The Nashville Statement, a recent document addressing human sexuality and gender, has been published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and is endorsed by several prominent and respected Evangelical Leaders, and for many of these servants of Christ and their work I give thanks to God. It is also true that the Articles of the Statement offer much that is good and it affirms and agrees with what is widely regarded to be an orthodox, Biblical position on the matters it seeks to address. I don’t think there’s anything in this Statement which is actually ‘new’ in regard to traditional and orthodox views on sexuality and marriage, with the possible exception that those who sign it are saying that those who disagree with them while seeking to maintain a Christian identity have denied the Faith. That has some very far-reaching implications.
My chief concerns surround the tone and context of the Nashville Statement, together with what it doesn’t address.
Its deficiencies arise from its most basic lack, a daily community, and its most basic purpose, looking to strengthen the culture war approach to Christianizing society.
First, the Statement shows very little pastoral empathy for those who daily face the issues it seeks to address. While it notes the need for love, there is little love evident in the language used. This is hardly surprising because such Statements are works that are crafted outside the context of caring communities of Christians where our members, our sons and daughters, fathers and mothers, nieces, nephews, and friends face the pain and suffering of sexual brokenness. We walk with these friends in the community of the Faithful Church, with our families and members in the hard places of facing our fallenness with the Gospel in Spirit and Truth. In my view, the Nashville Statement lacks empathy for people in pain, and it lacks a caring invitation to deal with doubt and fear by expressing only exacting certitude.
Secondly, the Statement does not adequately deal with the struggle people face with infertility in marriage. When procreation is the primary purpose of marriage, the consequent shaming of those who cannot bear children is hardly surprising. Those who wrote and signed this Statement would, I am sure, never wish to inflict such pain on infertile couples, but their silence on this issue demonstrates again a lack of pastoral thoughtfulness about these matters.
Thirdly, while noting chaste celibacy as the proper response of disciples of Jesus who continuously deal with same sex attraction and gender afflictions, the Statement says nothing about the cherished role of single men and women in the life of the Christian community. These may be people who have never married, or who are divorced or widowed. Merely saying that they are to be chaste is an inadequate description of their sacred calling as single members of the Family of Faith. Not to put too fine a point on it, but single men and women have played a crucial role in the development of the Church’s life and mission, and this unique calling should be acknowledged and celebrated.
Fourthly, article VII of the Statement appears to suggest that those who hold to a spiritual friendship position in regard to their personal identity are outside the boundaries of the Faith. This is deeply troubling to many faithful Christians who daily face same sex attraction and gender identity issues as they struggle towards sanctification and holiness with the rest of us who face altogether different temptations and afflictions.
Fifthly, the Statment does not deal sufficiently with the monumental physical, psychological, and spiritual struggle which is faced by those born with gender uncertainty due to physical differences. The intersexed and others have often suffered deeply, as have their families. This is no light matter and cannot be dismissed as easily as the Statement appears to suggest. Again, I do not believe the authors or signers lack such empathy in their personal ministries, but it is not something which is clear in the document itself.
Finally, I have serious misgivings about the intended audience of this Statement. Is the audience the Church at large? It says nothing new about what the Church has taught for centuries about marriage (the novelty belongs to those who seek to redefine marriage along the lines that run counter to the Statement’s faithful Affirmations). Is the audience the wider, unbelieving or skeptical culture? If so, it does nothing to further dialogue with those who disagree with our view and is likely to make such witness even more difficult.
In this regard, its timing could not have been more tone deaf. Would that these leaders were as united in a Statement refuting racism and bigotry after the violence and disruption of the Charlottesville marches, or calling on all to come to the aid of the victims of the recent flooding. There have been no Statements on Greed, Violence against Women, or, more positively, on Global Mission and Community Care. Instead, a large body of prominent Evangelical Leaders, some of whom I certainly call friends and colleagues, has decided to focus its rebuke and correction exclusively on the area of sexual brokenness, as though this is the most challenging matter for ministry in our world today. It is a matter which Christian culture warriors wish to focus on; while it is an issue about which the Church must remain Faithful to Scripture, living the Faith before a society that denies and suppresses the Truth, engaging in culture warfare only causes further hindrances to Gospel ministry.
