To my LGBTQ friends who are deeply hurt yet again at the words of condemnation, marginalization, and exclusion, I say, “I’m so deeply sorry,” and I weep with and for you.
To my post-evangelical friends who are angry and outraged, I say “Fear not,” for we need not worry about this shrinking minority.
To my religious friends who are celebrating this declaration for its courage and stance, I say, “Can we talk?”
And to the world watching this, I say “This, and a thousand other reasons, are why we desperately need the Way of Jesus.”
On August 29, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a statement (replicated in full below) on homosexuality and transgenderism. There are several social dynamics that have prompted me to write this response, the first of which is the conviction that silence is complicity. I personally believe this ethic to be a challenging tension that must be managed and discerned rather than an absolute rule. The work of justice in a prejudicial world demands that we speak loudly and boldly because our brothers and sisters who are hurt and victimized by systemic injustices demand our voice and our actions. At the same time, we cannot be chasing every organization who has a public opinion on a host of matters, for not only will we weary ourselves, but also, “if everything is important, then nothing is.”
I find the “Nashville Statement” to be somewhere in-between. Any minority in any society should have the love and welcome of Jesus followers rather than a perpetuated condemnation under the guise of religious sanctity. LGBTQ peoples have suffered greatly, and this statement furthers that suffering. However, any group of people under American Constitutional law has the right to voice their religious convictions, no matter how disparate they may be to the broader culture. This opinion is of course nothing new (as so sarcastically put by the Babylon Bee’s article, Progressives Appalled As Christians Affirm Doctrine Held Unanimously For 2,000 Years). And, for those who are doing the work of speaking up for the rights of LGBTQ peoples may do well to ignore this statement all together, for “that which you give attention you give power.”
Regardless, this has been given a lot of attention. So, I feel compelled to exhort, and critically reflect for reasons I will articulate below.
1. Be not surprised.
The mission of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is to set forth the teachings of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women, created equally in the image of God, because these teachings are essential for obedience to Scripture and for the health of the family and the church.
Under “What’s at Stake,” they establish their reason for existence:
In 1987, CBMW was established primarily to help the church defend against the accommodation of secular feminism. At this time many evangelicals were beginning to experiment with an ideology that would later become known as evangelical feminism. This was a significant departure from what the church had practiced from its beginning regarding the role of men and women in the home and local church. The effects of this departure have not been benign. As evangelical feminism continues to spread, the evangelical community needs to be aware that this debate reaches ultimately to the heart of the gospel.
Listen to the terminology used: “defend,” “accommodation,” “experiment,” “significant departure,” and “not been benign.” Reading their About page should be a lesson in religious Identity Formation. In other words, the organization began by protecting/defending an identity established on internal continuity, and external contrast and uniqueness centered around sexual and gender complementarity (a fancy word that means ‘boys do this’ and ‘girls do that,’ even though everyone is equal in importance and value). If you create an organization that is driven by “protectionism,” it makes perfect sense that any shifts, movements, evolutions, progression, liberation, etc., will be de facto a threat to that organization.
In the face of growing contrast, or external cultural development, members of the in-group must do one of two things. They either, a) double-down on their convictions, or b) abandon their convictions for an updated or augmented version of their identity.
Now, to understand the psychological forces at work, we must consider a third nefarious beast, and that is narration bias. Narration bias is the inclination to tell yourself a story affirming that “you’ve been right all along,” because admitting you were wrong in the previous years, attitudes, and convictions is just too painful to stomach. It suggests a waste of years, a complete pulling out of the rug from underneath you. Most difficult is the admission that you missed it, an awareness of your own intellectual shortcomings. That is hard to face. Really, really hard. The salve, is to tell yourself “I’ve been right all along,” and to keep justifying it over and over again, strengthening and calcifying your convictions along the way, especially in the midst of surrounding dissent.
So, what does that lead to? Statements. And lots of them. And with forceful language, determined to ensure the complete absence of any sense of ambiguity, lest we be confused at what we really believe, and who we really are.
2. Be not the same.
Many of the responses have been made to set a contrasting tone to the theological and pastoral missives in the Nashville Statement. Honestly, I have found many of those responses to be just as unhelpful as the statement itself. The most extreme example is Micah J. Murray’s “A Christian Response to the Nashville Statement“ in which he writes, “In the name of Jesus, f*ck that sh!t. Amen.” While most others are more articulate and nuanced, the sentiment is essentially the same. “That’s not God. THIS is God.” I consider this problematic for two reasons.
One, as you read some of the responses (copied in full below), there is no fundamental difference in rationale. It is simply, “we believe this,” which is different from “that which you believe.” In other words, from a faith adherence (and epistemic) standpoint your identity formation is really no different from the CBMW. It’s just different in conclusion, but not different in process. Second, and most disheartening, this kind of response only emboldens the other side. Remember the defensive nature upon which the CBMW was founded, and by which it still exists? The onslaught of, “WE AFFIRM,” and “WE DENY,” does very little to redemptively move people. In fact, confirmation bias shows that all those statements only provide evidence for CBMW’s original mission. Their convictions are believed even more so after reading dissent. (Consider Denny Burk’s follow up article, Why the Nashville Statement, and what about article 10?)
I believe we need a different way of doing theology and epistemology all together. Perhaps it is best to begin with, “Oh, sure. This makes sense. This is who you are. Tell me more…”
3. Be not a line drawer.
“And who am I? So glad you asked! I am not someone who draws 2-dimensional monochromatic lines in the sand establishing who is in and who is out. I prefer to paint multi-colored, multi-dimensional relationships with the beautifully diverse Creation, discovering forever all the nuances and surprises that come with entering in to someone else’s world. My theology is then shaped, not solidified, informed by the realities of our existence rather than extracted and abstracted from the real world. Lines only flatten the world into objective principles. But we are not objective principles, governed by some immutable dictate, made in August of 2017. We are subjective wonders, and like water seeks all the possible pathways to the ocean and back again only to discover a new pathway, so we too embrace the cycle of human experience for all its wonder, and yes, to the glory of God.”
Or, if you’re not that poetic, “Wanna have coffee sometime?”
4. Be not afraid.
Pew Research’s Most U.S. Christian groups grow more accepting of homosexuality show an increase in acceptance. Jonathan Merritt (whose father signed the Nashville Statement) published Take a deep breath. The Nashville Statement won’t change anything (August 30, 2017). And the outpouring of dissenting voices far outweighed the Nashville Statement’s reach. Now, this is not to say that one should necessarily celebrate. I hope I am sober-minded enough to know how things are still problematic, hurtful, and even dangerous in this world of prejudice for minorities. I am not saying, “Don’t be diligent.” I am not saying, “Don’t be involved.” I am saying, “Do not be afraid.” And the best way to do that, is to begin receiving and simmering in the love of God.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. – 1 John 4:18
Some may opine by now that I have not explicitly stated what I believe about the Nashville Statement, or about what the Bible says about homosexuality. You would be correct. And you would be incorrect. Ain’t paradox beautiful!?
Call me. We can do coffee. 🙂
Below is the Nashville Statement and the Danvers Statement, the two main documents of CBMW. Below them are a few of the response articles that were brought to my attention. I know there are dozens more. Over the course of the next couple weeks, I hope to add additional thoughts and comments [bracketed in blue] to help further nuance, understanding, and productive conversation.
The Nashville Statement (August, 2017)
“Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves…” -Psalm 100:3
Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. [It does not feel as if the authors of this text understand that this evolution is normal of homo sapiens, and, according to many, the “massive revision” is only getting started (see Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari). There’s a lot more to come, and part of the reason for the lamentation of a document such as this is that these signers are completely unprepared for the future of humanity, and thus will forsake any future viable Christianity.] By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. [This line of argumentation is problematic because of its binary dualism. While I am supportive of religious freedom, including beliefs about human sexuality being central to one’s religious identity and system, I think it is important to point out the illogicality and unsustainability of some of the rationales upon which beliefs are based. This is one of them. First, sexual identity is not an “individual’s autonomous preference,” meaning “someone simply arbitrarily and whimsically chooses” their sexual identity. Second, being LGBTQ does not mean one does also denies that being “male and female” is “not part of God’s beautiful plan.” These things are not mutually exclusive.] The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God. [This is a rationale that should be taken more seriously. What if being forced to conform to a religio-cultural understanding of human sexuality ruins human life?]
This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin? [This is wonderful emotive rhetoric. Not much substance, however, and could be easily construed in many directions.]
We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. [It is this word “particularly” that is getting this statement into so much trouble. How is it, for these people, did “male and female” become the central issue when it comes to Christian identity and Christian practice?] Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. [Yes.] To him alone, every person owes gladhearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. [Yes.] This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. [Yes.] To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. [Yes.] And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. [Yes.] We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons [aargh!], is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be. [This line must be understood as preemptive of the argument coming.]
