Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake: Homosexuality and the Church’s Image Problem
By Jake O’Bannon

An article like this warrants full disclosure up front. So let me tell you who I am.

I am a 22-year-old male from Oklahoma. I have been raised in the Nazarene church and still attend the same church today. I am straight and engaged to be married in July of 2014. I do not have a lot of gay friends, and I don’t often see the ones that I do have. I have never felt judged, silenced, bullied, or denied because of my sexual orientation.

That’s who I am. As you can tell, I lack life experience when it comes to homosexuality. But that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion on it. And as a Christian in today’s culture I think it’s a topic that needs to be talked about more than ever. Which the church having a major role in the current homosexuality debate, the question must be asked: How is it doing?

To answer that question I think it’s best to look at it through the scope of someone in the LGBT community. Again, as you noticed above, I am a terrible example for that, but I’m going to try. If I were an LGBT person, the church is not the first place I would want to go. You may have heard the stat, but according to a study by the Barna Group in the book “Unchristian,” 91% of non-churchgoers between the ages of 16-29 believe that the church is antihomosexual, and 80% of churchgoers believe the same.  That was the number one answer given by participants in the survey when asked what they think about the church.

No matter what you think about that statistic, there is no denying that there is an image problem. Even if you agree that the church is antihomosexual and believe that to be right, you’re still part of a group that is losing followers for coming off as judgmental. It’s a touchy subject, but there must be a better solution.

I once heard a story about a Christian man in Colorado who owned a cake shop. He sold a cake to two men one day, but when he found out that the two men were gay and the cake was for their wedding, he refused to give them their cake. The case even went to court because the man continued to refuse their business. Now you might have read that and agreed with the shop owner. If you did my response to you is that’s foolish. Also, it’s part of the reason why young people are leaving the church.

Let me ask you this: What is the worst thing that could have happened if he gave them the cake? To some it might be that they feel affirmed in their sexuality and they “don’t change.” To that I would say that if your goal is to change people, denying them a cake isn’t the way you’re going to do it.

But what is the worst thing that could happen if he didn’t give them the cake? That’s easy, because it only takes a Google search to find out how damaging it can be for a Christian to deny a gay couple their wedding cake. Articles from ABC News to the Huffington Post were published about the story; the story of a Christian man being judgmental. Thousands of people around the world read it. And we wonder where the 91% number comes from…

Our job on this Earth is not to play the judge. It just isn’t. The man who did not give that couple a cake is destroying the very faith he confesses to follow.

There is no better quote for this issue than the words of Billy Graham when he said, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.” No matter what your personal views on homosexuality are, it’s time for Christians to stop playing the role of judge and start making cakes.

Open Door Blog

Jake O’Bannon, special contributor to Nazarene Ally,  is a 2013 graduate of Southern Nazarene University in Bethany, Oklahoma. He is now pursuing a degree in law from Oklahoma City University. Jake enjoys ushering at church, and going on dates with his new fiance. Jake is also a founder of OpenDoor, a blog developed to “be viewed as a type of paradigm shift. OpenDoor consists of a group of Christian young people who see problems with our world and are willing to talk about them.” This article was first published on “OpenDoor Blog” on January 3rd, 2014. Posted with permission.

The Church of the Nazarene’s Growing Minority Population: LGBT Allies

FELDER

Ben Felder – Special contributor to Nazarene Ally – 

(Oklahoma City, Okla.) It just so happened that one of the biggest moments in LGBT equality coincided with one of the biggest events for the Church of the Nazarene. Earlier this summer, while the United States Supreme Court rendered two decisions that were a victory for the gay rights community in Washington, D.C., the Nazarene Church was holding its General Assembly in Indianapolis, Ind.

Officially the Nazarene Church’s position on same-sex marriage is that it is a sin and that God’s will is for marriage to only be opened to couples of the opposite sex. There are many in the church that hold tightly onto that belief, and while the majority of Americans celebrated the Supreme Courts’ rulings on June 26th, it should come as no surprise that many in the Nazarene Church wanted to make it clear that the denomination is not a part of that celebration.

Nazarene Communication Network News reported on June 27th that a church delegate requested that the Board of General Superintendents reaffirm the Church’s stance on same-sex marriage during the last day of the assembly.

The Superintendents obliged the request and even held a moment of silent prayer.

The COTN’s stance is what it is and there isn’t much that can change that in the near future. But, while the Nazarene Church took a public stance to discredit the idea that same-sex couples can be legitimate families, let me reaffirm the fact that not everyone who calls themselves a Nazarene thinks that way.

Those of us who support the cause of Nazarene Ally are in the minority within the church, but that won’t always be the case. The Nazarene Church is made up of diverse individuals, even more so than a weeklong event in Indianapolis might imply. There are many of us who love our church, and we also love you, no matter what your sexual orientation is. Further more, there are many of us who refuse to reduce you to your sexual orientation and are seeking to create a culture in our congregations that is more accepting.

