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Home/Rod Dreher/Why The Nashville Statement Is Needed

Why The Nashville Statement Is Needed

The above tweet by a leading liberal Evangelical is why the Nashville Statement is necessary. There is nothing new in the Statement. It is basic orthodox Christian theology on sexuality and gender — the sort of thing relatively few Christians would have challenged until recent years. A Southern Baptist theologian who signed the document and helped produce it tweets:

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This is exactly right. Here is a subsequent tweet from Hatmaker:

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This is what happens when you theologize guided by nothing but emotion. This is not Christianity. This is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Don’t misunderstand: theology does not stand abstractly apart from the world. You would have to have a heart of stone not to contemplate the lived experiences of people with doctrines. But you would have to have a head of pudding to think you could dismiss very clear and deep Biblical anthropology and moral teaching about sex and sexuality, to say nothing of the consistent witness of the Church from its founding until pretty much the day before yesterday.

You might recall my writing earlier this year about a speech I gave at a conservative Evangelical college, about The Benedict Option. A young woman in the audience asked me why “practices” are important in Christian living, and why it’s insufficient “to love Jesus with all our hearts, as I was taught growing up.” I explained that emotion alone is a poor guide to faithfulness and obedience. If we only follow our hearts, we will lose the Way. After the speech, a professor told me that nearly all of the Christian students reason (“reason”) in the fashion of this student. They are completely defenseless before claims that Biblically orthodox Christianity is “mean”.

Two years ago, the Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore penned an essay for First Things, titled “Evangelicals Won’t Cave.” In it, he wrote:

Now that the Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case has nationalized same-sex marriage, America’s last hold-outs, conservative Evangelical Protestants, will eventually, we’re told, stop worrying and learn to love, or at least accept, the sexual revolution. As Americans grow more accustomed to redefined concepts of marriage and family, Evangelicals will convert to the new understanding and update their theologies to suit. This is not going to happen. The revolution will not be televangelized.

More:

But however confident and complacent are these helpers, they can’t change the fact that the Evangelical cave-in on sexual ethics is just not going to happen. There is no evidence for it, and no push among Evangelicals to start it. In order to understand this, one has to know two things about Evangelicals. One, Evangelical Protestants are “catholic” in their connection to the broader, global Body of Christ and to two millennia of creedal teaching; and two, Evangelicals are defined by distinctive markers of doctrine and practice. The factors that make Evangelicals the same as all other Christians, as well as the distinctive doctrines and practices that set us apart, both work against an Evangelical accommodation to the sexual revolution.

I wonder if Dr. Moore — a signer of the Nashville Statement — would say the same thing today. A Pew survey earlier this year found a profound generational divide among white Evangelicals regarding homosexuality. Excerpt from the Washington Post account:

Just a decade ago, the gap between younger evangelicals and older evangelicals on the issue was not wide, according to the Pew Research Center. But a new survey suggests that the generational divide has grown much wider, with about half of evangelicals born after 1964 now favoring gay marriage.

According to Pew, 47 percent of Generation X/millennial evangelicals (those born after 1964) favor gay marriage, compared with 26 percent of boomer and older evangelicals (those born between 1928 and 1964).

But there’s a wrinkle:

Some evangelicals believe there’s a difference between supporting gay marriage as a public policy matter and gay marriage as sanctioned by churches. A large majority of white evangelicals (including younger generations) continue to see homosexual relations as morally wrong, according to the General Social Survey.

The 2016 survey found 75 percent of white evangelicals saying homosexual sexual relations are always or nearly always wrong. That number is down from 82 percent in 1996 and 90 percent in 1987. The survey does not show a large generational gap, however. In 2014-2016 surveys, 70 percent of Generation X/millennial white evangelicals said same-sex sexual relations are nearly always or always wrong, compared to 81 percent of baby boomers/older generations.

I understand the distinction being made here, but I don’t see how “personally opposed, but” can stand over time, given the rapidity of cultural change, and the severe sanctions, social and legal, that will be inflicted on religious believers who dissent from this ideology. And you’d have to be a fool to believe that if Biblical orthodoxy on sexual matters becomes optional within the church, that heterodox Christians like Hatmaker would tolerate the orthodox. After all, why would you put up with those who believe in doctrines that cause “suffering, rejection, shame, and despair”?

This really is a bright red line — and it’s far more important than many conservative Christians understand. If the Church surrenders on this issue, it will abandon more than its members understand. As I write in The Benedict Option:

Early Christianity’s sexual teaching does not only come from the words of Christ and the Apostle Paul; more broadly, it emerges from the Bible’s anthropology. The human being bears the image of God, however tarnished by sin, and is the pinnacle of an order created and imbued with meaning by God.

