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.

Spirit Day 2013

Spirit Day 2013

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

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

The 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.

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!

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.

Holiness Today

Holiness Today

The following is an email I sent into Holiness Today in reply to an article printed in the September/October 2011 issue. You can read the full text of the article here:

http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ht/article.jsp?id=10010813

11/1/11

Dear Mr. David J. Felter, Editor-in-Chief:

I’m a long time subscriber and reader of Holiness Today.

I disagree with many of the points you made in your reply to the question. I would hope that your presence at the wedding would show your support to your friend, just like it would for your heterosexual friends. The very fact that we ask this question shows us, the Church of the Nazarene, how very little we know, and understand about homosexuals. The church, by policy and its members, treat homosexuals as second class members [of society]. Chances are the last wedding you went to both the bride and the groom ‘sinned’ at one point in their lives. But there were no hang ups in the crowd. The very asking of the question reveals there is bigotry in the Church. What better place, then that moment-at the same-sex wedding, would be a better opportunity to show them grace, dignity and holy love, all while reducing bigotry.

Also to the matter of heresy. Who are the heretics to you refer? All homosexuals? The homosexual-Christians in the Church? Or the Church that recognizes that homosexuals? I am not offended at being called a heretic. I am however offended that it was dropped so casually and lightly. This word has a very loaded history, with life and death consequences. A heresy in the early Church meant schism. I do not want to split off from the Church of the Nazarene at all; therefore, I am not a heretic. Please don’t burn me at the stake.

Further along in history we find it switches to mean “against orthodoxy”. You may have caught me there, I am anything but Orthodox. I’m a Nazarene after all, and we were begot by a long line of parent denominations. All thinking their kids were heretics. Everyone but the Roman Catholics are heretics. And even the Eastern Orthodox think both the Protestants and Roman Catholics are heretics. And to belabor the point more, the Jews think Christians are just a Jewish heresy anyway.

The established Church has also called women pastors heretics, and yet the Church of the Nazarene has always supported female pastors. So “He who is without Hersey…”

Let’s be very clear on this: homosexuality is not a heresy.

The Church of the Nazarene has NEVER issued a Manual Statement or a “Pastoral Perspective” saying homosexuality is heretical. And furthermore, we do not believe that other Christian Churches are heretics when their beliefs differ from ours. For example, we do not believe that those who speak in tongues are heretic just because we do not speak in tongues.

Homosexuality is a word that has shifted meaning over time too. So please, I ask you to update your dictionary, homosexuals are no more a threat to Christians, civilization, marriage, or the Church of the Nazarene than a gain of sand is to a tire on the road.

I may not have changed your mind, but I hope that I have shed some light on a subject that is dangerously under discussed.

Respectfully submitted,

-A Gay Nazarene

The Invisible Line

You aren’t really sure where that line is until you’ve crossed it. I hope I haven’t here with this letter. I am admittedly short-tempered. (It will be my downfall.) I know I should be “like a duck” and let it roll off me, as I was taught in Youth Group but it is hard for me to be silent when I read such an obvious examples of bigotry, and discrimination.

Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything. Maybe I misunderstood him. Maybe this wasn’t a battle worth picking. Maybe I should let more things go than I do. Maybe I sweated a small thing. I guess in the end it boils down to how I ‘pick my battles’ so to speak. If I was [too] rude, I apologize. But we [The Church of the Nazarene] have got to be very careful about the advice we give and think of the implications.

But this is the very thing that we are trying to eliminate. Is there going to be a question “Should I let my kids play with kids of same-sex couples at the park?” or “Should I tip my openly gay waiter at Applebee’s?” Very extreme, but you get the idea. At what point does it end? Who is supposed to speak out when the Church crosses the line?

Maybe my temper flared just a little higher than the Chick-Fil-A Spicy Chicken sandwich, because the question and Mr. Felter’s answer hit a little too close to home. I want to get married someday. I want all my family and friends to be there, and I want all my husband’s family and friends to be there too. Do the relationships I have with my Nazarene-friends and family members not supersede the rhetoric coming out from behind Nazarene pulpits? Again another example of when people put a face to the hate it makes it much harder for them. A fact I am preparing to deal with in the near future.

Maybe I did cross the line. My prayer is that my family and friends and, chiefly, the Holy Spirit will call me out when I do. Speaking the truth in love is a fine line to walk down, and I don’t want to fall off it. Maybe someday I’ll learn better what battles to pick. But maybe someday, and I hope soon, this whole issue will be over with because we as a Church have made the right call. (I’m starting to sound like Little Orphan Annie with all these ‘maybes.’) Below is the reply I got from Holiness Today.

11/7/11

Dear Neal:

Thank you for your letter to the editor and insights into the “Q & A” column in September/October.

We appreciate your feedback.

Sincerely,

The Holiness Today Editorial Staff

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.

An Open Letter to the Church of the Nazarene

An Open Letter to the Church of the Nazarene

October 11th may just be another day in October for you, but for many people around the country it is the day they “come out of the closet” and tell their family and friends they are gay. This is a day that starts the process of being fully honest with themselves, and with the people they care about. It is marked by great personal anxiety because being gay is still subject to ridicule, bullying, and discrimination even in 2011.

