Reflections from the 2017 General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene

Reflections from the 2017 General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene

This June gathering of the global Nazarene family in Indianapolis, Ind., will go down as one of my favorite General Assemblies. I walked away with deep hope for the church, greater determination to be global, and optimism about our mission. I served as a delegate of USA/Canada Education region, representing the 10 institutions of our field. These include both Trevecca Nazarene University and Eastern Nazarene College.

The 10-day gathering began with the GNEC (Global Nazarene Education Consortium) gathering. Leaders of our 62 higher education institutions from around the world worked on collaborative efforts, best practice learning, and global mission. It was a delight for me to see the four international presidents who have earned their doctoral degrees in our Ed.D. program, as well as two current participants in the program and two applicants. Several years ago, we decided to offer one free seat in each Ed.D. cohort for an educational leader from a developing non-USA institution. Trevecca is making a significant impact in offering doctoral preparation to some of our best global leaders. It was also a delight to hear the reports on the Global Nazarene Library. This digital library is providing resources globally to our partners. Ruth Kinnersley, director of Trevecca’s library services, has been engaged in this project from its inception. In many developing countries, access to this library has propelled our institutions to the forefront of library resources. Denominational affiliation in a world of independent mega-churches may be a negative for some, but it enhances our ability to have strong global partners.

On days 3-5 of the Assembly, I had the chance to participate in three presentation panels and seminar sessions. The first was a discussion on the Theology and Practice of Ordination in the Church. Our challenge as a global church is to call for the highest level of preparation possible while recognizing that access to education varies significantly from nation to nation and even among diverse minorities and socio-economic groups. The same standard of qualification for ordination cannot be applied to all but this process needs to be held in check considering the complexity of our world and the need for well-trained pastors to address this complexity. One member of this panel was my friend Tara Beth Leach. She grew up in the church I pastored in Illinois, was called to ministry, and now serves as senior pastor of Pasadena First Church of the Nazarene, one of our historic congregations. Tara Beth is one of our best preachers and thinkers. Watching the next generation step into leadership was invigorating.

A second session was hosted by Nazarene Publishing House, now renamed The Foundry. This open air conversation was a panel conversation about my book A Charitable Discourse: Having the Hard Conversations. I chatted with Virginia Bauer, Matt Hastings, Erik Gernand, and Shawna Songer Gaines – all great clergy friends. We conversed about congregational hot potato topics – when and how to talk together, the generational divide, the difference in meaning between pastoral and pompous, and how to avoid blowing up a church over a difference of opinion. Being with these four great leaders made me want to believe in cloning.

The third presentation was a solo lecture on Human Sexuality and The Church. Using some of the material from a new ebook release, Human Sexuality II: A Primer for Christians, I laid the groundwork for the legislation coming to the General Assembly from a task force that I had participated in for the past three years. We were assigned the work of rewriting the Manual section of The Covenant of Christian Conduct. I’ll reflect on this work a little later. (The ebook is available here. All proceeds go to the Trevecca Student Scholarship Fund.)

One of the highlights of General Assembly is the Exhibit Hall. Imagine massive. Trevecca and ENC had side-by-side booths where we greeted alumni, recruited future students, and conversed with old friends. The sign hanging above the two areas said, Two Cities: One Mission, with the skylines of Boston and Nashville prominently displayed. Denise and I found stools and straddled the line between the two booths, greeting friends old and new.

I wish you all could have experienced the camaraderie of the booths. It was like a family reunion of generational alumni. Everyone knew some of the same people. Tall tales were told, pranks remembered, tears shed as deceased friends were recalled, merger discussed, children introduced to their future college, and hugs galore were given. I enjoyed watching Russ Long, chair of the ENC Board of Trustees, as he worked the ENC booth most of the weekend. He made the trip to Indy for the whole weekend just to be part of helping the ENC family get their arms around the prospects of a merger. I was moved by his passion and energy. And the first mixing of the employees representing Trevecca and ENC was a union to celebrate. I know I’m prejudiced, but the energy around the Trevecca/ENC booth seemed to captivate the whole Exhibition Hall. Thanks to all who built the booths, transported them, constructed them on site, worked them, and then tore them down and brought them home. You provided a space and place for something significant to happen.

