God and the Gay Christian: A Wesleyan Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Persecuted Church

Persecuted Church

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

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

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

Californian Adventure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much Ado About Nazarenes

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

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

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

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

Until We Meet Again

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

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

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

Switching Gears

Switching Gears

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

Q: What is my end game?

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

I’ve been going about it all wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

WWJD

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crisis on Two Earths

Crisis on Two Earths

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

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

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

The Christian World

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

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

The Gay World

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

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

It All Falls Down

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

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

The Shema

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

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

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

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

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

Sin

Sin

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

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

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

What is ‘sin’?

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

Who is a ‘Sinner’?

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

How does sexuality relate to sin?

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

What about the “practicing” gay?

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

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

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

What is “salvation”?

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

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

The other side

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

Advice to the Church of the Nazarene

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

Freedom

Cuz, Baby You're a Firework!

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

History of the Church: Part 1

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

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

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

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

Future of the Church: Part 1

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

Why stay?

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

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

This is NCN…

This is NCN...

Sometimes the most interesting part of the blog isn’t its articles, but its comments. Recently, I have begun following CNN.com’s ‘Belief Blog’. Look up the blog post called “Sexuality and the Bible”. Scroll through some of the comments. There used to be a picture of a Church of the Nazarene sign that had an interesting assortment of comments as well. I am disappointed with the close-minded comments it has received, but not surprised. I wish people would allow for the possibility that she, and the blog have merit.

I think “Sexuality and the Bible” provides a fresh look at what we’ve forgotten in our Protestant-Evangelical society. It challenges our assumptions we hold about what the Bible says about sexuality. She is supporting her claim with evidence; she is getting peer-reviewed; she is therefore credible.

Whether you are reading the CNN Belief Blog or Nazarene Ally, keep an open mind. I may not change your opinion, but at least hear me out. Try to see things from my perspective, as I will try to see things from yours so we can work together. I encourage you to read other people’s comments as well. You may learn from them, agree/disagree with, but we can keep a dialogue going. Please feel very strongly against me on topics, but let’s turn that passion into something productive.

People don’t like change. I am not making any pretenses here. I am challenging a view that has been held for 40 years in the Church of the Nazarene. I am mixing a black and white issue and making shades of gray. People don’t like that. At the end of the day, I want you do some deep introspection and ask yourself: “Why?”. Why do I believe this, this and this… This blog has helped me do just that. And in turn has helped me work through some of the mental challenges I have had with being a Nazarene pastor and being a homosexual pastor.

I hope this will eventually be a place where people can turn to if they facing bullying, or un-acceptance from home, school, friends, or even the Church. I’m not sure what that looks like, but that would be the goal. And I don’t know if my blog is even capable of being that place/voice, or if it is even reaching the people it needs to reach, but I do know this; it is helped me. There is something therapeutic about writing.

Food for Thought

Here’s another story from CNN’s Belief Blog: “Chick-Fil-A Controversy Shines Light on Restaurants Christian DNA” In summation, Chick-Fil-A made headlines when a store in Pennsylvania gave free sandwiches to an “Anti-Same-Sex Marriage” group. Both sides got up in arms about this action. For me personally it is a call reexamine the line between personal conviction and the actions we take because of those. Here are my two cents on the subject.

Cent #1

Chick-Fil-A is a privately owned business. They can give financially to whatever organization of their choosing. It shouldn’t surprise gay rights groups that a company with strong Christian-values would be inclined to donate to like-minded groups. My problem isn’t in whom they give food or money too, it’s that they remind you every five seconds they are a “Christian company.” When you build yourself a glass house, there better not be any stones around. People are looking for anything to bring it all down. I still have a problem with the phrase “Christian Company”. Call me old-fashioned but I think Jesus came saving people not corporations. Technically corporations are legal-people, so does that make Chick-Fil-A, Hobby Lobby or Mardel a legally Christian person? So will we see a Chick-Fil-A in heaven? (I hope so… bit of full disclosure: I love Chic-Fil-A’s food. I could eat it every day (except Sunday)).

