call to ministry LGBT members have always had.

Baby step 3: Scoot over

Make some room I’m sitting in that pew. Like it or not, I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. I too get to chisel “Lifelong Nazarene” on my tombstone. Agree with me or not, I’m sticking around calling myself Nazarene. I do not feel at this time called to leave the Church of the Nazarene. Our church isn’t uniformed, it is diverse. Our 100th Anniversary theme was spot on! Out of many One: Out of One, many. We come from many backgrounds and creeds, but we are all sitting together. You don’t have to love me, that’s my mom’s job, just make room for me. This act of tolerance can go along way.

Allow me to worship with you. Allow me to pray with you. Allow me to fellowship with you. You’ll find we’re not so different after all. Chances are you go to church with a person who votes differently or claps during the praise songs and you don’t or wanted the sanctuary carpet to be blue and not beige like you. You allow them to still call themselves Nazarene and more importantly call themselves Christian. I don’t like being told I am not a Christian because I am gay. It boggles my mind how I am not a Christian at a Nazarene Church but if I cross the border into Canada at a United Church of Canada church I am.

We make room for people who’s faith traditions say it is okay to drink alcohol, we make room for people who’s faith traditions speak in tongues, we make room for people who’s faith traditions don’t place large emphasis on the Word. We make room for the formal, and casual, we make room for those who place special attention to baptism or mission.

We can make room for the gay and lesbian Christians.

40 Years Without A Purpose

We are closing in on 40 years of having a Manual statement on homosexuality. If you look at our Facebook Timeline, the text has not changed at all. In those same 40 years we have changed the Manual on everything from performing musicals, mixed bathing, folk dancing, regular dancing, entertainment, and divorce. We have let Districts merge and organizations consolidate. Yet our stance on homosexuality remains the same…

The point is that the Manual was never this concrete document. How we go about doing church is completely up to us [the church]. The stance on homosexuality is over due for a make over. If we place so much value in keeping Homosexuality unchangeable, why not make it Article of Faith XVII? Changing our stance on homosexuality does not devalue the Articles of Faith whatsoever, nor does it compromise anyone’s salvation or faith, nor does it undermine the authority of the scripture or the Church.

In The Mean Time…

Not a fan of those resolutions? I have three alternatives. (For those of you keeping score at home, only one of them is mine). There are pros and cons to all of these, but I’ve already written longer then any other piece on here so I’m just going to present the idea.

Option 1:

Create an ex cathedra Pastoral Perspectives on Homosexuality III. This gives us the guidelines we need in order to frame the discussion for the next four years. (This one was my idea).

Option 2:

Send the issue to the District or local Church level. Let them decide how to best handle this issue. Much like the United Methodist Church has done with some conferences honoring Reconciling Ministries while others don’t. (I stole this one from an Ally.)

Option 3:

Create the “Committee on Marriage, Civil Unions, and Family” made up of the best and brightest minds (both gay and straight) the Nazarenes have to offer to study the issue for a period of 2 years with the authority to make ex cathedra statements upon completion. (I stole this from the Presbyterian Church USA). This allows for the topic to be a learned discussion, researched, with a thought out conclusion. I have already told the Generals I will gladly serve as Chair of said committee. (Okay… I’ll be co-Chair… but my name gets listed above Dr. Boone’s.)

Equality

Here’s the long and short of it. Our current policy states that there is “no compatibility between homosexuality and Christianity”. So we have automatically denied salvation to a people group. That is discrimination. Especially since God’s Word is, and forever will be for everyone to experience and enjoy. I hope you see what I’ve done here. There is an injustice to how we view different types of sin in our church. The policies of the Church of the Nazarene highlight homosexuality in such a way that bullies us by saying “you’re not welcome here”. But it is framed with sentences that contain “love, grace and dignity,” so the bullies can sleep well at night. Only problem is you cannot separate homosexuality from the person. So if you hate that part of me, then you hate me. Where there is fear of discussing this topic openly, or fear for openly supporting homosexuals in the community, there cannot be love. Plain and simple.

Nazarenes, I’m asking you to do some self-reflecting, to thoughtfully, and logically find the root of the anti-homosexual-ness that is in the Church. I know goes against everything you’ve been brought up to believe, but ask yourself, “where did this come from?” or “Why do I believe this” or “How is this belief applied to the homosexuals I know?” or better yet “Who is my neighbor?” If the Church called to look after those who are on the margins instead rejects them, who then is supposed to look after us?

