There has been a lot going on in the news cycle lately, so I’ll forgive you if you missed the Nashville Statement being released by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), a lofty title if ever there was one. Released this past Tuesday, it’s been causing some waves across news cycle ever since, mostly to the tune of “Hey, look how awful evangelicals are!” People have decried it, lampooned it, and the mayor of Nashville had to issue a statement saying that the statement’s name bears no reflection on the views of the city.
If you haven’t read it, go ahead and take a look. Basically, it is a series of 14 affirmations and denials related to the relationship of faith and LGBTQ people. If you were wondering, the document thinks LGBTQ people are not following God’s will. Unsurprisingly, the statement is what most evangelicals have been saying for years.
Now, I don’t really want to go into a detailed analysis of the theology of the document; I’m not saying one way or another if I agree or disagree. It would quickly become tl;dr and I am too tired of having to respond that way to every “thing” a bunch of evangelical leaders decide to do in an attempt to speak for the rest of us.
What I want to do is ask a simple question: Are public statements like the Nashville Statement how Christians should address controversial questions of our time?
In my opinion, the answer is unequivocally “no.” Now, let me tell you why I think that. The Nashville Statement, and other statements like it, fail three tests that I see as essential to issuing declarative statements of faith.
1. They fail the test of diversity.
The use of the term “council” by the CBMW is somewhat misleading from the perspective of Church history. Historically, councils have been collections of bishops who met together to discuss and decide on key theological issues of their day. Councils were ad-hoc mechanisms, meetings called for specific times and specific places to address specific questions. And importantly, they included both sides of the debate. Controversial figures and their followers were also invited to councils to debate their views and attempt to persuade people to their own perspectives. And while there was always a bit of politics, the most important councils included voices of dissent within them.
Councils, by definition, are a diverse body of opinions that reach consensus. They are meant to be chambers in which ideas (and even fists) can fight it out. The CBMW is not this diverse body attempting to address a specific question. In their own words, they are a “Coalition for Biblical Sexuality.” Just to be clear, a “coalition” is a group of people who already agree. They did not invite affirming church leaders to their conference to offer a different perspective, they did not talk to anyone except themselves.
The Nashville Statement is familiar because it is just a reformulation of what the body that created it already stood for.
2. They fail the test of truth.
These sorts of statements fail the truth test not because they are false, but because they are pithy. The Nashville Statement uses terms like “sexuality,” “homosexuality,” and “transgenderism” without ever defining them. While this might be an academic point, the reality is that the definition of those terms is essential if we want to figure out how to correctly respond to them.
The Sexual Revolution of the 60s, 70s, and 80s has had a gigantic impact upon the Western world. The way our society understood things like biological sex, gender, and sexual ethics took a radical shift during this time, and there has been no going back ever since. This is not to say that the ideas of the Sexual Revolution were correct, it is only to recognize that the ground has shifted.
If evangelicals want to adequately address questions of sexuality, they need to get to the root of what it means to be a sexual, gendered, embodied person in the 21st century. We need better theologies that deal with the philosophical claims at the root of our societies’ changing views of sex. What we don’t need is another statement that offers the theological equivalent of “look in the mirror and you know what’s right.”
3. They fail the test of love.
When I meet someone who wants to know Jesus, you know what I do not do? Offer declarative statements about their circumstance; platitudes are poor pastoral care. The issue with the Nashville statement is that it effectively destroys conversations before they can even begin. In so doing, they are causing a two-fold harm.
First, they harm those churches which are evangelical, but do not hold to the ideas of the statement. The CBMW is not a mouthpiece for a single institution, yet it’s public voice heaves a particular narrative about evangelicals on unsuspecting church leaders. Want LGBTQ people to come to your evangelical church? Better hope they didn’t read the Nashville Statement.
Second, the statement effectively tells LGBTQ people that they are uniquely deserving of ire. We always talk a good game about “loving the sinner, hating the sin”, but the reality is people feel hated if you hate something they hold dear. If you hated the fact that I was married to my wife, I wouldn’t really care if you still loved me as a person — I would just think you were a jerk. If you offered a public statement about the wrongness of my marriage to my wife, then I would know for a fact you were a jerk.
And hear me, I am not making any claim on the veracity of the statement, I am simply saying that the process of loving people does not typically begin with a statement of refute. Churches should clearly outline their perspectives on important questions. The CBMW, however, is not a church, and their statement continues to publicly force an issue many churches are trying to responsibly deal with.
Perhaps, in light of the ongoing questions facing us, we can with Paul pray for the entire Church in our time,
This I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ Philippians 1:9-10
A Counter-Nashville Statement:
Below is a statement of intent from the editors of Engaged Pentecostalism on who we hope to be as a community.
At Engaged Pentecostalism, we believe that the way forward on controversial subjects is not short, explanation-free statements affirming or denying something. We believe that the way forward is a community of dialogue. This space will always be a place where marginalized voices get to challenge dominant ones and where dominant voices have to reconcile with the voices of others.
This means we will include articles that we as an editorial team may not agree with or that make people angry. We will do this not because we love controversy, but because we love the truth; we will do this because we believe the answer to the questions of our day will be found only after we listen, discuss, and understand one another.
Note from the Editorial Team: Engaged Pentecostalism is a community that values open dialogue and respectful engagement from different perspectives. The views expressed above are the author's own and do not reflect those of every part of the community.