Enough time has passed now that I hope we can look at the Nashville statement with some sort of integrity and honesty instead of with some of the vitriol that has been spewed about it thus far. IF you are unaware of it, the statement can be found here. Let me begin by saying that yes, I affirm the traditional and historic understanding of scripture on marriage and same sex relationships. Let me also say that I personally will not be signing the statement, though I do not have a huge issue with those who have. They are not, as a Huffpost writer (unsurprising) called a “brood of vipers” or some sort of modern day pharisee, nor is this, as the New York Times (unsurprisingly) claimed, an attack on L.G.B.T. Christians. These sort of things are not terribly helpful and really only increase tension and division. The Nashville statement is a Biblically defensible understanding of human sexuality, even in the places where I disagree with it. If you are not willing to accept that, then this is likely not something you want to read. I am not going to reprint the articles here, rather I am going to make some comments as a whole and trust that you have, or will, use the link above to familiarize yourself with the statement.
The biggest reason that I will not be signing the statement is that is based heavily in complementarianism. Briefly, this view is that men and women have different, but complimentary roles to play in marriage, and life in general. These roles do not diminish them, nor should they be understood to have any bearing on their standing as beloved creations of God, but it does mean that there are specific roles for each to play. The phrase used to express this is ‘Ontologically equal, Functionally different’. This phrase is often attributed to John Piper in his work “Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood”. Numerous faithful Christians have this understanding. While I do not share it, I also do not find it to be some sort of attack on anyone. It’s a sincerely held belief that I disagree with and will not partake in. I personally, as do most Wesleyans, have an egalitarian view of marriage and responsibility. Christian egalitarianism is the view that all people are created equally before God and have equal responsibility to use their gifts in God’s service irregardless of race, class, etc. Alan G Pagett outlines much of this in “What is Biblical Equality”. It’s worth the read and fairly easy to find. That alone would be reason enough for me not to sign the document, even though I do agree with much of what it says.
I also am somewhat troubled by how they present marriage in general. From reading it, it seems as if they are referring to all marriage making no distinction between a Christian marriage and civil marriages that are essentially a contract between two people and the state. While a Christian marriage can be a civil one, a civil marriage is not inherently a Christian one. I tend to defer to Luther in this and his ideas that the church should not trouble itself in the affairs of civil marriage, leaving it to the courts. There is a distinct difference in the covenant of marriage before God and a duly appointed representative of the State changing your tax status. If we, as Christians, believe that Christian marriage is the design of God, then we should not cede the power and authority of the church in declaring marriage to a civil authority to either begin or end such a thing. I do not want to further go down this rabbit hole, but I find it troubling that the document seems to be equating marriage under the church and marriage under the state. Yes, I realize this is not a terribly popular view.
I appreciate that the statement affirms the sacred worth of people to focus on the chosen actions of people. This is the proper approach. I wish that the statement had a better creation theology to it. So much of the current dust up is centered on creation and I felt that the statement was, on the whole, inadequate on this point. It alludes to the fall being the cause for improper sexual desire of all types, but really does not go into why. The whole statement is a bit like this. I would have appreciated it more if there was some type of commentary on how they reached the conclusions of the articles that were put forward. A statement of belief that you can not explain and justify with scripture is not terribly useful by my way of thinking. I know why I affirm the traditional understanding of marriage, but it may not be why the signers of the document do. That is not necessarily a problem, there are often many different ways of coming to the same understanding, but in general, I am wary of attaching my name to something that has statements absent explanation.
On the whole, it is a solid statement that should not contain anything terribly shocking. There is a lot of hyperbole filled rhetoric about it that does not help much of anything, but that is the world that we live in. While I do not agree with it in most places, I do appreciate the approach that Nadia Bolz-Weber took to the Nashville statement. In her response, rather than creating some vitriol filled rant, she instead chose to do exactly what the Nashville statement did, simply make a statement of belief. It’s worth looking at as well, even if you do not agree with it. If nothing else, it is a good example of grace in disagreement on the whole. We could all use more of that I reckon. Where ever you are in belief on this sort of stuff, you should be able to appreciate the Nashville statement, as well as the Denver statement in response, as statements of belief by faithful people doing their best to live out God’s will. No, I do not think that both of these statements could exist in one denomination for example, but I can believe that they are both sincere expressions of faith, even where I find them to be lacking or wrong. If you can’t get that, then it is likely time for some soul searching and asking the really tough question of why it is that you think so little of your fellow Christians that you would accuse them of something other than stating sincere belief that can be backed by scripture. Call the beliefs wrong, feel free, but call them sincerely wrong and stop with the vitriol.