The Church of the Nazarene must reevaluate what we mean when we claim to offer grace to the queer community.
I am asexual. I do not experience sexual attraction toward anyone.
I didn’t discover this fact about myself until I was middle-aged and had been married for almost 20 years.
Despite what you might assume, it’s not surprising that I spent over 42 years thinking I was heterosexual even though I’m not. I wasn’t familiar with the word asexual until the year prior to my realization. It wasn’t a thing that existed in my worldview. It’s not that it was false; it just “wasn’t.” I knew I wasn’t gay, I knew I wasn’t bi, I knew I wasn’t trans. Therefore, I was clearly straight. There was no reason for me to think anything else or even to ask if there was anything else. Especially since everything about my life is so hetero-normative: I’m romantically attracted to the opposite sex (i.e., hetero-romantic), I’m aesthetically attracted to the opposite sex, I enjoy physical touch, and I’m sex-favorable (i.e., open to engaging in sexual activity).
I had no reason to presume anything other than a heterosexual identity. Any frustrations I have had in my various romantic and sexual experiences all had “normal,” heterosexual explanations. Questioning my orientation wasn’t on my radar.
I learned the word asexual when some people I know informed me that they are asexual. Wanting to understand their general life experiences a little better, I picked up an introductory book to learn more. However, I found the book frustrating. It took me a while to get through it because I kept getting confused about why the author would describe something as asexual that I considered to be part of my “normal,” heterosexual experience. I took a break from reading it, but when I picked it up again it finally kind of clicked: What if I’m not confused because they’re defining heterosexual experiences as asexual? Rather, what if I’m confused because I think my experiences are heterosexual experiences when they’re not?
I rarely have moments where a thought makes it necessary for me to find a place to be alone and sit, but that was one of them. I took the time to reflect on various romantic and sexual experiences I’ve had and realized that they made more sense when I viewed them through an asexual lens. After that, reading the rest of the book was much easier, as well as enlightening.
If I hadn’t read that introductory book (The Invisible Orientation: An Introduction to Asexuality by Julie Sondra Decker, for those who might be interested), I would probably still assume I am heterosexual. Frankly, my life would be much the same. For the most part, nothing’s changed. I haven’t changed. In regard to my attractions, I’ve always been who I am now and who I am now has always been Me. I simply didn’t know that who I am isn’t heterosexual. My life remains very hetero-normative; and for all intents and purposes, my life is a very “straight” life.
The few things that have changed, however, have been extremely positive and life-giving.
My husband and I have always had a wonderful relationship. He is my closest friend. He is my accountability partner. I’m the same for him. Like all couples, we do occasionally argue and we’ve had some rough times. Yet even in those rough times, we’ve leaned on each other and determined to grow together.
As good as my relationship with my husband was before I came out, though, it actually got better after. It enabled us to be honest about things that we weren’t even aware we weren’t being honest about. Not because we weren’t striving to be honest, but because we didn’t realize that we weren’t speaking from the same experiences. After I came out, our new understanding enabled us to finally cross bridges that had seemed impassable before.
We finally understood that “problems” which we had previously chalked up to differences between men and women or differences in personality, weren’t that. We had more accurate information when certain discussions would come up and things just made more sense. I realized that I didn’t have to feel guilty about certain desires (or lack of them). Because I had been unable to see and love myself for who I am, my husband—through no fault of his own—had also been unable to see and love me for who I am. But after coming out, we experienced a restoration of relationship that we hadn’t even known we needed. It was a gift and a blessing.
In her book, Queering Wesley, Queering the Church, Nazarene author Keegan Osinski compares coming out to an experience of God’s grace. I’ve been a Christian for 39 years and I know what it’s like to experience God’s grace. I can confirm that coming out was truly a moment of grace. Just coming out to myself and knowing who I am, was a moment of grace. Coming out to my husband and his acceptance of my identity was a moment of grace. The grace of coming out truly was a part of being healed and redeemed, even in a lifelong believer like me.
The Nazarene Manual’s Statement on Human Sexuality and Marriage says, “We recognize the shared responsibility of the body of Christ to be a welcoming, forgiving, and loving community where hospitality, encouragement, transformation, and accountability are available to all.”
This picture of a welcoming, loving community which is accountable to one another so that we all may experience transformation in Christ, describes an intimate community; but intimacy requires truth. You cannot create strong, intimate relationships with people who are told to ignore what they feel or to hide the truth of who they are. When distance is created between us and ourselves by pretending to be something we are not, it is also created between us and other people. I know this because my husband and I experienced this distance, unknowingly. The Church of the Nazarene should not create this distance intentionally.
True transformation and accountability—true discipleship and fellowship—is only possible when people are honest: with themselves, with Christ, and with the people they are in relationship with. If distance exists between us and other Christians, then fellowship and accountability cannot exist. If fellowship and accountability cannot exist, how can we expect discipleship to be possible? How can we expect a relationship with Christ to grow and mature? A person who is forced to live in the closet is denied that fullness of life we say God offers.
For a queer person, the “perfect love required to live a whole and healthy life cannot be achieved without coming out” (Osinksi p.23) because “[h]onest assessment of oneself is necessary for transformation” (p.21). If a person is allowed to be honest about who they are, authentic and intimate relationships become possible—not only with other people but also with Christ.
The transformation and accountability the Manual calls the body of Christ to offer will only be possible in Nazarene communities if queer people are extended the grace to simply come out and be honest about who they are. To publicly identify in Nazarene settings as their true orientation and gender identity; and given the grace to follow how the Spirit guides them in their lives, including with romantic same-sex relationships. Christ will always let us be honest with him in a safe way. True fellowship requires the same.
If we’re not willing to allow LGBTQIA+ people to identify as queer, then we cannot claim to offer them grace. It is therefore vital that the Church of the Nazarene reevaluates what we mean when we claim to offer grace to queer folk. We must stop teaching them that they need to hide who they are. We must assure queer people that God loves them just as they are and that they are made in His image just like anyone else. We must demonstrate that we trust the Holy Spirit to work in their life the way the Spirit chooses whether or not it fits into our own experiences and expectations.
I experienced a new fullness of life and grace within my marriage when I came out because my husband accepted me for who I am and allowed the truth of my orientation to guide our relationship going forward. Let the Church of the Nazarene offer the same acceptance to the queer community. Let us not deny them the grace and intimacy which we have already received ourselves.
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.