We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. [Yes.] God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. [Yes.] Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. [Yes!] Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials. [Aside from the gender assignments to the divine, this opening is not terrible. It sets a fairly standard Evangelical framework. Now to the specifics. Okay, here we go…]
WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church. [So does a “celibate” marriage, or a “childless” marriage fall short? Also, the analogy of Christ and the bride may actually be in reverse. “Christ and the church” is not the analogy for marriage. Marriage is the analogy for Christ and the church. (See Ephesians 5).]
WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God. [Fine. It is noteworthy that they list “polygamous” but not “polyandrous,” “polygenerational,” or “polyspecious.” I mention this, not to nitpick, or be snarky, but simply to point out again that every theological assertion comes within a specific socio-cultural context. Given that child marriages are also a problem in the United States, one would think that this, too, should be listed under the “denials.” The other problem that arises, is that CBMW may have to issue yet another statement, when a new form of sexual expression arises sometime in the not too distant future.]
WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage. [There may need to be nuance to the terms “chastity” and “fidelity” as the terms have multiple meanings, several of which are mutually interchangeable.]
WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.
WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth. [This article reflects CBMW’s overall view, so, again, should not be surprising. I would simply say here that the focus on gender is what is distinctly CBMW, as if gender is the main point of the Biblical narrative. Is it really? Isn’t there plenty of room to consider other foci?]
WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome. [Two things here. First, if “human good / flourishing” is the standard by which one interprets/understands/vets a theological proposition, then this raises a whole bunch of questions regarding what “good” and “flourishing means,” and by what standards or metrics does one measure this. In other words, if it was found that homosexuality had zero impact or a positive impact on a person’s flourishing, then this statement is rendered, essentially, evidentially fallacious. Second, the “WE DENY” is perplexing, and confusing a bit. Of course male and female are different, and that is substantiated, in all areas of discipline (including theology). I suppose I’m curious what they’re arguing against in this article.]
WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female. [I’m not sure how important genital morphology is to the central theological propositions of the Bible.]
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female. [It is here that this statement begins to unravel. First, I’m not sure the phrase “psychological conditions” is going to be either helpful nor accurate. Second, the biological realities of intersex peoples, and people born with enzyme deficiencies do not neatly fit into any gender binary category. So, when it comes to “self-conception” does CBMW simply consider these people “fallen?” Third, their statement actually supports the general scientific understanding that “gender” is a cultural construct. In other words, while gender involves chromosomes, hormones, and other genetic realities, gender is also shaped by cultural expectations. The Nashville Statement is attempting to influence that understanding.]
WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known. [First, it’s nice of them to say this, but I’m not sure how much credibility the statement has after essentially saying that these people are somehow a “condition” or “[non-integral]” according to God’s design. Second, how in the world can they affirm that these people “should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known?” Part of some people’s biological sex is transgender, homosexual, or intersex (et. al.).]
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.
WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption. [I think much of my critique has already been made, but I’ll add here that the phrase “self-conception” is hypocritical. Given the reality of gender identity and gender formation, CBMW is also adopting a “self-conception” based upon their theological convictions.]
WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel. [This is a bit convoluted, but I understand the essence of what they’re saying. SSA (same-sex attraction) is not beyond God’s redemptive power through the gospel.]
WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality. [“Sin” should also be expanded to include religious condemnation and legalistic hierarchy. That is to say, “sin” is also making some issues more important than the love of God and love of neighbor, according to Jesus.]
WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree. [It is here that CBMW and the Nashville Statement signers have departed from the traditional space of gracious debate within the family, to legalistic hierarchical exclusionism. To quote Burk in his article:
Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality… Consequently, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess. 4:3-8).
I think it is fair to say that Paul’s statement in 1 Thessalonians 4 is both understandable in directive, as well as in strength (notice I didn’t say “clear.”) The problem is that all biblical interpretation requires historical context, hermeneutical selectivity, and cultural translatability. In other words, What was Paul really referring to?, What shall we decide is important to understand of that original statement?, and What specific exhortations or ethics communicate to our current cultural context? For instance, “sexual immorality” may be a reference to “illicit” sex. What happens when sex is not “illicit?” Also, “rejecting man but [God],” may not be a reference to delineating who is a Christian or not, but rather a rhetorical polemic that gives weight and strength to the argument. These understandings are far different and distinct from the divisiveness of the Nashville Statement.
WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.
WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his imagebearers as male and female.
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. [Does this include bad religious affirmations?]
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin. [For a religion that traditionally emphasizes the grace of God, it is notable that this concept only arrives at Article 12.]
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female. [Again, what if the biological sex does not comport with the gender binary?]
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.
WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.
WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach. [While I appreciate what this Statement is attempting to do, the order of the articles makes a difference. And, the juxtaposition of “salvation” with “condemnation” is a bit of a double bind, saying in effect, “You’re loved by God, but…”]
The Danvers Statement (December, 1987)
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” – Genesis 1:27
The Danvers Statement summarizes the need for the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) and serves as an overview of our core beliefs. This statement was prepared by several evangelical leaders at a CBMW meeting in Danvers, Massachusetts, in December of 1987. It was first published in final form by the CBMW in Wheaton, Illinois in November of 1988.
We have been moved in our purpose by the following contemporary developments which we observe with deep concern:
- The widespread uncertainty and confusion in our culture regarding the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity;
- the tragic effects of this confusion in unraveling the fabric of marriage woven by God out of the beautiful and diverse strands of manhood and womanhood;
- the increasing promotion given to feminist egalitarianism with accompanying distortions or neglect of the glad harmony portrayed in Scripture between the loving, humble leadership of redeemed husbands and the intelligent, willing support of that leadership by redeemed wives; [This may be a quibble, but it sounds like this kind of complementarianism teaches that women/wives are not leaders. Yes?]
- the widespread ambivalence regarding the values of motherhood, vocational homemaking, and the many ministries historically performed by women; [The “historically” word betrays the undercurrent of this kind of thinking, a hermeneutic that canonizes not just the text, but the culture of the past. The reason this is significant is because often the same people are staunch adversaries of “the culture,” making sure that purity of the Christian message is not sullied by “the culture.”]
- the growing claims of legitimacy for sexual relationships which have Biblically and historically been considered illicit or perverse, and the increase in pornographic portrayal of human sexuality;
- the upsurge of physical and emotional abuse in the family; [It is disheartening to see “abuse” in the same context as an argument for complementarianism. While there is much debate regarding Biblical interpretation of gender roles, there is no debate on the Biblical stance on abuse. Adding this can feel like “stacking the deck.”]
- the emergence of roles for men and women in church leadership that do not conform to Biblical teaching but backfire in the crippling of Biblically faithful witness;
- the increasing prevalence and acceptance of hermeneutical oddities devised to reinterpret apparently plain meanings of Biblical texts; [I didn’t know these authors thought that the Bible was boring and bland!? That is the “plain” meaning of the word “plain” after all, isn’t it?! :-)]
- the consequent threat to Biblical authority as the clarity of Scripture is jeopardized and the accessibility of its meaning to ordinary people is withdrawn into the restricted realm of technical ingenuity; [While I’m not sure exactly what they mean by “technical ingenuity,” isn’t it imperative of us to consider deeply good study so as to not pervert our understanding of the text?]
- and behind all this the apparent accommodation of some within the church to the spirit of the age at the expense of winsome, radical Biblical authenticity which in the power of the Holy Spirit may reform rather than reflect our ailing culture. [And there’s the “culture” sentiment. Not so sure about “winsome” as well. This kind of teaching, and statements of division are not known for their “winsomeness.”]
Based on our understanding of Biblical teachings, we affirm the following:
- Both Adam and Eve were created in God’s image, equal before God as persons and distinct in their manhood and womanhood (Gen 1:26-27, 2:18). [Yes. I can affirm this.]
- Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14). [As soon as you delineate “masculine and feminine roles,” one is marrying our culture with the ancient culture, the very thing these authors hope not to do.]
- Adam’s headship in marriage was established by God before the Fall, and was not a result of sin (Gen 2:16-18, 21-24, 3:1-13; 1 Cor 11:7-9). [A, this is not the meaning of the phrase “ezer knegdo,” (עזר כנגדו). B, the text actually says that “the man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife” which does not make sense in a patriarchal society. This text may be doing something very different than establishing “headship.”]
- The Fall introduced distortions into the relationships between men and women (Gen 3:1-7, 12, 16).
- In the home, the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity; the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.
