As Time Goes By…

As Time Goes By

Every Sunday night the local PBS affiliates plays a set of British sit-com classics. The third one is called “As Time Goes By”. According to IMDB, “Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer) and Jean (Judi Dench) were lovers many years ago at the time of the Korean War. They are separated by a misunderstanding but meet again [years later] by chance.” It isn’t the funniest of the four, but its plot is solid. We watch them fall in love again. They had both moved on, many missing years separated them. We watch as they struggle to reconnect in their later years, in a brave new world of the 1990s, and with grown children of their own. Its probably the least funny, going for subtle realism comedy over the slap-stick and puns of the others, but I still watch it week after week.

In this season of Lent, I find myself separated from my love, and in a struggle to reconnect to it.

I was like most of you, just a kid going up in a church with a funny name: Nazarene. The 30-minute drive down Interstate 35 from Overland Park to Olathe takes forever when you are 4 years old. But every Sunday morning and night, then once more on Wednesday, I could be found some where inside Olathe College Church. I did what everyone else my age did. With the exception of winning the pine wood derby contest and a few “big parts” in the children’s musical, I was perfectly ordinary. Homely if you will. I went to “Big Church” with my parents and passed notes the whole time. I was in the Victor just like everyone else at CCN. In junior high I raised money to go on mission trips. I did what I was supposed to do. Some might say, I was literally the poster boy for NYI.

It was at that giant church in Olathe that I fell in love with a Jesus who did counter-cultural things, who taught that forgiveness and peace were better ways to make sense of the world. I fell in love with the Church, and how it ebbed and flowed with the seasons. How it created ways for people to connect to others. I fell in love with being a part of something so much bigger than myself.

Then the winds changed; a dust storm. I was naive enough to think that I could escape the storm unharmed. My expectation did not meet my reality. I was confronted with the reality that the policy trumps people.  I was naive enough to think they would bend the rules for me. That this time it would be different. I wasn’t some outsider. I grew up here. I can show you where I was sitting when I left to go pray at the altar and ask Jesus into my life. Just a few feet away is where I stood when I was given Minister’s License. The chaos of the storm separated me from my Church. I could have converted the entire planet to Christianity, but it would have been meaningless to those in Lenexa because of one issue: my sexual orientation.

Because this issue has been blown out of proportion, I feel like that’s all anyone sees me as, a gay rebel-rouser who should stop complaining because “I knew the rules when I signed up.” In the solitude of Lent, and in the darkness of my personal Gethsemane I ask God questions I am too afraid to speak publicly:

“If Christians see me as terrible, maybe God sees me this way too…”

“Why did You make me gay?”

“Why did I even start this foolish blog?”

“Maybe I’m wrong, maybe it is sinful to be gay…”

“Am I doing any good for You or the Church? Or am I just like that “reformed” guy but barking on the other side of issues?”

Lent’s introspection has forced me to deal with the spiritual pains of this separation. Will I ever get back to the church of my childhood? Will I find my childlike wonder in a new denomination? Or will I be forever jaded because of this whole experience? It is hard to separate the good from the bad in my memories. Even more difficult is determining what was real and what was fake about my Christianity. Bittersweet memories of a time gone by. There are times when I want to walk away from it all. Those questions circle my thoughts like vultures in the desert. Without a community of support it is harder and harder to fight them off when they land. It’s been 4 years, seems like 40, have we done anything? I’ve spent the last 4 years trying to hold on to a shadow. The dust from the storm settles, and I realize just how far removed I am.

For many gays, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer Christians, it is easy to get stuck here; in the separation. In the emotional rawness of being rejected by people you thought were on your side, but weren’t, or not fully, or are now but not when you needed them. The deeper the cut the longer it takes to heal and so we linger in the separation. But even those of us who once called the Nazarenes their own, need to be reminded that Easter is coming. The pain and hurt won’t last forever.

Like Lionel and Jean were reunited. Things were different between them, years had passed, but their love was still there. When Easter arrives, it heals wounds, eases pain, and helps us forgive. It will look different for everyone. My hope is they will, at their own speed get there. Getting closure doesn’t mean rushing back to the Church of the Nazarene. In fact, it may mean staying very far away. I just worry that some of us won’t get that closure, and will stay in the bitterness. Healing and closure, in all their varied forms, are our destinations.

Where am I now? I’m not sure… I wish I did. Until then, I’ll pray that the Lord will protect me, and those with stories like mine, from bitterness and that I will act in ways that bring the Kingdom of God closer to earth, that’s about all I know to do. For me, when Easter does arrive, it’ll will be a much anticipated reunion.

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?

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.

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.

Day of Silence 2013

Day of Silence

Greg White, Nazarene Ally Vice-President, wrote this piece for Day of Silence 2011. Greg grew up in Bethany, Oklahoma, and graduated from Southern Nazarene University in 2006 with a B. A. in Communication Arts and now works as a professional illustrator.  He is a proud member of Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, and strives to serve by fostering a grace-filled dialogue between the Nazarene Church and the LGBT community.

