God and the Gay Christian: A Wesleyan Perspective

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.

Day of Silence 2013

Greg White, Nazarene Ally Vice-President, wrote this piece for Day of Silence 2011. Greg grew up in Bethany, Oklahoma, and graduated from Southern Nazarene University in 2006 with a B. A. in Communication Arts and now works as a professional illustrator.  He is a proud member of Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, and strives to serve by fostering a grace-filled dialogue between the Nazarene Church and the LGBT community.

Day of Silence 2011

Today is the National Day of Silence, a day when students across the country remain silent in recognition of the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community who feel compelled to remain silent about the truth of their identity.  As a matter of conscience, I feel I must break my own silence and come out as gay.  As someone who has had to endure the isolating pain of hiding his sexuality, I believe that I’ve been called to now be honest.  I’ve heard it said that it isn’t lying to not tell everything you know, and there may be some truth to that.  But to remain silent in the face of the ignorance that has led to so much pain and death in the LGBT community would be, I believe, a great sin.  The truth is that by remaining silent, I find myself complicit with a worldview that discourages honesty and integrity.  And as a person of faith, I think that the truth matters, even when or perhaps especially when it is confusing or inconvenient.

This is not a declaration of a “struggle” or a “lifestyle,” (two words that I would be quite glad to never hear again) but rather a state of being.  As Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelist Tony Campolo has said, “Madonna and I are both heterosexual women, but we do not share a lifestyle.”  More often than not, that word is used as a disingenuous way to confirm the presence or absence of a sex life, which I find to be a deeply personal bit of information, regardless of orientation.  “Hey John and Mary, I see you’ve been spending a lot of time together lately.  Have you been living out the heterosexual lifestyle?”  It’s just an unfair question, and one that I don’t intend to go into here.

What I want to talk about is an environment in which societal pressures such as shame, fear, and intimidation have been used to keep gay people closeted.  Issues of sexuality are, indeed, difficult ones to approach, especially when they may seem to conflict with our deeply held religious beliefs.  I’m sure that, had I not been forced to deal with homosexuality in such a personal way, I likely would have shied away from that challenge.  But to deny its existence, to directly or indirectly discourage others from being open about who they are can only have a negative impact.

I spent more years than I care to remember suffering in silence, hating myself, wishing I would die.  I projected a false self to the world, holding friends and family at arm’s length.  Alone at night, I would cry out to God to change me, to make me acceptable, to spare me from Hell.  I cut myself with razor blades and soon began to resent the God that I’d loved so dearly.  This year, the news has been littered with stories of gay kids committing suicide, unable to withstand the personal hell their lives had become due to the cruelty, silence and indifference they’d experienced at the hands of others.  And the negative impact isn’t isolated only to the LGBT community.  Churches, schools, and societies have robbed themselves of the chance to know these amazing individuals.  Creative, vibrant, loving people who could have had a powerful impact on the lives they would have touched.

I’ve heard the catchphrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin” uttered by spiritual leaders and laity alike, thinking somehow that if they say it enough, that love will become a reality.  But any gay person on the receiving end of that line can tell you that it rings hollow.  Sexuality isn’t something you do, but is rather a part of what makes you who you are.  It encompasses uncontrollable elements, such as attraction and the capacity to fall in love.  You can’t simply carve a person into pieces and decide which parts to love without it being interpreted as conditional love, which is a cheap substitute for the real thing.  Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s within the realm of human capacity to be able to project both love and hatred towards a person’s identity simultaneously.  I know because I tried, and discovered that I could find no love for myself as long as I hated that part of me.  If we are to truly change this pattern of self-hatred and fear, we must start by breaking down the walls of silence that keep people isolated.

My challenge to the broader community is to follow the example of some individuals I know and to stand up beside your LGBT friends with open hearts and minds.  Come alongside them with acceptance and love, willing to learn and grow with them.  I don’t demand that everyone come to believe what I believe, but ask that you would help to create an atmosphere that encourages openness and support for the LGBT community, free from the conditional love and condemnation that we’ve seen so much of.  Always be careful how you speak, because there may be someone in your midst who is weighing your words carefully, listening for signs of love or rejection.

For those of you in the LGBT community that are suffering in silence, to those who bear the scars of the past, for those who feel unlovable, forgotten by God, worn down, beat up or afraid, know that you are not alone.  You aren’t forgotten.  Don’t give up hope.  Don’t give in to bitterness, and don’t give up on life.

Please understand that this message is not intended to offend, but to simply state the truth as I see it.  My faith has always taught me that it is vital to speak the truth in love, not to hide it when it’s dangerous or taboo.  I know full well what this essay could cost me.  But if it can help one gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person feel less alone, or help one straight person to reevaluate their treatment of the LGBT community, I say the cost was worth it.  Because I want to be the kind of person that I needed to see when I was growing up and felt so alone.  In fact, I feel I must apologize for remaining silent for so long.  I’ve felt that God has been calling me to be honest for many years now, but I placed the acceptance of others ahead of what I knew was right.  And if that isn’t idolatry, I don’t know what is.

