On the #NashvilleStatement

What is the Nashville Statement?
The Nashville Statement is a doctrinal statement produced and signed by a number of high profile evangelical leaders regarding marriage, sexuality, and gender. The statement has generated a fair amount of controversy and confusion. This is unsurprising, given that this is such a hot-button topic in our culture and the historic Christian perspective is considered backward and hateful by many. Still, there is nothing in it that is outside the bounds of what Christians have been saying for two thousand years.

Furthermore, while the statement was written by CBMW (“The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”), there is nothing particularly “complementarian” about the statement.[1] Biblical egalitarians, while disagreeing with complementarians on gender roles within the church, could still agree with this statement.

If it’s what Christians have agreed on for centuries, what’s the point in saying it now?

One of the primary objections has been that this doesn’t need to be said, and that in saying it, evangelicals are elevating one sin over another. “Do these Christians talk as much about racism or greed as they do about sexuality?” That might be a fair question, but it misses the point. I suspect this statement was made now because this question is up for debate in Christian circles. Many Christians are, in fact, abandoning a biblical understanding of creation and God’s purposes for marriage and sexuality. This statement weighs in on this debate and call Christians to commit to a side. No one disagrees that greed is wrong, so while it’s a major emphasis in the Bible, a statement on greed isn’t necessary. It might win you some points, but it doesn’t need to be said.[2]

What about Article X?

Most of the controversy among evangelicals who would otherwise agree with this message is surrounds Article X. This article states that approving of “homosexual immorality or transgenderism” constitutes “an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” And, it denies that this issue is a “matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”

This statement has been interpreted differently by different people. Some have understood this to mean “you’re not saved if you disagree with us.” Others have interpreted it to mean that “this isn’t just an area where it’s OK to ‘agree to disagree’ and that diverging from the biblical witness on this point constitutes real damage to the faith.” If it means the former – where agreement on this issue is a pre-requisite to salvation – then I would disagree with this article. The things you must believe is very small. But I don’t think that was the intention of the statement. I believe that the statement is saying that this set of doctrines gets at the core of who we are as humans and who God is as our Creator, and that the biblical witness is clear on these issues. Therefore, disagreement here isn’t just something we can say is unimportant.[3]

Is the moral authority of this statement undermined by evangelical support for Donald Trump?

Exasperated sigh.

The charge of hypocrisy is simply a common part of debate these days. It’s impossible for anyone to say or do anything without the charge of hypocrisy. Frankly, I tend to tune most of it out. Unfortunately, for me this time it has a ring of truth. My great fear during the 2016 election was that by supporting such an obviously immoral man, evangelicals would hurt their witness and lose their moral authority to speak out on these kinds of issues. And, while the charge of hypocrisy would certainly come up regardless, in this case it sticks.

On the other hand, several of the signers were, in fact, some of Trump’s most vocal critics (e.g. Russell Moore). Also, just because someone is hypocritical, it doesn’t mean they’re wrong. While the charge of hypocrisy does stick in some cases, it doesn’t necessarily undermine the argument. That’s the case here.

Of course, wherever there is hypocrisy, and whenever it is rightly pointed out to us, we should respond with repentance.

Is the statement hateful?

Finally, the most common argument against the Nashville Statement is that it is hateful. This is a serious charge for Christians to consider given that we’re called to be known for our love.

It is possible that the statement could have included some level of repentance and that may have helped. It is possible that it could have had a more pastoral tone. But, after reading it a few times, I have failed to find anything in it that is mean spirited or harsh. Finally, and sadly, I’m sure it will be the case that some will use the Nashville Statement as a weapon against their neighbors, who they are called to love.

Yet, most people who find it hateful do so because of its content. If you take issue with its content, then you take issue with what Christianity (and other religions) have always believed. Many people do, of course, but there’s nothing especially different in this statement from what has been said throughout Christian history.

So, is Christian doctrine hateful? Space doesn’t allow me to fully and adequately address this question. But my short answer is that God is a loving God and that He gives us ethical commands for our good. His law is intended to lead toward human flourishing. Christians argue for biblical ethics and doctrine because we believe that it will lead to a more abundant and joyful life (though the path to abundant life inevitably leads through suffering). We are most free when we live within the created order, God knows the created order (because He created it), and following him leads ultimately to goodness, life, and freedom. Even if you disagree with this worldview, I hope that at least you will understand our motives.

[1] Article IV states “divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design” is a “complementarian” as it gets. While complentarians might disagree with what those differences are, they don’t disagree that there are differences. Furthermore, it’s clear from the statement (Article V) that these differences are in regard to sexuality and gender.

[2] A fair objection might be that while this needs to be said it should be done within the context of a church discussion, or at an ecclesial structure. What complicates this is that many churches do not have such a structure, or these structures are weak.

[3] For more on this, see Preston Sprinkle’s article “The Debate About Same-Sex Marriage is not a Secondary Issue” written before the #NashvilleStatement.