Katie A. Donaldson
The Church of the Nazarene must stop hurting people due to poor theology and irresponsible scriptural interpretation. May they return to being the loving, holy people God has called them to be.
“What is love? / Baby, don’t hurt me / Don’t hurt me / No more.”
Haddaway’s famous song lyrics may be about unrequited romantic love, yet the sentiment holds true in multiple situations—like how a religious denomination also holds power in demonstrating what love is. “What is LOVE?” is central for Nazarene theology. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop’s foundational book, A Theology of Love: The Dynamic of Wesleyanism, answers that question by saying that true holiness is essentially relational; being a holy people means being in loving relationships.
For the Church of the Nazarene, “What is LOVE?” is a crucial question when considering the relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. As a Wesleyan denomination, prioritizing loving relationships within the context of pursuing holiness, the Church of the Nazarene should be courageous enough to consider how the Church is transformed by the Spirit into a deeper understanding of God’s love for all people. This is a means of grace that takes shape through our study of Jesus’ teachings of loving God and neighbor, as well as the communal practice of pursuing justice and ending oppression and discrimination. If the Church of the Nazarene were to truly love as Christ did, it would become fully LGBTQ+ affirming: saying clearly that everyone is a child of God and everybody plays a role in the mission of God.
Yet, even with a foundational theology of love, we get stuck on the scripture references that apparently call same-sex relationships sinful. We get manipulated by poor translations of scripture that use the term homosexual instead of pedophile. Or we end up using stories about cities being brought to the ground due to rape culture as an example of why same-sex relationships are a distortion of how God planned humanity’s sexuality. But, as Wesleyans, we can say that the Spirit has the power to move and assist in our understanding of all things. We all need to consider how the love toward God and neighbor should have a larger role in the denomination’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community. If we claim to be a denomination with a theology of love, then we must use this lens in our engagement with the LGBTQ+ community. Because for the Church of the Nazarene to write into polity things that imply it is acceptable to say things like we love you but—insert things like, “we hate the sin,” “just want the best for you,” “don’t want you going against God’s plan of one man with one woman,”—is gas-lighting people who trust the polity of the church to be Wesleyan. But when we start to limit the possibility of love, we put the movement of the Spirit into a box and become stagnant in a world that so desperately needs the all-inclusive, unconditional, magnificent love and acceptance of God.
In scripture, love is described as a beautiful gift, freely given by God to all. Love is to be an example for all humanity’s relational structures—relationship with God, with each other, and with creation. The Creator’s love can only do this through humanity’s willingness to be transformed. This is the holy work of sanctification, becoming more Christ-like. Whenever we consider Christ-likeness, we should look at his words here on earth, take into account who he was speaking to, and what culture was surrounding him. Just like how Christ’s teaching helped the Spirit widen the Jewish understanding of covenantal love, we too can allow our stance on sexuality and marriage to not be shrunk to an exclusively heterosexual perspective, but allow covenant-love to be the focal point.
Covenant-love is presented throughout Scripture as God’s original relational desire. It is part of the shalom of God—shalom being the peace, the rightness, the goodness that was always meant to be. We see this love between the first humans and the Lord; they lived in full connection without shame. The covenant-love that the Lord constantly asks humanity to strive towards. To not be looking for self-worth through people’s opinions; rather, to find our self-worth and purpose solely in the steadfast loving relationship with God. It is this concept of steadfastness that deems God’s love as unique and something to desire. Steadfast means it will not waver, it will always be. It is not ever because of what we do, but rather how much we are loved by the Creator. This love is what is covenantal. It is a promise that the love will always remain. All relationships aim for this because it is full acceptance. This is the love God has for us, we are immeasurably loved because we all are children of God. There is no ‘but’ or ‘except’ to that statement. God’s steadfast-covenantal-love is the shalom all humanity is searching for. This is the love the church is called to be sharing with all the world. The love that is constant no matter what. Church membership is a welcome into community, a corporate relationship. Marriage is known as an example of God’s covenantal love between two people, and gender does not play a role in that. It is the heart and the steadfast relational example that matters. And it is with this understanding we see that gender does not limit God’s example of love. Therefore, in regard to both membership to the church and within a marriage, covenantal-love is the key and not gender. We should not limit God’s love, rather let it expand its acceptance.
The Church of the Nazarene should be an affirming church because, as Wesleyans, we believe the Spirit shapes us and can even help us enter the process of reconciliation when we have been wrong. The church can focus on the love of God and neighbor, without limiting where that love can flourish or who can love whom. May we live into this beautifully written statement from the Church of the Nazarene’s covenant on human sexuality and marriage:
The Church of the Nazarene views human sexuality as one expression of the holiness and beauty that God the Creator intended. Because all humans are beings created in the image of God, they are of inestimable value and worth. As a result we believe that human sexuality is meant to include more than the sensual experience, and is a gift of God designed to reflect the whole of our physical and relational createdness. (31, Manual 2017—2021)
May we let love be love, and allow covenant-love to shape us. May we stop hurting people due to poor theology and irresponsible scriptural interpretation. May we be the loving, holy people God has called us to be.
Katie A. Donaldson is the pastor at Fallbrook United Methodist Church. It is because of her Master’s of Divinity and emphasis in cross-cultural ministry from Nazarene Theological Seminary and years of practical ministry experience that she enjoys sharing God’s hospitality. She loves connecting to the surrounding community of the church while building relationships inside.