The Church of the Nazarene is not a safe place for children.
I have always known I wanted children. It was a soul-deep, logically fueled desire that I simply could not ignore. After two miscarriages, one of which landed me in the hospital, nine months of anxiety and prayers, and twelve hours of labor, I held my first child in my arms. From the moment I laid my hand on their sweet head, I knew. I knew that I would give my last breath to protect this gift. And when children 2 and 3 were born, I knew that no one could come between them and me, that my fierce love would always choose their well-being.
It was a similar reaction when I found my place in the Church of the Nazarene. 23 years old and feeling the call to ministry, I had no church home. I found the local Church of the Nazarene via Google, and when I read the Statement of Faith, I saw the bones of my own salvation story written out. I exclaimed in recognition, “That’s it! That’s what happened to me!” When we attended our first service, the Holy Spirit said “stay.” And so, we did.
We stayed through those miscarriages and through the births of our next two children. We stayed through my local licensing and district licensing. We stayed through my ordination interviews and service. We stayed through move after move, deployments and retirement. But I can no longer stay. Because I want my kids to live.
It is well documented that the suicide rates for LGBTQ+ (queer) identifying children are significantly higher than for other children and youth. Similarly, we know having just one affirming and accepting adult or community can decrease the risk of suicide and the rates of feeling suicidal or considering suicide. There are stacks of evidence that queer children and youth are more likely to be queer in families with other queer members. Given how many queer clergy, queer members, and church members with queer family are in the Church of the Nazarene, statistically, every Church of the Nazarene is likely to have at least one queer person, probably a child or young adult, who is likely to consider suicide while attending that church.
It might even be one of my kids, because I am one of those queer clergy. Being married to a man for 16 years made it easy to be queer in the Church of the Nazarene. No one ever questioned me, no one ever worried about me, and our polity said that my own attractions were not a sin. So, I was happy to stay in the Church that educated me, taught me, and affirmed my call. I was delighted to be a part of the Nazarene family.
But as my children got older and I began to learn about the likelihood that one of them could be queer, and I began to learn about the risks of religious trauma and spiritual abuse for queer children, my perspective shifted. I began to look at our church through the eyes of someone who had no protective cover of a “normal” marriage, and what I saw terrified and saddened me. Church members prayed for their gay children to be delivered from the clutches of evil. Not even from romantic or sexual relationships, but just from the attractions they felt. Church Board members would espouse the evils of homosexuality, decry the brokenness of being transgender, and pray against the devil’s own work in the minds of queer folks. I was told by a District Superintendent that I could never out my queerness to church members. All of these were fully against our own Manual but accepted and encouraged by leadership, and they still defended their position using the Manual’s statement on human sexuality. Then I saw how unsafe and unstable it is for our queer and questioning kids to be in the Church of the Nazarene.
Still, I chose to stay. I love my mother church, and I love my brothers and sisters in faith. We often disagree, but that is how iron sharpens iron. I have been fully willing to be confined by the doctrines I agreed to when I made my ordination vows. I have been fully willing to be quiet about parts of who I am. I have been fully capable of facing the onslaught of unintentionally hateful talk around people like me. I have gently preached the gospel of love to the same folks who would swear I have the Devil in me because of things I can’t control (despite prayers and tears and struggles for years). I made this choice, over and over, because the Holy Spirit once told me to stay and never told me to leave. I had no problem submitting myself to the risks and pains of being queer in a non-affirming denomination when the Spirit called me to do it. But that is a choice I can only make for me. I have no right to decide to place my children in such dangerous environments.
It does not matter if my children identify as queer. What matters is that I would never know. For as long as I pastor a church that does not accept all of them, that will not love all of them, that speaks out against a hidden part of themselves, then they will never disclose such a thing to me. If my children cannot feel safe in the arms of the church I serve, how could they feel safe with me? If my children cannot feel safe in the arms of the Church, how can they ever trust the God whose name we claim?
It only takes one affirming place for a child to feel safe and loved for who they are. It only takes one adult who affirms their gender and sexuality to prevent suicide. It only takes one place where they will not be bullied or shamed for them to believe they can have a good life full of love and hope. And I want to be that person, that place. I want the Church to be that place. I want all children—mine and yours and the ones I’ll never know—to know that the Church of the Nazarene is a place so in tune with the love of the Triune God that they boldly declare “let the little children come to me.” Without qualifiers. Without disclaimers. Without spiritual violence.
So, I am leaving the Church of the Nazarene. Because it is not, and never has been, a safe place for me. Because it is not, and never has been, a loving place for all children. Because I am deeply pro-life. Because I believe in a God who does not hate. Because I believe that love covers a multitude of sins.
I am leaving the Church of the Nazarene because I want my children to live.
Taryn Eudaly is, at the time of writing, an ordained Elder in the Church of the Nazarene. She is a graduate of Portland Seminary (George Fox University) with a focused interest on the feminine roots of Holiness Churches in the 20th century. She lives in Portland, OR, with her three children and a hoard of coffee.