Gay Nazarene Christian?
A friend of mine sent me a copy of the position paper linked below. He asked for my response. As I began to read the paper I struggled with all kinds of emotions. Honestly a bit of frustration, combined with a dozen different thoughts about the theological approach the paper’s authors take. I am not sure I understand all my emotions yet, but I will offer some perspective on the questions they raise.
The paper is saying that we need to allow the term “Gay Christian” to be used by Nazarene’s about themselves. We need to make accommodating changes to our doctrine of Entire Sanctification. These changes would be missional because the Gay community does not understand the use of the term “orientation” by Mildred Wykoop in her book The Theology of Love . They contend that those who resist using the term Gay Christian are merely debating over words not over an essential change to our traditions or theology. The paper does argue from historical Wesleyan and Nazarene sources. Dr. Timothy Cruther’s response at the end is helpful. The questions he raises to this approach are accurate.
How to reach the LGBT+ community
I thank God that Nazarene’s who have been delivered from the Gay lifestyle want to reach that community! I suggest that they follow the example of the Alcoholic Christian community. In an AA meeting they all confess they are alcoholic to the others in that community. “It has been 3 years since I had a drink.” However, in a church testimony they say they are delivered from alcohol by faith in Christ. By using this pattern they contextualize their witness to the group they are speaking to. This is the real application of Paul’s statement about “weak to the weak…” The official Nazarene article of faith does not use the term “orientation.” So the misunderstanding of Entire Sanctification they are trying to tackle actually does not exist in our official statements. I frankly doubt that many in the Gay community are reading Dr. Wynkoop.
Holiness Today published an article in the winter of 2019 that their paper is partly responding to.
The best quote from that article is….
“Humanity is eternally called to give God everything and to serve only Him (1 Samuel 7:3). Every means by which we understand who we are, both individually and universally, must be obedient to God and His will (Exodus 19:5). To say “I am a gay Christian” is to say, “I am one who views my faith through the lens of my fleshly desires in a way that makes it okay for me to pursue both God and sin.” It places Christianity in a narrative defined by an opposing identity that is against the will of God.
The problem with this narrative is that humanity was not created to live in sin.
Christians proclaim the truth that we are created to exist in the measureless expanse of Christ Himself (Philippians 1:21). Christianity as presented in Scripture makes precisely zero allowances for any retention of self-definition that is false and not surrendered to the authority of Christ (Matthew 16:24-27). We are to completely and utterly submit to Christ and His will.”
Christians who are concerned with using “Gay Nazarene Christian” terminology are NOT squabbling over words. We are debating the deep meanings of the Gospel.
Sex, Sin and Theology
Good theology brings peace and healing. We are rightly related to God and then to others. I hope to bring some good theology to this question. The Board of General Superintendents for the Church of the Nazarene has an excellent statement about human sexuality.
Why does the Bible define sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman as sinful? Why is homosexual behavior, fornication, bestiality etc, included as sin?
The Nazarene Manual has an excellent statement on human sexuality. It has much deeper answers to the reasons for marriage than the perspective that we should follow the Scriptural pattern because God commands it. While that answer is true in today’s non-judgemental environment this perspective leaves us feeling that God is an abusive tyrant. “Just because I say so…” Most non-Christians feel that restrictions on sex are arbitrary. They are a kind of test of obedience by an arbitrary God rather than anything deeper. Many argue that the act of marriage (sex) in and of itself does not matter. The only thing that really matters is the faithfulness of two people keeping their promise to each other. For them, the command to not have sex outside of marriage is at the same level as not wearing clothing with a mixed weaving, or not eating shell-fish.
There are much deeper reasons that fornication, adultery and “gay” activities are sinful than a simple command. Here are some from my perspective.
In many places Scripture testifies that the act of marriage reflects the very nature of God Himself. I believe that the New Testament word “glory” is best understood as the quality of the agape relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (John 17) When we fall short of the glory of God – we are not clearly reflecting His agape because our righteousness does not flow from Him. (Romans 3) The married sexual relationship reflects the intimacy of love – the glory of God. Anything outside of the act of marriage falls short of the glory of God.
