From Nashville to Nazareth
“I love you so much I must condemn you to hell.” This is the crux of the purpose and content of The Nashville Statement. On August 25, evangelical Christian leaders, pastors and seminary professors gathered in Nashville, Tennessee, to craft what is known as The Nashville Statement (hereafter referred to as TNS). They released their statement on August 29 and the self-congratulatory back slaps have continued since. The Preamble and fourteen Articles summarize the anti-LGBTQ theology we have become accustomed to hearing from this demographic.
The setting for TNS was the thirtieth anniversary of The Danvers Statement, which was the founding document of the organization known as the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. A large group of those from the evangelical Christian right, including many of the “usual suspects,” composed TNS. The rationale for their argument is human sexuality, and the myriad of social issues centered on it, requires such a statement at this time.
In writing and releasing a statement that reflects the social theology of the evangelical world, TNS has accomplished that mission. In writing and releasing a document that reflects religious analysis, contemplating contemporary Biblical scholarship, TNS has fallen far short. There is no room for theological engagement, no allowance for middle ground and no expectation of further discourse on the matter. TNS is a black-and-white position paper allowing the signatories to sleep soundly at night, confident they have spoken on behalf of a loveless God, stuck in ancient interpretations of holy writ. TNS is evangelical theology regurgitated for a Brave New World.
As reported in USA Today (Tennessee version), John Piper, co-founder of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, called The Nashville Statement a “Christian manifesto” on human sexuality. “It speaks with forthright clarity, biblical conviction, gospel compassion, cultural relevance, and practical helpfulness,” Piper said. “It will prove to be, I believe, enormously helpful for thousands of pastors and leaders hoping to give wise, biblical, and gracious guidance to their people.”
Leading the fourteen Articles in TNS, we encounter the welcoming proclamation of Article I. “We affirm that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church. We deny that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.”
As a straight Christian, I take issue with this position. According to this interpretation of the Biblical text of Genesis 1-2, the purpose of marriage was to procreate. Indeed, Genesis 1:27-28 reads, “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it...’” While one may accept the claim that at the beginning of the world procreation was necessary to survival, that claim has nothing to do with the world we live in today. We are no longer given the divine dictum to “be fruitful and multiply.”
The second part of Article I with which this writer adamantly opposes is the denial portion. The authors of TNS state “We deny that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship.” Take note that homosexual persons are grouped in with those who are polygamous and polyamorous. This may remind one of the Sesame Street song, “One of these things is not like the other!” Homosexuality is who you are. Polygamy and polyamor define how you practice your sexuality. Straight persons also exercise those, not only homosexuals.
As the reader moves through TNS from one Article to another, one is confronted with further denial and damnation of being LGBTQ. Article VII reads, “We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” To label one’s sexual orientation or gender identity as “self-conception” is to demean the depth to which one struggles and comes to terms with the innate person who finally emerges to live a full, productive and love-filled life. Without belaboring the point, the remaining Articles move from one evangelical misconception to another.
With a smile and a wink, Dr. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, shares in the Washington Post his reflection on why he signed TNS. “To be clear, Christians understand the brokenness of the world. We signers know ourselves, like all humanity, to be broken by sin. We have no right to face the world from a claim of moral superiority. We know and confess that Christians have often failed to speak the truth in love. In releasing Nashville Statement, we in fact are acting out of love and concern for people who are increasingly confused about what God has clarified in Holy Scripture...The Statement was carefully written. Love of neighbor requires us to speak clearly and very specifically to the truths affirmed and the errors denied in the document.”
There have been several rebuttal Statements composed by various members of what we term the Progressive Christian perspective. One such rebuttal having doctrinal appeal is The Nazareth Statement, written by the Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, Ph.D. She wrote, “We believe that Jesus of Nazareth’s most profound teaching was in response to the question of which commandment is the greatest. Jesus said to love God with everything we have—our whole soul, mind, heart and strength, and to love our neighbor as we love ourself. We believe that Jesus’ love was revolutionary love...We believe that in every age the Church will have to wrestle with what it means to be faithful today. This is what it means to be disciples. Ours is a living faith; God is still speaking.”
Let’s walk together, leaving Nashville behind and moving forward to Nazareth. All persons, be they gay, straight, transgender, Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, must continue to walk side by side, arm in arm, hand in hand—just as they did on June 11 in Washington, D.C., and other cities.