I’m a Nazbeen and This Might Be Why: I’m Guilty

We ex-Nazarenes have a term we call ourselves: Nazbeens. You can even buy a Nazbeens T-shirt (not that I have). Like many Nazbeens, I still look back on the Nazarene Church with some fondness and a lot of good memories. When I left it, I was a bit disillusioned with it and was looking for liturgy. But as I reflect on my upbringing in the home of Nazarene ministers, what I see is a lot of GUILT.

I have been looking through old journals yet again as I revise my manuscript. I kept prayer journals for years. In those journals I see a girl desperate to please God and the adults in her life and a girl always yearning to be a better Christian. I was a teenager who had devotions every single day, sometimes twice a day. I was probably a better Christian than most teenagers are. Yet it wasn’t enough. There was always a deeper blessing or understanding I grasped at, or a special word of God I was waiting to hear, or the need to ask His forgiveness for not thinking about Him 24-7.

A counselor once asked me if I had ever been angry at my parents when I was a teenager. I said no. She asked if I’d ever rebelled as a teenager. I said no. And then she very gently told me that I wasn’t normal. That it was normal for teenagers to rebel and push the limits and sometimes be raging made at their parents. But not me. I had to be perfect.

In the Nazarene Church, there is a second work of grace after salvation: sanctification, or holiness. I’ve heard many different descriptions of sanctification and will not try to explain it here, but I strove for that second thing I had to achieve, which seemed like perfection. I probably prayed six or seven different times to get sanctified. I thought you weren’t supposed to sin at all after you got sanctified, so when I did, I just thought that the most recent time I’d prayed for sanctification wasn’t real enough or meaningful enough or heartfelt enough. So, out of guilt, I prayed for it again.

One of my Nazarene relatives, who is probably the most selfless person I know, was gung-ho on all the holiness stuff. She made me feel guilty for everything from staying out until midnight (which isn’t really late for a college student) to taking a nap. There was a high emphasis on “what it might look like” to other people. You always had to act in way that made people think you were a good Christian. I say this not because I still carry a grudge – I love this person very much and let me tell you, she has mellowed a lot – but to show you that the Nazarene message of the 1950s and 60s was alive and well when I was growing up. The message of perfection and works righteousness probably fit in great back when my parents were growing up. But that message is not relevant anymore.

When I first got married, I felt guilty about having sex because sex had always only been something that was wrong.

I used to feel guilty about leaving my kids to have a girls’ night out.

I still feel a little guilty about drinking alcohol.

I still feel a little guilty if I skip church on Sunday.

I still often feel like I need to be perfect and I need everyone around me to be perfect.

Even the parts of my manuscript about Orthodoxy are wrought with guilt. And Orthodoxy does not represent guilt to me. Yet there it is, right smack in the middle of all of my writings about how true and mystical and beautiful Orthodoxy is. I have a chapter that is all about me feeling guilty for missing a Holy Week service because Ephraim was 2 and needed a nap in the afternoon. Really? I ask myself. I have heard Fr. Stephen tell the young mothers, “Come to the services you can during Holy Week, and stay as long as you can. If you need to leave early because of the children, leave early, but come when you can, and both you and God will receive a blessing.” Even my priest gets that young kids (and their weary mothers) can’t make it through the umpteen services of Holy Week. Yet me? I’m guilty.

Let me say it: Guilt can no longer be my reason for believing in God and living a Christian life.

I am not saying that guilt has no place in the church; certainly, the Holy Spirit convicts us of times we have hurt ourselves or others and urges us to make all things right. But guilt can no longer be my motivator. Guilt has spent years chewing me up and spitting me out and convincing me that I am unworthy. Guilt has made me always scared that I will be judged and rejected. In some ways, guilt has made me turn my eyes toward others in judgment and demand perfection from them. Because I could never bear to turn my eyes inward and accept myself.

I recently shared with my mother a definition of faith she gave me back in 1999 that I had written in my journal: “A Christian is a person who loves God totally, wholly, and completely. A Christian is a person who choses to live a life of righteousness no matter what, no matter what anyone thinks or does. A Christian is a person of surrender.”

I thought that it seemed like a very old-timey Nazarene type of answer. I thought that my mother might have a different answer now, so I asked her how she might define Christian faith now. Here is some of what she said:

“What is faith? Faith is screaming at God for not intervening when my baby was killed. Faith is questioning whether all those Scriptures and promises that I had read, quoted and taught are true or a bunch of bunk. Faith is wrestling with a God of silence and mystery who seems to leave you to struggle alone with the questions and the pain. Faith is acknowledging that God is God, and I am not, and God really doesn’t owe me anything. Faith is believing that the Resurrection story is real, and my baby boy is in God’s presence, healed and knows nothing but joy . . . A Christian is someone who has decided to follow Jesus and chooses to live her/his life in a supportive community of faith as a disciple – living, learning, sharing, giving, becoming, resting and trusting in the God who loved us enough to sacrifice His only begotten Son for us. A healthy community of faith is welcoming and affirming. It is a place where you can take off your mask and be who you are. Your brothers and sisters in Christ will be your church family, and you can trust them with your life story and your faith story. They will never give up on you. They will enrich your faith, and you will enrich theirs. You will walk toward the Cross together.”

Can you see the stark difference between these two definitions of faith?

The first is the expected answer of a Nazarene missionary.

The second is the answer of a woman who has gone to hell and back and still believes.

The first is saying the right thing.

The second is telling the truth.

The first is guilt-driven.

The second is truth-driven.

And I’d take the second over a hundred firsts any day. Because it’s real. My mom is the strongest woman I know, folks.

I haven’t talked to my dad as much about the Nazarene Church, but I know that he has his own wounds, too. The truth is, none of us attend a Nazarene Church anymore. My mom attends a Methodist church. To be honest, I’m not sure what church my dad goes to or if he even goes to church every Sunday. And I don’t judge him for that. I’d rather him seek God on his own terms than show up at church just to please somebody or put on a show. We’re all on a spiritual journey, and the going gets rough sometimes.

I don’t know if the Nazarene Church just couldn’t embrace us when we most needed it, or if maybe it tried to and we turned our backs on it. I don’t know if it still represents that 1950s holiness perfection or not. I know there are some very sincere and loving Nazarene people who may not represent the works-based, guilt-ridden faith I see in my journals. All I know is that among all the messages it gave me, I have to let go of the one about being guilty.

I have to cling to God’s message that He loves me always. I want love to be my motivator.

I leave you with a quote from Henri Nouwen:

“The great spiritual task facing me is to so fully trust that I belong to God that I can be free in the world–free to speak even when my words are not received; free to act even when my actions are criticized, ridiculed, or considered useless…. I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.”

I pray this for me and my parents. I pray this for all of us. Love on, people.


  1. Donna says:

    Karissa, my family too is a bunch of Nazbeens and former Naz-missionaries. My brother is Episcopalian, my parent visit a lot of churches, but primarily attend a Presbyterian church. I myself am an American Baptist. It sounds like we have a lot in common.

    For me, the issue of guilt sort of became ‘erased’ when I realized that if everything is sin, nothing is sin. I just couldn’t walk around feeling guilty all the time about things which came naturally to me.

    And the longer I studied theology (three graduate degrees later), the more I began to realize that ‘faith’ for me is not about ‘who/what you believe in’ but more about ‘how can I go on’? Faith is that which allows me to go on.


  2. Marty Cobb says:

    Karissa, you sound a lot like our children. All of them have struggled with the church they grew up in, and Adam whom you knew a little bit, is presently not attending church at all. He is in OK working on his PhD. I have had my struggles, and still do, with guilt. Most of it was pseudo guilt that just left me feeling bad. Honest guilt leads to true repentance. Perhaps I was blessed to have grown up in the Methodist Church and in a family that was very real about spiritual things. It is the phony stuff that does so much damage I believe. So, I am a Nazarene by marriage and by choice, and I have found real people everywhere we have lived and in every church. And, yes, there has been a lot of change in our church, and in all churches I think.

