God’s love does not exclude the LGBTQIA+ community. Church of the Nazarene, is your love limited?
I began to write this essay like a grade school student charged with writing a persuasive book report: “Reasons Why You Should Read All About Rainbows.” I’m not sure any student has ever convinced a peer to read a book with an essay. They convince fellow students to read a book by telling them how it made them feel or what really cool information they learned. They tell how the book speaks to them. Why should you be interested in my opinion and reasons? I am unlikely to convince you of anything by stating facts. Instead, I have decided to share my heart. Maybe your heart will hear what mine is saying.
I love people. I believe that God has created all of us in God’s image. ALL of us. Regardless of our race, gender, beliefs, or idiosyncrasies, we are made to reflect God to the world. Because of this incredible status we humans have with God, we don’t get to judge each other or decide who is worthy enough to carry God’s love to others. James 2:8-9 NIRV says, “The royal law is found in scripture. It says, ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself.’ [Leviticus 19:18] If you really keep this law, you are doing what is right. But you sin if you don’t treat everyone the same. The law judges you because you have broken it.” Love your neighbor; judging them and treating them differently is sin. I don’t decide who God will use for God’s purposes. That is up to God! Isn’t it wonderful to be relieved of the pressure of determining who is “in” and who is “out?”
You know what is not wonderful, though? Being rejected by family and church because of who you are. Crying out for God to change you because you are attracted to the “wrong” person and feeling like God is distant because your prayers go unanswered. Falsely claiming that you were wrong about being gay due to pressure from your parents and church—and having to live a lie. Believing that you are “less than” and sinful because of who you love. Giving up on your call to Christian ministry because your church tells you that you will never be a pastor if you are queer. Having to stop serving in a ministry position in the church because you came out as gay and are in a homosexual relationship. These are not made-up examples. They have happened in real life to people I love. It breaks my heart. These dear ones have been treated as though they are unworthy. The pain and trauma that has been imposed on these individuals is unnecessary. I’d go as far as saying that it is cruel.
“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and loves God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8 NRSV) There isn’t anyone God does not love. Created in God’s image, we also should be love. We are not loving our LGBTQIA+ neighbors by treating them as “less than.” The church is not a place LGBTQIA+ people have found acceptance. They cannot be authentic within the church. In fact, the church is responsible for trauma that some LGBTQIA+ youth have experienced. They have lived with the guilt of being a so-called “sinner.” Some can no longer step into a church without experiencing real physical symptoms, which can include elevated heart rate, shaking, and shortness of breath. A good number have turned from Christianity altogether. Again, these examples are not from an overactive imagination. They are confessions of real people whom I know and love. The “hate the sin, love the sinner” mentality and the damage it has caused makes me cry. It is not love. It is hurtful.
The Church of the Nazarene’s stance on LGBTQIA+ people and their relationships can affect their mental health. The Trevor Project references two recent studies by Johns et al that show LGBTQ young people are more than four times as likely as their peers to attempt suicide. In the same time frame, The Trevor Project surveyed LGBTQ youth and found that youth who report having at least one accepting adult were 40% less likely to report a suicide attempt in the last year. Death by suicide. A life lost—possibly preventable by the presence of accepting adults. I know LGBTQIA+ young adults who have experienced suicidal ideations. I can’t imagine the pain of losing them. I don’t want anyone to lose a family member or friend because that individual felt more welcome in death than in life. If the church can take steps to prevent pain, why doesn’t it? “Love does no harm to a neighbor.” (Romans 13:10 NIV) The church’s part in the hopelessness felt in the LGBTQIA+ community makes me angry.
So, what can the Church of the Nazarene do? It can become fully affirming. Fully. Accept members of the LGBTQIA+ community as people made in the image of God who have gifts to share and love to give. Who are we to say who God can or cannot use, anyway? Do we dare to limit God by not allowing members of the LGBTQIA+ community to serve in leadership positions in church? Invite LGBTQIA+ laypeople to serve as Sunday School teachers, sing in the choir, and become members of the church board. Welcome LGBTQIA+ pastors and their families as God’s leaders of local churches. Just as the early church eliminated the requirement for circumcision (see Acts 15), eliminate the stigma placed on our LGBTQIA+ neighbors. Save a teen from contemplating the value of their life as a gay person. Accept them! Give hope to those in the LGBTQIA+ community who feel a call to Christian ministry. Encourage them! Acknowledge that a faithful homosexual relationship can be as much of a marriage as a heterosexual one. Celebrate with them! “Dear children, don’t just talk about love. Put your love into action. Then it will truly be love.” (1 John 3:18 NIRV)
I have a call on my life to love the marginalized. This includes those marginalized by their race, religion, gender, and immigration status. However, my main focus—one that has been confirmed over and over as a call of God—is the LGBTQIA+ community. Just as the sower in Jesus’s parable recklessly sowed the seed, I am to recklessly love. I am not to judge the worthiness of the ground on which the seed of love lands. I am not to sow only on the good soil. I am to follow God’s command to love. It is freeing! Ask yourself, “How can I love with the love of God? What must I do to show God’s love to others?” God’s love is boundless. My heart hopes that you will open yourself to loving everyone as beings created in the image of God. I pray that there will be more heart mending and less heartbreaking. I desire peace and hope for all of us.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)
Sharon Stueckle is a wife, mom, friend, and teacher with a big heart for the marginalized. Her goal in life is to spread love recklessly and to be a part of God’s kingdom business here on Earth. She is a member of Trevecca Community Church of the Nazarene in Nashville, Tennessee.