The Nazarene Church turns its back on its own children to remain comfortable.
“When you are having a hard time, smile! In seven minutes, you will actually begin to feel happy.”
My beloved missionary uncle gave us this premarital advice in our only meeting before the wedding. At 21 years old, I was marrying a much older man in less than six months from our first date. His loving advice works for the occasional stressor, but was insufficient to help me manage this relationship.
After 15 years of marriage, I found myself walking down a long hallway to the nurse’s station at the psychiatric hospital. For months, I had been separated from my husband, but in the same home. I could no longer pretend my Wife Role. When my children were not in my care, my depression was so deep that I was sleeping 22 hours a day. My concerned friend called my mother. Mom asked her to take me to my doctor. My doctor referred me to this mental hospital.
I knew my life would not ever return to normal. I wouldn’t survive it. But, I didn’t know how to follow this forbidden, necessary path so I could survive being Me. I was in shock.
This is my story.
My Nazarene Credentials
I came into the world with strong Nazarene credentials. I was born in Central America. My parents were Nazarene missionaries. My “relatives” were other missionaries and their families. I considered them aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. We were moved to a different country every single four-year term, with a furlough in the United States between each. That was ten international moves by the age of 17.
I still have a cartoon I drew in my youth of my missionary uncle who was in charge of missionary assignments. He was sitting at his desk in Kansas City with a chess board of Missionary Roles in front of him. My family members were the chess pieces. My chess piece wept as he moved it.
Both my parents graduated from a Nazarene college and were ordained elders in the Church of the Nazarene. My mother graduated from Nazarene Theological Seminary.
At age five, I was saved in my Nazarene church in Central America. I said the Jesus Prayer wholeheartedly on my knees again at age seven in a Nazarene house church in another war-torn country. I had to make sure the first time wasn’t just a dream. I didn’t want to accidentally go to hell.
I was baptized by my dad at age ten in the same war-torn country. I learned from the wars that life is short and people are precious. I lived each day as if it were my last—because it could be. I was entirely sanctified in a Nazarene revival in a South American country at age eleven. I truly wanted God to know I was committed. I loved people with all my heart.
I came to the United States and graduated from a Nazarene university with honors. I participated in Nazarene college missions trips to three countries, often in the role of translator.
I went to Nazarene Theological Seminary where I found myself to be a credential for unmarried future Nazarene ministers. Future male ministers needed a wife to be able to get a church.
I fell into a relationship with someone who seemed as disinterested in me as I was in the meat market at the seminary. I got my M-R-S degree and fell into the Wife Role. Soon after getting his Wife Credential, my husband had a church and was ordained an elder in the Church of the Nazarene.
I stated to numerous people that this felt like an arranged marriage by God. I hadn’t ever felt enamored by anybody the way I saw my friends besotted over the years.
Despite my husband leaving the pulpit after two ministries, I remained active in my local church as a Nazarene youth leader. I was on the Nazarene church board. I led a Nazarene women’s retreat and about a dozen Nazarene inner healing retreats over the weekends. I was a small group leader for my Nazarene church. I loved people!
One friendship deepened. I fought the feeling for over a year. There was no kissing nor undressing. Yet, my heart beat faster when she was near. I hung on her every word. I found myself able to love her more deeply than I had loved anybody in my entire life. I didn’t have any words to describe this experience because at age 36, I simply had no other similar experience. And, she was a woman, so I considered her a “good friend”.
It took over a year for my being to realize that I was in a state of such cognitive dissonance that there was no returning from it. My mind, heart, body, and spirit were not in agreement. Peace would mean all of me would have to align. I didn’t know how to find peace. I didn’t understand what was happening.
I was finally able to tell this to my counselor at the psychiatric hospital. She reflected those words back to me. And, she used the “L” word—Lesbian. I was shocked because I had not considered that I might be That. It was a distant word that was on TV, or used derogatorily by “good evangelical people”. Lesbian was a label used to identify “sinful, depraved people”.
It had never dawned on me that feeling attraction to someone was a natural part of being human. And until now, I had never experienced attraction to anybody that involved a physical, emotional, and spiritual response to said person. Not once.
I felt the curtain draw back in this very dark life that I had intended to sleep through. Sunshine filled my being, and I was able to see myself clearly. I was being introduced to my True Self—for the first time in my life.
This counselor did not judge me. She just saw me.
The bell rang gloriously and my life finally made sense. If I was to survive, I could not close the curtain again. I could no longer be a Nazarene chess piece—whether as Wife, Pianist, Church Board Member, or Missionary Kid. From this day forth, I would need to be Me. Just me.
