By Morgan Daniels
A group of Nazarenes who say they are worried the Nazarene universities are part of the reason the Nazarene church has been led astray, have launched a website to publicly question the universities’ teachings and leadership.
The group, called the Concerned Nazarenes, has written around 85 posts during the past year opposing and criticizing many teachings in the Nazarene Church, and more specifically, teachings at Trevecca Nazarene University.
For more than a year, this group has attacked Trevecca Nazarene University, criticizing practices such as the use of the word “labyrinth” when describing a prayer room, and Trevecca’s Spiritual Formation Retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Catholic monastery.
“Some of our main points talk about the infiltration into the universities of emergent teachers, the teaching of Open Theism, and the contemplative spirituality practices,” Manny Silva, a blogger for the Concerned Nazarenes, said in an email.
Silva refused a phone interview with a TrevEchoes reporter and referred all questions to his blog.
Trevecca President Dan Boone has responded to the group’s concerns via emails that the group posted on the blog. He said he initially wanted to engage them because they were making false claims about the university and its teachings, but has since bowed out of the conversation.
“I only argued with them in the first place because they were making false claims about Trevecca, and to expose them for who they really are—religious fundamentalists,” Boone said. “But you can’t have discussions with people whose minds are already made up.”
One issue the Concerned Nazarenes wrote about is an annual tradition at Trevecca called the Prayer Labyrinth, which is now called the Prayer Walk because of controversy over the term “labyrinth.” The walk is set up as one continuous path, with 11 stations that focus on important aspects of spiritual life, such as the distraction of noise, letting go of worries and eliminating all distractions.
“The word “labyrinth” is not big deal to us—if people are offended by this word, then we are happy to change it,” Boone said.
The word labyrinth could be easily replaced with words like room or closet, Boone said.
Most of the disagreement between Boone and the group is based upon different beliefs in the use of Biblical text. The Concerned Nazarenes believe that the Bible is inerrant—the ultimate authority. The teaching at Trevecca is the Bible is inerrant in terms of salvation, the rest of the Bible being open to interpretation.
The Concerned Nazarenes also accuse Trevecca of being part of the emergent church movement.
“We are not about to let the foundations of the Nazarene denomination, as well as the rest of the body of Christ, be destroyed by undiscerning leadership who are only interested in the next fad heresy that comes into the body of Christ,” Tim Wirth, a Concerned Nazarene leader, said on their website, concernednazarenes.org.
But Boone said the use of the term “emergent” has many different meanings, and if anything, at Trevecca it means to recover the ancient teachings of the Christian Church, such as more frequent communion, Lent, and acknowledgment of the overall Christian calendar. The Concerned Nazarenes are simply lumping together many different people and practices that fall under the word emergent, and are attacking them as one, he said.
The Concerned Nazarenes blame major leaders in the Nazarene Church for this movement, many times personally attacking university presidents such as Boone.
“I’ve gone through the cycle of being appalled, angry, to feeling sorry for them,” Boone said. “Their God is in a box, but the God who became flesh in Jesus is a lot bigger than they are.”
Boone described the Concerned Nazarenes as practicing religious fundamentalism, similar to Islamic Fundamentalism. He said, although the Concerned Nazarenes are not violent, they share the same way of thinking—declaring themselves the authority of interpreting holy text, identifying the enemies who do not agree with their accusations, seeking a target where they will find the most attention, such as a university, and then they attack, in this case verbally.
Boone said this argument could actually be a good educational experience. Students will see religious fundamentalism and how it really works, he said.
“The sad thing is nobody wins. The cause of Christ suffers because of what they’re doing,” Boone said.
Keeping Trevecca’s name clear
University President Dan Boone established a blog of his own, called Dan Boone Trevecca, in response to the Concerned Nazarenes’ accusations.
The blog will be used to tackle some of the issues that have been addressed without mentioning or responding to the Concerned Nazarenes directly.
“Dr. Boone tried to respond in a kind way on the Concerned Nazarene blog, but his responses were dissected and were used to advance their argument,” said Jan Greathouse, director of university communications.
Greathouse said that Trevecca’s marketing department has been in contact with media consultants and were advised to stay out of the argument.
Trevecca has no intention to make a formal response to the Concerned Nazarenes.
“Rational conversation with them is not possible,” Boone said in an email,”but we don’t want to let them brand Trevecca.”