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Nashville statement sparks Christian controversy

Queer & There

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In another example of evangelical Christian preoccupation with genitals, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention published a statement on the Coalition for Biblical Sexuality website on Aug. 29. This 14-article manifesto claims to reaffirm “God’s revealed will” regarding sexuality and gender expression. Unsurprisingly, it rejects homosexuality and “transgenderism,” but offers in return God’s saving arm, which gives “the power of holiness,” enabling “sinners to turn from transgender self-conception” and “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” The statement is signed by 150 or so of the usual evangelical suspects, including Colorado Springs’ James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family; Don Sweeting, president of Colorado Christian University; and popular Christian authors such as Francis Chan and John Piper.

Immediately following the release of the Nashville Statement, several prominent voices in liberal Christianity issued statements of their own. Nadia Bolz-Weber, author and lead pastor of the Denver-based House for All Sinners and Saints, issued the Denver Statement, affirming queer people as part of the “endless variety” of God’s creation, ending with a tongue-in-cheek theological jab: “We deny that God is a boy and has actual arms.” Pastor and LGBTQ activist Brandan Robertson and popular worship musician Michael Gungor both organized statements allowing readers to sign in solidarity with queer Christians.

At the heart of the controversy is the age-old tension between orthodoxy and what progressive Christians call “prophetic voice.” Is the Bible an inerrant document with a static interpretation or is it a rich text, valuable for reflection but unable to provide one-size-fits-all answers? Is the church forsaking its roots or adapting?
For liberal Christians, the Nashville Statement is an ill-timed, unprovoked act of bigotry aimed at excluding and belittling trans and queer Christians. It has caused many faith leaders, some of them LGBTQ themselves, to speak out against non-affirming practices. Local minister, Reverend Clare Twomey of Vista Grande Community Church, is one such faith leader. Her church remains “a supportive and loving community” and she is committed to “denouncing these statements as sinful, as they reject God-created and God-loved members of our human race.” Her call to Christians is this: “Keep living into the message of the gospel: All are loved by God as they are with no exceptions.”

On the other hand, the signers of the Nashville Statement have doubled down on two central tenets of their faith: biblical literalism and complementarianism (the idea that biological sex determines personality characteristics which just so happen to align with strict traditional roles, a sort of gendered separate-but-equal), resisting “the secular spirit of our age” and its permissiveness. Though abhorrent, the motivation behind the Nashville Statement doesn’t stem from a mustache-twirling desire to ruin lives and further exclude marginalized people. Instead, signatories truly believe they are doing God’s will and, in a warped way, even showing love to the LGBTQ community.

The Nashville Statement targets allies, too, saying those who approve of trans and queer “immorality” or adopt a neutral stance are participating in an “essential departure from Christian faithfulness.” It was not enough for signers to state their own biblical interpretation, choosing instead to cast aspersions on the faith of their more progressive Christian siblings. This may have backfired as even some evangelicals bristle at their assertion.

While it might be easy for the Nashville Statement to get lost in the shuffle of horrifying policy decisions and natural disasters, it’s important we don’t write it off. This type of public denouncement is “outright dangerous,” according to Reverend Twomey, citing the high suicide rate of LGBTQ youth as evidence. Statements like this don’t happen in a vacuum and the potential impacts don’t stop at rejection from a spiritual community. Several of the initial signers, like James Dobson, are in bed with the Trump administration. Notably, Vice President Mike Pence, who is outspoken about his anti-queer stance, presented at a Focus on the Family event this summer.

It remains to be seen if this statement is the old guard’s war cry or death rattle, but one thing is certain: This is a battle for the heart of Christianity itself. It will impact religious adherents and unaffiliated people alike by contributing to a cultural clash as LGBTQ activists strive to gain and maintain their rights and Christians of all stripes must decide the future of their faith community and country.

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