S. Vondale Allen
You may think you have heard it said, “homosexuality is an abomination,” but I believe experience is calling us to look more closely. May we come to lead with love. May the stance of the Church of the Nazarene become one that is governed by “What does love look like in this situation?”
Playing in the surf one day, my husband and I, with our daughters, were standing in the ocean with our backs to the waves, allowing them to catch us off guard. We were deep enough in the water to keep our footing, but the waves were strong enough to cause our daughters to stumble a bit if we did not keep a good grip on them. Some of the waves would hit us harder than others and we were having quite a few belly-laughs, when occasionally a stronger wave would sweep their feet out from under them. They were in no danger, as we had a tight grip on them, but for a second or two, there was the slightest bit of uncertainty—and then their little giggles would tumble out from deep inside, as we held them tightly. Distracted by our fun, we were caught off-guard when unexpectedly, a much larger wave rolled over us. This massive wave rolled my husband and me, with both our girls in tow, tumbling us over, rolling us in the rocks and broken shell bits. I held on to my daughter desperately, unable to figure out which way was up as the waves kept coming. Every time I thought I knew where to plant my feet, another wave would roll over us and I had to try again to get my bearings. Even the smaller waves, hitting before we could get our feet planted on solid ground, had enough force to once again send us under, gasping for breath.
Recent life circumstances have brought this memory to the surface. A new kind of wave, unseen and unexpected, has rolled over, toppled, tumbled, pulled me under, dashed me against all manner of debris, lurking under the surface of my life. Though not certain, I had some awareness of something pulling at me from within, and at times I sensed there was something under the surface of my life. The magnitude of damage and change that could be brought about so quickly, simply from the tumble I have taken, was unimaginable. Once again, I am hanging on with a tight grip, this time for my life, and life as I have known it, is gone.
As a young girl, I dreamed of growing up to be a mom and wife with a man to take care of me. Secondary to that, I dreamed of devoting my life to ministry. Being raised Southern Baptist, becoming a missionary was the only option I could fathom. As a junior in high school, I met the young man whom I felt Jesus had brought my way to live out this dream with. He was a good Christian boy, Nazarene, and a fabulous singer. He had a mesmerizing voice, and he could access this gift in a way that would fill the altars, no sermon needed. After our first date I knew I wanted to marry him. We dated, and while still in high school, began to work together in youth ministry. My dream of being a wife and mother were right in front of me and held the added potential for a life of ministry together. As we continued to date, I sensed there was something prohibiting us from continuing our relationship to the next step. I brushed the feeling aside until one night, while hugging me tightly, he said he needed to talk to me and expressed his fear that he would never get to hug me like that again after our talk. A week later, my future husband shared with me his same-sex attraction.
We discussed the issue with our pastors who advised us to get married soon, which, along with enough faith and prayer, would “fix” him. We married quickly and set off on our way to Wesley Bible College, discovering seven weeks into our marriage that we were expecting. After the birth of our first daughter, we left college, but still poured ourselves into ministry, him as a song leader and me as a children’s teacher. Two daughters and five years into our marriage, my husband became the worship leader at a 400+ congregation and I eventually took the lead of a thriving small group. Desperate to figure out what Jesus wanted to do with my life, I envied our best friend and associate pastor’s job, prompting a tearful argument with God about why he placed such things in my heart when, as a woman, I was not allowed to do that job. I told my husband often, “If I were a man, I’d be a preacher.” Eventually we landed in his home church, a Nazarene church, with him in the role of worship leader, where he cautioned me to be careful about saying I wanted to be a preacher because the Nazarenes would “hold me to it.” My world was shaken. I had never known that was even a remote possibility.
Over the years, occasionally with cause, I would ask my husband if the same-sex attraction was ever an issue (which we had promised to “figure out,” if it ever was) and he always assured me it was not. Though I had reasonable doubts, struggling with lack of intimacy and depression, I trusted that Jesus had indeed “fixed” him.
After 20 years of waiting, in 2013, I began to pursue ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. With my district license, in January of 2017, I accepted my first, and last, senior pastor position. I was ordained in June of 2018. In December of that same year my husband was “outed” to me. When confronted, my husband “introduced himself” to me again, reaching out his hand to shake mine with, “Hi my name is _____ and I am bisexual. It’s nice to meet you.” I reached out, shook his hand, saying, “It’s about damn time.”
In the years leading up to this moment, I had sat by my husband through three different incidents where he literally almost died. Every health problem could be linked directly to stress. Diagnosed with sarcoidosis, an immune condition exacerbated by stress, which had shut down the electrical system in his heart, my husband had to get a pacemaker at the age of 45, just four months after introducing himself to me as bisexual.