Day of Silence 2011

Today is the National Day of Silence, a day when students across the country remain silent in recognition of the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community who feel compelled to remain silent about the truth of their identity.  As a matter of conscience, I feel I must break my own silence and come out as gay.  As someone who has had to endure the isolating pain of hiding his sexuality, I believe that I’ve been called to now be honest.  I’ve heard it said that it isn’t lying to not tell everything you know, and there may be some truth to that.  But to remain silent in the face of the ignorance that has led to so much pain and death in the LGBT community would be, I believe, a great sin.  The truth is that by remaining silent, I find myself complicit with a worldview that discourages honesty and integrity.  And as a person of faith, I think that the truth matters, even when or perhaps especially when it is confusing or inconvenient.

This is not a declaration of a “struggle” or a “lifestyle,” (two words that I would be quite glad to never hear again) but rather a state of being.  As Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelist Tony Campolo has said, “Madonna and I are both heterosexual women, but we do not share a lifestyle.”  More often than not, that word is used as a disingenuous way to confirm the presence or absence of a sex life, which I find to be a deeply personal bit of information, regardless of orientation.  “Hey John and Mary, I see you’ve been spending a lot of time together lately.  Have you been living out the heterosexual lifestyle?”  It’s just an unfair question, and one that I don’t intend to go into here.

What I want to talk about is an environment in which societal pressures such as shame, fear, and intimidation have been used to keep gay people closeted.  Issues of sexuality are, indeed, difficult ones to approach, especially when they may seem to conflict with our deeply held religious beliefs.  I’m sure that, had I not been forced to deal with homosexuality in such a personal way, I likely would have shied away from that challenge.  But to deny its existence, to directly or indirectly discourage others from being open about who they are can only have a negative impact.

I spent more years than I care to remember suffering in silence, hating myself, wishing I would die.  I projected a false self to the world, holding friends and family at arm’s length.  Alone at night, I would cry out to God to change me, to make me acceptable, to spare me from Hell.  I cut myself with razor blades and soon began to resent the God that I’d loved so dearly.  This year, the news has been littered with stories of gay kids committing suicide, unable to withstand the personal hell their lives had become due to the cruelty, silence and indifference they’d experienced at the hands of others.  And the negative impact isn’t isolated only to the LGBT community.  Churches, schools, and societies have robbed themselves of the chance to know these amazing individuals.  Creative, vibrant, loving people who could have had a powerful impact on the lives they would have touched.

I’ve heard the catchphrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin” uttered by spiritual leaders and laity alike, thinking somehow that if they say it enough, that love will become a reality.  But any gay person on the receiving end of that line can tell you that it rings hollow.  Sexuality isn’t something you do, but is rather a part of what makes you who you are.  It encompasses uncontrollable elements, such as attraction and the capacity to fall in love.  You can’t simply carve a person into pieces and decide which parts to love without it being interpreted as conditional love, which is a cheap substitute for the real thing.  Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s within the realm of human capacity to be able to project both love and hatred towards a person’s identity simultaneously.  I know because I tried, and discovered that I could find no love for myself as long as I hated that part of me.  If we are to truly change this pattern of self-hatred and fear, we must start by breaking down the walls of silence that keep people isolated.

My challenge to the broader community is to follow the example of some individuals I know and to stand up beside your LGBT friends with open hearts and minds.  Come alongside them with acceptance and love, willing to learn and grow with them.  I don’t demand that everyone come to believe what I believe, but ask that you would help to create an atmosphere that encourages openness and support for the LGBT community, free from the conditional love and condemnation that we’ve seen so much of.  Always be careful how you speak, because there may be someone in your midst who is weighing your words carefully, listening for signs of love or rejection.

For those of you in the LGBT community that are suffering in silence, to those who bear the scars of the past, for those who feel unlovable, forgotten by God, worn down, beat up or afraid, know that you are not alone.  You aren’t forgotten.  Don’t give up hope.  Don’t give in to bitterness, and don’t give up on life.

Please understand that this message is not intended to offend, but to simply state the truth as I see it.  My faith has always taught me that it is vital to speak the truth in love, not to hide it when it’s dangerous or taboo.  I know full well what this essay could cost me.  But if it can help one gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person feel less alone, or help one straight person to reevaluate their treatment of the LGBT community, I say the cost was worth it.  Because I want to be the kind of person that I needed to see when I was growing up and felt so alone.  In fact, I feel I must apologize for remaining silent for so long.  I’ve felt that God has been calling me to be honest for many years now, but I placed the acceptance of others ahead of what I knew was right.  And if that isn’t idolatry, I don’t know what is.

To each and every reader, know that I love you, and God does too.

