Prominent ‘queer affirming’ theologian facing trial by Church of the Nazarene

— The Rev. Thomas Jay Oord is accused of teaching doctrines contrary to the Church of the Nazarene.

The Rev. Thomas Jay Oord

By Yonat Shimron

A prominent and prolific theologian in the Church of the Nazarene will face a church trial later this month for advocating for LGBTQ affirmation at a time when the denomination is doubling down on its opposition to same-sex relations.

The Rev. Thomas Jay Oord, an ordained elder and a lifelong member of the denomination, is accused of teaching doctrines contrary to the Church of the Nazarene. He is also being charged with conduct unbecoming of a minister for his efforts to move the denomination to affirm LGBTQ people. The church holds that “the practice of same-sex sexual intimacy is contrary to God’s will.”

If found guilty, Oord could lose his preaching credentials or possibly even his church membership. His trial will take place in Boise, Idaho, on July 25.

The trial follows last year’s guilty verdict against a San Diego Nazarene minister who published an essay in a book co-edited by Oord, titled “Why the Church of the Nazarene Should Be Fully LGBTQ+ Affirming” arguing that the church should have more dialogue on LGBTQ issues.

That minister, the Rev. Selden Kelley, who pastored San Diego’s First Church of the Nazarene, was stripped of his credentials and can no longer pastor a church or hold any position of leadership within the Church of the Nazarene.

Oord, who in 2015 was pushed out of his job at Northwest Nazarene University for his progressive views more generally, said the church tried to gag him into keeping silent about his upcoming trial. He has decided to speak publicly about it anyway. Two weeks ago he published a book called “My Defense: Responding to Charges that I Fully Affirm LGBTQ+ People.”

Church of the Nazarene headquarters in Lenexa, Kansas. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia/Creative Commons)
Church of the Nazarene headquarters in Lenexa, Kan.

“I’m convinced that I won’t get fair treatment going through the trial process,” Oord said. “And I want most of all to make a defense based on theology, not based on the legal nuances of the denomination’s manual.”

Oord has written widely that love is the center of what it means to follow Jesus and that love lies at the heart of holiness. Holiness is a critical doctrine of the Church of the Nazarene, which was formed out of the 19th-century Wesleyan-Holiness movement.

The 2.5 million-member global denomination is theologically conservative and has seen more growth overseas. It is declining in the U.S., where it has about 500,000 members in 4,600 churches.

The Rev. Scott Shaw, the district superintendent of the Intermountain District Church of the Nazarene who brought the charges against Oord, declined to comment on trial.

The church, which is governed by six elected general superintendents, last year put out a statement that the church’s positions on human sexuality, along with other positions on Christian character and conduct found in its manual or rulebook, were essentially doctrine.

This tightening of a church’s social policies and elevating them to the status of doctrine has also characterized recent moves in the Christian Reformed Church. The United Methodist Church, to which the Church of the Nazarene is more theologically akin (both trace their origin to John Wesley), underwent a major split over LGBTQ inclusion, losing 25% of its U.S. churches and more recently all its churches in the Ivory Coast of Africa. At its most recent conference, the church voted to repeal the denomination’s condemnation of homosexuality from its rulebook and allow LGBTQ people to be ordained and ministers in the denomination to marry same-sex couples.

An entrance to Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho. (Image courtesy Google Maps)
An entrance to Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho.

Oord said he became “queer affirming” in the early 1990s and spent the next few decades helping queer students at Eastern Nazarene College and later at Northwest Nazarene University feel embraced and loved. He now directs doctor of ministry students at Northwind Theological Seminary, an online-only school. His daughter, Alexa, with whom he co-edited “Why the Church of the Nazarene Should be Fully LGBTQ+ Affirming,” is bisexual.

Oord said he believes the majority of scholars in the Nazarene affiliated universities and seminaries are LGBTQ affirming but won’t say so publicly because they fear for their jobs. One of them, K. Steve McCormick, a professor emeritus at Nazarene Theological Seminary, is expected to testify on Oord’s behalf at the trial.

Last year, a dean at Point Loma Nazarene University, Mark Maddix, was fired for siding with a colleague who lost her job, also for siding with LGBTQ rights.

Church trials are a recent phenomenon in the denomination, said Ron Benefiel, an academic and a minister in the denomination. He said he anticipated that if Oord is found guilty there will be an appeal.

Oord said he is speaking out, against the guidance of the church, because he wants to encourage queer people and their allies and because he wants to make a theological case for LGBTQ inclusion.

“I really want to see the denomination live up to the calling of love that it claims that we’re trying to pursue,” Oord said. “It’s my belief that love requires people who are trying to be followers of Jesus to be fully affirming of queer people.”