We are the minority, for now, in the Nazarene Church, but that is changing. Over 700 individuals have “liked” the Nazarene Ally’s Facebook page (hey, that’s a mega church anywhere outside of Kansas City). The impact of Nazarene Ally might not have changed anything at General Assembly but enough people were Googling “Nazarene Ally” that it appeared ahead of NCNNews.com the week of Assembly. Those aren’t scientific measures, but further proof of our Church’s growing culture of acceptance is the comments you see left on the Nazarene Ally Facebook page each week, encouraging those in our pews who feel isolated because of their sexual orientation to know that they are not alone nor are they unloved.

Same-sex families don’t owe the Nazarene Church – or most other protestant denominations – more time to figure this issue out. But I still ask for you patience and to at least know the culture of fear and intolerance that sadly does exist in our church isn’t the only culture to exist.

During General Assembly when the church took time to reaffirm its stance on same-sex marriage, the Superintendents asked that the delegates stand for a moment of silent prayer. Maybe they requested silence because they understand a vocal petition to God might reveal that not everyone is on the same page concerning this issue.

The Recipe for a Good, Biblical Argument (Acts 15)

Megan Pardue

Megan Pardue is a native of Oregon. She received a BA of Theology & Ministry from Southern Nazarene University in 2008 and a Master of Divinity from Duke Divinity School in 2012. She is a District Licensed Minister in the Church of the Nazarene and lives in Durham, NC with her husband Keith. Currently Megan serves as pastor of Refuge, a home church in Durham. Megan says in her free time she loves “mastering the art of ‘made to order eggs’; going on kayaking trips, and plans to take on class IV rapids very soon.”

The Recipe for a Good, Biblical Argument (Acts 15) 

Acts 15:2 states, “And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to discuss this question with the apostles and the elders.”

Can we take a moment and pause for a collective sigh of relief?  We are not the first denomination, local church, or group of Jesus followers that has experienced dissent, division, and disagreement.  The earliest Christians didn’t even have a chance to stain the new sanctuary carpet with spilled communion juice before their first controversy.

That’s where we find Peter, Paul, Barnabas and others in Acts 15.  They are engaged in a conversation so important and significant, they paused their missionary work and traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the Jerusalem Council (imagine District and General Superintendents).  The main question they debated was this: “Can Gentiles be saved without being circumcised?” (Acts 15:1, 5).  This was no small question.  Their question cannot be compared to arguments we’ve had in the our denomination over the last few decades, such as hymns verses praise and worship songs or whether or not you must include “Nazarene” in the official name of your church.  For the early Christians, the debate about circumcision was absolutely critical because it had everything to do with adherence to the law, identity, interpretation of the law, and how Jews and Gentiles were going to worship together as one community, the body of Christ.  It wasn’t a debate about an issue; it was a debate about people. 

Though there are no perfect analogies, the debate about circumcision in Acts 15 is similar to our debate about inclusion of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) in the Church of the Nazarene.  Like the debate about the Gentile circumcision, our conversation is infused with identity, interpretation of Scripture, and how Nazarenes on all sides of the debate are going to worship together as one community, the body of Christ.   It’s not a debate about an issue; it’s a debate about people.

Here’s the good news: The Jerusalem Council, through God’s immeasurable grace, listened to one another, heard testimonies, deliberated, and eventually, came to some conclusions about their question at hand.  How did they arrive at a consensus?  The how is precisely where their debate helps us.

In his commentary on the book of Acts, William Willimon argues, “The method of debate in [Acts] 15:7-21 is a useful guide for how the church ought to argue.”[1]  He draws three criteria from the deliberation at the Jerusalem Council, which are,

  1. New revelation
  2. Confirmation by experience
  3. Testing by Scripture

These criteria provide a framework or recipe for how to think through our Nazarene debate about the inclusion of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers in our churches.  To put it another way, these three criteria teach us how to argue.

1. New Revelation

Again, the question at stake in Acts 15 is, “Can Gentiles be saved without being circumcised?”  In response to the statement by some believers, who argued, “No, Gentiles cannot be saved without circumcision,” Peter appealed to his new revelation from God, saying, “he has made no distinction between us and them” (15:9).

Peter alludes to his vision and the entirety of the events with Cornelius (Acts 10:1-11:18).  Remember hungry Peter on the rooftop?  He’s praying on the rooftop when a sheet comes down from heaven by its four corners.  The sheet was covered in unclean animals that Peter, a Jew, is not allowed to eat.  A voice instructs him to kill and eat.  Peter refuses to eat the animals, because they are unclean and his track record with tests isn’t so great (think: “the rooster crows”).  Then, the voice says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (10:15).  After the vision, three men from Caesarea arrive and invite Peter to the house of Cornelius.  The Spirit instructs Peter, “Go with them and don’t distinguish between them and us” (11:12).

God reveals something quite revolutionary to Peter in his vision and the events that follow.  Whereas previously, God forbid Peter, and all Torah following Jews for that matter, to eat unclean animals, God revealed something new to Peter.  God’s work in the world is dynamic, meeting us where we are.  God is doing something different.

