If you move in vaguely Christian circles, or if you are part of the LGBTQ community, you have probably heard of the Nashville Statement. And if you have heard of the Nashville Statement, you almost certainly have an opinion on it. The Nashville Statement was the brainchild (I almost wrote brainlesschild, but I have reminded myself that now more than ever I need to resist the urge to invoke ad hominem arguments that accuse and divide people, and extend love even to those with whom I profoundly disagree, or what Jesus called our “enemies”) of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (don’t get me started on the name). Essentially, the document invites Christians to sign their agreement with what it calls a return to a Biblical understanding of sex.
I applaud the desire to make a Christian statement to a world that seems to be losing its mind. I wholeheartedly agree, when I look around me, that what the world most desperately needs right now – as it always has, in fact – is for people to start to live in a way that honours life in the way God intended. If we could accomplish that, we would not have to live in constant terror of a nuclear war. We would not need to be concerned that our children would suffer the agony of being the victims of the violence that inevitably follows peoples’ desires to conform the world to reflect their own ideologies. We would not need to worry that our children would themselves become monsters, justifying the violent satisfaction of their own needs. I completely applaud the recognition on the part of the signatories of the CBMW that the world needs to shape itself around a Jesus lifestyle.
What I cannot understand is that with all of the issues on which they could possibly have chosen to take a stand, they chose sex. What is with the Christian obsession with sex? There seems to be almost no concern over the right to bear arms – to brazenly wield instruments that have, as their sole purpose, the destruction of others; there is a relative silence around race and gender-based violence; tyrants rise to positions of ultimate power in their countries and we find reasons to justify keeping them there; we throw away enough food each year to feed all the starving; there is so much wanton and irresponsible dumping of plastic – which, even if it can be broken down at all, takes hundreds of years to degrade – that it is estimated that by 2050 we would need three planets to sustain our current consumer habits. But the CBMW’s biggest concern is what people do with their naughty bits. Really?!
When will Christians start to see the real nature of evil in the world? How do we make ourselves recognise that we are the problem? All of us. And not because we transgress some divine law by thinking too much about genitals; but because we use issues like different perceptions of genitals to justify hatred, to exclude and accuse and divide. The world we construct through our flawed theologies is so steeped in scapegoating and blood that to focus on moral codes is easier than the hard work of reshaping our thinking so that it is in line with the peace-making, humble relationships Jesus calls for in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
Jesus did not say: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples: if you renounce homosexuality”.
Jesus did not say: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples: if you suppress your sexual urges”.
Jesus did not say: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples: if you separate yourselves from those you regard as unclean”.
Jesus did not say: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples: if you sign public statements that depict marginalised groups as threatening and deviant”.
Jesus never made any claims to the effect that some version of moral purity was key to a relationship with God.
Jesus said: “By this shall all know that you are my disciples: that you have love one for another”.
And when they asked him who the neighbour was, who the person was for whom they ought to be willing to lay down their lives, he told them the parable of the good Samaritan. And after two millennia his point should have had time to work its way into our theologies, but tragically it seems not to have. His point was that the priest and the Levi, those who would have been considered to be leading virtuous and pure lives, were not doing as God commanded because they refused to love. They walked by on the other side of the road and averted their eyes. But the one whom Jewish society would have regarded as threatening and deviant did not. Who, Jesus asked them, do you suppose was doing God’s will?