I know it hurts when someone is telling you something that challenges your believes. It gets especially difficult if you have grown up believing on thing, then you’re asked to start believing the exact opposite. I am not asking you to change your faith. I’m asking that you treat me, and all others who proclaim that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, the same, regardless of sexuality. Granting me equality under the Manual does not take away your salvation, or change the Articles of Faith. This issue was created in 1972, and has never been that essential to our identity as Nazarenes.

Conclusion

I’m sure you’ve wondered why I’m a Nazarene, or why I stay Nazarene. Maybe I’m stubborn, but I also don’t feel called to leave just yet. I believe there is still more good to be found in our church and its systems. Maybe I am naïve, idealistic and overly optimistic. But I know I love this church, and for the time being, it pains me too much to think about leaving it. I will always believe that the Church of the Nazarene is up to much good. This is the Church where I came know Jesus. This is the Church that taught me about service and putting others ahead of myself. This is the Church that taught to stand up for those on the margins.

I would like to make some sort of impact; in a positive way to mend the wounds the Church has caused the homosexual community.

I know it is a challenge, but if it were easy, would it really be worth it? And wouldn’t everyone be championing the cause of the Homosexual-Nazarene? The right thing is often unpopular, but that doesn’t make it any less important or the not worth the effort.

I am not trying to tear down the Church of the Nazarene; I am not looking for schism. I want the cycle of hate, misunderstanding, and self-imposed distancing to end between the Church of the Nazarene and the homosexual community. Too many good people have already left the Church, or suffered in silence because of the homophobic policies of the Church, and more will leave if this does not get resolved soon. I want that to end. If I can put an end to the silent suffering of one boy or girl who doesn’t have to grow up in a Nazarene Church that shames them until they leave, then I will have done my job.

Identity Crisis

Identity Crisis

Have you ever spent much time talking with a three-year old? They tend to ask this same question over and over, no matter how great your answer was. You’re always pushed to find another answer to satisfy their question of “Why?” This banter goes back and forth until you run out of answers and in frustration, you simply say… “Because.”

Human beings are born with this internal curiosity. We are people born into a specific place and time and are products of the places, times and events that occur prior to our existence. We constantly wonder what happened before we were around and what will things look like after we are gone. Without our history, we have no stories. We have no way to shape our actions or shape what we stand for. We are left living in the “Because.” And that life is a desolate purgatory of a life.

As an institution, the Church must also ask those very same questions to “Why?” The answers we get are found in our sacred texts, they are forged through our experiences and aged with tradition and refined by reason. Through that process is how we, as the citizens of the Kingdom of God, find and re-find our identity. (We also must ask, “Who are we?” and “Where we are going?”) Simply put, the Church’s identity must be Christ. We are to look like Him. Each denomination in the Christian faith expresses this a somewhat differently, but peel back the layers of mission statements and creeds and one common element is clear: The Church’s identity is in Christ.

In our darker moments as the Church, we violently protested against other expressions of the faith that weren’t our own. We used violence, manipulation and power as if to prove that our expression of that identity was not only correct, but in fact the only way. All this did was prove how much we weren’t identifying with Christ, but instead with the world. History is filled with many examples of the Church not living up to the ideal. Too often we fall short, but our true identity as the citizens of the Kingdom, is still Christ.

Two Forms of ID Please

We, Nazarenes, similarly find our identity in Christ. As an expression of that identity, aligning ourselves with Christ, we have attached another identifying marker from Christ’s character and nature, holiness. This helps us to more specifically express the Christlikeness to which we as a Church are called. Holiness is often used as an identifying marker that differentiates us from other denominations. It is our defining expression of the Christian faith, yet we are not the only people who are called unto holiness, and we are not the only caretakers of what it means to live a holy life. Because we express our identity in Christ through the lens of holiness, every Current Moral & Social Issue and every Article of Faith every Pastoral Perspectives, needs to stem from that call of being a holiness people.

The Church of the Nazarene is a product of events that took root long before our first General Assembly at Pilot Point in 1908. The story is a long, complicated and detailed story to tell, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth telling; that makes the story better. That story needs to be told. In the process of telling and re-telling that story we find answers to who we are and why we even call ourselves Nazarenes to begin with. Given that our identity is in Christ and we express that through living a holy life, how do we express that to the multiple cultures and traditions around the world? This is an age-old question that churches have been trying to wrap their doctrines around for centuries.

