Elizabeth Wren McNally
The church of the Nazarene taught me that abusing children is acceptable and lying to members is expected, but it is not okay to be queer. God doesn’t accept queers, but he forgives liars and pedophiles.
The question of whether any church should change their stance on how they should treat a person—let alone a mass group of people—is just such a quandary for me. We are a human race, and it’s beyond my comprehension why this is such an issue. Isn’t the Bible very specific that God is the only one who should judge, and that we are supposed to treat others as we want to be treated?
I was raised in a Nazarene household, and there has never been a time in my life that I didn’t know I was a lesbian. Of course, I never knew what the word lesbian meant, or that it was even a word—that it existed. I never realized I had an identifiable word for my sexuality. I never came out. I don’t think people should come out. I think people should just be who they are and not have to answer to anyone.
I was raised in a very strict household that was dominated by a woman who could gaslight anyone that wasn’t on her side or anyone that she deemed to challenge her; the threats and her wrath haunt me every day.
I love being a girl. In the dead of winter with the worst blizzard, I would still wear a dress and loved having a good handbag of some sort. I was in love with my Barbies, collected shoes, collected bags, and was always drawn to women. Being around men would make my skin crawl.
I have extended family in the church. Cousins who were missionaries, an uncle is a pastor, a step-dad and multiple family members who were elders—it was who we were. Nazarene. No drinking alcohol, potlucks on Sundays, Caravans on Wednesdays, Sunday school before Church, camps and NYC. There was church at least three times a week. During the summer there was Church softball, summer camp, mission trips, fundraising for programs and so much more.
The problem I am having is that I was raised in such an abusive home that I have blacked out almost all of my childhood. I was raised by a mother and stepdad who were kicked out of the church for their pedophilic behavior with the youth of the church. Nobody talks about it. Nobody saw the signs in me—and if they did, nobody interjected their Holy Christian self to save me. To be clear, I am not a lesbian because of how I was raised. I am a lesbian because I am sexually attracted only to women. I have always been a lesbian; my point in sharing how I was raised is that the Nazarene church picks and chooses who they condemn, and they cover up so much scandal. The church punishes people and judges them for who they are as humans. They are not inclusive.
A man of God, an Elder, coming into my bedroom, rubbing my head, putting his hands where they said in school no one should put their hands and to tell a trusted adult. But if you can’t trust the people In your house who take you to church three times a week, who can you trust?
I remember being told that being gay is against God. I didn’t know what “gay” was. Of course, I was also making out with girls at Church Camp and losing my virginity to a pastor’s daughter. GAH—it was amazing! I was in heaven at church camp.
I remember all the double standards. No drinking, but there was a hidden fridge in my mother’s closet with alcohol. I never was able to determine if that was because she was going against the church or because my stepdad was a convicted felon on parole and not allowed to drink.
Now, as an adult, I have identified what queer is—that I am for fact a lesbian and am very happily married to a woman. I have not had a relationship with my mother or step-dad for over five years—and life is perfect. I am an embarrassment to the majority of the family because I am a lesbian; their Nazarene background has opted to condemn me, not embrace me. They have taught me that Jesus may forgive my sins, but they will not.
When people, Christian or not, question me as an adult and my walk with Christ, my answer is simple: “My walk with God is mine and mine alone. He knows my heart and my path. If he wants me to feel guilty or that I am a sinner, he will—but see, I don’t feel like I am sinning. I don’t feel bad. I don’t feel like I need to repent. And if I was living in a not Christlike way, I would feel I need to repent.”
Let me just say that I don’t know why they aren’t affirming to everyone. Why does it matter? Why does anyone care where someone else’s heart is? Why is it okay for my parents to abuse me and other children in the church, but it’s not okay for me to love another woman? Why does a convicted felon who created hundreds of victims get to be an Elder in the Church, but the girl who attends Sunday School, Jr. Church, Sunday night service and Caravans doesn’t get to kiss a girl?
The first girl I did kiss was a pastor’s daughter—at church camp. It didn’t feel wrong. We kissed everywhere—in the kitchen, in the dorms, in Ruth, in Mary, in Margaret (cabins at camp). We kissed in Church, we held hands in church, we prayed at the altar in church. It never felt wrong. It felt wrong when a family member told me I was an embarrassment. It felt wrong when my church family condemned my life choices. God didn’t make me feel wrong, people did—like when my grandmother, a devout Nazarene, didn’t want me and my wife to enter her house. I wonder how she feels about my cousin, who is a lesbian.
Why would the Church not allow its members to be happy, loved, and filled with joy? If I was created in the likeness of Christ, didn’t he make me this way? I didn’t choose to love her, to love all the girls—why was it wrong for me to tell a girl I loved her, but it wasn’t wrong for liars to be members of the Church?
Alcohol was hidden in our house. The past of my family members was hidden, and when it was told, it was told wrong. It was told as a testimony—to gain trust, to gain love, to gain admirers. The truth was never told.
The Church of the Nazarene should become affirming to the queer community. The Church needs to do better by the communities they are located in, to stop spreading hate. I am currently in my fifth year of working through the traumas that I have endured at the hands of the Nazarene Church. The depths of despair I have been at—my lowest lows in life are at the hands of the Nazarene Church. There are times in my life that the Church of the Nazarene would be the reason for my death.
I learned to lie at Church. I learned to judge people at Church. All of it for Church. I learned that Church didn’t want me to be real. I learned that the people in church wanted to hide the truth. The Church is cloaked in lies, secrets, and judgment. I tried to tell people what was happening at home, but it fell on deaf ears. No one wanted to believe me, no one wanted to help me, and no one was there to help me simply just be me. There was no one like me in my hometown church. I submitted to what the Church wanted me to be and not what I was or who I am.
I spent the ages 3 to 16 growing up in the Nazarene Church, and all I saw were individuals who are not authentic. My experience is that the Nazarene Church is for people who want to judge others who don’t believe in the same things, and who want to put people down—to step on them and emotionally damage people. Church wasn’t for helping people. Church wasn’t for love. It was for telling you that you aren’t living the correct way. That you are on a path to hell. That the One true God above would damn me to hell for loving women. But God didn’t make me feel that way—church members did.
If I was created in His likeness, didn’t he know he created me like this? Having to separate the church from the house I grew up in is hard. Our life was consumed by Church and I didn’t know where one ended and the next started. Everything revolved around Church. I grew up in a house where we didn’t say I love you. We didn’t hug. We didn’t extend joy and kindness or even support. I don’t recall a single school event that my family attended.
I don’t understand why any church wouldn’t just accept everyone. Why does it matter? Make it make sense. Why do these religions claim to be Christ-like and yet don’t support everyone? What is wrong with them? Why do they care what sex we are, who we love, who we want to marry… What does any of that matter? It’s not for us as people to judge or determine the fate of others.
I will end with this: the number one place that I have been rejected from for being queer is the Church of The Nazarene. The only people who have made me feel unloved because I am queer are members of the Church of the Nazarene. But their God does not condemn people to eternal damnation for being queer. Their God loves me and my wife.
Elizabeth Wren McNally is living her best life in Key West as a probation agent and married to her soul mate Monica. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin and has two adult children living in Wisconsin. She is a survivor.