David van Beveren
How I went from “Gay is sin” to “LGBTQ+ needs affirmation,” and how the Church of the Nazarene was instrumental in the process.
Yes, my guard stood hard
when abstract threats too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.
—Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”
Before I tell my story, I need to share what my secular background is. I was born and raised in the Netherlands, which, on April 1st 2001, was the very first country to legalize same-sex marriage:
“Four couples were married that day and soon, more couples followed. Discrimination is unlawful and same-sex couples have been able to adopt children in the Netherlands since 2001. The Netherlands was a pioneer and is standing strong in supporting equal rights for LGBTIQ+. Although equal rights are still not at the point we want them to be, with our human rights policy, the Netherlands is trying to establish justice and respect for all.”
That does not mean that everything is fun and games. There are still reports of discrimination, assaults and harassments. This group still needs protection.
I grew up in the mainline Dutch Reformed Church. My faith consisted of what I would call “church beliefs”. I was a churchgoer, doing my stuff in church, repeating the Apostolic Confession of Faith in the weekly worship service and praying the Lord’s Prayer on a daily basis, but there was no awareness of an authentic unity with a loving God. God was very far away. Sitting on a throne. Judging right from wrong.
When homosexuality became an issue in talk shows, I already had an idea about it. It was wrong. In the words of Bob Dylan, “Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect. Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect.”
Later my church beliefs changed into faith in a personal God. And it was easy to change my own opinion about gay people into God’s opinion. God thought homosexuality was wrong. No doubt about that. But I was not informed. I just parroted the group of evangelical people of which I became a part. I did not inform myself, and did not listen to people that had really done research on the issue. And further, as long as you don’t know individual gay people it’s easy to hold this opinion.
In 1977 I became a part of the Church of the Nazarene in the Netherlands. Here I learned that God is love, and not a romantic kind of warm fuzzy loveliness. No, God’s love is vast and trustworthy. It is real and active and relational. And the whole of creation is included in that divine love. But I had no idea about the implications of that view.
So, to state that I believe God is total and inclusive love did not practically mean for me that it should become part of my life, because the implications had not yet become part of my system.
Thinking about the love of God was especially thinking about God’s love for me. His acceptance of me. My old opinions were still alive and kicking. But love was seeping into my consciousness. God loved more people than I thought possible. God really was accepting all people, even his enemies.
And as a consequence the God in my mind changed too. First I read all the dogmatics into the gospel. But my image of Jesus was peeled like an onion, dogmatic layer after layer was taken away, and I discovered a love so pure, so vulnerable, that it disarmed me. Literally.
That didn’t mean that my opinion changed. Confronted with situations about human sexuality I found that my opinions were still alive and hard to silence. Maybe I didn’t want to, because these opinions functioned for me as some kind of security.
However I was confronted with stories of a Jesus who was including all people. Because that is what it meant when He said that crooks and whores will precede us into the Kingdom of God (Matthew 21:31). “And the outcome of that is that crooks and whores also should be welcome as part of the church and as a result as part of your life, David.” I could almost hear Jesus saying this to me.
The story of Simon the Pharisee, who had invited Jesus as a guest at his table, helped me to see the practical implications. Simon was thinking in rigid judgments. There were sinners and saints, and he himself saw himself as a saint, he had the saintly labels all over him. And that woman who had entered his house… she was definitely a sinner. She was certainly not a part of us, she belonged to them. And then we have Jesus, who looks to people with the mindset that everyone, no one exempted, is in a process of development. In this story, looking through the eyes of Jesus we discover that Simon is in that process as well as this woman. There is no difference (Luke 7,36-50).
For me it meant that it’s not up to me to make distinctions. In fact it meant that it’s not up to me to judge. So when people had earlier asked me about the command of Jesus not to judge I would have said “amen” to that, and from there I would have continued to place people groups in categories. Not feeling that I was doing something that I was not supposed to do as a follower of Jesus.
But then it dawned on me that I needed to assess my whole life, and all my opinions, and all my beliefs in the light of the down-to-earth love of God for His creation. And I had to acknowledge that there was a time that not all LGBTIQA+ people have felt fully welcome and safe with me.
At the same time I became a pastor in a church of our denomination that had no problem with welcoming LGBTQ+ individuals into their midst. And although I was always aware that I lived in a country where a gay or lesbian couple with three adopted children could knock on the church door asking if they might join your church, this didn’t happen. But individuals were accepted. and they found a safe place in our church.
Never did I have to deal with the question if I would officiate a same-sex wedding ceremony. So I didn’t need to make decisions about such a request. And, honestly, I was glad that nobody asked me, because I really didn’t know what to do next. Not that I was against it, but I was also loyal to the church that had brought me an image of a loving God that influenced me enormously, and brought me a development and practical redemption of all sorts.
Now I am retired—I’m younger now—and still growing in the awareness of an always loving and an all-inclusive God. The last six years’ latent dogmas that I did not have to deal with in the years I was pastoring, slipped out of my system. And I knew something had to change. I needed to stop trying to save the cabbage and the goat. And needed to align my opinions about LGBTQ+ people.
Because the issue about affirming LGBTQ+ people was not about me anymore, about how I think and what I need to do. But it had become about what the position of my church should be. So looking from a distance to my church I have grown into the person that really longs for the day it will step off of the place where it has to judge, whatever that will be, but that it will take a position of total love and acceptance, and doing so reflecting the God that looks like Jesus.
People in all their colorfulness need to be accepted, need to be safe, need to be trusted, need to be valued, need to be loved. Because that is the way of the cross. Never judging, always serving. Never abandoning, always encouraging. Never afraid, always loving. Not because we are pushed into it by public opinion, and not because the LGBTQ+ community is demanding their rights, but because we have discovered that the love of God is bigger than we thought it was, and that this love urges us to take a new and unthought road.
So my conclusion is that the Church of the Nazarene needs to take the road to become an LGBTIQ+ affirming church, leaving behind the need to protect itself by certain borders, because it has learned to know that it don’t need to be worried and troubled about many things, because only one thing is needed. (Luke 10:41-42) And that one thing is: to love the world as God in Jesus has loved the world.
So yes, I thought I had something to protect, but I’m much younger than that now.
David van Beveren is retired. He was a pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in The Netherlands and he has worked as an Emotional Focused Couples Therapist.