This current crusade against LGBTQIA+ people is killing our children and it is time to put our bodies on the line.
In this brief essay, I will suggest that the Church of the Nazarene’s posture toward LGBTQIA+ people causes unequivocal harm and is at odds with the life, teaching, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Young adults are leaving the church rapidly. LGBTQIA+ teenagers and young adults are leaving the Church of the Nazarene even more rapidly. There are numerous reasons that this may be the case, but I suspect examining the churches’ posture toward these beloved people, created in the image of God, is worth reassessing.
There are numerous passages in the Bible that can help us reassess our posture toward LGBTQIA+ people. In this essay, I will reflect on two: Genesis 1 and John 4.
The sacred creation narrative says, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:24, NRSV). First, this suggests that God created all humans in the image of God. This is not just the first humans, but all humans are created in the image of God. In the Statement on Human Sexuality, the Church of the Nazarene affirms this when it says, “Because all humans are beings created in the image of God, they are of inestimable value and worth.”
I have heard from Nazarene pulpits that Genesis 1 suggests that God only made two genders, male and female. This myopic view denies the humanness of non-binary, transgender, genderfluid, and agender humans who are created in the image of God. Scientific evidence suggests that many people are born each day with diverse chromosomal makeups. This is not to say that a valid transgender experience is contingent upon an atypical chromosomal makeup. Dehumanizing another human or group of humans because we do not understand their experience is a clear example of bigotry, and utilizing the Bible to do it is evil. I suggest that this is a gross misreading of this text.
Genesis 1 is poetry, a beautiful illustration of who God is and how God creates. Earlier in the creation narrative the biblical writer says, “And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night” (Genesis 1:4-5, NRSV). Yet, are there not times that the day and night come together, where neither day nor night exist, or both day and night exist? These sunrises and sunsets happen to be some of the loveliest times in each twenty-four hour period. Later on in the creation narrative, God says, “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear” (Genesis 1:9, NRSV). Yet, are there not places, where the land and seas run together where neither land nor sea exist, or both land and sea exist? Beaches, swamps, and marshes are some of the most beautiful places in God’s creation.
Pastors do not deny the existence of sunrises, sunsets, and beaches from the pulpit. Therefore, neither should we deny the existence of non-binary people. So what is the difference? We see sunrises, sunsets, and beaches, but far too often, the church has chosen not to see LGBTQIA+ people. Not only do we need to see these beloved humans, but we also need to demonstrate a recognition of their humanity, their dignity, their sacredness, and the image of God living in them.
Another text that I believe helps us reassess our posture toward LGBTQIA+ people is John 4. In John 4, Jesus spends some time with the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus asks her for water and spends time conversing with her. Even this action would have appalled good, religious people. She would have been considered one of ‘those people.’ Jews do not associate with Samaritans, much less Samaritan women in public. However, Jesus saw her deep worth and value. I would like to bring your attention to verses sixteen to eighteen.
“He told her, ‘Go, call your husband and come back.’ ‘I have no husband,’ she replied. Jesus said to her, ‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true’” (John 4:16-18).
I have heard from Nazarene pulpits that that Jesus had to go through Samaria to convert this ‘sinner among sinners’ and that this woman was ‘basically a sex-worker.’ I believe that is an inadequate interpretation of this passage and is rooted in our modern understandings of relationships. To situate this passage in its historical context, we must remember that women were considered property. In the patriarchy of the ancient world, women did not have the right to divorce their husbands. Their culture only allowed men the right to choose to divorce a woman. In addition, if a women’s husband died she would become the possession of his brother whom she would then be forced to marry.
I suggest that this passage is not about Jesus having to go to Samaria to convert a ‘sinner among sinners,’ but Jesus having to go through Samaria to identify with a hurting woman who had been abandoned at least five times by her husbands, either because they died or decided they were done with her. Our modern interpretation of this passage continues to marginalize her and her story through no fault of her own. Maybe Jesus had to go through Samaria to identify with a person whom was excluded socially and religiously from who God made her to be. Maybe Jesus had to go to Samaria to empower a woman whom the religious community had excluded to invite her as a co-laborer and partner in the mission of God. God then utilizes her to begin evangelizing the Samaritan people.
LGBTQIA+ people have been excluded from the opportunity to serve God and the Church of the Nazarene in leadership and pastoral ministry because of other people’s assumptions about them. Jesus did not exclude the woman based on other’s assumptions about her. Jesus did not exclude her from ministry because other people thought she did not have an appropriate lifestyle. He simply let her go back to the town as a co-laborer and partner in the mission of God. Jesus positioned himself between the judgments of the religious folk as well as the astonishment of the disciples and this woman-who had done nothing wrong-and I believe that is our task as well. We need to position ourselves between the judgment of the legalistic, religious folk and LGBTQIA+ people.
Theologically, in the incarnation, we affirm that God became a human being as Jesus the Christ. Jesus came to identify with our hurt, offer forgiveness of our sins, and absolve the pain and suffering that he did not cause. God created us and offered us free will. As an indirect result of that gift of free will, pain, death, and suffering entered into the world. God became incarnate as Jesus to be responsible for all of the pain and suffering that God did not cause. It is my position that this should be the role of the church: to be responsible for pain and suffering that we have caused and that which we have not caused. If this is what God did through the incarnation, this is what we must do as well.
LGBTQIA+ people have encountered immense trauma at the hands of Christians. Their pain is our pain. Their hurt is our hurt. Their suffering is our suffering. This is the way of the incarnation, the way of Jesus. Like racism, ableism, and sexism, transphobia and homophobia exist in and through structures of society and community.
Frequent studies reveal that LGBTQIA+ teenagers have higher rates of suicide than straight, cisgender teenagers do. Additional studies expose that LGBTQIA+ teenagers who participate in religious traditions like a local church are at greater risk of suicide.
It is time for the Church of the Nazarene to repent from its participation and complicity in the dehumanizing structures of homophobia and transphobia. I imagine, Nazarenes mean well when they argue passionately to defend their definition of marriage and their specific understanding of human sexuality. However, the time has come for the Church of the Nazarene to realize that this crusade is killing our children. God forgive us, and empower us to see, value, and welcome all people, especially those who identify as LGBTQIA+.
LeeRoy Tomas (name changed for anonymity) is an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Nazarene institutions.