    Thanks for sharing your heart. You are loved!

    • kksorrell says:

      Aunt Marty,

      Thanks for reading and for this comment. I agree both that there is such thing as healthy guilt, and that there are “real” people with real, gritty faith out there!

  3. Dorcie says:

    I am a life long Wesleyan/Nazarene. Than you for expressing many of the things I feel. I still go. I don’t want to, but I feel a responsibility to the people who have supported us during some very difficult times in our lives. I don’t invite others or “share my faith.” It feels dishonest to introduce someone to this life when it is so hard and burdensome to be this kind of “Christian.” I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy. I try to be honest with the church and not be hypocritical. I break many church rules and admit it when asked. I have struggled with continuing to believe. Between the legalism, and perfectionism and the politics of the religious right, I have just about given up. Still I long for spiritual awarness and health.

    Thank you for sharing your experience

    • kksorrell says:


      Thank you for honestly sharing your struggles! I hate to hear how difficult it is. Your spirit can only be neglected for so long – I encourage you to seek another church, even if is another Nazarene church that better embodies the spirit of Christ!

  4. This could have been written by any number of my ex-Church of God Anderson friends. We wrestle with a lot of this stuff, too, being very close in doctrine and practice to the Nazarenes. I’m so glad that you didn’t leave the faith due to your experiences! So many have been burned by our legalistic tendencies and I can’t help but feel like Wesleyan denominations are due for a revival as a new generation of pastors and laypeople rise up and start shedding the baggage of our past errors.

    • kksorrell says:

      Thanks, Stephen. I have found that many people from other denominations have said they felt the same way, too. I do think that now the generational differences are too wide for the the old legalistic worldviews to be relevant.

      Actually, I did leave the church – became Eastern Orthodox – but my reasons were more about getting away from user-friendly church and being in a liturgical setting.

      I never really experienced the struggle that Dorcie (above) did – growing up I always liked my church. However, now that there’s been some time and distance, I see the damage the legalism had on my psyche.

  5. The line that really resonated with me in this incredibly well written article:

    “There was a high emphasis on “what it might look like” to other people. You always had to act in way that made people think you were a good Christian.”

    Almost the reverse of Trevecca’s motto, to seem rather than to be. I can’t tell you as someone who still is a Nazarene how much this whole article resonates with me, especially your mother’s 2nd definition of faith. Having been through a divorce and lots of life changes I feel like that speaks to my own journey as well. Thanks Karissa.

    • kksorrell says:

      Thanks, Rick. Sometimes a difficult experience can help us see God in a new way and deepen our faith. I know that sounds like a “pat answer” but I promise it’s not. I thought it was great when my mom said, “Faith is screaming at God.” I now think that faith and doubt go together.

    • kksorrell says:

      Love it! I love Kahlil Gibran!

      “When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.” – Perfect – exactly what I am talking about!


      • Kristin says:

        I too left the Nazarene church (and the Church altogether) after 22 years and found Love… Or, rather, Love found me… Call it God, whatever. But it wasn’t until I totally let go of all that guilt that that incredible transformation started happening. So grateful this whole conversation is happening — thank you for your transparency. It’s refreshing. 🙂

  6. Thanks for this post. I am a seventh-generation Wesleyan and a second generation Nazarene, and your words resonate through my past familiarly. I flowed in and out of the Nazarene church throughout the first three centuries of my life. It was probably because I needed a community that allotted me more grace than “guidance.” When I was younger I left home and went out west-ish and became a drunken musician (and had a lot of fun!). For a period of about 14 years I never went to church, even though I was caught up in such a deep love affair with her. I never went because I was always taught, and always thought that I had to clean myself up before going, that I had to be perfect. Only recently have I realized that I was kept from going to a place that was called to bleed grace simply because I thought God’s grace had run out. Now I know that I cannot know the extent of God’s grace. My entire Christian journey was halted because of false guilt. I pray that I can teach my daughter differently than I was taught growing up. And to be honest, there are some of us Nazarenes who first had to become “Nazbeens” before we could rightly approach what it really means to be a Nazarene. Thanks for your words.

    • kksorrell says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your story. I completely understand feeling like you had to clean yourself up before going back to church. And I really get having to separate yourself from the Nazarene influence to truly find God and see what a true Nazarene is. I think we were so submerged in “religious culture” that it was hard to even grasp any other worldviews.

      BTW, I think you meant “decades” instead of “centuries!” If not, tell me your secret for living to be 300! 🙂

  7. Janissa Cox says:


    My sister- Tiffany Claxton posted this article for me to read and I’m glad she did. Truth is… your words are true. Regardless of the reasons why or the way we end up in the paths we navigate (whether they be the same or different), the way we got there was the same. I spent many years trying to balance the upbringing that so diligently was taught to me and the truth that I was being shown by a message of truth through grace in a church that had no ties to a denomination. Although we have now divorced, I spent many years praying for my husband at the time nightly for his salvation. I snicker now at that thought because I was as broken and screwed up as he was but somehow I was able to justify my sin daily and repent and be ‘right’ in the eyes of God. Obviously, that wrong idea of God and forgiveness had some effect on my marriage. However, I will never forget the period of time that God worked on my heart and opened my mind to the real revelation of grace- I was so completely overwhelmed by it that I never wanted to forget- and we named our third daughter with that in mind (Emma GRACE). Before God opened my heart- I never lived in peace. I never had contentment. For the first time in my life, my eyes of judgement were cleared and the heart that I thought was free… was REALLY set free. I don’t ever want to go back. I don’t share your guilt but I understand it. I was released from the bondage that a church doctrine placed on my life and I thank God that He saw fit to open my eyes. I have no hard feelings toward the CON— I have fond memories and still have close friendships that came from that organization… but I don’t regret my decision to leave. Thank you for articulating your story- I’ll be honest, I cried because I FELT those feelings you described as only a “Nasbeen” can.

    • kksorrell says:

      Janissa –

      Thanks for reading and sharing your story! I’m glad that you have experienced grace and freedom!

  8. Summer Ratzlaff says:

    I felt like I could’ve written this. I was raised in the Nazarene Church and still love and admire many role models that God set before me through this church. Some of those same role models however, instill guilt in me to this day, unintentionally I’m sure. Many Nazarene people I know and love have a ‘gritty faith’ as you said in response to a comment above. I learned so so so much in the church of the Nazarene. BUT, mostly what I remember from my childhood: GUILT. You nailed it. I suffer still with this in many regards. I specifically remember our church doing a series called “Why knock Rock?” in the 80s. You could buy the video tapes to watch at home, and you can bet my parents did. It was absolute fire and brimstone stuff. Meant to scare the hell out of you. I remember constantly fearing that I had missed a sin to ask for forgiveness for. I was terrified of demons and hell. And I’m talking about being a 2nd grader!? I can’t tell you how many times I “rededicated” my life to Christ and asked for sanctification. As loving as some of my influencers have been in life, I was afraid to be seen at a movie, not sure if I could tell people I went to school dances or listened to secular music, and don’t even get me started on sex. After leaving the Nazarene church in high school to attend a Baptist Church with friends while my folks stayed at the C.o.N., I then partied my way through state college. Once I was married, we went together to the C.o.N. and were very loved and accepted there. But the need “TO SEEM” rather than “TO BE” as one person mentioned above was still so pervasive in our lives. We weren’t living as hypocrites, but definitely living more guarded so as not to be judged for every little thing someone else might think wasn’t right of us to do!? We left the C.oN. almost 4 years ago. Partly because my life was entering the worst season ever. Ever. And I felt I couldn’t bare the reactions, or my own invading thoughts of what THEY must be thinking! I do believe now, that my church is FAR less judgmental than I give credit for, but we are doing great as Nazbeens, and I’m learning so many biblical truths without a lot of good-intentioned doctrine in my ears. Thanks for your honest blog! My friend Brannon posted it and I couldn’t resist when I heard the term “Nazbeen”. By the way, I truly do believe that the Nazarene people I know have made huge changes for the good! Even my Grandma, who is 89 years old! (and the best person I know!) ~Summer

    • kksorrell says:


      I can definitely relate to wondering if I’d forgotten a sin and the video tapes – at Trevecca we had to sit through two days of a video on backmasking in one of my classes! (Don’t think Trevecca shows that anymore – hope not!) I, too, felt like (still feel like) I have to hide certain things from certain people.