Cent #2

I clearly am in the same-sex marriage camp. But there are those who are so surprised that many people aren’t. Some on this side are calling for boycotts of Chick-Fil-A (edit: and even removal from college campuses). The claim is don’t eat there because money paid for the goods will go to supporting anti-gay organizations. Which puts me in a moral dilemma because I love Chick-Fil-A. I don’t know how long I can go without a #3 meal Value-sized with a Sweet Tea. To them I say just find support elsewhere. We are in America after all and both sides have the right to share their opinion. Edit: I’ve heard that Papa John’s is now on a list of gay-boycotts. I think I’d be hard pressed to find many companies whose owner’s values lined up perfectly with mine. Growing up my mom’s friend told her not to buy Proctor & Gamble because they give money directly to the Church of Satan. I think I have a mental barrier between product I use and CEO’s beliefs because of that.

Cent #3

Okay, I know I said two cents, but hear me out. How people react to events like ‘Sandwich-gate’ show the values we wish to express. Both for good and bad, passion for something is the chief motivator for a call to action. But the types of actions we do determine how the opposite side will react. And event like this can be the perfect platform to show a loving and caring response to those on the other side. Folks on my side need to be careful how to response. Too often we’ll just react the same way our opposing side acts. I’m not sure if boycotts are Christ-like, but if we must boycott, let’s do it Christianly; let’s do it peaceably; let’s do it without shouting. Angry response only begets more anger. And if the shouting match continues we all end up looking like that church in Kansas who likes to protest.

Get Out

This is a typical case study of America. A typical case study of journalism. A typical case study of the Church. Stories like this will pop up every now and then, be all rage, and then drop off the face of world. But if the Church is too involved it ends up being on the culture’s radar for just enough time to do some damage. ‘Sandwich-gate’ is a perfect example of why the Church of the Nazarene needs to be separating herself from the pop-culture-24/7-news-cycle. It keeps the church from taking a side in “Sandwich-gate”, because there are more important Kingdom issues to be paying attention to.

But since we are Nazarenes, we are uniquely called to eat our sandwiches with the poor, the lonely, the disenfranchised, the outcast, the wanderer, the orphans, and the widow, are we not?

DADT & COTN

Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Church of the Nazarene

After 17 years, the policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) has been repealed. DADT was set up by the United States in 1993 under the assumption that openly gay troops would cause internal conflict and thus productivity on the battlefield would be compromised. So homosexuals could be in the armed forces, just not open about their sexuality. Any homosexual act would be grounds for dismissal.

There are many Christians that are trying to fight this. Now why would something the US military does effect those of us in the Church? Are we not an international peace-supporting body? I have found two ways to look at this. The first way deals with the deeper issue of the Church marrying herself to the State… instead of to Christ. (Of which I will only begin to scratch the surface on the cause and effects of this relationship). The second way deals with how DADT was the secular equivalent of discriminatory policies evangelical-protestant churches, including the Church of the Nazarene and Nazarene Institutions of Higher Education, have regarding homosexuals in ministry. With DADT gone there will be increased scrutiny from outside the church for those policies to be repealed.

An Unholy Matrimony

Ever wonder why there is a United States flag in the sanctuary? Ever wonder why the “Star-Spangled Banner” is in Sing to the Lord? It is as if scripture reads “Verily I say unto you, ‘Therefore what Constantine brings together let no one separate’”. These two have been in an on-again/off-again relationship for 1600 years! The ‘God & Country’ movement needs to end[1].

‘God and Country’ churches have an interesting view of America. One the one hand, they whole-heartedly love America. They have no problem with saying the Pledge of Allegiance before a sermon and their church calendar includes Mother’s Day and the Forth of July as official Church Holidays. And justify going to war with loaded words of freedom, justice, and patriotism. And you if you want to keep your job, Pastor, you better keep the flag in the sanctuary. But on the other hand, they feel as if at any moment the rights of the Church will be taken away by the State, and they will be persecuted. This fear can only be squelched by ‘America turning back to God.’ America lost her way after prayer was removed from schools [2] They are similar to fundamentalist in theology, and view that our best days for America, and the Church were in the past.

