The Nashville Statement is a Disaster

 

Gaylord

It is a disaster for all the reasons Chris Gehrz makes clear in his post today at The Pietist Schoolman.  (I should add the title of this post is mine). The so-called “Nashville Statement” is indeed “theology for the Age of Trump.”

I don’t really have much to add to Gerhz’s post.  I encourage you to read it.

Here is a taste:

So for those of you in that middle… Even if you admire at least some of its signers and affirm at least part of what it says on sexuality and gender identity, here’s why I think you should be bothered by the Nashville Statement:

While it claims to hold out a steadfast Christian witness against “[t]he secular spirit of our age,” it mostly succeeds in exemplifying theology for the Age of Trump.

I don’t just mean that releasing such a statement in the middle of an unprecedented national disaster — and in place of a much more urgently needed evangelical statement on white supremacy — exhibits what journalist Jonathan Merritt called “Trump-level tone-deafness.”

Nor that the authors have chosen to condemn “transgenderism” just days after Pres. Trump began to implement a ban on transgender persons serving in the military, only feeding the perception that whatever daylight separates Trumpism and evangelicalism is vanishing. (After all, that ban was reportedly discussed with Trump’s much-maligned evangelical advisers before he first tweeted his intentions last month.)

The Nashville Statement strikes me as theology for the Age of Trump because it’s being thrust into social media for little purpose other than to energize allies and troll enemies — distracting our attention from more pressing problems in order to demonize minorities whose existence causes anxiety among the many in the majority.

It’s not truth written in love of people who share innate human desires for love, self-worth, and identity, bearers of God’s image who know their own shortcomings far more acutely than what others presume to judge in them from afar.

It’s red meat tossed to the hungry members of a passionate, but small base. (Indeed, passionate because it’s small – and shrinking.) Part 2 of CBMW head Denny Burk’s follow-up blog post makes it sound like the Nashville Statement could conceivably stand in line with the historic creeds of the church universal. But this document is as un-catholic as you can get, speaking for a mostly-male, mostly-white slice of mostly-Reformed evangelical Protestantism in one country. Even then one of the co-founders of The Gospel Coalition didn’t even sign it. As far as I can tell, the only evangelical college presidents to endorse it represent schools that have quit the CCCU or never belonged to it. For no good reason, the document includes an article (#7) that excludes celibate gay Christians who might otherwise have been supportive. And there seems to be no representation of the African, Asian, and Latin American churches where theologically conservative Protestantism is actually growing fastest — nor of the Roman Catholic church, which only represents the majority of all Christians on the planet.

Read the entire post here.

One more thought:  I defend the right of the framers and signers of the Nashville Statement to release this statement and to hold the views on human sexuality they express.  And as much as I agree with everything Chris Gehrz wrote in his post, I hope that we might be able to work toward what John Inazu calls a “confident pluralism” on these matters.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the Nashville Statement gets us any closer to this kind of pluralism.

19 thoughts on “The Nashville Statement is a Disaster

  1. One can hold to the (for lack of a better term) “traditional view” on these moral questions and still think that the statement is a disaster, both for what it says and for what it doesn’t.

    What it says: Article 10 essentially says, and was confirmed by Denny Burk on CBMW to essentially say, that any disagreement with the statement’s full set of assertions puts one outside the Christian faith (you’ve crossed over the “line in the sand” genuine faith demarcation). Really? We’re going to make it redemption in Jesus PLUS adherence to a specific moral tenet? (And why just this particular moral tenet amongst the many moral tenets in the Bible?)

    What it doesn’t say: an acknowledgement of the (decidedly un-Christian) long-time mistreatment and marginalization of the targeted groups and individuals which certainly holds them to be “less-than,” which even those holding to the traditional view should be able to acknowledge as being wrong (not to mention being counter-productive).

    The statement doesn’t accomplish anything new other than taking all the statements already made and amping up the volume level, as if shouting even louder will make the case stronger and more persuasive.

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    • I should add in regards to Article 10, I accept that how I have characterized it in my reply may not have been the intent of some of the signers. But then I would push back and say it may not have been the intent, but it is the effect. I spent an entire evening reading and rereading both the Article and Burk’s subsequent statement on CBMW and finally concluded there was no other way I could take it.

      And if signers don’t share the subsequent “clarification” Burk provided on CBMW, I would hope they would both provide their own clarification, and strongly suggest to Burk that he not represent his clarification as clearly speaking on behalf of all the signers.

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      • That is the clear teaching of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. Those who purposely engage in and identify with a lifestyle of sexual immorality including homosexuality have no claim to inheriting the kingdom of God. It is only in the last 30 to 40 years that the plain language here has been disputed. See the writings of Robert A. J. Gagnon for scholarly treatment of this fact. I challenge you to show me anyone in the mainstream of historic Christianity that held to this novel twisting of the text before the sexual revolution from the 60’s onward changed the whole outlook on sexuality in the modern world. This is why it is sheer arrogance of modern Christians to suppose anything less. It is a capitulation to the spirit of the age.