Reflecting the Trinity
Marriage between one man and one woman was created by Yahweh to reflect the Trinity, (Genesis 1:24ff). Marriage was originally the most essential human reflection of God. Sex within marriage was a reflection of the agape “love” of the Trinity. Any other sexual pattern cannot reflect God. I will use this worldview throughout this article. I use “was” above because since the incarnation of Christ, the Bride of Christ, (Church), married to Christ, is the reflection of the Trinity, (Ephesians 5:15-33) This means that an unmarried person, as a member of His body, and married to Christ, can fully reflect the image of God. We are redeemed!
Nature of the Trinity
We understand that the one God, the Father, eternally begets the Son (Word) who always existed homoousios as the Father speaks the Logos. The Father and the Son send out the person of the Holy Spirit who will implement the will of God. God is love – agape – from all eternity. The Father agape the Son and the Spirit; the Son agape the Father and the Spirit; the Spirit agape the Father and the Son, from all eternity.
God created one couple – Adam – naming them in unity. Adam was two persons, two genders, in one Adam. Adam’s genders reflected the Father and the Son – two persons of equal worth, and the same essence (substance, stuff, homoousios), but with different abilities and responsibilities.
Without gender (sexual differentiation) Adam cannot reflect Yahweh because it is the very act of marriage that creates new life – an essential reflection of the Trinity. Genesis 2 seems written to clearly show that Adam is not complete without agape expressed in gender. The woman was begotten of the man (created from a rib – of the same essence) to complete the essential need for agape in Adam. The sexual act is the physical representation of agape; the pleasure; the self-giving submission and the ability to form a new person – a child. (The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son). Children proceed from Adam when a child was born. Thus the human Adam fully reflects the three persons of the Trinity.
In the original design, each newly formed marriage (Adam) would be a clear reflection of a portion of Yahweh’s personality. Each human marriage would partially reflect God’s full personality with it’s own unique combination of two gendered human personalities. The expanding number of marriages (“fill the earth”) would more and more fully reflect the full personality of Yahweh, as each Adam would have been a new combination of agape personalities. The tree of life would stop Adam (man and woman) from dying. Thus, each marriage was a permanent eternal relationship (until death). Divorce would be like God dying.
Gay Marriage cannot reflect Yahweh
When viewed in this perspective it is clear that all other sexual activities outside of “Adam” cannot reflect Yahweh the Trinity. No type of homosexual relationship, even “marriage,” can reflect Adam or the Trinity. It is important to see that a same-sex attraction is a sinful attraction because the sexual union, the act of marriage, was designed to reflect the agape of the Trinity.
There are many powerful attractions that humans wrestle with as a temptation to sin. These all point to a perversion of God’s goal and design for us to love Him and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Painful wrestling with desire is not unique to the Gay Nazarene Christian community. For example, the attraction to anything that belongs to my neighbor is a sinful attraction. The desire to protect myself with lies is a sinful desire. The desire to gamble is a sinful. Many struggle with the temptation to rebel against authority. There are temptations to jealously and anger. Hatred is a common human desire that overwhelms many leading even to murder.
World-views are normally carried by a few (often short) stories. Everyone within a worldview looks for reinforcing stories similar to the ones they commonly tell each other, (confirmation bias). Then they find complex ways to justify the worldview. The foundational stories are given all kinds of “back up” to make them seem true to everyone who shares the worldview. In this way a world-view arranges life and gives identities to all those who share the same view.
Identities are carried by world-views and shared cultures. Our identity tells us who we are and where we fit in the world. Our identities are always in relation to a community “I am a Monk…” Sometimes identity comes in the rejection of a community “I am not a Monk.” Who we are is defined by how we are related to others. Our claim to identity is also a claim to our most core culture or community. Our claim to an identity is a claim to the stories most important to us that show us where we fit in the relationships around us. It is possible and in fact common to have several identities at the same time. Some identities we take into ourselves other identities are given to us in the categories others want us to take.
