Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Gnashing on the Nashville statement

I'm going to comment on some representative objections to the Nashville statement, beginning with Scot McKnight:

When I saw that the Nashville Statement was being announced I wondered Why? and Why now? and To what end? 

It's hard to believe McKnight is sincerely asking that question. He's not Rip Van Winkle. In any event, here's an answer from the man who spearheaded the document:

I wondered if there would be an admission that the church has dehumanized gays and lesbians (mostly today LGBT+) in its history... 

In what respect has "the church" dehumanized LGBT+ in its history? What church is McKnight alluding to? Is he blending all sects and denominations from all times and places into "the church", then blaming everyone for what anyone ever did? 

What examples of dehumanization does McKnight have in mind? More to the point, do living Christians have a duty to vicariously repent for the misdeeds of dead churchmen? 

...has “othered” such persons, and in effect has de-personed such persons.  

What do those chic buzzwords even mean? Do McKnight's statements denouncing white segregationists "other" such persons and in effect "de-person" such persons? For instance:

I’ll personalize this: I’m not sure the Nashville Statement would help me in ministering to the gay and lesbian students I have taught. There’s nothing here I haven’t known nor, in my experience, these students hadn’t already heard.

How do statements denouncing Trump and the alt-right help one minister to Trump voters and members of the alt-right? Why is it so easy for people like McKnight to condemn white racism, but they become tongue-tied when it comes to condemning sexual and gender perversions? 

Article 10 really bothered me when I read it and I have read it 25x and it still bothers me. The authors of the Nashville Statement have made one’s view of homosexuality an “essential” of the Christian faith. If so, this is nothing less than the Judaizing heresy of Galatians: Christ Plus Whatever. 

He can't be serious. This is not "Christ Plus Whatever". Jesus himself reaffirms the normative nature of heterosexual marriage (Mt 19:4-9) and condemns sexual immortality (Mt 15:19). In addition, the same apostle who condemned the Judaizers also condemns homosexuality (Rom 1:26-26; 1 Cor 6:9; 1 Tim 1:10).

No creed in the Christian faith — from 1 Corinthians 15 on to the Reformation Confessions — has ever made homosexuality an “essential” of the faith. 

That's a willfully dumb statement. Creeds are frequently, even typically, reactionary statements in response to heterodoxy and heteropraxy. They respond to trends.

As I read this statement I wonder how Jesus acted, how Jesus showed his love to others, and I come to this: Jesus, the master shepherd, gave us a symbol of how to love one another: the basin and the towel. He shows that he is able to heal and transform. He does so as the servant of the people; he does so by washing feet.

That's a very one-sided portrayal. There's another side to Jesus:

when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might (2 Thes 1:7-9).

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev 6:15-17).

Moving onto Preston Sprinkle:

One frustration I have is this: the evangelical approach to the LGBT+ conversation has been profoundly impersonal and one-sided (lots of truth and very little grace). And this statement was—as statements usually are—impersonal and one-sided. “WE AFFIRM…WE DENY…” who talks like this anymore? What does this do for the 14-year-old kid in the youth group who’s contemplating suicide because for some unchosen reason, he doesn’t feel at home in his own body and daily wishes he had a female one? So he puts on a mask at school for fear of getting beat up, mocked, or tormented on social media. He’s terrified to tell anyone—especially his youth pastor who just signed off on the NS. (I seriously doubt too many youth pastors will sign this, though.) Where is he in this statement?

What does a statement denouncing the alt-right do for the hypothetical teenage skinhead who's contemplating suicide because he comes from a broken home, his dad is a verbally and physically abusive alcoholic? He feels socially alienated, which is why he feels drawn to racist fringe-groups. Why is it so easy for people like Sprinkle to denounce white racism (always and only white racism), but develops laryngitis when the subject turns to homosexuality and transgenderism? For instance:

What’s perhaps most troubling about this statement—the 14 articles—is what’s missing. I have several quibbles and some disagreements with what’s actually stated. We’ll get to those below. But I’m more troubled by what’s missing than what’s actually stated. For instance, nowhere does it say:

WE AFFIRM that evangelicalism has not treated LGBT+ people with kindness, compassion, and relational delight. Rather, we have cultivated a culture of isolation, fear, and turned a blind eye to dehumanizing rhetoric, relationships toward our brothers and sisters wrestling with their faith, sexuality or gender identity.

Obviously the framers of the Nashville statement wouldn't say that because it reflects Sprinkle's slanted perspective.

WE AFFIRM that singling out LGBT+ people as particularly grievous sinners—while, for instance, a porn epidemic rages on in the church—is itself a horrifically hypocritical posture. And Jesus would have opened up the can on such pharisaical arrogance.

i) Unless the drafters and signatories are closet porn addicts, how is it "horrifically hypocritical" for them to restate Biblical teaching on sex and gender while they say nothing about pornography? What's the justification for Sprinkle's notion of vicarious hypocrisy?

ii) There's no shortage of statements from evangelical organizations that deplore pornography, human trafficking, warn about the dangers of porn addiction, and point porn junkies to counseling resources. A number of evangelical leaders have attacked Game of Thrones for what they deem to be its pornographic content.

iii) More to the point, there's no movement within evangelicalism to legitimize pornography, while there's massive pressure to legitimize homosexuality and transgenderism.  

