God and the Gay Christian: A Wesleyan Perspective

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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.

Statement of Support for United Methodist Rev. Frank Schaefer

Schaefer Statement Pic

Norman, Okla. – Earlier this week, our sister Wesleyan denomination, The United Methodist Church (UMC), held a church trial to decide the future of Rev. Frank Schaefer for officiating at his gay son’s wedding. He was suspended for 30 days after which he will be defrocked if he does not fully intend to obey all of the Book of Discipline for the UMC.

During these times of growing polarization between believers, we need to acknowledge that the Church, is hurting, broken and in need of the redeeming work of Christ. We find healing and reconciliation when we share the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. Christ has set the table and invited all to partake. How do should we respond when a person or group of people feel as if they are lesser at the same table? We should respond in love. Love for his son caused Rev. Schaefer to act and love calls us, the Body of Christ, to act by erasing the superficial lines that divide us (e.g. social economic status, cultural bias, gender or sexual orientation). Love does not discriminate. Love does not play favorites. Love will not only win, it will prevail.

Nazarene Ally applauds the efforts of allies, such as Rev. Schaefer, who not only preaches love, but also puts it into practice. His words and deeds are the embodiment of Christ bringing about the Kingdom. We thanks those in our sister organization, Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), for their efforts to expose this trial and verdict for what it is, but also provide a model for how a denomination can move forward as more RMN communities are being added daily. Nazarene Ally again calls upon the Church of the Nazarene to look into ways that bring about reconciliation between LGBTQ Nazarenes, and the Nazarene Church.

Our prayers are with Rev. Schaefer, and his family during this period of reflection that they will not lose hope during this difficult time. We also pray for our counterparts in the RMN and the UMC, that through the broken body and shed blood, we can all come to the Table and find reconciliation.

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

Indianapolis in repose.

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)

Peter and Paul... (Not pictured: Mary)

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.

Nazarenes Could Learn From Boy Scout Decision on Gays

Boys Scouts

TyOklahoma City, Okla. — The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) have announced they will be delaying a revised policy on gay members and leaders until May. The longer they wait to make a decision the longer current gay boy scouts have to wait to have a gay role model in their lives. Positive role models come in all shapes and sizes, and that includes gays. When organizations, like the Boy Scouts, discriminate against anyone, it teaches the next generation within that organization that discrimination is acceptable and just. Is this really the kind of message that the Boys Scouts wants to be sending?

The Church of the Nazarene (COTN), too, could learn from how the BSA handles this issue. Like the Boy Scouts, my church works with youth from 6th to 12th grade. Instead of tying knots and starting fires, they are gathering to worship together and hear from the Gospel. And like the Boys Scouts, my church, the COTN, does not let openly gay or lesbian people serve in leadership roles. Church youth groups need positive role models too, and just like the Boy Scouts, they need to be aware of the dangerous message they are sending to the gay and lesbian students through their ban on openly gay youth workers. Whether they’re a troop leader or a youth worker, these mentors play an invaluable role in a teen’s lives. Having a mentor allows teens to see beyond the present and talk to someone who has been through it all before, which helps to give that teen a future.

I grew up in a church where there were no openly gay individuals in leadership. So I had no template of what a gay Christian looked liked. Before I came out, I had worked for a rather large Nazarene church in Oklahoma City. Still closeted, I let the fear of people finding me out keep me from being an exemplar to the other closeted teens in the youth group. After leaving that job, I couldn’t help but think that I failed those kids. I failed to let them know that they didn’t have to choose between their church and their sexuality. The idea of being gay and Christian just isn’t compatible for vast majority of the people in the COTN. Coming-out usually means leaving the church. A few found new denominations to call home; most stop attending church altogether. I had no one to look up to as a role model for being a gay Nazarene, and I hadn’t given the kids in my youth group one to look up to, either…

Like the BSA, the COTN has an opportunity in June to change its policy. The 28th General Assembly of the Nazarene Church is the “supreme doctrine-formulating, lawmaking, and elective authority” of the church and is taking place in Indianapolis, Ind. No doubt that any attempt to change the Manual, the governing book for the Nazarene Church, would be met with strong resistance. Maybe all we’ll learn from the Boy Scouts is to kick-the-can down to the next General Assembly in 2017.

Thankfully there are churches that are open and affirming to the LGBT community. Someday, my denomination will be one of them. We Nazarenes need to realize that Christ sees a person’s heart and not a person’s sexual orientation. To help that process, I created Nazarene Ally to help network other gay and lesbian Nazarenes with each other and with straight allies. I wanted to let people know they didn’t have to choose between their faith or their sexual orientation.