      Like you, I know some Nazarenes who have really mellowed and aren’t as legalistic anymore.

      I’m glad you have found a positive community of faith.

  9. Burt says:

    Hello, my name is Burt. I’ve been a Nazbeen for nine years. I was a fourth generation Naz

    We left the church mainly for our kids. There were no kids our kids age. Our church was a revolving door. New people every week but never hitting 100 people on any given Sunday. I understand the guilt factor

    A big difference came when our current church studied the “TrueFaced” book (http://www.truefaced.com). It is now called “The Cure”

    Your first definition of faith comes from the path of Pleasing God. The second come from the path of Trusting God.

    Great post!!

  10. A FB friend linked this post, and I was so excited to find an ex-Naz convert to Orthodoxy! I am a PK and ONU grad. My husband teaches at ONU, and so we are very much still plugged into the denomination, especially with both our families still a part of the Nazarene church. It’s a mixed-up sort of existence, but I managed okay, and I definitely think our conversion was the best faith choice we’ve made. You put it all so well and so fairly.

    • kksorrell says:

      Christine! Nice to meet you! We actually have 2 ex-Naz families at our Orthodox Church! For a while after becoming Orthodox, I still had some minor involvement with the COTN. I even went to General Assembly back in 2005. But we still have a lot of Protestant influence in our lives, too. My husband is the Director of Spiritual Life at a Christian school (interdenominational but highly influenced by Baptist tradition), which is the school our kids attend, so I understand!

  11. Kyle Miller says:

    There are some good statements within this article. However, there aren’t any scriptural bases or context for any the theological claims. It is all about personal experiences of an ethnocentric nature. Good thoughts, weak validity. Also, I have immersed myself in the “Nazarene world” for the past 4 years and have found that the emphasis on Holiness is a bit odd but not quite to the degree you are describing. The past may be riddled with it but there seems to be reform. As you may have noticed, this is also only based upon personal experience. Nevertheless, it comes from someone who is naturally from the outside looking in and not someone who has moved to the outside from the inside. I would also like to add that I am not jaded by the church which is to my advantage.

    • kksorrell says:


      Yep, it’s my personal experience. This post came from issues I’m dealing with right now (in my mid-thirties), issues that I’ve finally realized stem back to guilt I felt as a child or teenager. My point wasn’t to present any theological claims; it was just to say I felt/feel guilty, and I think that some of that guilt came from the religious environment I was raised in.

      I’ve received a lot of comments about this on Facebook, as well, and there have been mixed responses. Some agree with me; some disagree. But what I’ve noticed is most of the people my age experienced and felt similar things in the church growing up.

    • Michael says:

      @Kyle Miller Your argument is one I’ve heard fundamentalists of all religions make a thousand times: Where is the scriptural basis? I am a former pastor in the Nazarene church who walked away from it all. When I hear “scriptural basis”, I always get suspicious. It is typically code for taking a complicated and rich collection of texts full of many authors and types of writing over thousands of years and grabbing a few verses to support one’s VERSION of Christianity. It becomes an ego-driven device using scripture that none of us fully understand as “evidence”. That may not be your intention, but your comment is misleading and dangerous in that way.

      I am a Nazbeen and ONU Grad. I grew up in the church and have been away from Nazarene-dom for 13 GLORIOUS years. It wasn’t until I was away from the church for a couple of years that it became strikingly obvious that the Nazarenes I knew when I was growing up were only a few small steps shy of a cult. The similarities are shocking, but I couldn’t see it when I was on the inside.

      My parents are still very involved in that denomination, and I can agree that some of that BatSh*t craziness has finally left. Kyle, I’m glad to hear that you have found a loving congregation and that you have not been subjected to the weirdness that haunts the Nazarene past. Count your blessings that you missed the craziness, I assure you.

      As a psychologist now, it has been fascinating for me to listen to the myriad of stories across so many religious and denominational lines of religious abuse. The stories sound strikingly similar to Karissa’s and the pain that results is not only sad, but is reflective of a traumatic experience. There is tremendous power in sharing one’s story, regardless of whether a “scriptural basis” is included. That perspective misses Karissa’s point entirely. It has also been a common theme of arguments the religiously abused heard growing up that were used to support acts of racism, physical abuse, xenophobia, bigotry, and on and on and on. In other words, be careful and be aware that your limited experience with Nazarenes tells you very little about the history of a complicated fringe denomination. Thank you for your wonderful post, Karissa. I loved your mother’s second answer as well.

      • kksorrell says:

        Thanks, Michael. I had some similar thoughts about what Kyle said. Since I wasn’t trying to make some big theological statement, I can kinda ignore the Scripture and doctrine comments, but the “not jaded” comment stung a little.

        We are ALL jaded by something. I am jaded because I am American. I am jaded because I am white. I am jaded because I am middle class. I am jaded because I lived in Thailand. I am jaded because I am from the South. I am jaded because I was a PK. No one is immune from outside influences.

        In this instance, sure, I’m jaded by my negative experiences. That’s not to say I didn’t have positive experiences in the COTN; I did! (Maybe I’m somehow jaded by those, too.)

        All I’m saying, Kyle, is that whenever anyone states their opinion, their opinion is influenced by something. That doesn’t mean their opinion is invalid or unimportant or right or wrong. My truth is not going to be the same as someone else’s truth.

        You can tell me I’m overgeneralizing, or that you think my guilt is from my own personality rather than the church, or that you think the church doesn’t induce guilt at all. You just can’t tell me that this is not MY truth. Does that make sense?

        • Kristin says:

          Karissa, if I can figure out how to effectively teach rhet/comp students what youve said here, i will consider my job successfully done. What an unbelievably hard thing to see, our influences, esp with topics that are so personal to us. Start unraveling the jargon and you can start to see those influences — which you have so aptly pointed out and which your mom so beautifully did.

          • kksorrell says:

            Ha! Good luck! As a teenager (I assume you teach HS or college students) I don’t think I really understood the idea of influences. Everything was very black and white, right and wrong. I even had trouble participating in basic debates because I couldn’t try to see things from different perspectives.

      • LLP says:

        “the Nazarenes I knew when I was growing up were only a few small steps shy of a cult”. That was my family and our churches growing up. My grandfather was a pastor and my father was the golden child of that family. My mother was the poor child of an immigrant that was “saved” by a religious family in the Nazarene church and funneled into Olivet where she met my father. We went to the most isolated and most culty version of the church in every place we lived. I am still trying to understand the religious, etc. abuse I endured as a child in a very cult-like community of Nazarenes. Do you know of any resources on this?