Peter clearly understands his vision and the subsequent events at the house of Cornelius to be directly linked to this debate about circumcision.  Yes, his vision was about barbecue and not about circumcision.  But God’s message is clear: We Gentiles who God has made clean, Peter, is not to consider unclean.

The question comes now to our debate:  What is God revealing about the inclusion of LGBTQ sisters and brothers in our church?

By asking questions of others, and ourselves, we create space to consider what God is revealing.  Asking good questions and being good listeners provides a great starting point for a Jerusalem Council type argument.  Subsequent questions might include the following:

How have we experienced God’s spirit in our gay brother or lesbian sister?

What do we lose by not having this person in our church community?

What does it mean to worship Jesus, who spent his life with people on the                                 margins of society?

Who has shown us God’s expansive love and acceptance?

The first criteria for a good argument in the form of a question: What is God revealing?

2. Confirmation by experience

Revelation from God to one individual isn’t quite sturdy enough to stand on it’s own accord.  We, the church, have to test people’s revelations from God with and against our experiences of the Holy Spirit’s activity in our midst and with one another.  (Think of the person who saw the face of Jesus on their burnt piece of toast.  There are really good reasons we have the faith community for discernment.)

Even Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples, had to have his revelation from God confirmed by experience.  He was invited to the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, who Peter had been taught to view as unclean.  Peter shared the gospel and wasn’t even finished preaching when the Holy Spirit came upon these uncircumcised, barbecue-eating Gentiles.  His revelation from God, that he should show no partiality, that there was no longer clean and unclean, was confirmed by his experience in Cornelius’ house.

At this point in the council discussion, Paul and Barnabas recall their own experiences where they witnessed, “all the signs and wonders that God had done through them among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:12).  Two instances of confirmation of God’s work among uncircumcised Gentiles bolster the new revelations from God.

Moving again to our debate in the Nazarene church: Can God’s revelations be confirmed through experience?

Nazarenes frequently speak about God’s revelation as it relates to vocation or calling.  God called my friend Jeanne to minister to victims of sex-trafficking.  I vividly remember hearing some of her stories at the end of last summer, after she’d worked for eight weeks in the Philippines.  Jeanne is, without a doubt, the most courageous person I know.  She described an array of experiences, from giving lectures on anti-trafficking to college students and church members to initiating a raid with police officers to rescue three girls who had been trafficked into Filipino brothels.

On this particular trip, Jeanne would regularly visit brothels with Jim, a health care worker.  The purpose of their visits was to meet with new adolescents and women that just arrived to ensure that they had not been trafficked.  Jeanne asked Jim if he would allow her to share about Jesus with the young women they were meeting.  He was reluctant at first, fearing that speaking about God with women exploited through prostitution would only further their guilt and shame, but he decided to give her a chance.

I struggle to wrap my mind around the scene that repeated day after day.  Jeanne, a young blond woman with an Alabama accent, speaks with a prostitute and a health care worker inside a Filipino brothel.  After Jim finishes his official business, Jeanne begins telling the story of Jesus and the woman at the well.  Jeanne describes the woman at the well as “an entertainer,” an outcast in her own town, filled with shame and fearful of others.  Jesus looks this entertainer in the eye, speaks to her with dignity, and asks her for a drink of water.  He knows about all the men that she has been with, but does not judge her.  Rather, Jesus offers this woman “living water.”  Then, Jeanne asks the woman she’s speaking with, “What do you think living water is?”  She responds to whatever answer is given and shares about the living water found in Christ that quenches all thirst.

God’s revelation to Jeanne was specific, like Peter’s.  Her community confirmed God’s revelation because they saw Jeanne’s passion for this work, they saw her ministering to those exploited through sex-trafficking, and they heard her share about Jesus’ living water.  They knew God was at work in her life; there was no doubt about it!

Here’s the reality for Jeanne.  Despite God’s revelation and the fact that her church community has confirmed her call through experience, she struggles to find a missions organization with which she can work long-term because she is gay.  Though she’s committed to practicing celibacy in singleness and monogamy in partnership, policies and regulations prevent Jeanne from doing the work that God has called her to do.  Rules about who can and cannot be a missionary squander all of the obvious signs that point to what God is doing both in and through Jeanne’s life and ministry.  I pray that she finds an organization that will take her revelation and experience as seriously as the Jerusalem Council did with Peter.

The second criteria for a good argument in the form of a question: Is God’s new revelation confirmed by experience, particularly in the faith community?

3. Testing of Scripture

After hearing all the different opinions in the debate and the testimonies of Peter, Paul, and Barnabas, James rose to address the council.  He affirmed their accounts of God’s favor upon the Gentiles and then tested their stories against Scripture.  James argues,

This agrees with the words of the prophets, as it is written, ‘After this I will return and I will rebuild the dwelling of David which has fallen; from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up, so that all other people may seek the Lord–even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.  Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago’ (Acts 15:15-17).