- In the church, sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility, and inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries. [The illogicality of the gender division is seen here, as if women are not inclined “toward a worldly love of power,” or men never “neglect the use of their gifts…”]
- The Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, manifests the equally high value and dignity which God attached to the roles of both men and women (Gen 1:26-27, 2:18; Gal 3:28). Both Old and New Testaments also affirm the principle of male headship in the family and in the covenant community (Gen 2:18; Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; 1 Tim 2:11-15). [There’s too much to unpack here. A), the meaning of the word “head” (κεφαλη) in Ephesians. B), the mention of slaves in Colossians. C) The interpretive linguistic challenges of 1 Timothy (see Philip Payne’s Man and Woman, One in Christ).]
- Redemption in Christ aims at removing the distortions introduced by the curse.
- In the family, husbands should forsake harsh or selfish leadership and grow in love and care for their wives; wives should forsake resistance to their husbands’ authority and grow in willing, joyful submission to their husbands’ leadership (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7).
- In the church, redemption in Christ gives men and women an equal share in the blessings of salvation; nevertheless, some governing and teaching roles within the church are restricted to men (Gal 3:28; 1 Cor 11:2-16; 1 Tim 2:11-15). [This is all going to come down to the theological understanding of “curse.”]
- In all of life Christ is the supreme authority and guide for men and women, so that no earthly submission-domestic, religious, or civil-ever implies a mandate to follow a human authority into sin (Dan 3:10-18; Acts 4:19-20, 5:27-29; 1 Pet 3:1-2). [Uh, including the CBMW?!]
- In both men and women a heartfelt sense of call to ministry should never be used to set aside Biblical criteria for particular ministries (1 Tim 2:11-15, 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9). Rather, Biblical teaching should remain the authority for testing our subjective discernment of God’s will. [Like other words, it all comes down to what we mean by the word “Biblical.”]
- With half the world’s population outside the reach of indigenous evangelism; with countless other lost people in those societies that have heard the gospel; with the stresses and miseries of sickness, malnutrition, homelessness, illiteracy, ignorance, aging, addiction, crime, incarceration, neuroses, and loneliness, no man or woman who feels a passion from God to make His grace known in word and deed need ever live without a fulfilling ministry for the glory of Christ and the good of this fallen world (1 Cor 12:7-21). [I am really struck by this statement. It is explicitly stated that, “with the stresses and miseries…” as so stated, the CBMW has chosen to prioritize gender hierarchy as more important, more critical, and more central to the Christian faith than faith, justice, mercy, compassion, and healing. I refer you to Jesus in Matthew 23.]
- We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large. [There is a problem with being so “convinced.” All that is needed is to evidence the absence of destructive consequences in our families, churches, and culture at large to invalidate the entire thesis of this organization. I refer you to Half the Sky, and countless other articles, books, and studies within a whole body of work around feminism and its benefits.]
“Know that the LORD Himself is God (and we are not) – Psalm 100:3
Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in an exciting, beautiful, liberating, and holy period of historic transition. Western culture has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being by expanding the limits and definitions previously imposed by fundamentalist Christians. By and large, the spirit of our age discerns and delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life that is so much richer and more diverse than we have previously understood it to be. Many deny that God created all human beings for God’s glory, and believe that God’s good purposes for us are limited to those whose personal and physical design is cis-gendered, heterosexual, and socially acceptable expressions of male and female. However, many Christians now understand that binary and backwards thinking excludes a large and important part of God’s beautiful plan for God’s people. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for God’s creatures is clearly inclusive of a variety of identities of gender and expressions of sexuality that have previously been denied by shortsighted and limited thinking, teaching and preaching that has ruined lives and dishonored God.
[As I mentioned above, the challenge with this contrarian published statement, is that it deploys language that will, to some and at times, appear deprecating. That could be seen in the language of “backwards” and “limited” thinking. While I understand the spirit of what they are saying, the tone is really important. This is especially true if one is attempting to bridge a redemptive relationship with the other, which I don’t know if the Denver Statement people are attempting to do or not.]
WE AFFIRM that God has created humanity out of love and for the purpose of love.
WE DENY that God intends marriage as a gift only to be enjoyed by those who happen to be heterosexual, cis-gendered and fertile.
WE AFFIRM that God created us as sexual beings in endless variety.
WE DENY that the only type of sexual expression that can be considered holy is between a cis-gendered, heterosexual, married couple who waited to have sex until they were married. But if you fit in that group, good for you, we have no problem with your lifestyle choices. [This last line “…we have no problem with your lifestyle choices” is also problematic. All affirmations have their limits, and permissive statements like these, even when directly and specifically applied to certain situations, can open the door to those limits being pushed.]
WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in God’s male & female image, and that all human beings share this image of God in common but express it differently in body and spirit.
WE DENY that we as human beings can fully conceive of the glory of God’s image or rightfully believe our language can define its limits. Therefore, we deny those who do not conform to society’s gender norms are outside of some kind of “divine plan”.
WE AFFIRM that the glorious variety of gender and sexual expression is a reflection of God’s original creation design and are aspects of human flourishing.
WE DENY that such variations are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.
WE AFFIRM that the biological capacity for human beings to reproduce is a glorious wonder and that humanity continues to discover the gender and sexual diversity with which God has created humans. [I am curious how “sexual diversity” could be defended from the Biblical narrative.]
WE DENY that gender is always linked with biological sex characteristics, and we deny that those whose bodies contain physical or psychological realities outside of the “norm” need curing or reparation.
WE AFFIRM that the bearing of God’s image occurs in every glorious genital and chromosomal variation found in the human race.
WE DENY that any variation in the human body exempts one from living a joyful and full life.
WE AFFIRM that there is no longer male or female but all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.
WE DENY any self-conception that presumes one is capable of knowing God’s holy purposes for other people, and that such self-conceptions can be consistent with the Gospel of grace, love, and mercy as demonstrated in holy scripture.
WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is outside the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that anything puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.
WE AFFIRM that sin distorts all aspects of human life.
WE DENY that human beings can escape sin by simply upholding a particular doctrine or lifestyle.
WE AFFIRM that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and while we believe in the full inclusion of all people into the body of Christ (here we stand we can do no other), we cannot bind the conscience of other Christians. [I find this statement to be really well written and thoughtful, especially in their use of the word “bind,” reminiscent of Matthew 16.]
WE DENY that it is sinful to approve of queer identities and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE AFFIRM our duty to love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another.
WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s image-bearers.
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ is sufficient for this day.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is something that must be supplemented by works, piety or doctrine.
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake prejudice and see such prejudice as our own and not as God’s.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-righteous assertions of absolute knowledge of God’s will.
WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person; this is a supreme treasure.
WE DENY that God is a boy and has actual arms.
Article 15 (this one is just ours)
WE AFFRIM that the church has often been indistinguishable from the dominant culture in the ways in which it has sanctified oppression and bigotry towards historically marginalized and demonized people groups, of which the LGBTQ+ community is one.
WE DENY any ideology, theological or otherwise, that results in the further marginalization, rejection, dehumanization, and overall suffering of LGBTQ+ individuals.
A Liturgists Statement (August 29, 2017)
GOD IS LOVE
August 29, 2017
As floodwaters still rise in Houston, many prominent Christian leaders released the Nashville Statement. This document released a flood of its own, only this time instead of homes flooded with water, it was hearts flooded with grief. Yet again, powerful people of means use the platform of the Church to demean the basic dignity of gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans, intersex, and queer people.
This isn’t new. “Biblical” morality has been used to justify slavery, resistance to interracial marriage, genocide, and war. The scope of the Bible’s narrative allows a broad interpretation of what is right and moral, and both the church and society at large have moved toward universal justice and acceptance on issues once thought to be “crystal clear.”
In regards to Christians across the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities, it’s past time to accept and affirm them as they are. In the same way that we no longer accept the morality of slavery based on its inclusion in our scriptures, we can no longer project first century notions of sex and sexuality on people today. The very notion of “orientation,” or even “heterosexual” would be completely foreign to the authors of both the old and new testaments in the Bible. [This statement may need some nuance. There is a host of work that argues such, but it is far from conclusive. While our constructs of “orientation” are distinctly 20th and 21 century, the “notion” of “orientation” was known and understood then.]
We understand that many of the people on the other side of this debate are loving Christians who really are trying to do and believe what’s right–people who are also God’s children, beloved and holy. However, this is a time that truth must be spoken to oppressive power systems. For far too long, the Christian Church has oppressed and marginalized people because of their gender and/or sexual orientation.
Personal beliefs about human sexuality have life-or-death consequences in our world. The social and systemic persecution of LGBTQ people creates real harm: limited and lost employment, physical assault, discrimination, depression, and suicide. This is not of God.
So, while we expect a flood of statements in response to the Nashville Statement, we the undersigned wanted to add our voice to the chorus of Christians affirming LGBTQ folks–including the Christians among them.
We believe that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are fearfully and wonderfully made, holy before God, beloved and beautiful as they are.
We believe all people have full autonomy over their bodies, sexual orientations, and gender identities, and the diversity of identities reflects the creative power of a loving God.