  12. EDD WILDER says:

    As an ordained minister in the Nazarene church, I had been abused and humiliated by the superiors and by other pastors because I believed that sanctification was about dealing with our guilt, whether it be over sin or we weren’t perfect as some ‘old-time-pastors/evangelists’ were telling us. We get so carried away about being perfect or ‘being righteous’ before others, that we forget the human side of our sanctification. I firmly believe that sanctification deals with our guilt of not being perfect and we strive to be what Jesus asks us to be. As my father was used to saying, who was a second generation Nazarene, “Be all you can be, but let Jesus do the leading.”
    I have left the Nazarene church because of the treatment by those who think they have to change me and not letting the Holy Spirit do His work in my life and heart. I don’t carry any guilt over that because the Holy Spirit is leading me the ways that I never thought possible.
    So, I guess you can call me a “Nazbeen”, however, I’m letting the Holy Spirit lead me in His will for my life.

    • kksorrell says:

      Edd, these are wonderful thoughts. I always found sanctification difficult to understand and pin down. I think we are all in the process of becoming more Christ-like. But now I see it more as a journey and less as a series of crisis moments. So glad you are listening to the true Spirit, not a false spirit of self-righteousness!

  13. Kyle Miller says:


    I apologize that my comments stung a bit. That was never my intention. I only meant to provide an opinion from someone on the outside that has so much good from the COTN. I know there are people within the church that can be hurtful and they can misrepresent the gospel. I believe that wholeheartedly. So I provided my comment because I felt the article blamed the church more than its people. I seriously want to apologize for the perception given off by my comment and I still have some things that I disagree with because of misuse of the post modern movement but these statement aren’t suited for an impersonal format. But above all, I want to apologize.

    • Kristin says:

      So i know this is an A-B conversation, but really quick: what IS the church if not its people?? To me, the sole function of the church rests in a collection of individuals — i think thats something that often gets shoved under the rug, so to speak. But the indivduals are what comprise the church, and they matter.

      • kksorrell says:

        I’ve been chewing on that one. I kinda see it as both. I think individuals who pushed perfection believed that perfection was the church’s idea of holiness. I also think, as I keep saying, that generational differences (not just cultural generational differences, but generational differences in ideas about church and God) come into play here. I really think that the messages of the 1950s/60 COTN was being regurgitated and repeated for my generation (1980s/90s), and people my age struggled with a works-based, high-emotion faith in the midst of postmodernity, an increasingly free and suggestive culture, and a need to be and sound intelligent and rational to the general population. (BTW I just read that one of Darwin’s ancestors has come back to Catholicism – it was a really good read, and addressed the idea of intellect and faith). Okay. I’m off on a tangent now. Sorry!

  14. Kksorrell says:

    Kyle, no need to apologize. I would like to think this is a safe place for discussion and varied opinions. Actually, right after I made my comment about MY truth, I thought, “That is such a postmodern comment.” And maybe I am a postmodernist in some ways. (Influences again) I do still believe in some absolutes, but I have to say that there are some things I was raised to see as black and white that I now see as gray areas. I assume the four years you mentioned means you attended a Naz college but weren’t raised Nazarene? I’m glad that the Naz church has been a positive experience for you.

  15. Kyle Miller says:

    Thank you!! And yes, I’m a current Olivet student who travels for the university throughout the Midwest providing worship music for various churches and camps on the weekend. I am actually deeply rooted in an Arminian tradition of theology so I was unfamiliar with the ‘Nazarene doctrine’ and had a great theological background before landing in the ‘Naz world’. It’s not perfect but it’s also not a cult. It has some crazy quirks much like a home school family but not quite cult like. Again, my views of the Nazarene world are only formed by the Midwest but dang God is doing some great things in the Midwest if understood wholisticly.

  16. I am a third generation Nazarene. I am also an MK who was raised with all the traditional legalistic rules. I followed the rules well enough to have received the title, “Nancy Nazarene”. Your article and the comments have challenged me to share some of my thoughts.

    I don’t seem to relate to your experience of guilt. However, I do remember spending some time studying the book or Romans and realizing that there is freedom in our walk with Christ and all that legalism can get in the way. However, I don’t recall really feeling like I missed out on anything with the rules. Well, maybe the jewelry rule bothered me some! 🙂

    After studying Romans like I did that time I had to ask myself how many rules were to please others and how many actually were what God called me to do. Some of my answers made me laugh, but I never resented the rules.

    A few years back I recall the Holiness Today having pictures of our youth working in Phoenix as part of NYC. The temperatures were dangerously hot and our teens were dressed in shorts and sleeveless tops. The next month had lots of older Nazarenes appalled at their way of dressing to represent the CoN. Of course the next month there were those attacking our legalistic Nazarenes.

    All of that got me to thinking about the differences in the generations. When my grandparents became Nazarenes, they chose to drop several things in their life that did not seem Christlike. These choices, at that time were what Nazarenes were offering to God as their love to Him. When my parents grew up in the church, they would have seen a sparkle in their parent’s eyes as they shared what they would not do as Christians. When my generation came along, we may have seen a bit of authentic devotion as part of those rules, but when I raised my kids, I am sure all they saw were RULES.

    Years ago I read that in the Protestant church the fourth generation tends to leave the church and start something new. Unfortunately I do not recall the source of that statement. It did prepare me for dealing with my children not being in the CoN when they became adults.

    I am sorry that so many have had to suffer through all the guilt producing interpretations of God’s loving way of life.

    • kksorrell says:

      Thanks for sharing all this, Joyce! I was at NYC in Phoenix in 1995 – was that the same year? I remember it was like 123 degrees and they made us all T-shirts with some verse from the OT about how hot it was! I never knew that the church got upset about what we wore! Also I never remember a “no jewelry” rule – I wore jewelry and make up, but in my house we were definitely big on the the no dancing and no movies! Also, I remember when I was little that the Naz campground in TN did not allow “mixed bathing” – boys and girls had to swim in the pool at separate times.

      As far as when I was living it, I think I had some sincere devotion to the rules. I understood the reasons behind most of them. (I had a big problem with not going to movies, but other than that, I was mostly ok). I do remember sometimes feeling like I had to be perfect. I think it’s taken me all this time to realize that those “must dos” deeply affected me. I believe, though, that I can move toward healing and have a healthy emotional and spiritual life and still love my friends from the COTN.

      • Erin J says:

        My husband and I are both 3rd/4th generation Nazarenes, and my husband is a PK. We both attended a Nazarene university. Our parents and siblings all attend the Nazarene church today. I consider myself to be a Nazarene in limbo.

        I was also at NYC in ’95, and I’m pretty sure I was one of those with rolled-up t-shirt sleeves and shorts. It was HOT! I gave away all my water to homeless people that day. And sadly, I can see the older Nazarenes getting quite upset over girls wearing shorts in the 90’s, rather than rejoicing in lives being touched through kind deeds and words. It reminds me of the old Newsboys song, “Lost the Plot.”

        I also remember working in the kitchen during family camp in the summer of ’96. Our DS chastised me for my shorts I was wearing (behind the counter in the wash room) and how they were inappropriate. They were probably 2 inches above my knees. I was the most modest girl in my school! I hardly wore tank tops, and my shorts were boy shorts, as girl shorts were all made with a short length in the late 90’s.

        I remember thinking, “Why isn’t he noticing how I’m volunteering to help or how we’re all working together as a team in the kitchen?” Obviously, my shorts were more important than that. I was really hurt by his comment and by the realization that outward appearances seemed to matter more to our DS than what God was doing on the insides of the amazing teens in our district.

        I think the legalism of the church was its kryptonite. I followed all the rules–every one, because I was a good girl, but like you, I never understood why we could rent movies, but not go to them. It seemed to me that you could get more inappropriate movies at the store than you could see in the theater. (And that said, I wouldn’t even get a membership at the stores that had X-rated movies…see: good girl!) Why we couldn’t dance for fun and not for sensual purposes? I was so by the manual, that I used to think if you drank, or got divorced, it was a ticket straight to hell.

