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The Nashville Statement

I am confused and conflicted by the Nashville Statement.

This is a doctrinal position on sexual purity. It’s apparently something meant as a tentpole; pastors and church members are asked to sign it to indicate their agreement and acceptance.

I will not sign it.

It’s not that I disagree with its sentiments; I think you can back those sentiments up, Biblically.

It’s that I don’t understand why it’s being written, or for whom, and I don’t know what it does to further the cause of evangelism; instead, I think it challenges potential readers in such a way that they can easily and justifiably reject the Good News in the context of what the Nashville Statement contains.

I can (and do) support the idea of sexual purity; I cannot (and will not) support something that doesn’t clearly support evangelism.

What it says

The Nashville Statement has its own website. It’s made of fourteen affirmations and rejections; the only actual reference to a Bible verse is in the Preamble. That verse is:

“Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves…” –Psalm 100:3

The preamble also says this:

As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life.

It then embarks on a series of declarations that encompass sexuality and are limited to sexual expression.

I understand the limited scope; limiting scope is important, after all. (Otherwise, every discussion of every issue would loop back to the concept of sin and redemption, and all other concerns would disappear. That’s unrealistic.) However, while they mention salvation (sort of: “Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure”) they justify the rest of the statement’s existence in the context of moral purity: “in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.”

The points themselves

Here are the points themselves; they’re offered as an affirmation and then a rejection, often polar opposites. My summary won’t include the actual texts, unless quotes seem necessary or relevant, and my summary will also not address both the affirmation and the rejection unless there’s enough of a difference that it seems important.

  1. Marriage is between a man and a woman, and is a covenant before and with God.
  2. God’s Will is for monogamy inside of marriage and chastity outside of marriage.
  3. God created both man and woman, and both have equal value in His sight. (I’m not sure how this is scoped; are they saying hermaphrodites are not created by God, or that genetic eunuchs are not created by God? I don’t know. It’s only a few sentences. Maybe they didn’t want to cloud the issue.)
  4. The differences between men and women are natural, created by God, and are meant for good and do not reflect evil.
  5. Biology is relevant for sex identification. (I am assuming – hopefully without justification – that this is a denial of transgender concerns in all ways.)
  6. Ah, here we’re addressing transgender issues at last: such people are “eunuchs created by God” and can have morally and physically uplifting lives.
  7. Homosexuality or transgender state is contrary to God’s design in creation.
  8. Homosexuals may live a pure and rich life in God’s Will. However, homosexuality is not part of God’s Will.
  9. A desire for sin does not justify that sin, with a particular focus on sexual sin.
  10. Approval of homosexuality is sinful.
  11. We must address sexual issues with gentleness and love.
  12. Salvation can redeem anyone who suffers in sexual sin.
  13. God’s grace enables us to supercede transgender or homosexual conceptions, and is not compatible with transgender or homosexual conceptions of self.
  14. Christ came to save all.

Whew! If I were you, I’d read the actual affirmations and denials themselves, rather than relying on my summaries; the affirmations and rejections are not long.

However… a few things stick out.

One is that you might notice how many biblical verses I used in my summaries; if you look at the original texts, you’ll see the exact same number of biblical references used. This concerns me. If you’re drawing a line in the sand based on what God says about an issue, I’d think you’d… want to show what God actually says about that issue. Sure, you’d probably cherry-pick it regardless, but I’d still expect it. For a Biblical statement of some kind, the Bible’s slightly important.

Another thing you might notice is the emphasis on … sex. Look, sex (and sexuality) is important; I’d never deny that (nor would I want to.) But they mention salvation in article twelve.

To me that says that obedience to a moral watermark is more important than salvation. It says to me that the signatories think it’d be cool and kicky if you got saved, but what’s really important is that you obey the rules.

I mean, think about it: these affirmations are saying that God can save you, sure, but what’s important is that you know how to act.

That’s backwards. That’s harmful.

