This Theologian is on Trial for What?

christianity theology

There's often a significant difference in perspective between people in the church world and those who aren't a part of it. When I talk with people outside the church about things like Christian concern over the LGBTQ+ community, they are often quite confused. Even church members sometimes miss how these conversations play out on a larger scale. This week provided a great case study in real-time.

My friend Thomas Jay Oord is currently facing trial in his Nazarene denomination for his stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion. You may recognize that name if you've watched or listened to my podcast with him (see: The Death of Omnipotence). If, like me, you didn't come from a denominational Christian background, the very concept of a pastoral trial may sound very strange to you. The first of two charges against Dr. Oord is that he's teaching doctrine in contrast to the Church of the Nazarene. That part is pretty self-explanatory.

But the second charge against him is what I find most interesting. He has also been charged with "conduct unbecoming of a minister" for advocating for queer people and their allies.

It's got me thinking again about the role of spiritual leaders, especially in this season. It reminds me that we often want our pastors to grow the church, encourage us weekly, and remind us we are right for believing the doctrinal ideas we've already agreed upon. Many pastors are good at doing these things and are equally happy to do so.

But others sense something else is needed. A handful of us have even tried to pastor differently and explore Christianity from outside of the middle (see: The Edge of the Inside), only to realize that the church system in America often doesn't have much space for it. That's why a handful of my podcast guests are former pastors who have walked away from a traditional pastoral role to do the ministry Jesus called them to do.

I have no problem if the Church of the Nazarene (with which I am in no way affiliated) concludes that its doctrinal statements cannot include LGBTQ+ inclusion. They must decide how they make sense of Jesus and faith. But to say that someone who chooses to include others deemed outside of a boundary is acting in a way that would be unbecoming of a minister is something else entirely. It appears we are having different conversations.

I will often ask someone who doesn't agree with me if they'd want my view to be true. For example, I was recently discussing the idea that Jesus would save everyone with a friend of mine. He acknowledged that he didn't land where I did on the topic. I asked him if he would want Jesus to save everyone, and he quickly said, "Of course." With Dr. Oord's trial, it seems the same criteria could be applied. We might not all agree that gay people should be equally included in the spiritual community and church life, but shouldn't every Christian want that to be the case? Why would you intentionally want anyone excluded if you could include everyone?

And for a spiritual leader, wouldn't the most pastoral posture be someone who aggressively loves and includes others, even when it sometimes puts him or her at odds with a system of boundaries? If I am going to err somewhere (and we all are doing this whether we realize it or not), I'd like to err on the side of love and inclusion. I'd rather explain that to Jesus than pat myself on the back for how good I am at keeping people out.

As Tom says, "Wanting to include and seek the flourishing of queer people is not conduct unbecoming a minister. It’s part of the minister’s central call to love neighbor as oneself."

The trial with Dr. Oord is no longer about the moral implications of gay inclusion in the church. It is about setting boundaries and punishing those who don't follow our established rules—basically, the stuff Jesus fought against Himself during His earthly ministry. It's a reminder that standing with vulnerable and marginalized people will often cost you personally. It's always easier to stay safe within the boundaries of your tribe, but I suspect we often do so without realizing that Jesus moved across the line to be with them.

I hope this can be a pivotal moment of growth for the Church of the Nazarene and the rest of us watching this play out. If you are part of a church that similarly restricts who is in and who is out, I would encourage you to give this some thought. Below is a video Dr. Oord made to explain what's happening and offer ways to get involved.

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