Sincerely,

Greg

The Persecuted Church

Persecuted Church

I always grew up thinking the persecuted church was in a far away place such as Africa, Asia, the Middle East, any place that was communist. The persecuted church could not have been the further from my suburban church where I grew up. I was raised to pray for unnamed missionaries in unnamed countries. These were the modern-day equivalents of the Early Church. Little did I know one day I would become a persecuted Nazarene…

The church of my youth was full of people with good intentions. Whatever the motivation was, we had several lock-ins that would try to mimic conditions of the persecuted church so that we would have a better understanding of what it was like to really have our faith put to the test. They might have just read “Left Behind” or just rented “A Thief In the Night[1]” or just watched a documentary on Jonestown, and wanted to re-create “White Nights”, but whatever caused it, my youth group would crowd into a small Sunday School classroom, turn off the lights, and listen to stories of missionaries being forced to choose recant the Gospel or be forced to bury their families alive. Even at district camp in the summer our night games were “persecuted church themed” with names like “Bible Smugglers” which had something to do with sneaking glow sticks across the finish line and not being hit with flour bombs thrown by the youth workers.

The persecuted church was something distant, far off, and mentally removed from my daily life. It didn’t interrupt my routine. Going to church was common, and even the ‘secular’ kids at school had a Church they called home if asked. Being a Christian has always been easy for me. My friends have all been Christians, my family and extended family are all “third, fourth and fifth” generations Christians; I’m surrounded by Christians. I bet 98% of all the Sundays of my life, I’ve attended Church. So you’ll imagine my surprise and shock when I am told by my Church, “You are not a Christian.” By their standards, I’m not a Christian anymore and it’s all because of my sexual orientation.

Californian Adventure

This caused me great duress, so I set forth on a mission to see if there were others like me, that were Christians, but found them suddenly in a perplexing state of not being allowed to be a Christian. So I left the wild weather of the Midwest for the calmer skies of Southern California. (Probably the closest place to heaven on earth is San Diego.) I set out to find other members of this neo-persecuted church of which I am now a member.

I was hoping there would be secret passwords, or knocks, or handshakes, or something out of a James Bond movie, but there wasn’t. It was just a small sign with an arrow hanging from a tree pointing down some steps. The path led to a room wrapped in books on white bookshelves. Chairs were neatly arranged in a circle getting ready for the meeting. I had arrived at All God’s Children, the epicenter of LGBT Nazarenes relations. Made up of former and current Point Loma Nazarene students, faculty, staff and others, they had been meeting together in one-way shape or form for just shy of five years.

My gracious hostess for my day in San Diego warned me not to sit on the couch as it had the infamous reputation of being too comfortable and causing naps. I hadn’t flown 1200 miles just to fall asleep, so I took her advice and sat next to her in some wooden chairs with padded backs in the second row.

It had been about a year since a student at the university caused a ruckus amongst Nazarenes by coming out by telling his story. Eventually his story made it to my ear, albeit through the filter of an over-exaggerated Midwestern protestants worried for the sake of the Church in California. My ‘show-me’ mentality kicked in and I had to see for myself what the fuss was about. Whether it is Harry Potter or Dan Brown, I would rather see for myself and make my own conclusion then take someone’s third (or forth, fifth or sixth) hand account of things. So here I was sitting there, a year later. Sitting at All God’s Children, waiting for it to start.

There was no liberal-hippie-California-progressive propaganda agendas as you might have thought. We were just there to listen. Our speaker did one of the greatest and most powerful things known to humankind. He told us his story.

I’ll let him tell you his story for himself, but know that he put words to concepts I had wrestled with in my mind for years. His mother sat next to him as he spoke. When he spoke of telling his family it caused me to get misty eyed hoping that my mother would do the same thing for me in the future after I tell her. That my mom, like his, would sit next to me and support me and worry more about whether or not my heart belongs to God over whether or not I like boys or girls. After he finished our moderator facilitated a question and answer time. I could have asked him a million questions. But I sat there just taking it all in.

Then the moderator turned to me and asked if I had anything to share about why I was there, and about my blog. I probably talked too fast and too long. I noticed my “I’m getting passionate about something” tone kicked in, so I hope I was able to conveyed my purpose well. The news from the “Bible Belt” wasn’t exactly positive. I was wishing I had stickers or business cards to pass out (but word of mouth worked for Hershey’s, so it can work for me).

Other topics were discussed and we closed in prayer. I went up to our speaker to thank him for sharing his story and to thank his mom for being there too. A handshake wouldn’t do for her, so she hugged me in spite of me being jet lagged and smelling of sweat and of airplane. Classic mom.

That was it. That was the center of the entire hullabaloo. I didn’t ask this but I bet that probably no concerned or reformed Nazarene, nor any General or District Superintendent, nor angry members of the local Nazarene Churches who wanted All God’s Children to be shut down have ever attended, and yet it was the center of protests, letter writing, and complaining. Much like when people got “their panties in a wad”, as my dad would say, over Harry Potter but had never taken the time to actually read them.