The legislative work of the General Assembly began on Saturday with a delegate orientation and committee meetings. All delegates were assigned to one of 10 committees. My assignment was on the Christian Action Committee. This body of about 200 dealt with the resolutions of an ethical nature – sanctity of life, sexuality, alcohol, marriage, racism, etc. If you would like to read the resolutions, they are available at GA2017.com. Scroll to Resources, choose “English,” and the committees will be listed with the various resolutions under the committee.
Two significant issues in the CA Committee had to do with alcohol and human sexuality. The discussion on our stance of abstinence from alcohol revolved around the issue of whether it should remain a condition for membership. The attempt of the legislation was to affirm the call to abstinence as an act of loving regard for and solidarity with those who are being harmed by it, but to also recognize that our calling is unique among the denominations and to make place within membership for those who might disagree with our position of abstinence. The call of young clergy was for integrity around the issue, admitting that many members of the church drink socially even as the church tends to follow a “don’t-ask-don’t-tell” practice. I blogged about this issue last week. The legislation was amended and brought to the floor of the General Assembly the following week. After some brief discussion it was referred to the Board of General Superintendents for further study. A task force will be appointed to bring recommendation back to the 2021 GA.
The second issue of significance was the report of the Task Force on Human Sexuality. This report can be read in its entirety on my blog post Thoughts on Human Sexuality. The committee heard the report, discussed at length, and voted unanimously in favor of adoption. There was a holy hush in the room as we realized the power of the unity that had enveloped this discussion and position. Issues that have ripped apart our Episcopalian and Methodist friends, threatening the division of their denominations, had brought us together around a position that was biblical, truthful, gracious and redemptive. Having served with the international leaders who had crafted the statement over the past three years, I cried with joy. The legislation went to the floor of the General Assembly Plenary Session and was passed with a 97 percent approval vote. I was proud of my church.
On Sunday, the midpoint of the 10-day conference, we gathered in worship as ~40,000 people from 162 nations celebrated our Lord and shared the communion meal together. Thousands more live-streamed the service in their congregational gatherings around the globe. Then we all rushed off to Sunday dinner. Both Trevecca and ENC held their alumni and friends dinners in nearby hotel ballrooms. Denise and I, plus our three daughters, did the “merger dash.” We welcomed the Trevecca crowd at the door until the salads were served, then zoomed over two blocks via waiting van to do the ENC dinner talk as they were eating the main course, then zoomed back to the TNU site where dessert was being enjoyed, and gave the TNU talk. Then we sat down and ate a piece of dry chicken. It was fun to see the fellowship of the alumni of these two schools and to share with each a report on their alma mater. On our way back to our hotel room, we stopped by the Southern Nazarene University luncheon and greeted Loren and Linda Gresham, who are completing 50 years of service to SNU. We also congratulated Dr. Keith Newman, the incoming SNU president. The family of Nazarene educators is a gift to the Church.
On day six, the Plenary Sessions began and for the next four days we dealt with hundreds of legislative items brought before the Assembly by the committees. Some of it was exciting—a Manual revision of restoration of pastors, debate on the article of faith on Sanctification, whether the GA ought to meet every four or every five years. Some of it was boring. I won’t name those because I’m sure they were vitally important to someone, though I know not who. The highlight of the Assembly was the election of two new general superintendents. The church elects six to lead the global work. Two of our past six were retiring and the four incumbents were re-elected with strong affirmation. For most of history, we have elected six Anglo American men. We had elected only one female and two non-USA leaders prior to this Assembly. We elected Dr. Filimao Chambo, an African, and Dr. Carla Sunberg, missionary, educator, and multi-lingual servant. The church took a giant step forward in recognizing the diversity of the people of God in its leadership. I was seated near both of the newly elected general superintendents. As the ballot of their election was announced, the African delegation broke into a song of celebration and ushered their brother to the platform for his acceptance speech. When Dr. Sunberg was announced, they did the same for her. I heard them saying to her on the walk to the platform, “We love him (pointing to Dr. Chambo) and we love you. We will pray for him and we will pray for you.” I love these African Christians.

