I wonder what would have happened if there had been social media in 1987 when the original Danvers Statement was written and released. Could some early push back from others who shared signers convictions on male-only eldership and wives submitting to husbands have helped correct misinterpretations of Genesis 3:16 and convoluted teaching on the eternal subordination of the Son that flowed from it before they became part of the DNA of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood? I don’t know, but we have a chance now with the newly released Nashville Statement on gender, and I hope pushback received now will result in course correction that benefits the entire Church, whether you identify with CBMW or not.
I believe there is life giving benefit in an orthodox understanding of sexuality and marriage, particularly since the Bible’s presentation of sex and marriage between a man and a woman is about reflections of the gospel to our culture. Though I am not married, other faithful Christian marriages remind me of the gospel, and all faithful believers, single or married, benefit from that testimony, including those who struggle with same-sex attraction. I have several believing friends who identify as gay and submit to Scripture’s teaching on sex outside of heterosexual marriage. They have spoken to the harm they feel from those who encourage them to define themselves by their sexual desires and give themselves over to it even if it violates their convictions from Scripture. Jen Hatmaker, Glennon Doyle Melton, and a number of other leaders coming out with modern views on sexuality and the Christian faith have placed an additional weight around the necks of these friends, who long for encouragement to persevere in the marathon, not folks yelling at them to quit it altogether. In that sense, affirmation of the historic understanding of God’s sexual ethic is helpful, not harmful.
If we truly agree on the trustworthiness of Scripture on its plain statements on sex and sexuality, then we each have a vested interest in the precision of the arguments that we make about it. A friend shared this valuable quote from G. K. Chesterton:
“I strongly object to wrong arguments on the right side. I think I object to them more than to the wrong arguments on the wrong side.”
Others critics have gone before me. Matthew Anderson at Mere Orthodoxy offered a critique, as did Aimee Byrd at Mortification of Spin. Aimee spoke of the need to better address the effects of years of wrong teaching on the eternal subordination of the Son. Matthew spoke of the church’s need to judge themselves.
… the spectacles of obvious disagreement happen precisely because we have not been more focused on ordering our own houses. … Jesus’s demand that those who seek to correct others examine the planks in their own eye is framed in an interpersonal context, to be sure. But the same principle is given ecclesiastical form when Peter suggests that “judgment begins at the house of God.”
My concerns interact with both Matthew’s and Aimee’s, but at a more pedestrian level. Matthew in particular is very heady.
The topic at hand in the Nashville Statement involves homosexuality and transgenderism. But those who have espoused and followed CBMW dogmatically over the years should confess their own complicity, at times, in gender confusion, in pushing conservative followers to not trust their own body’s revelation of their biological sex. I ministered at Mars Hill Church for years and witnessed for more years after I left the harm done to individuals’ understanding of their God-given sex by the hyper masculinity and hyper femininity that were taught through CBMW literature and leaders (along with Doug and Nancy Wilson and Martha Peace) who “discipled” Mark Driscoll and our congregation. Though many attendees certainly entered Mars Hill with a misunderstanding of sexuality, the teaching they received there often contributed to GREATER sexual confusion. I can not tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with folks wrestling with their sexuality in light of the ways they didn’t fit Mark’s caricature of the manly man. And all this happened under the discipleship and influence of the former leaders of CBMW, many who remain on its council and whose names are on this new document.
The mere fact we even have phrases like “manly man” or “effeminate men” in our churches is a travesty that adds to confusion. Biblically, a man is a man because he has male sexual organs. A woman is a woman for the same reason. Hannah Anderson, Bekah Mason, and Rachael Starke have sharpened my thinking on this.
It was the false teaching of gnosticism in Bible times that separated the realities of the human body from the spirit. Though one may feel they don’t fit uber conservative perceptions of gender, our material bodies matter. I am a woman, not because I feel super feminine or perceive myself as a girly girl, but because my material body has the female genetic makeup and physical features that go with it. I am a godly Christian woman because, despite my overly logical mind that doesn’t particularly enjoy teaching young children, planning weekly family meals, or wearing feminine colors, I submit to Christ and God’s Word. In my circles at Mars Hill, Driscoll and Owen Strachan’s teaching in particular compounded this disconnect between what our bodies say we are (man or woman) and what we feel we are (for instance, Driscoll’s caricature of a “real” man). Oh the damage we have done in the Church, the ways we have contributed to gender confusion by our language of “real” men and “true” women. We went beyond Scripture for years in our teaching on what it means to be a man or a woman, and we must own our part in the confusion this created within our own churches and repent, otherwise we hamstring any new discussions and statements on the subject.
For the future, I believe that CBMW would greatly benefit from receiving feedback at the council level from women who feel free to disagree with them. Currently, you have to fit a certain restrictive mold as a woman to receive official entry into CBMW circles, even if you share their conviction of male-only elders. Though I have had many charitable conversations on points of disagreements with leaders, it was made clear to me in my early days coming out of Mars Hill that my disagreements marked me as one to keep outside of their trusted circles. I’m not lobbying for a speaking engagement, but I think it would benefit the council in general to welcome in more women (and men) who don’t fall in line 100% with them on all points. They need to communicate to women the freedom to sharpen the council through disagreements without fear of being put on their blacklist. Charitable debate across the genders is one of the most often overlooked tools for Christian growth.
There are other issues with the document, not the least of which are the names on it that have vocally supported Trump and been silent on the racial issues he has exposed in this country. But to be fair, several signers have spoken against Trump and led on race issues, so that’s a mixed bag.
Theologically, a biblical understanding of gender gets warped quickly when separated from a holistic understanding of the image of God in humanity. The issues of race and misogyny exposed by Trump to which many signers seem blind are part of the exact same foundation from which we understand biological sex. I’m afraid that a statement that highlights one without the same energy for the other sets itself up for failure.