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