Much Ado About Nazarenes

In the basement of a church belonging to a foreign denomination, persecuted Nazarenes met. Forbidden to meet at the Nazarene University, and kicked out of San Diego First. Risking not my life, but my job and any sort of career in the Church I joined them. Validating, at least for me, that I really am not the only one as I’ve said so often on this blog.

My prayer, and I think I can speak for the rest of us by say our prayer, is that someday we won’t have to seek refuge in an affirming church’s basement but rather we will be able to meet, pray, go to pot lucks, and yes, marry all within the wall of the Church of the Nazarene.

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to see the inconsistencies with the Church of the Nazarene’s stance on homosexuality. History tells us it is an imported story. And the fact that Headquarters will sign petitions on whatever the current topical political issue is, but stays silent on homosexual related teen bullying and suicides shows where the Church’s priorities are.

Our church doesn’t think that if go to a church that speaks in tongues you aren’t Christian, or that Church isn’t a Christian Church. So why does it get fussy with churches that affirm homosexuals in ministry and as members of the Body? Perhaps that is an answer I’ll never figure out.

Until We Meet Again

I wish I had the means to fly out every week to All God’s Children. I left feeling strengthen and encouraged. I truly am not alone. And for those who thought this was just a ‘California problem’ guess again. The Internet is a wonderful tool that has allowed me to connect people all over the world, but nothing will replace the actual, in-person meetings. Nothing online can replace a ride from the airport and around a strange town where people surf before church, or surprising an old friend, or a handshake, or a hug, or hearing a story told to my ears for the first time.

To my brothers and sisters at All God’s Children, Thank you! Keep fighting the good fight. I’m sure we’ll meet again soon. I’m a Nazarene and I am gay man. I know now without a doubt that I am not the only one.

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

Switching Gears

Switching Gears

Breaks are a good thing. They give me time to re-evaluate things; re-focus. I have been mulling over the questions submitted. I’d originally planned a sorta simple Q & A style post. But the questions I received were very thought-provoking. A simple paragraph answer wouldn’t suffice. (So very good job on those submissions!) But one question sorta stopped me in my tracks. (The questioner wished to remain anonymous.) I may not be capable of fully answering it, but here’s my best shot.

Q: What is my end game?

A: ________*draws a blank*___________ Quite frankly don’t know. I had the lofty goal of achieving complete equality for homosexuals in the Church of the Nazarene, and getting rid of generations of hate-speech and bigotry. Key word: Had. Reality set in shortly after launch. I don’t think my small blog, will have any change in the 2013 General Assembly. Nor can just these words alone change someones mind and attitude about homosexuality.

I’ve been going about it all wrong.

What is my end game then? Honestly; to come out. Without me doing that these are just words on a screen, lacking less depth than the monitor they appear on.

I’ve been at this for over a year, and deep down I’ve known from the beginning, but am just now finally realizing the stale-mate I’ve created. I forget who said it,  I left it in a comment, most likely it was someone else, “When homosexuality gets a face, it changes everything”. Coming out would mean you get to know me, the real me. Not just an internet character named Neal A. Zachary. Without the knowing the author, how can this blog really effect anything?

That being said, I still don’t think I’m ready to come out. I wrestle daily with this issue regardless of what it means for my employment. I can find another job. But telling my family and friends? Even if I knew that they are completely, 100%, supporting of gays, even speaking the words to that person “I’m gay” sends me running away in fear. So it as much a personal milestone as any.

I’ve always strived to be authentic. It pains me that I am held captive by my insecurities.

Would leaving the Church be a defeat? How can I still promote healthy change within the Church if I’m not able to be in it? Worse yet, will the Church I love allow me to stay?

I don’t know… I would like to think that I could stay apart of COTN even after I’m out. I’m not aware of any cases of that happening. Normally its met with resignation or scandal, and one came out in retirement (as mentioned in a comment). Four, that I know of, with degrees in Theology came out post-graduation from my Nazarene University. Was I stupid to wait? HA or better yet, was I stupid to think that I could actually make a difference? I went into this degree knowing I would not be accepted. (Although I think some think it will make them straight. I knew it wouldn’t. I didn’t want it too.)

WWJD

I could stay closeted. I could just be another anonymous voice on the internet shouting and complaining about inequality. But I don’t want to do that. I am frequently brought back to Jesus, to look to Him for an example of how He would solve this problem. And I am left at a loss because I’m doing it all wrong.

I had great intentions, but I’ve gone about it all wrong.

There are times in Jesus’ ministry He was bold and out-front and very public. So getting passionate about a cause isn’t a bad thing. I hope you can tell in my writing how important this topic is to me. But there’s one thing I’m overlooking, that Jesus was the best at. Being relational. And without me coming out, I cannot be fully relational.