I needed to do this right, for the sake of my three small children. I felt protective and longed for them to feel free to be. I was grateful I was going through this experience for them.
I told my supportive friend of my conversation with the counselor, and about the window of sunshine. I told her I did not expect this to be reciprocal. I just needed to be honest about what was happening to me.
She was in shock because I had named it. She grew up judging that lesbian label, too. Over time, she recognized her own denial about herself as well. She chose to accept our relationship fully. I’m so glad. I have never needed the seven-minute smile to fool me into feeling happy with her or be at peace in the relationship.
The Next Step
After my hospitalization, the first thing I did was to research what the Bible actually says about me. I knew this was Nature, not Nurture. And, I couldn’t wrap my head around why a loving God would create me and then forbid me from having a natural physical response within a truly healthy relationship.
I found the seven Clobber Verses. It’s literally how it feels when the Bible is used to bash someone over the head with judgment. It was not difficult to explore the Bible verses about homosexual people in their original languages. They have entirely different meanings! I realized “good Christian people” aren’t doing their biblical research.
I learned that there is much literature demonstrating there have been lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in every culture of every time on every continent since history was first recorded. There is death for those from rejecting cultures. And, individuals thrive in cultures that do not reject them. That rejection is what leads to self-destruction. Without it, individuals are just as healthy as anyone else.
My pastor wanted to be supportive, but was unsure what the denomination required of him in my situation. I arranged for him to meet with a missionary uncle who could speak for the Nazarene denomination. Together, we learned that I was “allowed” to sit in the audience and worship in my local church. But, my active loving service to others was no longer admissible by the Nazarene denomination.
Just like that.
The Right Amount of Rejection
It seemed the goal of my former church friends is what mine would have been, if I were in their shoes. They were seeking the right amount of biblically sanctioned rejection. I wasn’t planning to leave my church. So, over the course of the next six years, I recognized various categories of rejection. I still experience some after 15 years.
Shunning: I walk by those who once were good friends, smile and say “hello”. They literally look straight through me as though I don’t exist. It is so shocking I have to laugh.
Gossiping: Others are determined to love me “in Jesus’ name”. Their exaggerated smiles show everyone how loving they can be to this scandalous woman. Yet, I am aware of the incessant demonizing chatter about me to anyone that will listen. These may be cloaked as “prayer requests”. Social media has made this explosive. This choice is particularly painful for me.
Disappearing: There were those who vanished so quickly it was like magic. Poof! Gone. At least these folks were honest.
Intervening: Less than 48 hours after being discharged from the hospital, a few of my former friends wanted to follow Matthew 18:16 and have an intervention. They never asked “Are you ok?” or “What happened?”. I was just beginning to be able to get out of bed every day. But, they wanted me to get back in line asap.
Evangelizing: “I believe in the Bible” might be the start of it. “But, I love you anyway.”
So, a judgmental relationship with me is evidence of their “generosity”? Do they not realize that I can have a very thoughtful, well-researched discussion with them about their Bible verses? I am still Me, even though I am gay. When I hear this, I have to sigh.
In fact, people who have rejected me have never asked me one question about my experience. I am no longer a valid human. I wear a Scarlet Letter “L” in sharpie on my forehead. It is the only part of me that some “good church people” can see.
These responses are all forms of Social Rejection. Research demonstrates that when people are socially rejected for their sexual orientation or gender identity, their rates of suicidality, addiction, self-harm, and high-risk behaviors are disproportionately higher—particularly when “conversion therapy” has been provided.
I understand why.
Of Chess and Love
The Nazarene chess game requires a performance-oriented God that judges, rejects, and sacrifices its own. The Elders don’t want to look up from their “righteous pursuits” to truly see and love their own children.
The Children of the Church have been forsaken. They are the ones who know what love is, and what it is not.
Love means each person has value. Love means we don’t judge people because they are left-handed (10% of the population), Black (12.3% of the U.S.), or gay (10% of the population). Love means left-handed people aren’t forced to write with the wrong hand, as when my left-handed grandmother was a child.
Love listens and learns from others. Love means one’s heart, mind, body, and spirit are in agreement. Love is a big breath of clean air.
Love is acceptance. It is a cup of coffee, a smile, an embrace, or a “Tell me your story.” It’s not complicated.
Life is short. People are precious.
It’s time to burn the chess board.
Kara Hudson has been a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor for a community mental health agency in Nampa, Idaho since 2013. Kara is the Lead Clinician for the Intensive Outpatient Program for high-risk adults and adolescents. Kara and her wife celebrate 15 joyful years together this year. They have two adult children and one teenager still at home.