To each and every reader, know that I love you, and God does too.

Sincerely,

Greg

Hello.

Like getting lost in the plot of a dream or completely immersed by the pictures of a movie only to be snapped back to reality when the alarm goes off, or a sneeze in the audience, such is the pretend world of Neal, who dared to dream of a Church free of discrimination and judgment and full of love, support, truly mutual respect and open arms, only to return to a reality where much work is needed to be done in order to achieve that dream.

At the time it was a very practical solution to a problem I had been wrestling with for years. How do I speak up for LGBT rights, my own rights, while being called to a Church that denies them? I created a character named Neal. Although I never thought people would actually refer to me as Neal, but more on that later. Neal was more than just an imaginary friend; he could dive into things I couldn’t touch; he could speak to people I was scared to speak to; he could think about things I didn’t want to think about. Neal challenged me from his very creation to kill him. Only in Neal’s death could I finally realize what life was like on the other side. After two and a quarter years of long, thoughtful and purposeful deliberations and arduous chronicling the moment has arrived.

I thought surely there would be a guessing game as to who I was, but there wasn’t. (And to my surprise no one ever asked either…) Then sometime in late 2011 it clicked. People personalized my ramblings. Suddenly I wasn’t anonymous. I was Neal. Light bulb! The message was interconnected to the messenger. In order for me to make any progress I would have to switch gears. I started maneuvering myself in November of 2011 for this very post. It took another year, but here we are. I’d like you to meet the real ‘Neal’.

My name is Ty McCarthy. I grew up in Kansas City. (The Kansas side for those wondering). I was raised Nazarene and grew up attending Olathe College Church of the Nazarene. I moved to Oklahoma City and graduated from Southern Nazarene with a degree in Theology and Ministry. I stuck around Oklahoma and got my Master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in Norman. I attend Bethany First Church of the Nazarene where I’m currently a member. When not working downtown, I enjoy watching Doctor Who or exploring a new part of ‘The City’ on my bike. Someday, I want to go to the Olympics, and maybe visit every Olympic city. (Anything else you want to know you can ask, I’m going to stop here, otherwise this will look like a OkCupid profile.)

This has been really difficult to write, partly because I don’t want it to come off as too vain or self promoting (because I don’t), but mostly because I never thought I would tell anyone this in my whole life: I’m gay. But there is power in a name, a face, a relationship. I’m not some abstract concept or someone from outside the church. I’m very real, and very much Nazarene.

Looking back, it seems like a lifetime ago, since I sat on my hide-a-bed in my living room and began to type. I have been honored to hear your stories. I wanted to create a place where Allies could connect with Allies, where people can find support and love and know they aren’t alone. I did this because love this Church. I do this for the Church that raised me and saved me. It is not done with malice, revenge, or schism, but it was done out of love and respect.

My story is filled with imperfections and missed opportunities, but I hope you catch a glimpse of where I’m headed and the person I’m hoping to become. It is my hope that Nazarene Ally opens the doors to enable us as a Church to build more bridges with a people group we’ve long mistreated and ignored. This won’t happen overnight, and it won’t be easy. I am naïve enough to picture a Church where issues of sexuality and gender identity are a thing of the past. It is only possible if we all work together, keeping our eyes fixed on the Gospel: The Gospel, which is Jesus. When we truly love God, we can truly love others. What else matters? Together, the body of Christ can move forward. Together, we can do better.

TyTo my friends and family that may have found out through Facebook or by any means other than me, I apologize for any grievance or hurt find out this way has caused you. I hope you can forgive me. This is not how I wanted you to find out, I wish you had heard it from me. This has been one heck of a year, and I’m so thankful to my friends for sticking by me as I began my coming-out journey. I would not have made it this far without them. I am so blessed, and I am lucky I have them for support. I will continue my story here: www.tymccarthy.com as Nazarene Ally can now grow into something greater than just my story. It can be a place for all of our stories.

My name is Tyler. I’m Nazarene, and I’m gay, and I’m not alone.

Last Lecture

A chaplain I had in college every so often would bring in guest speakers to speak on the most peculiar of subject. They were to address the student body as if it were their last speaking engagement ever. What wisdom would they depart to the crowd? What advice did they have to share from their story? What pressing information finally needed to be told? I write this as an ode to my chaplain-emeritus, and in that style of last speeches. This will be Neal’s last post.

It dawn on me the other day that I never really explained why I started this. Granted I’m gay, and Nazarene, but beyond that why did I invest time and energy into a venture that has zero guarantee of return on my investment? Like any story worth telling it doesn’t fit easily into a nicely formed essays. Its full of back story and subplot, I will do my best to conform it. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, I write so much now, I forget what I post and what I don’t. Feel free to ask questions, and as always pretend I am telling you this over dinner.