While morality, like art, consists in drawing a line somewhere – as GK Chesterton correctly noted – one needs to be wise in how one communicates about such matters. Jesus saved his denunciations and woes for the religious leaders of his day rather than those broken by the sinister effects of the fall; he welcomed the broken and offered his healing. Unfortunately, I see little in this Statement that reflects the approach of Jesus. In my view, the Nashville Statement seems to cause an eclipse of the brightness of the Gospel by placing before the public something which obscures our witness rather than highlighting the message that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us.
In the wake of the SCOTUS decision two years ago (Obergfell), the C3 Session issued a statement reflecting the congregation’s doctrinal and pastoral position on same sex marriage. We followed this with a Pastoral letter on sexual holiness. These are being reissued today to remind our members where we stand on such issues, and how we stand with those who face these issues every day in our community of believers and doubters called the Church. Our work two years ago does not address the now controversial issues surrounding Gender, as these were not directly in view with the SCOTUS decision. I encourage you to read the Session document and the Pastoral letter, however, together with other wise pastoral and medical analysis concerning the issues surrounding Gender confusion.
I will not personally be signing the Nashville Statement because of the concerns I have noted above and because I have already taken vows to submit to and teach the Scriptures according to the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms. Those who would seek to pressure faithful Pastors to own more than their vows require are deeply mistaken in their attempt. Our standards are clear on the issues involved and I humbly affirm them as much today as when I did at the first. There is nothing in the highly developed and divine revelation sanctioned standards of Scripture about sexuality, marriage, or singleness that I question in any way; I also strongly affirm the Church’s call to proclaim Christ to our world rather than proclaim our standards to the world in such a way that we alienate the very people to whom we are sent in mission. As for our own mission, we at C3 we have issued the Franklin Statement: Worship One and Love All until Christ has first place in everything.
In closing, in order to highlight how the Statement fails to address the issues in the context of a caring church, I will direct you to some very moving words from one of our members, Anna Caudhill, who finds her herself deeply harmed by the Nashville Statement’s words. She is not alone. Anna’s words are used with her permission.
The grief of infertility is an ongoing journey. That’s ok-it keeps me coming back to God because I can’t for a minute lean on my own understanding there. I’m embarrassed anyone would think there was a need for multiplying words in a creed like this. Why now? Why these words? Was anyone in the evangelical community really thinking that maybe their public position wasn’t clear?Given that the LGBTQ community is the focus of these words, did anyone crafting this statement consider the damage to people born with ambiguous/absent/intersexed genitalia, or people with conditions that so affected them as to cause doctors to assign a gender to them based on what physically was available, regardless of DNA, or infertility? I can name nearly 50 folks fitting these descriptors off the top of my head.
And please don’t tell me that Fu’s friend from the foster home, born intersexed and placed for adoption by his birth family precisely because of that, who took hormones and had painful surgeries with no Mama or Daddy to hold his hand and sit by his hospital bed or snuggle him close as he endured round after round of hormone treatment, is in sin because of his body.
Do you have any idea how many times we feel like we’re “less than” because of careless words like these?
These words are not constructed to affirm Scripture and things that are good and perfect gifts from God or to call forth God’s holiness in Image-Bearers. They’re crafted to say that this group of people believes a set of things because of their understanding of Scripture, to the specifically intended exclusion of many, and the unintended exclusion or shaming of many others. Seriously. If you had ANY idea how many times people felt “called” to lay hands on my belly and spontaneously pray, or to prophesy in the food court of the mall how I would become pregnant and give birth to a beautiful baby by such and such a date, or to tell me that as soon as we adopted I would pop up pregnant for sure, or the times I’ve been asked what sin I think happened in my life or in my family to result in God’s judgement on us this way, or how in Israel God’s judgement was infertility and if we just turned back to God it would still change even today…
Is there any part of drafting and signing a statement like this, which shames and judges and wounds, that has to do with loving our neighbors as ourselves? Our job here isn’t to constantly affirm our rightness and circle the wagons against all the people we think are doing it wrong. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
With love and prayer
Chief of Sinners
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