James quotes Amos 9:11-12, which speaks of the inclusion of Gentiles without any stipulations for what laws they must follow in order to participate in the covenant community.[2]

Ultimately, the Jerusalem Council made the choice that Gentiles were not required to be circumcised in order to participate fully in the covenant community.  This choice, however, goes against instructions from the law.  Though there are some accommodations for Gentiles or sojourners that do not require circumcision (Leviticus 17-18), there are clearly requirements that Gentiles be circumcised in other instances.

Take, for example, Genesis 34:15-24, which requires that aliens be circumcised in order to be one people with Israel.  Exodus 12:44-48 similarly requires that strangers (Gentiles) who wanted to participate in Passover must be circumcised.

The Jerusalem Council, then, appears to disregard Scriptural demands for circumcision because of the previous two criteria–God’s revelation and confirmation by experience.  The council must have had some conception of a God that is continually active and revelatory, constantly expanding God’s kingdom through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

How does our Nazarene church test scripture in our debate about the inclusion of LGBTQ church members?

We could get into a whole discussion about Scripture, but that would take up another entire post or several posts.  Instead, I’d like to make two points about the “testing of Scripture” as it relates to Acts 15 and the makings of a Jerusalem Council kind of argument.

First, we must remember that within Acts 15, the church makes a decision that seems to contradict Scripture.  This is not unheard of for Nazarenes.  In addition to the countless Torah commandments that we Gentiles do not keep, there are also New Testament instructions that we’ve decided to do without because God’s revelation has been confirmed through experience.

I am a Licensed Minister in the Church of the Nazarene.  As a senior pastor, I teach and preach at my church every Sunday.  Nazarenes have had this one right from the beginning.  Yet, 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 prohibit me, a female, from speaking in church.

I remember when we talked about women’s ordination in one of my classes at Southern Nazarene University.  My professor, who passionately supported women in ministry, explained the prohibitions in 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14 as culturally conditioned statements, which must be interpreted in light of the culture and time within which they were written.  This is a question we must explore further regarding same sex sexual intimacy.

Second, when we are testing Scripture in our arguments, it’s important to keep Jesus in mind.  Specifically, what happened to allow the inclusion of us as Gentiles through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?  What was accomplished?  How does Scripture understand the significance of Jesus?  There’s not one answer to these questions, but many answers.  What Jesus did on the cross was so monumental that the New Testament writers employ a plethora of images and descriptions in an attempt to capture all that Christ has done.

That said, instead of only citing particular verses that address our topic of debate, we should also consider the Scriptural interpretations of Christ’s work.  For example, in our Nazarene debate about the inclusion of LGBTQ members in the life and work of the church, let us think carefully about Galatians 3-4.  Paul gets at one of the many works of Christ is these chapters.  In Christ, Paul argues, we are adopted, all children of God.  Now that we are baptized, clothed with Christ, children of God, he states, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

In Christ, all social barriers are broken down.  Since we are baptized and have put on Christ, Christian becomes our primary identity marker, a kind of identity trump card.  It’s not that our other identity markers disappear, but their importance is relativized.  Fred Edie explains, “The usual markers of identity…neither procure me high status in the church…nor do they retain the power to hold me down or keep me in the margins of community life as they may have in my old life.”[3]  Our identity markers of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation no longer have the power to keep us on the margins because our primary identity marker is Christian.  Christ, in his death and resurrection, broke down social barriers so that we all might be one in Christ–now that has a lot to say about the inclusion of our LGBTQ friends in our church.

If we are one in Christ, how can we exclude our LGBTQ brothers and sisters on the basis of a social category?  Would we believe it acceptable to exclude Christians from the Church of the Nazarene based on other social categories?  What about a Christian who is poor, or single, or someone of a different ethnicity?  Of course such exclusions are unacceptable!  Why, then, do we make an exception for the social category of sexual orientation?  Galatians 3:28 calls out our exclusive manual statements and behaviors and begs us to acknowledge our LGBTQ brothers and sisters by their primary identity marker: Christian.

The third criteria for a good argument: the testing of Scripture.  The “testing of Scripture” does not mean a Google or concordance search for “homosexual” or “homosexuality” to figure out what the Bible says.  Rather, it means that we test Scripture’s expansive understanding of what Christ’s work accomplished (i.e. What does Scripture say about what Christ did on the cross and what does that say about our debate?)  James tests Scripture in this way at the Jerusalem Council.  He did not look up “circumcision” and argue from there.  Instead, he references a glimpse of the nature and character of God from the prophet Amos, a God who desires that all people seek the Lord.

___________________

Even Willimon, who suggests these three criteria as the framework for arguments, admits that these do not settle the church’s inner differences.  He’s been around the block enough to know that it’s not that easy.  They do, however, give us the recipe for a good, Biblical argument.  They provide a starting point, a way to frame the conversation, and an example of how a group of Christians wrestled with a debate that risked their unity.

I love our church.  I love being Nazarene.  I love that we place such great emphasis on Scripture, which allows us to read Acts 15 and take seriously its suggestions.  It’s time to speak openly, to argue, and to put the conversation on the table.  Acts 15 teaches us how to argue.  May we do so with patience and grace.