Neal’s Story

Neal was created because I was paranoid, scared, and so deep in the closet I as almost in Narnia. (No one ever seemed to laugh at his name. Neal A. Zachary…NAZ…get it?) Almost as soon as I started I felt like I was going to get caught. I was still working for the Church and the thought of losing my job scared me. As I transitioned each post from the old site to the new site, I hardly recognize the person who spent sleepless nights writing just to channel and calm his thoughts. Whom, on more than one occasion was on the verge of an anxiety attack. Xanga seemed to help take the edge of my teenaged angst, so I turned to its modern cousin the blog. But that is making it too simplistic.

There was a time in my life when I wouldn’t have even dreamt to admitting publicly I was gay. I never needed to really. The problem was I fit in. I dated girls and I pass as straight. The truth is, even the most visibly gay person will pass as straight in Christian circles because people want to hold on to the lie they are straight instead of accepting the person for who they are. But stereotypes don’t fit me, so I’m not going to apply them to others. People will believe what they want. I never was bullied for being gay. In fact I don’t remember ever being bullied in my life. I got made fun of here and there, but nothing that you would consider bullying. I could have easily kept the charade up to my friends, and lived out a straight life with a wife, 3 kids, and shed in the back yard. And I almost did just that. How I started Nazarene Ally is the story of how that world collapsed.

My life was on a completely different track. I was headed towards marriage. “If you repeat a lie enough it becomes true.” I told myself at the very worst I was bisexual, and was choosing to be straight. After all, that’s what the Church was saying, gay is a choice, and so I blindly obeyed. A sweet girl came into my life and I believed the hype the people said about us. That we were the perfect match. We were the ‘it’ couple. I liked showing her off to my friends. I liked not being alone on the weekends. I liked putting both our names on wedding presents. I liked the attention.

Then out of the blue I was blindsided by a breakup in a Starbucks. The world that I had built, convincing myself I was straight, and that I could live a good, happy, little Nazarene life, and be a good, happy, little youth pastor came tumbling down. She said she “saw no future with me…” but I had my whole future wrapped up with her. A week that was supposed to be celebrating our anniversary sent me spiraling down into my darkest depression.

No one understood why I was taking this break up so hard. I told people she broke my heart, and that was partly true. I did have real feelings for her. Sexuality’s complex. I just couldn’t tell them the truth without revealing my darkest secret. I was so scared that I would lose my friends that I didn’t say anything. I bottled everything inside for four months.

Four dark months, I’ll never get back.

Moving to a new town, making new friends, and three rounds of antidepressants refills later, I was beginning to crawl my way out of the emotional hole I dug for myself. I began letting people back into my life. I knew writing would help. I didn’t want to journal without a purpose. Some one else would suffer through the same fate I did, if I didn’t speak up. In fact, people were suffering the same fate at that very moment. Except these kids didn’t see an end to their suffering. They took their own lives because they had lost hope. They had been bullied and picked on for being gay or different, and couldn’t stand it any more. Each news story that summer cut my heart; I helpless to stop it. Then one-day news broke of a teen that took his own life in my town. I didn’t know him, but suddenly it wasn’t this abstract problem; it was real, and affected my community. I went home that day sat at my computer and typed.

24 blogs later here we are. I have read every comment. I have read every email. There were many times when I wanted to give up; just let Neal fade into obscurity. Starting out I had no friends to turn to when some people said particularly painful things. Last year around this time I went home for Thanksgiving, and then Christmas and wondered if this would be the last time I was welcomed there? Which friends would stand by me? What family members would I never talk to again once they learn my secret? Was this blog something I wanted to risk loosing friends, and family and a career in the Church over?

…Yes…

After three months of painful mental gymnastics I said yes. Maybe it was a selfish prayer, but it was the only thing I knew I could pray… “God if this isn’t where I should be going, I’ll stop right away.” My relationship with God was still mending. Gone was the Christianity I knew growing up. Gone was the God that would make everything better with a quick prayer at the altar. This was a new God was more interesting and more complex and yet more intimate and real then I had ever known before. This was a new Christianity looked nothing like what I was taught growing up. Prayer, going to Church, praise & worship songs, and the Bible all had to be re-learned. I had been Christian since I was 9, but only now I was a Christian.

I wanted to give the whole thing up, but something told me not to. If I were to continue this, I would need to come out and confront the issue face to face. I needed to be my own advocate for change. I needed to come out. I set for myself a date, by 11:59:59 on December 31st, 2012; I would have to tell someone I was gay. I made it my new year’s resolution, one I am proud to say I actual kept. Maybe in the future, I’ll share with you how it came about, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen in February. That week was the best week of my life! I gained confidence immediately, and my roommate noticed a change in me so dynamic he called me out on it, which led me to tell him. Coming out made me a new person.