We believe that God is love, and that ‘anyone who loves is born of God and knows God’. (I John 4:7) God is honored in any consenting and loving relationship between adults, and therefore, all such relationships deserve honor and recognition.
We believe that same-sex relationships and marriages are as holy before God as heterosexual marriages.
We stand in solidarity with LGBTQ folks, and commit to standing alongside them in the work of resisting those who persecute them.
We don’t believe LGBTQ folks need our approval or affirmation–they are affirmed first and foremost by God. This statement acts as a concreted record of solidarity.
For those of us who haven’t always been affirming, we repent of how our beliefs and actions caused harm in the lives of LGBTQ people. We also stand ready to welcome other people into repentance as their eyes are opened to the injustice caused by non-affirming theologies.
We don’t claim righteousness or moral superiority over non-affirming people. Our hearts have been broken by our own actions most of all.
May Christ’s love and mercy redeem us all,
PS- We encourage you to consider a donation to these LGBTQ Christian Organizations:
Why I Won’t Sign the Nashville Statement (August 30, 2017)
Matthew Lee Anderson on August 30, 2017
The ongoing dispute over the shape and meaning of “evangelicalism’s” understanding of sexual ethics took a sharper, more institutionally focused form yesterday. The CBMW convened what they are calling a “Coalition for Biblical Sexuality,” and released a series of affirmations and denials regarding the Bible’s teaching on both sexual desire and “transgenderism.” The list of signers is a “who’s who” of the Reformed evangelical world, with what I would describe as a generous smattering of individuals from other backgrounds. The statement is meant, as John Piper puts it, to “clarify Christian convictions.”
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. It’s a lot easier to find all the people who are on board with a certain vision of the home, for instance, by asking what they make of the Danvers Statement.
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. The only way to counteract this effect is through public criticism, and the subsequent formation of alternate communities. Hence, progressive evangelicals have already written their own counterstatement. [This is a thoughtful analysis of the problem, a sentiment I find kinship with in my evaluation above.]
And here I am. My name will remain off the list of signers, for reasons that I think are serious enough to make public. It is a predictable role for me to fill. But I simply cannot lend my endorsement or my support to this statement, even though it has been eagerly affirmed by many people whom I admire and count as friends.
These are my reasons.
Problems with the Nashville Statement
The preamble to the statement announces that we are in a “period of historic transition.” The crisis it proclaims is grave: the “secular spirit of our age” stands against us, threatening the integrity, clarity, and conviction of the churches that proclaim the Gospel. There are two options here: either we recognize the “beauty of God’s design for human life,” or we embrace a sexual ethic and understanding of maleness and femaleness grounded in an “individual’s autonomous preferences.” Either our witness is counter-cultural, or it is not biblical.
It is not this contrast that worries me. Rather, I think on some level the crisis is a real one: beneath the arguments and debates over the appropriate shape of sexual desire lies the possibility that we would denude and diminish the church’s witness by being co-opted by a set of dispositions, attitudes, and practices that are deeply and inescapably antagonistic to the Gospel. I suspect, though do not know, that such an anxiety betrays the middle-class orientation of the document’s drafters. In any suburban evangelical church one is far more likely to encounter people for whom the whole set of issues under consideration simply don’t matter theologically than one is to meet, well, someone like me. By announcing the crisis up front, the drafters leave no question about the nature of their aims; they intend to caution as much as proclaim. [Astute.]
The conflict with the “spirit of our age” sets up the series of affirmation and denials, where we discover a very narrow ethical focus on same-sex sexual desires and questions of transgender identity. While Article 1, for instance, offers a broad affirmation of the nature and theological significance of marriage, the denial aims only at gay and polygamous marriages. A narrow, minimalist focus for a statement of this sort is understandable. Such questions are the controversies of our day; it is undoubtedly the case that the signers of the statement would say more, not less, if asked about related subjects. But I take it that such a narrow focus is not simply a rhetorical problem: it represents a failure to bring the statement up to the minimum standards for biblical, ecclesiastically centered judgment of those who are wrong.
In the first place, it is easy to see how the dichotomy the statement opens with maps on to the sociological realities which surround the statement. The statement draws its power and effect from its institutional location: if nobody who signed it ran churches or parachurches, nobody would care. While it is reasonable, and even likely, that those who frame the statement would want to resist collapsing those who adopt the “spirit of our age” into them, those who are outside the evangelical churches, such an effect is inevitable. In the same way, those who sign the statement are the people who denounce the “spirit of the age,” and do so against those who wish to affirm the licitness of gay desires and sex-transitions. The narrow focus of the boundary-setting that this statement aims at thus turns evangelicalism’s attention outward, toward its outer edges and toward those who lie beyond them.
Even if the statement draws the boundary in the right place, then, it inherently and intentionally obscures the fact that whether evangelicals embrace the “spirit of our age” is not a decision before us: It is a decision that has been already made. A “secular spirit” manifests every time an evangelical pastor remarries someone who was divorced without cause. It comes to the surface every time an evangelical couple pursues in vitro fertilization, and so undoes the “God-ordained link” between the reproductive organs and the union of the couple’s love. Every time an evangelical couple “feels the Lord calling” them to surrogacy, there the “spirit of our age” appears. And yes, it happens every time an evangelical utters the damnable phrase, “Well, I’m an evangelical, which means I’m okay with contraception”—as though that were somehow a mark of evangelical identity. (I’ve run out of fingers trying to count the number of times I’ve heard that, from pastors and from laypeople.)
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. That there is internal disagreement among evangelicals is no justification for the narrow scope of judgments and denials; such disagreement, after all, is the position that progressive Christians are seeking to gain.
I have long argued that we should understand our current crisis about sexuality through two principles. First, the spectacles and obvious disputes this statement responds to are the sideshow, not the main action. Those obvious manifestations of the “spirit of our age” are not the ones we should worry about; it is those that are not obvious, the subtle temptations that lure us in without us realizing their deadly force. Such arenas are more difficult to detect; but they are even harder to root out, as we are most inclined to willingly compromise ourselves ethically when we want what a practice promises us. Such a principle means the difference between affirming gay marriage and allowing IVF or any of the other practices which are part and parcel of the same ideology is irrelevant. The Church of Jesus Christ does not get a pass on its standards of holiness. [I wish there was more explicit explanation of those principles “more difficult to detect.”]
The second principle follows on the first: the spectacles of obvious disagreement happen precisely because we have not been more focused on ordering our own houses. I suggested above this statement fails to meet a minimal, biblical standard for expressing judgment. Jesus’s demand that those who seek to correct others examine the planks in their own eye is framed in an interpersonal context, to be sure. But the same principle is given ecclesiastical form when Peter suggests that “judgment begins at the house of God.” The latter verse is interesting because Peter frames such introspective judgment as a response to suffering. This statement, though, meets the possibility of ‘martyrdom’ that the “spirit of our age” presents with silence about our churches’ failures. Such silence is no more sanctified than the silence that evangelical pastors retreat to when asked about gay marriage. It is a silence that would be the equivalent of failing to acknowledge the many and diverse ways a church allowed or affirmed racism in a statement denouncing the KKK.
The failure to acknowledge the depth of evangelicalism’s complicity in the “spirit of our age” is interdependent with the statement’s description of the norms to which we are all held. Article 2 affirms that “God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside marriage and fidelity within marriage.” The denial makes it clear that the statement is focused on who one’s sexual desires and actions are ordered toward, namely, one’s spouse or non-spouse.
Yet God’s revealed will is for chastity within marriage as well. There are more forms of wrongdoing in the sphere of sexuality than directing one’s sexual desire toward a third party. It is possible to reduce a spouse to an instrument of one’s pleasure, or to engage in intrinsically wrong acts together. If the narrow scope of the document’s denials were accompanied by a robust affirmation of the possibility of such wrongdoing within marriage itself, I’d be more sympathetic to it. But it does not. Such an oversight could be justified by appealing to the document’s minimalist approach. But even if that mitigates the problem, the statement still only offers a truncated, narrow form of the virtues in the realm of sex and marriage to which all Christians are called.
At the same time, the document’s narrow focus also includes an unfortunate (at best) narrowing of the community who the drafters think can claim the name “evangelical.” While the gang at Spiritual Friendship are capable of defending themselves, I take it that the denial of Article 7 is explicitly aimed at ruling out the subversive retrieval of “gay” they have been working on the past few years. While I am more than happy to accept many of the other boundary lines, I do think it a prudential failure in the face of the crisis this document outlines to pre-emptively winnow our ranks of those individuals who agree with our conclusions about the integrity of marriage and the morality of same-sex sexual behavior, but disagree about the meaning and significance of a “gay identity.” Paradoxically, while the minimalist approach is (presumably) aimed at generating consensus from the largest number of people, it does so only by cutting out from our midst some of conservative Christianity’s most eloquent and informed defenders.
