The “Nashville Statement”, just released on August 29, 2017, is a brief and captivating read from a host of evangelical Christian representatives. You should check it out for yourself, preferably before you read all the bad press about it. If you are like me, you’ll find this document interesting, because it seems to have upset all the right people; or should I say, all the left people.
Don’t expect fireworks, though, in the text. They aren’t there. It’s entirely unsurprising orthodoxy. It’s basically a traditional evangelical statement on same-sex practice, same-sex marriage, sexual immorality, and gender-identity. The fireworks emerge elsewhere, in the media firestorm that it’s sparked. Critics are labeling it “shameful,” “harmful,” and “hate speech.”
Despite the bad press, I am honestly refreshed to see what it actually says, as opposed to the exaggerated and villainous interpolations offered by it’s enemies.
If we have the patience to sidestep the reactionary smokescreen, and just read it for what is says, and only what it says, then you may find as I did, that it’s worst offenses are illusory; frightful shadows that do not reflect any evil in these pages, but only the jagged backlit reflection from the angry mobs themselves. The real danger is not in the biblical prescriptions for gender, sexuality, and family. The real danger is the sin nature within all of us. The most tempting evils are the one’s we already want to believe, the one’s we wish were true, and good, and beautiful.
So, I appreciate the Nashville Statement. I signed it. It shows a careful reconciling tone, balancing precise and principled statements of biblical Christianity within its fourteen articles, as well as the emphasizing the main thing, the gospel. They do not impose any heirarchy ranking same-sex relations worse than other sexual sins. We are all fallen, gay and straight alike. We all need Jesus, whatever our struggles may be.
This document reads like a simple, clear, conservative statement on family values. It’s brief, a mere three pages not counting the signatures. And it affirms and asserts what has been the dominant, traditional, and historic position of evangelical Christianity across church history. That part isn’t surprising.
Neither is the “liberal” backlash surprising. In today’s political climate we have a true example of “global warming.” Partisan politics has raised the temperature. There’s racial violence, backlash against police, public rioting, hate-groups clashing with authoritarians in the streets. Democrats and republicans are fighting across the aisles like they always have. But they’ve been fighting in-house too. And don’t forget the outhouse fighting; over gendered bathrooms. Tensions are high already. It’s not surprising at all to find that the recent shift in public opinion on LGBTQ issues has left many people with raw nerves.
What is surprising, however, is the degree of grace and tact employed throughout the statement. When nerves are raw, people are easily pained. A delicate touch is necessary, and even then, it still hurts. But felt pain does not always mean harm. Surgery hurts too. The trouble is in telling the difference between a knife-wielding maniac and a scalpel-wielding surgeon. If our only clue to “good” and “bad” is our feelings, then we would never be able to tell when a principle is operating surgically on our worldview to help and heal, as opposed to sharp and cutting language stabbing us recklessly. It does not take much from biblical evangelicals to spark a pain response from the easily grieved. Yet we have the biblical and Christian duty to wield the truth with skill and accuracy, and bounded on all sides with the love of Christ. We dare not advance except on the dual track of truth and love. We must aim to be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves, speaking with gentleness and respect, and loving others as Christ has first love us.
Fortunately, this statement, I think, does a good job of phrasing these difficult points with care and balance. Perhaps with ministry-minded Christians, this statement can be administered in healing ways. A little grace and a lot of wisdom can go a long way in sustaining healing conversations.
I encourage you to read the statement for yourself. It’s presented below in it’s entirety, without any internal commentary, or any textual editing so you can see for yourself what all the controversy is about.]
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. 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. 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 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?
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. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.
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. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. 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.
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.
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.
WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.
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.
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.
WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 image-bearers 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.
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.
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.
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.
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10 thoughts on “What is so surprising about the Nashville Statement?”
It’s not representative or inclusive of Christianity as a whole, it doesn’t bring to the table Catholic, Methodist, Lutheran, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, etc. leaders, it didn’t have a seat reserved for prominent LGBTQ christian leaders, I mean, it wouldn’t have been that different from the church putting out a statement about Biblical Slavery back when they used the Bible that way. It was drafted in an echo chamber, a bubble that has little care about the ramifications.
But I’ve read accounts of parents who kicked out their LGBTQ teenagers in the name of Christ’s love, of parents who cut-off their kids in every way, of kids who sold themselves on the streets for a meal, and of Christian kids who routinely attempt suicide in order to keep them from sinning in this way and be tormented in Hell forever because once they do sin they’ll lose any chance at heaven.
