At first glance, I thought it had nothing to do with my work. “The Nashville Statement: A Coalition for Human Sexuality” is a document about LGBT issues. And while those issues are important and relevant in Christianity, they are not what this blog is about. But it comes from the Council of “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” (CBMW), which exists to promote sexism as a religious requirement for Christians1. Then I looked at it a second time.
The Nashville statement is insidious. It purports to be about gay and transgender issues. But, between the lines, it assumes and promotes sexism.
To make it even worse, it has not a single Bible text, making the meaning even more vague. (For example, suppose someone said: “Man and woman were created to be different – Gen. 1:27″. I would understand it differently from if he said “Man and woman were created to be different – Eph. 5:22″. The latter takes a text out of the “all believers should submit to one another – Eph. 5:21” and “God shows no favouritism – Eph. 6:9” context to promote sexism.)
Sexism and gender roles is a the central tenet of CBMW. Their opinion of transgender and gay people flows from that. In their minds, every man and woman should adhere to certain gender roles, and the problem with lesbian, transgendered and gay humans is that they got confused and do not adhere to those roles.2 With the deceptive language used in the Nashville statement, CBMW get evangelicals to sign a blank check, on which they could later fill in the sexist details.
…By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God[‘s] … good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female…
Filling in the blanks: While this could refer to the CBMW view of a transgender person who is not happy with her or his body, our “design as male and female” first refers, in CBMW language, to their view of men as dominant and women as submissive. Women should, according to CBMW, discern, and delight in, yielding to husbands, raising children, and home-making. Men should discern, and delight in, making decisions and leading the church.
…This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?…
Filling in the blanks: “Women not staying in their ‘roles’ is part of the ‘spirit of the age’, and therefore sinful, gender roles are ‘counter-cultural’ and thus Godly.” (That, of course, is ridiculous: Every age has some good and some bad habits. For example, the spirit of my culture/ age – 2017 South Africa, government employee – is anti-racism. An obvious white racist at my work place will be counter-cultural. Culture is sometimes good and opposition to culture sometimes bad.)
WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.
The implication here is that we should regard everythingthing which is not part of God’s original design as sinful. This would mean that any divorce, any marriage couple who does not plan to have children, any polygamous or polyamorous couple, or any gay couple, are in sin.
But that conclusion goes too far: God’s first marriage “design”, taking Genesis literally, was between a Middle Eastern man and woman, close to one another in age, both fertile. Does that mean that people from elsewhere in the world, or a 30- and 54-year-old couple, or infertile 60-plussers, could not marry? Of course they could! Likewise, anyone who expects women to have children , or wants gays not to marry, has to do a lot more work than asserting that God’s original marriage plan included a fertile man and woman.
“[S]ignify[ing] the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church” is code words for comparing husbands to Jesus and wives to the church. In that view, men are created to lead and women to submit, to point to Jesus leading the church.
Jesus promoted the exact opposite: In a culture where men had more power, this passage pointed them to the love of Jesus who humbled himself to save us, who “though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to… but … took on the form of a servant … made himself like us.” (Phil. 2:6 -7). Men signify Christ, and women the church, when men let go of superior positions and raise up women.
…WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.
WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.
Filling in the blanks: “Man being the boss and woman the underling is a divinely ordained difference. But we at CBMW deny calling men and women unequal. We just redefine ‘equal’. And it is no tragedy when women have little or no say, or when the lessons and wisdom inside women are not heard by society.”
WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.
WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption….
… WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.
Filling in the blanks: “If you have a penis, you should conceive of yourself as a leader. If you have a vagina, see yourself as a follower – those are God’s holy purposes.”
Once again, in this context it seems to refer to transgender people. But, knowing the main purpose of CBMW, it is a Trojan horse for getting people to sign, before the writers illuminate in detail what they regard as God’s holy purposes for male and female.
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.
Translation: “If you don’t agree with us on gays and trans people, you are not a Christian.” Many evangelicals would agree with most points on gays and trans people (and even male and female gender roles) in the Nashville Statement , but not see this as a line in the sand. The makers of this confession wants signatories to draw a line around Christianity: Agree with us, or we will not fellowship with you.
The things CBMW leave out
The Nashville Statement includes 4 references to homosexuality or homosexual self-conception (Articles 1,7, 8, and 10), 3 to transgenderism, (Articles 7, 10, and 13), and one each to covenenantal marriage, procreative marriage(Article 1), lifelong marriage, (all in Article 1), chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage (both in Article 2).
In a statement they claim is a definitive Christian statement on human sexuality, CBMW mentions gay sexuality (about 3.5 % of the population) in 4 of 14 points and transgender people (about 0.3% of the population) in 3. But it completely leaves out love or consideration of your partner in describing good sexuality, even though God is love, and God calls us to love others.
It also fail to mention – even once – that it is possible for a husband (wife) to sin against their own partner by being abusive. They fail to denounce choosing an underage partner. (Some hard complementarians pressure very young girls to marry.) It does not even mention pornography, which surely is among the sexual issues of our age.
They do not start with themselves and the church either. For example, the gay man with the lifestyle that Article 10 calls “homosexual immorality” is not very likely to darken the church door. The man who rapes his own wife is more likely to be there. In that case, why does the church not speak out about the sexual violence of the latter? Why do their statement on sexual behavior not denounce clergy sex abuse, or those who cover it up?
The writers also leave out the Bible – there is not one text reference in the entire piece. One possible reason is to fill in the blanks later: They want to say signers agreed to how they interpret whatever texts they later add to the Nashville statement. (I earlier mentioned the difference between adding, for example, Gen. 1:27 and Eph. 5:22 to a particular statement.
(It also seems extremely tone-deaf to write statements on sexuality while a city in their country is under water and need immediate flood relief, but that is another topic.)
1 My critique of CBMW’s flagship document starts here: https://biblicalpersonhood.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/smoke-and-mirrors-a-review-of-the-danvers-statement-part-1-the-rationale/
2 Some feminists argue the exact opposite about transgender people: We should stop expecting of men/ women/ boys/ girls to fit into certain looks-and-behavior boxes. This would help youth who are not fitting the boxes to still accept their own biology, while embracing their non-gender-stereotypical personalities.