A prophetic voice in the Short North: Nick Nye calls Columbus to identity in Christ
COLUMBUS, Ohio (SBTS) — When his lesbian college professor, a well-known Jonathan Edwards scholar, handed him a copy of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” Nick Nye says “devouring” the classic Puritan sermon helped awaken a love for Scripture and renewed his understanding of God’s grace.
His professor’s recommendation of other Puritan writings and Augustine’s Confessions was a catalyst for shaping his theological views. It seems fitting, 15 years later, that a lesbian, agnostic Edwards scholar’s guidance set him on a trajectory toward studying at Southern Seminary and planting a Southern Baptist church in a “gayborhood” of Ohio’s largest city.
“I feel like I just connect well with those who are far away from God, and I really want to listen and learn from them, and God always used those people to influence and shape me,” said Nye, the 35-year-old founding pastor of Veritas Community Church in the Short North district of Columbus, Ohio.
Connecting with people of diverse social backgrounds is a trait Nye’s parents instilled in him from an early age. His mother, an avid feminist and Catholic social worker, would buy food and Christmas presents for her children’s needy classmates, take Nye and his brother to their homes, and leave the gifts on the porch. He also made a habit of defending his adopted biracial brother from physical attacks and verbal slurs in a racially charged suburb of Columbus, where they would often tear up Confederate flags.
During the public outrage over the Catholic sex abuse scandal in the late 1990s, Nye’s family left the Roman Catholic Church and began attending Spring Hills Baptist Church in Granville, Ohio. Nick later transferred to the church’s Granville Christian Academy when the school opened prior to his senior year. It was through the ministry of this Baptist church that Nye and his parents professed faith in Christ and were baptized, as he understood that Christianity revolved not around religion and church attendance but a relationship with Jesus.
At Wright State University, Nye began to share the gospel with his classmates and established a Campus Crusade movement. Ironically, Nye credits his lesbian professor’s promotion of Reformed theology in the classroom with strengthening his own theology and ministry, which resulted in Campus Crusade becoming Wright State’s largest student organization. It also set his mind on seminary, and after he graduated from college Nye and his wife, Brittany, moved to Louisville so he could pursue his Master of Divinity at Southern Seminary.
Nye says he struggled to fit in at Southern Seminary because he had never before experienced a Christian culture — one where professors would pray at the start of class — and partly because he’s not a Southerner. At one point, Nye sought the advice of Russell Moore, then-dean of the School of the Theology, who convinced the Ohio native to stay because Southern Baptists need his unique voice and perspective.
“It was really inspiring for me,” Nye recalls. “I’d never had anything like that, no one had ever spoken of me like that.”
Moore, who is now president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said even in those conversations with his former student he could sense a “gospel gravity.” After preaching a June 14 sermon on racial reconciliation at Veritas, Moore said “the years have proven that intuition to be true, even more than I knew.”
“Preaching at Nick’s church in Columbus was a shot in the arm of energy,” Moore told Southern Seminary Magazine. “There I met many who had come to faith in Christ recently. I met those who were free from all sorts of burdens from their past. And I met those who weren’t believers yet, but were there to hear and to consider. Nick Nye is one of the most evangelistic and theologically robust pastors I know. He loves the city and has come into it as a shepherd, there to seek after that which was lost. I pray that more and more Nick Nyes go into our cities as he did, with clear conviction and with compassion for the weary and heavy-laden.”
Nye moved to Columbus in 2007 to plant Veritas Community Church after graduating with his M.Div. from the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry. He received support from Louisville’s Sojourn Community Church, where he served under lead pastor and Southern alumnus Daniel Montgomery, and the North American Mission Board’s Nehemiah Project. Nye said he chose the Short North district because he believed it was the “best place to influence the whole city,” which according to NAMB research has only one SBC church for every 16,686 people. More than 63 percent of Columbus residents are not affiliated with any religious group.
‘We can’t afford to be a one-issue church’
Where Nick Nye resides in the Short North illustrates the neighborhood’s diversity: on one side a lesbian couple ordained as mainline Protestant pastors, on another a wealthy dentist, and yet lower-income housing is a block away.
Behind his home is Stonewall Columbus, one of the largest LGBT advocacy groups of its kind in the United States and the sponsor of the annual Pride festivities in Columbus. Nye says 93 percent of the children in his neighborhood are fatherless and the high rate of prostitution prompted him to form an anti-human trafficking ministry, She Has A Name. In response to escalating rates of abortion and infant mortality far above the national average, Nye reached out to the ERLC to have a sonogram machine donated to the local Baptist association’s Stowe Mission Center, for which he serves on the board.
“There are some things we want to speak against in our culture that we don’t like in our neighborhood,” Nye said. “We’re calling our neighborhood to a deeper identity of who Christ is and who they are in Christ.”
One of the core values of Nye’s ministry at Veritas is to be a prophetic voice against the moral confusion plaguing his community. Faced with homosexuality and transgenderism, poverty and racial tension, abortion and human trafficking, Nye says Veritas “can’t afford to be a one-issue church” and instead must build relationships to speak the whole truth instead of “soundbite answers.”
In less than eight years, Veritas has multiplied into four congregations across the metro Columbus area with a weekly attendance of 1,200 and membership of 450. While each congregation faces a unique set of cultural issues, Nye says the pastors prepare their sermons together and focus on how to apply the text to their congregation’s needs.
“We’ve managed to navigate the whole process of learning how to speak against the culture in a way that’s winsome and honest,” Nye said. “I’m very compassionate toward people who need compassion, but I feel like I can be very prophetic toward the people who need a word. I think of Isaiah 9, where [the prophet is] calling the Lord’s destruction upon [Israel] but then at the end of the chapter, he says it’s not too late for them because God is still extending his arm. I’ve had to do some of that in our neighborhood, particularly in issues of injustice from those who claim to be the most tolerant.”
In addition to speaking out against the problems in his neighborhood, Nye also seeks to provide gospel solutions with a robust mercy ministry. Taking a cue from his friend and Southern Seminary alumnus Bryce Butler, Nye has led Veritas to provide asset-based responses to poverty. Veritas provides small business loans and aids victims of human trafficking with employment through She Has A Name’s cleaning service. Veritas has responded to racial tension by raising up two African-American pastors from within the congregation.
While Nye has grown accustomed to cultural opposition for holding to biblical views of sexuality, he notes that many in the LGBT community will attend Veritas out of curiosity because of friends who have invited them to church.
“They’re all super curious because they don’t have categories for us — like saying we’re conservative bigots or right-wing nuts, nor do they have that we’re open, affirming, liberal, whatever goes,” Nye said. “We’re all about the Lord; we’re all about Jesus; we’re all about the Bible. And we preach it every week and call to identity, call to Jesus, call to repentance.”
Nye insists the issues of sexuality, abortion, poverty, and racial reconciliation are “all connected” because the gospel is “bigger than one issue” and requires believers to shed sinful behavior and deny identities based on natural impulse.
“We have to say, ‘That was me, and these are the things that keep me from knowing God.’ We want to rid ourselves of those things to make God greater,” Nye said. “Are you willing to see God as greater and pick up your cross and follow him?”
S. Craig Sanders is the manager of news and information at Southern Seminary. This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine. For more information on Veritas Community Church, visit veritascolumbus.com.