When the BSA allows gay men to be troop leaders, they will give hope and a future to closeted scouts. Suddenly the message they are sending the next generation of scout’s changes from promoting discrimination to abhorring it. When my church changes its anti-gay policy, it will be doing the same thing. I still hold out hope that the COTN is not too far behind the Boy Scouts. If anyone has the potential to prove to my church its stance on gays and lesbians needs reevaluation, it’s the Scout that says, ‘I’m an Eagle Scout, and I’m gay.”

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

This article was published in the March 2013 issue of The Gayly (The Gayly.com). The Gayly is the LGBT paper for Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Wichita, Arkansas, North Texas, and Kansas City.

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.

————

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.

————

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.

Last Lecture

Neal's Last Lecture

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

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

Neal’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

Four dark months, I’ll never get back.

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

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

…Yes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprise!

Nazarene Ally Logo

Same great content, just a new great look! Update your blog links to reflect our new home at www.NazareneAlly.com powered by WordPress in celebration of the start of our 3rd year in October 2012! This is the final step in our re-branding we started in February.

In addition to a new look, post will now include more resources and information on opportunities to get involved in your communities. This will now allow Nazarene Ally to equip people as well as share stories and work through the theological issues of being gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and being in the Church of the Nazarene.

Don’t forget all the other ways to stay connected!

Surprises: Part 3

Surprises: Part 3

In the seminal coming of age classic, Mean Girls, Cady Heron, a new student, get taken under the wing of the popular girls, or ‘The Plastics’, of her high school. Unbeknownst to The Plastics, Cady is playing double agent, and is secretly trying to take down the social caste system of her new school. But her plan takes an unforeseen twist when a book full of secrets, rumors, and lies is leaked to the entire school. As the girls read what was said about them in the ‘Burn Book’ from the pages scattered throughout the halls, they erupt into “full tilt jungle madness…” To reestablish order, the principal hits the fire alarm and sends all junior girls into the gymnasium to get to the bottom of it, “even if [he] has to keep them there all night, even if [he] keeps them there ‘til 4.”

Embarrassed, and now drenched from the fire alarm, the girls sit in an uneasy silence. Getting nowhere fast, the principal hands things over to Mrs. Norbury, Cady’s math teacher,to try a different approach. Cady had written in the Burn Book “Mrs. Norbury pushes drugs” after she confronted Cady about her falling math grade. Cady is really smart, you see, and like was purposely failing in order impress Aaron Samuels who sat in front of her in class, who is actually Regina George’s boyfriend, but she doesn’t find that out until… *ahem*… But I digress.

Mrs. Norbury has the all the junior girls close their eyes. Without anyone looking around, she instructs them to “raise their hands if they have ever told a mean rumor or gossiped about another girl.” With heads bowed and eyes closed the girls slowly raised their hands.

“Alright, open your eyes” she requested.

The girls open their eyes and begin to look around; to their astonishment every girl had their hand raised.

She again instructs them to close their eyes and instructs, “Raise your hand if you have ever been the victim of gossip or rumors.”

Again, all hands went up.

Imagine

Let’s imagine all of us 2.2 million Nazarenes; all of us gathered up in one giant high school gymnasium.

Now imagine Mrs. Norbury asked us all to close our eyes and instructs us by saying, “Raise your hand if you personally know someone who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?”

All eyes are still shut as people begin to scan their friendship and acquaintances

“Now open your eyes and look around.”

A Few Good Allies

Over 40 years of documented prejudice won’t erase itself. We need people in the church who will stand up and speak out for what is right. We need fellow members to take a brave foot forward and put their foot down when anti-gay rhetoric is spoken both inside and outside the doors of the church. We need allies to help make our Church a safer place for the LGBT community. We need Nazarene Allies in order for this to get accomplished. It would be great to pass a resolution at General Assembly 2013. (I would be kidding myself if I thought it would be brought to the Assembly floor for open debate. That would take a miracle.) This road is going to be a long, long journey. I have already started it; I just need others to come along with me. As I transition from an anonymous voice to one with a family, a face, and most importantly a name, I invite you to take some time and consider walking with me. Each person comes out in support as a Nazarene Ally makes it easier for the next person. We need to begin to create a roadmap to safe, affirming, church for all. The only way to get there is together.

