On August 29th 2017, the grandiosely titled ‘Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood’ * released a document called the ‘Nashville Statement’ **, a declaration of the position of over 150 American conservative church leaders on matters of human sexuality, including statements on morality, sex outside of marriage, and of course homosexuality.***
Rather than recite it for you, here is a link to a PDF file of the Statement (it should open in a new browser tab): Nashville Statement PDF
I respect some of those leaders (well, actually, just two whom I know of and have heard speak). I agree, would you believe, with some of what’s in the Statement, and I can understand (if not personally accept) their stance on homosexuality.
But Article 10 in the Statement came as a surprise to me. Here indeed is Article 10, screen-shot directly from the Nashville Statement referenced above:
I actually find this Article to be troubling, pretentious and arrogant. Troubling in that it places yet another burden on simple Christians trying to live out their life for Christ, and now that’s another legalistic straw placed on their proverbial camel’s back. Pretentious and arrogant in that, well, who do they think they are telling other believers that they cannot agree to differ?
According to this Article, you’re not allowed to be ‘undecided’, (whether you’ve studied all the arguments or not), you’re not allowed to sit on the fence, and you’re not allowed to agree to differ. ‘Otherwise faithful Christians’ implies ‘unfaithfulness’ but to whom or what? Jesus? Christianity in general? Fundagelicalism in particular? The Bible? Surely this is just another point of doctrine, and the freedom to agree or disagree is just as valid here as it is for such doctrines as Communion or baptism, whose practices vary widely within Christendom?
Essentially they are declaring this belief [in homosexuality being ‘wrong’] as a central tenet of the faith, without which you are an ‘unfaithful’ Christian, whatever that means and whatever threat that is supposed to convey. I would suggest, then, that Article 10 is saying that unless you believe the Bible the way in which we [the authors of the Nashville Statement; those 150+ leaders] say you have to believe it, then you’re not a ‘proper Christian’. That’s what I find troubling – but unsurprising. I suppose actually seeing it written down in black and white was what I found most troubling; they have always believed it, but maybe never actually written it down.
At its core, the Article reveals plainly the bibliolatry (worship of the Bible) of their position, in that they have essentially elevated a book – an inspired book, to be sure, but still a book – to a place above the position of the One Whom it reveals. Once again, the Bible has been given primacy over Jesus, Who alone is the Word of God. Once again, these people present a non-negotiable interpretation of a book that is neither inerrant nor infallible. The Bible is so vast and complex in its layers, meanings and teachings that I think it is true to say that none of us knows enough to say categorically that another brother’s beliefs are ‘wrong’. And so they attempt to ‘forbid’ the holding of an opinion that they don’t like, even if it’s Jesus Himself who given us that opinion. But, of course, we need to remember that these men are not the Gatekeepers of the Kingdom, no matter how much they might believe that they are! These people do not hold a monopoly of the Truth, nor of Jesus.
I think in some ways it’s also a matter of ‘Scriptural authority’. You see, some believers hold that a Christian has to believe (and enact/build into his life) all of the Bible, and that all of the Bible carries identical weight and authority. But that’s not how anyone actually lives it. You see, every Christian cherry-picks certain verses and decides that they apply, and that other verses don’t. It’s inevitable that this will happen, especially since the Bible is written by different people who all had different views.
For these people to say that affirming of LGBTQ+ people is ‘sinful’, well, I and my own conscience can be the only arbiter of that for me personally. (And it’s time they stopped their preoccupation with ‘sin’!) Paul is quite clear that what is beneficial for some is not so for others (1Cor 10:23, 1Cor 6:12). I can choose within my freedom as a Christ-follower what to consider is ‘sin’ as instructed by Holy Spirit. But I think that, deep down, and in their admirable zeal to keep their flocks ‘safe’, a lot of these leaders have a great difficulty with trusting a) God to speak to their people, and b) their people to hear God accurately for themselves. I understand that. But part of our freedom a believers is that we have been released into this freedom partly in order to learn how to hear the voice of God for ourselves. Sure, we will make mistakes, but God is gentle and patient with us in our learning curve, and He supports us all the way. In any case, the more they legislate, the more powerful ‘sin’ becomes. More Law is not the answer, because the power of sin is the Law (1Cor 15:56)!
