by Erin Moorman
Church of the Nazarene doctrine affirms that the Bible says nothing about homosexuality as a sexual orientation. Nazarene doctrine affirms that conversion therapy is harmful. The question then becomes: How do we as a Christian, Holiness, Missional People practice grace and generosity towards LGBTQIA+ people? How do we stop harming LGBTQIA+ people and instead create a place where they are truly loved? And is it enough for us to become a welcoming space; or is there more to be done? When we examine the issue of LGBTQIA+ inclusion through the lens of Nazarene Core Values, we believe that the answer is clearly “Yes.”
We are a Christian People
All Nazarenes are Christian first. We are united with all believers in proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus Christ
, and believe that our life together is to exemplify the character of Christ.
The character of Christ is inclusive. During His time on earth, Christ Jesus gave us His own version of the essentials: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). So for us to exemplify the character of Christ, loving God and loving neighbor is essential.
Too often, the institution of the Church teaches Love of God as Obedience to God at the exclusion of Love of Neighbor. We see this when teaching inclusion, love, and compassion for LGBTQIA+ people often triggers concerns about biblical compromise. Thankfully, the life of Jesus gives us numerous examples of how Jesus applied The Law.
“Jesus didn’t read and apply Scripture literally. He chose to read Scripture through a hermeneutic of grace and compassion. The lens that seemed to pervade the application of Jesus was: Will this allow the person to thrive? Will this give life? Will this cause separation or bring people together through love?” Simply put, at the core of Jesus’ hermeneutic was the question: Does this exclude, or does this offer life?
We see this in how Jesus applied The Law to Sabbath concerns and to the woman caught in adultery, among others. “Jesus taught that the commandments were never intended to be a burden too great for people to bear; rather, the commandments were supposed to relieve burdens.” “As Jesus read the commandments, he would develop an interpretation that helped those in need – because that’s what love calls us to do.”
“Unfortunately, people with religious authority have often used Scripture without seeing the burdensome impact of our theology.” But, as Stephen Mattson says, “Being ‘biblical’ is worthless if we aren’t being Christlike. To be Christlike is to love your neighbor as yourself. To be ‘biblical’ is to quote verses that align with our personal agendas and contextualize scripture according to our own opinions. Too many Christians are being ‘biblical’ without being Christlike.”
“The Gospel is not to be confused with or identified with the Bible. The Bible contains all sorts of voices that are inimical to the good news of God’s love, mercy and justice. The Gospel, unlike the Bible, is unambiguous about God’s deep love for all peoples.” And where the Bible contradicts that news, Jesus’ example of Welcome takes precedence.
“Jesus’ quarrel is not with the Torah, but with Torah interpretation that had become, in his time, excessively demanding and restrictive.” “Jesus isn’t asking us to parse Greek and Hebrew words in order to discern truth. He is asking us to examine the fruit. Jesus is asking us to pay attention to whether people are thriving or are being harmed. That is the basis of how we can tell truth from error because Scripture was meant to administer love and grace.”
The Apostles sought to imitate Jesus’ example in this way when they chose to remove the requirement of circumcision despite it being an external sign of the covenant in the Hebrew scriptures. They believed circumcision shouldn’t be a stumbling block for those who choose faith in Christ. Gentiles were simply included as equals with no expectation that they would eventually conform to the traditional purity regulations.
In doing this, the “disciples were accused of no longer upholding the authority of Scripture. But what the disciples did was merely an extension of the way Jesus taught them to uphold the spirit behind the Law. And in discovering the spirit of grace and love, the Law would be upheld along with faithfulness to God.”
Many people in the Church of the Nazarene already endorse this approach to biblical interpretation when defending women in ministry. In fact, we could cite more biblical passages that relegate women to subservient roles than verses condemning LGBTQIA+ people and behavior. And yet, the Church of the Nazarene rightly elevates Scriptures that support full status for women in ministry and equality in marriage. Many of the passages cited call for love and equality for all people. Love and lived experience matter, and we should use this hermeneutic for LGBTQIA+ concerns.
