Saturday, September 02, 2017

The Nashville Statement

I love Michael Bird and respect his work. That said, his response to the Nashville Statement reminds me of a Lincoln quote (and here I must apologize for an American reference since Michael is an Aussie). Lincoln was exasperated by the fact that McClellan wouldn't attack unless Lincoln sent him more soldiers; but even when McClellan's Army of the Potomac vastly outnumbered Lee's Army of Northern Virginia, he would still complain that he needed more troops. Lincoln's response: "Sending men to that army is like shoveling fleas across a barnyard--half of them never get there."
Well, getting all Evangelicals to sign on to a document that clearly and rightly states that "it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism" and indeed that it is "an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness" to give such approval is like trying to shovel flees across a barnyard; half of them never get there.
Some refuse to sign because *while they agree with the Statement* the Statement does not say everything that they want it to say. I made several suggestions for improvement. None were taken (I also made clear that my signing was not contingent on acceptance of the suggestions). I wasn't invited to the Nashville conference that discussed and voted on the Statement (though perhaps membership in the CBMW may have been required for all invited). Arguably, there should have been a more broad-based drafting committee, since (I presume) this is a statement not just for complementarians but for all evangelicals who rightly recognize the importance of the male-female foundation for sexual unions.
Ultimately, what difference does all this make to signing? We are now facing a crisis in Evangelicalism in which the very foundation of Christian sexual ethics is being called into question. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment. The ship could sink but some are complaining that certain other matters on board have not been properly attended to, matters that, while not unimportant, won't ultimately have any bearing on whether the ship sinks. So because of their complaints they will not participate in the only concerted effort to right the ship.
Michael complains that the NS doesn't address "homophobia." If one produces a statement against polyamory or incest is it necessary in the statement to address "polyphobia" or "incest-phobia," or to confess the church's mistreatment of persons in a sexual relationship with two or more persons concurrently or persons who just happen to experience amorous desire for a sibling or parent? Moreover, "homophobia" is code in our society for any opposition to homosexual practice and transgenderism. It is not a helpful term.
Michael complains that the NS is a "grossly inadequate ... pastoral response." Yet the NS is not intended as a therapeutic document. Its purpose is not to lay out a procedure for how to treat gender identity disorder or same-sex attractions, nor to explain originating causes for such desires, nor still to explain how to minister to such persons in any specific detail (though the NS does address the importance of loving offenders). Like the great creedal affirmations of the past, the purpose is limited to affirming historic boundaries of faith and practice. This is entirely appropriate as one aspect of a whole endeavor.
Michael dislikes the fact that "the operating assumption" of the NS "is that biological sex and gender are the same thing. They are not." I find this comment bizarre. The material point is that they *ought* to be the same thing or at least in harmony: that is, one's self-constructed perception of sexual identity should match one's biological sex. Problems arise when "sex" and "gender" don't match, not when they do.
Michael complains that "the statement also implies that one cannot identify as both 'Gay' and 'Christian.'" While I think that faithful Christians should not be describing themselves with a label that the vast majority understand as a positive self-affirming expression (e.g., it would be inappropriate for men to conceptualize themselves as "polyamorous Christians" even though they do experience non-monogamous sexual attractions), the NS actually nowhere explicitly states that a Christian cannot use a "gay" label. So because of an "implicit" perception, Michael won't sign?
Michael complains that because (allegedly) words like "transgender" "are not self-evident," the document is deficient because it lacks a "glossary." It doesn't need a glossary. All language carries a certain amount of imprecision. The salient point is whether readers will have sufficient sense of what is being referenced by the term; here they clearly will. He also criticizes the NS for not addressing "the link between biology and psychology." But of what relevance is this? Either one affirms the moral acceptability in one or more cases of a person claiming to be a gender different from one's biological sex or one doesn't. It is not necessary in a creedal statement about what is acceptable belief and practice to address what links exist between biology and psychology. Parenthetically, I think Michael also misunderstands the reference to "born eunuchs" in Matt 19 as a reference to castrated males.
Michael also says that he can't sign the document because Article 1 allegedly "only permits the existence of Christian marriage, not civil partnerships or even common law marriages," thereby "restrict[ing] male-female union to sacramentally blessed marriages" which in turn "denies the existence of secular or other-faith marriage." I don't think Article 1 does anything of the sort. Article 1 speaks about the way that *God* views marriage, not necessarily the way the partners of the union conceive of it. Two people entering into a marriage may not recognize the union as a God-ordained union, but it is nonetheless.They may not recognize that the union was intended by God to be lifelong; yet it is so from God's vantage point such that if they dissolve it they remain culpable before God. They may not understand it as a representation of Christ and the Church; yet in God's eyes that is what it is or at least ought to be.
My encouragement to Michael is: If you believe that "it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism" and indeed that it is "an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness" to give such approval, then sign the document and urge others to do so. Either you believe it or you don't. If you don't, say so and leave the other extraneous stuff to one side.


  1. Bird is almlst always saying stuff that comes from left field anymore despite showing no awareness of the issues.

  2. I'd say if those are Bird's objections, then Bird doesn't think approving of homosexual acts is really all that bad. At this point we need to realize that when someone carps in that way he's just a liberal on the issue. Nobody raises those kinds of objections while actually holding a biblical view of the matter, period.

    1. Bird is also egalitarian. One thing leads to another...

  3. The previous comments say it all. Bird is just obfuscating. A Protestant statement about the true doctrine of Justification doesn't concern itself about anti-Catholicism or anti-judaizers.