Clearly there is a flaw connecting both hands. The “on the other hand” mentality sees the repeal of DADT as just another example of how America is slipping away and needs to be brought back. Since America’s increased acceptance of homosexuality has put a big strain on the relationship. The Church is wrapped up in the affairs of the State, when it needs to be wrapped up in the affairs of Christ.

Yet again we see the ‘God & Country’ movement using fear to control its members. Screaming from the rooftops that the end of DADT will be an instant victory for our enemies, the sun will stop shining, and the British will invade once more, burn the White House, and put us all under the evil tyrannical reign of Queen Elizabeth; for those not used to satire, that was satire. In other words, the unfounded prediction that life as we know it will cease to exist if 10% of the population get rights has been used over and over again. And here we are, DADT was repeal, I saw the sunrise, I went to church freely, I paid for my Christmas gifts using USA legal tender, and Queen Elizabeth is celebrating Boxing Day in England.

Secular American society has been here before too. People regardless of background use fear as a means of control, and all around contempt for any sort of change. People don’t like change. Even with all these changes in society over the past 200 years, America still endured. Didn’t America freak out when African-Americans were integrated into the army? And once again when women were integrated? Does it not stand to reason that if the armed forces survived those two integrations it will survive this third? Do gays and straights not both affirm that they will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and such? The Church wants so desperately to be married to the State again. But there is a reason why they broke up. The Church’s systems are not those of the State. The Church is bending her systems to be more like the State instead of being more like Christ. The State often goes in a different direction than the Church, so that is nothing new[3].

The Trickle Down Effect

The Manual is a wonderful resource for us as Nazarenes to use that helps us navigate life by helping us define what we believe. It is a changing document. Nazarene Polity allows for it to change. It sets up the framework for how each church goes about being ‘the Church’. But Nazarenes are humans. And humans, myself included, have a natural tendency to not like change. Do you remember the argument used when dancing, mixed bathing, and movie watching were shifted to ‘use discretion?’ It is the same argument used to convince people homosexuals should not be in our churches. For if they do ever become our pastors, it will signal the end of life as we Nazarenes know it. I’m no genius, but if the repeal of DADT didn’t cause the end of America, as we know it, then the repeal of Manual statements 37, 437.8, and Nazarene University Student Life policies that prohibit homosexuality, won’t cause the end of the Church of the Nazarene.

So what do those policies say? The current Manual has several statements on sexuality. The first of which comes to us, not in the Articles of Faith, but in the Covenant of Christian Conduct (Part D. Human Sexuality 37). This outlines that homosexuality is a sin, and subject to the wrath of God. Interesting to note, it is the only place in the Manual where a sin equals the wrath of God. As if to say if I murder, steal, commit adultery, lie, or all out willfully step away from the known Will of God I will only receive the ‘Disappointment of God’. In addition it says that the COTN ‘deplores’ anything that would ‘imply compatibility between Christian morality and the practice of homosexuality.’

Church of the Nazarene please define for us what it is to practice homosexuality.

The next time homosexuality is discussed in the Manual is under grounds for removal section. (J. The Restoration of Members of the Clergy to Church Membership and Good Standing 437.8). This designates homosexuality as one of three types of sin that are never eligible for restoration. And designates people who fall into these three categories as unfit for service on any level of ministry. I’ve asked Headquarters, and they’ve said “no”, I can’t even be an openly gay usher.

An undated (2005-2009) article about homosexuality called “Pastoral Perspectives: on Homosexuality” refines the stance on sexuality and sin. It mildly adjusts the last paragraph of Article 37: Human Sexuality. And calls for the distinction between being a practicing homosexual, and a non-practicing homosexual. It is by no means a victory for the Homosexual-Nazarene, but it a step in the right direction. It does suggest that there is some compatibility between the two after all. Again, Church of the Nazarene please define for us what “practicing homosexuality” looks like, and compare that to “practicing heterosexuality”.