As Christian People, we exemplify the character of Christ when we re-imagine the application of Scriptural Law in order to save life and include those who were excluded. “Jesus and the disciples set into motion what the church must continue to practice—a hermeneutic that practices compassion that moves toward inclusion. This is the radical nature of the Gospel—when it moves toward accepting people who were previously on the outside and told they were inherently disordered.”
“LBGTQ persons among us are to be seen as neighbors who are welcomed to the resources of the community and invited to make contributions to the common wellbeing of the community. By no stretch of any imagination can it be the truth of the Gospel that such “others” as LGBTQIA+ persons are unwelcome in the community. In that community, there are no second-class citizens. the time has come to face the same gospel reality about LGBTQIA+ persons as others are welcomed as first-class citizens in the community of faithfulness and justice.” As a Christian people who strive to exemplify the character of Christ, Nazarenes should imitate Jesus in including LGBTQIA+ people, fully and completely.
Nazarenes believe that God, who is holy, calls us to a life of holiness, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit that restores us in the image of God and produces in us the character of Christ. If holiness is the work of restoration wrought by the Holy Spirit, then it can’t be something that builds boundaries; it can’t be about separation. Holiness transcends boundaries and restores relationship.
Too often, the institutional Church teaches holiness as separation from and rejection of that which is unholy at the exclusion of people to whom we assign an unholy status. We see this in the way many Holiness people set boundaries of identity that build walls to keep people out. Bresee, himself, said, “Probably the worst enemies the Christian religion has in this country today are those professing holiness and spending their time trying to bring reproach on their fellow man.”
An identity of holiness isn’t enough, for God isn’t just holy – God is Holy Love. Striving to be holy encourages us to draw lines about what makes us “in” and what makes us “out.” Striving to exemplify holy hove, however, recognizes that our being “in” doesn’t require anyone else to be “out”. It understands that God’s holiness isn’t diminished by the supposed uncleanliness of others. Rather, true holiness transforms everyone it touches, and, therefore, isn’t afraid to go into the dark places of the world.
A message of holy love is a message of hope. Scripture tells us that true, lasting hope—the kind of hope that will hold your life steady when the things you hope for never come or get taken from you—is only found through knowing God.
For LGBTQIA+ people of all ages, the Church has taken away things for them to hope for: a family to love them, a home to welcome them, a Church to accept them. Even more disheartening, the Church has taken away things for LGBTQIA+ people to hope in. Our laity, our leaders, and our messages tell them that as long as they identify as LGBTQIA+, they can’t be Christian. They can’t be loved by God. They can’t have someone greater than themselves to hope in.
This is not holy love. After prostitutes and drunkards and outcasts encountered a holy Jesus, they wanted more of Jesus. After people encounter the Church, they want less of (how we portray) Him. In his holiness, Jesus was never finished with people; the Church too often seems to be willing to be.
If the statement that the Holiness message is a message of hope is universally true, then it should be true for the LGBTQIA+ person. If our message is to be truly hopeful for the LGBTQIA+ person, we need to make sure our words and actions present actual hope, genuine love, and the belief that they are made in God’s image, as Scripture says they are.
As Holiness people, we should point others to the transformational nature of Christ. We must do so by being a living example of a transformed life, not by pointing fingers and laying blame. As people who claim to follow and exemplify Jesus, we should be concerned to make sure we are the ones who are transformed. We should surrender ourown comfort to be around those who make us uncomfortable. We should worry about aligning ourselves to Christ’s standard and allow Christ to work in the Other in Christ’s own timing. We should spend more time making sure our witness is true rather than keeping a checklist of others’ behavior.
Living as Holiness people means we are to love and accept LGBTQIA+ people in the exact same way we are to love and accept any other person made in God’s image, and with no qualifications. When someone new enters our church doors we don’t demand they hand us a list of all the ways they have sinned so we can judge them. We simply commit to be disciples together.