The high of that week in February would be played against the emotional foil of a week in August. I hate goodbyes. I never knew the pain of losing my best friend like when on Monday the 6th, my boyfriend of two years moved away to start graduate school, by that Friday I was driving to Kansas City to tell my mom I am gay. Two highly charged emotional events surely would be setting me up for another round of depression. But this time I was ready. Unlike the previous break-up I had the support of my friends, (this one wasn’t a blind side, we knew the day he would leave… it didn’t stop the emotions. I cried so hard I gave myself a nose bleed.) I could now share and vent my emotions with my friends. I had people around me that knew exactly what I meant when I compared my life to a Doctor Who episode. You know the sad ones when The Doctor says goodbye to a companion. I knew the pain of being Donna Noble, a story I will share with you at a later, but now I was feeling like Rose Tyler, torn away from The Doctor after only two seasons. (I’m also proud to say that is my very first Doctor Who reference, I’ve resisted the urge to use Doctor Who metaphors every blog. If you need a show to watch, watch it!)

Suddenly I realized how wrong I had been. Instead of turning away from me, coming out has actually improved my relationships with my friends! A complete 180 from what I had expected! I cannot thank my friends enough for supporting me, for letting me talk their leg off about everything I had kept hidden for so long, and being patience with me as I slowly told more and more people. Thanks! Being on the other side of the roller coaster is amazing!

I look back and see a blur of memories. Sometimes it feels like ages ago, other times it is like yesterday. As I shared bits and pieces of my story with you, you gave me your stories. Stories that let me know that I wasn’t alone. Stories that brightened my day. Stories that told me I’m making a small impact. Stories that made me cry and unsure of how to reply. Stories that really made me realize how important this is after all. I’m really no one special, so I hope there isn’t much built up to my coming out. I’m just a guy who decided to type.

This is Neal’s last opportunity to address you. Two years after this adventure began, a new chapter begins. I started with lofty goals and high ambitions because I believe in our Church. I believe we can do Church better. I believe we can treat people better. I believe that the greatest days for our Church are ahead of us. And I want to be a part of that making that future happen today! I know I sound painfully naïve and optimistic, but I am just raising the standard of excellence for the next generation.

I want there to be space in the Church of the Nazarene for people like me. At the end of the day I invite you listen to my story, because that’s who I am, and I know without a doubt I can bring that to the table. I know there are others like me out there that just want to belong to this unique group of people called Nazarenes.

If anything, be kind to one another. You never know the struggles that people are silently going through because they think they might be ridiculed. Like I said, I fit into straight life. But I was well aware of the jokes, put-downs, teasing and anti-gay statements my church friends used. Would they still have said those things if they knew I am gay? Or would they have waited until I left and said it behind my back. I’m not sure which one hurts worst. But at the same time, you never know when you’ll be a light to someone in need. People who think they are strangers to Neal, but in reality know me, have given me hope without even realizing what they were doing.

I do this so that no one else has to go through what I went through. I do this so that the next generation of Nazarenes will be better equipped and ready to handle this issue. I hope you know that I love the Church, and specifically the Church of the Nazarene. I hope that somewhere in my ramblings you caught a glimpse of what is growing off my vine (John 15). And most importantly, I hope you know that I am His because of the way I’ve loved (John 13). I’m not perfect, I’m probably not a role model either, but I know someone who is, I mess up a bunch, and please forgive me when I do. I try to live my life by this phrase: “Loving the edges is the way forward. Keep moving forward.”

Soon I stop being Neal, and I start being real.

Surprises: Part 1

If I were the person who got to pick the analogy for those who are not open about their sexuality, I wouldn’t have picked a closet; I would have picked a prison. (I can see the look on people’s faces when I tell them “I just got out of prison.” So I see why they picked closet instead.) It’s small and dark. It’s where you store things like shoes, clothes and board games. You shove junk inside when your parents visit hoping the clean floor will fool them into thinking it is always clean even when they are not around. (Or is that just me?) When you grow up gay in the Nazarene bubble, escape doesn’t seem possible, so you learn to adapt and live a shell of a life surround and contained in your closet. (I was trying to avoid an R. Kelly reference). Mine was not a closet it was a prison. I locked my gay away so far down it was never going to surface. Maximum security. Cell Block D. Solitary confinement. No chance for parole.

I was taking this secret to the grave. (I chuckle when friends mention that they don’t think I can keep a secret). Barring getting Alzheimer’s and mistaking the doctor for a former childhood crush, I was on the track to do just that. I had girlfriend, and you know being Nazarene and 20+, was long over due to get married. That world came crashing down. My old friend depression came back to visit, and stayed for 4 months before I realized what was going on. People break up all the time; my friends didn’t understand why I was taking it hard. I told them I was I love with her, and perhaps I was, emotions are complex. Maybe I had just enough love to get me walking down the aisle. That’s all I needed right? I wouldn’t get a chance to find out. Little did I know that the events of July 9th would start me on the road to leaving the Nazarene Bubble, this blog, and coming out?

My closet. My prison. My hell.

A place I never want to step into again. I’m still jumping back and forth, in and out of the closet, depending on if the people I’m around know. Even after I’m fully out, the scars of the closet will linger with me. Coming out doesn’t make your closet go away. It follows you behind every picture on Facebook, every birthday, every school year, every wedding, every funeral, every mission trip, every memory up until coming out, are echoes created by the double life.

