This is hard for me to write, though not nearly as hard as it has been to process and live. As of November 30, 2018, I have withdrawn from the process of ordination in the Church of the Nazarene. This is a process I’ve been in since 2008, and is an extension of a call to ministry I experienced back in 2002. Suffice to say, the better part of my life has been spent in this process or anticipating it.
It’s with so much regret and sadness that I withdraw. In a lot of ways it feels like it’s not my choice, although it’s in my hands to make it official. There’s a lot of story to tell, and you’re welcome to ask me about more details, but I’m going to do my best to summarize.
As part of the process toward ordination, every year I go before a committee who asks me questions about my ministry, assesses my calling and essentially checks in to see how I’m doing in the process. They also remake the decision each year to renew my district license, which grants me the privilege of serving in ministry and performing some functions like weddings, and communion under supervision.
In the last couple years, this process has felt more intensive. Whereas before these committees were interested in how I perceived and discerned my call, and my views on essential church doctrine like holiness and discipleship, these last couple years have felt more like an investigation. Without it being stated this way, it has become a process of them asking, “Where do you stand?” and “Are you one of us?”, with the implied answer being “no”. In the process, the daily work that I do in homeless services day to day has been ignored, if not outright dismissed. I certainly understand that it may not count technically toward my ordination, but it has become an essential part of who I am and how God has called me, and the lack of interest in that is a deep source of pain for me.
I want to be honest though, and also clear. I have experienced a lot of hurt through this process. I also have a lot of anger that I’m working through. But I’m not leaving because I’m hurt, and I’m not leaving because I’m angry.
While it feels a lot bigger than this, the essential issue that the denomination has dug into is my being affirming of LGBTQ+ identities. The last thing I want to do here is present an argument about my views on that. If you are open to a conversation about that, let’s get coffee sometime. But several years of learning, researching, and meeting people and sharing stories has led me to the conclusion that to be gay, or lesbian, or any gender or sexual minority, and to live into that identity in loving and monogamous ways, cannot be a sin, and more so cannot be a barrier to the full experience of God’s love and saving grace. I know that this is problematic for a lot of people, but I cannot deny the grace of God I’ve seen and experienced in coming to this conclusion.
At last year’s renewal meeting, I was cornered into expressing clearly and articulately my view on this matter. I made every effort to both be honest at where I was at the time on my thinking, while also affirming my commitment to the denomination and my posture of humility and unity. After several gracious meetings with the district superintendent, and a long period of waiting, I was told by the DS that my license would be renewed, but that my stance on this matter, in the direction it was heading relative to the direction the church is heading, would indeed be a barrier to my ordination. So I’ve been left with a choice of three options – be dishonest or disingenuous about my beliefs, push through the process until I’m ultimately denied, or withdraw myself from the process. I never seriously considered the first option, and I’ve been operating under the second until recently, when through a lot of prayer, counseling, and dialogue, I have arrived at the third.
One of my SNU professors, who is more conservative than I, once looked at our class, knowing that we were on an intellectual path that might be different than his, said with a lot of hope: “I hope the Nazarene church is big enough for you.”
I’ve spent the last 8 years believing that it could be, and hoping that it was. It breaks my heart to be told that it isn’t, because I believe in my heart that it can be, and I still believe that it is. But I want to be really clear that I’m not leaving because I have “outgrown” the church. I’ve spent the last several years trying to tell the church that my theological differences are not irreconcilable, that I’m not here to stir up trouble, and that I can participate faithfully and humbly despite my differences. I’ve been told, with a lot of kindness and sincerity for which I am grateful, that the church disagrees; I no longer fit.
A lot of anger and hurt comes from the fact that I know that’s not true. I know ordained pastors and leaders and teachers who hold my same belief, who find themselves on the inside because they weren’t asked the same way I was, or perhaps their beliefs have changed since their ordination. I choose to set aside my envy, and the anger that comes with it, because my heart and my prayers go out to them. My heart breaks more for the people still in my recent circumstance who are stuck in the limbo leading to an ordination that may never come; not because they’ve decided they are too big for the Nazarene church, but because the Nazarene church has decided to change the rules for entry.
There’s a part of me that wants to go on a tirade here… stuff about how the church ought to care as much about the disenfranchised as it does about who loves whom; that it ought to not fear disagreement but welcome it as a necessary component in the pursuit of holiness…. I’m not able to do that yet without my anger overcoming the love that I am called to, and that I do feel at my best moments for the church that raised me.
Maybe in time I will be able to do that, but for now, I want to simply say this. I have loved the Church of the Nazarene for 28 years, and it has loved me back. It has loved me and poured into me at times that I didn’t return, and I have loved it at times when it broke my heart. I choose for right now to be one of those moments.
I don’t write this to encourage anyone to do anything differently. If you serve the Church of the Nazarene, I implore you to steward her well. Even now I don’t want to stir things up, or cause any ill will. In fact, I write this because I know that there are so many Nazarenes in Arizona, Oklahoma, California, and countless other places who still care about me enough to wonder what I’m up to, and to wonder what happened here. You all deserve to know, because you invested in me and loved me and raised me to be the person I am today. I hope that doesn’t change. I still need you.
But Jesus is leading me elsewhere. I’m not quite sure where still. In my daily work at The Center, I believe I am wholly where Jesus has led me, and I believe I am doing the ministry Christ has called me too. If you disagree, I suggest you take that up with God, because my heart is at peace.
I don’t know what the future holds. I’ve hoped for a couple years now that I would be able to serve the poor and also serve a church, and that my life’s vocation and calling could merge into one. I still love to go to church, and to write and teach and preach. I hoped it would be with the Church of the Nazarene. It seemed like that’s what God had in mind. Maybe I messed it up. Maybe someone else did. I just don’t know, and maybe never I will.
The hardest and scariest part is realizing that this decision puts that dream far out of reach. Despite the emotional and personal things I am letting go of, I’m losing an entire course of study, and 100’s of hours of pastoral experience that were counting towards my ordination. To begin that process somewhere else feels impossible, especially because I have no intention right now of leaving my church home, even as I step out of the ordination process.
So if you can, pray for me. Even if you disagree with me. Even if you think I’ve been led astray, and/or that I’m “playing” this wrong. Pray that God finishes what God started when I felt called to ministry 15 years ago. I’m going to keep going where I find Jesus, and everyday I find him in the work I try to do in helping the most vulnerable people in my city. Maybe I will spend the rest of my life doing that. Maybe I will find a denomination or a church that sees me and my work and my heart and wants to invest in me again. I will always hold that hope and will remain open, God willing, to say yes.