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Women should receive ‘fuller recognition’ in the Catholic Church, Vatican says

Pope Francis responded with a flat “no” when asked if he was open to women deacons.

By Aoife Hilton

In short:

  • The Vatican has released a document calling for “fuller recognition” of women in the Catholic Church.
  • While the document does not open the door for women to serve as deacons, it does argue for baptised women to “enjoy full equality” among baptised men.

What’s next?

The document will inform bishops at their October summit, where the role of women in the Church is on the agenda.

The global Catholic Church is split on whether to allow women to serve as deacons, a Vatican document showed on Tuesday.

Catholic women do the lion’s share of the church’s work in schools and hospitals and tend to take the lead in passing down the faith to future generations.

But they have long complained of a second-class status in an institution that reserves the priesthood for men.

Deacons, like priests, are ordained ministers. As in the priesthood, they must be men in today’s Catholic Church.

Women deacons existed in early Christianity, but it is unclear what role they had.

Current-day deacons may not celebrate Mass — but they may preach, run a parish, teach in the name of the church, baptise, and conduct weddings, wakes and funeral services.

“While some local churches call for women to be admitted to the diaconal ministry, others reiterate their opposition,” the Vatican document said.

Known as “Instrumentum laboris”, the document was written by the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith and presented after consultations with national bishops’ conferences and Catholic institutions and associations from around the world.

The Vatican announced the details of the doctrinal document shortly after its news conference — led by four men — on the preparatory work for their October summit known as the synod.

Church reform underway

Four men in black suits stand in font of a blue wall.
The Vatican announced the details of the doctrinal document shortly after its news conference — led by four men — on the preparatory work for their October summit known as the synod.

The working document will inform discussions at the synod, which represents the second phase of a church reform process that began three years ago.

Pope Francis initially called the first synod as part of his overall efforts to make the church a more welcoming place for marginalised groups, and one where ordinary people would have a greater say.

The process, and the two-year canvassing of rank-and-file Catholics that preceded it, sparked both hopes and fears that real change was afoot.

The first synod was held in 2023, using a working document that specifically noted the calls for a greater welcome for “LGBTQ+ Catholics” and others who have long felt excluded by the church.

However, synod delegates made no mention of homosexuality in their final summarising text.

They merely said people who felt marginalised because of their marital situation, “identity and sexuality, ask to be listened to and accompanied, and their dignity defended”.

A few weeks after the synod ended, the pope unilaterally approved letting priests offer blessings to same-sex couples.

He also named several women to high-ranking jobs in the Vatican and encouraged debate on other ways women’s voices can be heard.

That has included the synod process in which women have had the right to vote on specific proposals — a right previously given only to men.

Vatican offers ‘fuller recognition’ of women, but not as deacons

Two men in black suits speak into black-coloured microphones.
Cardinal Mario Grech (left) defended the pope’s decision on women.

The October summit will be the second synod and is expected to be the last.

While appointing women deacons will not be on the synod’s agenda, the attending bishops will discuss the possibility of giving women a greater role in the male-dominated Church.

The Vatican document stressed the need to “give fuller recognition” to women in the church, saying that “by virtue of baptism, they enjoy full equality”.

The document recommended “theological reflection” on the possibility of appointing women deacons, “on an appropriate timescale and in the appropriate ways”.

During his 11-year pontificate, the pope has appointed two commissions to study whether women could be ordained deacons.

In an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes programme recorded in April and aired in May, he responded with a flat “no” when asked if he was open to women deacons.

But he added that women were often playing deacon-like roles, without formally having that title.

“Women are of great service as women, not as ministers,” he said at the time.

Cardinal Mario Grech, secretary general of the Synod of Bishops, was asked about the pope’s remarks on women deacons during a press conference.

“As of now, it is a ‘no’, but at the same time the Holy Father has said that the theological reflection and study must continue,” he said.

“For me this is not a contradiction.”

Move criticised as ‘crumbs’ for Catholic women

A group pressing for women’s ordination told Associated Press the Vatican document represented “crumbs” for women, noting that ordained men would once again be making decisions about women’s roles in the church.

Women’s Ordination Conference, which advocates for ordaining women priests, said the relegation of the issue of women deacons to the doctrine office was hardly the mark of a church looking to involve women more.

“The urgency to affirm women’s full and equal place in the church cannot be swept away, relegated to a shadowy commission, or entrusted into the hands of ordained men at the Vatican,” the group said in a statement.

