Popular local pastor at PLNU convicted of supporting LGBTQ community
by Neal Putnam
A local pastor has lost his credential to preach after a church jury, overseen by the Southern California District of the Church of the Nazarene, tried him for supporting same-sex marriage, which is contrary to the Church of the Nazarene manual about human sexuality.
A seven-man, two-woman jury voted 9-0 on Aug. 14 to convict Rev. Selden Dee Kelley III, of being “out of harmony with the Church of the Nazarene’s doctrine, teaching, beliefs, and practices,” according to the verdict form that cites Nazarene Manual 31.
Kelley, who is in his 60s, has been senior pastor of First Church of the Nazarene for 17 years at Point Loma Nazarene University (PLNU) and is very popular on campus.
Kelley said he would file an appeal, which would then go to another board within the Nazarene denomination at its headquarters at Kansas City.
The verdict form also says Kelley “publicly advocates beliefs that are unorthodox,” and that, “we require the surrender of his credential.”
Arguing for an acquittal, Kelley said his beliefs are not unorthodox.
“The manual doesn’t require that every thought I hold be in compliance with the doctrines of the Church of the Nazarene,” Kelley said, adding that what he teaches is in harmony with the church.
Dean Nelson, a member of the First Church board of directors and a journalism professor at PLNU, said the board supports Kelley 100 percent and voted to continue his salary while on appeal.
Nelson said the board also voted to continue allowing him and his wife to live at the Nazarene parsonage in Point Loma, so they would not have to move out immediately.
“For now, we wanted to make sure he was cared for,” Nelson said. “All he did was ask for better dialogue on the topic of same-sex marriage. It’s been an outrageous several months. Classic fear and witch hunt stuff. Shameful.
“This could have been avoided by having some grown-up discussion, which would have been difficult, but healthy,” Nelson continued. “Did we do that? Nope. The church hierarchy chose to draw the curtains around themselves and hope the problems will go away.
“This was a colossal failure of imagination,” Nelson said. “Both the Old and New Testaments say over and over, ‘Fear not.’ But the church chose fear.”
The trial, which was held at a Holiday Inn in Point Loma, began Aug. 11 and lasted two days. Kelley represented himself, and pleaded not guilty. Approximately 60 people arrived to show support for Kelley, but they were unable to attend the proceedings, which were held in a small conference room of the hotel.
Section 31 of the Nazarene manual says, “God’s intention for our sexuality is to be lived out in the covenantal union between one woman and one man. We believe the practice of same-sex intimacy is contrary to God’s will for human sexuality. … While a person’s homosexual or bi-sexual attraction may have complex and differing origins, and the implication of this call to sexual purity is costly, we believe the grace of God is sufficient for such a calling.”
Section 31 suggests that LGBTQ Christians should follow a calling to abstain from sex for life – even if they are married to a same-sex partner – if they want to be a member of the Church of the Nazarene.
No witnesses were called to testify at the trial, except for Kelley, speaking for himself. The key piece of evidence was a three-page essay that Kelley wrote in the book, “Why the Church of the Nazarene Should be Fully LGBTQ+ Affirming.”
That book was published in April of 2023 and edited by Nazarene theologian Thomas Oord and his daughter Alexa Oord. It contained essays from 90 people who wrote about observations of being rejected from the Church of the Nazarene because of being LGBTQ.
Some of the essays were written by pastors or instructors from other Nazarene colleges. Many had different interpretations of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as other Bible verses.
Here are a few of the essays included in the book:
- “Who would Jesus Exclude?”
- “We’re Harming People in Jesus’ Name”
- “They are not Hurting Anyone, We are Hurting Them”
- “I’ll Love You … IF”
- “An LGBTQIA+ Proposal to Fix the Nazarene Church Manual”
Kelley, whose essay was titled, “A Hope for Change,” wrote that he realized he could not perform same-sex marriages or even hold same-sex receptions in a Nazarene church.
“When two people love one another and want to make the world a better place by living out that love in a lifetime union with one another … I find it irrational and unscriptural to turn them away,” Kelley wrote.
