The Spirit has surprised me, leading me into awareness, welcoming, and supporting my LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters.
I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene, coming into its fellowship while in elementary school. Through the Nazarene Church, I came to know Jesus as my Savior and The Spirit as my Sanctifier.
The Nazarene culture of personal testimony shaped, encouraged, inspired, and instructed me. Then came a time in my journey when I joined those who would stand and publicly share what the Lord had been doing in their lives. Ah, the internal nudging, prompting, urging, debating that I typically experienced prior to giving voice to what The Spirit had been stirring in me.
My life in Christ was Spirit-energized and shaped by people, their lives and testimonies, including the pastor’s preaching, and by The Spirit through the scriptures. In my Bible, I richly underlined passages and wrote many notes.
This is my testimony about The Spirit’s leading me into more truth about my LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters.
My process with this testimony has been similar to what I experienced earlier in my life as I debated whether to stand up and publicly testify. Like then, so now: I need to honor The Spirit’s Teaching-Nudging-Prompting me into more Truth.
On His last night with His disciples, Jesus declared: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will be guiding you into all truth” (John 16:13).
Over the years, the Spirit has led me into more awareness, inclusiveness, and compassion. The Spirit’s actions have surprised and challenged me…sometimes in ways that, frankly, I initially resisted. I confess that on occasion, I have been like Peter when he instantly and adamantly reacted so negatively to the vision The Spirit gave him (see Acts 10:14). However, I am also like Peter who later came to testify: “…God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean…” (Acts 10:28 TNIV).
In regard to members of the LGBTQIA+ community, The Spirit has spoken to me through the lives of six Christians, through Jesus’ radical inclusion of all people, and through a deeper understanding of the God-breathed scriptures. The message through all these has been the same.
First, The Spirit has touched and challenged me boldly as I have had the privilege of engaging in deep conversation with three different committed couples. All six individuals are dedicated followers of Jesus whose couple relationships are characterized by fidelity and the fruit of The Spirit.
As I spent time with these couples and individuals, I sensed The Spirit’s saying to me, “Be quiet… be receptive… and love with the love of Jesus. I have truth into which to lead you.” As The Spirit nudged me, I felt torn between being cooperative with The Spirit on the one hand and resisting The Spirit’s prompting on the other. I could not reconcile what I was experiencing in these couples with what I had been taught regarding same-sex relationships.
In our living room, my wife Phyllis and I conversed at length with Tim and Scott. These compassionate men were in a decades long exclusive relationship that became marriage as soon as that was possible for them.
Paige and Rebecca, in their twenties, were deeply committed to and exclusive with one another. They planned on marrying as soon as they could.
Marta, a Cuban immigrant in her 50’s and a long-time educator and principal, was a student in my course on spirituality and counseling. At the end of the semester, these adult learners and I sat in a circle. They shared deeply about their spirituality and what in the course had contributed to their growing and changing.
With tears in her eyes and a quaver in her voice, Marta said, “You think I have a choice? If I had a choice, I would not choose to be lesbian!” With a sigh, she confessed how tired and offended she felt when people asked her “And what do you choose to identify with?” Marta continued: “I did not choose. My only choice was to finally recognize my orientation or continuing to deny it.” Marta and her spouse, Patty, had been married for several years. Later, it was my privilege to meet and converse with Patty as well.
All three couples had similar core stories: that their sexual orientation is not a choice and that they continue to experience pain, shunning, rejection, and prejudice by some who claim to be disciples of Jesus. Yet, despite treatment by some Christians and churches, all three couples, all six people, love God and are themselves earnest believers. All six have a sense of calling and mission to minister to others. They long to be respected, embraced, and supported by the church as well as have a place of ministry in and through the church.
Through these six people and their loving, committed relationships, The Spirit was confronting me with Truth, first-hand Truth, which I had not experienced previously.
The Spirit was confronting me regarding how I am to think about and relate to people who are attracted to the same sex. The Spirit prompted me to consider my own orientation—that I did not choose to be heterosexual, I simply am.
Second, The Spirit was challenging me to ponder how Jesus related to marginalized and shunned people. Jesus sought them out; He welcomed and included them; He fellowshipped with them; He commissioned them to minister in His Name and on His behalf. An example of His followers replicating this radical inclusion is seen in Philip’s engaging with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40).
Guided by The Spirit, Luke, the human author of the Acts of the Apostles, recounted this astounding story of inclusion. The castrated African had gone to Jerusalem to worship despite his being socially despised and religiously excluded due to his race and his physical condition.
