A Few Thoughts on the Nashville Statement
I should start by saying that I understand why evangelical leaders felt compelled to make such a declaration. This past week, a first grade student in California was sent to the principal’s office for using the wrong name for a trans classmate. After children were trained in gender fluidity by a state-funded school, parents were told that it would not have been possible for their children to opt out of moral training that their school offered.
I’m not citing that incident to ignite shock, anger, or fear but to demonstrate that the legal and cultural demands of the LGBTQ world do not simply exist within the realm of private, individual rights. They are moving actively into culture while demanding the authority to inflict punitive consequences upon anyone who fails to comply to one, specific morality. This movement declares that the state's authority trumps the wishes of parents--a posture which (historically) rubs feathers the wrong way, no matter what the flavor-of-the-month worldview issue happens to be.
Atheist parents don’t want a public school shoving young earth creationism down their children’s throats just like Christian parents don’t want a public school forcing assumptions about gender fluidity into their families. Americans generally dislike it when state institutions function in a morally-didactic role. But since worldview can’t be neutral, any government stance that feels like baseline, essential human respect to one group will feel oppressive to others. And these issues are not just impacting adults who can ignore what other adults do in their private bedrooms--they involve captive children being forced into vocal compliance.
The California situation is only one example of an aggressive cultural agenda promoted by certain activists within the LGBTQ community. And while some LGBTQ folks are fine living private lives that don’t intrude upon the private convictions of others, I have listened to other speeches by LGBTQ leaders who are now working a strategy, infiltrating power structures within America and positioning themselves to force (yes, force) the general public to comply with the one interpretation of human morality that those leaders feel is ultimate.
This extreme agenda of aggressive gay activists doesn't extend to my closest gay friends--men and women who would never bully me or my kids into forced agreement. Likewise, I would never attempt to wield human power to change the views of my gay friends. I don't put my trust in politicized evangelism--I trust the Holy Spirit to show up in individual, heart-to-heart engagements. This works small scale. As individuals, my friends and I are able to love each other and respect one another as we are. But in different circles, among different people, conservative and liberal forces struggle to gain dominance at the legislative level. Even if it's not my style to try to effect life change there, I cannot ignore that the struggle exists among others.
For this, among other reasons, it makes sense to me that evangelical leaders would want to create a definitive document naming a clear, Biblical stance on sexuality. As random as the timing of The Nashville Statement feels to many of us--as peripheral as the subject may feel while Houston is flooded and racial wounds are infecting--this is not an out-of-the-blue document falling upon a neutral culture. Despite yesterday's barrage of scoldings from condescending leftist Christians, there are legitimate, active tensions driving the creation of such a statement.
After acknowledging this, however, I think it’s also important to look at the way the Nashville Statement reads to a large segment of thoughtful evangelicalism.
Many of us have spent the past year watching evangelicals rally around one of the most perverted, crude, and ungodly leaders America has ever seen. For decades, Donald Trump has flaunted a lifetime of gross sexual exploitation. He has bragged about instigating adultery and voyeurism. His third wife was a nude model. He was divorced multiple times. He has objectified and commodified sex. It would be difficult to find any man in America who has demonstrated less respect for traditional, Biblical marriage—yet all this has been ignored and excused away.
As President, Trump has offered the public ongoing and unapologetic pursuit of flagrant sins of the flesh. He has celebrated pride, cruelty, materialism, violence, and dishonesty, leading scores of others to embrace such evils. Yet evangelical leaders have looked the other way and celebrated this man, regardless of his past, present, or promises for the future.
It’s incredibly ironic to think about how several signatories of the Nashville Statement have excused away Trump’s abominable character. And when I go back to reread the “Declaration concerning religion, ethics, and the crisis in the Clinton presidency”--the 1998
document created and signed by dozens of theologians after Clinton’s sex scandal (https://www.layman.org/news86fd/)--I can’t help but feel a sinking sort of political despair. When it suited our political ends, we were bold to decried moral offenses that we now excuse en masse because the offender is a Republican.
After watching the 2016 election, I can't help but believe that men like Eric Metaxas, Jerry Fallwell Jr., Franklin Graham, and James Dobson would rally around a LGBTQ candidate in 2024, comparing him to Biblical heroes and calling him God’s salvation, if that candidate were simply Republican enough. Maybe that’s too cynical. But if you had told me that James Dobson would be campaigning for Donald Trump back in the good old days, I would have thought you were absolutely nuts.
So, if the evangelical right had any business drawing up a statement on LGBTQ morality (which we probably did), we had just as much business drawing up a statement on the perverse behavior of evangelical pastors during election season. That’s not just a cheap tu quoque, it’s an acknowledgement of a massive elephant that stands in any room in which evangelicals attempt to talk about morality post Trump. I might read the Nashville Statement and agree (technically) with most of it—but I’m also reminded of a mom I once saw smacking her kid in a Wal-Mart while angrily yelling, “Don’t you EVER lose your temper and hit people again!”
So I see both sides of this one. I see why theologians are feeling the need to unite and resist the punitive tsunami of the politically-active side of the LGBTQ movement— a movement that will not be satisfied until it saturates every corner of American culture with its single, unrelenting angle on human morality. I also see why thoughtful Christians think a written statement feels thin and hypocritical—especially now—and especially after all the wrongs we’ve done.
I understand why thoughtful Christians are agitated by the whole thing, wishing for more active reliance on the Truth embodied--why they are tired of words and politics, thirsty for the living gospel, feeling little hope that any mega-statement signed by a troupe of famous white men might have any sort of power to change the world.
I get this ache--not because I'm a relativist who is tremblingly nervous about declaring homosexuality unBiblical--but because I don't know that evangelicals post election 2016 have enough cultural credibility left in the bank for words to do much good. So much of American culture is inflamed to extremes right now, and evangelizing our nation is going to require a far more embodied gospel than any written treatise can provide. I see why the document was created. I'm also skeptical that it might bring any meaningful sort of change to our nation.
What do we do, then? Well, I think it's a super good time to be reading Andrew Murray, Corrie ten Boom, and the New Testament. All those good promises about Christ living in us, indwelling us, directing us moment-by-moment couldn’t fall upon a more thirsty, desperate season. Because If Jesus isn’t real---if the Holy Spirit isn’t guiding hearts that are wholly yielded to a God who has a plan for every step we take--all the networking and posturing in the world won’t get us out of this. America is too messed up for political strategies to work now. We need God’s active rescue, his daily leadership, his constant provision desperately.
No matter how brave we are, no matter how smart we are, no matter how united we are--nothing else but the indwelling presence of Jesus is able to save us now. Even if a legitimate political threat drove the creation of the Nashville Statement--we must not trust it to do what only the living Truth can.