The Nashville Statement on Sexuality

The Nashville Statement on Sexuality

Photo Credit: “Wedding rings”, © 2016 MAURO CATEB, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

The Nashville Statement on “biblical sexuality” was released a couple of days ago.  I’ve read and re-read the statement, which is printed below.  It’s short, about 1200 words.  Nevertheless, it gets tedious about half-way through.  Nashville is tiresome because it’s a screed against homosexuality and trans-gendered people.  The Statement’s  preamble is its most promising section.   Taking a lofty view of American society, the opening sentences speak of a seismic cultural shift in process.  The reader is reminded of our rapid deterioration in morals and, most interestingly, of the image-of-God essence of  human being.  Sadly, the text doesn’t develop these ideas.  Nashville’s clear intent is to place and keep homosexual and trans-gendered persons securely in the category of “sinner.”

The Tone of the Nashville Statement

I experienced the statement as authoritarian. Mimicking historic creeds and confessions, it is divided into fourteen articles, each a sentence or two long.  It reminds me of the sixth grader’s encyclopedia report that is thin on content but thick with chapter divisions.     More impressive is the signatory list, consisting not only of names, but titles and positions.  The effect: big credentials back this statement.

There’s something about the Nashville statement that is very, very serious.  Our ecclesial superiors, no doubt reluctantly and with deep reflection, are issuing a firm warning here.   From this perch they speak of our eternal destiny as it is connected with homosexuality and any opinion that would countenance a gay lifestyle. In doing this, the Nashville signers lay aside the universe of sexual confusion that confounds all of us so that one variety of expression may be isolated for special vilification.  No need to mention divorce, rape, pornography, lust, spousal abuse, pedophilia or any other dysfunction that one might assume to be covered in a statement about biblical sexuality.   The absence of these leads one to infer that the sexual anarchy of this age may be attributed to one group that comprises about 3% of the population.

The Bible

The Statement purports to be biblical but makes no appeal to actual bible texts.  There’s one exception to this.  There is a direct quote in Article Six of Jesus’ words, “…Eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” (Matthew 19. 3-12).  Chapter and verse are not cited, possibly because Nashville’s authors don’t need their readers consulting Jesus’ actual teaching here, which is gloriously complex and hardly fits the marriage-positive vibe that the Coalition for Biblical Sexuality is fostering.  Save this exception, there is no direct citing of scripture.

We can generously say that the Nashville Statement is loosely biblical.  It’s as if it were drawn up without Bibles open, but out of conviction that it represents a traditional consensus of Christian thinking.

The Woman Caught in Adultery

What I don’t understand is why the well-known story of Jesus and the Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8) hasn’t tempered the zeal of the Nashville Statement.  Certainly every signer of the Nashville Statement knows this story from memory.  The parallels between the adulteress and her accusers, on one hand;  and our evangelical leaders who are doubling down in condemning one group, on the other hand, is inescapable.

Both the adulteress story and the Nashville Statement, firstly, justify their condemnation from the Scriptures.  The biblical stoning party actually had a compelling scriptural case against the adulteress.  Adultery is proscribed in the Ten Commandments.  It was a capital crime.  The Nashville Statement is rooted in the Scriptures in the manner we’ve reviewed above.  The upshot: both Nashville and the stoning party feel they’re doing God’s work.

Secondly, there’s an element of “piling on” both in the Nashville Statement and with the Woman Caught in Adultery.  I’m guessing that for most readers of John 8 the the idea of a mob seizing and killing a woman is hardly a glowing example of moral courage.  There is no lonely courageous voice in a mob.  It’s easy to be murderously furious in a crowd, especially when the victim is caught in the act.

Jesus, by the way, never attacked a woman.  He never attacked or spoke aggressively to an individual, even a sinner, even Pontius Pilate.  All of Jesus’ militancy is reserved for religious leaders.  It looks to me as if gays and trans-gendered people are soft targets in our generation of resurgent fascism and rollbacks of LGBT rights.  The victims of Nashville won’t be fighting back.  So the third element shared both by today’s religious anti-gay/trans critics and the John 8 stoning party is an imbalance of power.

The third parallel: an element of selectivity threads through Nashville and this episode in Jesus’ public ministry.  In other words, to be caught in the act of adultery, means that the partner adulterer was also caught.  Why isn’t he being dragged through the streets?  There’s a similar selectivity about Nashville.  There are countless forms of sexual confusion and darkness in our own time—including adultery.  Why doesn’t Nashville address these?  An inexplicable narrowing of focus to one person, one category, is the fourth parallel.

Finally, there’s the aptness of that one sentence zinger from Jesus, which deflates the deadly legalistic tone both in the gospel and, I submit, in our own day.  “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.”  This word from Jesus possesses glorious power.  The stoning party’s zeal suddenly melts.  We can imagine a positive shame flooding through each accuser as he recognizes his own moral shabbiness, and his own need of forgiveness.  By each one’s own decision, he is disqualified from enforcing the Law to the letter.

Notice what does not happen here.  The Law is not enforced.  The adulteress is not used as an example.  We never get Jesus’ clarification about this or any portion of the law.  The stoning party disperses.

We cannot be filled with sin–which, regrettably we all are; we cannot be rescued by grace–again, which we all are; and nevertheless weaponize the law against one small category of people.  I believe that the prerogative to judge and accuse is surrendered when one accepts the forgiving grace of God through Christ.

The effect on the story for me is not to read in Jesus’ words a new relaxed attitude towards adultery.  The workaday lesson I derive from the story of the Woman Caught in Adultery is…don’t be in that crowd.

I won’t be signing the Nashville Statement.

The Nashville Statement


Nashville Statement: Coalition for Biblical Sexuality


Evangelical Christians at the dawn twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.

Article 1

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. WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

Article 2

WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage. WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.

Article 3

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.

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing. WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

Article 5

WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female. WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

Article 6

WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known. WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.

Article 7

WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture. WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

Article 8

WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life. WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.

Article 9

WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality. WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.

Article 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. WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Article 11

WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female. WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his imagebearers as male and female.

Article 12

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

Article 13

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender selfconceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female. WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.

Article 14

WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure. WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach

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