Was the Church of the Nazarene wrong when they said the Holy Spirit was working through gay people?
The Holy Spirit is working through millions of individuals in the Church of the Nazarene. Through the work of pastors, music ministers, missionaries and Sunday school superintendents, including those of us in the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community, these dedicated leaders have allowed the Holy Spirit to work through them changing lives, saving souls, and redeeming the lost to new life in Christ. These leaders are calling for true holiness by encouraging disciples to move from salvation to sanctification—to giving up their wants and desires and submitting their life and will to the infilling of the Holy Spirit. It was this zeal for holiness and personal piety that drew me to the Nazarenes, and I believe it’s this same zeal for holiness that brings up the issue of homosexuality in the church. I believe the Church of the Nazarene truly desires to be led by the Holy Spirit, and I know there are LGBTQ leaders in the Church of the Nazarene. I want to see this denomination flourish and grow by allowing the Holy Spirit to continue to work through LGBTQ people of faith within this denomination.
Preaching and teaching are the cornerstones of Nazarene life and worship. The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene is very clear on the calling of ministers. “When the church, illuminated by the Holy Spirit, recognizes such a divine call, the church endorses and assists the individual’s entry into a lifetime of ministry.” Throughout the global church, dozens of schools and seminaries call and instruct the next generation of Nazarene pastors. The Course of Study was created to assist people who could not afford to go to seminary to train as a pastor. I was one of them.
If statistics are true, upwards of 10% of the leadership in the Church of the Nazarene are part of the LGBTQ community, and the Holy Spirit is working through us just as the Holy Spirit is working through straight folks. It is only when we come out and admit that we are gay, (or bisexual, lesbian, etc.) that we are told we do not have the Spirit of God working through us but are damned to Hell for being gay. How is it possible that one minute we were “full of the Spirit” and had a “divine call” and the next minute we weren’t? Were we called to a “lifetime of ministry” or was the Church not “illuminated by the Holy Spirit” when it said we had the “gifts and graces for ministry”? Which is it?
I was called, felt the tug on my heart to serve the Lord as a minister of the gospel, when I was 14 years old. I again felt called as a married woman with kids in 2001, and this call was affirmed by my pastor, the church board, and the local licensing committee. Based on the recommendation of my head pastor, the support of several elders in the church, and by vote of the church board, I was granted a local license and began serving in my church as a minister. A year later, I was given a district license, because my year as a locally licensed minister confirmed for the district committee that I possessed the gifts and graces for ministry. I preached, led women’s retreats, worked as interim youth leader, and entered the Course of Study towards ordination as an elder. Many of the older members of my church had never been in favor of women as preachers, but they said they saw “the Hand of God” on my life, and they “could not deny the fruit that God produced” through my preaching and teaching.
Though we were without a youth pastor for a year, our youth group continued to grow and flourish under my leadership. I baptized eight children during my ministry, offered communion numerous times, and performed two weddings including pre-marital counseling, all with the blessing of the Church. Today, over 20 years later, I have had many people tell me that their Christian life is stronger and closer to Christ because of my guidance in a Bible study or sermon. One of my greatest blessings was the moment a young lesbian woman told me that the only reason she was still a Christian was because I had taught her that God loves everyone so God must love her too. She pursues a life dedicated to living out the love of God for everyone, helping her peers see that life is better with God in it. And God wrought all of this work through me while I was in an illicit homosexual relationship.
I am not so special—I am just a normal, sinful, striving Christian gal. It is only because of the power of God, working through me in the person of the Holy Spirit, that has led those people to Christ. It is the Spirit of God which changes hearts and lives and convicts people of sin and of righteousness. If God is working through me, even as a practicing homosexual, then the Holy Spirit must not be bound to only heterosexual ministers. God can work through gay people too.
My story is not abnormal. Many gay Christians have served in both the Church of the Nazarene and other denominations, and their ministry and giftedness was affirmed until the day they came out as gay.
Music is often the vehicle that the Spirit uses to speak the message of God to the hearts of His children. Christian singers and songwriters have been gifted to create and perform worship songs that carry God’s gospel of love to congregations all over the world. Music has always been a major part of Christian life, and many gifted Christian artists are gay.
Ray Boltz, whose songs and videos won thousands of souls to Christ, is gay. He always knew that he was gay, and yet God was able to work through him to produce good fruit in changed hearts and lives. I remember Sunday evening services watching Ray Boltz videos like “I Pledge Allegiance to the Lamb” and “The Anchor Holds.” And how many hundreds of retirement services have used “Thank You for Giving to the Lord” and brought the entire congregation to tears as they celebrated the lives of service to God’s work? Truly, “Thank You” by itself speaks volumes about Boltz’s belief in dedicating our lives to God’s service. Ray Boltz, both as a man with a wife and children and now as an out gay man, has dedicated his life to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. God’s Spirit has worked and is working through Ray Boltz, a gay man.
The Manual states that “a person’s homosexual or bisexual attraction may have complex and differing origins” and the Manual also states that the “human race is created in Godlikeness.” Both these statements are true at the same time. The God Who Creates created us all, straight and gay alike, and all are equally capable of being filled by the Holy Spirit and gifted and used for God’s purpose in redeeming the world.
So, were you wrong? Was the Church wrong when it said Ray Boltz’ music was a vehicle for the Holy Spirit to reach tens of thousands for Christ? No, you weren’t wrong.
Was the Church of the Nazarene wrong when it said I was filled with the Holy Spirit and that God was working through me to bring people to Christ? No, the Church wasn’t wrong.
I implore the Church of the Nazarene to earnestly seek God’s heart on this issue and see the truth that God can and does work through both straight and gay people to bring about the will of God.
Jan Shannon earned BAs in Humanities and Women and Gender Studies with a minor in Religion from Eastern Washington University, and a Master of Divinity from Iliff School of Theology. Shannon writes for Spokane FāVS, a local religion news website, preaches and leads Bible study, and speaks publicly on the intersection of faith and life as a gay woman.