Even though I come to Jesus under the cover of the night asking him difficult questions about my faith like Nicodemus or talking to Him alone, asking Him about my sexuality like the Woman at the well did, Jesus still meets with me. And somehow that has to translate to this screen, and to these words. Perhaps I have come off as an angry, yelling, hippies-beat-nick, calling for fundamental changes in the Church. And if you’ve read my blog this way, I’m sorry I have failed you. I did it all wrong. With out that relational edge to my words, maybe that’s all I’ll be.

I have ended the blog with “I’m not the only one”. As if I was in the Delta Quandrant searching for other intelligent life forms on the other side of the galaxy. There are already blogs doing things to help promote lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in the church. I’ve found them; there are other people out there, both gay and straight, with blogs, dealing with this same issues. But they all have faces. Someday this one will too. I will figure out a way to come out sometime in 2012, not timetable is set yet. And you will finally see the face that stands behinds these words. I will figure out a way to be an advocate for teens struggling with sexuality in the Church of the Nazarene. I don’t want one more kid to be bullied or commit suicide, or come out just to leave. That is the goal, that is the end game. It will be much easier to achieve that when you know me.

Pray for me. Pray that God will grant me that peace that passes all understanding for coming out. Pray for my family and friends who will be receiving the news. And pray that God will be glorified throughout this whole process.

Crisis on Two Earths

Crisis on Two Earths

Have you ever had too much on your plate? Ever had a day where you just need 34 hours in a day to get everything done on time? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a second you? An exact clone to do all the things you can’t do. Then you wouldn’t have to make the difficult choices of going to your son’s baseball game, or the important business meeting (Hook anyone?); between saving the cat in the tree or the baby in the apartment fire (Spiderman anyone?); being the rich playboy and the vigilante hero (Batman Begins anyone?) If we were to be in two places at once then a lot of life problems would be solved; it would make life less complicated. There’s just one problem with it, God only designed us to be in one place at one time. There is a reason there is just one of you. Two is not always greater than one.

I live in two worlds. Up until now, they have co-existed without overlapping, each world not knowing anything of the other one. You see the rules that govern each world, make it hard to keep switching back and forth, and if the rules were broken, I would be permanently expelled from ever entering that world again. I press my luck and continue to jump from one world to the next, hoping I remember the rules and worlds just changed. For all my life I’ve lived two lives going on simultaneous of each other. Every events and moment has two-story lines weaving in and out of dominance on my mind. While I am going about my daily routine in one world each time I jump, I bring a little bit more of dust of the one I just left with me, and it doesn’t go away. It piles up in the corner somewhere and I ignore it, hoping everyone else does too.

I am a citizen of the Christian World, and a citizen of the Gay World.

The Christian World

I was the Clark Kent the Christian World; the perfect attendee, the theology major, mild-mannered, seemly unimportant in every way. I wanted to stay below the radar, worrying that if I stepped too far into the spotlight, my dark secrets would be revealed. So I stayed average. Much like a Superhero conceals his true identity. (Think of Dash’s Track meet in ‘The Incredibles’) I purposely denied parts of my life, all to fit the stereotype of a straight, Midwestern, male. For example, I would live in constant fear that if I were too creative in singing, writing, acting or painting, someone would suspect me of being a homosexual. Irrational fear? Maybe.

In the Christian World, everyone else ‘fit-in’, so I wanted to fit in too. I saw what happened to those who were different. I didn’t want to give up the friends, and the little bit of status I earned, just so I could lose it all, and be made fun of like people did to those who were different. I heard the smirks, the crude jokes, and the sermons that all reinforced to me that homosexuality are something to be ashamed of. I grew up in the Church so my only view of a homosexual lifestyle was through the lenses of the Church. I didn’t want to be in a God-less world full of drugs, pedophilia, STDs, and one night stands. Was I destined to grow up and turn into that?

The Gay World

In the Gay World, I was able to be myself, but still not fully. I let my hair down a bit as I met more and more guys that seemed just like me: normal. They weren’t like the stereotypes I saw on TV or in the movies or heard about in Church. They were just regular dudes that liked other dudes. I could talk about my celebrity crush of the week, and ask them questions about how to improve my ‘gaydar’ and what to do for a date. But not everything… There was one topic that they didn’t care for much and that was my Christianity. They knew I was Christian, they just didn’t understand why I subscribed to a belief system that suppressed, bullied and segregated them. I would listen to their stories about how these once faithful people came out to only find rejection from the Church, the Church that I loved whole-heartedly. So I shut it off, didn’t bother taking them down the Roman Road, they wouldn’t want to go anyway.

I was so worried that if the Christian World found out I was gay, they would instantly think I was like the image they had of a homosexual, and vice versa, I was also worried that the Gay World would lump me together with all the anti-gay fundamentalist crazies from my home state. I didn’t want to deny the other world’s existence, but I didn’t want them to commingle either because I was scared of the consequences. The two worlds were never supposed to get mixed up. The majority of my life they stayed separate. I liked it that way. The complete compartmentalization of my life sounded good; it was easy at first. But like in the movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, two worlds can start collapsing in on each other without warning.

