Some Evangelicals Express Qualms About Nashville Statement, Say It's Too Narrow

(Photo: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)A woman reads from the Book of Joshua during the 27th Annual U.S. Capitol Bible Reading Marathon in Washington, May 2, 2016.

Some evangelicals are expressing qualms over the Nashville Statement on human sexuality and identity, which nearly 200 Christian leaders have already signed.

Author and Mere Orthodoxy founder Matthew Anderson said Wednesday that the statement contains many omissions and has "a very narrow ethical focus on same-sex sexual desires and questions of transgender identity."

"A narrow, minimalist focus for a statement of this sort is understandable. Such questions are the controversies of our day," he noted. "But I take it that such a narrow focus is not simply a rhetorical problem: it represents a failure to bring the statement up to the minimum standards for biblical, ecclesiastically centered judgment of those who are wrong."

Anderson, who holds a traditional biblical view on sex and gender, pointed out that a "secular spirit" has already manifested in the church. More specifically, it manifests "every time an evangelical pastor remarries someone who was divorced without cause. It comes to the surface every time an evangelical couple pursues in vitro fertilization, and so undoes the 'God-ordained link' between the reproductive organs and the union of the couple's love. Every time an evangelical couple 'feels the Lord calling' them to surrogacy, there the 'spirit of our age' appears. And yes, it happens every time an evangelical utters the damnable phrase, 'Well, I'm an evangelical, which means I'm okay with contraception'—as though that were somehow a mark of evangelical identity."

Those matters, he noted, are ones that evangelicals "agree to disagree."

But pointing out this reality "discloses how the strategy being deployed by progressives on sexual ethics was originally used by evangelicals for purposes more comfortable and convenient to our heterosexual and child-idolizing circles. An anthropology that affirms the theological significance of bodily life will weigh equally against a whole host of procreative practices that do not come up in this statement.

"Such practices are as deep and fundamental rejections of our bodily and sexual life as gay sex and transgender surgery are. That there is internal disagreement among evangelicals is no justification for the narrow scope of judgments and denials; such disagreement, after all, is the position that progressive Christians are seeking to gain."

He later added, "The moral status of gay desires and transgender identity bottom out (at least in part) in what we make of our bodiliness, and of the womb, and of the social forms such material realities generate. Yet those are realities which implicate us all.

"Caitlyn Jenner could only become a phenomenon in a world formed from countless choices by ordinary, faithful, well-intentioned people who failed to see that the body has for them the same malleability and plasticity in other areas that Caitlyn Jenner expressed about it in the realm of sex and gender."

Anderson also argued that essentially, the statement inevitably creates an us vs. them mentality — us being evangelicals and them being those who are not evangelicals — though that is likely not the intention of the statement's signers.

Author and lay theologian Aimee Byrd also expressed concerns with the Nashville Statement though she finds much of the statement praiseworthy and shares the concerns it expresses about the havoc the sexual revolution has caused.

She expressed Tuesday on her blog at the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals that the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the organization that sponsored the Nashville Statement, still proves problematic in her view in light of its part in a vigorous debate about the nature of the Trinity, a first-order doctrinal issue. Some of the teachings on masculinity and femininity that have been taught from CBMW's website and at their conferences are also troubling and remain unresolved, she wrote.

In an interview Wednesday with The Christian Post, Byrd said that her hesitancy to sign on to the Nashville Statement has a history to it given this Trinity debate — specifically the controversy over what is known in theological circles as "ESS," eternal subordination of the Son — a debate in which the CMBW played a major role in recent years. 

"They then made the statement that 'OK, well, it doesn't really matter what your view on the Trinity is, as far as that goes, as long as you subscribe to the Danvers statement," Byrd explained.

The Danvers Statement is a 2007 CBMW theological document, structured similarly to the Nashville Statement, which addresses "uncertainty and confusion in our culture regarding the complementary differences between masculinity and femininity."

She continued to say that as someone who hails from a similar theological camp — Byrd is an orthodox Presbyterian — she has tried to "be a friendly voice" from within, speaking out about this in the last several years. She has expressed considerable concern about some of the group's teachings that feed hyper-masculine and hyper-feminine gender roles that do not come with a divine, scriptural stamp of approval.

"My critiques have not been met with much friendliness," she recounted.

The Danvers Statement contains a troubling statement that appears to be fine in the beginning but goes on to say that "distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and that should find an echo in every human heart," Byrd said.

But because of these past unresolved issues, this new Nashville Statement seems like mere "rebranding," she wrote on her blog.

Byrd told CP that "one thing that I think that is unloving about the [Nashville] statement is coming from CBMW's side is, that if they don't care about doctrine of God issues, which are first-order, and then why put something out about homosexuality being a sin. Well then, it comes off looking like homophobes to the world. Because why wouldn't you care about the doctrine of God first?"

"It's kind of a result of bad first-order theological principles," she said, noting that this was her major concern of the witness of this statement.

"CBMW also hasn't retracted any of the hyper-authoritarian, hyper-machismo teaching about manhood and their hyper-submissive and stereotypical teaching about womanhood. Instead, I have seen much more of the same by some of their popular leaders. So once again, I wonder if this is what applies to their 'divinely ordained differences?'" she wrote Tuesday, referring to Article 4 in the Nashville Statement.

The Nashville Statement contains 14 articles, each with an affirmation and denial. Article 4 states: 

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."

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