I’ve searched for examples or metaphors that would help explain what it is like so that a straight person could step into my shoes for a brief moment. The closet is a suffocating cloud that muffled your speech when you want to say that guy at the mall is hot. It wraps around your arms so you never feel comfortable holding hands with your girlfriend, but you’re too scared to admit why. It builds a barrier between you and your friends; an invisible wall that keeps them from seeing the real you. Your friends can’t name it, or see it, but something is going on, like it’s always in the corner of their eyes never able to get a good look at what is causing it. It places a blur on your personality so that you don’t stand out too much. It constantly reminds you of all your insecurities so that you’re acutely aware of them at all times. It kills any kind of happiness, personal triumph, or celebration by whispering you how far you’ll fall and how fast it’ll all be taken away if anyone found out.

I don’t ever want to be there again.

I came out to my friends over the course of a few weeks this past winter. Each time my heart raced, my knees buckled, and my hands got numb. (Some how I kept it together and didn’t cry.) For my church isn’t ready for homosexual-members much less clergy, and the state I live in isn’t known for its welcoming of different people groups.

Telling Blake*

Leaving the Nazarene-Bubble helped me some, but it still didn’t give me a guarantee. Of all my friends I told I was probably the most nervous when I told Blake. Here is a guy that has nothing in common with those you typically associate with being a Straight-Ally. Blake is male, Christian, registered Republican, loves the NRA and likes to hunt, lives on a ranch, in a fraternity, and did I mention he is from Texas. (He’s going to want me to add Ladies-man to that list as well). I didn’t have to tell him. For a while I wasn’t going to, but I talked myself out that because I knew that fear was driving my decision-making. Because along with all those things listed above, Blake is also one of the nicest, and most genuine guys around. And for someone who could pick anyone hang out with, he chooses to spend his time with me. So I needed to be genuine with him.

He was working that afternoon, and after exchanging texts and not trying to sound too needy, about wanting to meet him for lunch, we finally met at a place near campus. I had a mutual friend there for moral support, but just ‘happened’ to be in the area and joined us. I got some scone-thing and a Mountain Dew. I said I already ate, but truth was my nerves made me lose my appetite. Funny the things you remember. After we exhausted everything under the sun to talk about, I turned to our friend sitting next to me, took a deep breath and started to tell Blake.

He was the only person I needed someone else to help tell. Mainly so I’d actually do it, but in case Blake pulled out tar and feathers, I could escape. Blake had the recipe for disaster. Fear, in my mind, turned the possibility of a negative reaction into the expectation of one. Sitting next to me in a wicker seat, Blake took a drink of his tea, which everyone down here calls Coke, and said “So what?”

You know that feeling when you light a firework and it didn’t go off, well that’s what it felt like, except dud was a very good thing! The tingling and numbness in my hands started to slowly go away, and my legs stopped bouncing nervously under the table. We spent the next hour talking. Blake was still my friend, and more importantly I was still Blake’s.

I expected the worst each time I told someone. What actually happened was completely different. He was surprised I was gay, and I was surprised he was still sitting at the table talking to me. Truth be told, 100% of the people I’ve told have been absolutely cool with it, it makes me wonder why I waited so long to begin with. To quote Rod Stewart, “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger.” For too long I’ve let fear control my life. I live in the Bible belt and I always thought “if only I was in a bohemian district like Greenwich Village in New York or Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, then coming out would have been so easy” and I would have done come out much sooner… The truth is, even living there, I probably would have come up with another excuse to delay it.

I’m not one for surprises. I like things on lists and details planned out. Life doesn’t let you do that though. The unexpected support and love of my friends has been a very welcome surprise.

To be continued…

*Name changed

The Persecuted Church

I always grew up thinking the persecuted church was in a far away place such as Africa, Asia, the Middle East, any place that was communist. The persecuted church could not have been the further from my suburban church where I grew up. I was raised to pray for unnamed missionaries in unnamed countries. These were the modern-day equivalents of the Early Church. Little did I know one day I would become a persecuted Nazarene…

The church of my youth was full of people with good intentions. Whatever the motivation was, we had several lock-ins that would try to mimic conditions of the persecuted church so that we would have a better understanding of what it was like to really have our faith put to the test. They might have just read “Left Behind” or just rented “A Thief In the Night[1]” or just watched a documentary on Jonestown, and wanted to re-create “White Nights”, but whatever caused it, my youth group would crowd into a small Sunday School classroom, turn off the lights, and listen to stories of missionaries being forced to choose recant the Gospel or be forced to bury their families alive. Even at district camp in the summer our night games were “persecuted church themed” with names like “Bible Smugglers” which had something to do with sneaking glow sticks across the finish line and not being hit with flour bombs thrown by the youth workers.

The persecuted church was something distant, far off, and mentally removed from my daily life. It didn’t interrupt my routine. Going to church was common, and even the ‘secular’ kids at school had a Church they called home if asked. Being a Christian has always been easy for me. My friends have all been Christians, my family and extended family are all “third, fourth and fifth” generations Christians; I’m surrounded by Christians. I bet 98% of all the Sundays of my life, I’ve attended Church. So you’ll imagine my surprise and shock when I am told by my Church, “You are not a Christian.” By their standards, I’m not a Christian anymore and it’s all because of my sexual orientation.

