Christians Battle Over Competing Belief Statements
A pair of belief statements illustrates the differences between traditional and progressive Christian perspectives and both sides are throwing stones.
This week, the release of a manifesto by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood stirred up controversy between conservative and progressive Christians.
The Nashville Statement
The statement, so named because of the city in which evangelical Christians met and adopted it, targets the LGBTQ and transgender communities specifically but also other issues in 14 articles that contain both an affirmation of one traditional Christian concept and a denial of what the coalition that wrote it says is a shift by the Western world away from the Bible.
More than 150 conservative evangelicals from across the country — scholars, pastors and other leaders — met during the annual conference for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which hosted the coalition during a conferenced focus on the issues of Christian parenting.
Article 1, for example, affirms the traditional view of marriage as being between one man and one woman. It denies that “God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship” or that it is a “human contract” instead of a “covenant made before God.”
Article 2 affirms the importance of “chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage” and denies there can be any justification to “sexual intercourse before or outside marriage” or any form of “sexual immorality.”
In its Article 8, the statement affirms people “who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life,” but denies that such same-sex attraction is part of the “natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.”
Article 9 warns that sin distorts sexual desires “by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality” then denies “an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.”
Article 13 affirms that God’s grace enables sinners to “forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.” It denies that God “sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will,” a will, it is implied, is revealed through the gender-defining sex organs with which one is born.
Then there’s Article 10, which targets not only members of the LGBTQ community, but also those who would refuse to shun them:
WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.
The line in the sand, it appears, was clearly drawn.
But despite the fact that it was agreed upon in Nashville doesn’t make it agreed upon by Nashville. The city’s mayor, Megan Barry, tweeted a response to the statement, stating “so-called ‘Nashville statement’ is poorly named and does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville.”
The Denver Statement
Then came the Denver Statement, written by a Denver-based church called the House for All Sinners & Saints. The Denver Statement republishes all 14 articles of the Nashville Statement, then responds, point by point, to them.
To the Nashville Statement’s affirmation that marriage is to be properly defined only as between a man and woman, Denver’s version affirms that “God has created humanity out of love and for the purpose of love,” and denies that marriage was designed to be “a gift only to be enjoyed by those who happen to be heterosexual, cis-gendered and fertile.”
On the issue of chastity before marriage, the Denver Statement claims God created humans as “sexual beings in endless variety.” It then denies “the only type of sexual expression that can be considered holy is between a cis-gendered, heterosexual, married couple who waited to have sex until they were married.”
“But if you fit in that group, good for you,” it adds. “We have no problem with your lifestyle choices.”
The Denver Statement agrees that people who have same-sex attraction may live a “rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ,” but denies same-sex attraction is outside the “natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that anything puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.”
To Nashville’s Article 9, Denver affirms that sin distorts all aspects of human life, but denies we can “escape sin by simply upholding a particular doctrine or lifestyle.”
And in response to the notion that God’s grace would allow people to overcome a transgendered person’s self-conception so they could live God’s will as the “correct” gender, the Denver Statement claims God’s grace “enables sinners to forsake prejudice and see such prejudice as our own and not as God’s,” adding the denial that “the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-righteous assertions of absolute knowledge of God’s will.”
Comparing apples to apples, here’s the Denver Statement’s Article 10:
WE AFFIRM that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and while we believe in the full inclusion of all people into the body of Christ (here we stand we can do no other), we cannot bind the conscience of other Christians.
WE DENY that it is sinful to approve of queer identities and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
Pastor John Pavlovitz wrote what he called a “plain-language” version of the Nashville Statement, which he labeled as being “steeped in churchy language and dusty religious-speak regarding marriage, creation, gender identity, and sexual orientation,” claiming the evangelical manifesto is the result of fear that the conservative church is losing its relevancy, in part because of its seemingly-unwavering support of President Donald Trump.
Rather than coming out against Trump’s policies that Pavlovitz says clearly goes against what should be unquestioned Christian priciples, the evangelicals decided instead to go after “an easy target” in an “unprovoked attack.” Going a step further, he said the coalition used the Bible “not to bring comfort or create unity or engender hope, but to beat the hell out of people who spend much of their days already walking through hell because of the cruelty of our disciples.”
