The Nashville Statement (NS) aims “to draw lines in the sand” about biblical human sexuality and marriage and “to smoke out” those who are and who appear to be departing from the received teachings of Scripture on these issues. The concern of the NS seems to be the LGBTQ population both in and outside the church. With its 14 “We AFFIRM” and “We DENY” declarations, one can obviously agree that the NS is, at its core, affirming the longstanding, traditional view of human sexuality and marriage. The NS is not a failure of biblical theology and morality. The NS is a deplorable failure of practical pastoral theology. I have had gay friends sleep in our home. We listened to them, wept with them, wrestled with the Scriptures with them, and, frankly, accepted them as God in Christ accepted us. I wonder how many signers of the NS have done that? I’m just asking.
When a Christian friend of mine who has been and is still faithfully married with children sat across the lunch table from me years ago and said, “John, I’m gay,” I entered into the world of struggle within the LGBTQ population. At the time, my friend would have agreed with the NS’s clarity on biblical sexuality and marriage. Whether he would today or not, I can’t say. He didn’t need the NS. He needed a friend, a pastor, an accepting listening ear. In his agony, even fear, he needed to be loved.
The clarity of God’s truth must be expressed with the character of God’s heart. The NS gets the clarity right, but woefully misses the broken, tender heart of God—the God who weeps with those who weep. The framers of the declaration might respond that was not their intent. My response is: It should be! We’re discussing the lives and struggles of real human beings made in the image of God and for whom Christ died. My gay friends have expressed to me the deep wounds created by seething evangelical rejection (from their parents and friends), shunning, shaming, and exile. They were “othered” and “outed” and booted from the fold. Why?
A realistic, plain ecclesiology should not be shocked by and resistant to sinners. “O LORD, if you should keep a record sins, who could stand?” God didn’t issue a Celestial Statement and brush off his hands saying, “Well, I got the lines drawn in the sand. Let’s see if it smokes out the offenders.” Last time I read John 1:14, it read, “The Word became flesh and lived among us…” Among us. Among us. He came to erase the lines in the sand, some drawn in the Old Testament itself! Does this mean I personally don’t uphold the church’s traditional understanding of human sexuality and marriage. By no means! Please, hear this. The relational context in which the church says, “Go, and sin no more” really, really does matter.
The evangelical church is hemorrhaging attenders. Why? Because of a failure in good theology and traditional morality? Not really. Where biblical theology incarnated in the church interfaces real sinners is where the crisis lines are truly joined. It’s about practical theology. The church will be known either by its love or by its declarations.
Pardon me, but I’m sick of backroom-generated, (so-called) evangelical declarations by men and women who think generating tidy, clear pages of biblical statements is somehow a holy act. It’s not. It seems like a fundraiser to me. Have these folks never heard of the incarnation of Jesus the Christ? All people need only One declaration and Jesus is it. Fourteen loving Christians who patiently, humbly engage the LGBTQ community will do more for the kingdom of God and the mission of the church than the fourteen “words” of the Nashville Statement.
I have two other pastor friends who are good at living the truth; practicing theology, not just pronouncing it. We have a crazy dream to see reconciliation within the church between straight Christians and non-straight believers, with no compromising our understanding of the traditional teachings of the church. The NS will set back our endeavors because it comes across as a heavy-handed, flat-footed Philistine.
John Frye, pastor, signing off.