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.

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.

Statement of Support for United Methodist Rev. Frank Schaefer

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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.

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 Manual

The Manual

December 1, 2012. That is that date that all Nazarene Manual Resolutions are due to the Global Ministry Center in Lenexa, Kansas. That being said, what would I like to see happen at the General Assembly in Indianapolis, Indiana? In plain English: equality.

So I am formally introducing new resolutions to the floor to be adopted. Do I have a second?

http://nazarene.org/files/docs/gaForms/GA/English/Resolution%20Form%20-%20print%20(GA%20NMI%20NYI).pdf

GA 2013 Resolution 1.0 – (37 Human Sexuality)

Whereas, we move that any and all passages from the Manual that equate homosexuality as a sin be removed.

GA 2013 Resolution 2.0 – (437.8 Grounds for Removal)
Whereas, we no longer find homosexuality to be a sin, it therefore can no longer be considered as grounds for removing a pastor from office.

GA 2013 Resolution 3.0 – (37.1 Affirming statement on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members)
Whereas, we include a section that specifically welcomes the LGBT community into membership of the Church, and grants ministers licenses and ordination to them. Restores licenses all whom were removed under the old rules.

GA 2013 Resolution 4.0 – (35 Marriage and Divorce)
Whereas, we define marriage is between two consenting adults of legal age. Invites all to not go into marriage lightly, but only after prayer, and Christian marriage counseling. Allows pastors to marry same-sex couples and allows Nazarene Churches to be host to wedding ceremonies.

Whereas, piece of cake right?

Baby-Steps

If you have taken Financial Peace University from Dave Ramsey, one of the first lessons he teaches you is that your debt is too overwhelming to take on at once, but not impossible to overcome. Taking baby-steps financially in the right direction get you to living-debt free. So a month, a quarter, a year down the road you start seeing some improvements in debt reduction. That is how we need to approach this topic, baby-steps forward, together, to reach our goals.

Baby Step 1: Set Some Guidelines

Pastoral Perspectives on Homosexuality does nothing to help us out. (This is a reversal of the original opinion I had on it since the new version came out). We need our leaders in Lenexa to give us consistent information. I’m not sure what happened between Pastoral Perspectives I and Pastoral Perspectives II, but be it Church politics or genuine reversal of heart, PPII sets the conversation back into the dark ages. (Don’t get me started on why Pastoral Perspectives deals with no other issue… This is evidence enough that homosexuality is being treated differently.) PPI comes out and they immediately put some conditions on it in the follow-up letter. Basically the conditions are “this is just our personal opinions, and doesn’t reflect the views of the Church… aka ex cathedra.” Only problem with that is it wasn’t the General Secretary, or the General Treasurer, or NMI, or SDM, or NYI, or the IBOHE who issued it, it came from the General Superintendents, and ex facto they speak for the Church. Whatever the reason they tried to “washed their hands” of the issue by making it non-ex cathedra, and thus making PPI loses all its teeth whatsoever. So people were free to interpret that as a win for both sides.

We need a document that is ex cathedra, pro or against this topic. That allows us to shape the discussion and conversation. This topic is too complex for us to be constantly looking at it from different angles. We need people who have a stake in the matter, LGBT Nazarenes, to be involved in the shaping of that document. We need these guidelines from the Church to frame the way we ask questions. Having these guidelines helps us stay together.

These guidelines need to be adaptive to the conversation. When we get to a good ‘stopping-point’ in the conversation the guidelines are adjusted to reflect the progression of the conversation. That way we are not constantly starting from square one. (This frees me up to stop answering the same questions over and over again.) It is a waste of our time, talent and energy to constantly circle the issue without being guided into some sort of direction.

Baby Step 2: Talk about it
Let me be clear, I am sick of this topic being ignored and overlooked or treated as “too controversial.” What good does it do to not talk about something? It is okay to ask questions. It is okay not to have all the answers. It is okay to change long-held opinions. Discussing, posing interesting questions, and researching are all things that help, not hurt our faith. Just talking about the issue is progress for our Church; we have a lot of catching up to do.

Right now we hope that it won’t be brought up again. And there are people out there in our Church that wish to silence everyone and anyone who speak out for LGBT issues in the Church of the Nazarene. This culture of ignoring and silencing needs to change. Change is not scary it is a part of life. You can’t step in the same river twice. Progress is not a bad word it is how the Church has operated since Day 1 in Act 29:1.

Talking about something removes the fear and stigma so that the Truth can find its way out. People have told me they would love to speak out on this issue, but stay quiet because they risk loosing their jobs in the Church. That is scary! Ask two people to describe the same meal, and you’ll two different answers. We are not all the same, so it is okay to have different answers. But when we disagree, let us go about it Christianly. I am staying in a Church that I don’t agree with 100% on everything. When we become a LGBT affirming Church, I will still be around those who disagree with me.

Let me restate this, becoming a LGBT affirming church does not change the Article of Faith. It lets the Church recognize the salvation and Call to ministry LGBT members have always had.

Baby step 3: Scoot over

Make some room I’m sitting in that pew. Like it or not, I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene. I too get to chisel “Lifelong Nazarene” on my tombstone. Agree with me or not, I’m sticking around calling myself Nazarene. I do not feel at this time called to leave the Church of the Nazarene. Our church isn’t uniformed, it is diverse. Our 100th Anniversary theme was spot on! Out of many One: Out of One, many. We come from many backgrounds and creeds, but we are all sitting together. You don’t have to love me, that’s my mom’s job, just make room for me. This act of tolerance can go along way.