“There is no spiritual power in the act of excluding people.” Let us constantly examine ourselves to assure that our arms (as well as our doors and our walls) are just as open as Christ’s. May we exemplify our King in our welcome so that we may be holy in truth and in love. As a holiness people who are called to a life of holiness, Nazarenes should welcome LGBTQIA+ people fully and completely, trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to restore all of us together.
Nazarenes are a sent people, empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring Christ into all the world, ministering not only in evangelism but also compassion, and encouraging believers toward Christian maturity through discipleship. We are a sent people, and we go where Christ leads us.
According to Ronald Sider in Churches That Make a Difference, “Mother Teresa was once asked, ‘How did you receive your call to serve the poor?’ She answered, ‘My call is not to serve the poor. My call is to follow Jesus. I have followed him to the poor’.” In the same way, many Christians, and Nazarenes specifically, have followed Jesus to the LGBTQIA+ community.
Denominational missionaries have been taught that context matters. The historically established best practice holds that missionaries must understand a people’s history, culture, and language in order to effectively share the gospel. “This is especially true when missionaries attempt to share Jesus with people who have been ostracized, condemned, or denigrated by Christians.” Exegeting the culture is of utmost importance if we hope to explain the gospel well.
Such understanding often leads to a lessening of burdens. In some African contexts, we tolerate polygamy among Church of the Nazarene members. In some European contexts, members consume alcohol with no fear of repercussion. Divorce no longer carries the stigma among US Nazarenes it once did.
For too long, the Church has refused to exegete the LGBTQIA+ history and culture, because we believed the lie that homosexual orientation is (and thus LGBTQIA+ people themselves are) an abomination beyond God’s grace. But no one is beyond God’s grace; and as people have engaged in missional work within the LGBTQIA+ community, an increasing number of evangelicals, including Nazarenes, have become affirming of LGBTQIA+ orientations and identities, and of same-sex marriage.
A person’s experience of being gay, or of being gay and Christian, is a valid way of deciding matters regarding homosexuality, but much of the evangelical Church has simply opted not to listen to those experiences. We have allowed ourselves to be tricked and controlled by an un-Christian, un-Holy spirit of fear. We must stop viewing everything LGBTQIA+ people have to say about themselves as suspect and start trying to understand where they are coming from. It is our responsibility to take this step; this is critical to missional discipleship.
As Dallas Willard said, “Understanding is the basis of care.” And “[t]he only way we can truly care is if we are willing to listen in a way that seeks to understand. It is imperative that [we] become familiar with LGBTQ+ stories.” Doing so would reveal to us that much of the harm experienced by the LGBTQIA+ community is undetectable to non-LGBTQIA+ people.
Churches have historically placed a stumbling block before the LGBTQIA+ community with their interpretations of Scripture, which have led to exclusion and harm. Experience and reason have shown that LGBTQIA+ people can’t simply change, yet much of what churches advocate for leads to self-loathing, suicidal ideation, and the eventual loss of faith and community, often leading to homelessness and higher rates of trafficking victimization than non-queer peers.
Regarding suicide, teen suicide rates have reached the highest level in two decades. While this is desperately concerning, suicide rates for LGBTQIA+ youth are even higher. In accepting families, LGBTQIA+ youth are two- to four times more likely than other teens to attempt suicide. In disconnected and rejecting families (which includes evangelical and Nazarene homes and environments), they are four- to eight times more likely. These kids need hope restored.
Young LGBTQIA+ people aren’t prone to suicide because of sexual orientation or gender identity. They are at a higher risk for suicide attempts because of the harmful rhetoric and rejection they hear from friends and family that can make them feel their life is worth less than their straight or cisgender peers.
