Why traditionalists should reject the Nashville Statement

I get it: you’re a traditionalist on LGBT matters. You believe the Bible clearly teaches that the only place for sex is between one man and one woman in marriage. You aren’t persuaded by the minority report in Evangelical scholarship that thinks monogamous same-sex marriage is not what Paul has in mind in the three NT passages that speak about the issue. You don’t buy the “Third Way” position that says Christians can faithfully disagree with each other on this one while staying together in love. And you don’t think this is, in the grand scheme of things, a non-issue that pales in comparison to Jesus’s grace and love — a position that more and more pastors are taking.

Still: you shouldn’t support the Nashville Statement. It’s deeply flawed and represents the wrong direction for traditional Christian sexual ethics. Here are five reasons why.

1. It has no place for “Side B” Christians.

The best thing the traditional position has going for it is gay Christians who choose celibacy out of conviction. Check out the Spiritual Friendship blog if you haven’t yet. These celibate brothers and sisters have a richer vision of sexuality than most of us married Christians, and it isn’t just about celibacy: it’s about how sexual beings (i.e. all of us) can flourish, regardless of our situation.

These are “Side B” Christians: gay but celibate out of conviction. (“Side A” Christians are gay but accept same-sex relationships.)

Side B Christians know they are gay. If you listen to their stories, they‘re full of heartbreak and depression. When their friends started getting crushes on the opposite sex, they got crushes on the same sex. They’ve prayed for “healing” and God hasn’t changed them. They grow up terrified: what would their parents say? Their church? Their Christian friends? They don’t choose their orientation; in fact, they try to choose otherwise. But they can’t.

The Nashville Statement denies that Side B Christians are gay. It says they are actually just disordered straight people. From Article VII:

WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

This is the wrong approach. From a traditionalist point of view, Side B Christians are walking saints. If you want to sign a statement, make sure it leaves room for Side B!

2. It presents a thin, stunted view of sexuality.

Christians have a problem talking about sex. We like to reduce it to a set of boundaries. “In marriage = good. Out of marriage = bad.” As long as you accept that, you’re fine.

Shouldn’t Christianity have more to say about sexuality — a HUGE part of human experience — than this? Of course it should, but the Nashville statement doesn’t. It’s too busy drawing lines. The focus of the fourteen articles is: “don’t do this LGBT thing, and here are all the ways you shouldn’t do it.” The flowery preamble doesn’t move much past culture war rhetoric and a complementarian account of creation.

Why not present a positive sexual ethic instead of just drawing lines? It’s not that hard. Start with “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” Talk about the Fall. Move on to “Submit yourselves to one another,” “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices,” and “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” End with a rousing “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

That’s the substance of things. Head coverings and sin lists are an application. Start with the substance.

3. It’s deeply complementarian.

This may or may not be a problem for you, traditionalist. But if you don’t think traditional gender roles are embedded in Creation and the Gospel, don’t sign the statement.

4. It ignores the deep suffering caused by the church.

Surely you recognize that the church has deeply hurt millions of LGBT people. From electro-shock therapy, to conversion therapy, to parents and pastors throwing children out on the street, our history has been pretty awful. (If you aren’t aware of this, find a few LGBT people who grew up in the church and listen to their stories. Here is one example.) Suicide and depression are serious problems for LGBT teenagers, and are even more common for LGBT teenagers that grow up in the church. The church has been quick to look past adultery, pornography, and divorce, while singling out LGBT behavior as uniquely wrong.

Any church statement on LGBT matters that doesn’t include repentance for the bad behavior of the church, and any statement that doesn’t call churches to better welcome and care for LGBT brothers and sisters, isn’t worth the bytes it’s written on.

5. It makes agreement a Gospel issue.

Jesus came preaching grace and calling for repentance. He welcomed adulterers and “sinners” without waiting for them to change. He didn’t tell people to get their theologies in order first; he just said “Follow me.”

Traditionalists brothers and sisters: there are faithful Christians who love Jesus who disagree with you on this. Some of them disagree because they think the Bible is outdated and irrelevant, but a growing number disagree because they read the Bible. They have faith in Jesus, exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, trust the Bible, believe the creeds, and care for orphans and widows. They are your brothers and sisters in Christ.

…Only not according to the Nashville Statement. Article 10 draws a self-proclaimed “line in the sand.” In a clarifying blog post, Denny Burk writes:

“Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.”

These are strong words and should be reserved for rejection Jesus and the Gospel, not a rejection of what the Bible treats as a secondary matter (6 verses across Leviticus and Paul!).

Honestly, this part of the Nashville Statement borders on heresy. The Gospel has never been about having the right theology or interpreting the Bible in the right way. It has always, and only, been about putting trust in Jesus as God’s answer to sin and death. It calls us to life change, surely — but not the kind of life change that focuses on purity and correctness, like the Pharisees.

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