To sign or not: Nashville Statement on sexuality debate intensifies

08 September 2017

GEOFF CRAWFORD

Signatory: the Revd Sam Allberry speaking at the February meeting of the General Synod at Church House, Westminster

Signatory: the Revd Sam Allberry speaking at the February meeting of the General Synod at Church House, Westminster

THE Nashville Statement on human sexuality released by conservative Evan­gelicals in the South of the United States last week has sparked intense debate.

It was published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Woman­hood (CBMW), an Evangelical co­­ali­­­­tion in Louisiana, on Tuesday of last week. It lists 14 articles of belief, including a rejection of the idea that marriage can be homosexual, poly­gamous, or polyamorous, or that people’s gender can be identified other than as male or female ac­­cord­ing to the reproductive organs with which they were born (News, 1 September).

The statement, which has accrued more than 150 signatures, mainly from the Evangelical community in the US, but including a handful from the UK, con­demns sexual promiscuity, rela­tions, and desire outside mar­riage; denies the possib­ility of re­­demp­tion for people who identify themselves as homo­sexual or trans­gender; and states that approving of “homo­sexual immor­ality or transgender­ism” consti­tutes “moral indiffer­ence”.

The president of CBMW, Denny Burk, said that the aim of the state­ment, which he had promised on taking office a year ago, was to end confusion over sexual and gender identity in the 21st century.
“The spirit of our age does not delight in God’s good design of male and female,” he wrote on its website last week. “Consequently, con­fusion reigns over some of the most basic questions of our human­ity. The aim of The Nashville Statement is to shine a light into the darkness — to declare the goodness of God’s design in our sexuality and in creating us male and female.”

Signatories include the veteran Evangelical academic the Revd Professor J. I. Packer; the Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, the Revd Vaughan Roberts; and the Revd William Taylor and Prebend­ary Dick Lucas, Rector and former Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, in London.

Signatory: the Revd Dr J. I. Packer, Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver

LGBT campaigners responded the next day with a state­ment, Chris­­tians United, which imitates the struc­ture and language of the Nashville Statement, but contradicts it.

Its first article states that “the great diversity expressed in human­ity through our wide spectrum of unique sexualities and gender ident­ities is a perfect reflection of the magnitude of God’s creative work” and denies “any teaching that sug­gests God’s creative intent is limited to a gender binary” or that romantic love is limited to hetero­sexual rela­tion­ships.

It has been signed by 1000 reli­gious leaders, academics, and activ­ists from some of the main Chris­tian denominations. One of the first 100 signatories, Jayne Ozanne, the General Synod member who suc­cessfully promoted her private member’s motion on conver­sion therapy in July, said: “I challenge people to read both state­ments and see which they believe reflects the width, length, height, and depth of God’s love for all creation — and, in so doing, see which is the more prophetic and cour­a­geous in a world that is increas­ingly fuelled by fear and hate.”

But many endorsers of the Nash­ville Statement have argued that its articles bring “gospel clarity” and “biblical conviction” to a soci­ety and culture “defined by sexual confusion and brokenness”.

The Revd Sam Allberry, an NSM at St Andrew and St Mary Magda­lene, Maidenhead, who describes himself as same-sex attracted, said: “It brings much needed clarity to issues where there is often silence, pain and confusion. This will provide a wonderful framework for those seek­ing to both find and offer grace and truth in today’s world.”

Mr Allberry is a member of the C of E’s pastoral advisory group, established this year with the task of “sup­porting and advising dioceses on pastoral actions with regard to our current pastoral approach to human sexu­ality” (News, 30 June).

He also co-founded the group Living Out, which supports con­serva­tive same-sex-attracted Chris­tians. Living Out declined to com­ment further on the statement.

The Bishop of Tennessee, the Rt Revd John Bauerschmidt, in whose diocese the Nashville Statement was produced, also made no comment when approached for the Church Times.

The General Secretary of Modern Church, the Very Revd Dr Jonathan­ Draper, wrote in a blog post that the Nashville Statement carried a “theo­logical failure” at its heart. “The God in which Christians believe changed and changed every­thing when that God became incarn­ate. No longer was God ‘out there’, but is with us. The failure in the ‘Nash­ville Statement’ is in not recognising that incarnation. . . The simple bin­aries of the pre-scientific world no longer work: we are dis­covering that as God is a diversity of persons, so human beings — created in that God’s image — are also diverse.”

The Episcopalian Bishop of Central Florida, the Rt Revd Greg Brewer, said on Tuesday: “What I found deeply troubling was that absence of any expressed com­passion. . . For many conservative Christians, they have been the ob­­ject of their pre­judice, not their compassion — and I felt this state­ment only rein­forced that preju­­dice. By their failure to ac­­know­ledge that prejudice, much less any regret, the statement only served to bolster our societal and ecclesiastical divisions — there was no bridge of healing.”

Article 10 of the Nashville State­ment — that approval of “homo­sex­ual immorality” is sinful — has been the centre of the strongest criticisms on social media.

Mr Burk later defended the article. “Evangelicals who have been drifting away from biblical fidelity on these issues have often been run­ning under the cover of confu­sion — confusion about what is essential and what is not essential to the Christian faith. . . A person may fol­low Jesus, or he may pursue sexual immorality. But he cannot do both.”

THE GOOD BOOK COMPANYSignatory: the Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford, the Revd Vaughan Roberts

The Nashville Statement has also been criticised by Evangelicals who hold a conservative position on sex­uality. Dr Alastair Roberts, a British Evangelical writer and blogger, wrote that it lacked a “strong word against the vicious animus against LGBT per­sons that has far too often infected Christian contexts, render­ing an orthodox stance on sexual holiness odious to those who cannot separate it from the personal hatred that they have experienced from Chris­tians on account of their sexu­ality”.

There has also been criticism of the timing of the statement, released during the Houston floods; its initial endorsement by at least ten known supporters of President Trump; and the “lack of humility and attentive­ness” by signatories debating ortho­dox critics.

The Professor of New Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary, Lom­bard, Illinois, the Revd Dr Scot McKnight, who is a cleric in the Anglican Church in North America, wrote on his blog that, while most of its af­­firma­tions were theologically sound, the statement was “pastorally inade­quate”.

“To speak today of same sex orientation and same sex relations or wider dimensions of sexuality, in the complexity of modern and post­modern culture, requires pastoral sensitivities. . . I’m not sure the Nash­ville Statement would help me in ministering to the gay and lesbian students I have taught.”

The founder of the blog Mere Orthodoxy, Matthew Anderson, re­­fused to sign the statement, he wrote, because “by creating a public context in which all the people who affirm certain doctrines or ideas are identified under the same banner, statements tacitly shift the playing field, such that to not sign is to signal disagreement. . .”

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