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      • I guess you can only reply here two levels down, so I am actually replying to the mscottc reply.

        I’m not trying here to re-label sin as good, or vice versa, I have a much more traditional/orthodox view of Scripture than you might be surmising. What I am finding particularly troublesome is the language of Article 10. Let me try to state my own problem in the following way. There are many things that Scripture teaches us are sin, and I do believe the Bible to be inspired and authoritative as a matter of faith, so I take those seriously. The trouble I have is that in our human condition we start to assemble a hierarchy of those sins, least to worst. That of course generates enough problems in and of itself. And then we take it a step further, and start to identify where we draw the line as to what are the DISQUALIFYING sins, or how HABITUAL a level a sin has to rise to before it becomes disqualifying. (What I’m describing here, I should mention, is separate from the basic Biblical truth that if you sin against the Law in one point you are guilty of all, and therefore everyone is in need of redemption.)

        And when we do this ranking — lo and behold! — we find that it is the sins that we can place on OTHERS that we find to be disqualifying. Because while we’re sinners, we’re certainly not THAT kind of sinner. So, for example, we look at a list of what the Bible describes as sexual immorality, and it seems like we gloss over 1 through 6 but then we really hammer 7. And, unfortunately, long experience (and a degree of cynicism) tells me the reason for doing so is that 1 through 6 strike a little too close to home, but not 7, so 7 becomes a “safe” sin for me to focus on. So I lower the boom on the #7 sinners, and I pronounce it a disqualifying sin, but extend various measures of grace to the #1-6 sinners. I’ve let myself largely off the hook, and I’ve got a convenient target to pronounce judgment upon.

        And now, let me take it a step further, and maybe this will reveal the heart of what I’m getting at. I see certain sins on which the Bible has a tremendous amount to say, many times over and over what it has to say on the sins dealt with in the Nashville statement. (Based on the amount of ink given to these sins I’m referencing, it would lead me to believe God probably places them pretty high on that hierarchy I’ve described us as trying to build ourselves.) And I see prominent Christian leaders, to my mind, engaging in these sins daily and publicly and proudly and without any sense of remorse whatsoever. Repentance? Certainly not, they don’t even think they’re sinning! But — and this is key — despite the fact that this seems so clear-cut to me, and the sins described in Scripture so clearly labeled as offensive to God, I would STILL never presume to pronounce these individuals as outside the Christian faith, and to pronounce those who support them as equally outside the Christian faith. No, I would identify the actions as sin, and I would say that they are engaging in sin, and I would say that they are certainly in error, and I might even say that they are inviting judgment, but beyond that I would leave it to God to judge. And what I am saying that I would not do here, is precisely what I think the Nashville Statement Article 10 (as worded and as clarified on the CBMC site) is presuming to do.

        I don’t know if this explanation makes it any clearer where I am coming from or helps to present my concern, but it’s probably the best explanation I can provide.

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      • Mscottc: I have not read this book by Roger Scruton, though it looks interesting. I am aware of the general tenor of Scruton’s work and appreciate certain parts of it. Does he actually use the phrase “cultural Marxism” in that book to describe either his subjects’ ideas, or modern western culture?

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      • Dave H, for the most part I don’t disagree with what you have said in this last statement (i.e. singling out certain sins as more disqualifying than others), but the fact remains, a host of sins are listed in passages like 1 Cor. 6:9-10 (including all forms of sexual immorality) that if practiced in a persistent manner (lifestyle) among those who embrace them, any claim to being a Christian is denied, plain and simple. Many progressive ‘Christians’ are trying to replace the plain meaning of Scripture here with a novel narrative that has never been embraced in the history of the church. Furthermore, it is not Evangelical Christianity that has made a big issue of sexual immorality in the present day, it is the culture. In case you have missed something, these matters have been shoved down our throats by the cultural and political elites, Hollywood, and the news media to the point where if we don’t submit we will be ostracized under the totalitarian agenda they have set for the culture. Many professing Christians have already raised the white flag, but there are still a few who have not bowed the knee to Baal.

        This makes our need to reach out to this lost and dying world no less urgent, rather more so. We must not retreat from this fight, but go behind enemy lines and seek to rescue people (and thus the culture) with the gospel of Christ from a path that leads only to misery and destruction. It is in fact an urgent issue of great importance. The LGBT agenda has purposely sought to destroy the institution of the family (as naturally designed by the one true God), the bedrock foundation for any successful culture. Gramsci, one of the architects of cultural Marxism, believed that if all the main institutions of society could be destroyed then humans would be liberated from their suffocating effects. He especially believed liberating people from the mores of traditional (read Biblical) sexuality would bring about a social utopia. His dream has been a part of the current radical undermining of Western society, particularly since the 60’s, and especially in the last 5 to 10 years. I believe it will bring about social anarchy and the destruction of every good God designed for humans so that they might flourish. The lie is that LGBT practices contribute to human flourishing. A Biblical worldview says no. It is a cancer that will eat us away if we don’t boldly and lovingly confront its wicked grip on the culture and people’s lives. Only the gospel can liberate us from this evil revolution (and that is what it is). Only the gospel upholds God’s design for sex, marriage, relationships, communities, and institutional structures as a whole.