        I still have more to process on my feelings about the Nazarene church, but I can say without hesitation that the guilt, the legalism, the fear of hell (thanks to the Thief in the Night movies) all had a very negative impact on me. On the flip side, my youth leader, teen camps, and the amazing leadership from Randy Beckum, Norma Brunson and Larry Fine at MNU forever changed me in a positive way. I’m grateful for my Nazarene roots, but not tied down by them.

        • Tim F says:

          I always nought that the guy who invented VHS tapes must have been a saint because he ‘sanctified’ all those movies we couldn’t go see in the theater, and made them ‘holy’ enough for us to watch at home.

  17. Brian W says:

    Thanks for the article. At least it is getting people to think. Since we all seem to start this way, I am a 4th generation Naz and grew up as an MK. I am an ordained elder in the Naz church but work in a non-traditional ministry. I resonate a lot with your feelings of guilt and experiences within the church. In fact I spent years speaking out of those experiences to teens and wondered what it would be like to speak to people about the gospel who had not been tainted by the guilt brought on by doctrine. I had a big sticker in my church office that said “Jesus called and He wants His religion back.” Teens loved it but senior pastors didn’t. I feel like in my experiences (although still limited) that I have been able to reflect on religious experiences through many different denominations and walks of life including the Orthodox church in easter Europe. I have served families that were multi millionaires to families of street kids. I say all this to say that although the feelings and experiences we have all had have been very real and even formed us on different levels I think to say they are a by product of the Nazarene church is a fairly limited view. I know each of our experiences may have been limited to the Nazarene church but there are a lot other influences on a macro level that seem to influence our experiences as well. To name a few; western culture, the American Evangelical movement, the blending of the hyper consumerism and Evangelicalism, modern & post modern thought. As MKs even some sort of colonialism. I know there is push back against the differences in Biblical interpretation but even within scripture once humanity took over the religious laws they grew and grew until they were so legalistic and unattainable that the religious leaders were the one group that Jesus clearly lashed out at and spoke against with no sense of the love that He showed the women at the well and the sick and the lame.

    I say all this to say that when you look back at the history of the Nazarene church it started off very pure and with great intent and open mindedness and with what I think is a good balance of the internal and the social gospel. However as people tried to manipulate and remanufacture this sanctified experience without the joy of of walking then it became more about attaining it then it did about journeying in it. It is like saying you will get the same experience if you take a helicopter from the US/Mexico Border to the US/Canada border as you will if you walk the entire Pacific Crest Trail between the two. That is ludicrous.

    Even in all that, the amount of people within our culture that grew up in evangelical churches that have made the switch towards liturgy is as big as the amount of people in our culture that grew up in liturgy and are having this same conversation and have switched to a more evangelical church. It isn’t because the denominations or churches were bad (or maybe they all were) it is that they are all not what we are looking for. They will never be a full reflection and no matter how much we try and perfect them or our behavior it’s not going to happen.

    We can blame whoever or whatever we want but in the end it is glimpses of the love of God that allows us to Hope for the “not yet.” And in my opinion this hope is what people are dying for but we are too busy bitchin about our messed up lives. That’s more confession than aggression.

    There is a whole lot more to say around this both critical and hopeful but I feel that maybe I have said enough. I hope this maybe allows us all to gather around “the common table” rather than around the Nazbeen table.

    Grace and Peace,

    • kksorrell says:


      I think you make some valid points. There were a lot of influences at play, and maybe it’s not fair for me to pin in all on the Nazarene Church. (After all, I’m a typical first-born child – driven to succeed and eager to please – that itself is very guilt-producing!) I’ve received several comments on FB from friends who grew up in other churches (both evangelical and liturgical) who said they experienced the same thing.

      I have come to believe that there is no perfect church. Orthodoxy is not the answer to or band-aid for my guilt. Eight years ago when I was first learning Orthodoxy, it was so wonderfully novice and seemed perfect. Now, I realize that I have a few hang-ups with my church, but I don’t want to leave it. All the reasons I chose Orthodoxy still ring true.

      I like what you said about a common table. I think I easily saw that as an MK as we easily mixed and fellowshipped with missionaries and Christians from all over the globe and all different denominations. I apologize if it seemed like I was trying to cause division with this post.

  18. Karrisa, at the time I grew up we could not wear jewelry or makeup. Slacks, sleevless tops, movies, dances were also off limits. A few said short hair was a sin! Since you mention the Tenn campground, I remember the joke that you got kicked out of Trevecca if it was discovered you had a hole in the knee of your swimsuit! 🙂

  19. I may be commenting too much here, but I do have one more thing to share. I am not a theologian but I am a practitioner. All the confusion of Sanctification to me needs to be simply put as coming to a point in our walk where we choose to be obedient to the Holy Spirit. I tell Him I want Him to lead me in my actions. I am committed to be obedient to His leading. Since His ways are only those of true Love, it is easy to know I am in the right, as long as I am OBEDIENT to His leadings. I can still quench Him and then it becomes easier not to do what is right. Keeping my willingness to obey Him and not worry about what others think is right makes my walk much easier!
    Well, some days not so easy when He tells me to give Grace where I want justice! 🙂 Overall, I trust Him and follow His guidance!

    • Tim F says:

      I’ve come to understand sanctification as being of perfect motive not perfect action. After years of striving to ‘be good’ or ‘do good’ and realizing that I could never achieve that perfection as defined by the ‘Saints’ I found liberation in knowing that being sanctified was more about WHY than WHAT or HOW.

  20. Kaite says:


    I would like to share with you my view on being a Nazarene, my intent is neither to sound like my Nazarene views are perfect, nor be pro or con either way. I grew up in the Church of the Nazarene, never once was I made to feel guilty about any of the things you wrote about. I never felt that I had to be perfect or achieve perfection after Jesus saved me. I was never taught that it was about the name of the label on the church door, or what you do in ministry, it was only about the guidance for your journey. I am a sinner and always will be, and just because I was saved by grace doesn’t mean I won’t sin anymore…just means I can ask for forgiveness again and again. We are human and as humans we have free will to make decisions that lead to sin and we are often times misguided by anything and everything. And just because whatever may be in a manual somewhere, does not mean it is part of the Gospel.

    I attended a Christian school for my childhood and high school education, it was Assembly of God, and that was the only place I was made to feel guilty about anything. When I was in the fifth grade, I was shown the Theif in the Night movies and those scarred me.

    As for your relative that made you feel judged and guilty, it sounds as though that is a character trait and has nothing to do with the fact that she is a Nazarene. There are old school people where ever you look; can’t shake them off no matter where you go.

    In the inner-city faith community I grew up in, we supported each other and we supported the lost and broken people that always walked through our doors. It saddens me that you didn’t have the support of your faith community as you were figuring out your place in God’s story for you.

    I think there are cultural differences in America and churches are not universal in the what and the way they teach. I tend to think that your experience was more where you were when you were growing up, but that is just my opinion. Your definition was very skewed from the one I have and have had in my life.

    The one truth I know, Jesus doesn’t care if you are red, yellow, black, white, Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, or Nazarene. He still saves you by grace and loves you. All you need to do is take the grace and head towards the Kingdom with the Holy Spirit as one of your guides.

    • kksorrell says:

      Thanks for your story, Kaite. I’m glad your experiences have been positive and I’m glad you are able to defend the COTN.

      Actually I never felt like I wasn’t surrounded by a supportive community. I’ve had many spiritual mentors over the years. I think part of it is being the ministers’ kid just made me feel like I had to be perfect.

