What does the “Nashville Statement” mean for mainline Christians?

September 12th, 2017

At the end of August, as Hurricane Harvey was flooding southeast Texas, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood launched a slick, well-designed website containing their newly-released Nashville Statement, a “Christian manifesto” on marriage, same-sex relationships, and transgender individuals. While the views of the conservative evangelical organization are not new or surprising, the Nashville Statement appears to be a line in the sand, something that the writers and signers have compared to the Barmen Declaration (a document adopted by Christians in Nazi Germany who opposed the Deutsche Christen movement) and other Christian statements named after the places where they were written.

Per their Danvers Statement from 1987, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was formed, in part, in opposition to the feminist movement and affirms the complementary view of gender roles. Likewise, this Nashville Statement claims it is written in response to the increasingly post-Christian nature of the Western world and what they see as a “massive revision of what it means to be a human being.” The signers include such evangelical heavyweights as John Piper, Russell Moore, and James Dobson.

In a series of fourteen Articles, the Nashville Statement defines marriage as between one man and one woman, affirms chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within, affirms the distinct and divinely ordained differences between men and women and links these to reproductive structures, and mandates chastity for people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex. In Article X, the statement explicitly states that those who “approve of homosexual immorality and transgenderism” are in sin and denies that this is a matter on which otherwise faithful Christians can “agree to disagree.”

While the other tenants of the Nashville Statement are neither new nor surprising in the conservative evangelical world, Article X caught my attention, particularly in terms of what this might mean for those of us in Mainline denominations who are trying to have difficult, faithful conversations about sexuality and gender identity. Not only was the Nashville Statement’s release painfully tone-deaf in light of the destruction wrought by Hurricane Harvey, it also seems to be a deliberate shutting-down of conversation with other Christians. If we can no longer “agree to disagree,” then what do we have?

In engaging in online discussions about the Nashville Statement, it became obvious that this was not only about sexuality. When I initially tweeted my criticism about it, the first people in my mentions had profiles with explicit white nationalist sentiments. Others remarked on the diminished moral authority of evangelicals to make statements like this in the age of Trump. As a straight, white woman priest in the Episcopal Church, this statement has no bearing on my own beliefs, but it does affect my ministry, particularly to those who come to my congregation out of conservative evangelical traditions and have been hurt and broken by statements like these.

My reaction to the Nashville Statement is mostly sadness and disappointment in my brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no doubt that the Church in all of her myriad denominations and forms will continue to struggle with and have challenging conversations around sexuality, sexual and gender identity, and the meaning and purpose of Christian marriage. This is not a time for lines in the sand but for faithful wrestling, for hard, generous conversations, for listening to those who have been marginalized by the Church.

The Church also faces diminished relevancy in a world wracked by massive wealth inequality, suffering, and fear, in a world that is desperate for the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is hard to imagine the Nashville Statement changing anyone’s mind towards the position of its writers, particularly those outside the Church. It seems more likely that on-lookers will once again conclude that the Church is more obsessed with the speck in our neighbor’s eye than with the plank in our own.

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