 

Thoughts on Human Sexuality

Thoughts on Human Sexuality

The Church of the Nazarene recently passed a resolution to rewrite the Covenant of Christian Conduct section under Human Sexuality. The vote was 97 percent affirmative on the resolution.

Purchase your copy of the ebook here.

Several friends have asked for a copy of the resolution, so I have placed it below, in its entirety. It was my privilege to work on this for three years with a group of international scholars, psychologists, pastors, and theologians. As we were doing this work, I was simultaneously working on curriculum for the church. It is now available in ebook format as Human Sexuality II: A Primer for Christians. The first hard copy volume by the same title is out of print. The second volume has several new chapters and has been re-edited to be more current. The book has discussion questions at the conclusion of each chapter for group conversation.  

Human Sexuality and Marriage

The Church of the Nazarene views human sexuality as one expression of the holiness and beauty that God the Creator intended. Because all humans are beings created in the image of God, they are of inestimable value and worth. As a result we believe that human sexuality is intended by God to include more than the sensual experience, and is a gift of God designed to reflect the whole of our physical and relational createdness.

As a holiness people, the Church of the Nazarene affirms that the human body matters to God. Christians are both called and enabled by the transforming and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit to glorify God with our bodies. Our senses, our sexual appetites, our ability to experience pleasure, and our desire for connection to another are shaped out of the very character of God. Our bodies are good, very good.

We affirm belief in a God whose creation is an act of love. Having experienced God as holy love, we understand the Trinity to be a unity of love among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, we are made with a yearning for connection with others at the core of our being. That yearning is ultimately fulfilled as we live in covenanted relationship with God, the creation, and loving one’s neighbor as one’s self. Our creation as social beings is both good and beautiful. We reflect the image of God in our capacity to relate and our desire to do so. The people of God are formed as one in Christ, a rich community of love and grace.

Within this community, believers are called to live as faithful members of the body of Christ. Singleness among the people of God is to be valued and sustained by the rich fellowship of the church and the communion of the saints. To live as a single person is to engage, as Jesus did, in the intimacy of community, surrounded by friends, welcoming and being welcomed to tables, and expressing faithful witness.

Also within this community, we affirm that some believers are called to be married. As defined in Genesis, “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” The marriage covenant, a reflection of the covenant between God and the people of God, is one of exclusive sexual fidelity, unselfish service, and social witness. A woman and a man publicly devote themselves to one another as a witness to the way God loves. Marital intimacy is intended to reflect the union of Christ and the Church, a mystery of grace. It is also God’s intention that in this sacramental union the man and woman may experience the joy and pleasure of sexual intimacy and from this act of intimate love new life may enter the world and into a covenantal community of care. The Christ-centered family ought to serve as a primary location for spiritual formation. The church is to take great care in the formation of marriage through pre-marital counseling and teaching that denotes the sacredness of marriage.

The Scriptural story, however, also includes the sad chapter of the fracturing of human desire in the fall, resulting in behaviors that elevate self-sovereignty, damage and objectify the other, and darken the path of human desire. As fallen beings, we have experienced this evil on every level—personal and corporate. The principalities and powers of a fallen world have saturated us with lies about our sexuality. Our desires have been twisted by sin, and we are turned inward on ourselves. We have also contributed to the fracturing of the creation by our willful choice to violate the love of God and live on our own terms apart from God.

Our brokenness in the areas of sexuality takes many forms, some due to our own choosing and some brought into our lives via a broken world. However, God’s grace is sufficient in our weaknesses, enough to bring conviction, transformation, and sanctification in our lives. Therefore, in order to resist adding to the brokenness of sin and to be able to witness to the beauty and uniqueness of God’s holy purposes for our bodies, we believe members of the body of Christ, enabled by the Spirit, can and should refrain from:

  • Unmarried sexual intercourse and other forms of inappropriate sexual bonding. Because we believe that it is God’s intention for our sexuality to be lived out in the covenantal union between one woman and one man, we believe that these practices often lead to the objectification of the other in a relationship. In all its forms, it also potentially harms our ability to enter into the beauty and holiness of Christian marriage with our whole selves.
  • Sexual activity between people of the same sex. Because we believe that it is God’s intention for our sexuality to be lived out in the covenantal union between one woman and one man, we believe the practice of same-sex sexual intimacy falls short of God’s will for human sexuality. While a person’s homosexual or bi-sexual attraction may have complex and differing origins, and the implication of this call to sexual purity is costly, we believe the grace of God is sufficient for such a calling. We recognize the shared responsibility of the body of Christ to be a welcoming, forgiving, and loving community where hospitality, encouragement, transformation and accountability are available to all.
  • Extra-marital sexual relations. Because we believe this behavior is a violation of the vows that we made before God and within the body of Christ, adultery is a selfish act, a family-destroying choice, and an offense to the God who has loved us purely and devotedly.
  • Divorce.  Because marriage is intended to be a lifelong commitment, the fracturing of the covenant of marriage, whether initiated personally, or by the choice of a spouse, falls short of God’s best intentions. The church must take care in preserving the marriage bond where wise and possible, and offering counsel and grace to those wounded by divorce.
  • Practices such as polygamy or polyandry. Because we believe that the covenantal faithfulness of God is reflected in the monogamous commitment of husband and wife, these practices take away from the unique and exclusive fidelity intended in marriage.

Sexual sin and brokenness are not only personal, but rather pervades the systems and structures of the world. Therefore, as the church bears witness to the reality of the beauty and uniqueness of God’s holy purposes we also believe the church should refrain from and advocate against:

  • Pornography in all its forms, which is desire gone awry. It is the objectification of people for selfish sexual gratification. This habit destroys our capacity to love unselfishly.
  • Sexual violence in any form, including rape, sexual assault, sexual bullying, hateful speech, marital abuse, incest, sex trafficking, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, bestiality, sexual harassment, and the abuse of minors and other vulnerable populations. All people and systems that perpetrate sexual violence transgress the command to love and to protect our neighbor.  The body of Christ should always be a place of justice, protection, and healing for those who are, who have been, and who continue to be affected by sexual violence.

Therefore we affirm that:

  • Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more. Although the effects of sin are universal and holistic, the efficacy of grace is also universal and holistic. In Christ, through the Holy Spirit, we are renewed in the image of God. The old is gone and the new comes. Although the forming of our lives as a new creation may be a gradual process, God’s healing is effective in dealing with the brokenness of humanity in the areas of sexuality.
  • The human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. We affirm the need for our sexuality to be conformed to God’s will. Our bodies are not our own but have been bought with a price. Therefore, we are called to glorify God in our bodies through a life of yielded obedience.
  • The people of God are marked by holy love. We affirm that, above all the virtues, the people of God are to clothe themselves with love. The people of God have always welcomed broken people into our gathering. Such Christian hospitality is neither an excusing of individual disobedience nor a refusal to participate redemptively in discerning the roots of brokenness. Restoring humans to the likeness of Jesus requires confession, forgiveness, formative practices, sanctification, and godly counsel—but most of all, it includes the welcome of love which invites the broken person into the circle of grace known as the church. If we fail to honestly confront sin and brokenness, we have not loved. If we fail to love, we cannot participate in God’s healing of brokenness.

As the global church receives and ministers to the people of our world, the faithful outworking of these statements as congregations is complex and must be navigated with care, humility, courage, and discernment.

College Students: Reclaim Dating Rituals That Build Great Marriages

College Students: Reclaim Dating Rituals That Build Great Marriages

Several times each school year, I speak to our college students at Trevecca during a chapel service. Today, I’d like to share excerpts from one of my talks last year. It’s on a topic that’s near and dear to my heart—the future of Christian marriages and Christian families.

Today’s young people live in a culture that prefers “hook-ups” for casual sex to committed dating rituals that require sacrifice from each person and help lay the foundation for solid Christian marriages. Last year, I wrote a book, Human Sexuality, which explored this subject.

It’s my prayer that college students, young adults, and singles everywhere will heed the call to abandon the world’s idea of “relationships” and return to lives of integrity and the pursuit of great, biblical marriages.