Californian Adventure

This caused me great duress, so I set forth on a mission to see if there were others like me, that were Christians, but found them suddenly in a perplexing state of not being allowed to be a Christian. So I left the wild weather of the Midwest for the calmer skies of Southern California. (Probably the closest place to heaven on earth is San Diego.) I set out to find other members of this neo-persecuted church of which I am now a member.

I was hoping there would be secret passwords, or knocks, or handshakes, or something out of a James Bond movie, but there wasn’t. It was just a small sign with an arrow hanging from a tree pointing down some steps. The path led to a room wrapped in books on white bookshelves. Chairs were neatly arranged in a circle getting ready for the meeting. I had arrived at All God’s Children, the epicenter of LGBT Nazarenes relations. Made up of former and current Point Loma Nazarene students, faculty, staff and others, they had been meeting together in one-way shape or form for just shy of five years.

My gracious hostess for my day in San Diego warned me not to sit on the couch as it had the infamous reputation of being too comfortable and causing naps. I hadn’t flown 1200 miles just to fall asleep, so I took her advice and sat next to her in some wooden chairs with padded backs in the second row.

It had been about a year since a student at the university caused a ruckus amongst Nazarenes by coming out by telling his story. Eventually his story made it to my ear, albeit through the filter of an over-exaggerated Midwestern protestants worried for the sake of the Church in California. My ‘show-me’ mentality kicked in and I had to see for myself what the fuss was about. Whether it is Harry Potter or Dan Brown, I would rather see for myself and make my own conclusion then take someone’s third (or forth, fifth or sixth) hand account of things. So here I was sitting there, a year later. Sitting at All God’s Children, waiting for it to start.

There was no liberal-hippie-California-progressive propaganda agendas as you might have thought. We were just there to listen. Our speaker did one of the greatest and most powerful things known to humankind. He told us his story.

I’ll let him tell you his story for himself, but know that he put words to concepts I had wrestled with in my mind for years. His mother sat next to him as he spoke. When he spoke of telling his family it caused me to get misty eyed hoping that my mother would do the same thing for me in the future after I tell her. That my mom, like his, would sit next to me and support me and worry more about whether or not my heart belongs to God over whether or not I like boys or girls. After he finished our moderator facilitated a question and answer time. I could have asked him a million questions. But I sat there just taking it all in.

Then the moderator turned to me and asked if I had anything to share about why I was there, and about my blog. I probably talked too fast and too long. I noticed my “I’m getting passionate about something” tone kicked in, so I hope I was able to conveyed my purpose well. The news from the “Bible Belt” wasn’t exactly positive. I was wishing I had stickers or business cards to pass out (but word of mouth worked for Hershey’s, so it can work for me).

Other topics were discussed and we closed in prayer. I went up to our speaker to thank him for sharing his story and to thank his mom for being there too. A handshake wouldn’t do for her, so she hugged me in spite of me being jet lagged and smelling of sweat and of airplane. Classic mom.

That was it. That was the center of the entire hullabaloo. I didn’t ask this but I bet that probably no concerned or reformed Nazarene, nor any General or District Superintendent, nor angry members of the local Nazarene Churches who wanted All God’s Children to be shut down have ever attended, and yet it was the center of protests, letter writing, and complaining. Much like when people got “their panties in a wad”, as my dad would say, over Harry Potter but had never taken the time to actually read them.

Much Ado About Nazarenes

In the basement of a church belonging to a foreign denomination, persecuted Nazarenes met. Forbidden to meet at the Nazarene University, and kicked out of San Diego First. Risking not my life, but my job and any sort of career in the Church I joined them. Validating, at least for me, that I really am not the only one as I’ve said so often on this blog.

My prayer, and I think I can speak for the rest of us by say our prayer, is that someday we won’t have to seek refuge in an affirming church’s basement but rather we will be able to meet, pray, go to pot lucks, and yes, marry all within the wall of the Church of the Nazarene.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see the inconsistencies with the Church of the Nazarene’s stance on homosexuality. History tells us it is an imported story. And the fact that Headquarters will sign petitions on whatever the current topical political issue is, but stays silent on homosexual related teen bullying and suicides shows where the Church’s priorities are.

Our church doesn’t think that if go to a church that speaks in tongues you aren’t Christian, or that Church isn’t a Christian Church. So why does it get fussy with churches that affirm homosexuals in ministry and as members of the Body? Perhaps that is an answer I’ll never figure out.

Until We Meet Again

I wish I had the means to fly out every week to All God’s Children. I left feeling strengthen and encouraged. I truly am not alone. And for those who thought this was just a ‘California problem’ guess again. The Internet is a wonderful tool that has allowed me to connect people all over the world, but nothing will replace the actual, in-person meetings. Nothing online can replace a ride from the airport and around a strange town where people surf before church, or surprising an old friend, or a handshake, or a hug, or hearing a story told to my ears for the first time.