Gay Community world view
In the Gay community / worldview the story they share among themselves is that they are being unfairly targeted by Christians and the general culture for a natural (God given) attraction they did not choose. This simple story is reinforced by other small stories. Some of the phrases they share are; “God made me this way.” “I was born this way.” “I don’t remember a time when I was not this way.” “This is a civil rights issue.” “Love = sexual attraction.” “I am being called crazy for just being myself.” “Why should anyone judge who I could love?” “We should accept anyone without judgment.” “Judgement is evil.”
In the linked article above, we have Nazarene members and pastors who agree with Nazarene doctrine and follow Nazarene ethics but they seem to wish to retain the worldview / culture and stories from the Gay community. They feel their identity is in the Gay community as well as in the Christian community. Is this a typical cross-cultural issue? Should we contextualize Nazarene Theology for this community in the same way we contextualize for other cultures around the world?
For the past forty years, especially since AIDS, the Gay community has pressed to be both legal and celebrated. They have pressed for the removal of sexual activity from all moral categories. We see this continued tendency in the definition of “gay” in the paper. They include all kinds of sexual attractions other than heterosexual attraction between a married couple. Every other attraction is “gay.”
Many Sinful Cultures
Since the very beginning of sin in the garden, cultures around the world have adopted sinful and idolatrous identities, Gen 4:23-24. In many of these, the very nature of worship was sexual. In some cultures human sacrifice was used. Recently we have seen cultures, in Papua New Guinea where betrayal leading to cannibalism was highly valued, (Peace Child, Youtube Spanish version). There have been many cultures across history and around the world where a wide range of sexual attractions and activities are morally neutral or even viewed positively. William Ramsay points out that the cultures of Asia Minor during Paul’s time despised marriage and any kind of sexual restraint. (Ramsay, “St Paul The Traveler and The Roman Citizen,” P. 138). Rolland Allen also points out the challenges in his “Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or ours?” Chapter 4, Moral and Social conditions.
How has God called His people to responded to these sinful cultural challenges?
Yahweh called the Nation of Israel to totally destroy cultures of Canaan and become a nation of priests to the nations. They did not finish that work. They did not destroy the Canaanite cultures. They did not become a nation of priests – a light to the world. They failed at this task repeatedly. They adopted foreign gods and their sexual worship practices. They failed so completely that the mission of Israel to be a nation of priests to bring other nations to Yahweh was completely forgotten by Solomon in Ecclesiastes. Everything under the sun is meaningless – but he never mentions the mission of Israel to the world!
In the New Testament Jesus directs His body to the Kingdom of Heaven. This dual citizenship becomes a light to the world – a city set on a hill – salt. In most cultures this means full engagement with the culture. The purity of holiness is expressed through the Christians, in and even through that culture, who reject the evil and keep the good. Sexual purity has been a point of friction and contention in many, even most, cultures that Christians have lived in.
The Apostle Paul – as quoted correctly by the Gay Nazarene Christians becomes as “weak to the weak, as under the law for the Jews, and as without the law to those who are without the law.” Paul carefully adds “not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ.” This last phrase sets the limits of contextualization. We cannot contextualize sin. Can we contextualize a sinful tendency? A temptation? Paul is also clear earlier in this same letter that some kinds of behavior exclude a person from God’s Kingdom, 1 Cor. 6:9-11. He is clear that we should not be deceived in this matter.
The nature of temptation
The nature of temptation is worth a book. I can only touch on the major points here but, as with all Christian topics, each point could be a book of it’s own. I found an excellent article on Martin Luther’s understanding of temptation. I was greatly helped by Luther. I have included a short quote but it is very difficult to summarize the article.
Next we see Satan’s method and desire in temptation. Essentially, it is to challenge and overthrow the Word of God. This was his method before and after the fall of man. Luther comments extensively on the Devil’s desires in his lectures on Genesis 3.
For Luther, in man’s unfallen state, as well as after the fall, the Word of God is the basis of his life. The Reformer is insistent that God’s Word speaks with consummate authority and that man’s first duty is to trust that revelation. Adam and Eve were to continue in the exercise of faith in that Word: “Where the Word is, there necessarily faith also is. Here is the Word that he should not eat of this tree; otherwise he would die. Therefore, Adam and Eve ought to have believed that this tree was detrimental to their welfare. Thus faith is included in this very commandment.”