Who To (Or Is It Whom To?)

In 1908, we established not only what we want to look like, but also whom we want to hang around. Our Founding Father Phineas F. Breese has a strong call to the impoverished people of Los Angeles. He sought to create a church that was focused on the poor and underserved members of society. Today we call that social justice. Breese would call that doing the obvious. (The Breese Institute in downtown Los Angeles bears his name and gives witness to the fact of his commitment to the disenfranchised of LA.) Breese was simply mimicking the actions and patterns of Christ. He saw that Christ was holy and did social justice actions. Maybe parts of what it means to be a holiness people is engaging in a broken world and a broken system, and in faith seek to be a part of God’s redemptive mission in our world.

We, Nazarenes, find our identity in Christ expressed through the lens of holiness and use social justice as a way of acting on that expression.

To summarize,
Q: “Why holiness?” A: “Because Christ embodied holiness.”
Q: “Why social justice?” A: “Because Christ embodied social justice.”

Taking all the above into consideration, shouldn’t that be our standard for how we frame our Current Moral and Social Issues stances?

Newton’s Third Law

As a denomination we haven’t always expressed our identity in Christ as holiness. (And we haven’t always focused on social justice either.) Don’t get me wrong, we aren’t burning people at the stake or invading the Holy Land, but there was a time when we “missed the mark” so to speak, on expressing our identity. As discussed in previous articles, we replaced our holiness with legalism. Or rather we changed the process of how we expressed our identity in Christ. We did this by formulating that which has no formula. (i.e. Not square dancing in physical education class does not make one holy.) We developed a reactionary approach to the pressing moral and social issues of the day. When faced with a new moral or ethical idea, technology, problem, solution or situation, people look to the Church for a solution. So our Manual slowly began to acquire more and more Special Rules now known as Current Moral and Social Issues.

By 1972 the Church of the Nazarene was already defining itself by what it was against. Although done with the best of intentions, the strict adherence to the rules made us begin to judge others who didn’t express their faith exactly like we did. Whatever the trend of the day was, the Nazarenes were likely to write a resolution for the Manual against said trend. We made our identity that which we were not, instead of that which we are. Our reaction against a trend is based out of fear and ignorance rather than out of love and wisdom. For where there is fear there cannot be love. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears in not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4:18…

1972

The Church of the Nazarene first addresses the issue of homosexuality in 1972. It was a reactionary response to the changing American cultural view of sexuality that surrounded the church. Instead of writing a policy about what we are, it was a definitive statement about what we are against.

As time went on and the cultural issues waxed and waned the idea of keeping up with all of them, the era of personal and spiritual discretion arrived. Many of the line-item prohibitions were removed, replaced by new versions. The more things change, the more things stay the same. Such is the case with our homosexuality clause, now the final paragraph of P37 Human Sexuality; it has quietly remained unchanged from its original wording in 1972. We don’t live in the same kind of world the Nazarenes of the 1972 Manual were in. Our understanding of sexual orientation has changed. We have made attempts to adjust it with Pastoral Perspectives I (c. 2005), but church politics won out and Pastoral Perspectives II (2011) was written to clarify that we still don’t want openly gays and lesbians in our community of believers. I suppose at any rate history and time will be the judges on how important these issues truly are.

Simply put, our policy on gays and lesbians does not align itself with what we really want to be identified. When pressed, our policy is very vague and has not a single iota of practicality (or orthopraxy). Two Pastoral Perspectives have been written about the subject but they do not have the authority to replace P37 Human Sexuality, nor do they clarify the vagueness of our stance. And Pastoral Perspectives II seems to contradict the progressive spirit and intent and positive direction the first one was taking us in. In both cases (PP I & PP II), no gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender members were asked for their input on a policy that deeply affects not only them but their friends and families too. (For more on my suggestions to tweak this, see my blog on The Manual).

What We Are

We cannot be a people defined by what we are against. We have to be a people of holiness. And this holiness is for everyone. The light on the hill was on the hill so that all could see it; we do not hide our light under a bushel. We are called unto holiness. Nothing more, nothing less, simply holiness. That is our watchword and song. When we are holiness people who is a very attractive thing. It attracts the ugly and the pretty. It attracts people you never thought you’d sit next to on a Sunday morning.

