- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Is The Nashville Statement A Surrender?

I was e-mailing this morning with a conservative Christian friend who is orthodox on sexual issues, including same-sex marriage, but who can’t fully get behind the Nashville Statement [1]. His reasons are familiar: it didn’t say what it ought to have said about divorce and other heterosexual sins and failings, and it was dismissive of the Spiritual Friendship [2] approach, which, according to my friend, was unhelpfully and unnecessarily divisive.

I more or less sympathize with those criticisms, though as I’ve said, I don’t think it’s quite fair to blast the Nashville Statement for what it didn’t say, as if the signers had to address a number of things before they could affirm what was until a generation or so ago uncontroversial teachings in all Christian churches. Would I have liked to have seen something about divorce, pornography, and similar sins indulged in by straights? Yes. Do I think it’s a big deal that those things were left out? No. The perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good enough.

I also sympathize with my friend’s view on Spiritual Friendship, though I am genuinely not sure what I think about the SF approach. I had no problem at all with it until a conversation this past summer with Rosaria Butterfield, who strongly opposes it, made me rethink the issue. I can’t get to a settled point on the matter, at least not yet. I also understand the view of the Nashville Statement, I think, which holds that SF is a Trojan horse, however unintentional. As a practical matter, I wish that the Nashville Statement had not articulated a stance on this issue, because I don’t want to alienate same-sex-attracted Christians who live chastely and affirm the Christian teaching on homosexuality, but who go about it from a somewhat different set of premises.

But then, the fact that the Nashville Statement forces me to confront and reason my way through this issue is a sign of its necessity in these confusing times. It is compelling Christians to assess where they stand. This makes a lot of people in the messy middle uncomfortable. A different Christian friend said this morning that a lot of our fellow conservative Christians are shocked by the backlash to the Nashville Statement, even within the churches, because they had not realized how much the church has compromised on sexual ethics. It is good, I think, to have that clarity.

One thing my earlier friend wrote sticks out in my mind as something well worth pondering. He said that the Nashville Statement seems to give up trying to convince people who might yet be convinced of its premises.

I guess I can see that, but it seems to me that the Nashville Statement wasn’t trying to do that. It did not attempt to make an argument. If anything, it was a manifesto on which to build arguments. The more serious question, I think, is this one: how many people are truly convince-able at this point?

I don’t know the answer, and I doubt anyone does. I think it’s pretty clear that very few Christians are going to be convinced to switch from being pro-LGBT (= affirming homosexuality and/or transgenderism) to the orthodox Christian position. We’re really talking about holding on to Christians who are tempted to move away from orthodoxy towards the liberal stance, but who don’t really know what to think right now. How many of those people are there?

More than a few, I would imagine. What’s keeping them from declaring openly for Christian orthodoxy, or declaring openly for the pro-LGBT position? I would genuinely like to know, so if you are one of those Christians, I hope you’ll explain your point of view in the comments thread. My guess is that conservative Christians who are considering adopting the pro-LGBT position are motivated by one or more of these factors:


1. Discomfort with being called or thought of as a bigot, and with social stigma attached to it
2. A desire to offer homosexuals the blessings of marriage.
3. Belief that marriage is not intrinsically complementary, in terms of male and female, but is rather nothing more than a solemnization of the love and commitment two people feel for each other.
4. An inability to explain why gay marriage and homosexuality in general is wrong, except for “because the Bible tells us so.”
5. Love for a gay or transgendered person in one’s life, and not wanting to see that person suffer — especially if that person is one’s child
6. Belief that the struggle over sexuality within the church is not that important, and is keeping the church from focusing on more important things (e.g., “When can we stop talking about gay marriage and get back to preaching the Gospel?”)
7. Resignation over the fact that the church has compromised so much with the Sexual Revolution to this point that it makes no practical sense to draw the line here. Better to accept that reality and to work within it as best one can to preach, teach, and live the Gospel

So what might be holding them back from affirming LGBTs? One or more of these factors, I think:

1. The clear teaching of Scripture against homosexuality
2. An inchoate sense that affirming homosexuality would cross a very important line
3. The fact that the Christian church has had a clear and firm teaching against homosexual acts from the beginning, and only began moving away from that within living memory (e.g., “What makes us think that we know better than every previous generation of believers?”)
4. Fear of ostracization by fellow conservative Christians in one’s church
5. Belief that to affirm LGBT would be to ratify sliding down a very slippery slope towards polyamory and the radical break-up of the family

Remember, I’m not talking about Christians who are firmly convinced of the traditional Christian teaching. I’m talking about people who outwardly affirm it, but who are wavering inside.