    • LLP says:

      Heads up Katie, many people feel calling people the color “y*llow” and “r*d” is a racial slur. That song with that line “they are precious in his sight,” etc… makes my skin crawl when it plays in my memory.

  21. Julie Moore says:

    I grew up as a pk in the Church of the Nazarene. I remember very well having to make sure I didn’t wear shorts at the church, even though I wore them to school and even church camp. I remember very well not being allowed to have my ears pierced because of what others would think. I remember a reason given to me for not wearing red nail polish…”It would draw attention to my nails”. There were countless things that I was not allowed to do, that are generally accepted now in the Nazarene church. I was a typical preacher’s kid, and I remember asking “why” a lot. And I wasn’t always satisfied with the answers, but was not a rebellious kid by nature. I remember that the movie argument seemed ridiculous to me as a teenager, so I went to one with my girlfriends in my senior year of high school. I did not feel guilty as a Christian going to a movie. I only felt guilty for disobeying my parents. The thing is, I knew plenty of kids from other denominations with their own set of “rules” that they had to deal with. They also seem to be generational. This is true for many Baptist churches too. If I live with any guilt about something, I deal with it spritually, but I don’t look at it as the fault of a denomination. I still love the Church of the Nazarene. I drive an hour to get to one as often as I can. When I can’t drive that hour, I go to another denomination. I don’t feel guilty. I can undersand your struggle, but the term “Nazbeen” seems very rude and spiteful. And I’m not trying to make you feel guilty…we are probably close in age, but it does slap in the face, those of us who have dealt with these issues in a different way.

    • kksorrell says:

      Julie, I’m not trying to offend with the term “Nazbeen.” I may be desensitized to the connotation it may carry. I can relate to a lot of the things you said about being a PK. I wonder what you mean by “dealing with it spiritually.” Can you elaborate?

  22. John Burge says:

    I find this sad. I read this the other night and it has bothered me since. The problem seems to be a problem with legalism, which is available in many churches. Legalism is practiced in many ways, but always destructive. The apostle Paul dealt with it and suffered the loss of some converts. Many Nazarene churches have practiced it, and some still do. It man’s attempt to make rules he can keep in order to deserve God’s love and forgiveness. But we are “saved by grace through faith, not of works.” I wish those who have been so badly hurt could find forgiveness for themselves and forgive those who committed malpractice in teaching, preaching and living true holiness.

    • kksorrell says:

      I am sorry this is depressing you – I really wanted this to give hope to people who may be struggling with similar issues and to encourage both myself and others to 1) let go of the hold guilt has on them and 2) trust in God’s overwhelming love for them.

      • John Burge says:

        I understand that from your perspective, but I find it sad that this even happens anywhere. I was raised Nazarene and have been a pastor and missionary over the last 40 years. I have seen so much of legalism from many different churches. It hurts to see the unintended consequences that happen. Legalists really think they are “protecting the integrity of the church and the future of the young.” But, they are only binding the young down with burdens they cannot carry, nor have those who give the rules done so well with them either.
        After I had talked to several over the years I am more thankful than ever for the local church where I was raised. It was not like that at all. Yes we knew the rules, but they were not choked down us. They helped form who I am without making me bitter or driving me from my church.

  23. Diana says:

    I am third generation Nazarene. My grandpa was a Nazarene minister. I think the “rules” lightened as the years went by and people realized relationship with Christ was more important than rules. When my grandparents came over, we (parents included) would hide the cards. Yet my parents would not allow me to go to movies or to dances. That frustrated me, but I viewed these rules as something my parents were imposing on me, not the church. I was a teen in the church in the 1980s and LOVED my time in the youth group and in the Nazarene church. Yes, I was aware of some of the “rules,” but those really weren’t emphasized in our church. Maybe it just depended on the people who made up each local church as to how legalistic the environment was. I do know that this was not just a Nazarene thing. I honestly think it was a generational thing. Maybe a generational/church culture thing that spanned denominations.

    Today, I am raising my kids in the Nazarene church. We love it because of the holiness doctrine and the emphasis on missions and service. We see no evidence of institutionalized legalism. My kids go to SOME movies and to SOME dances. They make their decisions based on content and whether the event would be honoring to God. Our pastor goes to see movies, and his kids go to dances. There will always be some individuals who are legalistic, but that’s their own personal belief system. I just ignore those individuals if they ever feel the need to “correct” me. 🙂

    Legalism is certainly on the way out. But I’m not really liking this new church culture thing which I have seen in many churches, across denominations. Perhaps this is the pendulum swinging WAY back the other way. It seems that the emphasis in churches is on grace and love. And certainly, our relationship with Christ is based on grace and love and is not based on works. HOWEVER, such emphasis is being placed on grace and love, that little is being said about sin and the need for forgiveness, let alone the very real existence of hell. There are some church members who believe they can live however they want because “God loves me and died on the cross for me.” Yes, he did. HOWEVER, what about sin? What about repentance? What about holiness, being set apart? I recently left a Nazarene church because it was embracing this new culture. I found another Nazarene church who was well-balanced in their church culture in all these areas. But this is not just a Nazarene church thing. My friends from other denominations have also expressed frustration with this “feel good” church culture. Hopefully this, too, shall pass.

  24. Ron says:

    I have read these posts with great interest and find some of the material dove-tailing with my thots about Fathers Day. I believe it was the great Howard Hendrix who said that most Christians’ view of God is that of the Father peering over the ramparts of Heaven saying, “Are you guys having fun down there? Well, CUT IT OUT!”
    There was a recent article in Christianity Today that spoke to the same issue that beneath our theological veneer, many of us “conservative” Christians believe that Jesus came to save us FROM the Father, thus skewing our view of a loving Heavenly Father who deeply loves and cares for us. The imagery of Scripture gives us the idea of a Father-God who draws us up close to Himself as a mother draws her child to her breast or as a hen protects her chicks.
    Coming from a “holiness tradition” that in some ways made Nazarenes look liberal, I thank God for the great love, compassion and enduring friendships which grew from their dedication and service. I also thank Him for enabling me not to remain mired in a legalistic realm but to move on to a relationship with a loving, merciful God. Thanks for your insightful article.

    • kksorrell says:

      Thanks for this, Ron, and I really like what you said about God being nurturing like a Mother. I do think that He has motherly qualities that we sometimes ignore or forget about.

  25. Ginger Berger says:

    Karissa, I love you and so appreciate your spiritual journey. I believe that your putting this out there may be a tremendous blessing to many. By the way, have you read Anne Rice, Called Out of Darkness? It was a beautiful story of God calling her to himself. I appreciate my upbringing and foundation from Grace Nazarene and truly enjoy it when I visit. However, I too am no longer with the Nazarene church, and have struggled with feelings of guilt and never being able to be good enough. I don’t know how much of that was my interpretation, but I missed the whole grace thing. I think part of it is a desire to control, especially youth, and perhaps in part such a strong fear of sin, that to let sinner IN, scares them. I think the church is, in general a place where sinners do not feel comfortable, yet being a sinner is a pre-requisite to following Christ. That makes me sad. I still find it hard to revel in the unswerving grace and love of my Father and to understand and REALLY believe that he loves me even knowing all I have done and all that I will do. I struggle to understand how Jesus modeled the fullness of grace and truth and not simply a balance between the two. I am finally starting understand that as Christians there will always be a little tension between the two ( grace and truth) and if we settle too far on the side of one or the other we will lose something ( thank you Andy Stanley). I wish it were easier. I wish the Bible made more sense, and wasn’t so contradictory but I believe wholeheartedly that the Father, through his son desires an honest relationship with me and I and deeply grateful that He pursued me and brought me back to relationship with him, thus saving my life. Thanks again Karissa for writing. I am not signed up for your blog but am going to try to figure out how to do so. Love you, ginger

    • kksorrell says:

      Ginger, Thanks for all this. I’m glad it resonates, and I agree that grace and truth are in tension sometimes, but somehow I think in God’s eyes they’re the same, but it’s just in a way that maybe we humans can’t quite grasp. Deep thoughts.