The sole virtue of the Nashville Statement, so far as I can see anyway, is that it polarises opinion. It makes it impossible to sit on the fence. It forces Christians to take a stand. And here is the issue: pretend, for a moment, that the LGBTQ community, that all who have had sex before marriage (and who, as a result, have been made to feel dirty and unworthy by the church’s obsession with sex), that all boys who struggle with pornography, that young people beginning to explore their sexuality through masturbation, are the traveller on the side of the road. Villains (sadly the church, mainly) have robbed them of dignity and beaten them down. The CBMW wants you to be the priests who walk by on the other side of the road. The CBMW asks you to be blind to the violence that declarations of “faith” like this have caused. It makes the indefensible claim, in Article 10:
“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.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”
The claim this makes is that anyone who does not agree with the articles of “faith” that the Statement outlines cannot be considered Christian. Was Christianity ever a matter of sexual “purity”? I don’t see evidence of that. I see a Jesus walking away from the woman caught in adultery. I see Jesus eating with prostitutes. I see a Jesus, who – through his life and his teachings – always came out in defence of the marginalised and the oppressed. I see a Jesus who chose love over the letter of the law every time. And yet the Nashville Statement would have me believe that I must disregard everything Jesus modelled because some Old Testament priests, who also advocated stoning unruly children and the genocide of peoples who were not Israelites, said that sexual purity was important? Do you see why – given the incompatibility of this with Jesus’ ethics and theology – I cannot consider the Bible to be inerrant? I wish people would think before putting their names to anything that calls itself Christian.
Do you know that young people who have realised that they are attracted to the same sex are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual teens? And do you want to know why that is? Research suggests it is because they fear being rejected by their families, their communities, the very people who ought to love them. And the research suggests that the suicide rate diminishes sharply when these young people know they have the support of their loved ones. When they are loved for who they are, people can cope with just about any hardship. No wonder Jesus said all of the commandments hinged on love.
So what is more loving? What, in other words, is more in line with God’s will: to sign a statement that effectively alienates people from their communities and families, that makes people feel dirty and worthless and scared, and which is very likely to lead to suicides, bullying and violence, or to raise your voice in support of the marginalised and oppressed? Which do you think looks more like the Kingdom of God that Jesus envisaged: a society where everyone can live in peace and where everyone knows what it is to love and be loved, or a society that uses Scripture to divide and accuse, that draws lines in the sand about who is welcome in the Kingdom and who is not? It’s not a very difficult question. Don’t walk by on the other side of the road. Show your colours.
Please don’t think – no matter how passionately I argue – that I hate John Piper and company. I do not, although I do have to try very hard not to be contemptuous or disdainful, which I admit comes too easily. I want to love like Jesus did – even those with whom I profoundly disagree. I will leave you with the words of Katelyn Jackson, someone who demonstrates the grace I think ought to exemplify Kingdom thinking: http://auburnseminary.org/open-love-letter-nashville-statement-signatories-gay-christian/
I hold you in love today.
I can only imagine the fear and heartache that must have motivated you to sign the Nashville Statement. Our country’s view on same sex relationships, even in Christian circles, is rapidly changing. I sense you feel we are on the precipice of Evangelical Christian persecution. If someday your views on the Bible and homosexuality are labeled as hate speech, you must worry that social pressure and government intervention will try to force you to change what you preach, how you hire, and how you interact with the world.
I have studied under you, prayed for you daily, celebrated the adoption of your children, and considered you some of my heroes of the faith. You sat with me while I cried, offered me a safe place to stay when I needed a break, and supported my dreams in ministry. I’m sorry that the divide between us has made you believe this statement was necessary.
I affirm that you are loved by God and members of my family, deserving love, gentleness, and compassion. I will continue to hold you in high esteem.
I affirm that many of you are deeply kind people, despite your signature on this document – committed to caring for the poor, protecting the fatherless, and loving your neighbors.
I affirm that many of you love the Lord deeply – studying God’s word, praying, and leading churches out of love for Jesus’ work on the cross.
I affirm your declaration that my religion and your religion are radically different. I give you the freedom to consider your faith substantially different than mine.
I pray that we will partner together in an interfaith movement to denounce hate and promote kindness and gentleness. I pray that you will hold me in love, as I hold my Muslim, Mormon, Jewish, Evangelical, Hindi, Buddhist, and Atheist brothers and sisters in love.
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Signed, Katelyn Jackson