God can save anyone, from anything, at any time. God isn’t going to be dissuaded by the fact that you’re married to someone of the same gender while having been born as a different gender (or whatever; mix and match how you like.) God can reach across every boundary as He wills and as the recipient responds.

And it’s up to that believer, at that point, how to respond. That may mean abandoning a lifestyle and living in a manner compatible with the Nashville Statement; if so, that’s great. I’d celebrate that kind of faith and dedication and obedience.

But it also might mean doing what the new believer can do. Maybe their faith isn’t strong enough to take drastic leaps of lifestyle or denials of a lifetime of impulse or habit; I don’t know.

I can’t judge. It’s not mine to judge. What goes between a believer and God is between that believer and God, and all I can do is present myself as willing to respond if asked. (If someone came to me as a Christian who was actively homosexual, and asked if homosexuality was contrary to the Will of God, I’d… say that it was contrary, yes. But I’d do so in such a way to allow the ministration of God to work on that believer. And if you’re wondering: yes, this has happened, and I’ve seen the effects that things like the Nashville Statement can have. They’re not pretty, and it’s just not worth it.)

Like I said, it’s not that I disagree with the articles of the Nashville Statement. I believe in (and practice) sexual purity (an easy task, as I love my wife beyond all other human beings). But I don’t see where the Nashville Statement actually furthers the Gospel, nor do I see it as being written in such a way that it can easily further the Gospel to the people whom it considers in need of the Gospel the most.

Instead, it purports to drive the lost away.

That’s bad.

The Church and Gay Marriage

Matt Moore posted a new essay, “Rob Bell, Oprah Winfrey & Other People That Don’t Speak On Behalf Of The True Church” on Feb 19, 2015, and it got me thinking.

It’s a response to “Former Megachurch Pastor Rob Bell Tells Oprah the Church Is ‘Moments Away’ From Embracing Gay Marriage.”

From the article:

Former Mars Hill Bible Church pastor and best-selling author Rob Bell told media mogul Oprah Winfrey on Sunday that the American church is “moments away” from embracing gay marriage and thinks “it’s inevitable.”

Matt Moore said this:

But I just want to assure you guys of something, because I surprisingly haven’t seen anyone else say it yet: Christ’s Church is not on the verge of embracing gay marriage, and it never will be.

I agree with both statements. I agree with both statements even beyond the obvious irony – Matt refers to “Christ’s Church” and Bell refers to “the American church,” as if they’re different entities – and I suppose in many ways they are. One can easily be a member of an American church and not be part of Christ’s church.

The problem, though, comes in that I don’t think the usage of different terms actually changes anything. I think you can say, with full honesty (and biblical integrity) that the church will change how it sees gay marriage.

The question comes of how and why (and what that means), because I don’t think that it will or should happen the way Rob Bell imagines. Nor do I think, with all respect, that Mr. Moore is entirely right.

What does ’embrace’ mean?

I think Rob Bell imagines that “embracing gay marriage” means that men who are married to other men (and women who are married to other women) will be leaders in the church, and that the church will stop seeing a difference between heterosexual love and homosexual love. The church’s biblical stance on love will change such that love, itself, is the goal, and the expression and center of that love is not relevant.

I don’t think so.

I think that what “embracing gay marriage” will mean is that the church will open its doors to gay couples such that they are accepted as sinners in need of a Redeemer… just like heterosexual couples, or adulterers, or smokers, or liars, or anyone else.

Right now, it’s far easier to enter a church as an adulterous partner than it is to enter the church as a homosexual. An adulterer is chastised; a homosexual is excommunicated.

The responses aren’t equivalent.

They should be.

Both sins are sins; there’s not really a negotiating boundary for sin, you know? It is what it is – acting outside of the Will of God. God’s given us a clear guideline by which we can judge what He wants in us.

Ah, but there’s the problem, isn’t it?

What about all the words against homosexuality?

Paul – the apostle, the guy who wrote a lot of the B’rit Hadashah, the New Testament, maybe you’ve heard of him – wrote a lot of words about homosexuality. He wasn’t exactly unclear about it – to the contrary, he blasted homosexuality pretty severely.