Have a heart, put yourself in the shoes of the various members of the LGBTQ communitiy, imagine yourself an object of God’s wrath, despised by his church – and read again these affirmations and denials – imagine that they apply to you in every way. Try to see it with their eyes and feel it with their heart. My thought is that Jesus would embrace these who are the least and that we should, too.
Jamie, I’m sorry you feel that way. I’m glad this document does not instruct or condone the shunning of one’s children, or bullying, assault or any hateful, mean, and abusive behaviors. I’m also glad that this document shows real and thoughtful awareness of the history of this issue in biblical Christian thought, as opposed to the popular trends today. The church is a historic institution and not just a modern one. To speak collectively for the church does, of course, mean generalizing to some degree. The church rarely unites entirely in wording and belief. However, there’s no strong diversity of opinion on LGBTQ issues until fairly recently. Individuals who struggle in that area deserve love, and genuine reconciliation efforts–per the truths expressed in this document–and they need forgiveness from God just like all of us do.
Doesn’t it strike you as callous to not include: “you really shouldn’t cut-off your sinning children, you shouldn’t cast them out, you shouldn’t abandon them.”? They might not instruct people to do those things, but they don’t instruct them not to, either.
Jamie, why would you think family shunning is encouraged or even permitted? That behavior sounds terrible, and contradictory to the healing and transformative spirit of the Gospel. Truth without love is a distortion of the Gospel. I think you might be importing some unwarranted assumptions into your reading of the Nashville statement. I don’t want to be heavy handed though. I do admit that many Christians have not handled this issue well AT ALL. And many Christians have sinned egregiously when it comes to sexual sins and gender identity issues. This statement doesn’t sound to me like what you are describing. I can see, however, why it would offend people who don’t believe key biblical teachings about same sex relations and gender ambiguity.
Do you remember Jesus famously preaching on gender differences and marital roles, with his disciples gathered around him and women all over the place hanging on his every word? What did Jesus say about homosexuality and how we as believers should respond? You’ll find little in the red letters that are specifically answer questions related to that topic. Jesus was dealing with issues in his culture and his day and age. He gave us a few guidelines about how we ought to live at peace with others – but Christians aren’t doing a great job of following those instructions.
Jamie, before responding, I do want to affirm what I take to be good intentions on your part. There have been lots of abuses on the part of Bible believing church folks. And EVEN IF WE GRANT that same sex-relations and gender fluidity, we Christians still have plenty to apologize for and confess because we have not always manifested the love of Christ, and done our due diligence to offer reconciliation, healing, and community for those who are willing. We are not adequately representing the Gospel if we offer only condemnation for sin, but no grace for salvation, if we have only a preoccupation with sexual practice and no focus on the unique history and needs of the individual; if we have only fear and scorn instead of love for those who are willing to grow in sanctification within the the community of believers. Only a small part of reconciliation involves focusing on some particular sin-issue. Most of the work of reconciliation is in love, community, trust-building, gestures of healing and understanding.
Jamie, with that context in place (my last comment) I’d like to address what you last said.
It sounds like you’re making an argument from silence (i.e., “Jesus didn’t speak on X, therefore X is permitted”). But there’s more in Scripture against same-sex relations than there is against polygamy, incest, and several other sexual sins, and Jesus overall affirms the moral law as it’s sustained within the pre-Moses, Mosaic, and post-Mosaic era.The overall message of Scripture such as Genesis 19 (pre-Mosaic law), Leviticus 20 (Mosaic law), Romans 1-2 (post-mosaic law), and elsewhere indicate that same-sex relations with concomitant gender-fluidity are wrong. Scripture, at face value, aligns with the nearly universal moral and legal taboo against same-sex relations. The normal meaning of Scripture teaches that same-sex relations are clearly wrong. With this reference in place, we can then see what all is included when Jesus says:
“17 ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'” (Matthew 5:17-20; ESV).
I’m familiar with the many volumes of liberal theology trying to create a wedge in the text. There is some clarity from those sources, but more often than not, they commit a kind of cultural imperialism treating modern social trends as the arbiter of what the text of Scripture is allowed to mean. In that regard, I’d commend to you the work of Robert Gagnon on this issue (“the Bible and Homosexual Practice”) if you have not already read some of his work.
