If there is one thing we evangelicals have down to an art, it is producing definitive statements of belief on some doctrine or another.
ICYMI (and you probably did miss it with all the news about Harvey): The Nashville Statement dropped last week. It comes to us courtesy of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an evangelical think tank whose mission is to promote the complementarian way of looking at things and an ultra-conservative view of gender roles and gender issues. The list of signers reads like a who’s who of all the big names in conservative, complementarian evangelicalism. (Many of these are big names in the Neo-Calvinist world and no doubt their views are informed and influenced by the Neo-Calvinist perspective. But I digress.)
My name is not on that list. Nor will it be at any time in the foreseeable future. But if you’ve been tracking with me for any significant length of time, you probably suspected as much.
By this point the Nashville Statement has been picked apart by the Christian blogosphere. I leave the specific, article-by-article analysis to others such as Scot McKnight, Preston Sprinkle, and more, and will limit myself to addressing the global, overarching themes.
The first question: Why now? Why at this specific moment in history? The signers’ decision to release this statement at a time when all the eyes of the nation were on Houston was questionable at best, but I’m not here to nit-pick that aspect of things. The larger question is this: Why now, in an age when cultural sensitivity to and acceptance of same-sex and transgender issues is on the rise? Why now, in an age when it seems that the evangelical message to the culture at large on gender is increasingly falling on deaf ears? This has the feel of doubling down, screaming ever louder and more defiantly in the face of a culture that we fear is slipping away from us.
For the most part, the Nashville Statement affirms what the Church has always taught with regard to human sexuality, marriage, and gender. Not all of the differences between male and female are cultural; some are inextricably linked to our biology with the result that male and female are significantly different ways of being human and it takes a great deal of empathetic imagination for one to understand the other. Christians who deny this are at odds with some basic elements of a Christian worldview. God’s design for marriage is male and female, whenever the Bible speaks of marriage it always speaks of male and female, whenever it speaks of same-sex relations it does not speak favorably. The Church has, throughout its history, affirmed this view of things, and the Nashville Statement lines up with this. I do have concerns with the language in some places, but I leave that to those who have already parsed this thing through and through. My concerns are the same as theirs.
But why? Why the need to issue a lengthy, dogmatic pronouncement on an issue which, though the Bible speaks clearly on it, it devotes a very small amount of text in comparison to the whole and to the volume of text devoted to other issues? This has been my objection all along to the complementarian camp on this issue: Though the Biblical text is clearly on their side, the volume of text is minuscule compared to the length of the Bible in its entirety, and compared to the volume of text addressing other issues.
Article 10 (I lied when I said I wouldn’t get down into the nitty-gritty of this thing) clearly shows the signers’ intention to raise this issue to which so little Scriptural ink is devoted to the level of essential Christian belief. It claims that acceptance of homosexuality and/or transgenderism is “an essential departure” from Christian faithfulness. A departure? Sure. An essential departure? I don’t think so. No Christian creed, from 1 Corinthians 15 to the Reformers, has ever made one’s view on homosexuality/transgenderism an essential of the Christian faith. As such, it is nothing less than the Judaizing heresy of Christ-plus-X that Paul battled in Galatia. In Paul’s day it was circumcision, today it is homosexuality. Slactivist goes off on this point, going so far as to call it “ugly ingratitude” because all Christians have benefited from Paul’s push against the Judaizing powers-that-be in Galatia to include all believers including uncircumcised Gentiles, yet now we want to turn around and claim that another class of people (LGBT) are unwelcome unless they conform themselves to our way of looking at things.
The statement also represents a massive failure of pastoral sensitivity toward a class of people for whom Christ died and whom Christ commands us to love. All the way through it speaks of LGBT’s as “they”, a subtle cue indicating that it sees LGBT’s and their Christian sympathizers as a separate class who must be pulled out and addressed separately from all the rest of Christianity. It reduces complex issues of gender, sexuality, and self-identity which some go through excruciating pain in attempting to sort out, to easy and simple answers which ought to be self-evident to anyone. It preaches, screams, to LGBT’s and to the culture at large, eschewing the posture of Jesus who washed his disciples’ feet–a slave’s task–and commanded all of us to do the same.
Though the Nashville Statement is consistent with orthodox Christian belief, it reeks of insensitivity in this cultural moment. It has the feel of doubling down, as if its promoters are desperately lashing out in order to hold on to a cultural power that is slipping away. It raises an issue on which the Bible wastes precious little ink to the level of essential Christian belief. It is blind to the complexities of gender, sexuality, and self-identity issues and insensitive to those who have experienced and are experiencing extreme pain in attempting to sort these out.
Evangelicalism has a long record of dehumanizing gays, and in this decade that is costing us tremendous influence in the gay community and in culture at large. An ever-increasing number of young people are turned off to evangelicalism and to Christianity itself because of evangelicalism’s track record with the gay community. The Nashville Statement just dumped several truckloads of nitroglycerine on that grease fire.