[1] William Willimon, Acts: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching.  (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1988),129.

[2] See Septuagint.

[3] Fred Edie, Book, Bath, Table, and Time. (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2007), 218.

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

Nazarene Church is Well Suited to Handle Same-Sex Conversation

FELDERGuest contributor Ben Felder is a graduate of Trevecca Nazarene University where he studied theology. He is now a journalist living in Oklahoma City with his wife Lori and son Satchel. The three of them attend Oklahoma City First Church of the Nazarene.

Changing the posture of the Church of the Nazarene towards same-sex relationships may seem like a daunting task – and it is – but for those who seek change, take solace in the fact that our holiness tradition is well equipped to handle this conversation and to ultimately evolve.

The Nazarene Church remains hesitant to not only change its theological principals concerning same-sex marriage and relationships, but often unwilling to even have a conversation on this topic. But that opposition is more about the church’s cultural standards, rather than its theological belief.
The holiness tradition has always been rooted in a disciplined way of living, where morality is seen as means to a Christian life. However, the definition of morality has constantly changed because the church’s foundation on love mandates that kind of change.

“It is one’s context that largely decides which acts are loving and which are not,” writes Thomas Jay Oord in his book “Relational Holiness.” “What form love should take depends upon a variety of factors to which we intentionally respond to God and others as we seek to promote abundant life. To say this in a relational way, the relations we have with others, especially our relation with God, largely determine what counts as love in any particular moment.”

Not all same-sex relationships are theologically acceptable, just like not all heterosexual relationships are. However, a same-sex relationship rooted in fidelity and commitment can be a holy relationship that is acceptable by the church because, as Oord writes, context is everything when it comes to love and relationships.

Many in the church will dispute this claim and they will copy and paste scripture to make their point. But, once again, our holiness tradition prevents us from simply leaning on one-liners from scripture in an attempt to justify a theological belief. A strict and legalistic interpretation of scripture and theology has never meshed with a church that continues to exalt the experience of entire sanctification as the Nazarene Church does. In his book “A Layman’s Guide to Sanctification,” H. Ray Dunning calls entire sanctification a “personal experience” and criticizes the one-size-fits-all concept that what holiness looks like for one is what it should look like for others.

“There is an endless variety of personalities, and if every one became the standard for every other person, the result would be chaos,” Dunning writes. “The unfortunate result is that people either submit to the pressure and become clones or else flee an uncomfortable situation.”
Nazarene Ally refuses to become clones and it is unwilling to flee.

No doubt Dunning was not arguing for an acceptance of same-sex relationships and given the era in which he comes from, he would most likely dismiss any attempt to use his words to support a tolerance. But he nonetheless does a great job of explaining that the holiness tradition has always taken personal experiences into consideration, along with scripture and theology.

By not allowing a conversation about same-sex relationships to take place in the church we disregard an individual point of view. Forget for a moment about attempting to change the church’s stance on the practice of same-sex relationships, we don’t even allow the conversation to take place and that fear is holding us back. Preachers demonize gays and lesbians from the pulpit in a way that keeps those living in this world from making their experience known, thus keeping them from having a seat at the table. There is nothing holy, nor Nazarene, about silencing a particular point of view.
You can continue to say that scripture and theological history prevent an acceptance of same-sex relationships, and you could make a compelling case. But the Nazarene Church and its holiness tradition mandate that we should at least hear out our gay brothers and sisters who claim to also be on the journey toward salvation.

“Rather than citing proof texts for the doctrine of sanctification,” Dunning adds, “we must appeal to the larger structure of biblical theology.”

So continue to cite scripture in an attempt to silence people that makes you feel uncomfortable, but do so knowing you lack the “larger structure of biblical theology” that the Nazarene Church was founded on.

Nazarene Ally is an attempt to expand the conversation and to convince the church to take into consideration the personal experiences of those in its midst who love differently, but are nonetheless loved by Christ. Personal experience still counts for something in our church. And our theology – and our God – mandate that we at least hear out our gay brothers and sisters.

2012 – A Look Back

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog. Thanks for the great year! See you in 2012!

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 14,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 3 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

See you in 2013!

Framing the Conversation

Get it, cuz there are a bunch of frames in the picture?

282206_10151839974120533_1852600409_nKevin Nye grew up in Tempe, Arizona. He is graduate of Southern Nazarene University with a Bachelor’s in Theology and Ministry. Currently he is pursuing his Master’s of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary and is on the track to ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. His theological passions incline him to engaging in dialogue between theology and culture, and looking for God in unlikely places. He is an avid coffee enthusiast. His blog is called [UN]orthodoxy.

Homosexuality: An Occasion for Unity
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We are in a time of seismic movement in the Church. Many denominations are just now beginning to grapple seriously with a variety of questions surrounding homosexuality.

