Love Wins: Conservative church shows respect to LGBT community

OKC First Church of the Nazarene hosted a panel discussion entitled “With All Due Respect: Hospitality & the LGBT Community.” Photo by Greg White.

Greg White
Staff Writer

Can a traditionally conservative church show respect to the LGBT community? On Sunday, February 28, OKC First Church of the Nazarene attempted to do just that by hosting a panel discussion entitled “With All Due Respect: Hospitality & the LGBT Community.” The forum was composed of several speakers from varying theological viewpoints who were asked to share their stories.

The panel included Dr. Timothy Crutcher, a professor in the religion department of Southern Nazarene University, Sara Cunningham, an author and mother of a gay child, Justїne Underwood-Jones, a theology and ministry major who spoke about her experience as an intersex person in the Church, Rev. Andy McGee, executive director of Love Wins: LGBT in Kansas City, and Rev. Lori Walke, associate minister at Mayflower Congregational United Church of Christ. The key question for the evening was “how can the church be more loving and hospitable?”

“We were asked about a year ago to create and imagine what it would be like to have a series of discussion forums for difficult or sometimes controversial topics; things that people are talking about, but things that we don’t do a great job of talking about at church or on Christian campuses,” said Assistant Pastor Aarron Bolerjack, who moderated the discussion.

“We decided to call that With All Due Respect. We’ve talked about things like racial reconciliation, we’ve talked about interfaith cooperation, human sexuality and theology in general and now about hospitality and the LGBT community. And those discussions are ongoing and a really important part of what we understand our role to be here to help provide a safe place for people to come and to talk to know that they are loved and to agree or disagree in ways that are Christian.

“We’ve put a really strong emphasis on having more than one perspective in the conversation. We want people to understand that there are things we understand to be essential to faith and there are things on which we agree to disagree,” he concluded.

Justїne Underwood-Jones agreed with that sentiment, stating “It’s my hope that our emphasis on hospitality hits home with everyone who attended here tonight. I tried very hard to stress whether you’re on side A [affirming gay relationships]or side B [encouraging celibacy for gay people] of the debate regarding homosexuality in the church that you still extend hospitality to people and understand that people are struggling and people are hurting with this issue.”

Attendees were given the opportunity to text questions anonymously, and topics raised included questions about sexual orientation, the importance of relationships, advice for parents of LGBT’s, and how to show hospitality to those with whom we disagree.

“These are sacred conversations that churches and faith communities are having,” said Rev. Lori Walke. “I think that it is really important and a model for this congregation to set up the conversation this way. We can agree and we can disagree and we can be civil about it.”

“I think this is a priceless event, one that needs to take place often,” said Sara Cunningham. “Just to have dialogue in a sanctuary is monumental. And for children to hear it alongside their parents is invaluable and so important. And that’s where change will come.”

The event was well received, and represented a positive step forward on a topic that has been traditionally fraught within the conservative Church.

“I was impressed with the balance that the panel had,” said attendee Corbin Taggart. “This is the first time, to my knowledge that this has happened in the Nazarene church. For a denomination that’s grounded in traditionally way more conservative ideas this is very productive and at least scratches the surface to having more conversations in the future.”

The Gayly- 2/29/2016 @ 1:26 PM CST