God and the Gay Christian: A Wesleyan Perspective

When I read Matthew Vines’ new book, God and the Gay Christian, I wished my younger self had had this book. I was a closeted gay guy who attended the very conservative, evangelical Church of the Nazarene, which for all intents and purposes is the little brother to the United Methodist Church, both of which are under the WesleyanArminianism faith tradition.

Whenever there is a situation that is hard to reconcile the first place a Wesleyan gets help is from the Bible. But we, Wesleyans, don’t use the Bible alone. We approach the situation using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, a four-pronged test that helps us make sense of it. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral views the situation in the context of scripture, experience, reason and tradition. Vines’ book has put the issue of being a gay Christian perfectly into the framework of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.

In my many years as a closeted gay, I would secretly read articles about Christianity’s view of homosexuality and faith and feel hopeless. The pro-gay texts would negate the importance of scripture and emphasize experience. Which made me feel good because I wasn’t being told I was going to hell, but also made me feel heretical because I had to become a Marcionite to get there, which then made me feel like I was going to hell. The anti-gay texts would do the opposite; they negated all my experiences as a gay Christian in order to honor what the Bible says, and I’m back to hell without passing Go.

Vines’ book is different. He approaches the topic by placing high value to the role of scripture. The same way Wesleyans view it. He continues to balances that high value of scripture; with his experience of growing up a gay Christian in Kansas; defers to church tradition on its application of celibacy, marriage, and sexual orientation; and walks you through the reason and logic of supporting the case for same-sex marriage. This book could be the new benchmark in which all conversations about Christianity and homosexuality start.

The topic of homosexuality inside the Church is not without controversy. Critics are already saying that Harvard educated Vines has misused biblical hermeneutics (how scholars interpret the Bible) in order to manipulate his readers. I could write ad nauseam of the clichés and scare tactics opponents are saying about this book. My favorite critique says that Vines wrote the book as part of the larger gay agenda, timed perfectly to “introduce confusion within the evangelical firmament.” The Wesleyan Quadrilateral can test claims of the opposition too. How do they look on the backdrop of what we know of scripture on this topic; the experiences voiced by gay Christians; the traditions regarding the treatment of the other; and the reasoning’s behind such accusations?

I feel like God and the Gay Christian will have a depolarizing effect on a topic that has become über polarizing for the Church. A part of being Wesleyan means that I have to make room for everyone at the Lord’s Table, even those completely in opposition to my stance on same-sex marriage. Doing so unites us. Vines’ book lets us make room even for them.

Vines’ central theme isn’t solely finding Christian blessings of same-sex marriages, but rather our awareness of treating everyone as being created in the image of God. Vines masterfully bankrupts the church’s policy of exclusion and blanket celibacy for gays and lesbians by pointing out that we are to called and created be in relationship with one another because God is in relationship with God’s self (Father, Son, and Spirit). This lines up perfectly with the Wesleyan doctrine of social holiness. To paraphrase Jürgen Moltmann we are invited to participate in the perichoresis, or the circle dance, with God, and invite others to join.

My hope is that God and the Gay Christian will help people who are struggling to reconcile their personal faith with human sexuality like I was before I came out. Or maybe it will encourage people who are on the fence about this issue to boldly step out and engage in ways that help restore broken relationships and invite more people to the Table, and into the great circle dance.

Are You Being Served?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who still needs their feet to be wash?

Who is it at our church that is being overlooked?

Who is not here?

Who is not being served?

Let Them Eat Cake

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.

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

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.

Day of Silence 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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.