An Embrace of Love

Tracy Tucker

The loving embrace of a parent is critical to the journey of their child whose identity is on the other side.

My story as a father who raised his two daughters in a Nazarene parsonage rewinds back to just over 30 years ago. My wife and I were married nearly a decade before the first one arrived. I’ll never forget the moment I first held my infant daughter, having to reach for the nearby stool as my knees gave way to weakness. I was elated, intimidated and wildly in love with the new lady in my life. My little girl! And a daddy’s girl Allison genuinely became. Almost 6 years later we added the second. “She’s an old soul,” her grandmother would later declare. Ani was less demonstrative but made up for it with her wit and powers of observation. Both girls are keen artists in their own right and respective fields, a trait inherited from their mother.

I have often said, I was outnumbered—even our kitty was female. But in the truest sense I never stood a chance to begin with. My girls have owned my heart from the day we learned my wife was pregnant the first time. I have always considered fatherhood to be the greatest privilege imaginable. But as likely every parent has experienced, parenting is also filled with pain. My experience has been that I am usually the author of my own pain, especially pain associated with my parenting practices. In a recent late-night conversation with Ani, I confessed that if I could reverse history, I would be silent more often, and more encouraging at other times. I would also likely reconsider some of the expectations which I had felt were of ultimate value. In short, were I given the opportunity for a redo, I would have been a nurturing guide rather than an authoritative guardian.[1]

But don’t all compassionate parents tend to look back and observe countless points in their past where they wish they had responded to their progeny at least a little differently than they did? Since the focus of this essay is intended to reinforce the conviction that the Church of the Nazarene needs to rethink her official position on the role of the LGBTQ+ community within the church, I will look at factors which affect the relationships most precious within Nazarene homes. I have two daughters and one of them, Allison, is queer. Married for about four years, Allison has faced much opposition in her journey from conservative beginnings to the present. Most, if not all, of that opposition finds its source within the Christian community, followers of Jesus who believe it is their responsibility to fix her (a cloaked form of judgementalism). Ani, on the other hand, is heterosexual and in a loving relationship of her own. While not gay, she has experienced the power of judgmentalism vicariously as Allison’s sister and best friend. It has been heartbreaking for Ani to see her sister laid upon the altar of indignant “rightness” under the guise of godliness and holiness.

It is not my job or my intention in this essay to right someone else’s wrongs. Neither is it my job nor intent to determine someone else’s ethics. To do so would put me at risk of being judgmental. I simply intend to put forth the following faith-related thoughts for consideration that are born out of reasoned rethinking in my own heart as I have been able to make sense of my own family dynamics. The relationship I have always shared with my girls was at risk because I was resistant early on to serious dialog about these ideas. In these matters I have been “the chief of sinners.”

I begin with the idea that God is always and at all times loving. Tom Oord develops this thought quite well in his work “The Uncontrolling Love of God”.[2] With love as the essential and primary quality of God—God’s essence—that starting point becomes the pivot on which we balance and measure everything else we say about God. Thus to be godly is necessarily to be loving. Everything else we do in pursuit of holiness must be shaped by our commitment to love. A fellow student of mine, Pastor Steve Watson had earlier served as an English teacher in the Boston Public School system. In his excellent essay “Learning to Save My Students Instead of Judging Them,” Steve described in detail how he transitioned his teaching style from forcing students into a predetermined series of assignments that would ultimately be judged with a clear pass (along a sliding scale of excellence) or fail outcome. This approach simply didn’t line up with how Steve felt God engages with humanity. Steve discovered that when he viewed his students as individuals with freedom and varying gifts, and his own role as encourager and guide, then he found himself more in line with the way he understood that God sees him. This thinking was brought home in Steve’s reading of John 12:47 “I came not to judge the world but to save the world.”[3]

My approach to parenting had much in common with how Steve had been schooled to teach, as an authoritarian whose job it was to critique and correct with the outcome of judgment. Of course I did that under the banner of love, “I push and correct you because I love you.” But John 12:47 continues to jump back up. Judgmentalism (or if you prefer to say judgment) has no place in the church nor in Nazarene homes. Yet the understanding of love that I preached and lived was at best dismissive and at worst intolerant of those whose lifestyle in any way smacked of an LGBTQ+ orientation.

When my daughter came out to me, I was crushed. Mostly my pain rested on the fact that she considered the possibility that we might put her out of the house. “Wait, what?” But I now understand her fear. I had never expressed absolute acceptance in all circumstances. The only way for Allison to anticipate my response to her announcing her gayness was by observing my reaction to others within the gay community. I have known gay people, and I have tried to be tolerant and even accepting of them as people. But I had never embraced with loving arms gay people who, like myself, are trying to find their place within the broader kingdom of God. Where is the commitment to unity and universal brotherhood of believers and non-believers alike? I can enthusiastically support and celebrate the missionary effort of the church reaching out to pagans across the ocean, but limit my affection and embrace of the gay couple next door.

It seems as though Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 is limited in its scope to just those of like mind and not really for those whose life style doesn’t line up with the Bible as it is so often preached and taught. And now we are back to judgmentalism. I will let those more skilled in biblical interpretation provide a clearer reading of the half dozen passages within the Bible that are used to condemn homosexuality. My point is that our dogmatic rejection of our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers, and especially our children, runs crosscurrent to everything within Jesus’ teaching about unity and it is contrary to love.