To my brothers and sisters at All God’s Children, Thank you! Keep fighting the good fight. I’m sure we’ll meet again soon. I’m a Nazarene and I am gay man. I know now without a doubt that I am not the only one.

  1. For those keeping score at home that my second reference of this movie.

The Call

I am called to shine light on injustice. I am called to tell my story.

The purpose of this blog was simple, idealistic, and naïve, because I am simple, idealistic, and naïve. It is changing, because I am changing. I never realized how therapeutic writing is until now. I’m not called to change the views of six men in Lenexa. I’m called to invite people into the great circle dance with our Creator, because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are dancing, I am able to dance with them. Since they are in relationship, I can be in relationship with them and others. It boils down to that. It really is that simple. My philosophy of ministry hangs on that fact, so I ask you, how does that make me unfit to serve?

I’m called to speak out against injustice by being relational. Whether or not I come out online will be up to me. It won’t be for the shock value, or like “Who shot J.R.?!”. It’ll be for me. The Church of the Nazarene will continue without me. I will be letting my friends and family know about my blog. They know me best. They know if I am capable of being in relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit or not.

Compatible or incompatible

I’ve been challenging myself to see this issue from the other side. To step into the minds of the opposition to understand why loving people can be so down right cruel on just this issue. I’ve discovered a halfway-developed answer. It’s all about view points. Gays don’t fit into the opposition’s paradigm. The idea of a civilized, Christian gay or lesbian that is monogamous isn’t compatible with the Modernist view of Christianity. The opposition presents gays and lesbians as un-human creatures, with the emotional range of lust, only seeking to get their next lay. Well when you put it like that, of course they think gays can’t be Christians. They define me as someone who has “listened to the world” for too long and “struggled” to figure out which way to go and is selfishly choosing the world instead of the church; someone who is incapable of relationships is absolutely a sinner: You see that same definition/terminology pop up everywhere, from Pastoral Perspectives (I & II), to the Manual (P 37 & 437.7), Church of the Nazarene, Southern Baptist, NOM, and Prop 8; they all define it like that. When someone who is so pre-defined, it is hard to change your definition, even when presented with actual-factual Christian who happen to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The powers that be have pre-determined that because all gays, lesbians and bisexual people are the same, they all must be incapable of having relationships, and therefore not able to have relationship with Christ.

But here’s the deal, even if there definition was true 100% across the board, all humans are capable of relationship with God and others because God is relational. It is when we break the relationship with the Father that sin occurs. After all that is what caused the Fall. Sin is broken relationships. That’s all very logical.

The good news is no one, even the worst sinner in the world is incapable of being in relationship, we all have that ability built-in to us, because we were all made by the Creator! And because the Creator, whose very nature is relational, made us we are thus capable of being in relationship with God, and with one another. So no one gets left out of the circle dance. The only way not to dance, is to purposely choose not to participate. We all get to dance because we were made to dance by someone who is dancing. So it begs the questions, if LGBT people are so incompatible with the Church, why are we trying so hard to belong to it?

There is a lot of pain and suffering in the world. I’m called to ease that. My heart breaks for those in the darkness. My heart breaks when I hear people tell me why they left the Church, or why they hate the Church, or why they hate Christians. I’m idealistic. I know the Church is far from perfect because we are far from perfect, but let us never stop making ourselves better, and reaching for that goal.

Switching Gears

Breaks are a good thing. They give me time to re-evaluate things; re-focus. I have been mulling over the questions submitted. I’d originally planned a sorta simple Q & A style post. But the questions I received were very thought-provoking. A simple paragraph answer wouldn’t suffice. (So very good job on those submissions!) But one question sorta stopped me in my tracks. (The questioner wished to remain anonymous.) I may not be capable of fully answering it, but here’s my best shot.

Q: What is my end game?

A: ________*draws a blank*___________ Quite frankly don’t know. I had the lofty goal of achieving complete equality for homosexuals in the Church of the Nazarene, and getting rid of generations of hate-speech and bigotry. Key word: Had. Reality set in shortly after launch. I don’t think my small blog, will have any change in the 2013 General Assembly. Nor can just these words alone change someones mind and attitude about homosexuality.

I’ve been going about it all wrong.

What is my end game then? Honestly; to come out. Without me doing that these are just words on a screen, lacking less depth than the monitor they appear on.

I’ve been at this for over a year, and deep down I’ve known from the beginning, but am just now finally realizing the stale-mate I’ve created. I forget who said it,  I left it in a comment, most likely it was someone else, “When homosexuality gets a face, it changes everything”. Coming out would mean you get to know me, the real me. Not just an internet character named Neal A. Zachary. Without the knowing the author, how can this blog really effect anything?

That being said, I still don’t think I’m ready to come out. I wrestle daily with this issue regardless of what it means for my employment. I can find another job. But telling my family and friends? Even if I knew that they are completely, 100%, supporting of gays, even speaking the words to that person “I’m gay” sends me running away in fear. So it as much a personal milestone as any.