These are questions I have wrestled with over the last few years. And as of this point, I’m unable and unwilling to answer them definitively. I’ve done a lot of reading and writing on the topic, but I’m a bit stuck. I think, on the conservative side, there are very important issues at stake and hesitation is warranted. On the progressive side, I think there are some very interesting biblical and experiential arguments to be made on the topic that may shape the way we see things.

But this post is not about what I think about homosexuality. This is a post about how we should begin the discussion in a denominational/church setting.

For those reading this on my blog, there are a few things you may not know about that are instigating this post. The primary force behind this is a blog called Nazarene Ally. The author is a Nazarene pastor who is gay and is seeking to begin the journey of working toward the full acceptance of LGBT people in the Church of the Nazarene. I have been in dialogue with the author of this blog via social media. I find his voice intriguing and genuine, and have taken interest in his cause.

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There are conversations about this blog taking place on Nazarene forums. I am not known to frequent such forums, but I was directed to this one by the author of Nazarene Ally. One pervasive theme throughout this forum was a particular idea that I want to fundamentally reject:

“If he wants to be gay, he should go to a denomination that accepts him instead of trying to change the Manual.”

My goal in this post is to argue against such an idea on the basis of Scripture. My thesis is that scripture gives us a very clear and applicable way of handling conversations exactly like this and come out united and together, even if we disagree.

Ultimately, I fear that as Christians and churches, we value being right more than being together. And I think that this is, at its very core, an unChristian value.

And I suspect that the reason we have churches that are ultra-conservative and churches that are ultra-liberal is because both groups have been selfish; one refusing to listen to voices of progress and the other refusing to listen to well-reasoned cries of restraint.

But more on that later.

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First, let’s reject the idea that the Nazarene Manual itself is impervious to change. An underlying premise of the statement “they should just find a denomination that accepts them” is the idea that Nazarenes have always, and will always, believe the same things.

But this has never ever ever been true of the Church of the Nazarene! One of the greatest things about our tradition is a commitment to growth, evolution, correction and education. Why do you think the Church of the Nazarene has so many universities throughout the world?

Meeting every four years at General Assembly is itself a commitment to this practice. We don’t re-release the Manual every four years because we changes the logo! It’s because we constantly change the Manual!

Whether or not you believe that the Church of the Nazarene should change on this issue, we all need to move forward with the premise that it can, and that it is actually deeply a part of our wonderful tradition to dialogue and learn and grow.

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So if change and growth is a given, the question becomes, “How do we go about such a thing Christianly?” The text for this is Romans 14.

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarrelling over opinions. Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. Those who observe the day, observe it in honour of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honour of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honour of the Lord and give thanks to God.

We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

Why do you pass judgement on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,

‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,and every tongue shall give praise to God.’So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died. So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual edification. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble. The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

What we have in this text is Paul’s beckoning call to unity within a major Church quarrel, one not unlike what we are seeing with homosexuality.

I want to be careful here: I’m not saying that I believe homosexuality to be akin to the eating of meat in this passage. I’m not saying those who reject homosexuality as sin are “weak”, or that God has made all forms of sexuality “clean”. In literary terms, I’m not using this scripture as an allegory.

I am using it as an archetype for how we are called to talk about divisive issues. However, each side of this argument, in their own perception, does fit into these roles. Those who advocate for the acceptance of homosexuality would say that those who don’t are weak in their faith and need to progress to a better understanding. And, people who stand against the acceptance of homosexuality believe this to be accepting of something that is “unclean” by God.

I’m not saying either one is right. Both sides think they’re right; and this scripture tells each side how to behave and come together IF they are right. The point is that this text teaches us how to handle the conversation, whoever is right, and to come out unified, and to experience progress in the midst of it.

The radical call of Paul, and of the Gospel, is that progress is made through mutual sacrifice and humility, not from separation. 

Because even though Paul puts unity before progress, in the long run they accomplish both. Can you name a single Christian Church that still abstains from foods based on Jewish dietary laws? There are none!

This passage is about an early church debate. The Jewish people, prior to Christ, believed that there were certain “marks” or “badges” of their identity as children of Yahweh; certain practices or behaviors that set them apart, made them who they are, and that to violate these was to put oneself outside of the community of faith. Among these issues were circumcision and dietary laws. While Paul was often addressing one or both of these issues, our text is about the latter.

Now, this is not the passage where Paul presents his argument for why it is okay to eat these foods because of Christ. To find those texts, simply peruse Paul’s letters. This text assumes that an extensive, meaningful dialogue has been had.

This is not a step we have yet gotten to, and should be careful not to skip.

One observation to make is what Paul does not do. Paul does not say, “Let’s go start a Church over here called ‘Uncircumcised Meat-Eaters First Church of Christ’ and let them do their thing and we can do ours.” He also doesn’t say, let’s change the doctrine of the Church whether they like it or not and let them catch up.

Regardless of where I, or you, or anyone stands on the issue of homosexuality, we all must get together and talk about it. We all need to sit down together and have a conversation and dialogue, one where we aren’t merely there to scream out our opinions, but one where we are open to change and, most importantly, to being wrong.

