Josh “Catfish” Carpenter
The LGBTQ+ population is marginalized by religion worldwide. We can begin healing this relationship after the church becomes openly affirming.
I was born and raised in the Nazarene church. I became a member in 1994 and I left in 2018. I was an active, participating, and (when I could) voting teen and adult member. I attended just about every local and district Nazarene church event and service until I was about 17. I went on Nazarene mission trips, attended NYC in 1996, played on the special music and offertory rotation, served at community dinners, nearly earned my district license, preached sermons, laid hands in prayer—all in the Church of the Nazarene.
After graduating high school, I went on to play football at MidAmerica Nazarene University. I finished high school with a 1.8 GPA and struggled with undiagnosed depression, ADHD, low self-esteem, and an anxiety disorder. I had no chance of graduating college my first time around. It would be a decade later, at Miami of Ohio, that I would finally earn the 4-year degree I’d been striving for all my life. So far, I’m the only one in my family to do so.
Studying for my degree in history at Miami taught me a lot about how to evaluate historical sources. Historical events can’t be recreated, carbon-copied, or tested like science does with the physical world. So historians use a system called the historical method that works to open up the truthfulness of the past.
The method uses science to draw logical conclusions about past events. It consults the archaeological record. One of the ways we know what happened at Pompeii is because so much of the event is frozen in time—bodies, buildings, even marketing content. The method also calls for historians to compare and contrast as many sources they can gather on whatever historical event they’re studying. So if Nation A writes on a clay tablet saying they decimated Army B in battle, a good historian asks, what other sources cover the event and what do they say? Comparing and contrasting multiple accounts of an event helps historians figure out biases. It also provides crucial context to what is found in the archaeological record.
Historians are also taught to examine a text according to its genre. For example, the classic novel Watership Down isn’t history. It’s a work of fiction that’s centered on a story about a community of rabbits. A historian can see past the fiction. They identify the micro-stories and allegory in the book that can be used to draw some pretty powerful parallels between community ethics and the real world.
Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out what a historically accurate bible says about gender, marriage, and sexuality. During that time, I learned that what the Church of the Nazarene taught me about biblical truth as a young’un’ was quite different from the truths that were being revealed to me as an older college student.
For example, I learned that the story of Adam and Eve more than likely has nothing to do with the doctrine of original sin. In fact, the doctrine that we were born sinful is strictly a Christian doctrine. It didn’t even exist when the book of Genesis came into existence. Historically speaking, the story of Adam and Eve is about how important fertility and procreation are to the continued existence of an ancient nomadic tribe.
If you think about it, fertility is pretty important to sustaining the gardens, flocks, and population of a nomadic tribe like the Israelites. From the fertility of their gardens’ soils to the fertility of the people in the tribe, the ability for everything to reproduce is the absolute key to their existence as a religion and race.
So it shouldn’t be surprising to find out how deeply woven polygamy is into their laws and culture. It only takes one man to impregnate multiple women and grow the group on an exponential level. In the Old Testament men were allowed to bed or be bedded by just about anyone, as long as it ended up in procreation. For example, Lot’s daughters had his children without his knowledge, and King Solomon was conceived illegitimately. Yet, both of their bloodlines were blessed by God to continue.
The few times that the New Testament mentions marriage, the husband is allowed sexual access to both his wife and slaves. Jesus taught that the only family we have are the people who do the will of the Father. Mark 12:25 comes right out and says that there is no marriage in the Kingdom of Heaven. And Paul urges people to become celibate and completely devoted to spreading the gospel. It would be centuries after Jesus’ death that the politics of Rome would introduce the concept of a traditional marriage and marriage laws to the church.
I don’t think I’m the only person who sees inconsistencies in the Nazarene church’s stance on affirming same-sex marriages. Gender, sexuality, and biological sex all differ from each other and are very complex. They can’t just be boiled down into simple orthodoxy, or annexed away from the church’s mission or history. The LGBTQ+ already have a history in the church, they just don’t have a voice.
In 2016 I went to Iraqi Kurdistan on a peace delegation. While I was there, our group heard stories from many in the LGBTQ+ community, and the difficulties they faced living in fear that someone would find out who they truly are.
Many LGBTQ+ folks are told that God completely rejects them. They have problems getting jobs and securing income. Their financial dependency leads them to be even more susceptible to abuse. They’re kicked out of schools because they dress too masculine or feminine, denying them basic education, adding more to their plight.
Gay men live with a death wish if they’re found out. They are often publicly beaten, some die. Lesbians are also shamed and beaten, and are restricted from participating in certain religious practices. Because of all of these factors, many of the individuals in the Iraqi-Kurdistan LGBTQ+ community are deathly afraid of their family’s reactions if they come out. And I think this fear is shared by many of the folks throughout the LGBTQ+ community in the United States.
Some of the similarities might surprise you. Low income LGBTQ+ folks in the US are often up against impossible odds. They still face many barriers in the US medical and mental health fields. There are not only shortages in the medical and mental health labor markets, but there’s always a chance that your therapist isn’t LGBTQ+ affirming.
LGBTQ+ youth in the US become homeless at a disproportionate rate. The vast majority of it is due to family rejection, and the aftermath of being a child that’s forcibly removed from their home. I imagine it’s one of the reasons why they’re more likely to leave home underage. After that they usually live in transitional housing or on the streets. Homelessness at a young age doesn’t just crumble your financial future. It breaks you psychologically, and will stay with you your whole life.
The end of Matthew 25 literally defines how we all will be judged, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”
My experience befriending, serving, and advocating for the worldwide LGBTQ+ community has taught me that at some point, most become detached from the people and place of church. But they continue to seek God. They want a safe place to sing, raise their hands in praise, fellowship, get married, raise Godly families, and serve their community. The Church of the Nazarene has the resources to greatly help the LGBTQ+ community worldwide. Becoming a fully affirming church would not just help validate the lives of the folks in the LGBTQ+ community. It would start the healing process between the church and a community that they’ve long ignored.
Josh “Catfish” Carpenter is an Americana performing artist, writer, and historian. He earned his bachelor’s degree in history and economics at Miami University (Ohio) in 2011.