He did it enough that I think we can trace a lot of the Christian mindset towards homosexuals to his writings. We’re acting on what Paul wrote.

How can that be bad?

Well, as with so many other things, it’s not – but it’s misunderstood, I think.

Paul was a Jew. He wrote like a Jew, he thought like a Jew, he communicated like a Jew.

That means he wrote Eastern thoughts with Western words. That makes a lot of the harsher things he said a lot less harsh – because Eastern identity isn’t the same as Western identity.

In Western thought, a thing is itself. A is A, to quote Aristotle’s law of identity. I am me.

In Eastern thought, a thing can be described as itself. A is like A. I am you, and what I see is me.

Eastern thought is not axiomatic, is not geometric proof. Eastern thought is poetry. Saying a thing means there’s force behind the idea, but very few such ideas are purely axiomatic. (They exist; the Sh’ma is an example.) I’d suggest that Paul’s endorsement of forgiveness for everyone who accepts Christ means Paul’s rather forceful damnation of people who’ve sinned in particular ways has been mitigated somewhat – it’s poetry, very effective poetry, but it’s not law.

Does that mean that homosexuality, then, is able to be blessed in the biblical sense?

No. Paul’s condemnation was poetic in nature, expressed in such a way that it was not axiomatic. However, the Torah doesn’t describe it as anything other than a sin, and thus it is: homosexual acts are sinful. Saying otherwise, or redefining the Bible such that it no longer says what it says, is incorrect.

So what does it mean?

As I said, I think both Rob Bell and Matt Moore are wrong – and Rob Bell’s more wrong than Matt Moore is.

We accept adulterers in the church, including marriages built on adultery; in the end, it all works out in God’s plan. We accept liars. We can accept murderers, drug dealers, all kinds of people – God’s love is greater than any sin they could imagine. Nobody is beyond redemption while they’re alive.

Why would homosexuality be any different? Why would homosexual marriage be any different? I don’t see any reason why a church would reject a homosexual couple that truly wanted the will of God in their lives.

That doesn’t mean the church celebrates the matrimony – I don’t think embracing the sinner means endorsing the sin. A church can welcome a man who’s killed another – a murderer – while not saying “Hey, cool, headshot!” A church can accept a married couple of the same gender while not saying “we need to get us some of that!”

That is the “embracing” I can envision and endorse – the kind of understanding that widens the reach of Christ’s Church, as opposed to closing its doors to people who aren’t good enough.

A personal position statement on homosexuality that matters

There’s a lot of discussion going on that talks about Christianity and homosexuality, with a lot of emotion. One thing that’s rarely stated, as far as I can tell, is the position of the Christian and homosexuality.

I’ve already discussed the biblical stance regarding homosexuality (very much against, incontrovertibly).

Many Christians – not all, but many – use that to establish a pecking order among people with respect to God, with homosexuals at the bottom. They seem to think homosexuals are redeemable through the mercy of Christ, but only if they repent and abandon their sin.

In a way, they’re right – they’re redeemable through the mercy of Christ. But the abandoning of sin, well… you know, I repent of sin daily, to be sure, but I don’t think there’s ever been a follower of Christ who’s actually managed to abandon all sin.

That’s a very broad brush to use – and for God, sin places everyone at the bottom of the pecking order. Those who are redeemed are at the top.

It’s a two-position ladder, not a ladder with a rung at the top for good Christians, then one rung down go the Christians who smoke, then another rung down for the adulterous Christians, then a few rungs down you find the sinners, with another four rungs down you find them hommasexshuls.

Other Christians seem to think that redemption is everything, that everything ends there – and further sin is okay. (Or, at least, maybe some sin. “But that other woman’s my soul mate, not my wife!,” or “I, Adam, take thee, Steve…”)

Um, no.

This is part of why “Once Saved, Always Saved” is valid. If sin separated us from God, the saved would be cut off almost immediately, every time.

