I’m used to the world being polarized when it comes to politics. I’ve seen it ever since the hanging chad fiasco of 2000 when I voted for the first time. Moral disagreements have always been around, and especially since the sexual revolution of the 1960s. In the years following the legalization of abortion, Christians and their beliefs came into direct conflict with the culture. Some feel Christians have lost that battle, and it’s time to move on. The past few years are the first time in my life that I’ve seen the religious beliefs of Christians directly in conflict with the culture, and that is in the area of gender and sex.
Last week a document called The Nashville Statement was released. In that document, the signers laid out their theological beliefs regarding sex, marriage, and gender. The document drew praise from those on the conservative side that agreed with the statements.
It also drew criticism, some from the LGBT community, some from conservatives, but mostly from the progressive Christian community. They’re upset about how this will make LGBT people feel, and about some of the statements made regarding Christian doctrine and implications for disagreeing.
I’d love to address current events a little more currently, but for some reason working all day gets in the way. But there’s value in not speaking too quickly, listening to different voices, and giving those initial emotions a chance to calm down. I read an awesome article by Benjamin Kerns that spoke to people on both sides of the discussion, and I knew I had to do one of my own.
Some Thoughts for Conservative Christians to Consider…
Theology Matters, But Not As Much As Knowing Jesus
The beliefs presented in The Nashville Statement regarding gender, sex, and marriage are important. It matters how we as Christians understand marriage, being male and female, and boundaries for sex. We should read our bibles and understand what’s in them, but the Nashville Statement felt like a door was closed.
Even if you agree with everything in the statement, it doesn’t invite people to sit down and talk. It draws a line in the sand, and says you’re either with us or against us. Article 10 says “WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” That is some really strong language. And while I might agree that we shouldn’t approve of sin, I’m not sure we need to line-up and pat each other on the back and say, “You disapprove of that sin? Sweet! Me too! We disapprove of that sin good!”
People need to engage in discussions about what the bible says regarding these topics, and this document doesn’t help people do that. Christians have believed these things for a very long time because there are theological reasons to believe them. The problem though is when you place your theology ahead of knowing Jesus. We need people to above all things know Jesus (John 17:3). That is more important than saying get all your sins straight, and then go know God. It doesn’t happen in that order. The more we know God, the more he transforms us from the inside out.
Loving People in the Local Church Matters
We also need to talk about how LGBT people are treated in the local church. We want people at church. We want people in community, growing closer to God. I think a lot of that growing closer to God comes from within, from letting the Holy Spirit take over our hearts and squash our selfishness. Any sin I’ve struggled with has only been successfully dealt with by letting God work in me to overcome it.
Beating someone over the head with their sin doesn’t produce lasting heart change. It might make people feel guilty, but truly overcoming sin is more about grace than guilt. If you believe LGBT people are living in sin, what’s the best way to help them grapple with that sin? The same as everyone else: Provide a safe place where people can know Jesus, and let him change their hearts. We’re here to support each other in our Christian walks, but we’re not here to change each other. I think that responsibility falls on God living in us.
We all need God’s grace to free us from our sin, no matter how big or small we might perceive that sin to be. No LGBT person should be shamed or marginalized by the church. They should be welcomed and loved. Will there be difficult conversations? Absolutely, but we all need to have difficult conversations, whether it’s about divorce, pornography, pride, greed, or whatever sin we’ve let take hold of us.
Fighting the Culture Doesn’t Provide Hope to the Culture
A lot of Christians see the culture moving away from Christianity, and one of the first emotions we experience is anger. It might feel righteous, because we want the best for others, and when you see them drift from how you view things, we want to fix it. More likely, I think that anger stems from feeling left out. Sort of like when a bunch of people are going to a party and you’re not invited, it’s hard not to feel small when you’re on that side.
I’ve gone through periods where I see the culture changing, and it’s upsetting. Instead of growing increasingly mad at what’s happening around me, I’ve found that the more I worry about my own heart, and try to align myself with God’s will, the less the culture wears on me. I still care for people and want to see them in love with Jesus, but I’m not perpetually offended by those who disagree with me. And when I’m not offended, I actually start listening, and that’s half of a conversation.