The Manual’s stance gives support to Nazarene Universities which set out their own policies on punishments for not conforming to the Student Life codes of conduct. The 9 Colleges and Universities in the USA/CAN Region all have differing phrasing, some more polite than others, but the point is clear. You can’t be a homosexual and be apart of our community. Some of the more polite ones are eerily similar to DADT.

In addition to our fine Nazarene Institutions of Higher Education, the local church has support to make claims that homosexuals are an abomination, DADT should be enforced, and same-sex marriage is wrong. At the local level the stigma is perpetuated, and labels are thrown on to any would be Allies. Thus causing them to be quiet. So The Manual’s statements trickle down to creating a culture of fear, hate, discrimination and paranoia of homosexuals at university.

I know there are Allies at every single church in our denomination. I know there are people who will love gays regardless of what the Manual says. To which I say: THANK YOU, we cannot do this alone! So my quarrel is not with the every members of the Church of the Nazarene, but just with those troublesome policies. After all, it is people who are the church, so am I not to be included just because of a policy?

In a later blog post, I will discuss how homosexuality doesn’t even fit into our Nazarene view of sin to begin with, and will pick apart the pieces of The Manual.

The Call

In America, soldiers volunteer. In the Church, pastors are called. Like it or not, I am called by God to preach the Gospel. And I will continue to preach long after the COTN has ‘deplored’ me. What makes a homosexual pastor different from a heterosexual pastor when preaching the same Gospel? Does the Bible not say that Gospel will never return void[4]? There has got to be more to the story than just homosexuals are sinners and therefore unfit for the collar. For if sin is the lowest common denominator that makes one unfit, who is fit to be a pastor? Answer: No one. Because our call comes from God, and not the Church, how can we, the COTN, deny someone the right to preach the Gospel? Answer: We can’t.

What happens next?

Here is my prediction: Once DADT is fully repealed; sadly it will take a death before anything happens. A death of a gay or lesbian soldier, active or inactive, with a partner will cause the change of hospital policies, rights of spouses, funeral and marriage issues. One lawsuit could make its way to the Supreme Court and finally make a ban on same-sex marriage to be ruled unconstitutional. Sadly we in the Church of the Nazarene could also be one death away from facing this problem head on. Will it take the suicide of a bullied homosexual teen that attends the Church of the Nazarene for the church wake up? I pray that will not be the case. The very reason I am doing this is because I want to prevent that from ever happening again.

The Church of the Nazarene must remove all language or statements that discriminate against homosexuals.

  1. I bet I just got blacklisted from ever-stepping foot into Branson, Missouri for that, but its true. If rights for homosexuals weren’t my cause, I’d be campaigning for the separation of Nazarenes from the state. 
  2. I haven’t seen it at all in the Church of the Nazarene, but in many churches that subscribe to the ‘God & Country’ movement, once America falls, that will usher in the End Times. But that goes into pre/post tribulation stuff, which is a topic for a completely different blog.
  3. Again, just barely scratching the surface of this complicated issue.
  4. Even if you still believe that homosexuality is a sin, the Church long ago decided that pastors, who were practicing sinners, still were able to preach the Gospel, and serve the Eucharist. See Donatus and Arius for more details.

Peter, Paul, and Phineas?

Nazarenes: A History

Just like Maria in The Sound of Music, “let’s start at very beginning.” In order to understand where we are now, we must look back at our roots, our heritage, our history, and what led our Church, our people, our issues to be ripe at this hour. The story is long and complicated, but it must be told as well as understood in order to understand our present state of being and direct our path into the future.

So let’s go back to 1908 and the founding of the Church of the Nazarene. If you remember from Caravan’s, there was 3 groups that merged to form what we now call the “Church of the Nazarene”. These groups were from the West, East and South. (And they picked Kansas City as headquarters because it was centrally located.)

