In the past week the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released the Nashville Statement on sexuality and it has caused quite a buzz in the evangelical world. Reaffirming the conservative biblical views on sexuality and gender, this statement in no uncertain terms draws a line in the sand for evangelicals to rally behind when it comes to all things LGBT, and that’s exactly the problem.
As a conservative evangelical pastor, I have no qualms with the individual tenets of the Nashville Statement. I have strong reservations about the language used in Article 10, but I’ll get there in a minute. Although I agree with the vast majority of the truths laid out in the Nashville Statement, I’ll never sign it. A whole host of prominent leaders have lined up to sign the document, and its endorsements are honestly quite impressive. So what’s the problem?
This statement reminds me of a married couple that constantly has arguments. The husband is the type of person that never backs down and refuses to lose any argument. So he doesn’t. Every time there’s a disagreement, the husband does everything in his power to win each argument, and he does. His argument win rate is off the charts. More than that, he may even be right every time. But he loses his marriage in the process. He wins each battle but loses the war.
What’s the greater purpose behind the Nashville Statement? To defend the biblical view on gender and sexuality, I get that. But the manner in which this statement defends it is so abrasive that it actually runs counter to a much larger goal, and that’s called the Great Commission. If we as Christians are called to love people into the Kingdom (regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity), this sure is a funny way to show our love. In fact, this statement will in fact drive a wedge further between us and those we’re called to love. Instead of drawing lines in the sand, we should be building bridges. To me that’s one of the great fatal flaws in the Nashville Statement: this seems to do more harm than good in fulfilling the Great Commission.
Let’s also consider the context of the creation of this document and the initial signers. This document was created by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. A council, not a church. It’s a lot easier to lob truth bombs over the fortress walls when you’re safely inside an ivory tower. How many meaningful relationships has the council built with the LGBT community before lobbing this truth bomb? Is the LGBT community just a faceless mob or people created in God’s image? It shouldn’t be a surprise that when you look at the vast majority of the endorsing signers, you’ll discover that most of them are denominational leaders and academics. Very few are actually pastors. Why is that important? Life seems a lot simpler in the ivory tower of academia, constantly surrounded by like minded believers. It’s even possible to seclude yourself from all meaningful relationships with those not like you.
As a pastor my calling isn’t to write papers or make statements, but to try and minister to people wherever they are and help lead them to Jesus. And I don’t have the luxury of pre-deciding who I will and won’t help (unless I want to be one of those religious leaders from Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan). I’ve had several folks come to and through our church that would identify themselves as leaning towards or identifying as LGBT. Waving this document and condemning them on their way through the doors does me no good. There’s a lesbian woman who’s been attending my church for about a month now. She’s battling addictions and trying to overcome several significant issues in her life. If I preached on the Nashville Statement and declared my allegiance, would that help or hinder her own spiritual journey? Why would I be more comfortable with pastors and not Christian academics creating this document? Because orthodoxy divorced from relationships can many times lead to rhetoric that hinders (not helps) us achieve our overall mission, to lead all people to Jesus.
I don’t disagree with the document. I disagree with the tone in which it was presented. I disagree with the vacuum within which it was created, and I disagree with the rhetoric this will now create that will only further drive a wedge between evangelical Christians and the LGBT community. Yes, this document upholds the traditional biblical views on sexuality and gender, but I also would contend the Nashville Statement breaks Jesus’ command in Matthew 10:16 to be as “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.” This Statement only inflames the war between the two camps. It’s like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Instead of building bridges with those we’re called to love, we’re burning them down. If the goal of this statement is to raise the profile of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the Nashville Statement has succeeded wildly. But if the goal of this statement was to help fulfill the Great Commission, this statement has set us back.
One of the original signers Albert Mohler, in an op-ed to the Washington Post, said, “In releasing the 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.” That statement is hard to wrap my arms around. How is this statement loving towards them? In no uncertain terms in condemns everything they hold dear. Doesn’t Ephesians 4:15 tell us to “speak the truth in love?” The history of the creators of this document has been one of antagonism and judgment towards the LGBT community. So why in the world would this document ever be interpreted as an act of love and genuine concern? I think the key is in the final part of Mohler’s statement. People are confused about what has been clarified in “Holy Scripture.” The Scripture is holy, the Scripture is elevated even high above men, seemingly indicating that God loves and values a book above the very people He created in His own image.
