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. . .”