In that order, man has a purpose. He is meant for something, to achieve certain ends. When Paul warned the Christians of Corinth that having sex with a prostitute meant that they were joining Jesus Christ to that prostitute, he was not speaking metaphorically. Because we belong to Christ as a unity of body, mind, and soul, how we use the body and the mind sexually is a very big deal.

Anything we do that falls short of perfect harmony with the will of God is sin. Sin is not merely rule breaking but failing to live in accord with the structure of reality itself.

The Christian who lives in reality will not join his body to another’s outside the order God gives us. That means no sex outside the covenant through which a man and a woman seal their love exclusively through Christ. In orthodox Christian teaching, the two really do become “one flesh” in a way that transcends the symbolic.

If sex is made holy through the marriage covenant, then sex within marriage is an icon of Christ’s relationship with His people, the church. It reveals the miraculous, life-giving power of spiritual communion, which occurs when a man and a woman—and only a man and a woman—give themselves to each other. That marriage could be unsexed is a total novelty in the Christian theological tradition.

“The significance of sexual difference has never before been contingent upon a creature’s preferences, or upon whether or not God gave it episodically to a particular creature to have certain preferences,” writes Catholic theologian Christopher Roberts. He goes on to say that for Christians, the meaning of sexuality has always depended on its relationship to the created order and to eschatology—the ultimate end of man.

“As was particularly clear, perhaps for the first time in Luther, the fact of a sexually differentiated creation is reckoned to human beings as a piece of information from God about who and what it meant to be human,” writes Roberts.

Contrary to modern gender theory, the question is not Are we men or women? but How are we to be male and female together? The legitimacy of our sexual desire is limited by the givenness of nature. The facts of our biology are not incidental to our personhood. Marriage has to be sexually complementary because only the male-female pair mirrors the generativity of the divine order. “Male and female he made them,” says Genesis, revealing that complementarity is written into the nature of reality.

Easy divorce stretches the sacred bond of matrimony to the breaking point, but it does not deny complementarity. Gay marriage does. Similarly, transgenderism doesn’t merely bend but breaks the biological and metaphysical reality of male and female. Everything in this debate (and many others between traditional Christianity and modernity) turns on how we answer the question: Is the natural world and its limits a given, or are we free to do with it whatever we desire?

What these pastors, theologians, and Evangelical leaders have done is hugely important. So much is at stake! But it is only a start — and the laity cannot leave these leaders standing alone. The challenge Christians face to Biblical orthodoxy is overwhelming — and heterodox Evangelicals have a hurricane-force wind at their backs. For example, when our children are going to schools — public, private, and yes, even religious — in which their peers enthusiastically endorse homosexuality and gender ideology, we cannot realistically expect them to embrace fidelity? Again, from The Benedict Option:

Peer pressure really begins to happen in middle childhood. Psychology researcher Judith Rich Harris, in her classic book The Nurture Assumption, says that kids at that age model their own behavior around their peer group’s. Writes Harris, “The new behaviors become habitual—internalized, if you will—and eventually become part of the public personality. The public personality is the one that a child adopts when he or she is not at home. It is the one that will develop into the adult personality.”

Harris points to the example of immigrants and their children. Study after study shows that no matter how strong the home culture, first-generation offspring almost always conform to the values of the broader culture. “The old culture is lost in a single generation,” she writes. “Cultures are not passed on from parents to children; the children of immigrant parents adopt the culture of their peers.”

It is not enough to think orthodox thoughts. We have to make our churches, our families, and our Christian schools places where a countercultural Christian orthodoxy is lived out and embedded in the practices of daily life. It is not remotely enough to say “thou shalt not,” not today. Young Christians — and even not so young Christians — need the bigger picture of why male and female matter so much, and why traditional marriage is inseparable from orthodox Christianity. You cannot excise these things from the Christian religion without it collapsing, in part (but not wholly) because the theological contortions one has to do to justify these things so radically opposed to the Bible’s revelation fatally compromises its authority.

Abandoning Christian sexual orthodoxy is the Prosperity Gospel of the Religious Left. In the US, majorities of Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Mainline Protestant Christians have embraced heterodoxy on this vital issue. Evangelicals are still holding — for now. This tweet below is correct — and not just for Evangelical pastors:

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UPDATE: Here is liberal Lutheran (ELCA) pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, with a point-by-point denial of the Nashville Statement. It really is a different religion. Be thankful for the clarity, at least.

UPDATE.2: Look, I’m not going to post liberal trolling. If you have a substantive critical comment to make from the left, fine, make it and I’ll approve it. Griping about Trump, or engaging in whataboutism, is not going to be published.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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