When the Church of the Nazarene returns to its Wesleyan roots, it will move toward full LGBTQ+ inclusion.
As a retired elder in the Church of the Nazarene, I have given my life to the church. I attended my first Nazarene church service when I was three days old. I graduated from two Nazarene institutions of higher learning. I served as District Secretary on two districts. I pastored Nazarene churches for 35 years. The Nazarene world has been my life, my family, my passion. But in the fall of 2021, everything changed.
The subject of LGBTQ+ full inclusion into the Church of the Nazarene began to capture my attention. Even though I have no immediate family members who are part of the queer community, I decided to explore the subject. I read books, studied biblical passages, and prayed. I became convinced God fully embraced members of the gay community. As members of this community grew in their faith, I saw no problem with them joining the church and serving in leadership.
I wrote a 500 word article about my change of mind and posted it on my personal website. I then posted the link on Facebook. I thought, “What harm could there be in expressing my opinion? Who would care?” As an unassigned elder at the end of my career, I thought it safe to publicly share my change of mind. After sharing the article, my District Superintendent contacted me to clarify my position. We met and had a civil conversation about what the Bible says regarding the LGBTQ+ community. At the end of our discussion he told me to not post anything else about the subject on social media.
After careful consideration, I wrote the District Superintendent to let him know God was giving me the green light to continue sharing my articles on social media. He responded by requesting another meeting.
In this meeting, he and a member of the District Advisory Board had several forms that I could choose to sign which would remove my ministerial credentials. He encouraged me several times to “recant” my position and if I did, everything would be fine. But if I didn’t, he would do what he needed to do. I refused to sign any document and stood by my new position. Several weeks later, I received a certified letter informing me that formal charges had been filed against me and there would be a trial.
Within a month I walked into a meeting room to undergo a trial. The purpose was to strip me of my ordination credentials because I had published my article and refused to recant. In the middle of the room my peers sat at tables pushed together to form one massive table. These included pastors with whom I had served side by side with across the years on the Michigan District. They had transitioned from colleagues into jurors.
It was surreal to hear formal charges read against me and to have “evidence” presented proving why my ministerial credentials should be revoked. The Judicial Manual of the Church of the Nazarene requires a unanimous verdict. At the end of the trial, they failed to reach a unanimous verdict and I retained my ministerial credentials.
People attempting to discredit my new position often comment, “But the Bible says.…” This is followed with a short list of verses that suggest the condemnation of homosexuality. Those against full inclusion of the LGBTQ+ into the Church of the Nazarene point to these verses as though they end the discussion.
But wait. There’s more.
The “Bible says” lots of things that we conveniently ignore:
- The Bible says that if you have a flat nose or broken hand you cannot approach the altar with an offering. (Lev. 21:18-21)
- The Bible says if two men are fighting and a wife defends her husband but accidentally touches the privates of the other man, her hand should be cut off. (Deuteronomy 25:11-12)
- The Bible says that if a person is born out of wedlock they cannot enter church. (Deuteronomy 23:2)
If you’ve read the Bible with care you know it says many things that we ignore or explain away. As you read the above examples you might have said to yourself, “Well, that’s the Old Testament.”
But there are New Testament verses that we also ignore. An important example is Paul’s injunction against women speaking in church. (1 Corinthians 14:34) This is not something implied in the text. It is clear. Verse 34 even restates the teaching to emphasize the prohibition. The Bible says women “are not permitted to speak.” Why does the Church of the Nazarene allow women ministers? (Just to be clear, I’m happy we have women ministers in the church!)
Do you see the point I’m making? In these examples the thoughtful person says, “But there are things to consider such as context and culture.” Exactly. Why are we reluctant to apply this same logic to the few passages used to vilify members of the queer community? If we look at 1 Corinthians 14:34 and say, “This is not what the Bible means for us today” why can’t we do that for verses suggesting homosexuality is a sin? It isn’t enough to glance at a Bible verse that touches on the subject of homosexuality and conclude it is a sin.
Without guidance, the temptation to embrace only the Bible truths that we agree with is overwhelming. This willy-nilly approach to living out biblical truth leads us down a road of confusion.
This is why Wesleyan theologians point to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral as a guide to understand the Bible and live out its truths. This framework teaches us to view the Bible through the filters of tradition, reason, and experience. If you remember geometry class, you will recall that a quadrilateral is a shape composed of four different sides. Each side can be of different lengths. Wesleyans believe the Bible is the longest leg, the most important in the quadrilateral and is supported by the other three legs. When we proclaim “the Bible says,” we must not ignore tradition, reason, and experience. All sides of the quadrilateral impact our understanding of the biblical text.
As an example, think about applying the quadrilateral to slavery. The Bible embraces slavery. It even gives advice on how to treat slaves. Historically the church pointed to the Bible as justification for owning slaves. Do you see the absurdity looking at Bible verses about slavery and simply saying, “But the Bible allows slavery”? Why did the church change from pro-slavery to anti-slavery? It’s because they considered the “reason” leg of the quadrilateral. They recognized, contrary to what the Bible says, it made no sense that God would favor slavery.
In the same way, as we try to understand the Bible we must allow ourselves to ask questions such as:
- Does it make sense that God would condemn the entire LGBTQ+ community because of who they love?
- Can a God of love hate the love between two people because they are of the same gender?
- Should the church exclude from membership a married same-sex couple who testify to being Christ-followers?
- Does God demand LGBTQ+ people must never experience a sexual relationship even though married?
It is not enough to say, “But the Bible says.” That phrase should not end the discussion. On the contrary, it invites a discussion!
The road toward change begins when we return to our Wesleyan roots and allow freedom to question and debate. Attempts by the leadership in the Church of the Nazarene to silence discussion about LGBTQ+ inclusion are futile. The discussion is already happening. People and pastors like me are realizing the love of God is far bigger than we once believed.
No amount of denominational huffing and puffing is going to put out the growing flame of understanding the breadth and depth of God’s love.
Randall Hartman is a retired ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. He has a B.S. from Olivet Nazarene University, a Master of Divinity from Nazarene Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry from Grace Theological Seminary. As a lead pastor he has 35 years of experience. In the last six years served as a long-term interim pastor in seven crisis churches leading them to wholeness. He currently posts his writings on randallhartman.com