As Christians we ought to cultivate a willingness to believe and to formulate beliefs, and to simultaneously allow them to be molded, shaped, and changed for the better. If today you believe the same exact things you did five years ago, then I wonder what God you are worshiping! God is too big, too dynamic, and too wild and amazing to ever be fully understood; and if you are truly pursuing and longing after this God, you will find yourself being constantly changed and shaped and grown, even from things you once held dear.

Not to get too Nazareney on us, but isn’t this exactly what we mean when we talk about “Sanctification”? Sanctification is the idea that even after we accept Christ and enter into Salvation, God doesn’t stop doing creative work within us to conform us to God’s image! It’s the openness to realizing that God might actually be bigger than your current perception.

But, as I’ve already said, this is not the specific occasion of our text. In Romans 14, the conversation has been had and had again. Romans 14 is about where the conversation, at the present time, has run its course, and a consensus is still unreached.

This is an occasion we will undoubtedly find ourselves in before long. And this is what Romans 14 speaks to.

To those who think they are correct on the progressive side, the call is to be radically self-sacrificial, loving, forgiving and patient. At this point in the story, Paul has been unable to convince the majority of the Church that it is okay to eat meats. But even though he believes he is right, he would rather keep the integrity of a unified Church.

If you are right, this change will not happen overnight.

And let’s not underscore this “if”. You are also called to enter this conversation open to being wrong. But the call is stronger on you for patience. Paul asks those on the conservative end to be willing to let go of embedded ways of thinking. And for you, that means patience and sacrifice. But it should also be noted that the occasion of Romans 14 is not the end of the conversation, as we can infer from the fact that no Christian churches practice Jewish dietary laws or require circumcision. The conversation goes on, because all the voices stay together.

This is actually the biggest reason I appreciate Nazarene Ally. It would’ve been easy to leave the Church of the Nazarene. But it is a great and biblical ecclesiology to believe that it is better for us to stick together and work for dialogue than to leave. I think this would make Paul and Christ very proud, wherever they stood on the topic.

Because the path to progress is unity; not the other way around.

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What happens if we don’t? I think today we are experiencing the fallout of two millennia of church separations. Today we have churches that are fueled by fear and hate more than love. On the other hand, we have churches that believe that all roads lead to God, and Christ is no better than anything else.

I believe these extremes exist because at various points throughout history, people refused to enter into dialogue, and split over issues rather than sticking together. They forgot that we need every voice for discernment, conservative, liberal, and everything in between.

I truly believe that the reason we have churches characterized by hate is because they were abandoned by enlightened people who wanted to “start their own church” rather than seek out God’s vision for unity. Or perhaps it went the other way, and the hateful people separated themselves from people of love for the same reason. And the reason we have churches that are losing sight of the centrality of Christ is because groups of liberal Christians got frustrated with slower, more conservative Christians over other issues, and have forever lost the voice of Orthodoxy and tradition in their communities.

I will say it again: it is more important for us to stay together than to be right.

When we forget this, we actually negate the value of the Holy Spirit, who is always pushing us to a deeper understanding. The Holy Spirit presses us into dialogue over tough issues and is always pushing toward progress and a deeper understanding of God. To separate is to stifle that voice, because the Holy Spirit operates in community.

We should see it as relief and a reminder that it is not our job to push the church to progress. The Holy Spirit ensures that progress will be made toward a righter understanding of God, scripture, and Christian practice. Our job is to maintain unity within diversity by engaging in holy Christian disagreement, characterized by respectful dialogue and mutual submission. That means both having the patience to allow people who are “wrong” to be molded and shaped at their own pace by the Holy Spirit, and also being aware of the possibility that it might be ME that is wrong and needs to be changed.

Only then will we see reconciliation, and only then will the Church maintain its integrity. If we separate, we effectively turn our backs on brothers and sisters who now may never taste the fullness of God, and we close ourselves from discerning voices who may have something to teach us.

We are likely on the brink of dissension and divisiveness if this issue goes before the General Assembly in 2013.

Therefore, I urge us to all lay down our agendas and enter into dialogue about homosexuality. Most importantly, I urge us all to stay together and not divide over this issue, because we need each other more than we will ever know; and God has promised to be with us when we are together.

May we be people who, in Christ, find unity amidst our diversity. May we be people who sacrifice and lay down our need to be right or to “win”.

And may we be a Church marked by Truth, courageously sought after and faithfully explored by a unified Church, whose witness to the world is not a set of “correct doctrines” but a posture of love and oneness.

Originally published by: Kevin Nye November 6th, 2012
Original post can be found here: [Un]orthodoxy
Copied to Nazarene Ally with permission.

The Echo Calls for Re-evaluation

The Echo is the weekly student newspaper for Southern Nazarene University. Senior Kyra Rogers is the editor-in-chief, and has graciously consented to let us post her editorial in the most recent edition of the paper (11-18-11). If you would like to read the Echo in its  you can do so here: The Echo The Echo published three articles pertaining to SNU’s policies on homosexuality. Ms. Rogers’ piece, which is below, as well as an interview with SNU Vice President of Spiritual Development Brad Strawn, and an opinion piece from a brave openly gay student. Before we get ahead of ourselves, let us read this disclaimer from the SNU Echo website.