My sense is that the Nashville Statement is a “fish or cut bait” document. That is, it compels Christians who don’t really want to think about these things, because it makes them uncomfortable, or they fear it would lead them to conclusions, one way or the other, that they don’t want to reach — it compels them to quit kicking that particular can down the road. The liberal Evangelical ethicist David Gushee is wrong, in my view, about homosexuality and Christianity, but he is right that this issue will find all of us at some point, and force us all to take a stand. The Nashville Statement is helpful in forcing us Christians to face what we really believe about marriage, sex, and sexuality — which, like it or not, has become the most important issue dividing the church today. Isn’t it possible that the Nashville Statement will do good in that it compels believers who have wanted to avoid these discussions to take them seriously, and have them?

Me, if my supposedly conservative congregation really favored normalizing homosexuality, I would want to know that, so I could make decisions based on that knowledge. And if it held to orthodoxy on the issue, I’d want to know that too, for the same reason. I think a lot of Christians, including pastors, prefer not to think about it, and will just go with the flow. That means affirming LGBT, over time. To not decide is effectively to decide. Don’t kid yourself.

The question remains, though: How many persuadable fence-sitters remain, after all these years of talking about homosexuality in the public square? To repeat: if you are one of the persuadable, what would move you to one side or the other?

[Note to trolls: I want a genuine discussion on this thread. To that end, I will only post serious, thoughtful comments about this issue. If you want to play the “whatabout” game, you’re wasting your time by commenting, because I’m not going to post it.]

UPDATE: I just returned from a lunch meeting with a group of conservative Evangelicals, including a few pastors. We talked about the Benedict Option for most of the lunch, but at the end, I asked them what they thought of the Nashville Statement. I was not prepared for the vehement pushback. The ones who spoke up emphatically called it a pastoral disaster. Among the criticisms:

That last one — the Trump factor — deserves some commentary. A couple of people in college ministry were at the table. They said that it is impossible to overstate how alienating the enthusiastic support their parents gave to Donald Trump was to their students. A number of college students have left the church entirely over it.

“How is that possible?” I asked one of the campus ministers. “How do you decide to leave Christianity altogether over who your parents voted for? That makes no sense to me.”

He said that in Evangelical circles, it’s common for college students to be skeptical at best of their parents’ theological views. For a lot of them, their parents’ backing of Donald Trump made everything they had been taught as kids about Christianity a lie. Their parents were the primary face of Evangelical Christianity to them, and to see this happen was shattering. They concluded that Christianity must be all about the economy, or tribalism, and so forth. One pastor said that a young man he ministers to in college posted a criticism of Trump on Facebook, and was cut off financially by his parents because of it.

Listening to these pastors and laypeople talking about the Trump effect on younger Christians was quite sobering to me. An older pastor said that it is impossible to separate the Nashville Statement from the massive support white Evangelicals gave to Trump. Impossible to separate, I mean, in the mind of the young.

“But Russell Moore signed it, and other Trump critics among Evangelicals,” I said.

“I know, and I’ve tried to tell people that,” said this pastor, a conservative Evangelical. “It doesn’t matter to them. All they see is a bunch of leaders of a movement who voted for a sexually corrupt man like Donald Trump are now trying to take a public stand on sexual morality for gays. It’s totally hypocritical to them. I don’t know how the Nashville Statement drafters and signers didn’t see this coming.”


159 Comments (Open | Close)

159 Comments To "Is The Nashville Statement A Surrender?"

#1 Comment By Joan On September 11, 2017 @ 1:11 pm

@Matthew Kilburn
Beyond that, engagement in an LGBTQ lifestyles separates one much further, and much more permanently, from the traditional structures intended for us. The adulterer might reconcile, the one who uses contraception will probably still have kids, ditto for the one who had an abortion. The ones who had premarital sex will probably eventually settle down. But how many living in a homosexual relationship will ever marry a member of the opposite sex or have children? Very, very few.

The New Testament is clear: celibacy and traditional marriage are both acceptable for Christians. However, a considerable segment of socially conservative Christians depart from the New Testament by going back to Genesis and arguing that God’s very first commandment to the very first humans, “Be fruitful and multiply,” is still binding on each and every Christian who is physically able to obey it. This is what I smell in the opposition to Spiritual Friendship, too, and the invention of that new sin called Emotional Adultery. It’s less about achieving theosis than about increasing the tribe. 

Many years ago, I knew a man who was raised Catholic and broke with the Church over Humanae Vitae. He said “They think we’re cattle.” Mind you, this was a middle-aged man with five kids, all of whom went to Catholic schools at his expense. How many young people see something similar going on in the religious condemnation of the sexual revolution? 

#2 Comment By bt On September 11, 2017 @ 1:20 pm


Here’s the rub, the whole point of civil marriage is to divorce it from religious meaning. It’s marriage for the rest of us, a legal thing.

