The Nashville Statement: Pharisees? Present!
By Brian Lugioyo
Let me preface my response by saying that I hold a conservative view of sex and marriage, one closer to Augustine than to the common evangelical position that implicitly rejects friendship and explicitly idolizes marriage. After reading the Nashville articles, I offer here my brief responses to the assertions and claims made therein. They are the reasons, amongst other concerns, why I will not sign it.
Article 1: 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.
WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.
How do the holy fathers and mothers of polygamous relationships fit into this paradigm? An argument for monogamy (which I hold) is complex and cannot be easily asserted biblically as designed by God, neither can it be substantiated through Jesus’ relation to the church as the groom—because that makes God polygamous (married to a lot of people).
Article 2: WE AFFIRM that God’s revealed will for all people is chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage.
WE DENY that any affections, desires, or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse before or outside marriage; nor do they justify any form of sexual immorality.
The Bible doesn’t really have anything to say about sex outside of marriage, because for the Bible all sex is marital.
Article 5: WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.
Article 7: 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.
Using the idea of ‘self-conception’ ignores the reality that one’s identity is difficult to separate from the various relations and contexts we find ourselves in. Adam discovers his ‘sex’, male, only after the creation of Eve. Without the woman there is no self-conception of male, and vice versa.
Article 4: 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.
Article 8: WE AFFIRM that 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.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.
The concept of ‘original creation’ used in these articles seem to understand the Genesis narratives in a way that is not fully warranted by the text. Original creation or original Eden is a mess and in need of tending and the creatures need help before Adam and Eve are exiled from the Tree of Life. There is no perfect original to hold up as an example, let alone to return to.
Article 10: 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.
Depending how one defines homosexuality and transgenderism (and these articles do not provide any definitions of these terms), it is difficult to denounce these groups as immoral. That is, one should attach the label of immoral to actions rather than to entire people groups, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or transgender. If the authors want to denounce specific acts, they should be more explicit in their language.
Article 3: WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.
Article 11: WE AFFIRM our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.
WE DENY any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonor God’s design of his image-bearers as male and female.
These articles seem to understand the image of God as closely tied to male and female cisgender. There are male and female hamsters—are they image bearers? The concept of the image of God is more vocational than it is gendered.
Article 12: WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.
Article 13: WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ 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.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will.
These articles speak of the grace of God as a ‘thing’ that seems detached from the church. As such, they paint the life of Christian discipleship as an individual journey of instantaneous magical transformation, rather than a journey amongst the friends of God supporting each other in their respective weaknesses and encouraging one another with their respective gifts.
Article 14: WE AFFIRM that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure.
WE DENY that the Lord’s arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach.
Jesus ate and conversed with Samaritans, tax-collectors, prostitutes, adulterers, and all the other minority groups the religious authorities marginalized. Jesus never wrote articles about “sinners.” Pharisees, however, were familiar with that task.
Every set of brief articles is susceptible to the critiques I pose here, and so it is easy for me to poke holes. Some of the pokes are more substantial than others. Nevertheless, the Spirit of Christ seems absent here, while the pharisaical spirit seems quite clear. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy!
Brian Lugioyo teaches theology at Azusa Pacific University, where he specializes in theological anthropology, liturgical theology, and 16th-century theology. He is also an Oriented to Love dialogue alum.