The Church Founders were a hodge-podge group from about 17 different ‘parent denominations’ and were scattered across the country. But all were motivated by a sense that there ‘parent denominations’ were dropping the ball when it came to social justice and holiness. Chiefly among them was Phineas F. Breese. He knew that there was a better way to be the Church. He sought out similar thinking groups from the East and South in order to create a national church. He understood the meaning of ‘together we stand, but divided we fall’.

In order to get the South on board with the vision of the one unified “Pentecostal-Holiness Nazarene Church” some compromises had to be made. Some were small, such as the consolidation of three periodicals into one. Budgets were too tight back then to support all three. Nazarene Publishing House was moved to Kansas City because it was centrally located. (Headquarters was soon to follow). The Herald of Holiness (now called Holiness Today) was born out of the necessity of getting all three groups on board.

Other compromises had larger ramifications. Such as the view-point on sin. The West and East were ready to merge. They held several “General Assemblies” and met in Chicago to make the merger official. But the delegation from the South was noticeably missing. The South did not attend the meetings in Chicago because it held a very different viewpoint on sin than the West and East held. Whereas the East and West viewed sin more as an attitude or disposition, the South viewed sin as an act (viewable and listable). Even though Phineas F. Breese fought determinedly to change the South’s opinion, he caved on the issue of the nature of sin in order for the Church of the Nazarene to be born. This wasn’t an easy choice to make, but the South had more people, so without them the East-West merger wouldn’t have been strong and it wouldn’t have accomplished the goal of unifying the Holiness Churches in America.

With the South satisfied at this doctrinal change, they were ready to host the 2nd General Assembly in Pilot Point, Texas. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Nazarene: A History

Who were the first Nazarenes? They were humans. Prone to making mistakes, but sought out God’s Will in spite of their shortcomings. They came from 17 different church backgrounds including Methodist, Baptist, Quaker, and yes Catholics.

So church created by outcasts, set out to create a church for outcasts. They were committed to creating social change, and they saw the Holy Spirit as the means to bring about that change. The West saw homelessness and alcoholism as the things they wanted to change in society. These were things that blocked people from being holy, or entirely sanctified. These early Nazarenes, shared common protestant thinking of the era when it came to church buildings and church interiors; they would be plain and simple so people can focus on God. That is why we have a prohibition on alcohol, and why many churches have plain rectangles whitewashed interiors. (However they managed to get all Nazarene Churches to smell the same is a mystery beyond me).

The Next Chapter

The ‘second generation’ Nazarenes inherited the church in the 1930s and would shape the church for the next 50 years or so all based on Phineas’ compromise on sin. The ‘second generation’ Nazarenes led Church into a legalistic era.

This era was characterized by seeking to list all sins, and do and don’ts for the Christian. The idea being if we know all the sin there is, we can avoid them all. As legalism took over it quickly went beyond the scope of pertaining to thing ‘necessary to salvation’ and went into common social issues of the day (originally called Special Issues in early Manuals). It was as if the Leviticus writers where writing our Manual, shaping our Christian lives by listing what style of clothes to wear and what activities to refrain from.

As the Legalism Era began to wane, individual churches that did not like the ‘loosening of rules’ broke away from the parent Church of the Nazarene. Although small these churches mark the first schism in the Church of the Nazarene. The Bible Missionary and Pilgrim Nazarene church (centered in Oklahoma/Texas and Pennsylvania respectively) still bear the marks of early Nazarene Manuals in their current manuals.

The Legalism Era ended as gradually as it began. Starting in the 1980s the three General Assemblies revisited the “Contemporary Social Issues” and advised Nazarenes to “use discretion”. (Even though they have been ok for near 30 years, Nazarene dancing and movie joke still dominate Nazarene culture). But more importantly, even though the Use Discretion Era has begun, legalism is rears its ugly head in the Church.

The Use-Discretion Era

The Use-Discretion Era created a rift.

