So an acknowledgement: the Nashville statement bullshit is exactly the type of thing that caused me to leave the ministry I was in.
(Swears and spoken slang below. It’s written as I spoke it, not as a quality, edited written word. Whatever. Insert snarky GIF here.)
First, about the statement itself. A huge majority of the Nashville signers are not even theologians. Of the signers/formulators of this document, you’ve got:
• A professor of English literature at an evangelical university
• The founders of World magazine, which is an evangelical/conservative magazine in the vein of Time/Newsweek
• At least one church pastor who admittedly never even went to Bible college, let alone seminary (yeah, I got links, this isn’t hearsay)
• someone who is listed as a volunteer at an organization that contends the Gays and Pagans are Destroying America
• Multiple political lobbyist/activist/writers with no theological training
• A child development specialist with no theological training.
• A senior writer for a conservative magazine/website with, yes, you guessed it, no theological training.
For the actual trained theologians category, it’s a bunch of Southern Baptists and some other nondenominational churches (sorry, not looking up all of the affiliations of “Open Door Church” or “Family Church” right now). Interesting too that Rick Warren didn’t sign, but one of his junior pastors did. Assume then that Saddleback affirms this statement.
This is a problem. I’m not anti-laity (if you’ll see the very first sentence of this post, you’ll see that I’m not in ministry anymore.). However, when a document comes out that’s supposed to be theological in scope and a good half of the signers aren’t even trained in any sort of Scriptural study or exegesis… WTF guys. The head of the group that put this document out is suggesting it’s as important as the Nicene Creed. LOL. Denny. Your arrogance is almost impressive.
Folks, if Tony Perkins and Marvin Olasky and David French are your bishop-equivalents, you need to leave that church yesterday. That’s not a church. That’s a political lobbying agency.
What they did was they drew certain lines in the sand on non-creedal issues. Here they have cast a line of no negotiation (article 10) around creationism, the relationship/roles of men and women, and on a very specific piece of a sexual ethic and transgenderism/gender dysphoria, as well as body dysmorphia. Cute, really. Gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia ain’t in Scripture. They’ve “stuck to Scripture” (the “stick to Sports” of the evangelical world) but made up the Scripture part of it. Maybe *that* is why they didn’t throw citations in the Nashville statement.
To pretend this is anything less than rigid fundamentalist rhetoric is ridiculous. They’ve introduced non-negotiables while ignoring all the other “non-negotiables” they’ve brushed aside to get there. This isn’t exclusive to this mostly baptist/evangelical group. GAFCON and its fans have done this too. I’ve got no time for this. If you’re gonna have an allegedly rigid sexual ethic, be consistent.
But nah. Who needs consistency? Not church leaders. They’re playing the base, just like politicians.
This isn’t an ethic. And frankly, I’ve got no more time for this bullshit.
This “ethic” is the Statement that screams about marriage/fidelity and Never. Fucking. Once. Mentions. Divorce. You know, the thing that happens to over 50% in this country. The thing that Jesus directly talks about. Oh, they say in the statement that you should only have sex within a man/woman marriage. But what’s the other side of it? What’s the pastoral care for the half of their adult parishioners who are divorced? Oh right. Pastoral care. That’s not something your English professor/magazine editor/political lobbyist leaders are particularly concerned about.
This Nashville statement isn’t “new” in the sense that it’s the drum the evangelical/baptist leadership has been beating for decades. They’ve usually tried to be less “You’re out if you can’t sign this” they they are with this. Heck, even one of the signers spent a day on Twitter saying “you can still be Christian if you disagree” even though THAT IS LITERALLY THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT SHE SIGNED HER NAME TO IN THIS STATEMENT. Fun.
So where do we go from here?
I haven’t been a Capital-E Evangelical for 15 years, but I’ve been in church worlds that have often kept one foot in the broader evangelical conversation. It’s possible that’s true for a bunch of you too. Here’s what I’m doing and what I’d offer up as suggestions to the broader church world.
• Don’t let these folks dismiss your own faithfulness to the study of Scripture.
◦ “Well the Bible clearly says” and “you obviously don’t trust God’s Word” are two common rejections of a redemptive, affirming hermeneutic. But those phrases are just empty phrases that themselves require clarification. Things like interpretation and wrestling and exegesis have been going on for thousands of years. We need to do those things, and continue to do those things.
• Do engage the wider church tradition. Listen to voices outside of your own denomination, like the Catholic Catechism that says of gendering God:
◦ 370: In no way is God in man’s image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective “perfections” of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband.”
◦ Wrestle with Coakley and Williams at St. Basil and St. Augustine and St. Thomas and Flannery O’Connor and the breadth and depth of the work of the church throughout the generations.
• Do ask yourself why the broader evangelical church tradition has staked this claim now while ignoring other “sexual ethic” positions on IVF, surrogacy, and contraception.
◦ What does it mean to have a robust conservative sexual ethic?
◦ What does it mean to affirm LGBTQ persons within the church?
◦ What does it mean to stand up in your church and damn LGBTQ persons and their allies to hell, which is essentially what Art 10 has done in this document?
There is good, important, Scripture-loving theological work happening and I’m trying to follow Christ’s call and the Spirit’s leading. I hope that, if you’ve read this far, this post has given you a sense of where I’m coming from, where I am now, and what significant inconsistencies there are with something like the Nashville statement. I hope this fosters some thoughtful reflection and might stir you to ask questions of your ministers and church traditions.
I’ve found personally that theology is best worked out in conversation with others, in person. I’ve been reluctant to post this here for risk that my own process of discernment and wrestling can be reduced to a few paragraph rant in the summer of 2017.
There are those that will celebrate this, and those that will go full blown “farewell Rob Bell” on me for this.
Anyway, here it is. My heart. My love of Jesus. My attempt to love my neighbors and my community.