A Place at the Table

Allison Nicole Tucker

An ex-Nazarene professor and pastor’s daughter explains the ways in which the church failed to love her as Christ would.

I was three when I first visited Eastern Nazarene College’s campus. I only know this because of a picture I’ve seen where I am standing next to my father on the front lawn. I’m so small I barely come up to his knees, but my smile is massive and I’m sporting a tiny ENC t-shirt. ENC t-shirts, although of a much larger size, still make up a substantial part of my wardrobe today, but wearing them is a little more painful. From the first visit until today, ENC has been a fixture in my life. As a pastor’s kid in the Eastern region, I always knew I was heading there for college. I was an early decision applicant in my junior year of high school and the second I graduated, I was Boston bound and never looked back.

My ENC story is one of heartbreak because it was first one of love. I fell blindly head over heels for ENC as soon as I arrived. I loved the Boston area and the arboretum campus. There really is something magical about Quincy in the Fall. I buried myself in the theatre department, involving myself in every production, and overloading my schedule with classes that I excelled in. I made friends immediately who I clicked with and a few who I love dearly to this day. As a fourth generation Nazarene and a pastor’s kid, ENC was surely the place for me. Until it wasn’t. Looking back, the writing was always on the wall, but I couldn’t see it initially.

I do remember some early red flags. There were many on-campus clubs, but no LGBTQ+ clubs. Even my rural conservative high school in Virginia had a gay-straight alliance club. There were married dorms for students, but only if they were heterosexual couples. The lifestyle manual outright forbade students from being in homosexual relationships. So did the faculty manual for that matter, but I wouldn’t learn that for several years. If you did end up in a homosexual relationship, you would suddenly lose certain on-campus privileges such as access to jobs or ministry opportunities. When abuse was reported by homosexual students, it was less likely to be taken seriously. If you had asked me when I was a college student how I identified, I would have said “straight” without the blink of an eye. But when I came out to my closest friends at the time, they almost all told me they already knew.

My queerness has been a fight from the very beginning—a fight first and foremost with myself. I grew up steeped in Nazarene culture, and part of that was “knowing” that being gay was a choice that led to eternal punishment. It was wicked in a way that other sins weren’t. I didn’t know how to accept myself as gay because in my understanding, that would threaten my eternal salvation. I can’t begin to explain how terrifying that is to try to understand as a child. The Nazarene doctrine in its current form regarding the LGBTQ+ community is what fostered my internalized homophobia, which then turned inward on my own queer expression, and eventually led to extreme self-hatred, anxiety, and depression.

My entire identity growing up was rooted in my Christian faith. I loved being a pastor’s kid, went to all the services, retreats, Bible studies, classes, and more. When I realized that another important aspect of my identity was seemingly in stark contrast to that faith which defined me, I felt my whole selfhood split in two. It was tragically painful and still is. I couldn’t understand how a loving and consensual relationship with another human could so deeply threaten my internal devotion to God so far as to condemn me to eternal suffering. But whenever I brought this conflict to a pastor, they affirmed the Nazarene position, simultaneously disaffirming my identity. And so, further into the closet I went as a child and teenager.

During my time at ENC, I realized that alongside my greatest passion in life, theatre, was another huge passion: education. I knew immediately that I needed to teach at ENC. Many people who have listened to my story have wanted to know why I bothered fighting to stay at ENC when I clearly wasn’t wanted there by the leadership. I understand this question. ENC is, of course, bound to the Nazarene statement of faith, and they did find out about my sexual orientation early on in my employment as a professor. I took great care to hide my relationship from the public eye. For years my partner and I would never hold hands outside of the house. We drove out of the city we live in to go grocery shopping or to have dinner at a restaurant. I have never publicly shared the beautiful pictures from my wedding. So many of my friends and family members were not invited to the small ceremony for fear of rumors spreading. Even still, I had relatives, friends, community members, ENC students, alumni, and faculty members report me to ENC. I was always on borrowed time on the staff at ENC, which was made clear to me by administration several times over the past few years. I was not “mission fit.” But in my mind, I was exactly what ENC students needed. So, I stayed for as long as I could.

I have spent much time over the years thinking about how differently things would have been for me if I had grown up with even one example of a queer Christian adult in my life. I knew I had the potential to be that queer Christian adult for ENC students, but the personal cost was dear. When you have fought internally to accept yourself and take pride in your orientation and relationship but cannot tell anyone, it takes a toll on you. The day I came out to my parents was one of the worst days of my life. A close second was the day I had to sit in a small office with members of ENC’s administration being forced to lie about my orientation and relationship to save my job. I struggled to always work as hard as possible—hoping my hard work would prove my worth. In the end, it did not.

I might spend the rest of my life trying to heal from my time on staff at ENC and with what coming out in a Christian community has done to me emotionally. The Nazarene denomination shattered my relationship with myself, almost stole my will to live, and damaged my ability to see myself as a deserving child of God. I am still working to heal my relationship with God and relearn what that relationship actually means for me. This shouldn’t be the case for the next generation of queer Christian kids growing up. No one should be forced to choose between their relationship with God and a healthy relationship with themselves. Imagine a world where young queer kids go to a Nazarene college and are met by faculty and staff members like them who can guide them into finding their faith path as they grow into adulthood.

Perhaps you’re reading this and you are queer and Christian, or ex-Christian or unsure, I see you. I have been where you are. Or perhaps you are in support of the Nazarene denomination’s stance on the LQBTQ+ “issue.” I implore you to consider the long-term damage that is being done to the least of these around you. Please bring the doctrine of holiness back into the conversation. That is what was always missing in my treatment at ENC: humanity as viewed by a loving God.

I was treated as a problem to be solved or a dirty secret to hide away quietly. My hard work, my Christian ministry, my sacrifice, my love for the students, my humanity—none of that was factored in. Please, look at your queer siblings as the full, beautiful, capable, talented, loving, unique, complex humans that they are. I fear the alternative is a Nazarene church that continues to bleed those of us who weren’t given a place at the table.

Allison Nicole Tucker is a professional theatre artist and filmmaker in the greater Boston area. She is the owner and executive director of South Shore School of Theatre in Quincy, MA and works with a variety of film companies in the New England area. Allison has degrees in theatre arts from Eastern Nazarene College and Emerson University and is working on her PhD at Lesley University in Cambridge.

Webmasters’ note: In conjunction with this chapter, we encourage you to read the chapters posted prior to this, an interview with Tracy Tucker and Allison Tucker, and the chapter written by Tracy Tucker.

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