Monday, September 4, 2017

After Gnashing about Nashville Start a Conversation

American Evangelical leaders made a public statement of beliefs about Christian marriage, which included statements about sexuality. Many signed the Nashville Statement and many voiced or wrote statements of opposition.

Some like Catholic priest, James Martin, SJ responded with his own statement of affirmations and denials matching the format of the Nashville declaration put forth by the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Here's another thoughtful response by popular Christian author, Peter Enns:

By 4 September, a Google search for "Nashville Statement" yielded over a million responses. Articles appeared in the N Y Times, Washington Post, and USA Today.

Nashville Statement, Article 10 gets a lot of attention.

"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." 

The Nashville Statement is a short document. And many responses are pithy blog posts or short commentaries in news sources. Unfortunately, the short responses fall short of a conversation that would better inform people about the diversity of Christian views addressing LGBTQ issues. It would be far too easy for Christians to simply accept the views of these leaders and join the growing chorus of harsh rhetoric of those who wish to attack people holding different beliefs.

The good news coming from the Nashville Statement is the opportunity to see clearly what Christian Evangelicals believe about marriage and sex. Most of us knew their beliefs before the statement went public. But the public statement is a reminder that the issues divide Christians and others. And it is a reminder that strongly held beliefs lead to divisions that are not easily bridged by changes in law. 

In fact, as I write this post, I am reminded that in 1957 white people in Little Rock Arkansas saw US troops force integration so that nine African American students could attend the White, Central High School.

Rather than unthinkly accept the beliefs of the Nashville Statement authors, Christians, and those who wish to understand Christians, have the opportunity to start a conversation in churches, schools, and organizations.

There are books on the subject of faith, sexuality, and Christian morality. Here's my book and a discussion guide. The publisher (wipfandstock) provides free copies to course instructors and those willing to review the book for a review article. I realize I am taking advantage of the situation to promote my book. 

My point in writing the book was to address the divisions in society--especially Christian cultures. 

People at least ought to understand why Christians disagree and the points that the facts  support (or do not support). There are different perspectives on same-sex sex and marriage as well as other related issues.

Inexpensive copies of A House Divided are available on AMAZON and other book sellers. 

The Discussion Guide is only available on AMAZON.

What Christians, and people interested in Christian cultures, need to know:

  • CULTURAL CONTEXT. Most of the Bible was written by Jewish men in ancient cultures, which provide an important context for understanding beliefs about marriage, sex, and relationships. Old laws, teachings, and moral stories have a context that won't fit on bumper stickers or in simple proclamations.

  • CHRISTIAN DIVERSITY. Christians have different views about Christian marriage and sex because there are variations in the way scholars translate and interpret biblical texts. Christianity is the worlds' largest religion with over 2.2 billion adherents. The words of a few white men in Nashville, TN hardly represent the wisdom of Christian scholars around the world.

  • BIBLICAL SILENCE. The Bible does not address some of the points in the Nashville Statement. The Bible does not address transgender issues or same-sex marriage. For Christians to make statments about such issues requires an interpretation of what biblical writers wrote and did not write. You can probably think of a lot of things not covered in the Bible. Claiming to speak for God seems a bit risky. Follow biblical advice by evaluating the words of any would-be prophets-- including the folks writing from Nashville.

  • MORAL PRINCIPLES. The New Testament authors used ethical principles like "love your neighbor" to interpret old laws for Christians. For example, Christians do not practice animal sacrifice, circumcision, or Sabbath Day resting. Old laws were re-interpreted by Jesus and his followers. The sabbath was for man (or people), said Jesus. And circumcision was a matter of the heart-- not a literal cut-the-flesh requirement. 
  • Christians since Jesus derived ethical principles from old laws. This is my simplification of the previous point.

  • FACTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE. For example, in my book and others' books, you can read more about sexuality and the variations in natural attraction and sense of identity that produce considerable distress for sexual minorities and their families--especially those in cultures where they are shamed as sinners, treated with disrespect-- if not violence, and isolated from loved ones, including the faith family that embraced them before their sexuality emerged. Christian leaders ought to understand sexuality before making proclamations.

Some thoughts--

Let us read the Bible with understanding of its cultural context.

Let us learn about sex and the distress people experience when cultures are in conflict about sexual issues.

Let us learn about moral thinking in the Bible itself as practiced by Jesus and Paul in contrast to that of pharisees and those pushing a rigid adherence to religious traditions.

Let us start a conversation with other Christians. We all have our blind spots when thinking clearly.

Let us promote the love of God. It seems to me some people don't trust a loving God to work with those Christians who discovered that their sexuality was different from the majority of people.

See the book's website for more. A House Divided 

You can also learn more about a Christian approach to the concerns of sexual minorities from the writings of Mark Yarhouse.