So, if we conclude in ambiguity and a historical reversal when it comes to prominent and oft-repeated teachings in Scripture, then we are blurring even worse the biblical prohibitions that are less clear or less often prohibited, such as polygamy, incest, and some other sexual sins. To put it another way, once a biblical door is kicked down, there’s no guarantee that it can be shut again after we’ve let in just the “fashionable” behaviors we had in mind. The ugly, awful, and reprobate behaviors are equally permitted if we have only a loose and libertine view of Scripture in place, such as the “argument from silence” method you used. For example, a brother and sister can be loving adults, if an amorphous sense of “love” justifies sexual relations then incest is okay. If a 40-year-old man and a 16 year-old girl love each other, and the parent’s consent, then pedophilia is permitted insofar as “love is love” is the height of our sexual ethic. And so on. This is the slippery slope we’re sliding down once we’ve toppled the biblical boundaries that were set up to keep us from the crash at the bottom. Those guardrails are not obstacles to hurdle, they are safety measures for our own protection.
I became critical after seeing some initial signatories have a couple statements to the effect of “if you don’t agree, understand this was done in love and compassion” without expressing willingness to engage in dialogue with those that disagree (although I have had good dialogue with them), and “the truth is always compassionate”. Then I read the statement. I agree it largely reflects orthodox views of Christian sexual ethics specifically as it relates to homosexuality/transgenderism. My initial concern – which I formed before reading all the critics – is rooted in my personal belief that if something is loving or good, you don’t need to say that it is – let the words, works or evidence speak for themselves, or at least attempt to make a case or have a discussion when the loving intent isn’t self evident to those who may be reading it. I think saying something like “the truth is always compassionate” is dangerous because it gives the audience license to use words without additional consideration for how to speak in love. My other main concern is the lack of who this is addressed to and the intended purpose. I’ll take in good faith John Piper’s words here as a good purpose/audience: “And it will prove to be, I believe, enormously helpful for thousands of pastors and leaders hoping to give wise, biblical, and gracious guidance to their people.” (http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/precious-clarity-on-human-sexuality). I think it becomes more problematic when addressed to the church as a whole, or to all of society. There are much better biblical methods for that than schismatic manifestos. I see dissimilarities as well when compared to other creeds/doctrines – again primarily around audience/purpose if this was intended to have a broad audience. I have other concerns about the statement itself, but I’ve found those best expressed by Alastair Roberts – a signer of the Statement (https://alastairadversaria.com/2017/09/01/on-the-nashville-statement-and-my-signing-of-it/). In the end, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I should learn to be proactive about praying for and living out what I see as missed opportunities here – not spending too much time “reacting”.
Craig, thank you for reading and commenting. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts here.
If I understand you correctly we agree in part, and we disagree in part. I’m not sure I understand why you would say, “if something is loving or good, you don’t need to say that it is.” It seems odd that we need not verbally promote things that are good or true (or beautiful). Should we not verbally promote truth and goodness, as well as live out those things. The verbal aspect helps clarify the testimony of our lives. If we live lovingly, we help testify (in a round-about way) to the Gospel truth, but that testimony can be vague and unclear. We may look the same as Mormons, or an ethical atheist. If we don’t verbalize truth, then we can live a powerful testimony dull and unclear. Am I understanding you correctly?
As for the phrase “schismatic manifestos,” you may be right in a technical sense. Declaring the normal teaching of the Christian church for the last 2000 years does polarize schismatic groups. We should never be eager or quick to divide the fellowship of believers, especially ones who agree on central teachings about soteriology, christology, or theology proper. But, in my view, this statement is a long overdue clarification on a matter that’s very important in social policy, family life, membership issues, Christian counseling, discipleship training, and relational ministry. It’s somewhat akin to a Christian creed (although it’s not really an ecumenical statement in its scope). The church does need to calibrate its moral compass sometimes when it comes to interpretive issues where some factions are veering from the historic teaching of the church. This kind of statement can help stabilize some churches that were creeping into hyperfundamentalism, but now they see they were going too far in reactionism. And for other churches, it can pull them back from hyperliberalism, reminding them of biblical Christian basics that are as blurry and questioanble as some of the liberal “scholarship” may have led them to believe.
Furthermore, I think many many Christians have been bending over backwards to love and accommodate people who disagree with historic teaching on this issue. And while there are also some loudmouth idiots (Fred Phelps) who claim Christ in their words and deny Him with their life, those blowhards do not get to decide whether we can or cannot speak on important issues of truth. We still have a vitally important role for principled doctrinal stances like the Nashville statement.
Thank you for this faithful witness. I have prayed for each of you and for every faithful Christian, that we might find courage to continue to proclaim the truth in love. Andrew Wright