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.

Are You Being Served?

Are You Being Served?

Every Sunday night the local PBS affiliate in Oklahoma City plays a set of British sit-com classics. The second one is called “Are You Being Served?” Taking place almost entirely on the men’s and women’s floor of the Grace Brothers department store it follows the employees through their day of helping customers and staying out of trouble with the owner.

It is late in the Lenten season. We are at a point in the journey where we begin to wonder if Easter will ever arrive. Like our cast watching the clock until their shift is over, we wonder if we will make it through. 20 days left… then I can have pop again. 15 days left… then I can get on Facebook again. 10 days left… then I can eat chocolate again. Fasting a part of us to overcome temptation. Lent will end, but it isn’t over yet. Before it does we need to answer the question, “Are you being served?”

During this season of Lent we step into the wilderness just as Jesus did before he entered Jerusalem. We are wandering the streets of an urban maze. The journey leads us into places we don’t want to go. Streets we’ve never been on, but somehow they look familiar. Darkness creeps over the sky, as shadows grow deeper.

In the twilight we look out at the world; faceless figures moving on the horizon. We need to keep going. But we stay just a bit longer on the street corner as our eyes adjust to the dimming atmosphere. Gazing down the street ahead, streetlights begin to flicker on helping us to begin to make out what we see.

Keenly aware of our surroundings our eyes tear up. We see the world, this city, and these people as broken. Surrounded by brokenness and overwhelmed on how to stop it. Down the road we see a church, and find brokenness even there. It outrages us, but we cannot do anything about it. The windows of the store behind us reflect our broken selves. We stare back into the reflection. The pretense of perfection is removed our true self is exposed. We stagger back, embarrassed and hoping no one else saw our reflection. How can we fix the brokenness around us if we are broken too?

Sometimes it all seems hopeless. And our question still remains unanswered.

We can’t find the answer internally. It is a questioned posed to the group. Each customer that walks into Grace Brother’s Department Store is asked, “Are you being served?” While we laugh at their wild antics and mishaps of how they help the customer in a sit-com, it is rather painful when we hear answers from real life.

It is a scary thing to ask the Children of God if they are being served, because we assume everyone is. We are scared of hearing “No…I’m not. I’m being overlooked.” Too often we ask the question and are too quick to wait for a reply. Too often we are confronted with people not being served by the Church that we don’t even need to ask. Too often our response is to do nothing.

Instead we need to adjust our course as a Church. Lent offers us the time and space to do that. Lent was used as a time to welcome back those who had strayed from the Church. They would be welcomed back with a new baptism on Easter. Therefore, as a Church, we can use this time to find out who among us is not being served, and serve them in time for Easter.

If one of us is not being served, the whole Church suffers because of it. If there is just one person that is being hurt by the Church, we all hurt.

To fix the brokenness we see all around us, the broken world, the broken church, the broken people, the broken self, we serve those around us. Even though Lent exposes our personal brokenness, it doesn’t cripple us from participating in God’s redemptive works that initiate things being fixed and set right. We ask to be forgiven by those we’ve over looked and prepare to set out on a new path by Easter. In this process we find reconciliation. Those who weren’t served are being served now.

But we don’t stop there. We ask the question again, “Are you being served?” to everyone we meet.

Even after the Church of the Nazarene decides to include people like me, there will be another group out there waiting for the Church to be of service to them. Once all the gay and lesbian feet are washed, there will be another group with unclean feet.

Who still needs their feet to be wash?

Who is it at our church that is being overlooked?

Who is not here?

Who is not being served?

Keeping Up Appearances

Hyacinth

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

Huffington Post

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.

Advent: The Hope of the Already, but Not Yet

Advent

Ty

When people ask me where I’m from, I say without hesitation, “Kansas City.” But that isn’t entirely true… I’ve never actually lived in Kansas City. I grew up 2.411 miles from Kansas City’s border, but that still isn’t in Kansas City. I grew up surrounded by all the great amenities Kansas City has to offer, the fountains, the Country Club Plaza, Swope Park, and KC Royals games, but I still wasn’t from Kansas City. A short 2.411 miles separated me from officially being from Kansas City. I was living almost in Kansas City, but not quite Kansas City.

Life is full of “almost, but not quite” moments too. For example, when people are engaged, they have committed themselves to one another symbolically, but haven’t legally yet. They are almost, but not quite, married. We uses phrases like “for all intents and purposes” or “close but no cigar” to cover the gray area of life’s in-between moments. Between what it technically is, and what we assume it to be.

We are in one of those gray areas right now. The season of Advent is the start of the Christian Calendar, and is celebrated on the four Sundays prior to Christmas, this year starting on Sunday, December 1st. Ordinary Time has come to an end, something different is about to happen, but it hasn’t happened yet. Celebrating Advent means we prepare our heart, mind, body, and soul, for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Advent elevates the way we go about life to a level that isn’t quite actualized yet.

It is easy to miss in the hyper-commercialized, hyper-consumerist culture that tells us that the reason for Christmas is to have a strong 4th Quarter. But behind the shopping, decorations, lights, holiday parties, and music is a call to live beyond those things and to refocus ourselves on something that is waiting up head: The Kingdom of God. It isn’t here yet, but isn’t completely separated from us. The Kingdom is here now, but not quite here fully.

The world we live in is hurting and broken. It is easy to say it is the “not here at all” Kingdom of God. But every now and then, we catch glimpses of this “now, but not yet Kingdom” through everyday people acting as the person of Christ. When people act as Jesus told us to act we steal a glance into that better reality. Jesus told us to look after those less fortunate then ourselves. He told us to love our enemies and forgive those who don’t deserve our forgiveness. He told us to love one another. He told us that some day the Kingdom of God will be here, but until that day comes we should actively engage the World, in ways that widen the view of the now but not yet Kingdom.

When we engage in the systems of the World in the counter-intuitive manner Jesus instructed, those systems of power and control begin to look different. The powers and principalities are themselves reformed and renewed in order to fit into this “now but not yet” Kingdom. As a gay Christian, it is the hope that Advent brings that gives me the ability to look beyond the current status of the church, to one that is free of institutionalized discrimination and prejudice towards LGBT people. It sounds foolish, and maybe it is, but that is my hope.

It may take some time for that hope to be realized, but there are places where the powers are already being reshaped right now. Whole denominations and groups of believers that have committed themselves to be more like Christ simply by including LGBT people amongst them. Sometimes this means actively defying church rules so that Christ’s love can shine through. This is already happening in Pennsylvania; Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist pastor, faced a Church trial for officiating at his gay son’s wedding. His act of love exposed the ugliness of the Church, but it also gave us a glimpse of what the Church should look like. Advent reminds us all good is being done in the Church right now, as well as showing us the long way we have to go before full reconciliation between the Church and LGBT Christians is completed.

I hope to return to Kansas City, and actually be living in Kansas City, but until that day comes, I will still consider myself as being from Kansas City. When I hear the Christmas story this year, I will continue to imagine ways I can engage the world that will usher in the already, but not yet Kingdom of God. As we celebrate Advent, let us all remember the Kingdom is already here, and that should give us great hope.

This piece first appeared in the December 2013 issue of The Gayly, the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender monthly newspaper in the South Central USA.

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.

Nazarene Church is Well Suited to Handle Same-Sex Conversation

Blog 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.