The Nashville Statement (https://cbmw.org/nashville-
One of the first questions this raises is, why? Why is there such outrage and rejection of this statement? Is it because it is hateful? Is it communicating empirically wrong and hurtful information? Is it insensitive and tone deaf to cultural sensitivities? To truly answer such questions one would need to understand the motivations behind the attacks and criticisms and that would be nearly impossible at this point in time to ascertain motives for most of the sources of such attacks and criticisms. But what does seem achievable now, is to reflect upon the statement and the attacks leveled at it and to draw some conclusions about the statement and validity of the attacks. This approach does not seek to attribute motivations to the critics and fall into the realm of a counter attack, but rather considers the merits of the criticisms as it relates to the text of the statement and the explicit motivations of the statement’s framers – which have been published and thus can be known.
Therefore this article will reflect on three categories of attacks and/or criticisms that have coalesced around the statement thus far and respond in a limited fashion to each. The first criticism to be examined is that “the statement is unloving.” The next criticism, “it is unbiblical” will be reviewed followed by reflection upon the criticism that “the statement is unhelpful.” The typical source responsible for each category of criticism will be identified, followed by an explanation of the fundamental content of the criticism, then two variations of each criticism category will be stated, followed by a response to the criticisms.
Criticism 1 – The Nashville Statement is Unloving or Hateful
Almost immediately upon being released the Nashville Statement was attacked as being unloving. The typical source of this criticism has been secular sources – groups, organizations and individuals who would not identify as Christians. Examples of such criticism is this article from the NY Times (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/
This criticism manifests both as a claim the Nashville Statement is hateful and that it is dangerous. This link exemplifies the dangerous aspect http://www.al.com/opinion/
Is this criticism warranted? To be warranted the text itself must communicate hate or bigotry, or the underlying motivations of the authors must be to encourage hate or bigotry toward LGBTQ people in which case the text could be said to communicate such attitudes indirectly or covertly. Is either case true of the Nashville Statement?
Here is a link to the actual statement – https://cbmw.org/nashville-
“We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.”
This final paragraph summarizes the first section of the preamble and contains no language that could be construed as unloving or hateful. The 14 articles expand upon the preamble and likewise contain no unloving, hateful, derogatory or even harshly critical language. In fact, it seems any objective analysis of the language itself would conclude there is no hate and bigotry here. But how could such a criticism arise then?
If the language itself is not overtly hateful or bigoted then it must be found in the overall meaning and that is undoubtedly where it arises. The overall meaning of the Nashville Statement is that the secular cultural position on sexuality is contrary to God’s revealed plan for mankind. The message is that God’s creative purpose includes humanity as male and female to be essential. Marriage is a critical and beautiful element of that purpose and is to be only between one male and one female. The statement proclaims that human flourishing is enhanced by knowing and following God’s purpose for human sexuality and diminished by rejecting God’s design and purpose in favor of self-defined gender and sexual expression. This is (without controversy) the traditional, historical Christian position. Some contemporary Christians argue that this traditional position should be rethought (more on that later) but virtually nobody denies that it is the traditional Christian position! And this stance means that the Nashville Statement is calling the secular position on this critical topic, wrong! This assumes an objective morality whereas our secular culture assumes (at least demands) a subjective morality. This clash in regards to the basis of morality creates a polemical context for dialogue. It’s this polemical context that many will interpret as hate or unloving regardless of the actual language, overall meaning or underlying motivations.
Nevertheless, the direct language we have seen is not unloving and certainly not hateful. The overall meaning of the statement, being the traditional, historical Christian position on human sexuality is by no means hateful or unloving albeit contrary to the secular culture’s position. Yet the expressed purpose of the statement’s text is to bring the joy and beauty of God’s plan to those in our culture for their benefit, to ensure their flourishing, and for the glory of God. Therefore, it seems the criticism that the Nashville Statement is unloving or hateful is unwarranted.
Criticism 2 – The Nashville Statement is Unbiblical
Perhaps surprising has been the backlash to the statement from a few Christian circles. The particular criticism of being unbiblical so far seems to have come from “progressive” Christian sources. One such source is “Christians Talk” Face Book community and they recently posted a video of several professed Christian leaders denouncing the Nashville Statement on the ground that it is unbiblical https://www.facebook.com/
This criticism takes two forms. One form is from the position that the Bible is God’s word, inspired and infallible BUT we have been misinterpreting the “classic 6” texts that deal directly with homosexuality. And moreover, we have been misinterpreting the larger biblical narrative in regards to God’s design and plan for human sexuality. This manifestation of the criticism doesn’t deny biblical authority per se but claims we have been misinterpreting and misapplying the biblical texts.
