Expanding the Parameters: The Nashville Statement
By Jon Carlson
The last week of August, while the floodwaters were rising in Houston, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a statement “declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female.” Over fourteen articles, the authors offer a series of “affirmations” and “denials” regarding theological, philosophical, and psychological questions pertaining to LGBTQ+ individuals.
The response to the “Nashville Statement” was as swift and furious as it was predictable. The mayor of Nashville condemned it. Many conservative Christians celebrated it. Progressive Christians offered parodies (and serious rebuttals). Twitter was filled with questions about timing and priorities.
Surveying both the statement and the responses to it saddened me. I still haven’t sorted out what, exactly, I think of these questions, but I’m deeply concerned both for the well-being of LGBTQ+ individuals and the Church’s historic interpretations of Scripture. (Some would call this the “Side B” position of the conversation.)
Allowing the Nashville Statement to determine the “parameters” for the work of the Church is a mistake.
Responding to the Nashville Statement, Brian McLaren says that it will force those he calls “LGBTQ-sympathetic Evangelicals” to “position themselves either inside or outside its parameters.”
Allowing the Nashville Statement to determine the “parameters” for the work of the Church is a mistake. If we accept those parameters, it makes it far too easy for those involved in these conversations to continue assuming the worst about each other.
For example, some progressives have been quick to seize on the Nashville Statement as proof that conservatives are lacking empathy and failing to love their LGBTQ+ neighbors as they love themselves. At the same time, some conservatives are all too happy to caricature the progressive position as libertinism, lacking any sexual ethics whatsoever.
Maybe there’s a better way to continue in our God-given work of discernment together, one that draws on the historic Christian practice of confession and embodies that confession in commitments to become more like Christ. Here is my attempt to sketch out one possible contribution to that work.
Maybe there’s a better way to continue in our God-given work of discernment, together.
We affirm that every human being is irrevocably imprinted with the image of God, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
We confess that the Christian Church’s public witness regarding sexual ethics has failed to center this truth and has contributed to a climate of hostility toward LGBTQ+ individuals, resulting in grievous harm—including suicide, youth homelessness, violence, and discrimination.
We commit to upholding the dignity, value, and worth of every individual, since Christ died for all.
We affirm that Scripture and the Church’s historical interpretations offer trustworthy counsel for faith and life. Recognizing that Scripture describes many types of sexual relationships (including polygamy, levirate marriage, rape, and incest), we affirm that the clearest revelation of God’s design is monogamous marriage between a husband and wife.
We confess that this interpretative framework has been weaponized to exclude and harm LGBTQ+ individuals, and is understandably viewed with suspicion by many.
We commit to holding this interpretative framework with humility, seeking the counsel of LGBTQ+ Christians and learning from other interpretations.
We affirm that God’s revelation regarding marriage was established in Genesis and restated by Christ, and that the union of man and woman in marriage points to the mysterious union of heaven and earth as well as Christ and the Church.
We confess that the Church and its leaders have not always lived faithfully according to God’s design and have participated in sexual brokenness through abuse, coercion, infidelity, and pornography.
We commit to the ongoing process of removing the plank from our own eyes, attempting to strengthen the Church’s sexual ethics by reporting abuse to the proper authorities, teaching the importance of consent, strengthening marriages, and accepting correction from others within and outside the Christian tradition.
We affirm that sexuality has unique power over human interactions and self-identity, and sexual ethics deserve careful consideration within supportive, caring communities. Therefore, Christian communities should be marked by humility, transparency, and mutual accountability.
We confess that the Christian Church has demonstrated misplaced priorities, attempting to control sexual expression through public policy and proclamations, rather than forging loving, nurturing relationships within which difficult conversations about sexuality can take place.
We commit to prioritizing the context, work, and power of the local church as the appropriate place for ethical discernment, guided by Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
We affirm that the Christian Church, as the family of God and the bride of Christ, is the hope for the world. The essential Christian witness is that we love one another deeply from the heart, welcoming one another as God has welcomed us, for the glory of God.
We confess that we have failed to preserve our witness of mutual love, hurling accusations of “hatefulness,” “bigotry,” and “essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness” when faced with differing expressions of faithfulness regarding LGTBQ+ individuals. We have broken fellowship with each other and have damaged the Body of Christ.
We commit to making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
Jon Carlson serves as Lead Pastor of Forest Hills Mennonite Church outside of Lancaster, PA. Jon and his wife, Lyn, are raising three kids who seem to have endless supplies of energy. Follow on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.