Over time it has widened. One side sees the end of legalism as a good thing, because the things being addressed were not effecting salvation, and thus did not affect holiness. This group focuses on restoring Nazarenes to the essentials of faith. A move towards Phineas’ Western view of sin.

The other side, saw the shift as a watering down of the faith, and thus focused on restoring the Nazarenes to what they perceived to be ‘fundamental’ and ‘traditional’ beliefs. Still keeping the South’s view of sin.

These two forces would square off in a series of battles starting in the late 90s and early 00s. This was known as the Worship Wars. One the surface it was simply about musical tastes. But scratch the surface and you’ll see the true cause was resistance to change, and fear of abandoning tradition. Fearing more schism, pastors opted to have two services; same message, different music.

During the Use-Discretion Era (1980-2001), the Church was becoming larger, and more international (a very good thing). But it was also becoming more and more involved in the United States political realm (God & Country Theology, a very bad thing).

Present Day

After the attacks of September 11th, Evangelical-Protestant denominations across the country had a new religious fervor. The Church of the Nazarene was no different. It was beginning to reap the God & Country roots it sowed years ago. The rift continues to drive people apart, now time two services can’t fix this.

From 2001-2010 there was an onslaught of issues that were perceived as a threat by the people standing on the more ‘traditional/conservative’ side of the rift. This issues ranged from homosexuality, to emergent theology, to postmodernism, to abortion, to prayer in school, to communion.

So here we are in 2010. There are groups on both side of the rift. Both sides have used scripture to back up their claims (when in doubt proof-text). I’m sad to report the rift is widening. Promoted by cultural conservatism in reaction to the rapidly changing culture, the dialogue between the two camps is all but extinct. And so I fear schism is not far away. Without a healthy dialogue there can be no way to close the rift. As I stated previously, this is a long and complicated story.

This brief history still doesn’t explain why homosexuality became the flagship sin (that has another history all its own).

What would Peter and Paul do?

One issue, circumcision, became quite the touchy subject for the early Church Fathers. Peter was adamant that in order to become a Christian you must be circumcised first. Paul said it didn’t matter because Jesus came and changed everything.

Growing up, pastors would also preach against Peter. How stupid he was for being so narrow-minded; how clearly wrong he was in his thinking. Peter is vilified because of his thinking. But Peter wasn’t wrong in his thinking, he was just stuck in a paradigm. Peter’s thought process is this: “This path worked for me, so all must be on the same path.” But his paradigm of thinking would have limited the goals of Church. The book of Acts documents the first rift in the fast growing early church. What is important is that spat between Paul and Peter did not cause a schism! (Surprisingly the Church held together until 1054.)

Likewise I firmly believe that dialogue between the two groups can heal the rift between the those think the Church and Christianity is for heterosexuals only, and those who think sexuality doesn’t matter for salvation.

Closing Thoughts

I humbly present to you today that homosexuality is the Church of the Nazarene’s circumcision issue. Do people need to convert from gay to straight in order to be Christian or belong to our Church? Absolutely not. Why then does the Church force that heterosexuality on us? As if to say heterosexuality is a de facto ticket to heaven. The Paul-Peter spat put to rest any and all ideas of a litmus test prior to salvation. Look at Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (TNIV).” Is it not safe to say that Paul didn’t think labels mattered in the Church? So is it not safe to read it like this too: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, neither rich nor poor, neither gay nor straight, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (TNIV).”?

God sees us for who we really are. God is the one that separates the weeds from the wheat. That’s not our job. Our job is to love. When we love God, we end up loving everyone. Funny how that works out. So labels like drunk, rapist, gossip, shy, lonely, handsome, tall, coward, or liar fall away as we start to see people the way God sees people. We begin to see rifts that formerly divided us start to heal.

Schism is heresy.

Two steps forward…

Two Steps Forward...

Before we go any further, let’s build a foundation on how to read and converse with this blog.