This is all man’s wisdom. It also accounts for the gravity of the first sin:
Luther’s understanding is that God tests our hearts carefully and in many ways. God allows Satan to tempt us to sin. God himself brings us into many difficult situations to help us grow into His likeness. So that Temptation is core to understanding creation. The very concept of temptation reveals the potential for sin. This is a universal experience, all humans are tempted. Jesus and Christians who follow him are all tempted.
Entire Sanctification and temptation
The way that we understand the relationship between Entire Sanctification and temptation is key to the whole doctrine and a deep key to understanding the Gay Nazarene Christian question. What is the real change when a person is entirely sanctified? Mildred Wynkoop identified it as a change in orientation – from an internal selfish love to an outward love. The love of the person is re-oriented.
What is cleansed? The believer is cleansed from any self direction, rebellion against the will of God, and unwillingness to follow God’s commands. For each person there is a unique set of resistance to God’s will, (though within a common human range). The Holy Spirit reveals the heart of a person to themselves so that they can confess their own sin and be cleansed from it.
Not cleansed from temptation
Entire Sanctified people still experience temptation. It is a deep mistake to think that any person is freed from temptation by Entire Sanctification. It is true that for some Christians that some of their temptations are removed. This is consistent with God’s promise that we would not be tempted above what we can bear.
No pray the Gay away…
In this way Christians who expect that an Entirely Sanctified “Gay” person could “pray their “gay” away are deeply mistaken. In essence they are praying that a person’s temptations would be removed. Christ gives us power through the Holy Spirit to overcome temptation. Expecting temptation will be gone after Entire Sanctification leads to deep spiritual confusion.
Pure love is tested
The main question in every temptation is “do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15). God allows temptations to stay so that we are able to have confidence in the deep work of the Holy Spirit that our hearts are truly single toward God. The ability to keep Jesus’ commands in the face of alternatives helps us see that we truly love God. The more that we resist a temptation the stronger we become. But temptation never completely goes away until the resurrection when we will no longer be tempted. Knowledge passes away and hope is fulfilled but love never ends. This is the point of a person consecrating themselves wholly to God. A full submission to the will of God flows from deep love for God and full trust in His goodness at all times. Temptation tests that submission – and verifies the deep righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.
Not the removal of doubt
Entire Sanctification does deal with unbelief. Unbelief looks clearly and openly at the miracle of God and with open eyes rejects God. This was the challenge of the Israelites in the desert after leaving Egypt. They had the miracle of the parting of the sea, the miracle of mana, the miracle of water, the punishment of Korah. Yet, looking right at those miracles they rejected Yahweh and complained He was not good. This is an evil heart of unbelief which looks at the good acts of God and calls them evil. This evil unbelief is forgiven by Christ and then cleansed by the Holy Spirit.
At the same time, an Entirely Sanctified person may have deep doubts about what God is doing. They may question the providence of God, wonder why a prayer is not answered, struggle with the silence of God, wonder at the tolerance of God for evil in the world. All these types of doubts are common to all Christians as long as they do not lead to a sinful turning from God.
Entire Sanctification gives a person a deep settled confidence in their relationship to God. They KNOW! They know they have been cleansed from all sin because the Holy Spirit has personally witnessed that to them in an unmistakable way. They know they are walking with God and doing His will fully from the heart without reservation. They may or may not receive any special guidance. They may or may not receive a sense of God’s presence. There may or may not be a burst of some emotion. They might have long seasons of dryness. But these are just temporary waves in a settled relationship of love.
Jesus was tempted
Jesus was driven out into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He was tempted with physical desire to cut short the painful test God called him to. Satan challenges him to use his power to transform stone and he replies that total submission is the right way to follow God’s will. He was tempted to prove his identity through a showy rescue. Jesus replies that we should not test the Lord our God as though we need him to do a miracle to prove who we are and who he is. He was tempted to worship Satan in exchange for power (the mark of the beast). But the Lord his God was the only one he would worship. So, lust, identity and power were all rejected by Jesus because he loved the Lord His God.
