Bad Theology in the Nashville Statement


So major evangelical leaders came together to produce a statement on “biblical sexuality.” But there were Catholic and mainline Protestant signers of the Nashville Statement. So while the problems with this statement are concentrated in evangelicalism, they are in fact problems that affects a much wider swath of the church.

Much of the press coverage treated it as an anti LGBT statement. True. There is little to nothing that responds to heterosexuals. And there is nothing addressing significant sexual sins including rape, sexual assault, child molestation, adultery, sexual harassment, and the sexual objectification of women and children. When every 98 seconds an American faces sexual assault, when 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime, it’s absurd to think this is a statement on sexual morality.

Especially when you consider that not a single discussion about consent was included in this document.

Also when you consider that so much of the statement is condemning “transgenderism” which is not a sexual orientation at all. It’s about gender identity, which has nothing to do with sex per se. And as far as I know, transgenderism is not a term used by anyone else but the religious right. But if you want to debate gender identity, it does not belong on a statement purporting to be about sexuality.

And when addressing LGBT folks, one key issue stands out. There is nothing about the nature of their (and my) relationships. As a married gay man, I won’t say sex is not part of marriage, but it pales in comparison to shared meals, road trips, curling up to watch MST3K, and having a shared life together. And the authors can’t be that deficient in their imaginations, so as to not think that what makes their unions work is going to be the same for us in same gendered relationships.

And then when I come across a statement like this:

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church

Setting aside that non Christian do marry and their relationships can be just as holy, I wonder about Christian couples like my adoptive uncle and wife. They have been together since the 60s but never had children. As my uncle loves his wife through her Alzheimers and still calls her, his girlfriend, I wonder if this statement would recognize enduring love or condemn the union as being childless.

I also wonder about asexuals who often couple and have no interest in a sexual or a procreative union. I wonder about older couples who marry for mutual support, maybe after another spouse as died, because life is easier together than apart and not because children or even sex is in the equation.

And when reading this statement, not only is much of it not about sex, much of it is not about morality. There is no attempt to put a moral argument together. They use moral terms like avoiding ruin and receiving redemption, but it’s never seriously applied. In what way does my marriage bring ruin to myself or anyone? What am I being saved from by not having a shared life with the man I love? The nature of relationships, their qualities are never explored. The only question is the gender of the pairing, which gives us no moral information.

But maybe they think they are making a moral argument based on design?

WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female. WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.

I should note, that if you want to engage in a design argument, it would be helpful to consult evolutionary biology. I know many of the signers of this statement are creationists, but I would argue that a theological statement divorced from the relevant sciences makes for bad theology.  Almost the entire statement hinges on how we were created to be, when it self evident that we live in a diverse world, when it comes to sexuality and gender identity. God apparently likes diversity.

But they might argue that we cannot argue from what is to what ought to be. To do so would be to commit the naturalistic fallacy. And they would be correct. And yet that is what their design argument is. It’s a a reasoning from what they believe we were designed to be, to how it is we ought to live, what we ought to aspire to. But we may come to value other things, more than our biology.

For instance, you could argue that in evolutionary terms, the best way to spread the gene pool around is for men to spread their seed to as many women as possible. But for people who value relationships, commitment, love for another person,  it appears that what makes good design sense, makes for bad ethics. It would make it impossible for many to be in a relationship at all. Sometimes ethics trumps design.

So we should be asking, what do we want in a relationship? What qualities make for love, commitment, mutual support a shared life? Many things can come into play. But one’s gender won’t. Whether same sex or opposite sex, the rubrics for a successful, mutual, loving relationship looks the same. And not surprising, none of that is addressed in this statement.

But maybe it’s a biblical defense of a certain vision of human relating. Except, you will find that there are no scripture passages offered in this statement. And they have to ignore the most glaring passage of all. We get it from Galatians 3:28 28 

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

How does on get around that, so as to give ultimacy to a specific vision of gender norms that this piece is saturated with? So much so that according to plank 10

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

This is a line of the sand as Denny Burk, one of the cosigners wrote:

Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.

And now we get to the real purpose. It is to say that the majority of Christians in this country are not Christian. And in particular it is designed to police boundaries within the church. It has no ability to persuade those not in the evangelical world and the rest of the conservative Christian world. But that is not its purpose. It’s purpose is to not create a space in their worlds, for LGBT folks. Unfortunately that means LGBT kids as well, who are the most harmed by this kind of rhetoric.

I’ve been told that theology matters by conservative Christians. I agree with this. Which is why it’s so disappointing to see a statement devoid of moral reasoning, scripture, the relevant sciences, and the lived experience of those impacted by anti LGBT sentiments. Maybe the only good is to be aware that being anti LGBT, has a spill over effect, in creating bad theology.

Dwight Welch is a UCC/Disciples pastor who teaches religion and philosophy at Oklahoma City Community College. 

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