To all my dear Conservative, Evangelical Christian friends,
Before you sign the recently released Nashville Statement on Sexuality, please consider just two things.
Firstly, please consider that the very first sentence of this Statement is going to cause deep hurt and harm in your congregation: “God has created marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union…”. I know you and I don’t agree – I am in favour of covenant, lifelong, monogamous, faithful same sex marriage, and you are not. But leave that disagreement aside for now. I am sure that we are both in agreement that (1) marriage is not a necessary institution (in other words, people can choose to marry or not and it does not impact their “God-image-bearing” nor their status in the church), and (2) procreation is not a necessary condition of marriage (in other words, people who can choose to have children or not can choose not to have children if they want to, without impacting on the value or fullness of their marriage nor their status in the church).
So why does the Nashville Statement include “procreative” as a description of marriage? We all know why, of course. The arguments against gay marriage have steadily been eroded by good Bible study, intelligent debate and the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in the church. Yes, yes, I understand that you don’t see it this way, my conservative friends, but you can at least acknowledge that some arguments you used to use are no longer usable (for example, the judgement of Sodom and Gomorrah, which you used to attribute to their homosexual behaviours, and no longer can, because you actually read the rest of the Bible and saw that it did not list sexual sins as reasons God destroyed the twin cities – read more here). So, conservative Christians appear to be opening up a new line of argument that is entirely unBiblical – that marriages that are not able to produce children are not the sorts of marriages that God wants. In fact, God actively despises them.
No. Don’t try and weasle out of it. That is precisely what the Nashville Statement is saying. In its very first sentence. It’s an unintended consequence of the need to bring a shotgun to kill a mosquito – it’s the collateral damage the framers of the Statement may very well have discussed and decided was worth it. But are YOU happy with this? Are you happy to tell the childless couples in your congregation that at best they have second-class marriages, and at worse they’re as damned as the gays?
Note that although there are fourteen articles to the statement, I am only asking you to consider your response to the very first sentence of the first article. That should be enough to give you pause before signing. Consider the hurt you’ll do to childless couples in your congregation if you affirm this statement.
Secondly, consider the major sponsor, host and authors of the Statement. It’s the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. This group has done a great job over many decades of advocating against women leaders in the church. They believe that although men and women have “equal status” before God, we do not have equal “functions” in the church, and that men are to lead and women to follow. Churches that buy into the CBMW philosophy do not have female pastors or elders, and many don’t even have female deacons, preachers, teachers (of men), worship leaders or home group leaders. (They do allow female Sunday School teachers and missionaries, of course, but now I am just being snarky.)
In your haste to affirm an anti-gay marriage Christian Statement, please consider who you’ll be (ahem) climbing into bed with. Are you sure you want to support a view that says women cannot be leaders in your church? Because, for sure, someone in your congregation is going to make the connection between the Nashville Statement and the CBMW and ask you for your view on that.
There is, of course, a danger that this second issue is an ad hominem – playing the man not the ball. If the Nashville Statement is affirming truths, we shouldn’t let who wrote it change our views on its content. I accept that. Except I also believe it was Jesus who said that “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). And I also think it’s worth pausing to consider what the agenda of this part of the Christian community really is – I get that Article III makes sense when dealing with gay marriage, but was Article IV really necessary if your concern is “just” same sex relationships (Article IV affirms that there are “divinely ordained differences between male and female” – this may seem innocuous, but make sure you know what the CBMW believes that statement to mean before affirming it. It’s not what you think – unless you think that women can’t lead worship, preach, teach men or lead in your church). It seems there might be a bigger agenda here – are you sure you want to buy into that with your signing of the whole Statement? #askingforafriend
I am not asking you to change your view on same sex marriages (OK, I actually am, but not right now :-), but I am asking you not to sign or support the Nashville Statement. You might be opposed to gay marriage, but this is not the way to do it. Don’t create even more damage. Please.
PS – there are many more problems with the Statement, although the two above should give you plenty to think about. Just look at Article VII for example, and tell me what you think “God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption” are for your self-conception of your penis/vagina (delete whichever doesn’t apply to you)? No, seriously, please explain. Or why Article X talks of “homosexual immorality” (correctly creating a distinction between homosexual orientation, which is not sinful in itself, and homosexual activity which is sinful), but makes no such distinction for transgender people (implying clearly that all transgender people are inherently sinful)? Which leads to Article XIII, implying that if a teenager comes to you questioning their sexual identity (or sexual self-conception in the language of the Statement), that you have to declare this questioning itself to be sinful? And the whole Statement has shifted away from using the helpful distinctions of “gay” and “gay lifestyle” and “gay orientation” – evangelicals were using these to distinguish between the part that is not sinful (orientation) and the part that they consider to be sinful (gay activities/lifetsyle). This Statement feels like a step backwards, implying that being gay is a choice (sexual self-conception) and that making that choice is in itself sinful (see Article V especially). Are you really sure about this, my Evangelical friend? Really?
2 thoughts on “Before you sign the Nashville Statement on Sexuality… just two small things”
Your main point about procreation hits the nail on the head. Christians who argue against gay marriage on the grounds that true marriage is necessarily ordered towards procreation must also be prepared to argue against intentionally childless heterosexual marriages, and even against the use of artificial contraception itself. After all, when a husband and wife use a daily dose of synthetic hormones or a disposable latex prop to render the God-given biological difference between the sexes (and its accompanying procreative potentiality) irrelevant to their marital embrace, what is really left to make moral distinction between such a heterosexual act and a homosexual one? As the former Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, once wrote, “in a church which accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts, or on a problematic theory about natural complementarity”.
That said, as for Christians who *are* prepared to use the idea of procreation as a dividing line and to argue against the moral licitness of both homosexual acts and artificial contraception (e.g. orthodox Catholics), I don’t think their line of argument is so easy to denounce as being “unbiblical”, as you suggest. And neither is this a “new line of argument”, as it was pretty much the unanimous belief of all Christian groups (prior to the Anglicans breaking rank in 1930) that what made certain types of sexual intimacy immoral was that they were not ordered towards the bearing and raising of children. Even in scripture, the first command given by God in the Old Testament is to have children. Onan is struck dead by God for engaging in sex without also being open to procreation. The prophet Malachi explicitly states that the reason why God joins a husband and wife is for the purpose of bringing forth godly offspring. Fruitfulness in marriage is constantly referred to as blessing that is symbolic of the spiritual fruitfulness that is brought about by intimacy with our heavenly bridegroom. Such Christians can make a strong argument that one cannot reject the metaphor without also doing violence to its spiritual meaning.
It also need not follow from such an argument “that marriages that are not *able* to produce children are not the sorts of marriages that God wants”. There is clearly a real distinction between the type of sexual act that is purposefully and intrinsically sterile (in the case of contraceptive or homosexual sex) and the type of act that is still ordered towards procreation but accidentally infertile (because of health or age). Infertility wouldn’t be such a heavy cross for so many couples if they didn’t think that they were engaging in what are procreative types of acts rather than different non-procreative acts.
Didn’t mean to write so much, but your post was very thought-provoking!
Thanks, Jonathan. A great response.