I waffle back and forth between anger and uncontrollable laughter at the Nashville Statement. Anger, because it is so spectacularly tone deaf. Laughter, because it is so spectacularly tone deaf.
Nothing prompted the Nashville Statement except the same old impending, post-Christian apocalypse already upon us, driven by the spirit of the secular age. In other words, there was no particular driving force except everyday evangelical paranoia. I mention this only because there are several other things that immediately come to mind as more timely for evangelicals to address.
How about a statement against white supremacy, what with this year’s national displays of xenophobia and racism culminating in white supremacists marching in the streets and feeding off the President’s forgiving words? Or speaking of the President, perhaps a statement against the many sexual sins he embodies? Surely, if it’s always timely to make broad, sweeping statements of judgment about sexuality, this year — when many in the evangelical church actively support a serial, unrepentant adulterer, fornicator, accused rapist, and sexist — would be a great year to chastise the church’s departure from the traditional Christian (hetero)sexual ethic.
Or if evangelicals must publicly state something about homosexuality, why not address all the grieving, estranged LGBTQ+ Christians whose “loving” families abandoned them, ridiculed them, and persecuted them? Why not apologize for the many ways the traditional Christian sexual ethic has been wielded as a weapon rather than as a healing? Why not acknowledge the high suicidal rate among transgender kids? Why not finally take the pastoral stance this issue desperately needs?
Of course, this is an oft-repeated criticism of the evangelical church — why are you always talking about homosexuality as the chief of all cultural evils when there are so many evils to choose from? But I will repeat it: Why, evangelical church, are you always talking about homosexuality as the chief of all cultural evils when there are so many evils to choose from? Even if you believe in the traditional sexual ethic, why is it that two gay Christians in a loving relationship is cataclysmically destructive in a way rampant divorce, adultery, white supremacy, abuse, and hateful rhetoric are not?
Yes, the breakdown of the family is alarming. But it should not be controversial to say that parents shunning their gay children, transgender kids committing suicide, husbands abusing their wives under a divine mandate, authoritarian parenting, porn use, infidelity, an adulterer-in-chief — those sorts of heterosexual sins are breaking down the family in a way gay marriage and transgender identity cannot and will not.
Like I said, when I first heard about the Nashville Statement, I wanted to laugh. The actual evangelical church — not to mention the church at large — is not particularly interested in hearing the same old stance against homosexuality. They’re more caught up in discussions of race, leaders trading their moral authority for political affluence, and the Christian machine’s destruction against those who disagree on secondary issues.
The Nashville Statement is thus wholly irrelevant to conversations and concerns that are most pressing or should be most pressing to the American church in its current political, sociocultural, and historical context.
Then again, I’m not surprised at its irrelevancy. Its callousness, poor timing, and ignorance of the concerns of real people who actually struggle with being a person of color or gay or gender dysphoric in the church is not a coincidence.
The statement was named after the location of its drafting, in the footsteps of historic articulations of orthodoxy like the Nicene Creed. The hubris of even daring to associate the Nashville Statement with the likes of the Nicene Creed shows an appalling ignorance about orthodoxy.
For one thing, all historic articulations of orthodox faith were ecumenical. The whole church got together and hashed out their differences with the hope that the Holy Spirit would guide them. There was an understanding that the truest devotion to Christian orthodoxy could not be accomplished by one church alone but by the whole, catholic Church. This is true from the very beginning, when the apostles met to discuss issues of inclusion and moral practice back in Acts 15.
There is nothing like that about the Nashville Statement — no wrestling, no invitation or openness to hear what God might doing in the LGBTQ+ Christian community, no input from those who disagree. There was nothing at all surprising about the Nashville Statement: it repeated the same poorly articulated fundamentalist party line about sexuality, with the intention of drawing a line between its adherents and its dissenters.
It’s backwards from how the church has operated when defining things as orthodox: first, the drafters of the Nashville Statement articulated what orthodoxy is; then, they issued it to the larger church to deal with.
This “sign your name” style of orthodoxy only further divides a divided, uninformed church catholic. The fact that there are counterstatements popping up around the internet, also articulating the one and only stance on Christian sexuality and inviting signatures from laypeople and clergy alike, demonstrates how ultimately ineffective the Nashville Statement was as an attempt to clarify orthodoxy once and for all.
But it’s not really about orthodoxy, is it? It’s not about rallying the church catholic to truth or inviting the LGBTQ+ community into wholeness and healing. Those who signed the Nashville Statement thinking such were sorely deceived. As president of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood explicitly stated, it’s about division. It’s about drawing lines in the sand.
It’s the classic evangelical obsession of reducing Christianity to who’s in and who’s out.
But the current debate is not primarily about the traditional Christian sexual ethic versus the secular spirit of the age — the who’s in and the who’s out. The debate is about whether the effects of the traditional Christian sexual ethic and the articulation of the traditional Christian sexual ethic are consistent with Christ. There is a huge gulf between those who signed the Nashville Statement and those who didn’t — and it’s, surprisingly, not between those who support the traditional Christian sexual ethic and those who don’t.
The signers of the Nashville Statement talked about the doctrine itself (“beautiful” and “precious” were common adjectives). The dissenters, even if they agreed with the traditional Christian sexual ethic, talked about the ugliness, despair, burdening, and violence these views and the traditional way of expressing these views had on the LGBTQ+ community.
Jen Hatmaker sums up the real issue in a series of tweets: “If the fruit of doctrine regularly & consistently creates shame, self-harm, suicide, & broken hearts, families, & churches, we [should] listen. … If the natural end to a doctrine is not consistently leading to whole, healthy, vibrant lives in Christ, something is wrong with it.”
This is at the heart of the evangelical debate on LGBTQ+ issues.
The Nashville Statement fails to understand that debate. It dismisses out of hand that its precious, beautiful doctrine, as stated, is or could at all be partially or wholly responsible for LGBTQ+ suffering. It offers its doctrine as an unequivocal solution to LGBTQ+ pain, when the people closest to the pain are insisting the doctrine is the cause of that pain.
Because of this misunderstanding, the real losers are those who think the Nashville Statement’s exclusion will affect the church. The Nashville Statement drew so sharp a line in the sand that its adherents cut themselves off from the rest of the church still in the throes of this debate. By regurgitating a solution without understanding the problem, they made themselves irrelevant. Laughably, they think a small segment of conservative evangelicalism, already compromised in morals and principles, has the authority to determine orthodoxy for the entire church catholic. In their zeal to decide who’s in and who’s out, they have only made themselves the outsiders.
But the Nashville Statement has no authority — neither in actuality nor in reputation. And so the rest of the church will grow deeper in wisdom, love, and truth, while the Nashville Statement fades into obscurity.
The Nashville Statement is nothing more than people wanting to be right stating their beliefs in public with no desire to hear about the real life consequences their beliefs wreak on the weaker — just another clanging cymbal in a cacophony of irrelevancy.
Photo Credit: Religion News Service