A group of evangelical Christian leaders have issued a joint document, the Nashville Statement, which affirms their opposition to same-sex marriage, transgender people, and basically everything that’s not married missionary-position sex in the dark with your eyes closed:
Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God…
You can imagine the rest, since we’ve seen it many times before: marriage only for straight people; no sex outside marriage, ever; the role you’re meant to play in life is decided by your genitals; believing in Jesus will make all those naughty thoughts go away; and so on and so forth. It’s been signed by all the religious-right bigwigs you’d expect to sign something like this.
In a sense, there’s nothing surprising or original about this document. You could summarize it as: “Evangelical Christians still think sex is bad and LGBT people are icky; film at 11”.
But in another sense, it says something important. It says that evangelicals aren’t changing their position, even as the world changes around them and leaves them behind – a fact that the Nashville signatories are candid about acknowledging. For instance, Albert Mohler pens a defense of the statement including the usual black-is-white, up-is-down assertion that the way to “love” LGBT people is to tell them that they have to live lives of loneliness and chastity or face eternal torture, but he also says this:
We understand that we live in an increasingly post-Christian world, and that a vast revolution in sexual morality is now fundamentally reshaping the landscape. Churches and pastors, Christian institutions and individual Christians, are now under intense pressure to adopt this new sexual morality, along with its redefinition of marriage and gender.
Mohler writes that the Nashville signatories faced “vitriol” for their stance. This may reflect the usual exaggerated fantasies of persecution, but I suspect there’s a grain of truth to it: for many people, the Nashville Statement came as a surprise. A lot of people really did believe that Christianity wasn’t going to stay stuck in the past, that its moral teachings were going to evolve to keep pace with the changing cultural consensus. For moderate, mainstream evangelicals, it was doubtless an unpleasant shock to hear that their leaders intend no such thing.
It’s the same unwelcome enlightenment that greets ordinary theists who erroneously believe that their religion is a democracy and that they get a vote. This is a motivated belief: they want to hold to the faith of their upbringing, which is comfortable and familiar, without having to reject moral progress. It’s an unpleasant stab of cognitive dissonance when they discover that they have to choose between leaving their faith or being complicit with its cruel teachings and harsh treatment of the marginalized.
Just like the Mormons and the Catholics, evangelical Christians are bent on repeating the errors of history. As older generations die off and younger ones, who are accustomed to sexual freedom and find LGBT people familiar and normal, grow up and replace them, the obstinance of Christianity will seem even more ugly and dissonant.
This is going to devastate their numbers in the decades to come, and it’s entirely a self-inflicted wound. If Christians had accepted that they’ve lost the battle over LGBT rights and just moved on, it wouldn’t have been held against them. Society would have been only too happy to forget that Christianity stood on the wrong side of that debate, the same way that people have always been willing to forget how churches took the wrong side of other moral controversies. Instead, evangelical leaders are making it impossible for anyone to forget or overlook this by loudly doubling down on their bigotry and cruelty.
The day will come, when they realize what a crushing mistake this was, that they’ll try to rewrite history. On that day, it will be up to atheists to prevent this erasure from taking place, by pointing to the Nashville Statement and other evidence like it.