The point of the story is to clearly declare that categories which were once used to demean and exclude people—even categories which a person cannot change—are not valid in The Kingdom of God as embodied and taught by Jesus. Further, the scriptural focus of the story (Isaiah 53) is a powerful declaration of what The Suffering Servant Jesus endured on our behalf: shame and exclusion.
Luke is clear that God is behind the entire engagement between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was obedient to God’s command to take the multiple day journey to a sparsely populated location where there would be few travelers. Odd, as Philip was having great success evangelizing in Samaria. Guided by The Spirit, Philip encountered the Ethiopian eunuch. Philip was open, receptive, and welcoming, even initiating toward the man. Philip was obedient to The Spirit; he was an ambassador of God’s loving inclusion, letting go of any prior prejudices.
What The Spirit was doing in and through Philip, we see The Spirit doing years later in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul who had been harsh of attitude and rigid in exclusion. In his various Spirit-breathed letters, Paul gives us glimpses of his own his testimony. He clearly declares being liberated from judgmental thinking and exclusionary actions. He testified that he had come to understand people from Christ’s point of view and not according to human categories that are demeaning and marginalizing. The result was that Paul’s ministry and all of ours as well are to be welcoming and reconciling. (See Romans 15:7; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; Galatians 3:26-28).
To live faithfully today in a Christ-like manner, we need to consider how The Spirit was moving people into more Christ-like living in the early days of the Christian faith and then to ask ourselves: “How is The Spirit trying to move us—to move me—forward now to live more like Jesus and His loving inclusion of all people?”
Third, The Spirit encouraged me to think again about the very few specific passages which speak of same-sex activity. “Rand, to live more Christ-like, you have sought to understand the Bible in its original context. I want you to carefully apply this same principle to those few passages on same-sex activity. I have spoken to you, giving you living truth in three couples; their lives do not contradict My Word.”
As I sought to follow the Spirit’s leading, I discovered that the few passages that do speak of same-sex activity were not addressing what we know as sexual orientation or committed, monogamous loving relationships. Rather, they were addressing activities related to religious cults, dominance of one person over another, and possibly war crimes.
The Spirit pointed me yet again to the core of Jesus’ teaching as Jesus Himself clearly declared: loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving our neighbors and, yes, also, ourselves, in caring compassion—to love as Jesus loves.
So, I have come to embrace the Spirit-filled lives and relationships of couples like Tim and Scott, Paige and Rebecca, Marta and Patty. Their lives and relationships have ministered to and encouraged Phyllis and me in our marital commitment and growth. Same-sex relationships and marriage are not a threat to our marriage. Rather, we discovered that the relational dynamics of same-sex couples are very similar to that of all couples.
In The Spirit’s guiding me into more truth, I have come to realize that God’s gifting and calling people to be ordained ministers includes those whose sexual orientation I may not understand. It has been a process to come to this conclusion. It has not been easy for me, and the process continues.
I do not understand same-sex attraction and orientation; I cannot explain it, but based on what I have come to know and realize, I am not going to condemn the precious people who find that they are attracted to the same sex. I am not going to deny these precious brothers and sisters in the Lord the gift of intimate relationship, including sexual, because of my lack of comprehension.
With the help of The Spirit and as best as I can, I will continue my effort to accurately understand scripture in its original context and hopefully not to dishonor it by superimposing my own prior unrecognized prejudices and (mis)understandings. My ambition is to ever more faithfully and consistently live what Jesus Himself Embodied toward and with all people.
Because of my own surprising journey, I ask my Nazarene brothers and sisters to be open to the Spirit’s leading you into more truth as well.
I ask the Church of the Nazarene to support same-sex marriage.
I ask the Nazarene Church to ordain people who are gifted for, called to, and mature enough for ordination, whatever their sexual orientation or marital status may be.
I think if the all-inclusive Jesus were physically with us now, He would support the foregoing. However, as we all know, He is not physically with us, but He is with us in and by The Spirit. In His final words before His ascension, He underscored, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).
It is ours to remember that by His Spirit, we are His Body and thus we are to be the embodiment of His all-inclusiveness. While my experience of The Spirit’s leading me has not always been easy, I am thankful for the process which has been yielding in my life what Peter admonished at the close of his second letter: “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be glory both now and forever! Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18 NIV).
Rand Michael, DMin, LMFT, a licensed mental health professional and a retired Nazarene elder, taught for 30 years as a seminary professor and a graduate level counselor educator. He pastored churches in California, Colorado, and Kansas as well as having trained Christian leaders and mental health workers in over two dozen countries. He remains active in a multi-faceted ministry.