The Nashville Statement – what do Evangelicals believe about same-sex attraction and transgenderism?

Recently the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood have put together a declaration on human gender and sexuality.  You can read it here. A significant number of Evangelical leaders have signed it.

Responses to it can be identified in the following categories

  1. Those who have confidently signed it
  2. Those who claim to support the general position of the statement but have concerns about aspects of the tone or the content. This group is made up of those who say that marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman and that if God made us male and female then gender isn’t something we can simply change by choice or by medical operation. However, their concerns tend to be around whether or not the document shows enough pastoral concern for the complexities that people face particular in terms of transgenderism.
  3. Those who disagree vehemently. This group is made up of those who are calling on The Church to radically change its position on gender and sex and embrace same-sex marriage and transgenderism.

I want to make four brief comments here – there’s plenty of other discussion on the internet that you are welcome to trawl through at your leisure.

  1. Personally, this is a declaration that I would be happy to sign. I believe it gives a succinct, theologically clear and pastorally loving statement of the classic evangelical position on gender and sexuality.  A return to the tradition of stating both what we affirm and what we deny is particularly helpful for encouraging clear thinking.
  2. Saying that a statement is true and that you are happy to sign it does not imply that you think the statement is saying everything that can be or that needs to be said on the subject.  Such a statement would be much longer. We should not assume that because someone in one place does not say everything that they could say on the subject that they don’t believe or know about everything else that they could be said.  Nor does agreeing with a statement mean that we are claiming that it is perfect and cannot be improved on. A statement like this should encourage further reflection and debate. The result should be that people who think it can be improved upon don’t just nit-pick but take time to propose amendments, additions or subtractions.  One simple and urgent way to improve the Nashville Statement would be to include Bible references linked to each statement.
  3. Tone can be quite a slippery thing to measure. It is possible to say or write something in a deeply inappropriate tone.  However, sometimes we can misread the tone of something based on our pre-conceptions about the person(s) speaking.  Furthermore, tone is something that is meant to be varied according to context. If some people are attacking this statement because its tone isn’t sensitive and pastoral enough then they are probably going to have a problem with their Bibles, they might not like the tone that Moses, Elijah, Jeremiah, Paul and Jesus himself uses from time to time.  Personally, I don’t have a problem with the tone here given the job that the document is doing.
  4. Nuance is a fascinating one.  Like tone, it is possible to completely get it wrong. However, it is also sometimes the case that it is the reader who lacks nuance and so completely misses the point. I want to expand on that a little here.

Here is Article 7:

“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.”[1]

Now, here is Luke Geraty from Think Theology:

“But what really concerns me about this document is how inconsistent it is. In Article 6, the statement does an excellent job in stating the value and equality of being created in the image of God to those who are born intersex (formerly known as hermaphrodites), or, as the statement reminds us, “eunuchs.” Yes! Great job! Well done! You’ve acknowledged that some people are born with very complex challenges… so much so that you acknowledge the grey space and simply inform these people, whom God loves, that they “should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.” Yes, it’s complex and challenging and sometimes it takes a lot of discernment and conversations and wrestling in order to “embrace” what progressively becomes “known.” Yet then, in Article 7, we read that they deny that “adopting a… transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” What? What happened to understanding how complex things were?

So in other words, the statement values people who are born intersex (and I assume those who struggle with gender identity due to the numerous reasons that people do) but then states they shouldn’t self-conceptionalize themselves that way?

Ummmmm. What? So much for self-awareness and vulnerability!

In my opinion, they make this statement because they fail to understand the complexity involved in sexual identity with those who are either biologically born with physical reasons to struggle to identify as a male or female or with the psychological challenges people experience. Quite frankly, it appears they have never actually met and talked to transgendered people. Ever.” [2]

 

I have quoted him at length so you get the full context. The last sentence is a sad example of point 3 above and the way that debate and discussion has declined.  What arrogance to take one short statement and try to read into it speculation about the lives and pastoral ministries of others.

 

Now onto the body of his argument. His problem is with the statement saying that people should not self-conceptualise as gay or transgender.  He thinks this lacks nuance, an awareness of the complexities of life.

 

However, I want to suggest that he is the one who is failing to see the nuance here. There is a significant difference between three different things here.

 

  1. Stating that outside of Christ I would identify/self-conceptualise as something but that this is an expression of my fallenness and shame.
  2. Stating that my identity as a believer is firmly in Christ -self-conceptualising as a man or woman made in God’s image, saved by grace alone, justified by faith. However, then going on to acknowledge that I struggle with questions about my identity because I live in a fallen world and that this includes the temptation to sin.
  3. Stating that I self-conceptualise as gay and that comes without any sense of fallenness, it is simply my identity and it does not change at all.

A nuanced reading of the Statement would see it as affirming both 1 and 2 but denying 3.  We would affirm the first position because this is something right and Biblical. I am reminded of how Jacob comes to wrestle with God and he has to tell God his name. He identifies with his name and his character. He self-conceptualises as Jacob, the cheat.  Then God gives him a new name!  Well at some point we have to come to the cross and confess who we are, naked, shamed sinners. We are adulterers, pornographic addicts, liars, gossips, murderers, grumps. We are rebels. We are dead in our sin. Our old self dies with Christ and we are raised to new life in him. We are justified. We are given a new name.[3]

 

We would affirm the second position because there is an ongoing life long struggle and our salvation does not wave a magic wand so we do not face temptation and struggle.

 

We must deny the third position because it misses the point.  I may struggle with temptations and challenges, but those things are not meant to label or identify me any- more.

 

Now how we help people who are at position 1 to move to position 2 and how we stand with, love, pastor, encourage and challenge those who are in position 2 can certainly be complex and worthy of more attention but I don’t think that the Statement denies those complexities.

Conclusion

The Nashville Statement is a human document and like the various creeds, declarations and documents of churches and church councils throughout the centuries is no doubt something that can be improved on. However, it is a good starting point.

[1] https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/

[2] http://thinktheology.org/2017/08/31/nitpicking-the-nashvillestatement-while-not-being-liberal-or-progressive/

 

[3] Why not try slotting some of those identities (or others you can think of) into the statement?

Advertisements