All are tempted
From the way that God setup the world it is human to be tempted. The question in every temptation is “Do you love this more than me?” These temptations cover the whole range of human experience and interactions. Each of us has a different set of backgrounds, environments and experiences. Each of us experience a different set of specific temptations.
The delivery from temptation
Gay conversion attempts are sometimes successful according to the paper. Yet, the definition is a bit strange. “Conversion” in the Gay Nazarene Christian definition means total deliverance from same sex types of temptation. There are constant testimonies that God delivers a few Christians from specific kinds of temptations – though not from all temptations. I have heard an alcoholic who had all temptation to drink removed immediately when he came to Christ. This rare event is in line with the promise that God will not tempt us above what we can bear but will provide a way of escape. For some people temptation would be overwhelming. The paper does say that 9% of Gay people do experience a change in their temptation so that their attraction to the same sex is changed to an attraction to the opposite. This is likely in line with the percentage of Christians freed from other kinds of temptation.
Is same sex attraction unique?
Is same sex attraction really that unusual or strange compared to other kinds of sin? The answer to that question flows from our theology of temptation. The Gay Nazarene Christian community has decided that its type of temptation is unique and that difference in temptation justifies unique approaches to community, identity, and theology. They view themselves as different from other Christians who are tempted in many ways. I deeply challenge that assumption.
Note that “original sin” applies to the initial sin of Adam. It can also apply to the nature we are born with inherited in some way from Adam (same problem as from the beginning). All people are born lacking a living loving relationship with God. This means we are born with self centered love, the determination to have our own way, set our own standard, knowing good and evil as we personally define it. This is NOT unique to Gays or any of the various types of sexual temptations.
It is important for each of us to understand the way in which our specific sin harms our relationship with God and others around us. Sin is harmful even when a culture accepts a kind of sin, or even celebrates it. All cultures celebrate some types of sin. Sin harms our relationship with God. All of us are still connected to God. Our life comes from him and our relationship with him is eternal because our existence comes from him. We will all be resurrected, both the good and the evil.
The paper says that Gay Nazarene Christians are committed to the doctrinal statement of the Church of the Nazarene and to the ethics of celibacy. They avoid explaining why homosexual tendencies are a temptation to sin. This is a deep problem for the paper. Unless we understand how and why same sex attractions are a temptation to sin – we cannot understand much at all about the need for a special identity. This is the Gay Christian responsibility since they claim a special identity.
Christians other than Gay Nazarene Christians do not claim a special identity when they deal with constant temptations to sin. If it is possible for a Christian to adopt an identity around temptation we need to make that possible for all Christians regardless of the type of temptation they have.
To illustrate the problem, we would also need to accommodate the following kinds of identity.
- Born liars = Liar Nazarene Christian (many children I know). I was lying from the time I was born and I don’t remember a time when I was not tempted to lie.
- Born lusters = Philandering Nazarene Christian (most males and some females I know). From my earliest memories I lusted after women. While I am now a Christian the temptation remains.
- Born alcoholics = Drunk or Alcoholic Nazarene Christian (some people are born with specific tendencies to alcoholism).
- Born gossipers = Evil speaking Nazarene Christian (as soon as children begin to speak we see them accuse their siblings).
- Born thieves = Thief Nazarne Christian (as soon as children begin to play together they steal each other’s toys. We see this in many).
- Born jealous = Jealous Nazarene Christian (as soon as children begin to play they are jealous of each other. We see this in many).
Other Christians, who are all born with the above kinds of temptations, do not claim that Entire Sanctification removes all these temptations from their lives. Most testify that these temptations remain with them their whole life. Temptation to sin is clearly a HUMAN tendency that even Jesus, who is totally free from all sin, experienced.
Because temptation is a human tendency, the Gay Nazarene Christian claim that their type of temptation (same sexual attraction, or the multiple other attractions) gives them a special identity is confusing for other Christians since ALL Christians experience dealing with their own temptation struggle on a regular basis.
So the claim is divisive.
It separates out a class of Christians in a way that has never been done before.