      I’ll put that book on my to-read list. I think if you click on the RSS feed button (above my picture at the top right – the orange button) then that should subscribe you. I actually just realized this week I have no other email subscription place on here but I’ll have to figure out how to add that – I switched to a self-hosted blog last year, so I’m still figuring stuff out.

  26. I expected anger and disappointment, but almost everyone: my family, my church family, and friends, especially those in AA just asked “Tell me how I can help? Let us love you until you love yourself again.” I knew God was speaking to me through these people. Instead of justice I was shown mercy. I am starting with a minimum of faith. I pray every day to do God’s will, not mine. I try to stay honest, pure, unselfish and loving. I know this minimum will grow to total security if I keep doing the right things. Today I do not try to hide from God. I am slowly beginning to see that my short comings, my addictions, my crazy behavior as not something to feel guilty about, but as something that God can help me overcome. I am beginning to separate the emotional from the spiritual. If I feel bad about myself today I see it as a consequence of my addictive behaviors, and certainly not the way God wants me to feel. He wants me to have faith, love Him, and always try to do the right thing. He wants me to enjoy the beautiful days He has given me. Thoughts of gratitude, not guilt are much more dominant today. I remember a sermon from Pastor that haunted me saying that God is chasing after me. Believing in God but defying Him is the worse kind of Hell. My quality of faith dictates the quality of my day. Material things do matter, sometimes I wonder how to keep my family afloat financially, and I wish I could help my son pay for college. But I have a gift that God has given me. I can be fully present for my family and friends. I am no longer hiding in my bedroom from them or God. I try to show the love that comes from God to me to all others, and put those thoughts into prayer and action.

  27. Elissa says:

    I am the granddaughter of Nazarene Missionaries, the daughter of a Nazarene MK, and at 38, I still struggle with the guilt that the church instilled in me. I am just now learning how to use my voice because I was taught to be more concerned with appearances than being honest about how I feel. I never rebelled, I was the “perfect” kid. Now, as an adult, I am seen as the problem child because I don’t meekly accept the way I am treated, and I don’t blindly follow the acceptable path. Amazing what googling “ex-Nazarene” brought me to. I had no idea there were so many others like me.

    • kksorrell says:

      At 35, I struggle, too! There are definitely lots of conversations worth having like this. I was always a good kid, too, and never rebelled. I was shocked once when I was talking to a therapist, and she said that it was normal for teenagers to rebel and to experiment sexually. I was appalled. That was never what I thought of as normal. And it has taken me this long to really dig through and understand all the issues involved. Thanks for reading!

  28. dorcie Tracy says:

    May i just add one more thought to this great conversation. I think part of the difficulty for me is that I am female. Growing up as a woman in a legalistic, evangelical church is entirely different than growing up male. My brothers never had to look different than all their peers. Only women had dress codes. My brothers were quickly accepted as leaders, whereas I have also had to justify any positions of leadership. My own father did not want women on the church board. I could give you several examples from my childhood clear through the present of attitudes and actions that discount women. That is part of the problem.

  29. Jim Kelley says:

    What I’m hearing, from the comments on this page, is that it really doesn’t matter what you believe, or who you believe in. Everyone has their own system of belief, and their own way of coming to God. The Bible is not a good source to base one’s belief system on. The real truth is found in one’s own personal experience. Am I hearing correctly?

    • kksorrell says:

      Hi, Jim, and thanks for joining the conversation. I am saying that our faith should be authentic and honest, motivated by a desire for God and wholeness, not by guilt or the need to “please” God.

      However, I do continue to yearn to find God on my own (although I’m still going to church every Sunday!). God existed before the church and the Bible, and there are lots of ways He reveals himself. I know that I’m getting into “dangerous waters” when I say I want to find God on my own. I am not saying that the church or scripture has no authority. My experience, though, has always been shaped by Christian culture. There has always been someone telling me how, when, and where to find God. I think I’m a little like Thomas. You tell me he’s alive, but I want to see him myself! I want to touch his wounds!

  30. Ron C. says:

    i see so many churches that have watered down their mission to please the world.the world has no mission,JESUS came not to save the world but to save souls.when he returns soon,are you ready.may GOD bless you all.

  31. Paul D Wilson says:

    Karissa, even though I’m two years late to this post, thanks for sharing it. I actually had it sent to me by the son of the founder of a Nazarene University. I’m also who you are writing about. I grew up in SW MO Nazarenedom, where the pursuit of perfection has no end. I came by it honestly; I’m a 4th generation Nazbo and actually have the grandmother who really did mortgage her farm to buy the local church! If I did my geneology Im sure Phineas is in there somewhere.
    I left the church in 99, tied to a nasty little divorce.
    I had the mother who thought the Nazarene church was pretty much the way, the truth and the light. I was raised under the banner, the Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.
    After sitting through a lifetime of Wednesday night “testimony” services, I knew the exact date and time each member was “fully and completely sanctified” and, “praise God” had not been tempted by that old man sin nature ever since. Problem was, these were some of the most back biting, natsy people I’d met. And in the back of my mind the whole time was the little voice questioning, “THAT…. is spiritual perfection? That… is “holiness?”
    I never cared if Jonah was literally eaten by a whale or if it was an analogy. I never cared if the world was created in 7 days or 7 million years. I never cared if Adam and Eve were created as told or if it was some form of evolution, it simply did matter if you had a basic belief in GOD. I always thought he could have done it any way he saw fit. But even that THOUGHT left you in fear of going to hell!
    So, spin the clock up and I found my way to a Methodist MegaChurch in the KC area. I told the pastor what a relief it was to sit in a service and hear a pastor PREACH what you had always FELT was correct.
    I’m sure it has its good points, but the Nazarene church did more to distort and disturb my spiritual life than help it. It was the theology I was taught that made me leave church all together for way too many years.
    And to look at the struggles they have inside the church today, from the headquarters to the publishing house scandals, it only serves to let me know I made the right choice. I’m happy for those who have found a home there that works for them. As for me and my house……..

  32. Andrew Yates says:

    What a wonderful read of a wonderful heart. I’m Baptist, and for the longest time I refused to take communion. The pastor would always say, “Be sure to prepare yourself to take communion in a worthy manner”. At that point in my life, I felt I was unworthy, my wife would get after me. But for almost a year, I felt unworthy to take communion. Then I had a professor explain that I was, in fact, always worthy, and I no longer needed to play the mind games of unworthiness. Keep writing – and – thinking…

  33. Pat Vanhoecke says:

    As a Nazbeen who grew up in a parsonage, granddaughter of missionaries and graduate of a Nazarene university, I deeply appreciate your transparency and vulnerability. It is inspiring to see the honest, open conversation of those from younger generations whose experience of the CON is so similar to mine, although I am 70. From this perspective, I have no regrets at leaving the denomination years ago. While I also value many of my experiences growing up as a Nazarene PK, the price I paid was one that I now consider too high. Among other things, the view of myself (unworthy) plus the always-striving to be more “Christian” was the perfect setup in my psyche to stay in an abusive marriage for a decade too long. While I take responsibility for my failure to promptly extricate myself, the fact is the way I was reared was an ideal breeding ground for abuse-tolerance….and for my CON relatives to harshly judge me in the course of my ultimate escape.
    Mine is just one little example and I don’t blame “The Church”; however, I believe my children and grandchildren to be happier and healthier (and just as loving and productive) for NOT having been reared within that culture.
    I once told my mother I felt like I spent the first half of my life putting on chains and the second half taking them off. Now I am free to simply “BE”…and to love and be loved in my daily walk with God within, while occasionally being blessed with the opportunity to “be His hands and feet.”
    Bless you and yours on your ongoing journey.

