September 28, 2021I published THIS article on my website and Facebook. I announced I had changed my mind about the LGBTQ community.
Before publishing the article I wondered if anyone would even notice. After all, I was a 67-year-old ordained minister without a current ministry in the Church of the Nazarene. I didn’t even teach Sunday School, nor had I preached in more than a year.
I was surprised that my 511-word article, and a few Facebook comments, resulted in efforts to compel me to recant my position or surrender my ministerial credentials, rather than risk them being revoked by action of a Board of Discipline.
Here’s a brief summary of my journey.
My District Superintendent called me in for a meeting to discuss my views. This congenial meeting, held the last week of September, ended with a request not to publish more articles on the LGBTQ community on social media. On October 6, I wrote my District Superintendent and let him know I respected his position, but God wanted me to keep writing. The next day he emailed and indicated it would now be necessary to meet with him and a member of the District Advisory Board.
At that meeting, held October 13, various documents were made available for me to sign. These formal documents, if signed, meant I would lose my ministerial credentials. I also had the option of “recanting.” I refused to sign any document. Recanting was not an option for me.
On November 5, I received a registered letter containing the official document of formal charges dated October 20 and signed by two elders on the Michigan District. These charges were for “teaching doctrine out of harmony with the Church of the Nazarene.” (You can see the official charges at the end of this article.)
The District Advisory Board reviewed the charges and found them to be credible. As a result, they formed an investigative committee. Unknown to me, this committee “investigated” the charges and met on October 28. I was never contacted by them. They wrote a one sentence report to the District Advisory Board affirming that the charges were credible and recommended further action be taken.
On November 5, I received by mail my formal charges and a copy of the Judicial Manual used by the denomination when charges are filed. I also received a cover letter dated November 4 explaining various options available to me: “retract your statements publicly where they were made, surrender your credentials voluntarily, have your credentials surrendered by the action of the Board of Discipline, or resign your credentials by your choice.”
On November 10, I received an email indicating a Board of Discipline had been elected by the District Advisory Board. This email also informed that the date of the hearing (trial) had been set for Saturday, November 20. Also included were the names of those on the newly formed Board of Discipline who would serve as the jury. I was informed I could bring an advocate with me to speak on my behalf.
On November 11, I asked the District Superintendent for additional time to prepare for the trial, especially in light of trying to secure an advocate. This seemed reasonable considering the trial was scheduled to take place in less than ten days after being notified.
On November 12, I received an email response from the District Superintendent to my request for additional time to prepare. He denied my request, unless I planned to publicly recant my position. If I would agree to recant, “…we would be gracious to allow more time.”
On November 20, I attended the trial with my advocate. It was a surreal moment to walk into a room of your peers and hear the reading of the formal charges against you. I have served the Church of the Nazarene for more than 35 years. I’ve served as District Secretary of two different districts. I gave the denomination the best years of my life. And now I found myself surrounded by my colleagues poised to remove my ministerial credentials.
The Judicial Manual requires the decision of the Board of Discipline, whether guilty or not guilty, to be unanimous. The District Superintendent called me after the meeting to inform me the Board of Discipline could not reach a unanimous decision. In this case the charges are referred back to the District Advisory Board (Judicial Manual paragraph 419) and they can “decide whether to drop the charges or to appoint a new Board of Discipline.”
After the trial on November 20, I had not yet received an update about my fate as of December 3.. On that date I emailed the District Superintendent to see if there was any update from the District Advisory Board. He replied the same day, to let me know that the District Advisory Board had questions. These questions were referred to the Jurisdictional General Superintendent for a ruling. As a result, the Board of General Superintendents and the General Counsel entered into the case in advisory roles.
The District Superintendent received his ruling and contacted me on December 13 to inform me we would need to have another meeting. We (the District Superintendent, a District Advisory Board Member, my advocate, and me) met via Zoom on December 22. The District Superintendent read the letter at the end of this article dated December 13, from the District Advisory Board. They voted in favor of “deferring the charge without prejudice. This means the District Advisory Board does not find the charge to be frivolous and can charge Dr. Hartman with it again if it believes doing so is in the best interest of the district and the church.”
The letter revealed an expectation that if I write, teach, or speak affirming same sex marriage or other teachings out of alignment with Manual Paragraph 31, the charge may be refiled and/or amended and/or new charges filed. This approach made me wonder if the Judicial Manual had been reinterpreted in such a way so as to place a gag order to keep me from expressing my opinions.
This brings you up to date. This article is NOT intended to show disregard for the church leadership. I love my church and respect the roles of leadership. My intent is to simply report to you the journey I’ve been on. I’m confident the District Superintendent and the District Advisory Board would not object to this reporting of the process.
By the way, I find it ironic that before charges were filed, only 40 people had read my article. But through this process of trying to remove my ministerial credentials, more than 2,000 have now read the article.
Pray for our leaders. They are doing their best to navigate through these difficult days!