The other form of this criticism takes a decidedly different tact as it comes from a decidedly different view of the Bible. This form of the criticism assumes the Bible is not inspired and infallible at least in the same way most evangelical Christians understand those terms, and therefore, it does not have authority in our contemporary lives. This angle of the criticism asserts that the Bible’s teachings about homosexuality are simply wrong based on an ancient historical context and cultural milieu. The biblical teaching is a culture bound, culturally relative moral position. It is no longer valid for us because our culture is more enlightened or has simply moved past the ancient taboos. So both manifestations of the “unbiblical criticism” arrive at the same goal, namely that the Nashville Statement does not accurately or properly represent Christian biblical teaching. However the path to that conclusion differs. Are these criticisms warranted?
A thorough biblical exegesis of the applicable texts or a thorough theological analysis of this issue is beyond the scope of this article. Much commentary has been written on the aforementioned texts and can be easily accessed by the reader. However, two relevant points can be discussed that will shed light on the question as to whether the Nashville Statement is unbiblical.
First it is beyond debate, as stated above, that the Nashville Statement accurately reflects traditional, historical Christian understanding of this topic. While there is certainly variation in the specifics of biblical exegesis regarding homosexuality and human sexuality within the Christian Church, the Church has held the same essential doctrines almost unanimously for nearly 2000 years. This Nashville Statement faithfully articulates this same position. To now question and denounce this near unanimous, 2000 year history of Christian witness should require overwhelming biblical warrant! It seems highly doubtful, based on contemporary scholarship regarding this topic to date, that such overwhelming warrant has been developed. Therefore, the rejection of these historical doctrines seems to be based on something other than solid biblical warrant, thus by definition constitutes a rejection of biblical authority.
Secondly, the overall biblical narrative, which seems to be far less understood and articulated in the Church today, runs contrary to this “new narrative” regarding God’s plan and purpose for human sexuality. Starting in Genesis the Bible lays out God’s creation, the intended order of things, man’s rejection of it and subsequent rebellion, and then the history of God’s redemptive acts culminating in Christ. Gender/sexuality and Marriage fits within this larger creative and redemptive context as does all doctrine. Jesus in fact references this very thing when he discusses divorce with the religious leaders in Mat 19:1-9 and ties it into God’s creative purposes in Genesis. In order to properly understand marriage and gender/human sexuality we must do the same thing.
God created mankind in His image, meaning He created humanity to reflect His image, His glory, in a very unique way. Further, scripture tells us He created “them male and female” – specifically, intentionally humanity was created with maleness and femaleness in order to display God’s glory. In that same passage (Gen 1:26-29) He told them to be fruitful and multiply. This command ensures the global spreading of His glory through multiplying His image bearers! We see God hates divorce in Malachi 2:15 because God desires godly offspring. This happens when a man and a woman following their intended created purpose obey the divine command to be fruitful and multiply propagating the earth with more “image bearers.” This is how human sexuality and gender and marriage tie into His creative purposes.
But there is more, as it relates to God’s redemptive purposes. In Gen 2 we see the close up view of what was summarized in chapter 1 regarding the creation of man. In chapter 2 the man who was created first was not quite complete but was lacking a suitable companion. Eve was created but she came out of Adam, then through the union that would serve as the model of marriage for future generations, they “became one flesh.” So in marriage the glory of God is more greatly displayed in the sacred act of two distinct persons becoming so united they become “one flesh” – just like the Godhead, the Trinity who is distinctions in persons but unity in being. God created them, male and female He created them, and then they produce more image bearers some of which will be special children of promise (Gen 1:26). And this is why it can never be two people (or more) of the same sex. Then, in the most amazing and ultimate sovereign act of God, the creative purpose and mandate results in the ultimate redemptive act in the birth of Messiah -THE Child of Promise! Moreover, we learn further that marriage is a great mystery (Eph 5) in that it displays the redemptive glory of God through revealing the mystery of Christ and the Church. This is the larger redemptive narrative within which marriage must be seen.
So we see gender is central to God’s purpose and created order. Marriage of male and female is absolutely essential and provides a unique expression of God’s glory and functions as a symbol and actual mechanism for God’s redemptive work. We further see that in the mystery of marriage it displays God’s glory by displaying the mystery of Christ and the Church.