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      • I hear and understand what you are saying, and while our perspectives and concerns do have significant differences, I am sure they share many points of intersection as well.

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  2. By calling this statement a disaster, I was not making a statement about Christian orthodoxy or whether or not homosexuality or gay marriage is right or wrong. Readers of this blog will have a variety of different opinions on this matter and my last paragraphs suggests that my preference would be for a confident pluralism on the matter. I am trying to think about this from the perspective of a person within the evangelical subculture who believes gay marriage or homosexuality is wrong or sinful, but is gay and doesn’t know what to do about it. I am not sure what this Nashville statement accomplishes other than to fuel the culture wars and throw red meat to the base. In that sense, it is Trump-esque, regardless of whether or not the signers voted form him. I assume that no evangelical Christian who is gay or is “struggling” (to use their terms) with gay feelings that they believe are sinful, are going to want to go near any of the institutions associated with these signers. I am happy to back off the “Age of Trump” comments if it obscures this larger point.

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    • Yes, the term “theology for the age of Trump” surely speaks about the spirit of the age in terms of the way Christians speak more than a necessary link between the voting preference of the signers (several of whom are British and very publicly apolitical.) I agree that phrase perhaps over-simplifies things,and there is a tendency to make all things orbit Trump, when that not be fair.

      But the question about orthodoxy of the basic statement is in some way beside the point. The question raised in the blog concerns the pastoral and contextual theology of the statement — the timing, the tone, the very act of producing a statement — more than just the actual content. For these reasons you will find many Evangelicals who basically support the general Nashville statement in content, but wish it had not been published.

      The biggest tie-in with the “age of Trump” that I see is the framing of the statement itself — that we are at pivotal moment for Christianity and its relationship with broader culture, and that it is time to take a stand. This is a contestable narrative, historically and theologically. Without downplaying the massive challenges faced by the church by changing social attitudes to sex, gender, and sexuality, I do not believe — nor do I think the Bible would lead us to believe — that this is the only issue worth a statement couched in terms of societal breaking point. Yet it was clearly this sense of panic and alarm about cultural declension has no doubt helped Evangelicals buy-in to Trumpism (as it has been part of American Evangelicalism for most of the twentieth century).

      Like many, I have great respect for some of the signers, esp. people like Vaughan Roberts and Sam Alberry (possibly others whom I don’t know) who, though having high-profile positions within conservative Evangelical churches, have been courageous and humble enough to share with their congregations and the wider community issues connected with their own sexuality. I understand why they signed, but I am just not sure how much such statements achieve — and I worry about how much they damage.

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  3. Only in our present revolution in which we are capitulating to cultural Marxism would anyone claiming to be a Christian suggest this statement is a disaster. This statement does not say anything remotely deviant, as J. Steve Lee already pointed out, from what every branch of Christianity has unanimously taught for 2000 years. To say it is a disaster is not only irresponsible, but extremely arrogant in light of church history, and furthermore, blatantly anti-Christian. Maybe I sound over the top, but I don’t think so. It is time we stop letting the spirit of the age browbeat us into submission to its rejection of God and his design for human flourishing.

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    • I see no evidence at all that our society — organized around individual rights, private property, capital accumulation, and personal self-fulfillment through material consumption — is moving in anyway toward “cultural Marxism.” Do you have proof of this claim?

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    • “Cultural Marxism” is the most over-the-top thing I’ve ever heard. Someone must think that sounds smart. It doesn’t. It just sounds silly. What we’re discussing here has nothing to do with economics or class. I guess when you’ve decided to draft people into your movement it helps to identify with a prior bogey-man, (communism) but you’ve just overshot any rational discussion.

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    • In fact Owen Strachan in his article over at The Federalist list several other major signers who did not support Trump and actually critiqued him during his candidacy:

      “Those who did not support Trump during the campaign include the presidents of the two organizations that launched the Nashville Statement. Neither Denny Burk of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood nor Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission stood behind Trump in his presidential bid. John Piper, a key contributor to the statement and the major movement leader of modern-day evangelicalism, spoke out against Trump in the election, as did Southern Seminary president R. Albert Mohler, Jr., the go-to theologian of conservative evangelicalism.

      The list of those who critiqued Trump and signed the Nashville Statement goes on and on; I’ll leave the point here. If the three most important framers of the statement sided against Trump, you’re hard-pressed to pin this as an instance of Those Crazy Evangelical Trump Fans Ruining America Again.”

      source: http://thefederalist.com/2017/09/01/nashville-statement-isnt-trump-ton-evangelicals-support/

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      • I did not vote for Trump and I think his presidency has problems. When I signed the Nashville Statement, Trump was the furthest thing from my mind. It amazes me how he is automatically tied to anything people find distasteful about Evangelicalism.

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  4. I note the statement says: “This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?”

    Strange, I thought this question was answered last Nov 8…

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