Why This Confluence of Issues Matters

The Nashville Statement has caused no small amount of angst among thoughtful conservative Christians (here’s a thoughtful podcast on the subject from the guys at Mere Orthodoxy). As the days go on, I am gaining clarity to the fundamental issues it has exposed – and that issue is NOT simply that many folks want to identify as Christians without accepting the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. The Church has known that for a few decades. I have long been aware that my views on sexual ethics from Scripture went against social norms, pretty much since I first recognized that the sex outside of marriage that characterized the lives of many friends in high school was a sin against God’s character and design of humanity.

I received the most heat in my last post on the fact that I included concerns about the number of key signers of the Nashville Statement (Wayne Grudem, James Dobson, John MacArthur, etc.) who also vocally encouraged believers to vote for Trump. Seriously, folks really pushed back on that! I also received dismissive feedback on Twitter on Katelyn Beatty’s Washington Post article in which I was quoted as well.

“Trump has exacerbated real issues of immorality and injustice concerning immigration, sexual assault and white supremacy — Scripture isn’t gray about these issues,” Alsup said. She believes that when evangelicals minimize such issues, or support leaders who do, they lose some moral authority on other issues that Scripture is clear on — which to her include traditional views on sexuality and marriage.

Yesterday, I read Rod Dreher’s article on the topic, which started as mostly supportive of the Nashville Statement. But he later added a telling update at the end after a lunch meeting with some conservative evangelical pastors.

Listening to these pastors and laypeople talking about the Trump effect on younger Christians was quite sobering to me. An older pastor said that it is impossible to separate the Nashville Statement from the massive support white Evangelicals gave to Trump. Impossible to separate, I mean, in the mind of the young.

“But Russell Moore signed it, and other Trump critics among Evangelicals,” I said.

“I know, and I’ve tried to tell people that,” said this pastor, a conservative Evangelical. “It doesn’t matter to them. All they see is a bunch of leaders of a movement who voted for a sexually corrupt man like Donald Trump are now trying to take a public stand on sexual morality for gays. It’s totally hypocritical to them. I don’t know how the Nashville Statement drafters and signers didn’t see this coming.”

Why can’t young Christians let the last election go?! Why can’t we just accept that the issue of Clinton’s support of abortion pushed folks who were otherwise opposed to Trump to vote for him?

Why Black Lives Matter? Why sit down during the National Anthem? Why protest for immigrants rights? Why outrage over Trump’s statements at Charlottesville? Why continued concern over CJ Mahaney and very old allegations of protecting sexual abusers?  Why are these things still an issue?!

There are a confluence of issues swirling—black lives, police brutality, sexual abuse, misogyny, abortion, suicide among homosexual teens—and they are forming a hurricane as destructive to the American spiritual landscape as Harvey and Irma have been physically. And a group that

  1. is known for teaching an authoritarian based hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity that says that women are inherently predisposed to give male leaders trouble and were for eternity created to be subordinate to men …
  2. then releases a statement that teaches among other things that celibate gay Christians are disobedient to the faith …
  3. and is signed by those who encouraged folks to vote for a flagrantly sexually deviant president who flaunts his perversions and misuse of women.

To quote Dreher’s pastor friend, “I don’t know how the Nashville Statement drafters … didn’t see this coming.”

But they didn’t.  And maybe that is as much the issue as anything.

This post is getting too long, so I will get to the deeper thoughts of root issues in the next post. But I’ve finally figured out the confluence of issues. We are fighting now for an orthodox understanding not just of homosexuality, but of Imago Dei. What does it mean to be human? What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Because that is what this confluence of issues is really about. What did it mean in perfection? What did it mean after the Fall? What does it mean in redemption? What does it mean for humanity that has not yet believed in Christ? What does it mean for non-Americans to the American church?  What does it mean to those who enforce the law for those suspected of breaking them? What does it mean for women? What does it mean for the unborn? Who bears human dignity? How should they be treated?

I have thought for a while that we need a Unified Field Theory on gender. But I realize now that we first need a thoughtful clarification on what it means to be human in the image of God. Read Rachael Starke’s excellent piece on this to whet your appetite for the discussion.

The image bearing dignity of the unborn is tied to the dignity of all races and sexes. The problems of white supremacy, misogyny, and immigration are inextricably linked.

The image bearing dignity of the immigrant is tied to the dignity of the unborn and same-sex attracted. The problems of white supremacy, misogyny, and abortion are inextricably linked.

The image bearing dignity of the same-sex attracted is tied to the dignity of the unborn and all races. The problems of white supremacy, abortion, and gender are inextricably linked.

7 Responses to Why This Confluence of Issues Matters

  1. Diana G September 7, 2017 at 11:20 am #

    I love your article, however there is one point that loses me.I have just reread the Nashville statement. Where does it teach that celibate gay Christians are disobedient to the faith? I didn’t see that at all. I understood the statement to say that sex acts are reserved for heterosexual marriage, and that other than that, we ALL are to abstain. I didn’t see that a particular sinful orientation or urge automatically makes you disobedient to the faith – rather, seeking to obey God in the faith of such urges is what makes us obedient. Just seeking to understand…..