I know that there are some places in our Church where it is not safe to come out as gay or lesbian, or to say you’re an Ally, but there are certainly things you can do. Maybe, you can print off our logo and put on your fridge or office door as a silent signal to others. You can let others know that you will only eat ‘conflict-free’ chicken. You can repost stories on Twitter or Facebook that deal with prejudice. These are just a few of the ways you can let others know you are a Nazarene Ally, and can be used as a conversation starter at dinner with your family and friends. How will people know you are an Ally, if you don’t let know you are an Ally? It just takes a little courage and a nice conversation.

One Thing Left To Do

There is one thing that all Nazarenes must do before we do anything else. Whether we want the Church of the Nazarene to be LGBT affirming, or want the Church of the Nazarene to ban all gays from membership, we must do this:

We have to look to Christ.

When we keep our eyes on Christ, we find the strength to stand up for those who need to be protected: those on the margins of society. In the Old Testament it is orphan, the widow, and the stranger/traveler. And those three groups of people still need our care and comfort, but there are other groups that need protection too, homeless (even those in extreme poverty), racial minorities (even those of differing faiths), single mothers (even women who have already had abortions), and those in my community, those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender – Christians need to be advocates for all these people because God created all these people.

When we keep our eyes on Christ, we discover how to resolve our differences on this topic. We are a church that was forged through the uniting of people with at least 13 different faith backgrounds. We’ve always been a diverse body of believers. Although I am not a Church historian, I would wager this isn’t the first time there has been disagreements among the Body. But when we do disagree, let us do it Christianly. So that even than we reflect Christ.

When we keep our eyes on Christ, we are surprised with the greatest surprise of them all: life. We all should receive death because we are fallen. But instead Christ surprises us with life! And because Christ gave us an abundant life, we now, are to give that abundant life to others. One of the ways we do that is through Holy Communion.

There is, and forever will be, compatibility between homosexuality and the Church of the Nazarene because of Christ. When we gather at the Lord’s Table, we do not exclude. We have long-held that all are welcome at the Table. It is the great leveler, Rich and poor, male and female, gay and straight, Christian or non-Christian, all are welcome at here. Even those who are polar-opposite of me on this topic, I still dine with them, I still break bread with them, at the Table of Christ. We are all invited. Our only prerequisite is that you are sincere, not that your sexuality be heterosexual.

So this leads me to my confession: I’ve taken Holy Communion, and I’ve also served it. Our Manual states very clearly that all things that “imply” compatibly between Christianity and homosexuality are “deplorable.” Holy Communion doesn’t imply anything: it boldly proclaims it! My participating in the Eucharist has proven me to be compatible with Christ and with the Church. This alone is proof the Manual needs to change its stance on Human Sexuality. Or do the Generals think that Holy Communion is, in their words, “deplorable”? There are LGBT members in our Church. There are Allies in our Church. We are foolish to think otherwise. Do we deny Holy Communion to all who disagree with Lenexa on this issue?

Are You Surprised?

I have been surprised by my friends’ responses to me coming out to them. It wasn’t what I had expected to get. Esther was surprised, I imagine, by the response she received from King Xerxes. You’ll be surprised by the reactions of people you tell that you’re an Ally. And after all we should expect surprise, for instead of the death we desire, God surprises us by offering us life. This anti-gay stigma has been around longer than before we wrote it down 40 years ago. It will certainly be a challenge to undo all that but I am, after all, a Nazarene; I will take my lead from the guy from Nazareth. At the end of the day we are all equal when Christ looks at us.

Talking about homosexuality or becoming and LGBT affirming Church shouldn’t be like speaking the name Voldemort. Having open, honest, and frank discussions will erase those years of stigma surrounding it. It’s okay to not have all the answers. I know I don’t. Ignoring and not talking about this issue won’t make it go away.

It won’t be popular, but doing the right thing often is not. I certainly know it is hard to put yourself out there and tell a counter story, one that is ever so slightly different then the one you grew up hearing. But is a story that needs to be told, by more than just one person. People keep telling me to wait 20-40 more years and this issue will be resolved in the Church naturally as the older generation passes power to my generation. We cannot afford to wait that long. Doing what is right, isn’t generational. This is stuff that must be addressed now.

I truly believe that Allies can make a difference in the Church of the Nazarene. I can picture that day when we are all gathered in that high school gymnasium and Mrs. Norbury asks us to close our eyes and “raise our hands if we are a Nazarene Ally…”

Lift your head up.

Look around.

You’ll be surprised at what you see.

The Persecuted Church

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.