Pastor Bob O'Bannon
In August, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a document called “The Nashville Statement” (read it here) that, in 14 concise articles of affirmations and denials, presents the traditional Christian position on human sexuality.
The immediate response from many bloggers, news sites and even churches was shock and outrage. The mayor of Nashville immediately disavowed the statement. The New York Times said it was an attack on LGBT Christians. A group of Utah clergy signed their own statement that renounced “the bigotry and homophobia that is at the heart of the Nashville Statement.”
This is pretty much what one would expect, but what has surprised me is the number of people in the church who don’t like the statement. And I don’t mean people in the liberal mainline church — I mean people in the conservative evangelical church. They won’t sign it.
While I would never want to bind someone’s conscience to signing a document like the Nashville Statement, let me say that from my own perspective, there are good reasons why a Christian leader should sign it. And I list three of them here:
1) It is a carefully worded and gracious statement of orthodox Biblical Christianity.
The broken-record accusation against people daring to question the LGBT lifestyle is that they are being hateful and bigoted. But the Nashville Statement is careful to extend grace and mercy to all people, no matter what their particular sexual struggle might be.
For instance, in Article 9, it is acknowledged that sexual immorality can assume both homosexual and heterosexual forms, and Article 2 affirms that God desires “chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage,” so there is no ground on which to accuse the statement of singling out homosexual sins and ignoring heterosexual sins. Further, in Article 8, it is stated that “people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ,” and Article 12 asserts that “the grace of God in Christ Jesus” is sufficient to forgive all sexual sins, so it is also false to accuse the statement of “promising hell” for all homosexuals. And Article 6 asserts that the same grace available to same-sex attracted people is also extended to those who struggle with “ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex.”
The most gracious thing anyone can do for another is offer the Gospel, which is what the Nashville Statement does. The parts that seem not so gracious, apparently, are the ones that deny that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual relationship (Article 1), and that deny that same-sex attraction is part of “the natural goodness of God’s original creation” (Article 8). But this is just elementary Christian theology, doctrines that weren't questioned by any follower of Christ until about 20 years ago. Even the Babylon Bee, the satirical Christian web site modeled after The Onion, has pointed out the absurdity of questioning a view that has been unanimously held for 2,000 years of church history.
2) Signing the statement gives opportunity for the church to stand united on a watershed issue.
The list of signatories to the Nashville Statement is impressive. It includes theologians like John Frame, D.A. Carson, Vern Poythress and R.C. Sproul; pastors like John Piper, Alistair Begg, Mark Dever, and John MacArthur; PCA leaders like Ligon Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, and Joel Belz; aspiring evangelical leaders such as Matt Chandler and Francis Chan; cultural spokespersons like Russell Moore and Al Mohler; well-known pundits like Eric Redmond, Jonathan Leeman, and David French; and former members of the LGBT community like Rosaria Butterfield and Jackie Hill Perry.
When headlines exclaim that evangelicals are “unhappy” with the Nashville Statement, as appeared in the Aug. 31 Washington Post, the impression is given that evangelicals are divided on whether gay marriage is right or wrong. If there is so much disagreement in the church over this question, it is reasoned, how can anyone really know what the Bible says? Maybe homosexuality is like baptism or charismatic gifts, where a difference of opinion is widespread and acceptable.
According to the Nashville Statement, this is not an option. Article 10 denies a common argument made today -- that homosexual immorality is a "matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.” The statement even has the courage to call it “sinful” to adopt such a stance.
Every age has its watershed issue. In the early 20th century, the Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen argued that the liberalism creeping into the church at the time was not just another version of Christianity, but was actually not Christian at all. According to Machen, it was a different religion. Something similar seems to be happening in the church with regard to the LGBT movement. Efforts to celebrate the lifestyle as natural and good are coming from an entirely different source than orthodox Christianity. In fact, it's a different religion. (If you think I’m overreaching here, take note of the 2013 statement by Bishop Desmond Tutu that he would would “refuse to go to a homophobic heaven” and would “much rather go to the other place”).
Martin Luther said, “No heresy has ever sprung from pagan belief, and from books and other heathen. No, these necessarily emerge from the church” (see Acts 20:29-30). This growing idea inside the church that homosexual relationships are good and pleasing to God is the grave error of our time, and it is disappointing if the church can’t stand united against it.
3) The church has the responsibility to communicate, uphold and defend the truth.
It is important to note that the Nashville Statement is not a pastoral letter; instead, it is a doctrinal statement. It seeks to present truth in a clear and coherent fashion. It is not an opportunity for the church to trot out all of its own sins for the purpose of public repentance. It is not an opportunity to equip parents for how they will respond to a son announcing he is gay. It is not seeking to enter into dialogue with people who have been hurt by the church on this issue. Certainly there is a proper place for all of these valuable tasks, and Christians should be quick to acknowledge and repent of all hatred and discrimination against LGBT people, but that’s not what a doctrinal statement is about.
According to 1 Tim. 3:15, the church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth.” It is the only institution on earth with the resources, calling and authority to declare what is true about the institution of marriage. If it doesn’t provide clarity on this issue, as the Nashville Statement has done, then no one will. As Is. 59:14 says, when truth stumbles in the public squares, “uprightness cannot enter.” Truth claims (particularly about sexual issues) are not welcome in the public squares of our culture today, but that doesn’t mean the church should recoil from making them.
So yes, I signed the Nashville Statement, not because I hate gay people, or think I’m better than they are, or wish them any harm whatsoever, any more than the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978), or the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), or the Athanasian Creed (5th century) were written as a personal attack on any group of people. Statements like these are about ideas and beliefs and truth claims. As a Christian pastor, I feel responsible to be clear about the faith I have vowed to defend, and because I believe the words of Machen are just as true today as when they were written back in 1923:
“The things about which men are agreed are apt to be the things that are least worth holding; the really important things are the things about which men will fight.”