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The Nashville Statement and the Evangelical Parents of Gay Children

The Nashville Statement and the Evangelical Parents of Gay Children September 7, 2017

NStmt.001I’ve been avoiding the Nashville Statement. But I finally broke down and read the thing this morning. The plain text is pretty much what I expected. I grew up among evangelicals. I know the rhetoric.

The Nashville Statement is full of language that tries to make black and white out of an issue that defies binary characterization. The world is not black and white, but full-color and three-dimensional. A black and white statement like this one could never come anywhere close to doing justice to the full spectrum of human sexuality.

We actually do need new language

I am close with a handful of Christian moms and dads whose adult children have come out to them. I have had the privilege of being their pastor and friend. Here’s what I’ve learned.

At the moment when Christian moms and dads have a child come out to them, these parents have language already imbedded in their imagination, a set way of talking about human sexuality, a linguistic toolkit for ethical and moral choice. This language fuels a ton of hopes and dreams parents have for their sons and daughters, dreams that probably did not include same sex attraction, gay marriage, and a whole host of new realities. When they hear the words I’m gay (or whatever the words) from their child, what those parents need in that moment more than anything else is a new language, a new imagination.

So, they embark on a journey, a period of adjustment during which they attempt to build a new language, a new way of communicating with and about their children that will not permanently damage their relationships and will strengthen their faith. This journey is incredibly taxing, like being plopped down in a foreign country where you don’t know the language. How will you communicate? How will you describe your experience? How will you understand the experience of your kids? How will you navigate relationships with God, the church, and your friends? What will your new hopes and dreams for your children look like? How can you convey this to them? How can you honor God together?

…but not this kind of language

The long and painful journey to try and move past the binary, black and white pablum to a more mature place of paradox and tension and unknowing is not for the faint of heart. It’s a long and painful process that probably never really ends. When the journey goes well, it produces these amazing parents who are less rigid, less judgmental, and usually much more loving and accepting in general.

What these good moms and dads are looking for during that journey is a conversation partner, someone to walk with them as they struggle, someone to support them as they have to reimagine their own lives in light of their new reality. They need non-judgmental, compassionate friends who don’t claim to have all the answers. Tragically, what they usually get instead is some version of The Nashville Statement. Which is why, for too many evangelical parents of gay children, the hardest part of their journey will be the way that their churches, pastors, and fellow evangelicals seem to gather around them and make things worse, usually by emailing a link to something like the NS.

I guarantee the NS has already been sent by more than one “concerned” friend to the parent of a gay child. My heart hurts just thinking about it.

What do I make of the Nashville Statement?

As a pastor and a believer, when I’m looking for good language, a Christian response, a Christian imagination for how to live in a community with all kinds of struggles around sexuality, the last place I look to for help is something like the Nashville Statement.

When I reach for language to help understand the broad landscape of human sexuality, especially in regard to same sex attraction and gay marriage, I look to faithful Christian parents of gay children. Their language is hard won. They are living the struggle. They are loving unconditionally. They are inhabiting the in between places, where black and white don’t help anything. They know how to live in paradox and tension. They embrace the great cloud of unknowing. They are my guides. Not some facile document authored by a bunch of rich, powerful, educated, straight, white males (mostly).

The Nashville Statement is simply not helpful for anyone. It’s the tip of the spear that will divide parents from children, friend from friend, and so on.

In contrast, the Christian parents of gay children offer something deeper and richer. They offer language forged in deep spiritual struggle. In general, these parents are brave and smart and thoughtful and faithful and strong beyond what I can even begin to convey here. And the Nashville Statement is exactly the kind of unhelpful language that will be emailed & texted to them when they are at their lowest. This disembodied “that settles it” sword will cut them to their very souls and further distance them from God and the church.

The Nashville Statement is one of those toxic Christian substances I wish we could un-invent. It’s only purpose is to cause harm. Even if you believe every word of it–and it’s seriously okay if you do–the only outcome from this dogmatic statement will be the painful tearing apart of relationships.

Most of the evangelical parents of gay children I am close to actually never come to a place where they can say this is exactly what I think & believe about human sexuality, and I am beginning to see the wisdom in this. They haven’t given me too many answers. They have, however, given me an example of how to faithfully struggle with something that defies easy answers. They have shown me how to love more unequivocally, which seems to be the whole point of Jesus’ teaching in the first place.

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