I’ve always strived to be authentic. It pains me that I am held captive by my insecurities.

Would leaving the Church be a defeat? How can I still promote healthy change within the Church if I’m not able to be in it? Worse yet, will the Church I love allow me to stay?

I don’t know… I would like to think that I could stay apart of COTN even after I’m out. I’m not aware of any cases of that happening. Normally its met with resignation or scandal, and one came out in retirement (as mentioned in a comment). Four, that I know of, with degrees in Theology came out post-graduation from my Nazarene University. Was I stupid to wait? HA or better yet, was I stupid to think that I could actually make a difference? I went into this degree knowing I would not be accepted. (Although I think some think it will make them straight. I knew it wouldn’t. I didn’t want it too.)

WWJD

I could stay closeted. I could just be another anonymous voice on the internet shouting and complaining about inequality. But I don’t want to do that. I am frequently brought back to Jesus, to look to Him for an example of how He would solve this problem. And I am left at a loss because I’m doing it all wrong.

I had great intentions, but I’ve gone about it all wrong.

There are times in Jesus’ ministry He was bold and out-front and very public. So getting passionate about a cause isn’t a bad thing. I hope you can tell in my writing how important this topic is to me. But there’s one thing I’m overlooking, that Jesus was the best at. Being relational. And without me coming out, I cannot be fully relational.

Even though I come to Jesus under the cover of the night asking him difficult questions about my faith like Nicodemus or talking to Him alone, asking Him about my sexuality like the Woman at the well did, Jesus still meets with me. And somehow that has to translate to this screen, and to these words. Perhaps I have come off as an angry, yelling, hippies-beat-nick, calling for fundamental changes in the Church. And if you’ve read my blog this way, I’m sorry I have failed you. I did it all wrong. With out that relational edge to my words, maybe that’s all I’ll be.

I have ended the blog with “I’m not the only one”. As if I was in the Delta Quandrant searching for other intelligent life forms on the other side of the galaxy. There are already blogs doing things to help promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in the church. I’ve found them; there are other people out there, both gay and straight, with blogs, dealing with this same issues. But they all have faces. Someday this one will too. I will figure out a way to come out sometime in 2012, not timetable is set yet. And you will finally see the face that stands behinds these words. I will figure out a way to be an advocate for teens struggling with sexuality in the Church of the Nazarene. I don’t want one more kid to be bullied or commit suicide, or come out just to leave. That is the goal, that is the end game. It will be much easier to achieve that when you know me.

Pray for me. Pray that God will grant me that peace that passes all understanding for coming out. Pray for my family and friends who will be receiving the news. And pray that God will be glorified throughout this whole process.

An Open Letter to the Church of the Nazarene

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

Cracking the Closet Door Open…

At the risk of losing my job, and any dream of a career in the Church of the Nazarene, I’ve decided it is time to go public, and tell folks ‘Yes Virginia, there is a gay Nazarene.’

The beauty and curse of the internet is that I can be 100% anonymous. That is not my goal. There is power in a name, at this moment do not feel comfortable enough to reveal my identity. My intent is not to be secretive, but clearly that is the point of this blog, had I felt like gays can come out in the Church without harm, there would be no blog. I just want the Church of the Nazarene to know that one of their own, is gay, and a pastor (although, I know I’m not the only one).

So who is ‘Neal’?

Neal grew up in a Nazarene Church, and was saved on a Sunday in ‘Big Church’. Later on in youth group Neal got sanctified and felt called into ministry.  This call led him to a Nazarene University, where he went on to get a degree in Theology & Ministry. Since graduation he has worked for the Church of the Nazarene.  Throughout his journey growing up he was a closeted gay Christian. Along the way he heard the comments; the jokes; the slurs; the put-downs; the homophobic sermons; the generalization/stereotyping; and the same verses quoted over and over. Feeling powerless to stand-up and not ready to go against the gain, he sat quietly, taking it all in, and waiting. Waiting for someone else to speak up and be the voice for change. But that person never came and Neal kept waiting… Neal could be anyone, but it just so happens he’s a personification of my out self.

Then everything changed…

This past summer and fall everything changed for me. News stories from all over the country were reporting the tragic deaths of teens who took their own lives after being bullied because they were or perceived to be gay. I would read each one and weep because these kids had no one, and no place to turn. My heart would break for the bullies, who were pawns in the hands of the powers that enabled them to think it was okay to treat another human in such a way. Teens who are rejected by family, friends, school, and worse of all the church. The place where people should find safety, love, and support was treating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens as outcasts as well. This was the tipping point for me. I resolved to put an end to the hate; put an end to the bullying; call the Church of the Nazarene back to being a welcoming place for everyone.

After much thought and prayer, I decided that I’d go to the blog-a-sphere. I want to create a safe place for people to discuss and share their stories. I want a welcoming Church. For people who visit this site, know that you are not alone, and that there is at least one other person in Church of the Nazarene is on your side.

I want the Church of the Nazarene to welcome the LGBT community into their pews, and to behind their pulpits (cuz they already have, they just don’t know it yet.)