Because when we are holiness people, totally focused on being holiness people and not being against the American-cultural flavor of the week, we are doing what Jesus the Nazarene did. Jesus expanded that table, He let the obvious and the obscure people come and dine. He made room at the table for those who shouldn’t be there by the religious standards of his day. He made room for them, and invited everyone to take his body and his blood and pick up his cross daily. We find our identity in our name… We are the Church of the Nazarene. We should do as Jesus taught us to do and expand the table. Yes it’s messy, yes it doesn’t make sense, yes it might go against everything you’ve been taught to believe about gays and lesbians, yes it makes you feel uncomfortable; yes it is indefinable and not formulaic. But it is who we decided to be back in 1908, and the Church of the Nazarene will not leave its calling.

Freedom

Cuz, Baby You're a Firework!

The title of this blog sounds simple enough. Freedom is a topic that could be a whole yearlong sermon series. But we’ll focus on this central question of “How does freedom in Christ relate to being a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in Christ?”

History of the Church: Part 1

During the infancy of the Church, Christianity wasn’t the only kid on the block. It was just one of many different religions people could choose from. So why did this crazy religion; where a man comes back from the dead, take off? Christianity survived persecution, and a plethora of other religions because it gave people freedom. The freedom that Christianity gives us is not from a state or institution. It is straight from God. It is God whom gives us the freedom from the powers and principalities that would otherwise be hell-bent on our destruction. This God-given freedom does not exclusively apply to the spiritual; it has social freedom applications as well. History tells us that many women were converted first, and then their husbands.

Christianity gave women freedom and thus they were considered equals to men in the church. People, throughout time, have an internal desire to be free. It is only when Christianity became the state religion (Christendom) did the freedom shift from being a God-granted item, to a State/Church granted one, and thus limits where places on this freedom.

Slavery was also an issue the Church had trouble finding its way on. Since Constantine, freedom was now granted through the Church. People used the Bible to justify their position on slavery (proof texting) and limited who could receive the Bible’s freedom. But that freedom was not theirs to divvy up and give out. Even though slavery was an “important institution” to the United States, even though the mainstream American Church said slavery was a perfectly legitimate issue, God was still in the business passing out the real freedom. (Ever wondered why they are called “Southern Baptist”? Prior to the Civil War they were just called Baptist. I’ll let you guess the reason they felt the need to differentiate themselves from the Northern Baptist.) God says freedom is for everyone! We are still fixing the mistakes of history and restoring and mending the wounds of slavery in America. The Church of the Nazarene has fully integrated the former “black districts” in the American South. Today we are appalled by the practice of slavery, and the Church is very active in erasing all types of slavery all over the world.

Constantine favored the very Roman hierarchy of Church governance, a very top down approach. This created a “boys-club” for the Church. Men were the only sex able to be Popes, clergy, or laypeople. Women for the longest sections of history had a backseat role in Church governance. For hundreds and hundreds of years, men would proof text scripture to say that women should be silent in church, and should be submissive. But then came a group that decided that they were going to preach whether or not the Church gave them the right to do so. They were preaching because they saw a gap in the coverage of the Church, and no one else would reach out. They did not let their God-given freedoms be usurped by Tradition or Scripture. And at least one of the “Founding Fathers” of the Church of the Nazarene was a woman. At the end of the decade we saw woman vicars in the Church of England. Closer to home, Nina Gunter as elected as a General Superintendent in 2005. Today we find countries that have huge inequalities between the sexes appalling. (e.g. Saudi Arabia where women aren’t aloud to drive).

Future of the Church: Part 1

Is the issue of homosexuality and the larger gay-rights movement a challenge to the freedoms of Christianity? No. Is the homosexual/gay-right movement a challenge to the authority of God or the Church? No it is not, but what it is doing is challenging certain aspects that are blocking their God-given freedoms. So it was with slavery and women’s rights, so it is with homosexuality. People in authority are proof texting the Bible to determine who is in and who is out. It isn’t about sexuality anymore. It has become a power game. Nazarene Ally’s very existence is due to the fact that there are inequalities in the Church between homosexuals and heterosexuals. God has given me freedom, and I want others to have it, because I think the Gospel is so very important. I want to be connected with a church that affirms those freedoms in Christ. But I can’t be if the Church of the Nazarene continues to play these secular power games.

Why stay?

