“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (1 John 4:18a ESV)
I’ve spent 68 years in the Church of the Nazarene. My great-granny was Nazarene. Her son (my grandpa) served as a Nazarene pastor. When I was four days old I attended my first Nazarene service. Two of my academic degrees are from Nazarene institutions. Thirty-five years of my life have been in Nazarene pastoral ministry. I’ve served as District Secretary on two districts. Can you see that I’m invested in the church? It’s the only world I know.
Are you old enough to remember the days when the church was a big family radiating love? As a denomination, we united in our efforts to “spread scriptural holiness” across the land. Pastors worked together. District Superintendents became spiritual heroes as they guided district and pastors. A united Board of General Superintendents steered the denomination into the future. Yes, there were times of struggle but my memory of those years make me feel warm and fuzzy.
But that was then, this is now.
Am I the only Nazarene minister sensing an emerging culture of fear? Is it possible that “perfect love does NOT cast out fear?” Is the denomination swapping love for fear?
A couple of months ago I wrote an article expressing my views of the LGBTQ+ community. As a result, my District Superintendent initiated a process designed to strip away my ministerial credentials unless I “recanted” on Facebook. I refused. As a result I was subjected to a trial.
At the trial I faced my pastoral peers; many of whom I had served with on the district. They were there to hear the evidence presented against me and to cast a vote of guilty or not guilty. At the start of the trial the District Superintendent asked me again if I wished to recant. Again I declined and the trial proceeded. I kept my credentials because the jury failed to reach the required unanimous guilty verdict.
What had happened to the brotherly love and the feeling of team and family? What happened to, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”?
During this process Nazarene pastors sent me private messages expressing their support. Many told me they affirmed the LGBTQ+ community. But they couldn’t go public because of fear. I heard words like, “I wish I could tell people my view but I can’t.” Why? It’s because of the emerging culture of fear.
Here’s another personal example. The day before the 2020 presidential election, I posted a meme announcing I was voting for Biden. I did this because Facebook posts had circulated indicating a vote for Biden meant you were hell-bound. Talk about fear!
This post generated more than 800 Facebook comments. I was called: heretic, moron, and lunatic and those were the nicer names. I received private messages letting me know how evil I had become and that I faced damnation. There was a private facebook group that discussed my post. They vilified and demonized me. Even some of my Nazarene pastor friends joined in the online crucifixion. These personal attacks were from “holiness” folk. Apparently, perfect love doesn’t cast out all fear.
What is there to fear? For a minister the stakes are high. If any of them affirm the gay community they too might face a similiar process. They might lose their ministerial credentials. This would mean forfeiting job, income, and perhaps even your house. Does perfect love really cast our fear?
I used to say to myself, “We are better than this.” But I see growing evidence that we are not. Until we get the “perfect love” piece right, the culture of fear in our denomination will continue to grow.
I long for the day when the Bible verse IS true in our holiness denomination: “perfect love casts out fear.” May it be so and may it begin in me.