It All Falls Down

I can tell you exactly when it happened. When my worlds began to fall apart. When I started loosing my grip on the false idea that “at worst I was bisexual.” In 2009, that summer as I attended more and more of my friend’s wedding and thinking, “I just need to find the right girl, and my attraction for her will solve all this…” that picture of my future began to slowly fade away. Some day, if you ask, I’ll tell you the whole story of how we met. It’s rather adorable, but suffice to say, as summer faded into autumn I fell for a guy. At first it was separate. But as hanging out turned into dating, and we were seeing each other more often, and the lines got blurry. Like the time we went out to eat and saw some former youth group students, and he gets introduced as my “friend from work.” Or when he brought me a Mountain Dew Big gulp at work and told my co-workers he was my brother. Little lies here and there just to keep up the façade. Each fib, each white lie, cracked the protective shells that surrounded each world. You grow up being warned that if you tell enough lies they will come back and bite you, but while you’re in the middle of the game you don’t realize how they can get out of control.

I am not an advocate for lying. I tell you this because I know there are others out there that have done, or are playing the same game I played. Good Nazarene kids lost in the middle of two worlds unsure of what to do next, but are living in fear that one world will reveal itself to the other and their system will come crashing down. It is an ever-present feeling that gets worse with time.

The Shema

This is not in the design God planned for our lives. Throughout the Bible we are reminded of the fact that God is calling us to be one (1), because our God is one (1). Just like the people of Israel wanted Moses to take them back to Egypt before they crossed at the Sea of Reeds, or when the same people wanted Joshua to be in Egypt again when they were at the gates of the Promised Land. They were stuck between two worlds, in the middle. Wanting to take part in the Covenant and wanting to retreat. They had to be one place or the other; they could not be in both. They could not be in Egypt and enjoy the blessing of the promise land. They had to be in one place, at one time. Being in the middle works for some time, but it is not a permanent solution. This blog is helping me resolve my conflicted middle-ness.

This wanting to be in two places at once can also be seen as a loophole too. Being in the in between lets us switch when the moment is right and say, “I am not there… I’m here” as we quietly move fully back behind the boundary. I experience this in my own life too. So it was with Israel, so it is with us (me). Like children who think they can pull a fast one on Mom & Dad, God see our loophole game and seals it. God tells us that God is God even in the in-between places.

 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 TNIV)

They are called to put the commands on the door-frames, because when standing in the door frame you are neither a friend, or a stranger. But God is still God there. God is still call us saying, “I am One, I am your God even when you don’t know where to belong. I am your God there too.”

And so since God is calling out to us, calling us to be one, the Church needs to be calling out to those people like me saying, “You can be one here, come can eat from the Master’s Table. You are whole now.” The Church has a unique opportunity to bring healing and hope and redemption to a broken, lost, and confused part of our society. And heal my wounds of living 2 lives. And that is what the Church of the Nazarene was founded on over 100 years ago. Restoring brokenness in society. My homosexuality doesn’t make me broken. I am broken because I am a sinner. But I am saved by God’s grace. And through a life-long process we call entire sanctification, I am becoming more whole, each and everyday.

Sin

Sin

If you asked a random sampling of Nazarenes “being gay a sin?” there would be a resounding reply of “Yes!” But is their answer based on personal opinion or the Bible or the Church’s understanding of sin? To answer the question correctly, we need to know several things.

  1. What is sin and who sins (is a sinner)?
  2. What is a homosexuality and who is gay?
  3. What is salvation and who is eligible for it (to be saved)?

If we can correctly define each term, then piecing together a proper answer becomes easy. Too often our definitions are imported to us from other sources and therefore pollutes our concept of what the word means. Later blogs will discuss how and why evangelical protestant churches have crusades against homosexuality.

What is ‘sin’?

Here are three definitions of how sin is interpreted. Webster’s Dictionary defines sin as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.” The Roman Catholic Church defines sin like this “A ‘word, deed or desire in opposition to the eternal law’ (St. Augustine). Sin is a deliberate transgression of a law of God, which identifies the four essentials of every sin… And the transgression is deliberate, which means that a sin is committed whenever a person knows that something is contrary to the law of God and then freely does the action anyway.” The Church of the Nazarene defines Sin in Article V of the Manual 2009-2013 as a “voluntary violation of a known law of God by a morally responsible person. It is therefore not to be confused with involuntary and inescapable shortcomings, infirmities, faults, mistakes, failures, or other deviations from a standard of perfect conduct that are the residual effects of the Fall.” Based off those definitions of let’s ask the question again. “Are gays sinners?” (Record your answers in your workbooks).

Who is a ‘Sinner’?

