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.

Keeping Up Appearances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Spirit Day 2013

Join Nazarene AllyGLAAD, and millions of people all over the world by wearing purple Thursday, October 17th. According to GLAAD’s website,” Spirit Day was started in 2010 by high school student Brittany McMillan as a response to the young people who had taken their own lives.” Nazarene Ally is pleased to be a Spirit Day Faith Partner for the second time.

For more information on how to participate in Spirit Day 2013, or way to speak up against bullying please visit www.glaad.org/spiritday

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.

The 28th General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene

UPDATE 7/19/2013: 

Message from our founder, Ty McCarthy, concerning the General Assembly passage of Christian Action Resolutions 701, 702, 703 & 705:

“With the 28th General Assembly now behind us, we will continue the daily work of building a safe Nazarene Church for all. I am not at all surprised these resolutions easily passed. Although I am a bit disappointed, it just makes our work that much more difficult.

We, the Nazarenes, have gone away from our roots. Our tradition used to be purposefully including those that society marginalized. A hundred years later, it is the Church that is doing the marginalizing of LGBT people, as society is moving toward inclusion and equality. Nazarene Ally will continue to promote necessary conversations that foster civil discussion. Sharing our experiences and stories is path we started on; this is the path we will continue down. It is always the slower path, but it is the only path that allows for reconciliation to take place. The hope is that people will see the gap the Church has created between its policy and practice. Sharing our stories will expose the illogical nature of these resolutions.

I remain hopeful that the Assembly’s referral of 703, to study human sexuality over the next quadrennial will bring us to a better place as a Church. A study of this magnitude cannot be one sided. To not use the knowledge and expertise of Nazarene Ally would be a huge missed opportunity for the Church. We extend an open and willing attitude towards participating in this study over the next four years. Even though, at the end of the day, we [LGBT Nazarenes] are still viewed under the current language of being a “perversion” that are, “subject to the wrath of God” (Manual P. 37), I am still optimistic for future of the Church of the Nazarene and the next General Assembly in 2017.

We can build a better Church by working together and by approaching complex issues of faith and human sexuality by still being salt and light. I am absolutely positive that this can be done. Our slogan is truer today, than it ever has been: We can do better.”

General Assembly News:

All votes on 701, 702, 703 & 705. All are up for voting on the floor. Only 703 is amended and referred to the Board of General Superintendents. The General Assembly votes to approve measures 701, 702, & 705 and referred 703 to the board of General Superintentents.

701 – Two kinds of sexual immorality (Human and homosexual)
702 – Entertainment – Nazarenes only can watch TV/Movies that support “traditional Biblical marriage”
703 – A stronger statement against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
705 – Marriage is only between one man and one woman.

United States Supreme Court News:

SCOTUS throws out Prop 8 on issue of standing, and DOMA is ruled unconstitutional! Marriage resumes in California, and 1,138 federal laws now apply equally to gay and straight couples.

General Assembly 2013

Use ScriptureUse TraditionUse ReasonUse Experience

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.

Californication

With the repeal of Proposition 8 in California, and the upcoming vote in New York on marriage equality the question posed to the Church of the Nazarene is… When?

When will a Nazarene pastor preform a marriage on two people of the same sex, in a Nazarene Church? The fact that marriage equality legislation does not force clergy to do so doesn’t rule out the possibility that a pastor can still love  two gay people enough that said pastor would want to marry them just like he or she would for his or her straight friends.

Of course this is a purely hypothetical, but let’s play around with the idea of what would lead it into becoming reality. A possible future where the conditions are just right and the relationship scales get tipped. The question isn’t if this will happen, but when. What would make that happen?

Fun With Numbers

For starters, we can look to math to solve part of the equation. As more and more states pass marriage equality legislation more homosexuals will want to get married. Another factor is our culture is changing. People are becoming more educated about what homosexuality is and isn’t, which leads to greater acceptance in mainstream culture. The portrayal of gays and lesbians in television and film is becoming less comical and more grounded. Moving from support cast to principal role increases the number of positive gay and lesbian role models for the younger generations.

There is more to this complicated equation in order to predict when that perfect storm will hit the Church of the Nazarene. Now let’s take a look at the age-old question. How many gay people are there in the world? Plug that same question into Google and you get a myriad of answers. The 1948 Kinsey study used the number 10%. Appalled by that high of a figure the conservatives countered by saying 2-4%. Is that 2-4% just referring to males who identify as gay? Meaning additional percentages would have to be added for those who are bisexual, lesbian or transgender. Furthermore many transgender people don’t identify as gay or lesbian, but as straight.  The truth is no one knows. The US Census only provides estimates, but those are only based on people’s willingness to identify as gay or lesbian. We do know the total population, so we can estimate and get a range. Don’t take this as scientific fact, but as a best estimate.