The failure of this document, then, is (again) not merely rhetorical. The omissions are as significant as what it explicitly includes. Nor do I think those omissions are merely a matter of differing prudential judgment about what our times require: I have described the statement as failing to meet the minimum conditions for public judgment, because I think there are actual Bible verses that indicate as much. While evangelicals practice self-loathing more than they ought, a statement from churchmen that asserts that a particular view of sexuality is essential to the faith must acknowledge our own complicity and entanglement in the very spirit that is being denounced. Otherwise, it fails to bear the authority of the Gospel it proclaims, an authority which stems from the confession of our sins and the proclamation of Christ’s saving work. Such a dual announcement is the necessary and indispensable precondition for our judgment of the world. The absence of such a confession leaves the affirmations and proclamations withering on the vine, without the grace and life of humility which allows us to see that we, the evangelical churches, have helped make this world as well. If the confidence and courage that the statement enjoins sound forced or hollow, this is why.
With the signers and the drafters of the Nashville Statement, I am persuaded that the current controversies over sex, gender, and marriage are of maximal importance. With those individuals, I agree that there are matters here essential to the truthful, beautiful articulation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. With those individuals, I agree that the crisis in the evangelical church is real, and that those seeking to alter our institutions so that they affirm gay marriage undermine and distort the faith that all Christians, in all places and times have affirmed.
But issues of maximal importance deserve maximal responses. It is possible to say too little, as it is possible to say too much. If I have sometimes erred toward the latter vice in my exposition and defense of a traditional account of sex and gender, I have done so only because the deflationary and minimalist approach to such questions is itself an intrinsic part of the intellectual atmosphere which has left the orthodox Christian view unintelligible to so many.
But my frustration with the statement goes even deeper than its minimalism. The addition of such confessions would not have materially changed most of the document. It is just because they are so easy to include that this statement disappoints me so much. Little would have been lost, and much gained, through the acknowledgment that our own communities are central repositories of the problems this statement identifies.
If the difference between Christianity and what is on offer in our world is genuinely one of anthropology, then it can only be met and countered appropriately by demonstrating the difference in its fullness, in the places where those differences affect not just those who are gay or identify as trans but those of us who are happily married and have kids. The moral status of gay desires and transgender identity bottom out (at least in part) in what we make of our bodiliness, and of the womb, and of the social forms such material realities generate. Yet those are realities which implicate us all. Caitlyn Jenner could only become a phenomenon in a world formed from countless choices by ordinary, faithful, well-intentioned people who failed to see that the body has for them the same malleability and plasticity in other areas that Caitlyn Jenner expressed about it in the realm of sex and gender.
Six years ago, in a (justly) forgotten book, I argued that evangelicalism had tacitly adopted secular practices and habits through inattentiveness to our bodily life. It is not our explicit affirmations and denials that matter, I suggested, but what happens beneath the surfaces and outside the edges of our view. But that means the way to recover a community and a society of people who value the goodness of bodily life in its fullness is not through reducing the chief expressions of our public witness to the last, thin thread of sexual ethics that we can all still agree on. Rather, we must set about rediscovering and reviving the broad and beautiful backdrop of the goodness of mortal flesh, a goodness we have each denied in a thousand different ways. We cannot authentically or authoritatively name and resist the “spirit of our age” until we recognize that before the world made Caitlyn Jenner, we made it.
[Hmm. Condemning Evangelicalism for its permissiveness complicity in contributing to our current “spirit of the age,” opens up a whole host of interesting problems.]
By Brian McLaren
I passionately disagree with the Nashville Statement.
Theologically, it is based on the same regressive way of reading the Bible that was used to justify slavery, anti-Semitism, apartheid, the suppression of women, the rejection of good science, and the slaughter of the native peoples. It’s hard to believe the signors have still not critically assessed the toxic fruit of centuries of reading the Bible in this discredited way.
Socially, however unintentionally or unconsciously, the statement plays into the same virulent scapegoating that has encouraged the KKK and other white supremacists to take off their sheets. Its timing with Hurricane Harvey was insensitive enough; add to that its synchronicity with the obvious homophobia of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville and the President’s transgender ban.
Politically, the Nashville Statement perfectly serves the purposes of Trumpism by creating a pristine and pure “us” who need to push the dirty “other” to the margins.
Spiritually, it expresses exactly the kind of Christianity that I have been urging people to migrate beyond.
But I applaud the statement for three reasons.
- First, it makes explicit what has been hidden. People will now know more clearly which churches are safe and accepting for themselves, their friends, and their relatives, and which are spiritually hostile and psychologically dangerous.
- Second, the statement puts pressure on the large number of LGBTQ-sympathetic Evangelicals who are trying to remain anonymous (you know who you are). These folks have been hoping they could fly under the doctrinal radar or play the middle, not “coming out” as LGBTQ affirming on the one hand, and not being openly hostile on the other. The Statement will push many of them to position themselves either inside or outside its parameters. I occupied this ambiguous middle zone for too many years, so I know about it, and I am glad that this lukewarm space will be harder to occupy going forward. [Admittedly, at this point in time, I find myself, not in “lukewarm space” but in the “danger zone,” of attempting to straddle two worlds, not for lack of conviction, but for hope of redemptive movement.]
- Third, the statement challenges LGBTQ-equal churches to open their doors and welcome Evangelical refugees in. This will be good for both parties involved. (For people seeking a new church, or for churches seeking to declare themselves so they can be found by seekers, check out this website: http://convergenceus.org/churches/
One of the blessings of my fundamentalist/Evangelical upbringing was that I memorized a lot of Bible verses, one of which went like this: “Don’t allow yourself to be overpowered with evil. Take the offensive—overpower evil by good!” For those of us who see the marginalization and stigmatization of LGBTQ persons as evil, I trust the Nashville Statement will strengthen our resolve and energize our creative, constructive, and good response.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to bear witness to the love, grace, and truth of God in every generation. We believe in and serve a God who is living and active, and continually drawing us nearer to the image of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom that he proclaimed. As Christ himself assured us, following the Holy Spirit often leads us into periods of time where we are called to reflect on and reform our traditions and practices to be more clearly conformed to the mind and example of Jesus Christ. This has been the case throughout Christian history. So it is that we, like each generation before us, are called to reflect, repent, and reform our teachings and practices to be ever more closely aligned with the heart and will of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
In every generation there are those who resist the Spirit’s leading in various ways and cling to the dogmas and traditions that he is calling us to rethink and reform. Throughout our history, those who have been on the leading edge of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work have often found themselves initially excluded, marginalized, and demonized by some of those within established Christian institutions. In the twenty-first century, we believe that the Church finds itself once again on the brink of a new reformation, one which in which the Holy Spirit is calling us to return to the Scriptures and our traditions in order to re-examine our teachings on human sexuality and gender identity.
For decades, many pastors, theologians, and reformers have boldly responded to the Holy Spirit’s call and have stepped forward to call the Church to a renewed understanding of Christian teaching on sexuality and gender identity that includes, affirms, and embraces the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary, queer community as created and fully blessed by God and welcomed in to the life of the Church and society just as they are, without a need to conform to the heteronormative, patriarchal, binary sexuality and gender paradigm that Christianity has come to promote and embrace. As these prophetic voices have stepped forward, some within traditional Christian institutions have gone great lengths to demonize, exclude, and marginalize those who have faithfully followed the Holy Spirit’s leading to reexamine Scripture and the tradition, claiming that these reformers were false teachers or heretics, and represented only a small percentage of Christians worldwide.
Over the past twenty years in particular, hundreds of thousands followers of Christ around the globe have begun to respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and have come to understand the teachings of Scripture and our tradition to fully affirm, embrace, and celebrate the LGBT+ community and is relationships. Whilst some within the traditional Christian establishment have sought to minimize the growing wave of prominent Christian voices that have reformed their perspectives on LGBT+ inclusion, the undeniable truth remains that the so-called “traditional” Christian teaching on sexuality and gender identity is being abandoned for a more faithful, Christ-centered, and, we believe, more biblical understanding of sexuality and gender identity that magnifies the creativity of God and celebrates the wide diversity in God’s creation of humanity.
A new day is dawning in the Church, and all Christians are being called to step out boldly and unapologetically in affirmation and celebration of our LGBT+ siblings as equal participants in the Kingdom of God. Therefore, in the hope of serving the Church of Jesus Christ and promoting greater reformation and reconciliation between the Church and the LGBT+ community, this coalition of Christian leaders offer the following affirmations and denials.
WE AFFIRM that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and that the great diversity expressed in humanity through our wide spectrum of unique sexualities and gender identities is a perfect reflection of the magnitude of God’s creative work.
WE DENY any teaching that suggests God’s creative intent is limited to a gender binary or that God’s desire for human romantic relationships is only to be expressed in heterosexual relationships between one man and one woman.