The Bible states, “All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. (Romans 3:23)” Therefore, everyone regardless of sexuality are sinners. All humans. Every single person on earth is a sinner. Why? Because of the Fall. We in the Church of the Nazarene affirm that there are two types of sin, Original and Personal. In other words you are born a sinner because of the Fall (Original), and then at the age of accountability you make choices that separate you from the center of God’s Will (Personal). Romans 3:23 is a great verse that points out that we are all guilty of original and personal sin.

How does sexuality relate to sin?

We have established that everyone, is guilty of sin just because of Adam & Eve’s Fall in Genesis. But is homosexuality a willful act against God? In other words, is homosexuality a personal sin? To answer this question we need to know where sexual orientation comes from. A person’s sexual orientation is based on an innate sense of attraction. Ask yourself the following questions: “What is my favorite color?” then “Why is that my favorite color?” The first question should be easy to answer, but the second is more difficult. The mind has a programmed set of likes and dislikes. During in utero development, chemical signals are conditioning the programming of the brain. Whether it is boys or girls, colors, food, music or art, without getting into too much technical jargon, we simply just like it or we don’t. The debate of the 1990s was if the cause of sexuality was a personal choice or result of biology. The most recent scientific studies all point to biology as cause of sexuality. Regardless of your personal feelings on choice or nature, does sexuality, or sexual orientation qualify as sin? The answer is no. The fact of the matter is that sexuality and sexual orientation is not an action that qualifies for a sin. The Church of the Nazarene and Nazarene Ally agree on this. We both affirm that we are not sinners based on our sexuality.

What about the “practicing” gay?

To be honest, I always read this phrase using the more common use of practice. (e.g. practice makes perfect) I always think of practicing being homosexual as if there is a performance or test coming up. It makes me smile, anyone else find that phrase a little bit humorous? No? Okay…I digress.

There is a big split, even within Gay-Christian circles, on whether or not sin falls into the actions related to homosexual-ness (i.e. the participation in a homosexual act). Some believe gays and lesbians in the Church are called, like Paul, to be celibate. While others believe in marriage. We in the Church of the Nazarene believe that sexual interactions should be reserved for marriage. So where is the sin? Therefore, gays, lesbian or bisexual can only be sinning (in regards to sexuality) when he or she engages in sexual actions before marriage. There should not be a double standard in the Church. But the Church does not support marriage between two men or two women who love each other.

One problem, which will be discussed in later blogs, is the issue of scriptural justification for the inequality of LGBT people. Suffice to say that any scriptural justification, or proof texting, does not comply with the standards of the Church of the Nazarene.

What is “salvation”?

Salvation is the act of opening your heart up to Jesus, asking forgiveness, and starting down a new path with Jesus, which leads to the center of God’s Will. The Manual puts it like this “We believe that Jesus Christ, by His sufferings, by the shedding of His own blood, and by His death on the Cross, made a full atonement for all human sin, and that this Atonement is the only ground of salvation, and that it is sufficient for every individual of Adam’s race. The Atonement is graciously efficacious for the salvation of [the irresponsible] those incapable of moral responsibility and for the children in innocency but is efficacious for the salvation of those who reach the age of responsibility only when they repent and believe. (Atonement, Manual Article IV)”

In light of that understanding, who is eligible for salvation? Everyone. Therefore whether you think homosexuals are sinners because of their natural sexual orientation, or if you think that sin is found only in homosexual acts, you must realize that once homosexuals ask Jesus into their hearts they become Christians. Just like the murderer, just like the thief, just like the liar, just like the heterosexual. (Just like you did.) We are Christian based on whether we have asked Jesus into our heart, nothing more, nothing else. There cannot be a separate rule sheet for a people group.

The other side

People often have very strong views on this topic, views that probably won’t be changed after reading this one blog post. (I’m fully aware of that.). So I’m prepared to look at it from your perspective the best I can. For the sake of argument, what if it was a sin to be gay? Since when has the Church been in the business of turning away sinners? Are we not the Church of the Nazarene, where we were founded on paying special attention to the disenfranchised? So why is the Church turning away customers? Who gave the Church of the Nazarene the right to pick and choose who gets to hear and receive the Gospel? How can the Church fix a broken World if it refuses to deal with broken people? If the Church wants to see redemption in the lives of homosexuals then it should open its doors up to the possibility that “sinners” need to be let into the church and not blocked from it. (It is a fact. The Church of the Nazarene has policies in place that bar participation by an openly gay members. Even more appalling is the amount of church members that hate, or strongly dislike, any and all mentions of any LGBT person participating in church. Our policies are not in line with the reality. Our local churches are not in-line with the most generous reading of the Manual.

