Who Should Be Part of the Church’s Story?

Deanna L. Andree

The church has traditionally sought to exclude LGBTQIA+ people, but when Christians take the time to apply what they know about the nature of God to relationships with LGBTQIA+ people, it becomes obvious that the church’s position has missed the mark.

I love stories. Stories help me to “get it.” I love meeting people. I love hearing their stories. History is a series of stories. The Bible is full of stories. It was not a hard decision to decide to cross the country to attend Eastern Nazarene College to study history. I wanted to expand my perspectives and experiences. I especially loved studying church history. The blending of theological ideas and the history of Christianity was fascinating—and liberating. It led to the assurance that my mind and intellect are a part of God’s creative process and just as much a part of my spiritual life as the traditions I grew up in. Essentially, the Holy Spirit uses my mind to convict and teach me as much as other traditionally-accepted modes of communication and learning. God expects us to think. That is the perspective I bring to the issue of including LGBTQIA+ people fully in the Church of the Nazarene.

Growing up in the Nazarene Church, the common teaching was that homosexuality was a sin. (We can get into details about how “that manual’’ words this now, but we all know that we were taught to “not approve.”) I never liked this. I really, REALLY did not like it. But we were given specific verses that we were told were explicit, accurate translations condemning homosexuality and taught to hang all of our understanding on those few words without considering the context or the cultural influences. We didn’t do a lot of reading for the big picture. We weren’t told to think through the stories. (I have since seen how problematic this is.) But the bigger issue is how very off that whole position felt all along. It felt so very wrong. There was no place for LGBTQIA+ people in the church. That was inconsistent with the God that loved me. It was inconsistent with the God who had reached me when I was in some dark places as a little girl, with some dark stories to tell. It FELT wrong. It was wrong. Yet, I remained perplexed. As I grew, I stayed away from the conversation. I chose to not ever tell my friends “what the church or the Bible said’’ about who belonged there and to focus on other things about the church instead. I didn’t think it was a loving act to exclude people. I chose to be friends with those who wanted to be my friend as well, and if we clicked, that was it. That was all that mattered.

Later in life, my dear friend Andrew[1] was a dedicated and inspiring Christian. He was one of those people who you could not wait to be around. He made you feel special. He made you feel like you were the only person in the world that he wanted to be spending time with during his time with you. Oh, he was funny. I loved to sing with him. He played the role of God in a musical once and he portrayed love in such a moving way. His off-stage life was fully committed to Christ. He sought after righteousness, humbled himself at the altar, searched for God’s will and did everything the Nazarene church prescribed. Yet, he was always left feeling like he was not pure, not holy, not saved, and that he would never obtain the grace that should have been freely given to him for being the beautiful creation that he was. He died tragically young, without knowing that perfect peace, love, and acceptance. Only in his death was he able to experience the welcoming into the arms of Christ that would give him that love. There is no reason the church should not have been able to show that kind of love to him during his life.

I knew then, when I loved my friend, that there was something not right about the way we interpreted scripture. I did not have the proper theological or historical training to understand where the church went wrong. I just knew it was wrong. I did, somehow, know that full acceptance was the only way to love my friend. That was the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was asking me to think beyond narrow interpretations of scripture to see that all are accepted in God’s kingdom.

I am not going to get into any theological arguments about how the scripture has been twisted or misinterpreted to be biased against the LGBTQIA+ community, or how the historical church has used its powers to deceive and hurt the powerless. Many other scholars have shown this argument eloquently. Nor am I going to try to explain how the scientific community has shown that sexuality is a spectrum occurring in nature far beyond the simplicity of male and female, as I am not even remotely qualified to do such things. I am qualified to say that I have been affirmed more and more that all people—no matter where they are on the sexual spectrum—are exactly how they are supposed to be in the eyes of God. Even more importantly, all people are created to be with others. We are designed for relationship. It is not loving to deny anybody the right to love and be loved, commune with others or have intimate loyalty with a life partner. I do not believe that God wants us to isolate others because we do not understand their experiences.

Through the years, I have been fortunate to meet members of the LGBTQIA+ community who have shared their stories with me. I am grateful that they have been willing to once again open their hearts and share with me the ways that the church and Christians have hurt them. There are many that manage to hang onto their faith, despite their painful experiences. They find faith communities where they are welcome. Some spirits are not so enduring. The pain that Christians cause is too much to bear. These testimonies have won my complete support and affirmation.

A friend shared the following story with me. About five years ago, the 8th-grade daughter of some of her friends (let’s call them the Millers) came to her parents and said, “I don’t know how else to say this. I basically think that I am a dude.” That began their family’s transgender journey. The Millers took their daughter to therapy and went as a family. They read books and articles. They prayed. They cried. They prayed some more. They had many conversations as a family. The Millers wanted to be supportive and do what was best for their child. The mother told the friend, “I am not going to lose my kid!” Because the stakes are high in this type of situation. The rate of suicide for transgender kids is terrifying. So they accepted that their daughter wanted—needed—to live as their son. The mother told of the joy she saw when they let their now son buy clothes in the young men’s department and to get a short haircut. Their child changed his name and his pronouns. They decided to switch him to another school district when he started high school because it would be easier for kids to accept this new version of him. The other major choice they felt they HAD to make was to leave the Nazarene church. The Millers were lifelong Christians and had been heavily involved in their local Nazarene church. But they knew that it was no longer a place that was safe or healthy for their child or their family. They had to leave to protect their child from toxic adults who felt it okay to question their parenting and to breach appropriate boundaries by verbally challenging and attacking their child directly.

The culture of the Nazarene church offered no grace, no compassion, no love for a family that was working through emotional issues they never dreamed they would face. THAT is what happens when the church refuses to be inclusive, when the church holds tightly to its prejudices and hatred—yes, hatred—of LGBTQIA+ issues. The result is the church hurts LGBTQIA+ people, even young people and children, and thinks it is ok to do so. The idea of “love the sinner, hate the sin” needs to be thrown away and forgotten. There is no sin. “Just love them and let the Lord sort them out?” No, there is nothing to sort out regarding sexual sin. Complete acceptance is the only appropriate choice. Inclusiveness is about using our hearts and minds to understand and apply the nature of God. The nature of God is love.

I now have two teenagers who have asked their parents not to attend a church that does not completely accept and affirm LGBTQIA+ people. They cannot justify being a part of a community who does not accept all of God’s creation as they were intended to be. We wanted that church to be the Church of the Nazarene. But it is not. LGBTQIA+ people are part of God’s story, too. It is time for the church to love and include all people, just as Christ does.

Deanna Andree is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College with a bachelor’s degree in History, and James Madison University with a Master of Education. She is a teacher in Manchester, New Hampshire, who works with wonderfully challenging middle school students. Deanna is married to Jonathan and they have two teenagers with far superior tastes in music than their parents. Deanna enjoys playing and singing in her women’s ukulele band for enjoyment and stress relief.

[1]. Name changed because I cannot ask permission to use his name.