After the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood issued their Nashville Statement on gender and sexuality this week, I tried not to care. Don’t we already know where they stand on these issues?
But I couldn’t let it go, if only because so many of my own friends carefully follow CBMW or John Piper. They are people who truly want more than anything to be faithful and loving. They don’t know or care much about the politically correct ways to say things; they might even read the statement as many commenters did—”compassionate,” “gracious.”
It was CBMW’s insistence that their position is central to the Gospel, I realized, that took my breath away with shock and a little fear. Do my friends think I oppose the Gospel? Will they think so after their spiritual heroes sign on to this sweeping declaration?
Whenever I have questions about the Gospel, I ask Jesus. Here are five things I could imagine him saying to those who signed.
I know many people who might sign on to the statement with some sorrow. They worry about the state of world. They wish others didn’t have to struggle with their sexual identities. They want to have LGBT friends and serve them meals and “do life with them” until the day the friends realize how terrible their lives are and repent.
That is well-intentioned in a way, but it’s not compassionate. “Com + passion” equals suffering with. You are not with someone as long as you are drawing a line between sexual morality and sexual immorality with yourself squarely on the opposite side from the other person. You are not with someone as long as opposing a fundamental aspect of their self remains a fundamental aspect of your theology.
Instead, the language and tone of the Nashville Statement reveals that it was not written by people in real relationships with queer people. If it had, it wouldn’t use the made-up word “transgenderism” or insist at so very many points that people can change to fit “God’s design.” It would acknowledge the church’s utter failure of queer people, evident in the prevalence of depression, suicide, and self-harm among queer Christians.
- It’s not Biblical.
The Nashville Statement’s conflation of beliefs about sexuality with salvific belief in the Gospel (Article X) is utterly unsupported by Scripture. Jesus never preached that fulfillment of narrow gender roles would signal the arrival of the kingdom of God.
- It’s not holistic.
Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t make statements about gender and sexual identity in isolation from an understanding of sex and sexuality for straight people. In particular, it’s tone-deaf to trumpet the urgency of these issues for the Evangelical church, the vast majority of whose queer members have left, while ignoring the fact that rape culture, pornography, and abuse continue in the pews (and in the clergy) daily. This is the epitome of a plank-and-speck situation.
Likewise, a church that demands lifelong celibacy of its members is also rejecting the gospel if it does not expect to sacrifice just as heavily as the celibate members to support and include them in its life. Jesus said his followers would hate their mothers and brothers; perhaps he meant to suggest that there is no place in his kingdom for those who idolize the nuclear family.
- It makes you look silly.
The Nashville Statement will not go down in history as a defining moment on par with the Nicene Creed. It may someday be a footnote illustrating how conservative evangelicalism died orchestrating a series of exercises in missing the point. The grandiosity of the name points to the hubris of the whole thing.
- It reveals more about you than about God.
The fact is, no one reading the Bible—and especially the Gospels—for the first time would put it down and say, “that was a fascinating book about sex.” You’re revealing your own obsession with sex and the status quo. The Nashville Statement itself makes an attempt to look strong and decisive, but the preamble reveals that that attempt is just an impulse driven by fear—fear of change, fear of humanity, and most importantly, fear of those who are different.
I think if Jesus were here, he’d ask you about your own nuclear family. He would sit and his eyes would glow with yours as you told about the passion and steadfastness your spouse has shown you, the incomparable joy of raising children, how the best nights of your life were just all of you piled on a couch. Maybe he’d chime in—I have always loved how her hair catches the sun, too.
Jesus would ask you about sex. About what it meant to you to share all of yourself with someone; about what you learned about God and yourself in your own celibate seasons; about how your gender makes you who you are, places you on a team, invites and challenges you to be fully yourself.
Jesus would listen and listen and when you were done, when you had told all that made your own experience precious to you, he would wait a while. And I think he’d ask you to let go of the Nashville Statement. I think he’d say, here, let me hold that for you, and he’d promise to keep it safe.
I think if you were so sure of your beliefs and so close to Jesus, you’d be able to set them aside for a bit and listen, instead of alternately clutching them to your chest and brandishing them about. And Jesus might say:
Your love for your family is a beautiful and holy thing, a thing that makes you who you are. And my queer friends? Their gender identities and romantic relationships make them who they are, too. Precious, thrilling, and a little bit odd, with histories of mistakes and triumphs—just like everyone else.
Maybe you feel the need to police all of this precisely because your own identities mean so much to you. Is it so hard to believe that the people they love and the genders they express mean this much to others as well? That they are integral to their very being? That I made them that way?
Your family doesn’t need to be protected by rules and declarations. They need to see you model the servant leadership you talk about sometimes. They need you to wash the feet of your transgender neighbor and really hear the stories, start to finish, of the queer people who have quietly slipped out of your life. They need to see that you know how to repent and to make amends. That’s what would take courage. That’s how you would display integrity. That’s how you would be changed by imitating my love.