WE AFFIRM that God designed marriage to be a covenantal bond between human beings who have committed to love, serve, and live a life faithfully committed to one another over the course of a lifetime.
WE DENY that God intended human romantic relationships to be limited to one man and one woman and declare that any attempts to limit the sacred or civil rights of humans to covenant and commit to love and serve one another is an affront to God’s created design. [In accordance with my attempt to illuminate, not simply to critique, it is statements like these that give great concern to “the other side.” This is very “slippery,” and it would be telling to see this article pushed to its logical conclusions, and find out what the convictions of the authors really are.]
WE AFFIRM that relationships between fallen humans have suffered great distortions resulting in various forms of infidelity and unhealthy behaviors that contribute to the suffering of humanity. We also affirm that God’s desire is for all humans to enter into loving, sacrificial relationships with one another, whether romantic, platonic, or social, regardless of gender or sexual identity.
WE DENY that the fallenness of human relationships resulted in the multiplicity of sexual orientations and gender identities. Rather, fallenness manifests in the human capacity to function out of hedonistic self-interest instead of the self-giving love in whose image we are created. [In addition, critics of the affirming argument would ask, “By what authority, Biblical or otherwise, can such claims or conclusions be made?” And how are these affirmations and denials developed?]
WE AFFIRM that those who are born as intersex are full and equal bearers of the image and likeness of God and are worthy of full dignity and respect. We affirm and support intersex individuals in their journey of self-realization and embracing their unique, God-created sexual orientation and gender identity, whatever it may be.
WE DENY that intersex individuals are required to conform to a gender binary or a heteronormative sexual paradigm.
WE AFFIRM that while the male and female gender identity reflects a majority of the human family, God has created individuals whose gender identity does not fall on such a binary spectrum. We also affirm that there are many transgender individuals who are born with a physical body that is incongruent with their true gender identity, and these individuals should be supported and trusted in regards to their own self-knowledge of who they are and how God has created them.
WE DENY that forcing individuals to embrace a gender identity that matches the cultural assumptions based on their biology is a healthy practice and that the heterosexual, male/female binary is the only consistent reflection of God’s holy purposes in Creation.
WE AFFIRM that LGBT+ Christians are called to live holy and fulfilling lives that are pleasing to God through living in congruence with God’s creative intent for them, and, like all Christians, are called to walk in a rhythm of life that reflects the example of Jesus Christ our Lord.
WE DENY that heterosexuality or binary gender identities are the only legitimate sexuality and gender identities that reflect the natural goodness of God’s creation.
WE AFFIRM that one may live proudly and openly as an LGBT+ individual and as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ and that LGBT+ individuals must be fully embraced and included in every level of Christian leadership, life, and ministry without exception in order for the Church to fully embrace its call to be the body of Christ. We also affirm Christ’s call for the Church to be one, united in the midst of our diversity of sexual orientations, gender identities, relationships, and beliefs about the same.
WE DENY that teachings on the Biblical interpretation of sexuality and gender identity constitute a matter of orthodoxy and should be a cause for division among Christians.
WE AFFIRM that non-inclusive teaching causes significant psychological and spiritual harm to LGBT+ individuals in Christian churches around the world. We likewise affirm that the Church of Jesus Christ is guilty of preaching a harmful message that has caused hundreds of thousands of individuals to face bullying, abuse, and exclusion from their families and communities, and must publicly repent and seek reconciliation with the LGBT+ community for the harm that has been done to them in the name of Christ. [Again, similar rationale, but the “other side.” We must be careful in our arguments, not to mirror our opponents in the same kind of reasoning.]
WE DENY that any Christian who perpetuates harmful teachings and refuses to openly dialogue with LGBT+ people is living a life modeled after the faithful example of Jesus.
WE AFFIRM that sexuality and gender identity may be expressed in a variety of different ways, including celibacy. We also affirm that commitment, consent, respect, and self-sacrificial love must be the center of any life or relationship that is to be deemed holy and upright for a Christian.
WE DENY that any individual, especially minors, should be forced to seek any form of treatment or therapy that promises to change their sexual orientation or gender identity in order to conform to a patriarchal, heteronormative model of relationship.
WE AFFIRM that Jesus Christ has come into the world to bring salvation to all people and through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, all are invited into redemption through Christ.
WE DENY that Christ rejects anyone from his loving embrace because of their sexuality or gender identity. We likewise deny that homosexuality, bisexuality, queer sexuality, trans* identity, asexuality, or any other queer identity is sinful, distorted, or outside of God’s created intent.
Whereas 150 Conservative Evangelicals have issued the Nashville Statement, a statement which we find to be heretical and boldly against the teachings of God as we find in the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ.
And whereas our nation is on fire with derision fueled by White supremacy and racism, sadly communicated by the actions and words of the President of the United States.
And whereas in a climate of hatred the rights of women, racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQ persons, and religious minorities are at risk, we at Middle Collegiate Church stand on God’s side. We stand on the side of Love. Further, we stand with Jesus of Nazareth, whom we know both as rabbi/teacher and savior. Like Jesus, we welcome all who are burdened and heavy laden with the stress and strife of life. Like Jesus, we ask ourselves always, what would love have us do?
We believe that Jesus of Nazareth’s most profound teaching was in response to the question of which commandment is the greatest. Jesus said to love God with everything we have ― our whole soul, mind, heart, and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourself. When asked who was our neighbor, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, a religious minority, who stopped to help a sick stranger on the road. Jesus used a scorned and hated person as the example of what love looks like.
We believe that Jesus’ love was revolutionary love ― love that feeds folks when they are hungry, love that gives folks drink when they are thirsty. Love that visits those who are sick and imprisoned, and liberates folk from their suffering. We believe Jesus cared for those who were on the margins ― women, children, and the poor. His message was meant to flip the status quo on its head; the first will be last and the last will be first, and a little child teaches us what the Reign of God is like.
Following Jesus of Nazareth, here are 10 affirmations of our living faith:
- We believe all human beings — reflecting an expansive universe of genders — are created in the image of God, just exactly as we are (Genesis 1–2). Each of us is reverently and wonderfully made (Psalm 139). Therefore, we celebrate the unique sexual expression of each of human being. Jesus said nothing about gay; we say LGBTQ people are just-as-they-are, by design, and beloved by their Creator. [Grammatical note. The statement perhaps meant to say, “Jesus said nothing about being gay;…” Biblical note, Matthew 19’s reference to “eunuchs” has the possibility of including this category. Definitely not certain, but plausible.]
- We believe all human beings are created in God’s image. Therefore, women, men and people of all genders should be treated equally in the marketplace, in congregations, in all public spaces, in the military, and at home. We believe fully in gender equality.
- We believe the glory of God’s creation includes our beautiful racial/ethnic and cultural differences. Therefore, we abhor racism, we stand fully against white supremacy, and we encourage the removal not only of racist statues, but also of racist statutes. We know more completely the nature of God when we study God’s image in the faces of beautiful people who are from Spanish speaking nations, from the African Diaspora, from Asian heritages, from the Pacific Islands, from Native American origins, and from Europe.
- We believe the earth is God’s and the fullness thereof. Therefore, we must care for the earth as though we are partners with God, because we are. Climate change is real, and it is a spiritual discipline to use our resources ― water, fuels, plants, and animals ― with tender care. We must reverse the damage done to our planet by our greed and carelessness.
- We believe the Spirit of God came upon Jesus (Luke 4) and gave him power to liberate the captives. Therefore, we stand against the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration, which warehouses the children of God. We must think about restorative justice, and rescue our children who are imprisoned as adults.
- We believe there is no such right as manifest destiny, nor a Doctrine of Discovery, presuming the ability of Europeans to take land already occupied by human beings. The creation of borders to enhance the coffers of the rich has led to outrageous and inhumane treatment of immigrants and refugees. Therefore, we support DACA and DAPA and stand against ICE raids that separate families.
- We believe God speaks many languages to God’s people, so they might know God fully and be reconciled to each other and to their Creator. Therefore, we stand against Antisemitism, Islamaphobia, and Xenophobia. We are called to love the stranger, because we were all once strangers in a strange land. Our Christian faith calls us to imagine God at work in every place, in every way, by every and all means necessary.
- We believe that Jesus spoke volumes about money. We believe that all of God’s children everywhere should have food on the table, a warm and safe place to live, affordable health care, and resources enough to have abundant life. In other words, everyone should have enough. There are resources enough for it to be so and we stand against any prosperity gospel or theology that increases the wealth of the very few while the masses go hungry.
- We believe any personal relationship with Jesus Christ must include liberation for those who are suffering. None of us are saved until all of us are saved.
- We believe that in every age the Church will have to wrestle with what it means to be faithful today. This is what it means to be disciples. Ours is a living faith; God is still speaking.
