By Noah Shaw
There is no doubt that LGBTQ+ issues have been a central talking point in relation to the Church of the Nazarene. Whether it is certain beliefs on marriage and sexuality becoming essential doctrines or the recent dismissal of San Diego First Church of the Nazarene pastor Dee Kelley, it seems as though this issue is a point of tension in the Nazarene denomination. It is not just this one denomination that is facing this tension, but many other churches as well. The Global Methodist Church was recently formed from conservative churches that broke off from the United Methodist Church (UMC). The Presbyterian Church (USA) has faced a similar internal tension over issues of marriage and sexuality.
As public discussion of human sexuality increases, Christians and denominations are left wondering how they should respond. There are some who have suggested changing doctrine based on community consensus, seeing what the majority believes and placing that as the new standard. I could not disagree more with this mindset. When establishing and formulating doctrine, it does not matter what people personally like or think should be right, but what the Bible actually says. If we look to the Bible, one can point to multiple examples such as Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and Mark 10:6-9 which clearly propose the proper context for sexual activity to be a marriage between one man and one woman. Furthermore, marriage is consistently and only spoken of in the Bible as between one man and one woman, with no examples of the contrary.
If we believe that God designed sexuality, and we seek to understand that design, we must turn to Scripture. If we base our beliefs on Scripture, I argue that we will be led to one conclusion. While all Christians will have a difference of interpretation in certain areas of belief, we cannot deny what the Bible makes clear. As Christians, we must also not focus so heavily on certain truths, such as God’s love for all people and the image of God present in all, that we forget about other truths, such as those about God having a design for sexuality. (As an aside, there will be those who claim that Jesus never explicitly addressed homosexuality, yet this argument fails to consider the fact that as a member of the Trinity, Christ stands with what the Father and Holy Spirit have spoken in the rest of Scripture.)
In response to recent conversations about marriage and sexuality, many desire to be a part of an affirming church and flock to denominations such as the UMC. Yet ironically enough, the official UMC doctrine states that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching,” though this doctrine could change at the next UMC General Conference. Similarly to affirming Nazarene churches, any openly affirming UMC church is explicitly and intentionally going against denominational beliefs. I believe that at the heart of this issue lies the question of whether our doctrines and beliefs are rooted in Scripture or our own personal beliefs. If we let our own personal experiences and beliefs become our final arbiter of truth, the danger is that we can argue anything while simultaneously rendering our conclusions correct. No one would suggest that this is a good idea, yet many Christians resort to this mindset in all areas of belief, not just issues of marriage and sexuality. In the process of making our personal beliefs and experience the standard by which we determine truth, in many ways we place ourselves on the level of God.
So, does the Nazarene Church have the right to hold pastors to a specific doctrinal standard? I would argue yes. That is part of the purpose behind denominations: commonality of beliefs. An openly affirming denomination would not want openly non-affirming pastors, so why can’t the same reasoning be extended when the roles are reversed?
Can denominations have conversations about what they believe? Of course. Yet they do not have to abandon doctrinal standards in order to do so. In an effort to be open-minded, some have equated that to be the same as holding every belief loosely. Not holding any firm beliefs would be foolish for anyone to do, let alone an entire denomination. Whether you are a Nazarene leaving for the United Methodist Church, a student upset over the dismissal of Dee Kelley, or a simple bystander figuring out what you believe on issues of marriage and sexuality, I would encourage everyone to let the Bible be your guide. If we trust and believe in God, then we will trust and believe in His Word. The Word of God forms the bedrock of Christian doctrine and belief, and to elevate anything above that would place ourselves as the arbiter of truth.