‘Study groups’ suggesting more inclusivity

The document released on Tuesday also called for more inclusivity in the church, while acknowledging calls for greater transparency and accountability of church leaders and greater involvement of lay Catholics in church affairs — including in response to sex abuse, financial scandals and pastoral matters.

It was announced in a list of the members of 10 “study groups” looking into some of the thorniest and legally complicated issues that have arisen in the reform process to date, including the role of women and LGBTQ+ Catholics in the life of the church.

One study group is looking at particularly controversial issues, including the welcome of LGBTQ+ people in the church.

“A need emerges in all continents concerning people who, for different reasons, are or feel excluded or on the margins of the ecclesial community or who struggle to find full recognition of their dignity and gifts within it,” Tuesday’s document said.

Priestly celibacy — another contentious area for potential reform — was not mentioned, while the document said African bishops are studying “the theological and pastoral implications of polygamy for the church in Africa”.

Cardinal Grech said the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) would report on these issues at the October meeting.

The study groups are working with Vatican offices and will continue their analyses beyond the October meeting, suggesting outcomes this year won’t necessarily be complete.

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Catholic Church split on women deacons, Vatican document shows

Pope Francis holds rosary beads as he presides over the closing Mass at the end of the Synod of Bishops in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, October 29, 2023.

By

The global Catholic Church is split on whether to allow women to serve as deacons, a Vatican document showed on Tuesday, just weeks after Pope Francis ruled out any opening on the issue.

Giving women a greater role in the male-dominated Church is one of the issues up for the debate at a summit of bishops known as the synod.

An initial, inconclusive session was held last year. On Tuesday, the Vatican released a working document due to inform discussions at a second and final session in October.

“While some local Churches call for women to be admitted to the diaconal ministry, others reiterate their opposition,” it said.

Noting that women deacons will not be on the synod’s agenda, it said “theological reflection (on the issue) should continue, on an appropriate timescale and in the appropriate ways”.

Priestly celibacy – another contentious area for potential reform – was not mentioned, while the document said African bishops are studying “the theological and pastoral implications of polygamy for the Church in Africa.”

The Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (SECAM) will report on these issues at the October meeting, Cardinal Mario Grech, Secretary General of the Synod of Bishops, told a press conference.

‘FULLER RECOGNITION’ FOR WOMEN

Deacons, like priests, are ordained ministers and, as in the priesthood, must be men in today’s Church. Women deacons existed in early Christianity, but it is unclear what role they had.

Contemporary deacons may not celebrate Mass, but they may preach, teach in the name of the Church, baptise and conduct wedding, wake and funeral services and even run a parish.

The Vatican document stressed the need to “give fuller recognition” to women in the Church, saying that “by virtue of Baptism, they enjoy full equality”.

In an interview with the “60 Minutes” programme of U.S. broadcaster CBS recorded in April and aired in May, Francis responded with a flat “no” when asked if he was open to women deacons.

But he added that women were often playing deacon-like roles, without formally having that title. “Women are of great service as women, not as ministers,” he said.

Asked about the pope’s remarks, Cardinal Grech said: “As of now, it is a ‘no’ (to women deacons), but at the same time the Holy Father has said that the theological reflection and study must continue. For me this is not a contradiction.”

INCLUSIVITY

Known as “Instrumentum laboris”, the document was presented after consultations with national bishops’ conferences, theologians, Catholic institutions and associations from around the world.

Turning to another hot-button issue, the text did not include any specific references to LGBT people, but called for more inclusivity.

“A need emerges in all continents concerning people who, for different reasons, are or feel excluded or on the margins of the ecclesiastical community or who struggle to find full recognition of their dignity and gifts within it,” it said.

It also acknowledged calls for greater transparency and accountability of Church leaders, and greater involvement of lay Catholics in Church affairs, including in response to sex abuse and financial scandals, and on pastoral matters.

Complete Article HERE!

Louisiana Supreme Court reopens window for lawsuits by adult victims of childhood sex abuse

by Kevin McGill

Officially reversing a controversial March ruling, Louisiana’s highest court Wednesday gave childhood victims of sexual abuse a renewed opportunity to file damage lawsuits.

The state Supreme Court’s 5-2 ruling Wednesday upholds a so-called look-back law that was passed in 2021 and amended in 2022. The law gave victims of past abuse, whose deadlines for filing civil lawsuits had expired, renewed opportunities to file lawsuits. The original legislation set a deadline of June 14 of this year. That deadline was later extended until June 2027.

Wednesday’s move had been expected. The court had ruled 4-3 in March that the law couldn’t stand because it conflicted with due process rights in the state constitution. But the court agreed last month to reconsider the case.