I would also suggest that in agreeing to the latter part of Article 10, a person would be submitting his/her own conscience to the control, approval and permissions of men. And what human has that right or that privilege? And where do you draw the line? What would happen if they (or any other leaders) decided to forbid your conscience’s participation on opinions that you really do care deeply about? Sadly, I know from personal experience that such leadership does in fact exist in the church, and that sort of behaviour is part of what is known as the ‘cultic mindset’ – a mindset which is a million miles from the ‘glorious freedom of the Children of God’ (Rom 8:21), which is what Christ actually intends for us.
And there’s more to the troubling nature of that Statement. Wendy Francisco describes it as, “…a heartbreaking and terrible call to organized rejection and scapegoating”. And I have to admit that I hadn’t thought of it like that, but you know what, she’s right. It’s both heartbreaking and terrible, and saddening too.
You have probably gathered by now that I consider the Nashville Statement, and in particular Article 10, to be just so much hot air. They are saying nothing new. I also think that the Statement will soon be forgotten as yet another irrelevant Church proclamation. It’s so ‘behind the times’; it’s certainly not going to stop anyone from doing or believing what they are already doing or believing, or change their minds. But the Article 10 ‘call to organized rejection and scapegoating’ is indeed worrying. As always with these proclamations, all it’s going to achieve is to hurt and alienate people.
And the timing of the Statement’s release could not have been worse: it has been released at a time when the southern seaboard of the United States is a disaster area in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and forest fires continue to rage unchecked in northern Montana. Talk about blinkered vision…
No, this is a presumptious piece of pompous church bureaucracy that will not help anyone. All they have done is to codify what they already believe – which is fair enough, but unnecessary – and also tried to overreach what little authority they have in producing the dangerous Article 10. My friend Ken Nichols put it like this:
“My greatest push back on this though is not about the homosexuality itself, but about their insistence that if you do not believe as they do on this issue, you are NOT a Christian. That should be pointed out, not to shame them or call them “sinners”, but to tell people watching on the outside that not ALL Christians believe like this.”
Well said, Ken 🙂
I would like to conclude this post by sharing a more positive outlook. My friend Julie Ferwerda (authoress of the book ‘Raising Hell‘) has made this counter-statement to the Nashville Statement:
Julie Ferwerda’s Nashville Un-Statement:
I affirm that marriage appears to be a plan of the Universe/God/Spirit to be a visible image of a loving, intimate experience of oneness. This relationship, when fashioned after genuine, Godly Love shall aim toward a physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually healthy union between people in a consentual, empowering, supportive partnership, intended to pattern the covenant love between a truly loving, non-biased God and his creation.
“I deny that God has limited such a relationship to be controlled or determined or dictated by legalistic, misguided religious affiliation based on sexual orientation, gender, nationality, ethnicity, or any other innate factor that is used as a divisive measuring stick. I also affirm that there is no such thing as “mere human” as separate from divine form. We are all expressions of God living out a unique role we have been perfectly made for, so long as we are striving toward genuine love and oneness.”
That’s a great place at which to finish, I think. For more reading on the Nashville Statement, may I recommend the following blog posts:
**Although it was called the ‘Nashville Statement’, this name was given it because the people who wrote the document finalised a draft of it in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Nashville’s mayor very quickly moved to disassociate her city from the naming, saying it was ‘poorly named’ and that it “…does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville”. Nashville is known as being an ‘island’ or ‘oasis’ of, shall we say, ‘free-thinking’ in the midst of the American ‘Bible Belt’. I wonder if that location for the conference was chosen with this in mind? 😉
*** Although they only mentioned homosexuality (so, Lesbian and Gay) and Transgenderism, I am assuming that all ‘different’ sexualities (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/questioning and other sexualities) are also intended to be encompassed by their declarations. It wouldn’t surprise me.