The ‘Nashville Statement‘ is a ‘manifesto’ comment on the issues around same-sex relations, transgender and the debate on sexual identity issued by the so-called Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), which argues that God intends that men should have authority over women in all spheres of life. It provoked a wide range of reactions, some of which were predictably reactionary in support and against. My favourite summary came from my friend Michael Lakey on Facebook:
In the news this week, some Christians were in Nashville for reasons other than country music (which is always a pity) and other Christians whose favoured moral theological axiom is “judge not” condemned them for it, but without irony!
But there were also some significant responses from evangelicals, raising serious concerns with the approach of the Statement. Scot McKnight was the most terse:
Those we can’t trust for orthodoxy on the Trinity can’t be trusted when it comes to morality.
He is referring here to the argument that the submission of Jesus to the Father in the Trinity implies something about submission within human relations, advocated by CBMW but rejected by most as a return to the heresy of Arianism.
Additional Note: Scot McKnight has now made a fuller statement, looking in particular at the pastoral inadequacies of the Statement:
Specific statements in the Nashville Statement, rehearsing as they do the church’s traditional view of sexuality, are sound theologically and exegetically and many of us can affirm what is said even if we may have dropped some lines and added a few others. But my suggestion is that the Nashville Statement is pastorally inadequate. To speak today of same sex orientation and same sex relations or wider dimensions of sexuality, in the complexity of modern and postmodern culture, requires pastoral sensitivities. I’ll personalize this: I’m not sure the Nashville Statement would help me in ministering to the gay and lesbian students I have taught. There’s nothing here I haven’t known nor, in my experience, these students hadn’t already heard.
More striking is the extended rejection of the statement by Matthew Anderson—striking because (unlike Scot) Anderson is theologically much closer to some of those who did sign and agrees with many of the premises, but sees the statement as deeply flawed because it does not attend sufficiently either to the underlying issues nor to the problems that evangelicalism itself is struggling with.
While I am generally ‘statement-averse,’ it seems reasonable to want a succinct depiction of the theological boundaries on these issues. If nothing else, such statements are efficient: they remove much of the work of retelling all of our convictions on a certain matter by giving us a public document to point to…Yet this virtue is also a vice: by creating a public context in which all the people who affirm certain doctrines or ideas are identified under the same banner, statements tacitly shift the playing field, such that to not sign is to signal disagreement…
To point out such realities is to introduce matters on which good evangelicals can “agree to disagree.” But doing so also discloses how the strategy being deployed by progressives on sexual ethics was originally used by evangelicals for purposes more comfortable and convenient to our heterosexual and child-idolizing circles. An anthropology that affirms the theological significance of bodily life will weigh equally against a whole host of procreative practices that do not come up in this statement. Such practices are as deep and fundamental rejections of our bodily and sexual life as gay sex and transgender surgery are.
However, the Nashville Statement does not simply reflect what we might call a traditional sexual ethic. It attempts to address several areas beyond the question of whether same-sex behavior is morally permissible or morally impermissible. Most notably, it takes on the question of language or the use of specific sexual identity labels. The use of various sexual identity labels, such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual, is actually a developmental process that has been fascinating to study, particularly among Christians who are sorting out sexual identity concerns. While the use of specific language (e.g., “gay”) has been a concern to a few outspoken conservatives, it has not been a litmus test for orthodoxy that carried the moral significance of behavior, where there is greater biblical clarity. In that way the Nashville Statement will be experienced by some as unnecessarily antagonistic toward some of the very people whose commitment to a biblical sexual ethic means they are living out costly obedience.
That antagonism has been picked up by just such a person, David Bennet, an Australian who has been studying in Oxford recently.
I was once an anti-Christian gay rights activist who knows that to be on the other side. I vote no. I would sign if certain articles were better qualified to what exactly homosexual or transgender self-conception means. The theological anthropology present is erring on clumsily biblicist, not biblical exegesis and the statements do not represent all evangelically minded people. Until I see that, my response is no. Let’s not communicate in a way that shuts down people like myself who are trying to reach the LGBTQI community with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and who are standing against the onslaught of liberal attacks on us. The last thing we need is friendly fire. We must point them to the “washed and waiting” tension we all live in as repentant gay/SSA Christians. I deeply love and respect my brothers and sisters of all kinds and stand in grace as we all work this out but for now I say no. We must lead from the front with the love and truth of Jesus Christ together, not from behind with a limited understanding of homosexual experience. I am praying for a better way forward in that grace – will you join me?