In the preamble you see a familiar buzzword from this camp, “the glory of God.” This has become a blanket statement that is used to justify antagonizing language. This document does in a manner glorify God because it upholds the sanctity of Scripture. I don’t deny that. But look at the Parable of the Lost Sheep in Luke 15:1-7. Do you know what else glorifies God? Finding his lost children and bringing them home. And this document makes that harder. When the sheep pen that used to have one hundred sheep is down to only one because the rest have lost their way, theoretically it glorifies God to tidy up the pen and from the safety of the pen declare just how lost and confused the lost sheep are. But do you know what would glorify God even more? Get out of the pen, put down your statements of condemnation, roll up your sleeves and go find those lost sheep. If we truly want to glorify God we’ll help find and bring His lost children home. The Nashville Statement and its inflammatory tone has just made that harder for those of us actually trying to find lost sheep.
Some may accuse me of heresy or biblical unorthodoxy for refusing to sign the statement. To that charge, I’ll simply point to Jesus, who refused to sign the “Jerusalem Statement.” In the first century, the hot button issue among Jews wasn’t sexuality and gender but the occupation by Rome. In Luke 20:20-26, the religious leaders tried to bait Jesus into making a definitive statement on Rome. They drew a line in the sand and forced him to take sides. He refused. If he refused, so will I.
Now, to the document itself. Like I’ve said previously, the main article I take issue with is article 10, which states:
“We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”
The language here is confusingly vague. What does it actually mean to “approve” of homosexual immorality? If I preach that God approves of homosexuality, that would be universally seen as approval. But what if I preach that God loves all people, regardless of sexual orientation? Is that approval? What if a person whom I know to be a practicing homosexual wants to join my church? Is that approval? What if they simply want to attend? Is that approval? Should I put a bouncer at the doors on Sundays to make sure no one not on the ‘approved’ list gets in? Or how about a gay wedding? If I as a pastor perform the wedding, that would be universally taken as approval. But what if I simply attend a gay wedding? Is that approval? What if I have a friend or family member that comes out and wants me to attend their wedding? Am I allowed to still love them as a person without ‘approving’ of their homosexual immorality? If a friend or a relative comes out as gay, can I still maintain a relationship of any kind or would that be constituted as approval? Article 10 opens up a Pandora’s box that may be used to justify numerous types of degrading behavior towards those in the LGBT community, and that would break the greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39).
And what does it mean that any sort of approval (which in an of itself is a vague term) constitutes an essential departure from Christian witness? Does that mean if I approve in any way I’m no longer a Christian? If I allow a practicing homosexual to attend my church because I want them to meet Jesus, have I departed from the faith? Which leads to another dangerous question: is this statement really trying to elevate this issue to become a litmus test for Christianity? Can a practicing homosexual believe in Jesus? Or do they need to become heterosexual first before they believe in Jesus and enter the faith? Does this strike anyone else as eerily similar to Acts 15 when some Christian Pharisees tried to make circumcision a litmus test for salvation? If a person must be heterosexual to be Christian, are we now adding a requirement to salvation more than belief in Jesus? That’s where the frustratingly vague language in Article 10 leads to.
In the end, it took me a few days to understand just what rubbed me the wrong way about this statement, especially since I don’t necessarily disagree with the statements themselves. In the end, I landed in Luke 15 and the famous Parable of the Lost Son (commonly known as the Prodigal Son). In that story the younger son rebels against his father and acts in a way that is disobedient to the father. That is undeniable. But what Jesus contrasts is the reaction of the father to the reaction of the older brother. The older brother refuses to acknowledge the younger son when he comes home. He makes blanket and definitive statements about the wrongdoing of his brother and won’t come into the party. It’s the father, the actual aggrieved party, that patiently looks for the lost son and rejoices when he comes home. He doesn’t deny the rebellion of his younger son, but he allows love and a relationship to trump judgment and condemnation.
The Nashville Statement seems more like the statement of condemnation by the older brother than the loving embrace of the father. And aren’t we supposed to be more like the father in this story? Come to think of it, wasn’t the older brother representative of the religious leaders of the day who couldn’t wrap their heads around why Jesus kept fraternizing with tax collectors and sinners? Do we really want to endorse something that’s more representative of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day than Jesus himself?
Instead of judging from a safe distance, I’d rather go out and try and find some lost sheep and help bring them home. That’s why I won’t be signing the Nashville Statement.