Point Loma pastor fired over essay challenging opposition to same-sex marriage

The entry to San Diego First Church of the Nazarene in Point Loma is pictured in 2016.
(Peggy Peattie)

Selden ‘Dee’ Kelley led San Diego First Church of the Nazarene for 17 years.


A popular pastor who led San Diego First Church of the Nazarene in Point Loma for 17 years has lost his job after writing an essay that disagrees with religious doctrine forbidding same-sex marriage.

The treatise by former senior pastor Selden “Dee” Kelley III is titled “A Hope for Change” and appears among 90 submissions that compose “Why the Church of the Nazarene Should Be Fully LGBTQ+ Affirming,” a recently published book by theological scholar and dissenter Thomas Jay Oord.

Kelley said by email Aug. 17 that denominational Nazarene leadership informed him Aug. 14 that a “denominational judiciary process” had found him “in violation of denominational clergy standards” because of his essay.

The pastor declined to say more, as he has appealed the church’s decision.

Kelley also said that Thomas Taylor, superintendent of the Southern California District of the Church of the Nazarene, asked for his resignation and, when it was not forthcoming, started the hearing process. This occurred after a complaint was filed by a group of church elders outside the First Church congregation.

Taylor did not respond to requests for comment.

Dean Nelson, a member of the First Church board and director of the journalism program at Point Loma Nazarene University, said in an email Aug. 18 that Kelley continues to have broad support from the congregation.

“Pastor Kelley and his family have provided outstanding service and ministry to our church since 2006, and our congregation is in prayer for them during this time,” Nelson said. “The congregation is overwhelmingly behind Rev. Kelley and his Christ-like ministry.”

The pastor’s essay summarizes the Church of the Nazarene’s stance on same-sex relationships, citing a ruling in 2019 that “a person with same-sex attraction who feels called to ministry must commit to a life of celibacy” and that clergy “shall not bless or perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.”

That stance, Kelley argued, should be reconsidered through broad conversation that goes beyond church leadership.

“I’m not referring to select committees or an isolated task force,” Kelley wrote. “We need open dialogue among the rank and file and we need the dialogue to be encouraged by leadership.

“I believe our viewpoints are spread across the spectrum. I fear that we are headed for a crisis confrontation, just like other denominations before us.”

The pastor expressed his discomfort in ministering to same-sex couples seeking the same grace received by those in more traditional man-woman relationships.

“I am unable to justify telling a couple who are in love with Christ and each other, seeking godly counsel and participating in the life of the church, that I must refuse them blessing and participation in the sacrament of marriage,” Kelley wrote.

Withholding his pastoral blessing, he added, is impossible.

“Though I am currently prohibited from joining two people in same-sex matrimony, I can’t imagine withholding blessing, encouragement, counsel or love,” Kelley wrote.

The essay did not appear to create a schism at First Church, with a photograph circulating of a large group of parishioners accompanying and praying with Kelley just before his hearing.

Locally, Point Loma Nazarene University, which is a separate institution from First Church, found itself under fire over the dismissal in March of Mark Maddix, dean of the private college’s school of theology. An association of LBGTQ alumni recently released a statement condemning the firing, which the organization deems an effort to punish an adjunct professor “for her support of LGBTQ+ rights.”

In a document posted to its website titled “Diversity and LGBTQ Issues at PLNU,” the university noted that its theological tradition “has long-held beliefs about marriage and expectations for sexual behavior.”

“As an institution, we are trying to carefully and thoughtfully navigate the tensions between these two strongly held beliefs in order to authentically and respectfully care for all people,” the document stated.


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