Allow me to worship with you. Allow me to pray with you. Allow me to fellowship with you. You’ll find we’re not so different after all. Chances are you go to church with a person who votes differently or claps during the praise songs and you don’t or wanted the sanctuary carpet to be blue and not beige like you. You allow them to still call themselves Nazarene and more importantly call themselves Christian. I don’t like being told I am not a Christian because I am gay. It boggles my mind how I am not a Christian at a Nazarene Church but if I cross the border into Canada at a United Church of Canada church I am.

We make room for people who’s faith traditions say it is okay to drink alcohol, we make room for people who’s faith traditions speak in tongues, we make room for people who’s faith traditions don’t place large emphasis on the Word. We make room for the formal, and casual, we make room for those who place special attention to baptism or mission.

We can make room for the gay and lesbian Christians.

40 Years Without A Purpose

We are closing in on 40 years of having a Manual statement on homosexuality. If you look at our Facebook Timeline, the text has not changed at all. In those same 40 years we have changed the Manual on everything from performing musicals, mixed bathing, folk dancing, regular dancing, entertainment, and divorce. We have let Districts merge and organizations consolidate. Yet our stance on homosexuality remains the same…

The point is that the Manual was never this concrete document. How we go about doing church is completely up to us [the church]. The stance on homosexuality is over due for a make over. If we place so much value in keeping Homosexuality unchangeable, why not make it Article of Faith XVII? Changing our stance on homosexuality does not devalue the Articles of Faith whatsoever, nor does it compromise anyone’s salvation or faith, nor does it undermine the authority of the scripture or the Church.

In The Mean Time…

Not a fan of those resolutions? I have three alternatives. (For those of you keeping score at home, only one of them is mine). There are pros and cons to all of these, but I’ve already written longer then any other piece on here so I’m just going to present the idea.

Option 1:

Create an ex cathedra Pastoral Perspectives on Homosexuality III. This gives us the guidelines we need in order to frame the discussion for the next four years. (This one was my idea).

Option 2:

Send the issue to the District or local Church level. Let them decide how to best handle this issue. Much like the United Methodist Church has done with some conferences honoring Reconciling Ministries while others don’t. (I stole this one from an Ally.)

Option 3:

Create the “Committee on Marriage, Civil Unions, and Family” made up of the best and brightest minds (both gay and straight) the Nazarenes have to offer to study the issue for a period of 2 years with the authority to make ex cathedra statements upon completion. (I stole this from the Presbyterian Church USA). This allows for the topic to be a learned discussion, researched, with a thought out conclusion. I have already told the Generals I will gladly serve as Chair of said committee. (Okay… I’ll be co-Chair… but my name gets listed above Dr. Boone’s.)

Equality

Here’s the long and short of it. Our current policy states that there is “no compatibility between homosexuality and Christianity”. So we have automatically denied salvation to a people group. That is discrimination. Especially since God’s Word is, and forever will be for everyone to experience and enjoy. I hope you see what I’ve done here. There is an injustice to how we view different types of sin in our church. The policies of the Church of the Nazarene highlight homosexuality in such a way that bullies us by saying “you’re not welcome here”. But it is framed with sentences that contain “love, grace and dignity,” so the bullies can sleep well at night. Only problem is you cannot separate homosexuality from the person. So if you hate that part of me, then you hate me. Where there is fear of discussing this topic openly, or fear for openly supporting homosexuals in the community, there cannot be love. Plain and simple.

Nazarenes, I’m asking you to do some self-reflecting, to thoughtfully, and logically find the root of the anti-homosexual-ness that is in the Church. I know goes against everything you’ve been brought up to believe, but ask yourself, “where did this come from?” or “Why do I believe this” or “How is this belief applied to the homosexuals I know?” or better yet “Who is my neighbor?” If the Church called to look after those who are on the margins instead rejects them, who then is supposed to look after us?

I know it hurts when someone is telling you something that challenges your believes. It gets especially difficult if you have grown up believing on thing, then you’re asked to start believing the exact opposite. I am not asking you to change your faith. I’m asking that you treat me, and all others who proclaim that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, the same, regardless of sexuality. Granting me equality under the Manual does not take away your salvation, or change the Articles of Faith. This issue was created in 1972, and has never been that essential to our identity as Nazarenes.

Conclusion

I’m sure you’ve wondered why I’m a Nazarene, or why I stay Nazarene. Maybe I’m stubborn, but I also don’t feel called to leave just yet. I believe there is still more good to be found in our church and its systems. Maybe I am naïve, idealistic and overly optimistic. But I know I love this church, and for the time being, it pains me too much to think about leaving it. I will always believe that the Church of the Nazarene is up to much good. This is the Church where I came know Jesus. This is the Church that taught me about service and putting others ahead of myself. This is the Church that taught to stand up for those on the margins.

I would like to make some sort of impact; in a positive way to mend the wounds the Church has caused the homosexual community.

I know it is a challenge, but if it were easy, would it really be worth it? And wouldn’t everyone be championing the cause of the Homosexual-Nazarene? The right thing is often unpopular, but that doesn’t make it any less important or the not worth the effort.

I am not trying to tear down the Church of the Nazarene; I am not looking for schism. I want the cycle of hate, misunderstanding, and self-imposed distancing to end between the Church of the Nazarene and the homosexual community. Too many good people have already left the Church, or suffered in silence because of the homophobic policies of the Church, and more will leave if this does not get resolved soon. I want that to end. If I can put an end to the silent suffering of one boy or girl who doesn’t have to grow up in a Nazarene Church that shames them until they leave, then I will have done my job.

Californication

Californiacation

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

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

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

Fun With Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perfect Storm

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

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

The Forecast

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

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

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

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