For all these reasons and more, Christians, pastors, and families must be discipled to remind LGBTQIA+ loved ones that they are loved, that they are never alone, and that their life is valuable. Family and peer acceptance is a cornerstone that helps LGBTQIA+ people feel safe and affirmed in their identity. Church families can play a role in boosting that.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells the Parable of the Lost Sheep. The lost sheep in this story is representative of the “sinners” the scribes were complaining about – the Others and Outsiders that Jesus welcomed. Yet, all of the sheep belong to the shepherd. Not one of them doesn’t belong – they’re all loved, whether they’re within or without. And the lost one is sought after, not because it’s more valuable and the others have less value, but because it is lost and in danger. Outside the sheepfold, it isn’t safe, thriving, or healthy, and could die. It needs to be sought after, found, and restored to the community where it may be safe and healthy. And when the lost sheep is found, the joy in heaven is exuberant.
The LGBTQIA+ community is in danger when we reject them. For too long, Christians have been culpable for the deaths of people in the LGBTQIA+ community by feeding hopelessness through our words, our action, and our inaction. Much like “Paul hadn’t known that in his quest to uphold the Scriptures he was actually persecuting Christ, [so too we] may not have recognized Christ’s suffering in our LGBTQIA+ congregants, but we can begin to find our restoration in them now.”
It is time we disciple our people on how to feed hope: In speaking with gay people, we must offer words of life, not death. “As pastors, church leaders, parents, family and friends, we must strive to bear good fruit in creating a safe community for LGBTQIA+ people.” “We must begin to pay better attention to what our theology and practice do to LGBTQIA+ people, and to reverse the perpetuation of their spiritual trauma.”
We must change how we use our language (e.g., eliminating phrases such as “the sin of homosexuality”); refrain from equating homosexual orientation with lust or pedophilia; and focus on “sexual sins” and “sexual purity” as a whole, whether a person is gay or straight.
We must acknowledge that cisgender people can’t know firsthand what gender dysphoria feels like or the feeling of being misgendered. “Straight people don’t experience the exhaustion of living in a heteronormative world that constantly challenges non-straight identities. This is why it is so vital that we pay attention to LGBTQIA+ voices. This requires a willingness to admit what we don’t know, and to recognize that many of our unquestioned assumptions about LGBTQIA+ Christians and how they experience our church life are probably misinformed. We have inherent biases that keep us from having a deep understanding of what the kingdom of God looks like for gender and sexual minorities.”
God is doing something new. The Holy Spirit is working to bring about change. More and more Christians, and Nazarenes in particular, are hearing a call to change how we respond to LGBTQIA+ people and work toward a new missional era of gospel hope for them in our faith communities. It is important for church leaders to be deliberate in our efforts to answer that call. As a Missional People who are empowered by the Holy Spirit, may we bring Christ’s welcome into the LGBTQIA+ community, ministering not only in evangelism but also compassion as we lessen their burdens to enable them to be restored to the community of Christ.
A Theology of Love
Positive strides were made at the 2017 General Assembly regarding the denomination’s official view on sexual identity, but more change is necessary for the Church of the Nazarene to become fully LGBTQIA+ affirming.
“It’s hard for conservative Christians to imagine a church in which they can be in full fellowship with people who believe differently. It’s also hard for affirming Christians to imagine worshipping in the same space as people who aren’t affirming. But…the goal is not theological certainty. That’s not what the Great Commandment is about. The goal to pursue it means to love our neighbor in community.”
“If the greatest commandment is to love God and our neighbor, then the most immoral thing we can do is to not love our neighbor,” or create stumbling blocks which keep them from full participation in the community of Christ. “Considering all the harm that has been done to LGBTQIA+ people by the church, we have to consider that we have been the ones acting immorally. So yes, immorality already exists in the church. It’s immoral to treat another person with disdain. It’s immoral to cause a person to hate themselves. Our hope, therefore, is to pursue what it means to better love our LGBTQIA+ neighbor.”
If members of the Church of the Nazarene truly believe in sexual purity, the Christian, Holiness, Missional message ought to compel members of the denomination to encourage lifelong, monogamous, sexual partnerships in marriage. The denomination also ought to lead the way in advocating for transgender people. It ought to recognize the variation of attraction experienced by bisexual people.
