When I first opened the Nashville Statement almost three years ago I did so with hopeful expectation. Given the lofty reputation of many of the document’s original signers, I was confident that a comprehensive Statement would be offered, proving helpful to many.
While much of what I read was very good, I was shocked by the Statement’s silence.
I immediately looked for a note of humility, acknowledging the church’s failure to lovingly make Christ known in its ministry to LGBTQ people, often engaging personally and as congregations in behaviors that were demeaning. Beginning with repentance for the log in one’s own eye before proceeding to deal with the retinal issues of others is, after all, typically a proper place for Christians to start. I searched and looked for it, and there it wasn’t.
I know Christians like my friend John Freeman of Philadelphia who served the sick with sacrificial devotion and love. There were far more Christians, however, who ignored the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and promulgated the view that AIDS was a direct judgment of God on homosexuals (I guess they never visited Africa where the disease was decimating the straight and Christian population too). There have been many who’ve told heart-sick young Christians that if they just had enough faith they’d cease having same-sex desires, offering to them a magic wand approach to sanctification rather than the ordinary means of grace for ‘a long obedience in the same direction’ as part a community of supportive friends and family who know themselves to be sinful saints as well.
The Statement didn’t even offer a note of apology for being the place where, at the other end of the spectrum, falsehoods like the teaching of Matthew Vines could take root, resulting in a false Gospel offered to those who need the authentic message of Jesus in all of its splendor.
These abusive behaviors continue today. Recent Tennessee news accounts exposed a Sheriff who also worked as a Pastor and preached that homosexual people should be executed. That’s simply a recent story demonstrating an entrenched attitude that shocks none of us who care for people who have faith in Christ while waking up daily with desires for those of the same sex rather than the opposite sex.
Not only that, but what about the abuse of children, the sexual harassment and abuse of women, and the porn plague in the Evangelical Church? Any reasonably well-informed person knows these are infinitely greater threats to the holiness and testimony of the Church than any lack of clarity on Biblical teaching concerning human sexuality.
I’ve been a Pastor for forty years and served people who are same-sex attracted in every congregation I’ve led. I’ve tried to serve their families too. When you disdain LGBTQ people you send a signal of contempt to those who love them, telling them that those they care for are unworthy of love and further engagement with the Christian Church. Bringing the Gospel in love to all and caring for all is our first and most joyful task as believers in Jesus. The path of truth-telling in a spirit of deep concern that begins with deeper listening is not easy, but it is necessary.
In my recent message at General Assembly, I quoted from the book ‘UnChristian: What the Next Generation Thinks of Christianity’, by Gabe Lyon and Dave Kinnamon. Here is that quote: “The single most recognized thing about Christians today in the wider culture is that we are anti-gay bigots. ‘The severity of the perception surprised us…out of 20 attributes we assessed, both positive and negative, as they related to Christianity…being antihomosexual was at the top of the list…not opposition to gay politics or behaviors but DISDAIN FOR…individuals has become virtually synonymous with Christian Faith.’”
Please note that we Evangelicals are known, not for our message about Jesus, but for our disdain for individuals. Unfair? Perhaps. But maybe it’s a word that should be heard, a warning to heed. Contempt for persons is a reputation we must seek to disown, discard, and dismantle where possible.
Evangelicals are ‘burying the lead’ with our obsession about speaking NOT to bring clarity and charity on such matters to the congregations we serve, but to make clear our position ‘to the world’. The former is a pastoral responsibility; the latter is a culture war strategy – and it is a failure. The ‘world’, if you didn’t know it already, is perfectly clear about what Evangelicals think on the issue of homosexuality. They are abundantly unclear about whether or not we love people.
Disdain for people – ANY people – is a heretical, Gospel denying way of life. If that is true of us, any of us, then we’d better get busy repenting and repairing that problem before we say one more word ‘to the world’ just to make our position crystal clear.
Silence, in that case, would be welcome.
Of course, some will say that Evangelicals cannot be accepted as anything other than haters unless we capitulate to the cultural consensus and abandon our beliefs. That’s not an option for us, whatever may come. We will be hated by some and accused of hatred as well for not surrendering our views on human sexuality. Jesus loved perfectly and was perfectly hated in return. Love, even perfect love – which none but Christ can show – will not be enough to satisfy some. We must, however, make every effort to, in the words of David Brooks, ‘love our crooked neighbors with all our crooked hearts.’
In the Spring of 1979, I was a Freshman at the University of Evansville in southern Indiana. A notice was given that for the first time a group of Gay Students would hold an official meeting on campus; I felt I should go to share the Gospel with them if I was permitted to do so. I asked others to go with me, but everyone I asked replied, ‘No, but we’ll pray for you if you go.”
A rumor began to spread that a group of football players was going to form a gauntlet through which those attending the meeting would have to pass, a story I dismissed as ludicrous. I was wrong. When I arrived, there was a gauntlet, at least thirty strong, all men, ready to hurl verbal abuse at all who passed through it. No security moved them away.
I went through that gauntlet and had spat at me the same abuse the Gay students and their faculty advisor received. It was awful. It was made worse because I knew some of the people in that gauntlet were professing Christians.
I walked the gauntlet of shame and I’ve never forgotten what it felt like. I’ve never forgotten what it felt like to share Christ with a group of people that night who were fearful. They graciously gave me the floor and I offered Jesus to them, praying later that night with a couple of students who attended.
The next day the student paper ran a story that a Christian had come to the meeting to proclaim the acceptance of homosexuals to Jesus. My Christian friends were mad at me… they thought I’d compromised the message. If you tell the truth about Jesus you sometimes end up disdained by both sides of the divide. I hadn’t compromised the message, except perhaps, as I fear is so often the case, I didn’t say radically enough how tenderly and openly Jesus receives sinners. I’m still amazed he received me.
The proclamation of truth and grace in Jesus should begin with an acknowledgment in public statements of our own sin, our own failures, and our own desire to communicate the truth in love.
The Nashville Statement is mute when it comes to our own repentance.
For that reason alone, I could not sign it.
We have work to do and silence on the Gospel and our repentance isn’t an option.
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