The timing of a new “manifesto” aimed against LGBTQ Christians and their allies — in the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville and in the midst of Americans rescuing each other in Texas — is more than unfortunate. In a time when the evils of racism gain new, frightening currency in our culture, and racial bigotry is being exemplified by the president of the United States with silence from most white evangelicals, some Christian leaders have determined that now is the time to declare that agreement on issues of sexual orientation and identity is a litmus test for authentic Christian faith — while not doing so for repentance from the sin, myth, and idol of white supremacy. This “Nashville Statement” exemplifies a grave mistake of public discernment and creates a more polarized division that seriously is damaging any credible evangelical witness in today’s culture. And that this is presented as the litmus test for true Christian faith sends a clear message to our Christian brothers and sisters of color.
Many Christians, including evangelicals, have been seeking to repent of the damage done to LGBTQ people by our churches, even if they still wrestle with theological issues around sexuality. In this statement, there is none of that spirit — no repentance or humility for the church’s treatment of LGBTQ Christians. Rather, the spirit of certainty and judgment in the rejecting of LBGTQ persons, exemplified by this statement, is one of the reasons a new generation of believers is leaving the church. In great contrast, Jesus’ radical call to love each other, our neighbors, those different from us, and even our enemies is painfully missing in this statement.
Also missing is any attempt to find common ground, be welcoming faith communities, and find civil and compassionate ways to dialogue and even disagree. Rather, this manifesto’s deliberate purpose seems to be to further divide the church on difficult issues. The few women signers to this statement is also indicative of the clear connection being made between the rejection of LGBTQ Christians and this group’s rejection of equality of women and their leadership in the churches.
Instead we should look for common ground, compassion, civility, and consistency as we pursue and seek to discern the heart of God on these questions.
Some of the common ground we should be able to affirm include:
Every initial of LGBTQ represents people who are beloved of God and made in the image of God.
Sexuality is indeed part of the good creation of God, who intends for it to be lived in ways that are whole, holy, and within the framework of love and commitment. For Christians, sexuality is meant to be covenantal instead of just recreational, which indeed is the spirt of the age that critically needs healthier counter-cultural alternatives.
We are still learning about sexual orientation and identity — and so this calls us more to listening and humility than certain judgement. Old cultural ideas about choices and “cures” have been undermined by the evidence, and by our experiences of the people we love and are in relationship to. People are who they are, and our churches are trying to live out what it means to accept the humanity of our brothers and sisters. LGBTQ Christians are asking to be welcomed and accepted in the body of Christ.
The Bible should indeed be central to how we decide hard questions, and biblical commitment should cross all our differences. Biblical scholarship shows these issues are more complex than we have often thought. Credible, orthodox biblical scholars have shown that the idea of committed Christian same-sex relationships were likely not something envisioned in the Scriptures or in biblical times. At least we should say that biblically committed Christians, including evangelical Christians, can and do have different interpretations of Scripture on the difficult and complicated issues of sexual orientation and identity. And Christians need to learn how to agree to disagree on these matters — which the Nashville statement commands we not do.
How we talk and dialogue about these divisive issues will itself demonstrate the integrity of our Christian faith. Again, humility and civility is called for, rather than litmus tests of the right or left. A commitment to religious liberty on behalf of those with different opinions, based on their faith, is important. Listening and not just pronouncing will be required of us all. And listening to those who have been made marginal by their society is especially important if we are listening to Jesus. I pray for prayerful discernment in the Christian community, mutual respect, and a spirit that invites people rather than marginalizes them.