I was raised in the Church of the Nazarene, but after years of involvement, I made the difficult decision to leave. My journey out of the Nazarene church was challenging and intensely personal, but speaking openly about it now hopefully brings some insight into the reasons why some make a similar choice.
Questioning Beliefs and Doctrine
The theology and doctrine of the Nazarene church rested uncomfortably with me in a few key areas. I struggled with feeling aligned with these teachings:
View of Scriptural Inerrancy
The Nazarene church holds to biblical inerrancy—the belief that the Bible is without error in all its teachings. However, in my opinion, numerous authors contributed to the Bible over a long period of time. It contains wisdom and inspiration but also reflects some of the scientific limitations and cultural prejudices of the eras in which its books were written.
Stances on Social Issues
The Nazarene Church has conservative social stances I couldn’t fully support, like opposition to abortion in all cases. I felt these policies were exclusive rather than showing God’s compassion. They conflicted with my personal political and social perspective, shaped by knowing wonderful same-sex and pro-choice couples as friends.
Concept of Hell
Nazarene doctrine includes the concept of an eternal hell as punishment for unrepentant sinners. Struggling to reconcile a loving God with consigning even truly evil people to endless torment put me in a crisis of faith. Universalist perspectives resonated more with what I felt aligned better with divine wisdom and compassion.
Lack of Community Belonging
While questioning core beliefs caused internal tensions, I also struggled with some of the social structures and culture of the Nazarene church. Many followers had the impression that they didn’t quite fit into the community and values system because they didn’t practice the same form of worship or hold the same opinions on social issues. A few examples:
Most in my church embraced social conservatism, while I held more progressive ideals. This made me reticent to express my true perspective out of concern that it wouldn’t be accepted. I self-censored to avoid arguments and judgment rather than feel safe discussing openly.
There was often a subtle anti-intellectualism and dismissal of science. As someone who values knowledge, discovery, and open discussion, this made me disconnect from the predominant culture. Rather than curiosity about the world, the emphasis was on mysticism, biblical literalism, and emotional and spiritual experiences.
Lack of Support In Time of Need
I was dissatisfied with the church’s support while going through severe personal trials for a year, including illness, grief, and loss. It showed me I didn’t have the close friendships and support network I’d assumed, especially relative to the assistance some other church members received.
Disillusionment With Leadership
Flaws in various pastors and church leaders contributed to eroding my loyalty over time. Patriarchy, control, and corruption ultimately shattered my confidence in the integrity of key figures.
Policies like not allowing women to hold the highest leadership roles began feeling archaic and out of step with modern gender equality. It seemed unjust that the most devout and gifted female members were barred from top pastoral and governance positions solely due to gender.
Some clergy exerted undue control over members, instructing them on how to vote, act, and think about numerous life choices going beyond spiritual guidance. It replaced personal conscience with the imposition of a leader’s total worldview. I found this authoritarian and ethically questionable.
When trusted leaders were exposed to moral failings like financial corruption or sexual affairs, it was devastating. More upsetting than the acts was the reluctance to take responsibility and be transparent. Seeing those positioned as spiritual mentors compromise ethics while preaching rigid morality was hugely disillusioning.
The Road Ahead
Transitioning out of one’s childhood church home into an uncertain religious future is painful. But learning to question, think critically, and stand up to authority on personal convictions can also be profoundly empowering.
I walk my unique spiritual path alone for now, but with an open and inquiring mind. There are certain things I appreciate about my Nazarene upbringing. But it could no longer provide the whole framework to sustain my quest for truth and meaning. New beginnings require some ends, so I said goodbye to one community to continue my genuine soul-searching.
Wherever that takes me, it will be the right place. Our connection to the divine resides inside us, not in structures of bricks and doctrine. The spiritual home is where we show love, integrity, and care for humanity. This transcends tribes, labels, and creeds to embrace our shared essence and sacred purpose. I carry the light within, guiding me to life’s next holy destination one step at a time.
Note: Mary Jones attended KCCNJ for the first time after leaving the Nazarene church she grew up in, looking for a new spiritual community where she felt accepted for who she was. Now, she is a regular visitor.
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