First of all, I want you to know I’m doing okay. There was a time where I wasn’t, but I think I’m okay now. And this is a hard letter to write. Mainly because this is the first time in my life I can safely say, it wasn’t me, it was you. But it definitely needs to be said.
You really are the first thing I remember in life. Yes, there is family and all, but life revolved around you. The first time I got in trouble I was running through your sanctuaries or sliding down the carpeted steps after a Bible lesson. I learned songs and Bible verses from saints who still grace this planet. I busted my chin wide open while playing hide and seek between your wooden pews. And I learned the truth about God from your witness and love that made me feel like I knew where I belonged. And for a season, the love was innocent and pure. I was even Baptized in your waters one Sunday afternoon to seal my commitment to you, which has faltered over the years, but remains.
But as I got older, our relationship grew complicated…I guess that’s the word for it. I started to see how you waged war with culture around you and even bought into moments of hysteria. I even remember the time at a high school camp one of your representatives convinced us of the evils of our music and I went back to my room and snapped two CDs in half…what was I thinking?!? But that was it, wasn’t it. Our relationship has always been a funny one and there were times where it didn’t really make a lot of sense because you just preyed on my emotions in the moment and it really didn’t have anything to do with love.
Well I grew older and I was still dedicated to you in so many ways. I even found myself at home in one of your universities and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world. Lifelong friends and relationships sprung out of my time there and I truly discovered who I was in those hallowed halls. And as I finished up my time and started to try to find my way in the world, you called back to me again. Well, it was actually God calling through you, but yours was the path I followed after. And so another dimension of our relationship began.
I pursued more schooling, got married and eventually became a minister in your ranks. Most of that time, I crafted sermons and lessons for young people. I always felt at home in your pulpit. It was a happy place for me. I love the scriptures and I love the story…but something was broken…something wasn’t right.
The first time it really hit was when my oldest son came into our lives. For a moment your people were excited when they thought this tiny orphan came from Africa. But when they found out he was actually African American the tune changed. And just a few months later we found ourselves without a job in your house having only that year bought a house of our own. But I didn’t give up on you then. It wasn’t in my nature. I found another job for a season and we waited. And from all appearances you were faithful. In less than a year you whisked us away to a new adventure and transformed our lives again.
In Michigan we saw a new side of you. And it was beautiful. We had never experienced you like this before and we began to see your beauty in new ways as our eyes were opened to followers of you who thought differently than we were told you had to. Not only that, but I began to encounter people outside your halls that showed me the nature of Christ in ways I had never seen before….and it didn’t compute well because they were LGBTQ. But I stayed true to you and to your doctrines and teachings. In fact, for the fifteen years I served you I never spoke or taught outside of those parameters. I was always faithful…but you weren’t.
Although we loved our time in that part of the country it ended abruptly without cause or reason. Only later did we find out about the abuse that was being covered up that deeply hurt one of our favorite humans on earth. And that more than likely you ushered us out the door quickly so that we weren’t able to come to his aid. To this day my heart remains broken because of all the abuse you allow and even hide in your halls.
And then there was a season where I was a “grown-up” pastor for you. Each Sunday I was blessed enough to stand in your pulpit and share the gospel of Jesus with people longing for hope in the wilds of West Texas. And people desperate to hear a good word were showing up…but they weren’t like the people who were already there. LGBTQ folks started coming and wanting to participate in the life of Christ and I wasn’t going to tell them no. Yes, I followed all your rules and stipulations. Remember, I never taught outside of your doctrines. And I always followed your rules to the letter of the law. And during this time we even saw some of your seasoned folks grow tremendously in the ways they found to show love to these new folks. But this time in our relationship also almost cost me my life. Some of your people even left to go start their own church and people I thought were my friends left and said the most hateful things to me. And for a season I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating and at my lowest point even found myself with suicidal thoughts. All because I thought you were a conduit for grace.
I guess I should have seen our relationship coming to a close when I followed you one last time to Nashville. After all, this was kind of where it all began. I found new life in returning to a place where I was ministering alongside youth again. But things were still not right. For some reason you always allowed your people to come after my wife and her views on the world, even though she wasn’t the one you called to preach and serve. Yes, when she was towing the party line you loved her. Because she was just unique enough and different enough that you could parade her around and say “look at how we are so accepting”. But you weren’t, You never loved my wife the way you loved me…which makes me think you never loved me fully. She even said to me after reflecting on your time with her, “At seventeen the Church of the Nazarene told me I belonged…and then they never said it again.” And so you gave me the choice. My wife or you. And of course I chose my wife. You have hurt us time and again. And in the most recent years all because we thought gay and lesbian teens and adults deserved to be a part of you as well.
Here’s the most tragic part. When you ushered me out of your doors this last time, I wasn’t entirely sure I was done…call it Stockholm syndrome if you want. But I started attending another church for a season to see if it felt right. And within a few short months you asked for your ordination back. For ten years I had been ordained in your service and within three months you asked for them back. It hurt. And so I wavered and waited thinking that maybe I might return to you once more until you asked again. So, I arrived one day to return that priceless document to your office only to find the lights out and the alarm set. So unceremoniously I slid the paper under the door and knew you were done with me. Since that day, not one call, text or email from anyone in leadership or anyone I served under even to check on me…that’s the part that still hurts.
But I’m okay first love. I really am. I still love the great things about you and so many of your people mean the world to me. But I’m afraid my story is just a small fraction of the hurt still to come. And I even see you doing it now as you allow toxic bullies to become your voice in the public arena. They shout holiness, but they mean damnation. Not only for those different than them, but also for you I fear.
I guess I write all of this to say, don’t worry about me. I still love God and I’ve found a home in a church that allows me to see the full spectrum of the gospel lived out in new ways. And yes, I will carry the scars and debt and hurt that you left me with for years to come. But I will look back with fondness as well. The people who came into my life because of my time with you are irreplaceable. And I am thankful for that.
So goodbye first love. Please take care of those I’m leaving behind.