WE AFFIRM that Christians everywhere should confront any form of bullying toward LGBT+ people. The Church should be on the front lines against injustices committed against LGBT+ people who are created in God’s image.

i) Sprinkle is speaking in ciphers. If by "bullying", he means LGBT+ people shouldn't be subject to physical or verbal harassment, I agree. However, on the lips of SJWs, "bullying" is code language for refusal to submit to the LGBT agenda. That policy turns teachers and school administrators into thugs who bully normal innocent kids. For instance:

ii) What "injustices" does he have in mind? Keep in mind that LGBT+ people aren't just victims. They can be oppressors. Take homosexual priests who molest underage boys. 

What about the injustice of puberty blockers? What about the injustice of subjecting confused teens or preteens to irreversible sex change operations?

iii) The "created in God's image" is becoming a rote formula to justify amoral social policies. Every human is made in God's image. The Gestapo. The Cheka. The Khmer Rouge. You name it. In Scripture, the "image of God" is not a shield that renders every image-bearer sacrosanct. 

WE DENY that gay or transgender jokes are acceptable Christian behavior and should be confronted by Christian leaders everywhere.

i) Why should we deny that? What's intrinsically wrong with joking about a travesty? The Bible is full of mockery. Stigmatizing misbehavior can deter people from going down a self-destructive path.

ii) There's a difference between ridiculing misbehavior and ridiculing individuals. In addition, there's a difference between ridiculing an insecure, low-esteem adolescent and ridiculing an activist like Bruce Jenner.

iii) Keep in mind that homosexual and transgender "orientations" are invisible unless they flaunt it. 

WE AFFIRM that the conversation about faith, sexuality and gender is just that—a conversation, and a complex one that cannot be summed up in bullet point conclusions.

So why is he using the bullet-point format to state his own position? (see original post)

WE AFFIRM that the evangelical aversion to singleness and it’s idolatry of marriage has created a horrible environment for the millions of single, gay, Christians pursuing celibacy in the church. One cannot flourish by just saying no to gay sex. We all must be able to say yes to love and intimacy, yet many (most? Almost all?) single, gay Christians have not experienced such intimacy and love in the church.

i) Do evangelicals "idolize" marriage? Most men and women are naturally wired to pair off in heterosexual bonds That's how God designed human nature? 

ii) I've said before that if a Christian single suffers from homosexual impulses, he should consider an interorientation marriage. Marry a member of the opposite sex. 

iii) It's true that singles can feel out of place in church. That's because churches are generally comprised of families. But are families to blame for coming to church? Should families absent themselves from church to avoid socially awkward situations with singles?

iv) Does he mean they haven't experience love and "intimacy" in the church as self-identified gays and trans? Does he mean people should go around telling parishioners that they are gay or transgender, then experience to experience love and "intimacy"? Needless to say, that will make normal parishioners very self-conscious around them. What do they want? Special treatment? 

WE REPENT from creating a heteronormative church culture that inevitably ostracizes Christians wrestling with their sexuality or gender identity.

Evidently, "heteronormative" has bad vibes for Sprinkle. He needs to explain what's wrong with a heteronormative church culture. His objection is not self-explanatory. Is that a synonym for Bible teaching on sex and gender, or something else?

Now let's finish with Randal Rauser:

But before we turn to consider various outgroups, we might begin closer to home.

In what respect are gays and trans "outgroups"? They're not outgroups in relation to the cultural elite. To the contrary, they're either members of the cultural elite or protected and empowered by the cultural elite. 

What about outgroups like Neo-Nazis and Klansmen? Rauser was quick to take sides on the Charlottesville incident:

Does he think it would be hypocritical for the signatories to Nashville statement to attack white segregationists before issuing a statement on the problem of divorce and remarriage in the evangelical church?

Let’s consider, for example, the case of individuals who divorce and remarry for any reason other than porneia, an act that Jesus explicitly denounced as tantamount to adultery. Given that standard, the pews of evangelical churches are full of couples that are engaged in adulterous relationships.

As The Nashville Statement speaks boldly against “the spirit of the age,” it’s silence on this topic is nothing short of deafening. Needless to say, the Statement would be far more credible on the issue of “biblical conviction, clarity, and courage,” if it had addressed the problem of divorce and remarriage.

Does failure to address subject y indict the authors of the statement as hypocrites as regards subject x? If so, then it matters very much that they failed to address subject y. And that's precisely the point that I make here. Hypocrisy is to prophetic authority as water is to a firecracker...As Jesus said, first remove the plank in your own ecclesial eye and then you can help folks with the specks in theirs.