This is the deep theological foundation for these things and it shows us how central and essential they are to everything God is doing. We cannot compromise on these truths or we compromise everything. Therefore, it seems the Nashville Statement is thoroughly biblical and consistent with traditional historical Christian teaching held nearly unanimously by the Church for 2000 years. The “unbiblical criticism” surely seems unwarranted.
Criticism 3 – The Nashville Statement is Unhelpful
This criticism has been coming from a few Christian circles and in fact from some conservative, Evangelical circles, from individuals who by in large agree with the doctrines or teachings in the actual statement itself. One such source can be found here https://mereorthodoxy.com/
This criticism seems to take at least two forms as well. The first form being that it is unhelpful because it unnecessarily offends the target audience. Given these tenants are not core to the gospel message (according to these critics) it is confrontational and repels those who need the gospel rather than attracts. This is not a criticism of anything in the statement, it takes no exception with the content but rather takes exception with making any statement regarding such “non-essential” doctrines at all.
The second form of this criticism is more nuanced and perhaps more harsh. It makes the claim that such a statement is inappropriate because the Church is hypocritical in this area having indulged other sexual sins in her midst and yet not making such public statements against them. Such things as premarital sex and divorce go barely noticed and never denounced, it’s the Church’s dirty little secret according to these critics. So the statement has no integrity and being hypocritical invites condemnation from the culture and weakens our witness unless we make a comprehensive statement about human sexuality as a whole and deal with all our little pet sexual sins too.
Does this criticism have warrant? First, any statement of Christian doctrine necessarily — and by definition — marks out boundaries. In doing so it requires people to take sides. This is not unique to so called non-essential doctrines but is perhaps more applicable to the very Gospel itself. Paul makes this very point in 1 Cor 1:23. So to make any statement about Christian doctrine whatsoever will offend some people. Unless we are prepared to never make any statements at all, even to proclaim the Gospel of Christ, this form of the criticism must be rejected. But what of the second form, that the statement is hypocritical because it is not comprehensive and it doesn’t have integrity because it ignores the “pet sins” of the Church?
First, there is no need nor is there the ability, to be fully comprehensive in any statement. Indeed every statement throughout Church history has been limited in focus. According to the logic of this criticism, the Nicene creed should never have been published because it didn’t deal with sola fide! Furthermore, these particular authors and leaders who developed and published the Nashville Statement have been and are quite strong in their stance regarding divorce, sexual purity and other related issues. These leaders have a long track record of being in the public eye living, leading, and teaching these truths for decades. There is no warrant for saying there is hypocrisy here.
Secondly, the statement itself does in fact address sexual purity and sexual relationships in general, specifically stating the applicability of abstinence and purity for heterosexuals and homosexuals. While it does not develop other aspects of sexual purity it says nothing to imply the obligations of purity for example, are restricted to those with same sex attraction. If it is not required for a statement to be comprehensive and all encompassing in order to be helpful/valid/truthful/etc, AND if we know that the authors of said statement are indeed strong in the application of biblical sexual teaching in regards to divorce, sexual purity etc then I fail to see any warrant here for suspecting the integrity of the statement itself.
Additionally, the Church in the past (and some segments still today) has been very vocal and very strong regarding divorce. In fact this has been one of the harsh criticisms of the Church by the culture in decades past – that it has made divorce a taboo causing undo social stigma to arise because of the Church’s harsh stance. The narrative that the “Church” somehow has been in love with divorce and it’s the dirty little secret and all the divorced folks have been getting a pass is just fantasy. This seems to be a case of a rash generalization. Therefore, the criticism that the statement is unhelpful because it offends and is hypocritical is unwarranted.
Upon reflection and examination of the criticisms of the Nashville Statement, it seems clear that the criticisms fail and are unwarranted. The Nashville Statement stands as an important, accurate, charitable statement of the great traditional and historical truths regarding certain aspects of human sexuality, delivered to a culture in desperate need of its message. There is no reason to believe the statement carries hatred or bigotry of any kind, but rather, love and a genuine desire to see God glorified and people come to know and enjoy His purpose for their lives. There is no warrant for saying the statement is unbiblical in any aspect as it accurately proclaims the truths that the Church has embraced for 2000 years. Nor is there any reason to think this statement has been or will be unhelpful unless one believes any statement of any Christian doctrine is unhelpful. Given the clarity and the charitable spirit and tone of this statement, it can be expected to help clarify the truth for countless Christians and non-Christians alike and be an invaluable asset to Christian leaders the world over.
It is my honor to be a signatory of the Nashville Statement and I commend it to all my fellow believers.