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Two-Year Blogiversary: Most Popular Posts

Two-Year Blogiversary: Most Popular Posts

This month at DanBoone.me, we’re celebrating our two-year blogiversary. We’re revisiting and highlighting some of the most popular posts that you, dear readers, have designated with your visits, comments, and shares.

Earlier this year, I released a book called Human Sexuality. I have written extensively on the topic in my new book, as well as in an older book, A Charitable Discourse. Several sexuality-themed posts (which were excerpts from these books) are among the most popular.

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Marital Sex: Bliss or Legalized Lust?

Marital Sex: Bliss or Legalized Lust?

Love intensifies within a covenanted marriage as two people yield themselves to each other. This love is a gift that makes us fully human. Christian couples find security in marriage when sexual desire is transformed and made holy.

A younger generation, fearful of committed relationships, desperately needs to hear stories of deep joy, security, and confidence found in a marriage of submission to God and to each other. When we “forsake all others” in our thoughts, habits, and actions, we give our spouse (and ourselves) the gift of a strong physical and emotional bond that comes from a healthy, holistic, spirit-filled sexual relationship. Our sexual desires are continually purified, turned outward toward our spouse, and transformed so that they grow deeper, richer, and more intense as we live in union with each other.

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“But Nobody Gets Hurt With Casual Sex”

“But Nobody Gets Hurt With Casual Sex”

The world’s sexual narrative says, “It’s private. It’s nobody else’s business. Nobody else is getting hurt.” I beg to differ. When you choose to practice casual sex—bonding and breaking, using and leaving—you are damaging your capacity to love another human being the way God has loved you. You’re harming something deep in your being in exchange for a moment of hedonistic pleasure.

No one’s getting hurt? Think again. As a pastor I’ve logged time listening to human stories. A trail of tears has left watermarks on my life. I’ve listened to stories of unplanned pregnancies and abortions, disease, date rape, acquaintance rape. I’ve listened to confessions of the use of pornography, which turns men, women, and children into objects of sexual pleasure. I’ve listened to testimonials of sexual addictions. I’ve seen middle-aged wives dumped by Daddy for a younger model. I’ve seen breakup, regret, depression, low self-esteem, adultery, ruined reputations. I’ve watched homes torn apart, children of divorce, and friends you can’t invite to the wedding. I’ve counseled the fallout from the moment the fiancé says, “Did you? And who?”

The sexual story of our world has created more pain than almost any other evil.

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What’s So Wrong With Casual Sex?

What’s So Wrong With Casual Sex?

In our culture, sex has become recreation for many. It no longer requires intimacy or friendship. In the hook-up culture, you pick someone in a crowded room and go to a bedroom with them. The introduction of the birth control pill removed consequences for unplanned sex. Then the condom removed the fear of venereal disease. Then the morning-after pill removed the remaining worries. And if all else fails, abortion erases the “oops.”

Science has altered the consequences of sexual intercourse. Culture stepped into this new scientific world and detached sex from its deeper life-bonding meaning. And now, it’s just sex, nothing more. What’s the big deal? Why get so uptight? Protect yourself, use condoms, and if all else fails, there’s always abortion. What’s wrong with premarital sex?

I wish to challenge this assumption and mindset. Sexual intercourse is more than a physical act.

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Is Sex a Private Matter Between Two Persons?

Is Sex a Private Matter Between Two Persons?

For the Christian, the distinction between a private life and a public life does not exist. Our thoughts, feelings, emotions, fantasies, and actions are a help or hindrance to the people we live among.

To say that sex is a private matter between two persons is a misunderstanding of Christianity. What we do is everybody’s business!

The health of our relationships depends largely on the way we live our most personal lives. As I understand scripture, God via the church has the responsibility to tell us what to do with our money, time, and genitals.

Most Christians have not yet comprehended this. Early in our walk with God, we assume there is an ethical difference between deeds done in public and private, and we place primary emphasis on public deeds while minimizing the impact of private deeds. But what a Christian does in private is everybody’s business. Now I am not making the case for total vulnerability to the paparazzi, removal of curtains and boundaries, or the tell-all rags that adorn the grocery store checkouts. Privacy is to be respected as an act of human decency. What I’m suggesting is that our private lives have public consequences.

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