In my first assignment as a Nazarene Pastor (around 1987), a gay couple began attending our small church in southwest Florida. Jerry was a gifted keyboardist, and his spiritual sensitivity was a rare and heartfelt addition to worship whenever he played. I never found out what was said or perhaps what expression was felt, but one week they simply disappeared from our congregation. No complaint was ever expressed to me, but Jerry and Lawrence simply indicated that they did not want to create further disruption. Jerry and Lawrence had taken in an elderly lady, Fern, who had found herself homeless and in need of care. Lawrence was Fern’s hairdresser and had learned of her unfortunate circumstances. Without much discussion, Jerry simply agreed that it was the right and Christian thing to do, so they became “Aunt Fern’s” surrogate family. She never had to worry again about how or when she might get her next meal or who was going to care for her. Jerry and Lawrence even purchased a home that would allow Aunt Fern the freedom of her own space within the loving environment of her caregivers. I missed my new friends and Christian brothers.

In a world packed full of beauty and variety where each species of bird has its unique song and each family of flowers has its own look of beauty, what a shame it is to consider that people with varying expressions of love are marginalized by those who claim to have the secret to living well. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” John 15:12 Bruce G. Epperly writes, “God’s quest for a world that promotes beauty and complexity of experience always points to the contrast between the church as it is and the church as it is called to be in light of God’s vision of beauty and Shalom.”[4]

I love sitting with Ani, my younger daughter. She reads me like a short story book. After we have sat together for a while talking about stuff that may or may not be of substance, she always leaves me (notwithstanding my “dad humor”) feeling as though I’m important to her. Recently Ani affirmed me for what she observed to be real growth in my faith journey. This is especially significant to me because she has admittedly turned away from the Christian faith that she was raised with. I won’t attempt to go into her faith journey, it isn’t my story to tell. Ani’s exposure to “truth” within the context of the Christian community has been stifling. I get that. Some of what I was willing to die for as a young seminarian makes little sense to me today. My truth has changed. I read the Bible today with a very different understanding from when I first entered the pulpit. I watch as the Bible is raised in a social media pulpit with the preacher declaring “This is truth.” Then I remember Jesus’ words “I am the truth.” I fall in favor of Jesus, rather than the sacred writings, and that is the result of my own growth dynamic. What I was once willing to die for, I no longer subscribe to. I am grateful for the inspired written word of God, and I believe those writings are a primary source of revelation, but I don’t assign the characteristic of eternal truth to those writings. I reserve the title of truth for God in Christ.

Jesus’ words about loving enemies and the helpless and the rejected and the poor and the oppressed and the youngest and the oldest and the least of these are compelling examples of the truth as Jesus taught. If this is a more compelling and clearer picture of love and truth, then how can I refuse to embrace my spiritual sister and brother who are trying to find their place in the presence of God? And dare I risk taking a stance which limits grace? A stance on a principle that further along in my journey I very well may determine is a non-issue?

My final statement has to do with legacy. Within my legacy storage locker I have squirreled away my passion for coffee, the fancier the better. I also have a propensity for dad humor. There is space for collecting strange things, like the bobblehead Allison once had made of me, the size 13 wooden shoes a friend brought back to me from the Netherlands, and even the mink fur Cossack hat that another friend brought from an undisclosed location in Europe.

We all leave something behind, our legacy. That legacy is the piece of us that represents our past and potentially inspires the next generation. A legacy of grace and love inspires the next generation to serve as models of grace and love. It promises to promote general well-being and foster healthy relationships. That legacy speaks well of our personal journey, and those who traveled the journey with us.

On the other side, a legacy of adherence to a system of belief can leave a shallow imprint for the next generation to inherit. Systems are by definition not a loving community, but a structure for control and static reproduction. Systems do not breathe or express freedom in the sense of empowerment to grow in love and grace. We need systems for many things, and many systems are essential for maintaining order. But systems are not usually helpful when they are the veil behind which we hide on issues such as embracing alternative loving lifestyles.

The legacy I hope to leave behind has less to do with bobbleheads and wooden shoes or even a fine cup-o-joe. Rather, I want those who follow after me to inherit a spirit of love and acceptance that promotes general well-being and encourages those who have been marginalized. Could today’s “Samaritans” be the LGBTQ+ community? Can we as a significant expression of Christ’s body, the Church of the Nazarene, laity and leadership, risk our legacy potential on the platform of a rigid dogma? Or will we enter into a healthy and loving dialog for the purpose of promoting the Kingdom of God?

While I have always preached love as the primary theme of the Christian faith, I have not always lived that love when reflecting on or interacting with LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters. But when it arrived at my own home, I was forced to confront it, and I still do. I want Allison to see that I embrace her fully, and that I embrace her wife fully as my daughter-in-law whom I dearly love. I also want Ani to have a much better picture of what it looks like for a Christian to be essentially loving and to demonstrate that as a lived expression without judgment. Maybe if I can get this right, perhaps maybe someone else’s son or daughter might not have to endure the loneliness Allison experienced and the rejection Ani felt and feels.

[1]. Sanders, J. (2019). Embracing Prodigals. Cascade Books. (1-15).

[2]. Oord, T. J. (2015). The Uncontrolling Love of God. InterVarsity Press.

[3]. Oord, T. J., Rambob, B., Reddish, T., & Stedman, F. (Eds.). (2021). Partnering with God: Exploring Collaboration in Open and Relational Theology. SacraSage Press. (333-36).

[4]. Epperly, B. J. (2011). Process Theology. T&T Clark International. (122).

Tracy L. Tucker is a Senior Chaplain for Community Hospice and Palliative Care in Jacksonville Florida, following 30 years in fulltime parish ministry. He earned his MDiv from Nazarene Theological Seminary and is currently working on his DTM through Northwind Theological Seminary. Tracy is a Board Certified Chaplain through APC and has a Certification in Thanatology through ADEC.

Webmasters’ note: In conjunction with this chapter, we encourage you to read the chapter posted just prior to this, an interview with Tracy Tucker and Allison Tucker, and the next chapter, written by Allison Tucker. We hope that reading these three chapters together will give you a better perspective on their experiences.

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