I have been asked, and I think to myself a lot about why I stay in the Nazarene Church. Why don’t I leave the Nazarenes for a more progressive Methodist or Episcopal Church, where gay + Christian = not an issue? And although that does sound easier, I am reminded that too often people like me, abandon ship instead of trying to help steer the ship back on course. And besides, “mis raíces se entierran aquí”, I shouldn’t have to go, I was born and raised Nazarene. I may never see the day that an openly gay pastor preaches in a Church of the Nazarene; I may be long gone by then. But I will not have been silent. It sounds totally crazy, but my work here will help the next generation get us back on track. God is in the business of passing out freedom. If it were left up to the Church, we would make so many rules no one would be eligible.

I may get outed and/or excommunicated from the Nazarenes because of this blog. But that doesn’t frighten me at all, because I know the source of my freedom. And freedom has a funny way of winning out in the end.

Peter, Paul, and Phineas?

Nazarenes: A History

Just like Maria in The Sound of Music, “let’s start at very beginning.” In order to understand where we are now, we must look back at our roots, our heritage, our history, and what led our Church, our people, our issues to be ripe at this hour. The story is long and complicated, but it must be told as well as understood in order to understand our present state of being and direct our path into the future.

So let’s go back to 1908 and the founding of the Church of the Nazarene. If you remember from Caravan’s, there was 3 groups that merged to form what we now call the “Church of the Nazarene”. These groups were from the West, East and South. (And they picked Kansas City as headquarters because it was centrally located.)

The Church Founders were a hodge-podge group from about 17 different ‘parent denominations’ and were scattered across the country. But all were motivated by a sense that there ‘parent denominations’ were dropping the ball when it came to social justice and holiness. Chiefly among them was Phineas F. Breese. He knew that there was a better way to be the Church. He sought out similar thinking groups from the East and South in order to create a national church. He understood the meaning of ‘together we stand, but divided we fall’.

In order to get the South on board with the vision of the one unified “Pentecostal-Holiness Nazarene Church” some compromises had to be made. Some were small, such as the consolidation of three periodicals into one. Budgets were too tight back then to support all three. Nazarene Publishing House was moved to Kansas City because it was centrally located. (Headquarters was soon to follow). The Herald of Holiness (now called Holiness Today) was born out of the necessity of getting all three groups on board.

Other compromises had larger ramifications. Such as the view-point on sin. The West and East were ready to merge. They held several “General Assemblies” and met in Chicago to make the merger official. But the delegation from the South was noticeably missing. The South did not attend the meetings in Chicago because it held a very different viewpoint on sin than the West and East held. Whereas the East and West viewed sin more as an attitude or disposition, the South viewed sin as an act (viewable and listable). Even though Phineas F. Breese fought determinedly to change the South’s opinion, he caved on the issue of the nature of sin in order for the Church of the Nazarene to be born. This wasn’t an easy choice to make, but the South had more people, so without them the East-West merger wouldn’t have been strong and it wouldn’t have accomplished the goal of unifying the Holiness Churches in America.

With the South satisfied at this doctrinal change, they were ready to host the 2nd General Assembly in Pilot Point, Texas. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Nazarene: A History

Who were the first Nazarenes? They were humans. Prone to making mistakes, but sought out God’s Will in spite of their shortcomings. They came from 17 different church backgrounds including Methodist, Baptist, Quaker, and yes Catholics.

So church created by outcasts, set out to create a church for outcasts. They were committed to creating social change, and they saw the Holy Spirit as the means to bring about that change. The West saw homelessness and alcoholism as the things they wanted to change in society. These were things that blocked people from being holy, or entirely sanctified. These early Nazarenes, shared common protestant thinking of the era when it came to church buildings and church interiors; they would be plain and simple so people can focus on God. That is why we have a prohibition on alcohol, and why many churches have plain rectangles whitewashed interiors. (However they managed to get all Nazarene Churches to smell the same is a mystery beyond me).

The Next Chapter

The ‘second generation’ Nazarenes inherited the church in the 1930s and would shape the church for the next 50 years or so all based on Phineas’ compromise on sin. The ‘second generation’ Nazarenes led Church into a legalistic era.

This era was characterized by seeking to list all sins, and do and don’ts for the Christian. The idea being if we know all the sin there is, we can avoid them all. As legalism took over it quickly went beyond the scope of pertaining to thing ‘necessary to salvation’ and went into common social issues of the day (originally called Special Issues in early Manuals). It was as if the Leviticus writers where writing our Manual, shaping our Christian lives by listing what style of clothes to wear and what activities to refrain from.