In 2010, we saw tragic reports of teens being bullied because of their sexuality and then committing suicide. It was October 11, 2010, that I started a blog because I could no longer stand in the shadows as a closeted Nazarene pastor; I needed to act. I needed to know that our Church was doing something it. If family, friends and school reject them, then they could find refuge in the Church. It is a platform for reform. It is a wake up call to the Church that we are leaving people out.

Let me begin by saying that I love this Church! Nazarenes are awesome! I hear stories all the time from my local church and from around the world that makes me, dare I say, proud to be a Nazarene. But I don’t need to tell you how awesome this Church is and can be. This letter isn’t an ultimatum or threat. It was written with love with the intent to make this Church as great as God wants it to be and aware of the growing problem of homophobia that is entering many evangelical churches.

It is because I love the Church of the Nazarene, it pains me greatly to see how the Church is handling the issue of homosexuality. I would like to someday preach from the pulpit without hiding anything from my congregation. I don’t think we, Nazarenes, are ready for that just yet. But we can take baby steps to get there; we need to begin with welcoming those who have nowhere else to go.

Homosexuality is not a sin. The notion that one cannot be homosexual and Christian needs to end. Sexuality is not the root of sin, it is neither Original nor Personal as our Manual describes. Homosexuals, and heterosexuals alike, are only sinners because we are human. That notion creates policy that picks and chooses who gets to know Christ. It is dangerously close to legalism. Statements that single homosexuality out (e.g. only thing in the manual that is subject to the “wrath of God”) highlight that there is still some homophobic tendencies in the Church of the Nazarene. Fixing this problem is greater than just a policy fix at General Assembly (although removing the final paragraph of 37 and places in Nazarene Colleges and University’s student handbook where there is discrimination would be nice.)

We all need to work together to eliminate homophobia in our denomination. We all need to work to be a ‘salt and light’ Church that seeks out those who are struggling with their personal sexuality and point them towards Jesus. Our policies set the tone for local leaders. Instead of exclusion, we need to practice inclusion. Let us move forward, together, so that our children don’t have to worry about how we will react when they come out, for they will already know that they are loved. If they are bullied because of their sexuality, or for any reason for that matter, they will know that they are safe inside the doors and inside the arms of the people who make up the Church of the Nazarene. Let’s do this together so that no more have to feel hopeless. Every Nazarene worldwide should be an Ally!

Let’s start with actions and work our way up to a policy of inclusion, actions which fall 100% in line with John Wesley’s social holiness. After all we are holiness church. Holiness is greater than keeping Christians in, and sinners out. Jesus flipped the notion of ‘insiders and outsiders’ on its head when he proclaimed the ‘favorable year of the Lord.’

“But what about scripture?” I will not make any pretense that I am the greatest expert on this subject, but I do know a few things.

1) Scripture is complex. Paul makes statements that aren’t really ‘politically correct’ about slaves, women and homosexuals, but we make caveats for slaves and women, so why not homosexuals too? Does it make sense to focus on the seven times it is referred to and pay less attention to the other more frequently referenced prohibitions? Jesus is silent on the subject.

2) Keep scripture in context. Homosexuality in the Bible was different from it is in 2011. Just like Jesus’ agricultural rooted parables need some extra digging to figure out the context was (especially to those who live in cities, far removed from the ancient Jewish rural lifestyles.) Let’s do the same for the passages on homosexuality to figure out what is really going on, instead of taking TV preacher’s word for it. Much more can be said, but I will leave that up to the theologians like Walter Wink and Tony Campolo.

This letter will by no means solve things over night. And I realize that it will fall on mostly deaf ears. But there are hurting homosexual teens in my youth group that I am not able to share my testimony with at risk of losing my job. This young generation needs good Gay-Christian role models that they can look to as they navigate life, just like the heterosexual students have. We need to make that unpopular move and say, “It is okay to be gay, and Jesus loves you just as you are”. It will be highly unpopular, but it is the right thing to do. So how can you help?

1)    Local churches can get involved in Nazarene Ally. A program based off the Gay-Straight Ally system. (http://community.pflag.org/document.doc?id=139)

2)    Draft a resolution for General Assembly 2013 that puts the Church of the Nazarene on record as a denomination where it’s okay to be Christian and Gay.

3)    Simply talk about it. Have an open and honest discussion about it.

4)    Put your foot down. “If you see something, say something.” Being silent when someone is belittle homosexuals doesn’t help anyone. You maybe a minority in our traditionally conservative church, but speaking out against injustice is always the right thing to do.

5)    Act redemptively. There is a growing gap between the Church and the homosexual community; we need to find ways to bridge that in a loving, redemptive way.

Again, this was written out of love, and a call for a small correction on an otherwise amazing course God has planned for this great Church. Thank you for reading this letter.

I’m a Nazarene and I am gay. I’m not the only one. 

The Gay Nazarene

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.

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.