September 1, 2017

On The Nashville Statement

During tropical storm Harvey, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) issued what has been called the "Nashville Statement." You can follow that link if you would like to read it. I chose not to react to this until I had time to read the entire document. That took me awhile considering Houston was under water for few days. Having done so, I have a few thoughts.

First off, simply from a leadership perspective this was a poor idea. It was not helpful or productive or timely. A sign of good leadership is knowing when and how to share information. This was completely tone deaf in that regard. I recognize this could be perceived as myopic on my part but while I don't expect the whole word to go on pause while we muck out houses in Houston, it just doesn't seem like smart timing by leaders attuned to the world around them. Quite the contrary.

Prove Your Committed to Sharing the Good News of Christ's Kingdom, Then Let's Talk
I've been saying this for years but what is clear from the New Testament passages that tend to be, as Colby Martin calls them, the "clobber" passages about homosexual intercourse are written to faith communities in which participating members of these Christian communities engaged in this behavior--or were at least thought to be. For example, when St. Paul was talking about sexual ethics he was talking to Christians. Not the general public. Insiders. People that had opted in, participating in a local faith community–probably a house church. Baptized, confessing and–in first century Palestine–likely having made evident that they were willing to risk their life for the sake of good new of Christ's Kingdom. That's who he's talking about sex with.

This says to me that unless you are addressing this issue because your faith community has a high number of people within it who identify as LGBTQ–people who fully participate in your community as Christians, you have no credibility in addressing this. Unless if you have done the authentically evangelistic work of welcoming and discipling people within the LGBTQ community, your opinions are irrelevant in my opinion.

There Is Not A Biblical Model of Marriage
Even if LGBTQ folks were in the pews of the congregations these leaders represent, the sexual practices and identity of first century Palestine, or throughout the ages in which our Scriptures were written are not the same as those today. We are not talking apples to apples here. There's lots of sex in the Bible. Lots of it. But very little of it would be acceptable in contemporary western culture. Throughout Scripture there were cultural, sexual practices that we would not condone today. Though they were completely acceptable in the era within which Scripture was written. Misogyny. Polygamy. Few were monogamous. Women were possessions. When passionate sexual encounters do occur in Scripture they often coincide with inhumane, even malicious treatment of others (And I’m not just thinking of Sodom and Gomorrah, in fact David and Bathsheba is what first came to mind).

To say that there is a particular design for marriage that is dictated by the Bible is true. There is a call to devoted, covenant relationship. But throughout Scripture the meaning of marriage and sex changes. Culture evolves, their understanding of sex evolves and so does the definition of marriage and sex throughout the various eras in which Scripture was written. The language of a biblical design tends to imply that one group does not faithfully attempt to read, study and abide by the model for living mapped out in Scripture. This can get dicey fast and it's just not true.

We Love Jesus Too ... And He Loves Us
For us to find a way forward there must cease to be the allusion to a diminished faith of those who affirm same-sex marriage. It's religious bullying to imply that LGBTQ Christians somehow love Jesus less than their evangelical sisters and brothers. I still consider myself an evangelical. I consider myself an evangelical in part due to my continued, deep affection for and devotion to Jesus of Nazareth as my Lord and Savior. I didn't grow up belonging to one denomination, rather I grew up with a sense of being a part of a broader evangelical tradition. This commitment has long been a hallmark of evangelical culture and affect. But evangelicals alone do not hold this commitment. As the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry has put it previously:
Our commitment to be an inclusive church is not based on a social theory or capitulation to the ways of the culture, but on our belief that the outstretched arms of Jesus on the cross are a sign of the very love of God reaching out to us all. While I understand that many disagree with us, our decision regarding marriage is based on the belief that the words of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians are true for the church today: All who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ." (emphasis mine)
Sex Isn't a Core Doctrinal Issue
Lastly, the Nashville Statement is styled as a document that establishes doctrinal, orthodox faith. It is not either. The documents that have longest held the Church's commitment and crystallized the definition of Christian faith are the Nicene Creed and Apostles' Creed. Neither of these say anything about marriage or sex. To argue that the issue of sex is a central issue of faith is a distraction and an attempt at division–to ostracize one group from another. It's an old tactic that can be attributed to most petty divisions throughout church history which have ended up driving massive wedges within the Body of Christ. Does what we believe about sex matter? It most certainly does. But it's just not a core issue of orthodoxy and alluding to this only drives sisters and brothers further from each other and the Church.

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