You again prove why Civil Marriage is a non-starter for Conservative Christians. You don’t and won’t approve of civil marriage, because you don’t want to what you see are the religious basis and meanings stripped out of it, I presume.

And you won’t be happy with a parallel system of religious unions, I presume.

Just say, yes, Carlo. That you will never approve of civil marriage. And say, yes, that your religious beliefs should form the legal basis for my marriage. Even if I don’t share your religion.

#3 Comment By Carlo On September 11, 2017 @ 7:53 pm


no and no. I can approve of forms of civil marriage designed to protect children. Otherwise, as a citizen and a taxpayer I have no interest in other people’s private affairs and I don’t see why people expect the state to endorse their living arrangements. And no, I have no desire for my religious beliefs to form the basis on anybody’s marriage. The fact you think otherwise suggests that you are blinded by some sort of strange bigotry.

#4 Comment By Bob On September 12, 2017 @ 9:12 am

Forget about the Nashville Statement. The Word of God is not difficult to understand about where He stands on the subject of human sexuality. If your stance reduces to “Hath God said?”, then you are either ignorant of scripture or you resist its authority. The former can be remedied, the latter probably not.

#5 Comment By Michael Brissette On September 12, 2017 @ 6:26 pm

Rod, I’ve been a fan of yours ever since you wrote Crunchy Conservatism (I think that’s what the title was) and from time to time I would read your columns and think that you got to the crux of the issue at hand. Such is the case here. The Nashville Statement really does seem like a Last Stand for Evangelical Christians before they are consigned to long term minority status here in the U.S. This must be a painful experience for them, since all their lives the Evangelicals felt that they were the majority. But let me ask you this: isn’t Christianity better off being in the minority? A survey of the history of the Catholic Church tells me that as soon as the Church enjoys prestige and respect, she always gets corrupted. Whenever the Church is persecuted or just not in favor, she is more focused on the Gospel and is more inspiring. So maybe the traditional Evangelicals can take hope, knowing that those who persevere in their faith and who live out the Gospel message end up making the world a better place than those whose main goals are gaining electoral power and popular acclaim.

Oh, and to provide my own testimony: I am a traditional Catholic who recognizes that traditional Catholicism is no longer “in”, if it ever was. I just try to do my best to live as Christ wants me to.

#6 Comment By ian On September 13, 2017 @ 2:42 am

I would be someone on the verge of being affirming, my reason would be related to your reason 4 (An inability to explain why gay marriage and homosexuality in general is wrong, except for “because the Bible tells us so.”). I think this is a really important area of discussion that is often ignored on the basis that the bible is clear about sexuality, thus the conversation goes no further. If we are to be an authentic and valued voice in society, we need to do better than this.

I start with the premise that same sex attraction is a real “condition”, not a choice that anyone makes. I affirm this as true because it matches with my experience as a heterosexual male, who never chose to be heterosexual but could not chose to be same sex attracted if my life depended on it.

If someone has the same but opposite experience as me (never chose it, but exclusively same sex attracted), I have to ask – what is wrong with them expressing it in a faithful monogamous same sex relationship? Their choices seem to be:
1) Same sex relationship
2) Forced celibacy
3) Heterosexual relationship*

Now I ask, which option is least damaging for a same sex attracted individual and for society as a whole? Without bringing up the obvious scriptures (which don’t really address why it’s a bad thing anyway), I can’t make a case for option 2 and 3. Can anyone else? I mean that as a sincere question.

*For us heterosexuals to understand the implications of option 3, we need to consider what it would be like for us to have no option for a sexual relationship except a same sex one. I expect that’s a horrible thought, but that’s the equivalent of option 3 for us.

#7 Comment By JonF On September 13, 2017 @ 4:49 pm

Re: no and no. I can approve of forms of civil marriage designed to protect children. Otherwise, as a citizen and a taxpayer I have no interest in other people’s private affairs and I don’t see why people expect the state to endorse their living arrangements.

So you would get rid of civil marriage for childless people, and maybe even for people whose children are grown?

#8 Comment By Carlo On September 14, 2017 @ 1:18 pm


in the US, in 2017, sure. What purpose does it serve, if most women work? To spare people some paperwork re. estate and hospital visitation? Or as a secular blessing for people who have nowhere else to go? Both purposes are trivial compared to the cultural damage coming from the idea that the state defines “marriage”.

#9 Comment By Joe Watts On September 15, 2017 @ 12:20 am

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” is the basis of Christianity, and is the best moral advice ever given.

The Nashville statement is about as far away from that counsel as is possible.

The way we treat gays tells more about us than them.

In fact, these hard core positions of self-righteousness are the very reason religion is in decline.

Good riddance to religion—onward to rational thought.