“Viewpoints expressed in the paper are not to be considered official standard-bearers of the university or its sponsoring denomination. Editorials on the op/ed pages that are generated by the The Echo staff–and therefore have no byline–express the opinions of the editorial staff but not necessarily of the administration, faculty or staff of Southern Nazarene University. Personal columns with by lines as well as opinions reprinted from subscription wire services or other publications by permission express the opinions of the writer and not necessarily of the editorial staff of The Echo or the administration, faculty or staff of Southern Nazarene University.”

And finally, a very special ‘thank you’ to Ms. Rogers for being our first guest columnist. Thank you for your support. The Church of the Nazarene needs more people like you to speak the truth in love. Thank you.

Reevaluation is needed for SNU and Church policies on homosexuality

Bethany, Oklahoma – The lifestyle covenant is a constant source of debate in our community, which ultimately stems from a larger debate over morals, ethics, and acceptable behavior within the Church and various Christian communities. From my experience in Christian circles, tension over behavioral expectations often represents generational differences and family values. One issue in the lifestyle covenant, and within churches and Christian communities alike, which has caused deep divisions, is homosexuality.

The SNU lifestyle covenant states that students will “abstain from pornography, premarital or extramarital sex, immortal heterosexual activity and homosexual behavior.” The lifestyle covenant does not say that homosexual students cannot attend this university, but that no student can engage in homosexual behavior. This implies (as, I would argue, does the larger Church standpoint on homosexuality) that gay students are more than welcome at our university, in our friend groups, on our chapel pews, in our classrooms, on our courts, and in our clubs so long as they do not engage in any homosexual behavior whatsoever. This leaves homosexual students here, and in the larger Christian community, two choices: to act on their sexual orientation and hide those actions from SNU, or to remain, for all intents and purposes, asexual. Neither one of these options present psychologically healthy lifestyles, but ones of frustration, and possibly guilt.

Sexuality and sexual expression are large components of our humanness, and to ignore all sexual tendencies and urges in order to remain asexual in thought and practice, is to discard a large portion of what makes us full-functioning humans. To force oneself into asexuality seems like no life at all. If the heterosexual crowd were to ask itself what life would be like without their boyfriends, girlfriends, fiancés, or spouses the answer would be something along the lines of “less than spectacular.” The idea of encouraging gay students at SNU to live without those relational intimacies makes me very sad. When I imagine a life in which I would have to deny, hide, or feel ashamed about the loving relationship I share with my fiancé, I can’t help but feel dis mal, to say the least. Needless to say, forcing homosexual students to abstain from intimate relationships not only seems unnatural, but also cruel and morbid.

But this leaves Christians and SNU in a tight spot, if they are to continually hold that homosexual behavior is sin against God. However, many Christians are beginning to change their beliefs that homosexuality is indeed a sin. I’ve talked to a variety of professors and students on this campus who have a wide range of opinions when it comes to whether or not homosexuality is actually a sin or not. One professor has told me that she has no problem with homosexual relationships, so long as they abide by the same commitments to marriage, monogamy, and respect as other Christian relationships do. Another student has told me that he personally thinks homosexuality is a sin, but he firmly believes that gay couples should be afforded every right that heterosexual couples are. This student, and certainly many SNU students, is able to separate his personal convictions concerning homosexuality, and every person’s prerogative to civil and political rights, regardless of sexual orientation.

This sentiment is one I have found rarely outside of the millennial or younger X generations. It seems that as a Christian body, and as a school, we are largely unable to afford gay couples the same rights as heterosexual couples, regardless of whether or not we agree with homosexuality as a lifestyle. But isn’t that what we claim Jesus did for us? Christians believe Jesus gave them the right to a relationship with God, redemption, grace, forgiveness, and the chance to get into heaven. Jesus did this even though he probably didn’t agree with the lifestyles we were living. Should our response to gay students be the same? Should we provide them with the same rights to intimate relationships and social acceptance that heterosexual students have?

I’m not saying I hold the answer as to which direction is best for SNU and the Church, but I think the only sustainable way to proceed is with tolerance. If Christians and SNU students, faculty, and administration make an effort to talk to gay students about their experiences, feelings, and lifestyle, tolerance and understanding are almost inevitably going to be the outcome. Christian circles are too quick to call homosexuality a sin, without ever having talked to someone who identifies as gay. Whatever direction SNU and the Church choose to pursue, I deeply hope the attitude of intolerance and hate will quickly become unacceptable and insupportable. Until those goals can be achieved, I encourage all gay students to know that there are those at SNU who love and accept you. I also encourage students, faculty, and administration to actively educate themselves further on homosexuality, and to begin to ask fundamental questions concerning acceptance, tolerance, grace, and understanding.

SNU’s reaction:

It has come to my attention at the administration at SNU will no longer let the ECHO report on lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender issues.