During the 2019 South Central Ohio District Assembly, Dr. David Busic spoke during the ordination service about how “Nazarenes are the people for the people no one else wants.” He said, “We go into the hellholes of this world and say, ‘you are not alone’.” Well, LGBTQIA+ people are the people churches don’t want. So we should “be Nazarenes” and be for them. LGBTQIA+ people of all ages are living in an emotional, mental, and spiritual hell of struggling to find the basic human support that so many of us take for granted. We should “be Nazarenes” and say, “You are not alone.”
Dr. Busic also said that “God wants us to do the difficult things in dangerous places that require the power of the Holy Spirit.” He shared a story which he has shared many times in many settings: the story about what a scandal it was when Johnny Jernigan ran a home for unwed mothers and how hundreds of babies were born in the home in a single year. Imagine what it would be like to see Nazarenes act just as scandalously in how welcoming we are to LGBTQIA+ people.
Let’s be Christian People and be FOR LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
Let’s be Holiness People and be FOR LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
Let’s be Missional People and be FOR LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
Let’s be Nazarene and be FOR LGBTQIA+ inclusion.
Erin Moorman is a lifelong Christian who has been taught and mentored in the Church of the Nazarene for over twenty years. Many years of prayerful thought and study convicted her that Nazarenes need to become safe people for the LGBTQIA+ community. A former district-licensed Nazarene pastor, she surrendered her license after God directed her to be affirming of same sex marriage, a position which is not currently in line with the Manual.
Brueggemann, Walter. “How to read the Bible on homosexuality.” September 4, 2022. URL: https://outreach.faith/2022/09/walter-brueggemann-how-to-read-the-bible-on-homosexuality/
Church of the Nazarene, Inc. Nazarene Essentials, 2015.
Cortez, Danny. Clergy Relational Guide, Q Christian Fellowship.
Henson, Bill. Guiding Families of LGBT+ Loved Ones, 2019. (A Welcoming, Non-Affirming resource which would actually be a great start for most conservative Nazarenes to work through.)
Oord, Thomas Jay. “Thomas Jay Oord’s Response to Accusations Brought by Signatories Outside the Intermountain District but Reformulated by an Intermountain District Board.”
 2010 “Pastoral Perspectives from Your General Superintendents on Homosexuality”; MANUAL 2017–2021, The Covenant of Christian Conduct, Section 31 statement on “Human Sexuality and Marriage”
 Cortez, Danny and Q Christian Fellowship. Clergy Relational Guide, p. 8.
 Church of the Nazarene, Inc. Nazarene Essentials, 2015.
 Henson, Bill. Guiding Families of LGBT+ Loved Ones, 2019, p.i.
 Cortez p. 20.
 Cortez, p. 4.
 Cortez, p. 5.
 Cortez, p. 4.
 Brueggemann, Walter. “How to read the Bible on homosexuality.” September 4, 2022. URL: https://outreach.faith/2022/09/walter-brueggemann-how-to-read-the-bible-on-homosexuality/
 Cortez, p. 20.
 Cortez, p. 21
 Cortez, p. 21
 On the role culture plays in discerning LGBTQ matters, see Rev. Bruce Barnard, “Cognitive Dissonance and the Progression of the Church on Major Cultural Norms,” (D.Min., George Fox University, 2016).
 Oord, Thomas Jay. “Thomas Jay Oord’s Response to Accusations Brought by Signatories Outside the Intermountain District but Reformulated by an Intermountain District Board.”
 Cortez, p. 21-22.
 Church of the Nazarene, Inc. Nazarene Essentials, 2015.
 Bresee, Phineas. Nazarene Messenger, 3/2/1905
 Henson, p. 63.
 Church of the Nazarene, Inc. Nazarene Essentials, 2015.
 Henson, p. 38.
 Cortez, p. 29.
 Cortez, p. 6.
 Cortez, p. 4.
 Henson, p. 16.
 Cortez, p. 7.
 Cortez, p. 5.
 Cortez, p. 6.
 Cortez, p. 28.
 Cortez, p. 12.
 Cortez, p. 14.
 Cortez, pp. 14-15.