“There are certainly many same-sex couples who are doing more to create a just and loving world than I am,” Kelley continued. “I am not asking that everyone (or anyone) within the church agree with me on my understanding of scripture, just that there be room in the church for those of us who are passionate about the sacredness of scripture but land in a different place in our interpretations.
“One of the primary reasons for writing this brief essay is to encourage further dialogue among the clergy concerning LGBTQIA+ issues,” he wrote.
No other author in the book has been charged by the church, so far.
Reaction to the verdict was furious, with people posting on Facebook and elsewhere.
“The church violated their own rules in an effort to silence a movement and a pastor who just asked for a dialogue,” wrote Michelle Knotts Gill, who described it as “a kangaroo court.”
“The church has sinned against this pastor and more broadly against our queer siblings,” added Knotts Gill.
“These people absolutely hung him out to dry every step of the way,” wrote Craig Keen, a theology professor, calling Kelley “a martyr.”
“As a third generation Nazarene whose dad was a pastor, this all makes me physically sick. This is so wrong on so many levels,” wrote a woman named Becky.
“I am aghast, ashamed, inflamed and riddled with a massive sense of protestive injustice at the most recent situation with Pastor Dee,” said Lionel Yetter, a Nazarene minister’s son who attended PLNU in the 1970s.
Yetter posted an image of Nazarene founder Phineas F. Bresee on a website, and put the words, “You brood of vipers,” coming from him.
A PLNU faculty member, who asked not be identified, said “a culture of fear” has arisen as a result of this prosecution of Pastor Kelley. People are afraid of being fired, he said.
One retired pastor said Kelley simply challenged other pastors’ positions on same-sex marriage too much and they didn’t like it. There were two signed complaints of other pastors entered into the trial record, and Kelley said he had never spoken with one of them and had never discussed this topic with the other.
Two PLNU faculty members were allegedly fired in 2023 because they affirmed the LGBTQ community, according to Lauren Cazares, the founder of the Loma LGBTQIA+ Alumni & Allies Coalition, in a press release.
PLNU disputes the allegation that professors were terminated for that reason, but would not say why they are no longer teaching, claiming it is a personnel matter and private.
Melissa Tucker graduated from PLNU and also earned her master’s degree there before she was hired as an instructor in 2015.
Tucker was allegedly fired in January of 2023 and accepted a pastoral position at the Normal Heights United Methodist Church, which she described as “an open and affirming church” on her website.
Tucker had previously worked with Kelley at First Church, but there are no details on why she was fired or how she affirmed the LGBTQ community.
Also dismissed was Dr. Mark Maddix, the Dean of the School of Theology and Christian Ministry and a theology professor, whose last day of teaching was March 15.
Maddix had sent emails among his colleagues in support of Tucker, which drew the wrath of the academic dean for “insubordination” emails and communicating with other faculty members about a personnel matter, according to a press release by Cazares.
The academic dean also denied firing Maddix in an interview with The Point, the college newspaper, and insisted that Maddix was only suspended.
Maddix hired an attorney, but no lawsuit against the university had been documented in San Diego Superior Court records as of Aug. 25. Maddix himself says he was fired.
Interestingly, Thomas Oord, the author of the book which included Kelley’s essay, has come out in defense of Maddix and issued this statement:
“The irony is that administrators of a Christian university have fired one of their best professors for standing up for love … Even if I agreed with the university’s stance on LGBTQ matters, I would be angry at Mark Maddix’s firing. He’s standing up for his colleagues and their attempts to love queer people,” Oord said.
Kelley has faced controversy before; in 2011, when Todd Clayton, then 21, was the elected Student Chaplain, he spoke at First Church in a press conference when he came out of the closet.
This had never occurred before at the conservative university, in which someone in the elected student body announced they were gay. There was a lot of controversy. The college had not allowed Clayton to speak on campus, so Kelley allowed him to speak at his church.
Student conduct rules specify that all students must be celebate. Clayton said he was reminded he must abstain from sex, and he learned the rules were modified to include a ban on same-sex kisses and hugs.
Clayton’s mother was on the university’s board of directors and his father was a Nazarene pastor. Clayton is now an attorney.
A curious coincidence with the number 31 is unintentionally humorous to some.