    • Wendy September 7, 2017 at 1:08 pm #

      It’s in Article 7, which was written with wording debated between folks at Spiritual Friendship and say, Rosario Butterfield. The phrase homosexual self conception is specifically referencing someone like Wesley Hill, who refers to himself as a gay Christian though his conviction from Scripture is that he must remain celibate and single.

  2. Diana Gleaton September 7, 2017 at 1:17 pm #

    Got it – thank you. Totally missed that one!

  3. Scotty Mac September 7, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    Thanks for engaging this subject area so thoughtfully with these last two articles Wendy!

    One thing I have been wondering is why we need something like this to be a stand-alone statement. It seems that whenever we do this, our eyes- as well as our witness- slip from Christ to a form of cultural-moralism. Please do not misunderstand me, I truly understand the need to to take a stand on issues such as this, especially in light of there being so much confusion within the church regarding this question (and others like it). But, why highlight it in such a manner? Why not make it part of a larger catechism (such as the New City Catechism for example), where it can take it’s place among a number of other Biblical assertions? When something stands alone- like the Nashville Statement- then unbelievers (along with many believers) tend to construe that this is the central issue of Evangelicalism, or to put it another way, that Evangelicalism is about being pro-heterosexuality. However, if it is held in its place, among other Biblical teachings on God, salvation, and what it means to walk in obedience to all that God has commanded, than it is just one of many areas we are called to submit to the Lord’s plan for our lives and for His creation….

    • Wendy September 7, 2017 at 5:22 pm #

      I agree. I think, however, for CBMW, which is a parachurch ministry not constrained by a particular doctrinal statement, they want this to be their new guiding mission, as the Danvers Statement was in the early years.

    • Scotty Mac September 8, 2017 at 9:51 am #

      Yeah Wendy, that is my impression as well. But, I am also at a loss for the timing of this statement. Why now? Why not ten or fifteen years ago when this issue was beginning to reap confusion within Evangelical circles through the teachings (both spoken and unspoken) of several Emergent Church leaders? If the hopes are that this statement will solidify the Evangelical view of God’s intention for human sexuality and gender, why wait till now to set it when it comes off feeling almost entirely reactionary? I sometimes feel like Evangelicals cannot get out their own way. First, we (perhaps inadvertently) aligned with the alt-right to elect a president who has demonstrated himself to be anything but “sexually pure” and then turn around- less than a year later- and release a signed statement addressing sexual ethics. Something here is truly amiss. Again, to quote Rob Dreher’s friend, “I don’t know how the Nashville Statement drafters … didn’t see this coming.”

      I believe there needs to be a place for this discussion and we need to have leaders who are willing to teach Biblical views on gender, sexuality, marriage, and the Imago Dei, but I fear this statement comes off more as cultural warfare than discipleship. It’s one more glaring piece of the puzzle that fleshes out the- somewhat tired- narrative that Evangelicals are defined by what we are against. When I think of the letters that the Apostle Paul wrote, there is something that always stands out to me, he wrote to Christians and churches. We do not have a single letter from Paul- or any of the other NT authors for that matter- that was written to the Roman Senate or Jewish Sanhedrin. When Paul wrote, when he confronted various issues, from the person and work of Christ to human sexuality, he did so as a Christian leader speaking to other Christians in light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It seems to me that the Nashville Statement takes the just the opposite track, while it may ostensibly be written to Christians, it is in actuality directed at the culture around us- a culture that is comprised of people who do not know Christ and do not have the Holy Spirit within them. A friend of mine recently asked, how can we expect people who do not know Christ to live like Christ?

      It seems to me that we are “fighting” this battle on the wrong front. Within the church we need to sure up our understanding and appreciation for God’s created order, how it was effected by the Fall, and what it means to be redeemed in Christ. I have encountered too many Christians who have no idea why they believe what they believe about human sexuality (for much of my young adult life I was one of them), and therefore when confronted with a friend or loved one who is struggling in this area they have little to offer and- what is more- in their sympathy and compassion (which are good things!) they are often thrown for a loop. This is where the mantra “love” trumps “judgement” begins to get misused.

      Then, as we look outward, as engage with people- or dare I say culture- around us, we need to do so as missionaries, resident aliens, ambassadors of the God’s kingdom, who bring good news to those dwelling in darkness. Like Paul at the Areopagus, we need to engage the culture with hope and light. “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22-23).

      As Leslie Newbigin once wrote, “When the Church tries to embody the rule of God in the forms of earthly power it may achieve that power [I would add “for a season”], but it is no longer a sign of the kingdom.” When the church chooses to make preeminent its stand upon “this” or “that” issue, chances are it fall upon “this” or “that” issue. But when the church takes its stand upon the truth of Gospel of Jesus Christ, living, loving, and leading accordingly, then- no matter what issues or obstacles may arise- it will stand and even the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!

      So sorry for the long response, it just got me thinking…. a lot. Thanks again!

  4. Sarah September 7, 2017 at 11:11 pm #

    I am so grateful you are writing on this. The Nashville Statement leaves me deeply troubled, and you have articulated exactly why in this post. I’m 43, a formerly homeschooling, biblically conservative mom of six. I’m not one of the young people you reference, but the issues surrounding the last election and the sucking vacuum remaining of Evangelical moral and political credibility is a very real thing to me, as well.