God reforms the saved. We’re remade in Christ, refined and purified in His love and power. We’re still sinners even as we’re redeemed, but through the guidance of the Holy Spirit we sin less as we grow in Christ.

What you see here is a battle between mercy and justice. Tim Keller put it very well, in “The Meaning of Marriage,” and I can’t find the actual quote, so I’ll paraphrase:

Truth without grace is legalism, and grace without truth is sentiment.

Grace says “Oh, so they sin, it’s okay!” Truth says “Sin is never okay!” … and God represents both.

It’s not “okay” to sin, but we’re redeemed through faith in Christ.

The Actual Position Statement

So here’s what I think my view of the homosexual is:

I don’t care. I don’t care who someone sleeps with, or when they sleep with them. It’s not my business. It’s God’s. Someone who sins (via homosexuality, or adultery, or theft, or what-have-you) merely sins – sometimes grievously, sometimes not so much, but in the end it’s all sin, and God can redeem anyone from anywhere.

What the redeemed do is between them and God; the Holy Spirit instructs and remonstrates.

All I can do – and all I’m called to do – is point to Christ.

Do I tell a sinner what their sin is, if prompted to do so? (“Is homosexuality wrong?”) … yes. By pointing to Christ.

Not by using my relationship or position. After all, I sin too! I required salvation just as much as any other sinner. I was in the position of the sinner before redemption; I’m in the position of the sinning Christian after redemption.

It cannot be me who judges them, because of my own sin. They would be able to accuse me, and we’d be penalized together.

But if I witness to them the love of Christ, in His strength He will convict them and lift them. It’s not me, or my responsibility; my responsibility ends when I point to Christ.

So I have no objection to the homosexual as a person – none. I have homosexual friends. They know what I believe, and why I believe it, and they know I consider them my friends, and that I always will. And yes, they know what I think about the practice of homosexuality.

And they don’t expect me to attempt to beat them down with the Bible. They see themselves protected by Christ, even as they’re not Christians – and that’s one very small view of the love of Christ.

Does Christianity hate homosexuals, or what?

Yesterday I read a post on CNN, “When Christians become a ‘hated minority’.” In it, CNN attempts to summarize a situation in which Christians are refusing to identify homosexuality as a sin, and as an added bonus (thanks, CNN!) some Christians claim that maybe it’s not so bad.

It’s not a particularly focused article, but it has a lot of useful statements.

I’d rather know I’m wrong than suspect I’m right. I don’t know I’m wrong unless I put some stakes in the ground: I make an assertion, with the full knowledge that someone wiser than I might come along and tell me what a fool I am. I’m okay with that; the delivery isn’t important, but the message is.

So what’s happening here is good, in the long run: it defines a problem (dressed in frilly clothes of “Christians are becoming a hated minority”) and describes a lot of issues in the Christian community concerning a specific issue (namely, homosexuality).

One thing that stood out – and actually inspired me to write about the article, which seemed rather “me-too” at first – was this passage:

What the Bible says

What about the popular evangelical claim, “We don’t hate the sinner, just the sin” – is that seen as intolerance or hate speech when it comes to homosexuality?

There are those who say you can’t hate the sin and love the sinner because being gay or lesbian is defined by one’s sexual behavior; it’s who someone is.

“Most people who identify as gay and lesbian would say that this is not an action I’m choosing to do; this is who I am,” says Timothy Beal, author of “The Rise and Fall of the Bible: The Unexpected History of an Accidental Book.”

Beal, a religion professor at Case Western University in Ohio, says it should be difficult for any Christian to unequivocally declare that the Bible opposes homosexuality because the Bible doesn’t take a single position on the topic. It’s an assertion that many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors would agree with.

Some people cite Old Testament scriptures as condemning homosexuality, such as Leviticus 18:22 – “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” But other Christians counter by saying they are not bound by the Old Testament.

Oh, my. This block of text is horribly written, as a series of assertions.

Let’s be clear: first, we should all reject all sin.

