I haven’t been counting the days but it has been at least the better part of a week since the Nashville Statement emerged. Since then I have had time to think about both it and the common reactions to it. You will note that most if the internet jumped upon it right away. I find it rather discouraging to see that most people have gone with their gut on this one. When it comes to such sensitive subject matter, we ought to err on the side of patience.
Now that I have a more clear head on the issue, I figured this might be a good time to speak some sanity. Rather than write an essay with a thesis and a conclusion, I’ll just go issue by issue and offer some perspective.
1. Polarizing Issues. It is always a tragedy when issues like this devolve into factions. We tend to clump around certain ideological communities for security and avoid giving the other side a fair hearing. In the hands of a more prudent generation, The Nashville Statement could have been a centerpiece for constructive conversation. We have chosen to react in emotional group-think on both sides. I find this very discouraging.
2. Content vs Context. We live in a very charged milieu, on account of the above phenomenon and others. The climate of discussion is a mess. People on both sides feel threatened. We ought to consider this when weighing the value of these kinds of statements. One may, at the same time, univocally affirm the content of the statement, while asking such critical questions as “Who is the target audience?” “What can a statement of this nature accomplish in our time?” “Will this bring clarity and unity, or only further charge the milieu?” “If we accept this as theologically true, how then do we apply this to the public square?” This was not the time and manner to affirm these truths and important questions remain unanswered. We can treat the content and context with different criteria.
In the words of the prophet Amos, “The prudent will keep silent in these times, for the times are evil.” The prudent may be selective if not necessarily silent.
3. About “Unity.” A mantra of mine lately has been “United by what?” It is not enough to talk about “Unity” if we do not know what it is that unites us. The moment you articulate what that is, you will necessarily exclude people. The alternative is silence, which I would hardly call an expression of unity. Given the choice between nominal unity and open exploration of truth, I choose truth.
4. Some Invalid Objections.
I sympathize with the Mayor of Nashville wishing to clarify and defend her position on this issue, and to dissociate the Nashville Statement from the beliefs of the citizens of Nashville. That is her right. However, this does not mean the statement if poorly named. It is conventional to name statements after where there were ratified or delivered. I’m sure there were Arians in Nicaea. That’s not the point.
“Hateful / Fearful / Bigoted / etc.”
The statement speaks very courteously and addresses sexual sin even among heterosexuals. Furthermore, it affirms that we all have shared hope for forgiveness in Christ. However, we should acknowledge the sensitivity of the subject matter and aim to be as gentle as possible.
“It was written by white people.”
If this were a statement about race, this would be worth considering. As a statement on sexuality, this is entirely immaterial.
“People before Piety.”
Do not conform any longer to the ways of the world but be changed by the renewing of your mind. See to it that no one takes you captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy which depends on human traditions and elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. People before Piety is a blatant rejection of the revealed will of God. However, we may still affirm the humanity of all people and treat them with dignity without celebrating their lifestyles.
“We don’t need statements / creeds.”
That statement is, in fact, a statement. Not as coherent a statement as others might be, but a statement nonetheless. Creeds are inevitable, so we should at least construct them thoughtfully. However, we should acknowledge that statements and creeds are not authoritative in and of themselves and that their truth is contingent on the accuracy with which the clarify the revealed will of God.
5. One Thoughtful Objection. There is a school of thought floating around the internet that children will be traumatized if they are taught that anything less than sexual purity renders them incapable of being loved, valuable, and images bearers. Of course, all human beings (including myself) will inevitably experience sexually impure thoughts, desires, or even actions. While I don’t believe this to be a fair reading of what the Nashville Statement says, it does seem fair to address the fact (and it is a fact) that all human beings will inevitably fall short of God’s will for their lives, including in their sexuality. We should be intentional in acknowledging this and in acknowledging that this does not separate us from the love of God. We trust in him for our deliverance, not in our own righteousness.
In conclusion, my concern is not so much for whether or not you agree with the statement as much as it is how we agree/disagree with the statement. If there is a unity to be found, it must begin with a fair and thoughtful hearing of the different sides, not an emotional and impulsive one. Most importantly, upon reading the Nashville Statement, we should have gone to prayer first before going to our social media feeds.
I fear that we live in a time where we don’t go to the Word of God and his revealed will to find the answers to the most sensitive issues of our time. We cling to our own personal visions of what we think the church should look like, conservative or liberal, and are quick to pigeon-hole those who disagree. The ultimate authority in the faith of Christ is neither the Nashville Statement nor the gay couple in your congregation – it is Christ and his teaching, sought prayerfully.
If we are to speak the truth in love, we need not just love but also truth. Neither can abrogate the other and neither can constrain the other. We will be able to share both these things in full cooperation with each other only if we understand “truth” and “love” not according to the changeable definitions of the world, but according to the words and works of the person of Christ.
“Are you for us or for our enemies?”
“Neither. But as a soldier in the army of the Lord, I have blogged.”