Here's the background: Evangelicals divorce and remarry at a comparable rate to the general population. This means there are literally *millions* of evangelicals that are divorced and remarried who are apparently in adulterous relationships based on the clear teaching of Jesus...So where is the corporate statement from all these leaders providing the church definitive guidance for the issue?

So many issues:

i) Rauser is sympathetic to a Kenotic Christology which makes Jesus a fallible teacher. For instance:

So by Rauser's lights, Jesus was a fallible moral teacher. His teaching on divorce and remarriage is fallible.

ii) You'd think from Rauser's statement that he considers adultery to be the only licit grounds for divorce. Yet Rauser has a liberal position on divorce. For instance, he believes it's okay to divorce a senile spouse:

So how can he say, without further qualifications, claim that millions of evangelical churchgoers are in adulterous marriages?

iii) Maybe he doesn't mean they're hypocritical by his own standards. But in that case, it's odd to condemn them because they fail to be consistently wrong. If he thinks they had the mistaken standards on divorce and remarriage, why is it wrong to break a rule that's a bad rule? Take movies about contract killers who go soft when they see a cute kid in the crosshairs. They can't bring themselves to pull the trigger. Or they adduct the kid with the intention of killing him, but then take a liking to him. Speaking for myself, I think hypocritical hitmen are preferable to hitmen who suppress their paternal instincts. 

iv) And even if he's judging them by their own standards, how does he know what their views are regarding the grounds for divorce? What if they have liberal views like his own?

v) For that matter, should we assume that Scripture specifies every conceivable situation for which divorce is permissible?

vi) Even if a remarriage is initially adulterous, Rauser assumes it must be continuously adulterous. But what if consummating a new marriage dissolves the former marriage? Or what if this took place before the couple became Christian? 

viii) But there's a bigger problem. And that is Rauser's guilt-by-associative redefinition of hypocrisy. He's not accusing any of the signatories of adulterous marriage. Instead, he's operating with a notion of vicarious hypocrisy, according to which they are hypocritically complicit in the hypocritical marriages of evangelical churchgoers. That's a very creative and convoluted definition of hypocrisy. 

ix) Take the average pastor. Many ministers assume the pastorate of a preexisting church. The parishioners are initially strangers. The pastor knows nothing about the martial history of the congregation. What does Rauser think the new pastor is supposed to do? Summon each couple to his office and interrogate them on their marital history? It didn't happen on his watch. Where does his responsibility begin and end?

Suppose an unbeliever has an affair. He divorces his wife. He has kids by his new wife. His becomes a Christian. 

What does Rauser think the pastor should tell the divorcé to do? Desert his new wife and kids to return to his ex? What if is ex has remarried? 

It's easy for people like Rauser to jeer from the cheap seats, but what's his detailed prescription? 

x) Rauser parrots the factoid about the rate of evangelical divorce, but that's a dubious stat:

Finally, he says:

I asked for a definitive statement developed by a recognized body of leaders and underwritten by multiple cosignatories which is intended to provide authoritative guidance and counsel to the church. And when it comes to the issue of divorce and remarriage -- a blight in contemporary evangelical churches -- there is none.

For staters, what about this:

And many of the signatories belong to that very denomination. 


  1. Steve,
    Have you seen James Spiegel's article "Moral Heresy" in Philosophia Christi? I think it may be relevant to assessing these gentlemen (McKnight, etc.). https://www.academia.edu/21796315/Moral_Heresy

  2. Articles 2 and 9 are general enough to address some of the things these guys find lacking in the declaration. Regardless, obviously they have an agenda that can't possibly be satisfied by any statement, especially a statement that's not intended to address all things. They've confused perfect with adequate. Yet what constitutes perfection for them would undermine the intent of the document. They've confused exhaustive with sufficient.

  3. I want to add a small comment.

    PS> WE AFFIRM that evangelicalism has not treated LGBT+ people with kindness, compassion, and relational delight. Rather, we have cultivated a culture of isolation, fear, and turned a blind eye to dehumanizing rhetoric, relationships toward our brothers and sisters wrestling with their faith, sexuality or gender identity.

    ~ I see this sort of thing often and not just from Preston Sprinkles - whom I respect a lot btw.

    My issue with the comment is that you really need stats to back up such a thing. Where are they? Because otherwise it boils down to a war of anecdotes. The thing is that there have also been very many conservative evangelical churches with people who struggled with same sex attraction and the pastors and those of the laity who knew, did nothing but extend an arm of godly familial compassion to them. This does meant that they compromised on their Christian convictions but they lovingly took care of them. These anecdotes go way back also. They are not something recent.

    My point is also that just because these churches did not take out a front page ad in the local paper announcing to the world "Oh look how loving we are!" and what not does not mean that the church did not take care of its own. Yet these same churches get criticized as having been unloving or harsh to the LGBT. How do you know that?

    In Him,
    ~ Raj