On the Nashville Statement

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.

11 Responses to On the Nashville Statement

  1. Laura August 31, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    Thanks Wendy. You shared the key problem for me. I hold to traditional views of sexuality. But CBMW making this statement when their teachings actually contribute to confusion about sexuality?!?!?! Yes, their hyper masculinity and hyper femininity teachings end up creating the very problems that they were trying to avoid or eliminate.

  2. Kristen August 31, 2017 at 12:02 pm #

    I always enjoy reading your comments and they tend to spur me to keep thinking which I appreciate! I wonder, though, do you disagree with the Nashville Statement or more so take issue with the process by which the statement is formed- is: the limited committee and how they have contributed to offenses in the past?

    • Wendy August 31, 2017 at 5:53 pm #

      Probably my biggest theological disagreement with it is pulling sexuality out as a single issue without the context of Scripture that teaches why its important. They refer to Imago Dei but in a secondary, peripheral way. But Imago Dei is WHY this matters. We don’t care if animals have same sex relationships because, well, they aren’t human. (Thanks, Hannah Anderson, for making me think about it that way) This is why the issue of signers who overlooked Trump’s issues on race and misogyny isn’t some periphery concern. Trump despises image bearers he deems as unworthy. This isn’t a small issue. It’s huge, theologically and practically.

  3. Robyn August 31, 2017 at 12:12 pm #

    A thousand times, yes. I have struggled my whole life with feeling “feminine” enough – first outside of Christianity, then within it! While I found rest for my soul in salvation in Christ, I was still not the “right” kind of female…I just traded one set of impossible, rigid expectations for another. I had a discussion with my sister recently where I lamented that some of the “blame” for gender confusion was in both the secular culture and Christian culture’s expectations/definition of what it means to be male and female. We as Christians are so often blind to how our present culture causes us to add extrabiblical requirements to manhood and womanhood!

  4. Ellie August 31, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    Thank you Wendy, you vocalized much of what I’ve been feeling. Concerned that it’s only a small minority that sees like you. Thank you though for your voice.

  5. Elizabeth August 31, 2017 at 1:53 pm #

    Thanks for this. I’ve never considered myself transgender, but I don’t fit into traditional female stereotypes, and I actually experienced a period of confusion as a result of some very stereotypical gender teaching I was exposed to at church a few years ago. I knew I couldn’t make myself into a “normal” female, and transgenderism was not an option, so…what did that make me? An inevitably bad Christian? I tried to express my concerns to the pastor whose teaching was involved, but he really didn’t understand what I was concerned about. Maybe I expressed myself badly, but still…. Coming across the idea that femaleness is about my body, not some sort of Platonic gender essence, made a huge difference for me. But I worry about other people being influenced by those sorts of ideas, and worry about CBMW being behind a statement of this nature.

  6. Angie August 31, 2017 at 6:44 pm #

    Thank you for this. This diminishing of the body is fundamental to CBMW, its founders, and complementarianism. For decades, John Piper says no egalitarian has answered satisfactorily what you say to the eight year old boy asking, “What does it mean to be a man and not a woman?” He won’t accept what most little boys figure out by the time they are three–a man is a man because he has male sexual organs and mommy doesn’t. From the beginning, Piper, et al deny, or at best diminish the body and teach maleness is having a subjective “sense of benevolent responsibility…” and femaleness a “joyful disposition” also subjectively measured as it will look different from one relationship to another. He says, the answer must be “beyond plumbing” and “biology” denying those things are the real person. Tim Keller even uses language like this in a sermon on “Meaning of Marriage”– maleness and femaleness are “essences”. Russell Moore, past president of CBMW, has said couples who do not subscribe to male authority and female submission are in “same-sex marriages.” With 30 years of grounding maleness and femaleness in subjective senses and diminishing the body and with these words on record time and again, how can CBMW, et al with any integrity speak to homosexuality and gender dysphoria?

  7. Helen Louise Herndon September 1, 2017 at 3:27 pm #

    Wendy, This was helpful. It makes sense that narrow descriptions or definitions of what it is to be male or female dismiss or ignore either cultural or temperamental variations that are quite broad in both males and females. Temperamentally, the fact that some women may have a greater bent toward the mechanical than some men or some men can be more sensitive than some women is just one example. Culturally, the variations are even greater. Living in an Arab society, men could walk together holding hands and it has nothing to do with same-sex attractions. Then there’s the embrace (kiss) in various cultures between men with men and women with women that is absent in other cultures. Perhaps the “manly man” and “real men” come more out of Western movies than out of innate traits.

  8. Kevin September 2, 2017 at 9:06 am #

    I stumbled upon this blog post by chance today and couldn’t believe what I was reading. In all my times in the Neo-Reformed camp I thought I was one of the only people who noticed this disturbing trend of extra-biblical teaching on manhood and womanhood, and particularly the negative implications it had for gender confusion and sexual identity. I was also working in ultra-liberal circles at the time as a social worker and noticed big similarities between messaging I was hearing from both my conservative church and my liberal workspace.

    At work, some of the women would say things like, “Oh, he just doesn’t know he’s gay yet” about a male co-worker who was more feminine. And at church the messaging was all about what a real man does–drinks a particular kind of beer, smokes, wears flannel, cusses, works with his hands, adopts hyper calvinist theology, is ultra assertive, is a dominant leader etc.

    The message from both camps was clear. The box for being a man was very small, and if you didn’t fit into it, then you probably weren’t meant to be in that box to begin with. Maybe, just maybe, you didn’t know you were gay yet, or perhaps you’d be better off being a woman…

    How many people the church pushed over the tipping point into a lifestyle of homosexuality or trans-identity we may never know, but I’m definitely convinced they contributed.

    Thanks for sharing this, Wendy. Passing along to others.

    • Wendy September 3, 2017 at 2:19 pm #

      Thanks, Kevin. I haven’t thought about the fact that this is both a secular issue as well as a conservative Christian one, but I see what you are saying!

  9. Rebecca Prewett September 20, 2017 at 8:13 pm #

    Wow! This was so hugely helpful! I’ve been becoming more and more aware of how gnostic thinking permeates so much of evangelical Christianity, and this provided a missing puzzle piece for me.

    Our bodies really do matter; in fact, they are far more significant than many of us have been taught.