This week, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released their Nashville Statement, declaring and clarifying an evangelical position on human sexuality and homosexuality and transgenderism in particular. The initial signatories include a number of evangelical heavyweights I respect: John Dobson, John Piper, Russell Moore, and Wayne Grudem, among others. The statement is worth defending against its liberal critics, although those battle lines have already been drawn and engaged. It will be more difficult for the authors to answer the conservative critics, both Catholic and Protestant. Here are my own concerns with the Nashville Statement:
WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.
The affirmation is excellent, but the denial may be stated too broadly. What does “adopting a homosexual self-conception” mean? Can someone recognize homosexual desires and struggles? In particular, does this article condemn Spiritual Friendship, a community of Christians who identify as gay and attempt to live a holy, Christian life? A plain reading seems to do so.
The authors are probably approaching homosexual identity from a different generational understanding than my own. In the 1970’s and 1980’s, to identify as a homosexual was to embrace a homosexual counterculture of gratuitous promiscuity and perversion (see After the Ball). Today’s gay identity, at least to an outsider, is now about inner attractions and not external actions. The authors were mistaken to condemn what is not clearly defined. What they intended to condemn may be well worthy of scorn, but their language risks damning fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
This article is a hard doctrine, but ultimately true in its teaching. Christ declared “It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2). As Christians, this article should be a sobering reminder of the care we need to take to avoid leading others astray. It may be unfair to lay the blame for a sin at the feet of those who encourage the sinful practice but — actually that doesn’t seem unfair at all.
However, the authors were less careful than they should have been when writing article 10. Using the term “transgenderism” in both the affirmation and the denial without qualifiers or definition potentially condemns more than is intended. I may be nitpicking, but for the sake of clarity, categorical condemnation of an ideology demands a more thorough treatment than passing mention. It probably requires an entire statement of its own. The authors should have denied a sinful practice, not a mode of thought, in article 10.
The CBMW issued a defense of Article 10 here.
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.
The affirmation of this article is simply dangerous. Intentionally or not, it implies that Christians receive power from God to end sinful desires permanently. Accordingly, Christians who struggle with homosexuality or other sinful desires must be failing. Obviously, this is not the intended teaching of the authors, who surely understand Colossians 3:5 is about a continual process, and not a sudden earthly purity. But written statements are not judged by their intentions and the language of Article 12 fails to accurately reflect Christian temptation.
The next few weeks or months will bring more criticism and hopefully further explanation and defense of the Nashville Statement. Here is a brief defense by Rod Dreher (who has since entertained criticism of Article 7, but appears to stand by the rest of the statement). I regret a pattern of unclear language in the statement, but respect the simplicity and strength as a whole. The Nashville Statement provides a useful unifying standard for evangelical Christianity.