One of the most interesting responses was from another Australian, Mike Bird—interesting because of the attempt to respond sympathetically to the Statement but to be critically reflective at the same time.
First, I know and genuinely respect some of the people who signed it, and I can understand why they did…Second, I detect a genuine attempt to be pastoral towards LGBTI people, though whether it is perceived as pastoral and loving will be another matter…Third, I can agree with many of the affirmations and denials.
Nonetheless, I regard the statement as deeply inadequate on several fronts. (First… second…) Third, there was no affirmation of the pain experienced by LGBTI people, no recognition of the sins committed against them by the church, no concession about the inadequacy of many pastoral responses to LGBTI people, and no denunciation of homophobia.
So, what is the point of statements like this? As the (anonymous, probably evangelical) commentator on Christian Today observes:
The only tangible difference this statement makes then, other than causing immense amounts of pain and harm to gay Christians and gay people considering Christianity, is to tighten the boundaries of perceived orthodoxy even closer around a smaller and smaller group of people.
But others think the Statement is ‘helpful’ in revealing the ‘true’ views of evangelicals who want to hold to ‘traditional’ understandings of sexuality and marriage. One observer, whom I had hoped understood the debate a little better, commented:
To be against LGBT+ rights you ultimately have to be complementarian on the roles of men and women (not just in home and church but in all situations) and affirm that “Leadership is male” and women are only there to submit and follow.
This demonstrates both a sad neglect of both the biblical data and the way that many evangelicals have approached the two issues, and functions as a kind of rhetorical ‘Aha: now you’ve given away what you really believe despite what you have actually said at length’—or perhaps it does just betray simple ignorance.
In fact, the range of responses suggests that, despite agreement on some of the key issues about sexuality, the evangelical constituency is responding in a variegated, nuanced, theological and informed way that seeks both to engage sympathetically with the current debate and is concerned to prioritise pastoral encounter—and in the midst of this seems quite self aware. It is difficult to see any justification for calling the Nashville Statement ‘the’ evangelical position on any of these issues.
Additional Note: Preston Sprinkle, who has written on this area extensively, has provided a detailed comment which, to my mind, not only offers a model response to the Statement, but offers a model for engaging in this whole discussion.
I admire the authors’ passion to uphold a historically Christian view of marriage and gender. And again, I’m in agreement with the general conclusion about marriage expressed in the document. I would consider myself just as passionate about an orthodox view of marriage and gender as they are, and I do think that Christians who affirm same-sex marriage and deny the biological link between sex and gender are at odds with some very basic tenets of a Christian worldview. (I just don’t think this statement the best way to go about this whole discussion.)…
One frustration I have is this: the evangelical approach to the LGBT+ conversation has been profoundly impersonal and one-sided (lots of truth and very little grace). And this statement was—as statements usually are—impersonal and one-sided. “WE AFFIRM…WE DENY…” who talks like this anymore? What does this do for the 14-year-old kid in the youth group who’s contemplating suicide because for some unchosen reason, he doesn’t feel at home in his own body and daily wishes he had a female one? So he puts on a mask at school for fear of getting beat up, mocked, or tormented on social media. He’s terrified to tell anyone—especially his youth pastor who just signed off on the NS. (I seriously doubt too many youth pastors will sign this, though.) Where is he in this statement? Where is the pastor’s wife who’s attracted to women but could never tell her husband or anyone else? What does this statement do to create a church culture where she could tell her church and be gladly received into a community of beggars who have found bread at the foot of the cross?
I long for the day when gay people can come out to their small group and everyone would yawn. “You’re a sinner too? Welcome to the club. You want to grab my hand as we cling to the cross together?” Evangelicals have been very good at writing true statements about faith, sexuality & gender. We’ve generally failed at loving those who fall short of that truth.
The NS seems very one-sided to me. It fails to own up to the many—MANY—mistakes that theologically orthodox believers have made in this conversation. And it’s those mistakes that’s the real problem. 83% of LGBT people were raised in the church and 51% left the church after they turned 18 years old. Do you know why? The reasons aren’t primarily theological; they are relational. Only 3% of LGBT people who left the church said they left because of the church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. The main reasons why they left had to do with relational problems not theological ones. They were dehumanized, isolated, shunned, or simply kicked out of the church once it was discovered that they experienced same-gender love. So my question is this: Will the NS help or hinder these profound relational problems? I’ll let my reader decide.
The first part of Preston’s statement is important, since the two prominent responses, the Denver Statement and the Christians United statement, clearly depart in significant ways from orthodox Christian belief.
Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?