Advice to the Church of the Nazarene

Let’s get offer an alternative, instead of condemning. There are secular gays who live a life that does not line up with the Gospel; the contra-positive has to be true as well, there are secular straights who live a life that doesn’t line up with the Gospel. (Key word, secular.) Our sexual ethic should be the focus and not sexual orientation. Let’s engage in redeeming people rather than a culture. Culture has a way of turning its back on the Church. Let us work together to stop the vicious cycle of hate, and offer up something the secular world doesn’t offer, freedom, which is, freedom in Christ. It all boils down to this. They, the sinners, won’t know that we are Christian by our sexuality but by the way we love.

Freedom

Cuz, Baby You're a Firework!

The title of this blog sounds simple enough. Freedom is a topic that could be a whole yearlong sermon series. But we’ll focus on this central question of “How does freedom in Christ relate to being a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender in Christ?”

History of the Church: Part 1

During the infancy of the Church, Christianity wasn’t the only kid on the block. It was just one of many different religions people could choose from. So why did this crazy religion; where a man comes back from the dead, take off? Christianity survived persecution, and a plethora of other religions because it gave people freedom. The freedom that Christianity gives us is not from a state or institution. It is straight from God. It is God whom gives us the freedom from the powers and principalities that would otherwise be hell-bent on our destruction. This God-given freedom does not exclusively apply to the spiritual; it has social freedom applications as well. History tells us that many women were converted first, and then their husbands.

Christianity gave women freedom and thus they were considered equals to men in the church. People, throughout time, have an internal desire to be free. It is only when Christianity became the state religion (Christendom) did the freedom shift from being a God-granted item, to a State/Church granted one, and thus limits where places on this freedom.

Slavery was also an issue the Church had trouble finding its way on. Since Constantine, freedom was now granted through the Church. People used the Bible to justify their position on slavery (proof texting) and limited who could receive the Bible’s freedom. But that freedom was not theirs to divvy up and give out. Even though slavery was an “important institution” to the United States, even though the mainstream American Church said slavery was a perfectly legitimate issue, God was still in the business passing out the real freedom. (Ever wondered why they are called “Southern Baptist”? Prior to the Civil War they were just called Baptist. I’ll let you guess the reason they felt the need to differentiate themselves from the Northern Baptist.) God says freedom is for everyone! We are still fixing the mistakes of history and restoring and mending the wounds of slavery in America. The Church of the Nazarene has fully integrated the former “black districts” in the American South. Today we are appalled by the practice of slavery, and the Church is very active in erasing all types of slavery all over the world.

Constantine favored the very Roman hierarchy of Church governance, a very top down approach. This created a “boys-club” for the Church. Men were the only sex able to be Popes, clergy, or laypeople. Women for the longest sections of history had a backseat role in Church governance. For hundreds and hundreds of years, men would proof text scripture to say that women should be silent in church, and should be submissive. But then came a group that decided that they were going to preach whether or not the Church gave them the right to do so. They were preaching because they saw a gap in the coverage of the Church, and no one else would reach out. They did not let their God-given freedoms be usurped by Tradition or Scripture. And at least one of the “Founding Fathers” of the Church of the Nazarene was a woman. At the end of the decade we saw woman vicars in the Church of England. Closer to home, Nina Gunter as elected as a General Superintendent in 2005. Today we find countries that have huge inequalities between the sexes appalling. (e.g. Saudi Arabia where women aren’t aloud to drive).

Future of the Church: Part 1

Is the issue of homosexuality and the larger gay-rights movement a challenge to the freedoms of Christianity? No. Is the homosexual/gay-right movement a challenge to the authority of God or the Church? No it is not, but what it is doing is challenging certain aspects that are blocking their God-given freedoms. So it was with slavery and women’s rights, so it is with homosexuality. People in authority are proof texting the Bible to determine who is in and who is out. It isn’t about sexuality anymore. It has become a power game. Nazarene Ally’s very existence is due to the fact that there are inequalities in the Church between homosexuals and heterosexuals. God has given me freedom, and I want others to have it, because I think the Gospel is so very important. I want to be connected with a church that affirms those freedoms in Christ. But I can’t be if the Church of the Nazarene continues to play these secular power games.

Why stay?

I have been asked, and I think to myself a lot about why I stay in the Nazarene Church. Why don’t I leave the Nazarenes for a more progressive Methodist or Episcopal Church, where gay + Christian = not an issue? And although that does sound easier, I am reminded that too often people like me, abandon ship instead of trying to help steer the ship back on course. And besides, “mis raíces se entierran aquí”, I shouldn’t have to go, I was born and raised Nazarene. I may never see the day that an openly gay pastor preaches in a Church of the Nazarene; I may be long gone by then. But I will not have been silent. It sounds totally crazy, but my work here will help the next generation get us back on track. God is in the business of passing out freedom. If it were left up to the Church, we would make so many rules no one would be eligible.

I may get outed and/or excommunicated from the Nazarenes because of this blog. But that doesn’t frighten me at all, because I know the source of my freedom. And freedom has a funny way of winning out in the end.