In conclusion, we believe in the power of revolutionary love as a force to heal our souls and the world. We believe all of creation is groaning, like a woman in childbirth, waiting for the children of God to show ourselves. We believe these challenging times are birthing pains. And we are urging all who call on the name of God to show ourselves, to stand for justice, to stand on the side of Love.
Really? Another public here-I-stand “statement” that claims to set the record straight once and for all on a sensitive and complex issue our planet is dealing with? What is it with American Evangelicals and Fundamentalists?
WE AFFIRM that God, having given us minds, rejoices when we use them.
WE DENY that God intended Scripture to relieve us of this responsibility.
WE AFFIRM that Scripture, by God’s wisdom, was written by actual people in actual historical contexts for actual contextual reasons, and that such contexts are central to proper biblical understanding and application.
WE DENY that Scripture, which reflects the wisdom of the Creator, is simply sitting there waiting to be used irrespective of its various contexts.
WE AFFIRM that humans, who are created in God’s image, who are endowed with powers of reason, analysis, and an irrepressible curiosity, have thereby made enormous strides in understanding the cosmos, the nature of humanity, and the wonders of the world around us, and that many who have contributed to these strides are fellow believers in Jesus.
WE DENY that Scripture when handled in willful isolation from or dismissal of such strides is “faithful” or pleasing to the Creator.
WE AFFIRM that the Christian faith, though a broadly unified and distinct tradition, is both historically and globally not monolithic in its expression, and that therefore true Godly wisdom is found in humility and dialogue among the manifold voices of the Christian faith.
WE DENY that (though it’s a free country) a small number of largely white males living in one moment of the human drama are in a place to make statements that claim abiding normativity for all Christians for all time.
WE AFFIRM that all our theological utterances, because we are not God but mere humans, are contextually generated and bounded.
WE DENY that any of our theological utterances can claim “plain fact” neutrality, and therefore reflect unfiltered the Divine mind.
WE AFFIRM that human experience is rich and complex, presents us with numerous ambiguities, and therefore defies simple categorization.
WE DENY that the Creator has assigned to us the task of sorting out and simplifying the richness and complexities of the human drama.
WE AFFIRM that the binaries of Genesis 1 (which includes animals restricted to living on land, in the sea, or in the air) reflect—by the will and wisdom of God—ancient, ideal conceptions of cosmic order.
WE DENY that the binaries of Genesis 1 “teach” that amphibians, mammals that fly, live in the ocean, or lay eggs, or any other creatures of God’s creation that do not fit the Genesis 1 binary, are outside of God’s wise design.
WE AFFIRM that God is the infinite and inscrutable Creator, which is itself affirmed in Scripture, and therefore we should be careful to claim to be speaking for God as if nothing could be more obvious.
WE DENY that God’s voice is easily replicated in our own.
WE AFFIRM that public statements are largely written for the already convinced, are therefore belligerent by design, too often passive-aggressive in tone, and therefore are a colossal waste of time, not to mention make it that much more difficult for others to bear witness to Jesus.
WE DENY that Jesus is rooting for us to write more statements.
Pete Enns, Lansdale, PA (white male)
My dogs, Gizmo, Miley, and Stassi
My cats, Snowy, Marmalade, and Baron
My rabbit, Thumper
I’m sure a lot of other people.
It is ironic and possibly prophetic that the Nashville Statement (NS) was published the very same day that I released a short film on LGBT people in the church titled Dear Church: I’m Gay. I think these two “statements” represent two brands of evangelical approaches to questions about faith, sexuality & gender. [Yes, and, there are more brands of “evangelical.”] These two brands overlap quite a bit; they both agree that marriage is between a man and a woman and that all sexual relations outside this type of marriage covenant are sin. That’s a big overlap. However, there are many differences in tone, rhetoric, and how to go about this whole conversation. In some ways, the Nashville Statement brought these differences to light.
Let me dive in with some pros and cons regarding this statement after I make two quick caveats. First, I was not aware of the NS until about 3 days after it was published. I wasn’t asked to participate in its formation, nor did anyone on the list let me know that such a thing was happening. While I find some things positive with the statement, I have not and will not sign the NS. I’ll explain why below.
Second, everything I say below are my personal reflections and do not represent The Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender as a whole. At The Center, we want to foster healthy diversity within a historically Christian perspective on marriage and sexuality. I’ve told my board members and other collaborators that they are completely free to form their own thoughts on the NS. In fact, several people who have signed the NS have also endorsed me or The Center’s work, and I’m eternally grateful for their gracious remarks. In the near future, The Center will probably release a more formal statement of where we stand in relation to the NS. Until then, here are some personal thoughts. Let’s start with the positives.
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.)
I also value the wonderful contributions to the kingdom that many of the signers have made. Several people who signed the document have shaped my heart and thinking in ways that words cannot express. These names—friends, mentors, even heroes—have fueled my passion for the gospel more than they realize, even if I’ve arrived at some theological conclusions on other issues that they may not find as compelling as I do.
So, what problems do I have with this statement? Hang on, there are many.
[While many may disagree with Sprinkle’s content, I applaud his tone and careful approach. There is potential for true redemptive movement, and conversation, and it is a shame that Sprinkle’s influence is not wider within the fundamental strains of evangelicalism.]
When I first read this statement (and I’ve read it several times now) several flags flew up in my mind. Most of them were caution flags. A few of them were bright red. The red ones have to do with the relational benefit of the statement as a whole.
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 I would take issue with the terms “truth” and “grace” in this context. There are many “untruths” in the statement, as I attempt to point out above.] 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.
[I wish to point out again, that the problem with this approach (as I’ve written about elsewhere) is that this paragraph communicates disdain for the gay individual. Calling them “a sinner” is akin to “loving the sinner, hating the sin,” which is spiritually abusive, and condemnatory. So, while I agree that “We’ve generally failed at loving those who fall short of that truth,” I would say that we’ve generally failed at understanding “truth” in the first place.]
In short, I’m not sure how helpful an impersonal statement is in a conversation that’s been so destructively impersonal. We need more conversations and authentic relationships; and we need less statements.
I was also unimpressed with the outdated and impersonal terms used throughout the statement—specifically, homosexual and transgenderism. Maybe it’s a minor point, but whenever I hear someone use these terms, it shows that they haven’t really kept up with the discussion, or they’ve only been listening to one side of it. The terms aren’t wrong; they’re just impersonal and outdated. It’s like walking into an I.T. department and asking about the latest floppy disk.
What’s perhaps most troubling about this statement—the 14 articles—is what’s missing. I have several quibbles and some disagreements with what’s actually stated. We’ll get to those below. But I’m more troubled by what’s missing than what’s actually stated. For instance, nowhere does it say:
- WE AFFIRM that evangelicalism has not treated LGBT+ people with kindness, compassion, and relational delight. Rather, we have cultivated a culture of isolation, fear, and turned a blind eye to dehumanizing rhetoric, relationships toward our brothers and sisters wrestling with their faith, sexuality or gender identity.
- WE AFFIRM that singling out LGBT+ people as particularly grievous sinners—while, for instance, a porn epidemic rages on in the church—is itself a horrifically hypocritical posture. And Jesus would have opened up the can on such pharisaical arrogance.
- WE AFFIRM that Christians everywhere should confront any form of bullying toward LGBT+ people. The Church should be on the front lines against injustices committed against LGBT+ people who are created in God’s image.
- WE DENY that gay or transgender jokes are acceptable Christian behavior and should be confronted by Christian leaders everywhere.
- WE AFFIRM that the conversation about faith, sexuality and gender is just that—a conversation, and a complex one that cannot be summed up in bullet point conclusions.
- WE AFFIRM that the evangelical aversion to singleness and it’s idolatry of marriage has created a horrible environment for the millions of single, gay, Christians pursuing celibacy in the church. One cannot flourish by just saying no to gay sex. We all must be able to say yes to love and intimacy, yet many (most? Almost all?) single, gay Christians have not experienced such intimacy and love in the church.
- WE REPENT from creating a heteronormative church culture that inevitably ostracizes Christians wrestling with their sexuality or gender identity.
And on and on I could go. The NS seems very one-sided to me. [It doesn’t “seem”…] 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. [Give me the research, please. Pew’s Survey of LGBT Americans is a good starting point, but does not reference these numbers.] 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.
Back to my problem with statements as a whole. I’m much more concerned about the biblical, theological, and scientific evidence that presumably led to the stated claims of the NS rather than the expressed conclusions. (I mean, is anyone really shocked that the architects and signers of this document believe these things? I’m surprised this statement made the news.) That is, I’m just as interested in why people believe what they do, not just what they believe. But the statement does not talk about evidence or research or arguments, only conclusions. And this omission is very important.
