Can a Catholic Affirm the Nashville Statement?

Can a Catholic Affirm the Nashville Statement? August 31, 2017

The Nashville Statement is a set of fourteen affirmations and denials concerning Christianity and human sexuality, composed by evangelical Protestants.  You can read the Nashville Statement here.  As the Babylon Bee observes, it doesn’t contain any new information.  There are two points on which Catholics should disagree.  Article 12 states:

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

This is very close to Catholic teaching, but appears to be slightly off.  Catholics acknowledge the existence of concupiscence, the tendency to be attracted to sin even after we have been washed free of original sin by baptism.  You can read about it in The Cathechism of the Catholic Church here, here, and here.  Concerning sins of the flesh:

2514 St. John distinguishes three kinds of covetousness or concupiscence: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, and pride of life.301 In the Catholic catechetical tradition, the ninth commandment forbids carnal concupiscence; the tenth forbids coveting another’s goods.

2515 Etymologically, “concupiscence” can refer to any intense form of human desire. Christian theology has given it a particular meaning: the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason. The apostle St. Paul identifies it with the rebellion of the “flesh” against the “spirit.”302 Concupiscence stems from the disobedience of the first sin. It unsettles man’s moral faculties and, without being in itself an offense, inclines man to commit sins.303

2516 Because man is a composite being, spirit and body, there already exists a certain tension in him; a certain struggle of tendencies between “spirit” and “flesh” develops. But in fact this struggle belongs to the heritage of sin. It is a consequence of sin and at the same time a confirmation of it. It is part of the daily experience of the spiritual battle . . .

Catholics agree with the Nashville Statement that by God’s grace we are set free from sin.  The disagreement is if the Nashville Statement means to suggest that every person who wishes to be entirely pure will become so in this life.

Catholics acknowledge the obvious: This doesn’t always happen.  Most of us know otherwise commendable Christians who died still not entirely free from all sin, as far as anyone could tell (what happened in those final moments after consciousness ceased, we cannot say).  That’s why we believe in Purgatory, the process of being made, by God’s grace, completely free from all impurity, and therefore able to enter Heaven.

1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:607

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.608

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610

Catholics do firmly deny with the Nashville Statement the second half of Article 12:

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

Moving on to our second disagreement.  The nuances of Article 13 are similarly problematic:

 WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.

We do joyfully affirm the power of God’s grace.  But if you are just having a horrible time trying to shake off your gender dysphoria, we acknowledge that perfectly earnest Christians do sometimes get caught up in mental illness that goes uncured by either natural or supernatural assistance.  So if you are a Christian who struggles — even to the point of death — with anorexia, body integration  identity disorder, gender dysphoria, depression, or any other mental illness that alters your ability to think rationally, that doesn’t mean you somehow failed as a Christian and are condemned to eternal damnation.

Mental illness reduces culpability for sin, and purgatory, see above, is a necessary reality precisely because we know that people do sometimes die still quite miserably wretched.  Some people even die of wretchedness directly, and yet they can be saved.

Catholics do agree with the second half of Article 13:

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.

Beyond that, the statement is in agreement with the Catholic faith.  A future statement might better clarify these two points.  In the meantime, Catholics should refrain from signing The Nashville Statement.  Be assured you can sign off on The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which covers all the same ground on the important bits.

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