A Hope For Change

Selden Dee Kelley III

For the sake of the Kingdom and the survival of our church, we need better ways to converse on LGBTQIA+ matters.

In 1978, a publication of the Church of the Nazarene, whose target audience was youth workers, published an article addressing the topic of homosexuality. The article offered explanations for same-sex attraction and suggested pathways for overcoming such attractions. I was a youth pastor in Kentucky and felt the need to respond to the editor, suggesting that the article used numerous stereotypes, contained biased opinions, and offered one-sided arguments. I never heard back from the editor.

In the years since then, the public discussion has expanded to include a much broader range of human sexuality and sexual identity issues. There has been more research, books and articles on these topics than one could ever hope to read. And instead of this increase in information bringing us closer together, it has instead divided the faith community even further. And for many this division has led to a fear of public discourse. In the current climate, public discourse seems to be less about learning and more about winning. I hope our church might continue to be a place where discourse is welcome. I hope we chart a course where disagreements are viewed as opportunities for learning and growth. We certainly disagree on how to embody the Gospel message when it comes to the LGBTQIA+ community. May this become a time for learning and growth.

Like many others, the conflict between what I was taught as a child and the complexity of life as an adult led me to read, study, and learn. (Maybe the most important revelation in learning was realizing how little I actually know.) The reading of scripture and the practice of prayer were the anchor points on this exploration of faith and life. Also significant to my journey was the privilege of meeting people whose history and experiences were different than my own. I am forever grateful to the people—-teens, parishioners, fellow pastors, professors—who have been patient with me as they have taught me through their words, through their actions, and through their grace. There was the father who taught me the power of alliance, the teen who taught me the importance of pronouns, the professor who taught me the value of friendship, the military man who taught me the horror of unintended consequences, and the colleague who taught me the urgency of speaking up. One such “teacher,” reflecting on a letter I had written about the church and same-sex marriage, penned these words:

The only thing I would add is something about how queer identifying people are able to serve the church in many capacities, but are prohibited to participate in one of the most meaningful experiences of what it means to be in a committed relationship. We seem to say “yes, yes, yes” (volunteering, attending, serving, etc.) up until a certain point, when there is a very clear, “no” (marriage).

In May of 2019 the Board of General Superintendents approved a new ruling regarding legislation on human sexuality and marriage. The ruling stated that a person with same-sex attraction who feels called to ministry must commit to a life of celibacy. That same document includes the ruling that “Nazarene clergy shall not bless, or perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.” I disagree. (1) A person with same-sex attraction should be allowed to marry. (2) Nazarene clergy should be allowed to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies if they desire to do so. (3) Nazarene clergy should feel free to bless same-sex ceremonies.

When two people love one another and want to make the world a better place by living out that love in lifetime union with one another, want to provide a loving environment for children, ask for godly counsel from a pastor, and seek a place which can help form their spiritual journey, I find it irrational and unscriptural to turn them away. There are certainly many same-sex couples who are doing more to create a just and loving world than I am. And I welcome their counsel on how I could do it better. I am unable to justify telling a couple, who are in love with Christ and each other, seeking godly counsel, and participating in the life of the church, that I must refuse them blessing and participation in the sacrament of marriage.

My calling as a pastor, and as a Christian, is fundamentally to love God and love others. One of the privileges in life, and one of the ways to express love, is to bless others. I believe this means conveying to another person, “I love you, I care for you, and I pray God’s best for you.” I then trust God with leading that person in the life of faith. As long as I am on the journey with the person, I hope we can learn from one another, but I never intend to withhold blessing. Blessing is so woven into my calling that I don’t imagine them as two separate things. Though I am currently prohibited from joining two people in same-sex matrimony, I can’t imagine withholding blessing, encouragement, counsel or love.

I am not asking that everyone (or anyone) within the church agree with me on my understanding of scripture, just that there be room in the church for those of us who are passionate about the sacredness of scripture but land in a different place in our conclusions.

One of my primary reasons for writing this brief essay is to encourage further dialogue among the clergy concerning LGBTQIA+ issues; and I’m not referring to select committees or an isolated task force. We need open dialogue among the rank and file, and we need the dialogue to be encouraged by leadership. I believe that our viewpoints are spread across the spectrum. I fear that we are headed for a crisis confrontation just like other denominations before us. Why not have more constructive dialogue now before we get to that point? We have some wonderful facilitators in our ranks who could help us do this well.

The Church of the Nazarene has a rich history of theological teaching and biblical interpretation that has led our church to its current position. However, there are many Nazarene pastors and theologians who have spent years wrestling with these issues and don’t align with the church’s current stance. I can’t speak for any of them, but I believe they might agree with me when I state that I love the church and I long for it to make room for differing theological and interpretive approaches—as long as those approaches exhibit Jesus’ proclamation of love, holiness and justice.

I hope, for the sake of the Kingdom and for the survival of our church, we will find better ways to converse on this very important issue. I am afraid we will be forever stuck, metaphorically standing by the tree of knowledge of good and evil. We eat its fruit every time we insist on being the authority on what is good and what is evil, who is in and who is out, what is right and what is wrong, who is privileged and who is not. Hopefully we can move the dialogue, and consequent actions, to what is loving, what is kind, what is hospitable and what is just.

Selden Dee Kelley III has been a Senior Pastor in the Church of the Nazarene since 2006. Prior to that he served on the administrative cabinets of three Nazarene universities. He is married with two grown daughters. He loves learning (which has led to five academic degrees), and has particular interests in scripture, dreams, prayer, spiritual imagination, croquet, sailing, and hiking.

2 responses to “A Hope For Change”

  1. There are few men as gentle, meek, humble, and kind as Dee. I am praying, believing, hoping , and trusting that he continues to prosper in the assignment to which God has called him. Anything less would be utter injustice.

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