13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:13, ESV)

Second, ain’t none of us innocent in and of ourselves:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. (Romans 3:21-25, ESV, with verse 23 highlighted)

So let’s look at the crucial part of that: all of us have sinned and fallen short. We are justified by His grace as a gift, the gift of the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Ain’t none of us better than any other. In the eyes of God, sin is sin is sin is sin; while some sins carry greater consequence from a human perspective (murder’s worse than lying to someone about what you ate for dinner, right?), all sin carries with it the separation from God’s Will.

So: “hate the sin, not the sinner” is alive and well. As Christians, we can’t hate the sinner – that’d call us to hate ourselves as well.

It may be that homosexuals are who they are, that they have no free will in the matter. I don’t know; I’m not homosexual, last I checked. 🙂 But that’s of no account; we’re called to go unto all the world, to witness to everyone who sins. Therefore, they get included in that set; their homosexuality is irrelevant when it comes to “do they need Christ?”

And now we get to the statement that really hit me:

Beal, a religion professor at Case Western University in Ohio, says it should be difficult for any Christian to unequivocally declare that the Bible opposes homosexuality because the Bible doesn’t take a single position on the topic. It’s an assertion that many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors would agree with.

Really?

That’s horrifying. “Many scholars and mainline Protestant pastors” are ignorant of the Bible, then.

Leviticus 18:22 is, indeed, a starting point. And it refers to the sin as an “abomination.” That’s pretty relevant. And Paul, in the NT, makes a lot of reference to homosexuality – not pederasty, even though the Greek in which Paul wrote had both words available.

If Paul had meant pederasty and not homosexuality, he could have said so. He didn’t. Therefore: he meant homosexuality, because that’s what he wrote. It isn’t difficult to figure out.

26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27, ESV)

Sorry, Mr. Beal. You can claim that Jesus said little about sex; that’s because the Torah said it, and Jesus saw no need to echo everything about the Law, except that He fulfilled it. (See Matthew 5:17 and Romans 3:31.)

Some, of course, choose to rewrite the Bible: they say that Christians are not bound by the Old Testament.

Oh, my. Let’s run back to the Bible, but let’s use the New Testament, since they say the Old is no longer relevant:

31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31, ESV)

Wait, that says we uphold the Law. (And yes, this is one of the verses to which I referred a paragraph or two ago.) And if we uphold the Law, that says the Law is the standard by which we’re to consider ourselves moral (gosh, see Romans 2 and 3.) And the Law serves to convict us of our sin, which is why we need Christ in the first place!

Christians who say the law has no importance for us are wrong. Do away with the Law, and you do away with Christ. Do away with Christ, and you do away with the basis for calling yourself a Christian.

And honestly? If you’re going to do away with Christ, do Christians a favor and stop self-identifying as one; when you say you’re a Christian, you make it harder for actual Christians to witness to you properly. We tend to assume you know at least a little about what you’re saying about yourself.

Lastly: I mentioned a while back the use of the word “abomination,” תּוֹעֵבָה. This is a heavy, heavy word.

Sin is bad; it separates us from God.

Abomination is worse. Abomination causes God to push us away from Him. It marks behavior God rejects. It’s not for nothing that Paul goes on and on about certain sins; not only were they pervasive, but they were abominable.

This doesn’t mean the homosexual is a worse sinner than any other person; sin is sin, remember? And we all need Christ. What sin leads us to that condition is irrelevant to the condition itself.

But it does speak to the severity of the sin.

Eating a cheeseburger is wrong (as long as it’s beef and you’re using cheese from cow’s milk: see Exodus 23:19, and the reasons I say “wrong” are too complex for this post – let’s just say that it’s gross to think about in the context of that verse) but it’s not an abomination.

The sin is still sin; we’re freed from the punishment of the Law, but not the consequences of it.

I believe there are actively homosexual Christians, and by that I mean fully saved, covered by grace Christians. I also think that a homosexual act (not being homosexual, but engaging in homosexual acts) is a transgression to which Romans 6:1 applies:

6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1, ESV)