I understand now that my now former husband is gay. Intoxication, at a moderate level, continues to be the most reliable source of relief I can find for the shock of reality that is my life. I am writing my story to express the belief to the Church of the Nazarene that it is about “damn time” the Church of the Nazarene embrace our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. No one could have prayed more, believed more, given themselves to the work of Jesus more, or tried harder to keep their family intact. Jesus, and the Church of the Nazarene was our life. My husband and I were best friends, devoted to our family, in Church, in therapy, and we prayed and believed in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did not “fix” my husband because he did not need fixing. There is no need for faith to fix the beautiful creation that he was born as. Some people will say we did not believe enough or pray enough, but I am writing to implore anyone who will to understand, no one chooses this life. My husband tried everything, sacrificing his health, almost to death, to deny being the person he is. We tried to “pray the gay away,” got married, had a wonderful family, gave faithfully in tithes and effort, for 25 years. None of this changed the person my husband was genuinely created to be. It did almost kill us both, because of the despair we both experienced from trying to deny reality.
I have no career because the District’s concern was optics, over our well-being. The choices I had, though unspoken, were obvious. I could have divorced my husband immediately, making the reason why known, in order to have my name and my divorce cleared, or my husband could continue to deny reality. I knew pretending was killing him, and me. These were slow deaths, but they were deaths, nonetheless. I had the choice to “throw him under the bus” or give up my credentials. This would mean that I had “wasted” five years with nothing to show for it. At 19 I had done what I was “supposed” to do. I got married, had a family, served Jesus, and the promise was, everything will be okay. Not so! In our case, rather than being concerned with optics or causing more harm to this beautiful, created being, I believe I chose love. I stayed with my husband, trying to honor the promise to “figure it out.”
As a pastor, I taught the study “Kingdom Culture” written by Tara Beth Leach, a Nazarene. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, what I saw overwhelmingly was Jesus saying, “You have heard it said, but I say.…” What I believe Jesus taught here was the difference in the “spirit of the law” and “the letter of the law.” Jesus repeatedly showed us that the spirit of the law over-rules the letter of the law. Jesus taught us to ask the question “What does love look like in this situation?” Jesus defied the letter of the law when love looks more like the spirit of the law. Every time.
Statistics overwhelmingly show that people are dying because of stances like that of the Church of the Nazarene, often referred to as the “side B” stance that says, a person may be born this way, but they cannot live this way. My now former husband has been suicidal multiple times because of the despair he felt because, even after 25 years of devoting himself to the Church and Jesus, he was ashamed that Jesus had not “fixed” him. Currently, I am working multiple jobs. I am exhausted, and have no future security. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and fear becoming an alcoholic because that is the only thing that alleviates the incessant chatter in my brain, trying to make sense of this madness. I struggle with depression and anxiety. I am on my own to make sense of this mess that the church pushed us into. I have been suicidal and still struggle, sometimes thinking, “I don’t want to be here.” Our family gave everything we had to the Church of the Nazarene and Jesus, and here we are. My ex-husband is still gay, and I struggle to take care of myself, with nothing to show for the years invested.
When taking classes to become a pastor, I learned about Wesley’s quadrilateral, which in simple terms says our thoughts about God are formed from four different aspects. Those aspects being scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. I was taught that these four elements form our thoughts about God and that, if at any point, it seems like one of these aspects says something vastly different than the other three, then it begs us to re-examine what the other aspects are telling us. The conundrum is to figure out where we have erred. In my experience, the stance of the Church of the Nazarene, concerning homosexuality, predominantly influenced by scriptural interpretation, reason, and tradition, but overlooks the role of experience, which continues to show us something vastly different than what we have believed from the other three aspects.
I believe the Church of the Nazarene must stop participating in this slow death of its people. Our stance leads people into a life of confusion where, after having tried everything—prayer, fasting, tithing, getting married, having a family—believing that Jesus will fix them, and then Jesus does not do so. This cannot help but create a sense that something must be drastically wrong with them, when truthfully, there is nothing wrong with them or their faith, their prayer life, their service, their tithing, their love for God, themselves, or other people, whomever it is they love. Our teaching on this issue is killing people. It is damn time we stop this madness.
S. Vondale Allen is a former ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, having served six years as an associate and senior pastor on the Georgia District. S. Vondale has worked with an organization that provides housing for homeless LGBTQ+ youth and is currently ordained by the Universal Life Church and continues to seek ways to spread light and love in the lives of people with whom she connects.