For example, I know that several of the signers have publicly argued that the biblical story of Sodom, where the entire male population of the ancient city tried to gang rape two angels, provides sound evidence that homosexuality is sin. I personally have never met a gay person who was oriented toward gang raping angelic beings. In any case, drawing a straight line from Sodom to a 13-year-old kid who experiences same-gender love is, I would argue, pastorally destructive and will shape the way you approach the LGBT+ conversation and, most importantly, LGBT+ people. None of this is explicitly expressed in the NS, but it forms the roots of the statement. Like any good gardener (or theologian), I’m deeply concerned about the roots.
I’m also concerned about the purpose of signing a document. Honestly, the whole enterprise of having people sign a document, which will presumably help ensure orthodoxy, is uninteresting to me. And it’s deeply uninteresting for a generation hungering for conversation, dialogue, authenticity, and nuance. Signing a document doesn’t ensure orthodoxy; never has, and never will—especially in the 21st century. [Nice.]
I’m perhaps most concerned with what statements like this do for the scandal of the evangelical mind—to quote Mark Noll’s insightful book (the content of which still rings true). Statements give short answers; they don’t engage deep questions. I fear that one of the main problems in evangelicalism isn’t that we don’t know how to give short answers—and the evidence for those answers is typically optional—but that we don’t know how to engage deep questions with clarity, thoughtfulness, and grace. I greatly fear that signing this statement will give people a false sense of security in their beliefs without doing the hard work of studying, thinking, listening, listening, listening, and learning.
That is, this statement won’t help you when your son says:
“Mom, dad—I’m gay.”
“Well, son, you know, your mother and I have signed this statement about your ‘enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality’, and we want you to sign off on these 14 articles…”
We need to stop giving thin answers to thick questions. The LGBT+ conversation is saturated with thick questions.
There is much more I could say about the statement on a general level. But let me dive in to some of the specific articles.
I can agree with Articles 1-3, though I would definitely word them differently. Since we have much to discuss with the other articles, let’s keep moving.
Article 4 is mostly true. Male and female differences are divinely ordained and not a result of the Fall. However, gender expression and conception is tied up with societal expectations which are fraught with sin. Many beliefs about what constitutes gender difference do not come straight from the Bible, but from culture—a culture that contains sinful structures. For instance, 21st century America, it’s expected that men—real men—love sports, don’t cry, and will use violence against one’s enemies. Many Christians have adopted this cultural expectation of gender, even though Jesus cried, didn’t play sports, and never used violence against his enemies. As my friend Nate Pyle has shown in his well-written book Man Enough, most of our expectations for maleness come from culture not from the Bible, and certainly not from Jesus, the perfect embodiment of true maleness. In short, article 4 is basically true but needs many more footnotes—one of the many problems that come from giving thin answers to thick questions.
Article 5 is more or less true, but again, suffers from abstract language and oversimplification. Before I agree with this article, I’d need to sit down with its authors over a beer (or probably a coke) and have a long talk about what they mean by “self-conception as male and female.” If my wife pursues a career or doesn’t want to have kids or is called to pastoral ministry, is she violating her “reproductive structures?” You laugh (some of you did, anyway) but I really need to know what they mean, since I believe so strongly in authorial intention. I’m worried that if some of the statement’s signers see my wife driving our car with me in the passenger seat, I might get confronted for failing to live out my biological reproductive system.
I believe that gender cannot be separated from biology. But what gender conception and expression looks like on the ground is quite complicated and requires a discussion not a statement.
Article 6 is straight forward and I obviously agree with it. It’s so straight forward that I’m wondering why it even needs to be stated. To include it as one of the top 14 articles on sexuality and gender, when many of the other articles seem to be polemically stated against an opposing view, feels a little odd. Does anyone really deny that intersex persons aren’t created in God’s image? Maybe I run in different theological circles, but I’ve literally never heard a single person say this. It’s like saying, “WE AFFIRM that Asian-Americans fully possess the image of God and can live joyful lives Him.” Well sure, but do we need to say this as if it’s questionable? Maybe in 1942, but now?
I see several problems with Article 7. What does “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception” mean? There’s been a debate within evangelicalism about whether nonaffirming people who experience attraction to the same sex should identify as gay. There are many original signers of the NS that have taken a very hard line against ever adopting the term “gay Christian”—even if the person believes in a traditional view of marriage. Personally, I’ve sided with people like Wes Hill, Ron Belgau, Nate Collins, Greg Coles, and many others who passionately believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but who also feel that identifying as gay is not incompatible with the gospel. But picking a side here is not really the point. My deep concern is that the NS is drawing a very narrow circle here and excluding many evangelical sisters and brothers who are passionately pursuing Jesus and upholding a traditional view of marriage and sexuality, and yet have been excluded from the brand of evangelicalism demanded by this statement. (Yes, I carefully chose the word “demanded” because that’s what statements like this do; they demand adherence—not buts, brakes, footnotes, or fine-print.)
I’m also concerned once again about the ambiguity of “transgender self-conception.” I have so many questions about what this means—questions that statements like this aren’t designed to facilitate. Does “transgender self-conception” rule out women who prefer jeans over dresses? What does it mean for people who experience gender dysphoria? Does it just refer to those who publicly identify as transgender, or those who don’t resonate with cultural expectations of what maleness or femaleness look like? What if they experience a cross-gender self-conception but identify as gender queer? What if they identify as gender fluid and not transgender, but what they really mean is that they love art more than martial arts?
I could go on and on. For what it’s worth, I’ve spent many hours reading books and articles on gender, gender dysphoria, a transgender experience, the biology and sociology of sex and gender, and other related topics; and I’ve spent many hours talking with (and learning from) my transgender or gender-queer friends. All I can say is that this specific conversation is ten times more complicated than most people realize, and a thousand times more complicated than article 7 makes it out to be.
I pretty much agree with Article 8. I do wonder if the second part is suggesting that same sex attraction is sin—another debated issue within evangelicalism. I know that at least some of the architects hold to this position.
When I read Article 9, which uses the phrase “enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality,” I immediately thought: does this rule out the 60-70% of Christians who are addicted to porn? Certainly, this constitutes an “enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality.” I really hope the people rushing to sign this article aren’t just thinking about people other than themselves.
Article 9 seems to reflect the American Psychological Association’s well-known definition of sexual orientation as: “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes.” Are the authors of the NS reducing same-sex orientation to “an enduring pattern of desire for sexuality immorality?” If so, I have significant problems with this, and so do many of my non-affirming gay Christian friends. Again, knowing that some of the primary architects of the NS hold to this view—that same-sex orientation can be reduced to a desire for immoral sex and is therefore a constant morally culpable sin—leads me to assume that article 9 is more or less making this claim. Which is one way to read Romans 1 and Matthew 5, I guess. I disagree with this interpretation for several reasons, but let’s have that conversation. This article shuts it down.
Article 10. I don’t like the way this article is worded. Anytime you “ism” somebody, you’re prone to simplify their existence. What do the authors mean by “approving of transgenderism?” Before I could ever sign off on this statement, I’d need to have a long conversation with the authors to figure out what they mean by this (rather clinical and impersonal) phrase. Transgenderism. I’d much rather talk about transgender people and their diverse experiences and claims.
Article 11 seems fine to me.
Article 12 sounds great; however, knowing some of the other statements about sexual orientation (noted above), I do wonder if the “sinful desires” that can be put to death include same-sex orientation—and again, some of the primary architects hold to this view. If this is what is meant, then this can only mean that if a Christian is still gay (or same-sex attracted), then they are living in sin and not letting God’s grace do its work. I personally find this to be theologically wrong, psychologically naïve, pastorally destructive, and ultimately leads down the dark alley of reparative therapy. And we all know how that goes.
Article 13. Whoa, okay, I really need some clarity about the phrase “self-conception.” What exactly do the authors expect from a person who has an accurate “self-conception” of themselves as male or female? Again, knowing the CBMW’s very conservative view on gender roles, this article raises tons of red flags in my mind. At the very least, I’m pretty sure no evangelical egalitarian could sign this.
Article 14 is a beautiful statement.
Again, I stand with the authors and signers of this statement in affirming and promoting the historically Christian view of marriage, sexual expression, and the basic connection between biological sex and gender identity. But I do believe that they’ve gone about this all wrong and it will tarnish the church’s already tarnished reputation with LGBT+ people. While we absolutely need to celebrate and promote Christianity’s historic view of marriage and sexual expression, I believe we need to do so much more thoughtfully and much more holistically—pounding the pulpit for truth and grace. And we always and everywhere need to humanize this conversation, cherishing and celebrating the humanity, dignity, and worth of LGBT+ people.
Here is a recent attempt to do this. This is my Nashville “Statement.” Launch the video by clicking [this link].
[Sprinkle raises some good questions, and his theological premises are overtly stated, so there’s not much else to comment on here. I’ll interact more in my critical review of his book People To Be Loved.]