As the Legalism Era began to wane, individual churches that did not like the ‘loosening of rules’ broke away from the parent Church of the Nazarene. Although small these churches mark the first schism in the Church of the Nazarene. The Bible Missionary and Pilgrim Nazarene church (centered in Oklahoma/Texas and Pennsylvania respectively) still bear the marks of early Nazarene Manuals in their current manuals.

The Legalism Era ended as gradually as it began. Starting in the 1980s the three General Assemblies revisited the “Contemporary Social Issues” and advised Nazarenes to “use discretion”. (Even though they have been ok for near 30 years, Nazarene dancing and movie joke still dominate Nazarene culture). But more importantly, even though the Use Discretion Era has begun, legalism is rears its ugly head in the Church.

The Use-Discretion Era

The Use-Discretion Era created a rift.

Over time it has widened. One side sees the end of legalism as a good thing, because the things being addressed were not effecting salvation, and thus did not affect holiness. This group focuses on restoring Nazarenes to the essentials of faith. A move towards Phineas’ Western view of sin.

The other side, saw the shift as a watering down of the faith, and thus focused on restoring the Nazarenes to what they perceived to be ‘fundamental’ and ‘traditional’ beliefs. Still keeping the South’s view of sin.

These two forces would square off in a series of battles starting in the late 90s and early 00s. This was known as the Worship Wars. One the surface it was simply about musical tastes. But scratch the surface and you’ll see the true cause was resistance to change, and fear of abandoning tradition. Fearing more schism, pastors opted to have two services; same message, different music.

During the Use-Discretion Era (1980-2001), the Church was becoming larger, and more international (a very good thing). But it was also becoming more and more involved in the United States political realm (God & Country Theology, a very bad thing).

Present Day

After the attacks of September 11th, Evangelical-Protestant denominations across the country had a new religious fervor. The Church of the Nazarene was no different. It was beginning to reap the God & Country roots it sowed years ago. The rift continues to drive people apart, now time two services can’t fix this.

From 2001-2010 there was an onslaught of issues that were perceived as a threat by the people standing on the more ‘traditional/conservative’ side of the rift. This issues ranged from homosexuality, to emergent theology, to postmodernism, to abortion, to prayer in school, to communion.

So here we are in 2010. There are groups on both side of the rift. Both sides have used scripture to back up their claims (when in doubt proof-text). I’m sad to report the rift is widening. Promoted by cultural conservatism in reaction to the rapidly changing culture, the dialogue between the two camps is all but extinct. And so I fear schism is not far away. Without a healthy dialogue there can be no way to close the rift. As I stated previously, this is a long and complicated story.

This brief history still doesn’t explain why homosexuality became the flagship sin (that has another history all its own).

What would Peter and Paul do?

One issue, circumcision, became quite the touchy subject for the early Church Fathers. Peter was adamant that in order to become a Christian you must be circumcised first. Paul said it didn’t matter because Jesus came and changed everything.

Growing up, pastors would also preach against Peter. How stupid he was for being so narrow-minded; how clearly wrong he was in his thinking. Peter is vilified because of his thinking. But Peter wasn’t wrong in his thinking, he was just stuck in a paradigm. Peter’s thought process is this: “This path worked for me, so all must be on the same path.” But his paradigm of thinking would have limited the goals of Church. The book of Acts documents the first rift in the fast growing early church. What is important is that spat between Paul and Peter did not cause a schism! (Surprisingly the Church held together until 1054.)

Likewise I firmly believe that dialogue between the two groups can heal the rift between the those think the Church and Christianity is for heterosexuals only, and those who think sexuality doesn’t matter for salvation.

Closing Thoughts

I humbly present to you today that homosexuality is the Church of the Nazarene’s circumcision issue. Do people need to convert from gay to straight in order to be Christian or belong to our Church? Absolutely not. Why then does the Church force that heterosexuality on us? As if to say heterosexuality is a de facto ticket to heaven. The Paul-Peter spat put to rest any and all ideas of a litmus test prior to salvation. Look at Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (TNIV).” Is it not safe to say that Paul didn’t think labels mattered in the Church? So is it not safe to read it like this too: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither rich nor poor, neither gay nor straight, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (TNIV).”?

God sees us for who we really are. God is the one that separates the weeds from the wheat. That’s not our job. Our job is to love. When we love God, we end up loving everyone. Funny how that works out. So labels like drunk, rapist, gossip, shy, lonely, handsome, tall, coward, or liar fall away as we start to see people the way God sees people. We begin to see rifts that formerly divided us start to heal.

Schism is heresy.