Imagine we are sitting a large table filled with home made mashed potatoes, turkey, corn on the cob, BBQ Chicken, and gallons upon gallons of sweet tea. Now picture yourself sitting next to me as we share this meal. As we eat, we talk. We remember our manners, we don’t cross-talk, we keep our elbows off the table, and are respectful and considerate. We are not the only two at the table. As dinner begins we talk about sports, weather, movies, and everything in between. After our meal, we to shake hands, and say “Until next time!” Many times when Jesus preached, there was food! There is something about breaking bread that changes the dynamic of conversation, even if we don’t agree. The internet is a powerful tool but it can be dangerous tool too. Let’s all remember our baptism.

What this blog is not:

  1. An attack – I love the Church of the Nazarene; I believe in this Church; I have a call to be in this Church; I will protect this Church. I am trying to warn the Church of the slippery slope it is flirting with. But I am not wanting to attack it, any member or any specific [local] church.
  2. The End or the Start – I don’t know everything. This blog is not to be final say in the matter, but merely jumping into the conversation already going.
  3. The Da Vinci Code – I’m not using this blog to drop hints on my identity. I’m a Nazarene; I’m a pastor; I’m in the United States (that narrows it down). I absolutely hate the fact that I have to hide. If this blog leads to my ‘outing’ so be it, but my message is more important than who I am.

What this blog is:

  1. More than just my opinion – It’s a weird hybrid of how I see the world: what is, what was, what will be, & what should be. I’m very idealistic. Blogs by nature are very opinion based, but the Truth, and reliability are sprinkled throughout. Promise.
  2. Release – Normally I post when I am at the breaking point. When I can’t stand something I’ve seen in the news or have been mulling over for days, I’ll post. It helps me vent; it keeps me sane.
  3. Policy – I’m developing it as we go along. I do know some parts of an endgame in mind. For example, I’d like to see the Manual remove the final paragraph the Covant of Christian conduct regarding Homosexuality  (Human Sexuality 37.0) and the remove the ban on homosexual leadership in paragraph 437.8.
  4. A safe place – A place where people can come to find encouragement and hope. (Lofty & painfully optimistic goals, I know.) But this should be a safe place non-the-less. If you passionately disagree, that’s wonderful, but count to ten, pray, then post. (I will do the same.  I get passionate about this issue, so sometimes maybe I need to count to 20, let me know if I’ve overstepped my bounds.)

Writing Style:

I am an academic at heart. Think of each blog as a mini-chapter of a greater thesis (another lofty goal). I try to keep my post plain, and to the point. Somethings that are linked, or in [ ] or ( ) are my funny little side-comments, or rabbit hole items of interest, or pictures/media that help explain my point or reference better. I do have a sense of humour that I realize might not come across in the written word. For that I’m sorry. I assure you I mean no offense. I will gladly re-phrase or remove something that is objectionable, as per keeping with the goal of this being a safe place.

I am not a writer by nature. So my style is evolving, and I need all the grammar hints and tips I can muster. If you spot a grammatical/spelling errors/misc typos of any kind let me know. (I’m a working progress) From time to time, I edit my own work, but I am not opposed to extra help! (Or guest authors for that matter.)

Big C or Little C?

The word ‘Church’, with a uppercase ‘C’ means the one-&-only-holy-catholic-univseral-apostalic Church. But can also mean, either explicit or inferred, the Church in America, or refer to a larger sub-group of churches, or it will be short for the Church of the Nazarene as a denomination. Generally speaking, a big C means exclusively the Church of the Nazarene. A lowercase ‘c’ will generally mean a particular church, or building, or a non-specific denomination or group of Christians. Context is key.

Comments Welcome:

Questions, comments, concerns, more thoughts? All comments and emails are read by the author. Above all, tell us your story! We’d love to hear it. Please keep comments professional, and in manner best befitting Christianity. Please refrain from personal attacks. Keep a good level decorum. Feel free to disagree. Nazarene Ally does, however, reserve the right to delete slanderous, blatantly rude, not constructive, or offensive comments.

Now that the house keeping is done, let’s dig in; the food’s gettin’ cold!