Justices Scott Crichton and Piper Griffin, part of the majority in March, joined justices joined Chief Justice John Weimer and justices Jay McCallum and William Crain to revive the law.

“For many victims of child sexual abuse, the revival provision represents their first and only opportunity to bring suit,” Weimer wrote in the new ruling. “Providing that opportunity to those victims is a legitimate legislative purpose.”

Justices James Genovese and Jefferson Hughes dissented. Genovese wrote that the new ruling “obliterates” decades of precedent and “elevates a legislative act over a constitutional right.”

The ruling comes as the Catholic Church continues to deal with the ramifications of a decades-old sex scandal. The ruling arose from a case filed against the Catholic Diocese of Lafayette by plaintiffs who said they were molested by a priest in the 1970s while they ranged in age from 8 to 14, according to the Supreme Court record.

Louisiana Attorney General Liz Murrill hailed the court’s reversal, as did advocates for abuse victims.

“We are elated that victims of sexual abuse who have been time barred from justice will have their day in court,” Mike McDonnell, of the advocacy group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in an emailed statement.

‘It caused his death’

— Man abused in care at Marylands School dies before justice served

Marylands School

By Amy Williams

A woman whose disabled brother contracted a fatal disease as a result of horrific child sexual abuse at a religious boarding school is angry he died before justice could be served.

Over three decades, more than 530 boys went through Marylands School in Christchurch and more than one in five reported abuse while in its care.

The residential facility for boys – many with disabilities, learning or behavioural needs – was run by the Catholic order Brothers of St John of God.

Many survivors gave witness statements to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care – the lengthy report will be made public later this month

Rebecca’s* brother had an intellectual disability and was sent to live at Marylands School as a seven-year-old – one of many siblings in a large Catholic family.

A priest had advised her mother it would be a safe place for him to live and learn but nothing could have been further from the truth.

“It was hyped up, this is an amazing school and an amazing order of brothers, they’re all trained to help children with intellectual and physical disability,” Rebecca said of the school.

“They were an order of brothers that we didn’t have in New Zealand apart from down in Marylands so it was very new to us. He was singled out in that he fitted the criteria that he was special needs.”

But her brother remained illiterate and would often return home for the school holidays with no packed clothing, rotten teeth and poor hygiene.

A year younger than her brother, Rebecca was a child at the time – it was only later, as an adult, she learned he had been repeatedly raped.

“I was just bloody furious because he had no choice. The damage that it did to him physically, little boys of seven or eight can’t say no, they don’t know what’s going on and they had this violation.”

Marylands was a den of abuse – of the 37 brothers who ministered in Christchurch, 21 had allegations made against them – with 19 specifically accused of child sexual abuse.

Rebecca’s brother came home for good as an 18-year-old, when her mother realised despite paying fees for his education, he had been put to work in the laundry and still could not read or write – they did not then know, he had been abused.

He eventually lived in a community home for people with disabilities where he worked as a stablehand.

“He was a lovely boy and in later years he had the best sense of humour,” she said.

Rebecca was among witnesses to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care – her brother died in 2022 before the hearing she spoke at took place.

He was 65 years old and had rectal cancer caused by HPV.

“It caused his death. By the time I got to stand up at the Royal Commission he had died and they said this is a result of what happened to him.”

Rebecca said she was angry her brother never saw justice for his suffering – he had also been labelled a sexual deviant for the behaviours he learned from the abuse.

He experienced terrible physical pain but she said he never talked about it.

“We never thought ‘Oh my God he might get HPV’, you just didn’t think that and that’s exactly what happened. He had a colostomy, he never really coped very well with it, his bum was basically rotting away.”

She said the report out this month was likely to be hard to read but people must take notice.

“Just because it’s not your institution or it’s not your place the public can’t sit back and say it’s nothing to do with me. You’ve got to listen and you’ve got to follow it up.”

Rebecca said she was concerned planned boot camps for youth offenders would cause more damage to those who need to know they are valued.

“I’m so concerned that we haven’t learnt our lesson. Boot camp and charter schools will not work.”

She said she and her siblings carried guilt about what happened to their brother – even though they were children and young teens at the time he was in care.

They remember finding it hard to adjust when their brother returned home for school holidays – a heavy burden carried by many families whose loved ones were abused in care.

“As soon as he came home he just lost it for about a week then he calmed down and was really sweet and nice,” she said.

“Then about two days before he was due to go back he would just be hysterical. And of course, all we [said] was ‘Oh God, can’t wait for him to go back’.”

Almost 3000 survivors registered with the Royal Commission, but it was estimated more than quarter of a million people may have suffered abuse at the hands of the state and faith-based institutions between 1950 and 2019.

* Name changed

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