  34. Randy Masters says:

    This is an interesting article, well written. It was worth the read.

    We all have a spiritual journey. I am a pastor’s son, raised in the Southern Baptist tradition. After a journey into agnosticism in college, I have chosen the Church of the Nazarene as my church home. I describe it to friends as “Methodist doctrine with a Southern Baptist style”. I’m at home with that. We all have our needs for either more or less liturgy, and should seek out a denomination that fits those needs.

    I don’t have the same experience of “guilt” as a Nazarene. Because of my age (54), the article seems to me to be more about a generational argument than about denominational flaws. I am okay with “old-timey” because I am an old-timer. 🙂

  35. To those of you who have found this article recently and commented, thank you so much for your thoughts here. I so appreciate you sharing your stories with me, and I am glad to hear that other people can relate.

    This was originally posted back in June of 2013, so I’m a little removed from these feelings. I would say now that the Church of the Nazarene holds a dear place in my heart. This post was rantish, and if I could change it, I’d take the term “Nazbeen” out of the post.

    My feelings about sin and guilt and perfection are still there, but now I have moved to looking not just at the COTN, but at the Christian faith on the whole. Maybe this is is a good thing. And maybe it is a bad one. I don’t know.

    I do believe in grace and renewal. I believe in a God who wants to make all things new. I also believe in a more open definition of faith that doesn’t have to be confined by formulas and strictures and religious jargon. I still on the journey of sifting through my religious baggage. We’ll see where I end up. I thank you all for your understanding.

    • Kristin says:

      Karissa, I sense that we are still walking very similar paths a few years later, which I find very interesting. I’m the reason this whole conversation was unearthed; I’m earning a PhD in Rhetoric, and something inside continues to nag at me, compelling me to study the communication (verbal and non-verbal, animate and inanimate) that so shaped my understanding and experience of reality and that felt so – I don’t know, off? – that I’ve spent the last 12 years undoing. I think it may be a sense of deep gratitude for teachings I find so profound and life-changing, as well as a sense of duty to the institution that really did try so hard to raise me well, that compels me to continually explore the communicative patterns of Christians and the CotN specifically, in efforts to push for reform. Sometimes I wish I could let it all go, this nagging desire for institutional reform, and just concern myself with my own worldview – yet my own worldview compels me to act. It feels very Hoskinian, which I think is so ironic, as his incessant use of jargon is one thing I challenge so deeply – but maybe he was onto something there. All I know is that when I stopped using the jargon and stopped insisting on a hard and fast framework (I.e. organized religion in general), my life opened up and changed me in the most beautiful ways.

      • I’d love to hear more of your story, Kristin. Especially what you said at the end there.

        I’m no expert in rhetoric, so I don’t know how much I can respond to what you said about language and reality. I will say that the events of yesterday have got me thinking a lot about blogging, and social media, and controversy, and how all that bears on a person’s understanding of her own worth. Self-worth is so hard for me . . more baggage! I just did a new post about all that . . . the desire to be well known, to be a popular blogger, and how that really takes me away from being present in my real life.

  36. Jeff Snowbarger says:

    I am an ex-Nazarene pastor. I pastored for ten years in the COTN. Sent our kids to church camps every year. I am now serving in the United Methodist Church. I got tired of the District Superintendents who lied through their teeth, and constantly misrepresented the conditions of churches that I was assigned to. My kids had enough of the legalism at camps. But the trigger for me was when my kids could not get a matching scholarship at Mid America Nazarene University because my local church didn’t pay their education budget in full. Other pastors kids, whose dads pastored “good” churches got scholarships for their kids, but my kids, only because I took a church no one else wanted, was penalized. I was also tired of the “superintendent’s boys” always getting the bigger churches. Most of those bigger church pastors couldn’t preach to a fence post. My kids no longer attend Nazarene churches.
    Also, the COTN basically has no retirement system. For ten years of service, my monthly retirement check will be $110/mo. That’s a joke. And most Nazarene districts don’t provide health insurance to their pastors. Pastors are left to fend for themselves. In the United Methodist Church, I have a wonderful retirement plan, great insurance, and honest ethical superintendents.
    I will never go back to the Nazarene Church.

  37. C C. Bennett says:

    I’m sorry I don’t know you Karissa, but I do know and love your mom. (Your description of her is beautiful and accurate) Have lost contact with her, though. Please give her a big hug from me and tell her I’d love to hear from her. I am so glad that you are finding your way to healing in Christ. May you come to know deep peace and joy.

  38. Joe says:

    There are several thoughts that I have from reading the response you have received. Something that might give insight to this term “legalism” intrigues me. I only address one of them in this comment. One of the respondents stated that he “didn’t grow up in a church that was like that.” I was pastor of that congregation some years ago where his family were members. It seemed to me that in the 40 plus years of my ministry, that was the most legalistic congregation I have known. Our concept of what is legalistic must be shaped by the culture in which we grow up along with our lifetime experiences. I appreciate very much the spirit in which you have written of your experiences.

  39. Kristin says:

    Shall we continue the conversation off-list, Karissa? Not quite sure what part of the end of my comment you’re referring to – clarify?

    Have you ever read Carl Sagan’s “A Universe Not Made for Us,” which is chapter 4 in Pale Blue Dot? That, I think, conveys a bit of my own experience….

  40. Mark Vaughan says:


    Thank you for your post and your continuing follow-up over the last two years. My friend who left our Nazarene church for Orthodoxy showed the post to me. My wife, LeeAnn, and I attended his Chrismation. He and his wife, like you, choose Orthodoxy. My wife and I choose to remain in our Nazarene church. I understand many of the issues described in your post and in the comments. I also attended NYC (1987) and my wife and I graduated from a Nazarene college (NNC, ’92).

    Thankfully we have seen changes in the church. With the passage of time and change of generation, we see less connection with the judgmental works-based attitudes. There were times when it hurt to see many life-long friends leave our church. So many were leaving that I actually gave thought to it myself. I am glad that I did not leave. I am glad to be a part of a new work. I hope that I might in some way be a part of changing the church for good.

    I am still haunted by baggage similar to what you and others describe. It leads to many questions and an evaluation of my relationship to God, the Bible, and the Church. I hear of others going through similar doubts. My wife and I finally took a step to share our experience by making a recording this week which you can find at http://www.changingfaith.com. We may even do some more if we find there are others who hunger for fellowship with people going through similar changes.

    We choose to stay in our church even though we would not want to openly tell most of the congregation about our website/recording. We plan to remain in fellowship with them because of what we have in common, Jesus. He outshines our differences and his love unifies us. It would not be constructive for me to try to explain my doubts to someone with a faith which has never considered such questions. However, I want to be there for others when they do cross the same dangerous waters we find ourselves in. I think of students from our church who have attended college (even Nazarene college) and never participated in any church again. I hope our experience can provide them answers missing from a fundamentalist explanation God and the Bible.

    • I appreciate your story so much, and I’m glad you stayed. I want there to be hope for growth in the COTN, and I’m glad to hear of people like you who are committed to encouraging a more authentic faith.

  41. Autumn Smith says:

    Beautifully said…and I think there are “beens” from every denomination!—and thank the grace of God we emerge as lover of Jesus and believers in FAITH…”the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.” I love your words and insight. Blessings to you and to every lover of God who settles for nothing less than knowing him beginning now and into eternity!

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