The gospel should provide hope to the culture. Here’s a way that is better than anything the world has to offer. Maybe it’s just a matter of terrible marketing, but the writers sound a little tone-deaf to how The Nashville Statement will play out in the minds of young Christians and in the media. Was this really the best way to get people to engage on the issues?
Some Thoughts for Progressive Christians to Consider…
Theology Matters, Not Just How People Feel
I’ve been doing a lot of lurking on Twitter and reading the reactions of the more prominent Christian progressives. These are people who generally don’t agree with the theology of The Nashville Statement, and embrace a view on gender and sexuality that is very different from the traditional Christian view.
And while there has been a lot of outrage at the statement, theology still matters. Understanding who God is, how he changes us, and how we flourish as his children matters. Reading the word and understanding it matters. Then I see tweets like this…
If the fruit of doctrine regularly & consistently creates shame, self-harm, suicide, & broken hearts, families, & churches, we shld listen.
— JenHatmaker (@JenHatmaker) August 29, 2017
Those things are terrible, but blaming it on “doctrine” is a really bad way to read the bible. If someone is upset by the belief that Jesus is the only way to reconcile with the Father, their rejection of that belief and their anger at Christians doesn’t in anyway diminish the truth in the bible. We don’t develop our understanding of God based on how people feel, but we develop our understanding of people based on the God that created us.
If the Nashville Statement has done anything well, it’s that it has forced people to grapple with the issues. If you’re fence-sitting and letting your favorite twitter personality determine what you believe, you can’t really do that anymore.
The Nashville Statement Draws Lines for a Reason
In a way, The Nashville Statement is a reactionary statement to the culture. The theology presented isn’t new, so it’s interesting that people are shocked by it. As the culture has moved away from Christian teachings, the writers felt this need to react to the culture, and say very clearly what they believe. And not only is the culture moving, but so are some Christians. As well-meaning Christians begin to diverge on such big issues, it shouldn’t surprise us that something like The Nashville Statement happens.
I was listening to the BadChristian Podcast episode about the Nashville Statement, and at a certain point, someone boiled the whole thing down to “caring about who you have sex with.” The Nashville people are making a huge deal out of something as stupid as who you have sex with. There was no talk of theology, or wrestling with the scriptures. They turned the entire thing into a caricature that they could tear down.
Gender and sexuality matter because we’re dealing with big issues. What does it mean to be created in God’s image? Why did he make us male and female? In Mark 10, when Jesus himself goes all the way back to the original marriage between Adam and Eve, what does that tell us about God’s design for marriage? How does the covenant of marriage reveal God to us? These are not silly matters where people only care about who you have sex with.
If our gut reaction is to argue against the Nashville Statement, but we don’t have a theological basis to disagree with it, then maybe developing a theological belief about sex and gender should be a priority?
Deflecting and Distracting Doesn’t Get Us Anywhere
These are the most important sins to talk about? What about divorce, pride, or gluttony? If you’re not going to issue statements on other sins, you shouldn’t issue one here.
Nashville doesn’t prove that gender and sexuality are the most important “sins” to talk about, but that it’s currently our most disagreed upon issue. You can call for a statement on pride, but there isn’t much division on pride that I’m aware of. There’s a lot of disagreement about gender and sexuality. I don’t think we even fully understand how big this split will be. It needs to be a priority, both in our understanding of the theology behind the issues, and how we approach talking to each other and continuing to love each other.
Comparing gender and sexuality issues to other issues in an attempt to downplay the conversation isn’t helpful. It’s all trumped by the discussion of knowing God, but then as we seek to know God more, and let him change our hearts, it’s OK for us to have these discussions.
We All Fall Short
The Nashville Statement was polarizing. Part of me says that’s good, and that it forces us to understand what we believe. Fence-sitting isn’t an option, both theologically and in how you love others.
Another part of me really hated how angry everyone got. It didn’t draw people together. It didn’t make people listen to each other more closely. It didn’t help us love each other. It didn’t bring LGBT people into the fold.
Christians are going to disagree with each other, but we need to stop judging each other (Romans 2:1-5). We should do our best to understand his perfect design, and how to live in his will so that we can flourish, but we can do all that without pointing fingers at each other. It’s not easy, and I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know exactly what that looks like, but I don’t think it begins with being angry at each other. It begins with talking to each other and listening.