In the “Star Trek” fictional universe, Section 31 is an underhanded, mysterious rogue element of the United Federation of Planets, which uses questionable methods, including assassination, to keep the peace in the galaxy.
A Star Trek movie specifically about Section 31 is in the works after a proposed series,“Star Trek: Section 31,” was rejected, according to Wikipedia and numerous Star Trek websites.
Methods of the fictional Section 31 agents involved deception, kidnapping, sabotage, biological warfare, and “many fans felt Section 31 betrayed the value system created by Gene Roddenberry – the creator of Star Trek,” said Star Trek writer David Weddle, according to Wikipedia.
There are long discussions online about Section 31 among Star Trek fans. Some fans hate it, but some like it. Section 31 plots have appeared in five different Star Trek series.
Actress Michelle Yeoh was named to star in the Section 31 movie, according to Paramount Pictures, after she won Best Actress in April for “Everything Everywhere All At Once.” Yeoh also portrayed two characters on “Star Trek: Discovery.”
“The Star Trek reference is apt,” said Dean Nelson, when told about the Section 31 comparison. “It’s all so unnecessary, rooted in fear of ‘the other.’ For Jesus, though, there is no such thing as an ‘other.’ Funny how the hierarchy misses that.”
After same-sex marriage became the law of the land by the United States Supreme Court (Obergefell v. Hodges, June 26, 2015), PLNU ended all on-campus weddings in 2015, apparently so same-sex weddings could not be performed on campus.
In 2016, the university donated $50,000 to fight SB 1146, a measure which aimed to protect LGBTQ students at religious institutions.
The Church of the Nazarene started in 1908 when Bresee and other co-founders broke off from the Methodist denomination in the Wesleyan Holiness Movement with emphasis on the religious experience called sanctification.
There are 23,803 Nazarene churches worldwide today, with approximately 2.66 million members, according to the Church of the Nazarene, which operates numerous colleges and does missionary work.
The denomination is famously – or infamously – remembered for rules against dancing, drinking alcohol, card playing, attending movies, premarital sex, adultery, and any type of same-sex expression.
Some of these rules have since been relaxed, but drinking and unmarried sexual expression is still heavily discouraged. There used to be bans on women wearing pants, jewelry, and make-up.
Yetter said he believes the college has had “a long history of homophobia,” having experienced it himself when he attended the university in the 1970s.
Yetter recalled being in the office of the longtime Dean of Students, in which “he attempted to fool me into confessing by asking what type of sins were afflicting me – stealing, drugs, alcohol, homosexuality.”
When Yetter said he acknowledged that he was in a campus group that ministered to gay men, “[The Dean] feigned support and prayed with me.”
“I asked for his confidence and not to bother my friends on campus and cease prying into my personal life,” Yetter said. “He solemnly gave his word as a Christian.”
Yetter said the official eventually did break his word, and pressure over the situation became so great, Yetter left campus without graduating.
Editor’s Note: After this article was submitted, Thomas Oord, who had publicly supported Maddix, officially went on record with his own public defense of Kelley on his Facebook page.
“I join others outraged at the trial results that take Dee Kelley’s license as a pastor in the Church of the Nazarene!” Oord wrote. “An essay Dee wrote for ‘Why the Church of the Nazarene Should be Fully LGBTQ Affirming’ set in motion this unjust chain of events.”
–Neal Putnam is a local freelance reporter who focuses on crime. He graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University and is a former member of the Church of the Nazarene. You can reach him at [email protected].
I hope you enjoyed reading this article and hope you will also consider supporting our independent news organization. LGBTQ San Diego County News is one of California’s last LGBTQ print newspapers. But we are in danger of going out of print. During times of crisis, celebration, and mourning, crucial information about our community comes from local reporters and writers. LGBTQ San Diego County News needs your help and support in order to continue printing.
Please consider supporting LGBTQ+ San Diego County News. We are one of just five California based LGBTQ+ newspapers that are still in print. Donate. Subscribe. And if you have a business that’s able to, advertise with us. Your support is critical to sustaining the dedicated journalists serving our communities.
Our local LGBTQ+ newspaper helps keep us safer. We keep an eye on city hall, on corruption, and shady business practices. Together we can ensure our local news is covered for years to come.
-Eddie Reynoso, Publisher