It’s been a tough few months for us, hasn’t it? We’ve been through a lot together.
We’ve read about our family in the pages of newspapers… more than once. We’ve felt the effects of strong disagreement, feelings of betrayal, and the need for apologies from others and from myself. We’ve accused, we’ve repented, and done all within our power to be reconciled once more.
These stories, however, are beginning to pile up: NPH, MNU (Randy Beckum), NNU (Tom Oord).
If I’m being honest, as an ordained pastor, I really don’t know where to go from here. I’m really, truly at a loss for words.
I think it goes without saying, that many issues like the ones we’ve recently faced require a great deal of discretion. I also know that leaders in high positions are forced to make decisions which are unpopular, but are done in the best interest of the group they lead. These same leaders are then forced to weather the storm of outrage and calls for transparency in silence; knowing they will do more harm than good in their justification.
I get this. I really, truly do.
However, I ask that you see this from our side.
In the past year, two of the most respected leaders and theological thinkers in our denomination have lost their positions. These men both happen to be progressive in their practice and theology.
Randy and Tom are two men I deeply respect, and these are two men who have shaped my own theology, and who had a hand in saving my own faith. I respect them deeply; not because I always agreed with them, but because they were leaders unafraid of asking the difficult questions.
But they are now silenced.
What was the reason for their demotion and/or removal? We don’t know. Nobody will tell us.
Their departures/demotions are filled with confusing and contradictory evidence.
Now, again, I admit I know very little of these situations. I know little of the background to these removals. While I’m not privy to this information, as an ordained elder in our tradition, I do believe I have a right to say this:
There is a point when perceptions begin to convey a cultural reality.
This unveiling reality is that difficult questions are unwelcome, and hard conversations are not allowed to be had.
For me, the only thing the Nazarene church has done in the past 6 months is plant a question firmly in my mind: “Is there room in the Nazarene church for me?”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love this Denomination more than anything. My children are the 5th generation of Palmer’s who have darkened the doorways of a Nazarene church. The history of this church is in many ways the history of my own family heritage.
I will never leave her. We are forever tied to one another.
Recent events, however, have begun to make me ask, “while I’ll never voluntarily leave the Nazarene church, will she push me away? Will she walk away from me?”
Because the questions asked by Randy Beckum, and the questions asked by Tom Oord, are the same questions I, myself, am asking, and these recent events have placed me on very unsteady footing.
It was once said,
“I often hear people in churches across America asking, “Where are our young people going?” I can’t help but believe they are leaving our sanctuaries of certainty in search of spaces where their doubts are welcomed and where there is room to wrestle with faith’s uncomfortable questions. If the church wants to find the next generation returning to the fold, they must accept all that comes with them. Doubts, fears, questions and all.”
This brings me to the thrust of this post:
To those in leadership positions in the Nazarene church, while I admit the truth behind the removal of Tom Oord and Randy Beckum might not be theologically based, the message you’re sending about them very much is, and it’s a message we millennials are receiving loud and clear.
“Get in line. Don’t ask questions, and all will be okay.”
So I want…no I need to ask a question as a friend, colleague and person who deeply wants our tradition to live on: “Is there room for us?”
Because, if I’m being honest, right now I am struggling to believe there is.