We’ve done this because regardless of all our lip service about love and Grace and compassion—we really just like to pick fights that give us that intoxicating rush of superiority and a small dose of the control that we’ve grown addicted to. We really want to hold the kind of power that we’ve become accustomed to (and are rapidly losing.)
Pastor Chris Kratzner posted a response of his own to the Nashville Statement, arguing that conservative Christianity “seems to revel in moments where they can point the finger at perceived sin and parade their admonishment of it,” and says Conservative Evangelical Christianity “was truly pointed towards confronting sin and its devastating effects, several things would be happening that certainly aren’t,” among them, communicating “far more Grace and kindness:”
In fact, conservative Evangelical Christians would be ascribed as undeniably being the kindest most gracious people on the planet, trumpeting the message of the pure Gospel of Grace at every opportunity—knowing and teaching that, “It is God’s kindness that leads to repentance,” and “It’s the Grace of God that teaches us to live rightly.” Sin would be taken so seriously that pure Grace would be valued as the only solution. Change away from sin would be so important that kindness and Grace would be uplifted and protected as the only catalysts to freedom. All because, nothing else works and we don’t have time to waste prescribing the cancer and not the cure—if it was all about sin.
It’s important to remember when there’s a debate like this between warring factions issuing opposing belief statements that there are those on both sides who generally believe they are doing the right thing in God’s service. I happen to agree that a good deal of the Nashville Statement is a kind of power play, since there’s nothing particularly new in it whatsoever. There was no real surprise about what they had to say; perhaps the only surprise is the need they apparently felt to say it yet again.
But as I look at a church landscape where hostility seems to be seeping in, I think it’s important to look at the debate from a common sense standpoint, one that temporarily strips the message down to bare bones and considers something Jesus Christ never forgot: the audience, the receivers of what was being said.
If you’re an evangelical Christian, the Nashville Statement doesn’t strike you as a problem. It’s simply a restatement of your rules. No consideration of other perspectives, even those your neighbors may be struggling with, is even necessary.
If you’re not an evangelical Christian, and if you either struggle with this type of issue or have loved ones who do — a growing number of people — how does it strike you? Does the Nashville Statement say, “Come on in, the doors are opened, you’re valuable and we’re ready to welcome you?”
When I try to look at it from multiple points of view, it doesn’t say that clearly to me. Certainly not as clearly as it should. It reads, for me, more like a slamming of a door unless you believe, before you ever set foot inside, exactly what they do.
And research would seem to indicate that a growing number of people do not believe exactly what they do.
Who’s ultimately right?
This is the big question with which so many people, particularly on the conservative side, want to wage war. It’s possible that when we all eventually reach our individual moment of judgment, we may find out that the conservative side actually did have all the answers.
We can’t know for sure right now that any of us is 100 percent correct in everything we believe.
We can rely on what we’ve been taught about God and the Bible. (We’re advised not to rely on our own understanding, although we are encouraged to rely on various pastors’ own understandings as long as they point a certain way.)
But at the end of the day, at the end of our lives, I have to believe that God, who knows our hearts better than we do, must, if He is truly fair and just, judge us based on whether we upheld what Christ called the greatest commandment: that we love God with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves.
You have to decide for yourself which of the two belief statements expresses love to more people, particularly the “least of these.”
For me, that’s clearly the Denver Statement. You may well disagree. I’m not sure how you could, but I acknowledge the point of view unquestionably (and obviously) exists.
The biggest tragedy I see here is that in one of the few remaining places on earth where people should be able to come together and support one another, there seems to be so much strife, division and judgment that prevents that very thing from happening.
The people the conservatives seem to think are most in need of God, by such a statement, are the very people who are made to feel least welcome to come to a church where they’d presumably begin learning about God’s truth and, in the conservative point of view, begin to experience any genuine “transformation.”
How tragically ironic.
I can’t imagine God would be pleased by that, no matter which side you’re on.