How many LGBT people are in the world?
If there are 7 billion people in the world, and we took the low end estimate of 2% are LGBT identifying, that would be around 140 million LGBT people in the work. This shows us that there are more LGBT people in the world then there are Nazarenes.

How many LGBT Christians are in the world?
If there are 7 billion people in the world and 2/3’s of the world’s population identifies as Christian that gives us 4.6 billion. Using the same (lower end) percentage of estimated LGBT people per population group (2%) we can estimate how many gays are in the Christian. This gives us a number of 92 million. (280 million at 4%) (That’s still more LGBT Christians than all the Nazarene’s in the world). The percentage of the world’s population that is Church of the Nazarene 0.042857142857%. Not too shabby, but As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as the starters for Varsity Team Protestant, we Nazarene’s are more like the alternate water boys for the Pee-Wee Team. We just aren’t that big yet.

How many LGBT Christians are Nazarene?
If there are 2.4 million Nazarenes world wide, and using our same (lower end) percentage (2%) we get 48,000 LGBT identifying Nazarenes. (If we use the higher end percentage we get up to 96,000.) So roughly 48,000-96,000 Nazarenes worldwide consider themselves to be LGBT.

How many of those 48,000-96,000 LGBT Nazarenes are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?
Again, there really is no way to know for sure but we can use our best guess to assume a few things, based of general population statistics.
1) 51% of the 48,000 are going to be males. So 24,480 could be gay, bisexual or transgender males.
2) 49% of the 48,000 are females. So 23,520 could be lesbian, bisexual or transgender females.

Going off of a 2011 study by the Williams Institute which found that 3.8% of a population set is LGBT (91,200 LGBT Nazarenes) broke it down like this: .3% of a population identify as transgender, 1.7% identify as gay or lesbian, 1.8% as bisexual. So out of all Nazarenes there could be up to 7,200 people who identify as transgender, 40,800 gays and lesbian, 43,200 bisexuals. If we used our 2% estimate, we would get numbers slightly lower.

Explain to me how is the Church of 4.6 billion threatened by the granting of rights to 92-280 million again? Likewise why do 2.4 million Nazarenes feel the need to deny rights to up to only 96,000 Nazarenes?

This fun little experiment is meant to point out that I am in a minority group.  The numbers in the above don’t factor in realities that would make the numbers increase or decrease. The point is that we can use these numbers to get a better picture of the people and the lives that are affected by not allowing them to be a part of the church. Let me put it another way. That’s 48,000-96,000 families that aren’t writing checks to Nazarene Universities… Think about that.

The Perfect Storm

But what would it take for a perfect storm of events that would lead a Nazarene pastor to officiate a marriage between gay or lesbian couples in a Nazarene sanctuary.

Imagine with me this case study. David and John are gay. Both grew up in a Nazarene Churches and homes. Became members in 6th grade after being Caravan Breese Award winners. They met in the University group at First Church, when they both came out at different points during their senior year at Nazarene University. They texted then talked, and soon their friendship had turned into a relationship. After a year and 8 months of dating John proposed to David. 3 months later they wanted to get married in the church where they met, by their college pastor who had been their friend, mentor, ally, and now marriage counselor. The state where they live passed marriage equality long ago. Being members of the Church, they get a discounted rate, which really helps their wedding budget. What should their pastor, who has been with them through every step of the way in their relationship, do?

The Forecast

As of November 2014, 35 states have marriage equality; 5 states have had their band struck down in courts, and rulings are stayed; 4 states have had bans upheld; 6 have yet to have band upheld or struck down. Over 80% of Americans live in marriage equality states.

That scenario might be dramatic for 2011, but I’m predicting it won’t be by the end of this decade. Another plausible scenario might be a Nazarene pastor has a LGBT sibling or family member or close friend, and that friend asks him or her to officiate the wedding in a non-Nazarene Church location. What happens then? (Update: Since time of post Holiness Today editor David Felter discouraged members from even “attending same-sex marriages of their friends”. And went on to call LGBT allies “heretics”. His comments are here: http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ht/article.jsp?id=10010813 Holiness Today has decline to comment. Nazarene Ally’s reply can be found here: Holiness Today)

Weddings are a time of celebration, not a time of fear of losing your job. Clearly my bias is that it shouldn’t be a big deal, and two consenting adults should be able to marry. Equality is simple. If one side has something the other side doesn’t have that inequality.

One thing I know is that it is a matter of when, not if. This will happen. Let’s make it sooner rather then later. Let’s stay on the right side of history. We can wait; and for now we will wait… But I will do everything I can to hasten that date coming. I pray that the leadership of the future Church of the Nazarene will correct past mistakes that have been made on this issue so that we can become more like the Church God designed us to be.