Criticism Of The Nashville Statement
Hey everybody, I’m sorry I’ve been away for most of the day. As you might have seen here, I am going through a relapse of chronic mononucleosis. I think it was brought on by the demanding travel schedule I observed this past summer. I spent most of today in bed, sleeping. This is all really distressing to me, especially seeing that I have a very busy travel schedule this fall. I am having to refuse invitations in the spring, for the sake of my health. The Benedict Option will be out in paperback in April 2018, and I’m told there will be a college book tour around that, so I need to be careful with my health between now and then. Perhaps this is too much information, and if so, I’m sorry, but I want you to know why my presence throughout the day on this blog has been so spotty lately.
I want to address here some of the criticisms of the Nashville Statement, which was issued yesterday by a coalition of conservative Evangelical theologians. I’m not interested in addressing those criticisms made by liberal Christians. They could not possibly be satisfied by it. But there have been some criticisms from people who are theologically disposed to be allies with the Nashville Statement signatories. I know some of the drafters, and wouldn’t presume to speak for them, but here are my thoughts.
The main criticism I’ve seen is that the statement wasn’t broad enough. It said nothing about divorce, pornography, unnatural sexual practices within marriage, and things like that. The complaint is that the statement singled out SOGI (sexual orientation and gender identity) for special criticism, when the truth is, Christian witness and discipleship is threatened by many other sexual sins. In sum, the Nashville Statement, the criticism goes, failed to repudiate the Sexual Revolution.
I get this, and agree with it in a certain context. It is certainly true that the Sexual Revolution has been absorbed by the conservative Christian mainstream, such that we are often blind to our own sexual sins. I feel sure that most, even all, of the Nashville Statement signatories would agree with this. Do people really think that Wayne Grudem, John Piper, Al Mohler, and Russell Moore (among other signatories) are okay with pornography, no-fault divorce, and the rest? Come on.
I read the Nashville Statement not as an attempt to make a comprehensive statement of Evangelical sexual ethics, but rather as something narrowly targeted at a specific challenge facing the Evangelical churches: SOGI ideology. Some critics seem to be faulting the Statement for not saying what it did not attempt to say.
First off, some of the sexual stuff doesn’t need saying. For example, no serious Evangelical theologian believes that porn is okay.
Second, other aspects of a comprehensive statement would likely have prevented a group as diverse as that one from reaching an agreement. Some Evangelicals may believe that certain sexual practices within marriage are licit, while others believe that they are forbidden to Christians. It’s an argument worth having, but I don’t understand why Evangelicals are expected to agree on everything sexual in order to take a public stand against anything sexual.
More broadly, SOGI poses a more radical challenge to orthodox Christianity than the other things do. Most of these other practices are in some way perversions of a norm, but not a denial of it. Leaving aside direct Scriptural prohibitions of same-sex conduct, SOGI in essence denies the sexual complementarity and gender essentialism intrinsic to Christian anthropology. To call them licit requires believing that there is no meaning in our bodies beyond that we assign to them. That philosophical position cannot be reconciled with orthodox Christianity. The “ask” from pro-SOGI Christians has profound metaphysical implications, which, I think, is why these are not issues on which Christians can agree to disagree.
Now, Catholic critics who have pointed out that the acceptance of contraception is at the root of so much sexual disorder among Christians have a point. There are other questions having to do with the metaphysics of modernity that ought to be addressed in any comprehensive Christian critique of contemporary sexual disorder. All of this is true. But again: do you have to address everything in order to address anything?
Now, practically speaking, it is certainly true that far more Christian lives, marriages, and families are ruined by easy divorce, porn, and the rest. It’s wrong for heterosexual Christians to pluck the speck out of LGBT eyes, while ignoring the log in our own. I think this is what Russell Moore means when he says that you can get to hell from Mayberry just as fast as you can get there from Sodom. That said, if the church normalizes SOGI ideology, it surrenders grounds from which to fight these other disorders. That’s a big reason why this is so important.
I’ve heard from an Evangelical pastor friend who says that Article VII of the Nashville Statement rejects the chaste Spiritual Friendship approach to living as a gay Christian. I had not thought about that. I wrote favorably about Spiritual Friendship in The Benedict Option, and had a conversation with my (new) friend Rosaria Butterfield about why she believes SF and its supporters are wrong. I have to concede that I didn’t read Article VII that way, but I think the fault is mine for not grasping the full implications of it. I need to think more about the claims of Spiritual Friendship, versus the Nashville Statement’s claims.
Bottom line: The Nashville Statement is not perfect by any means, nor is it the last word in addressing the sex-and-gender challenges to fidelity within contemporary Christian life. But it is and important and necessary line in the sand. Far, far too many of us conservative Christians have ratified the Sexual Revolution by being so passive in its face. That is a fair charge, and we have to repent of that. But our failures on that front in no way justifies the radical abandonment of Christian sexual and gender teaching that affirming SOGI ideology requires.
UPDATE: A story from the Babylon Bee (an Onion-like satirical site, but about Christians):
After numerous prominent Christians and everyday believers alike signed the Nashville Statement affirming basic Christian doctrine held with rare exception for 2,000 years, progressives across the nation flooded the internet in droves to voice their horror and disgust at the shocking set of beliefs.
“I can’t believe these people would just come out and blatantly state something Christians have unflinchingly agreed on for millennia,” one liberal Christian wrote on Twitter. “It’s absolutely beyond callous.”
“I literally just can’t even,” she added later.
Secular humanist scholar Zeke Reddington agreed, stating on his Patheos blog that for Christians to publicly affirm historically Christian ideas was “unthinkable.”
“It’s 2017, for crying out loud. I can’t believe we have to deal with people who disagree with us in the current year!” he wrote in his insightful 8,000-word blog post.
At publishing time, the many bigoted backers of the Nashville Statement had still refused to apologize for their horrific act of affirming beliefs that most progressive Christians evolved beyond at least two or three years ago.