What the Nashville Statement Actually Says
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), the American evangelical coalition leading the charge to revive the destructive patriarchal norms in our society, recently released a statement on “biblical sexuality” called the Nashville Statement.
This statement is included in full below (you can download the original document as a PDF from their website), but much of their language is cloaked in allusion to hide the depravity of their grander purpose. They did this so the statement might gain a larger audience within mainstream evangelical Christianity. I have taken each line of the statement and provided an interpretation based on my (critical) following of the CBMW and my own background in fundamentalist evangelical Christianity.
This commentary is long, so I’ll start with a concise summary of my interpretive conclusion:
Because of the diminishing socio-political clout held by evangelical Christianity in the United States, the CBMW feels like it needs to create a “call-to-arms” as a final effort to reassert itself as a social authority. To do that effectively, it needs to create an enemy and demonstrate how the evangelical community is under attack from this perceived foe. The CBMW has chosen the LGBT community, already one of our nation’s most socially-abused groups, as the victim of their fight for power, and they are drawing a line in the sand to alienate the evangelicals that are sincerely and earnestly wrestling with the theological discussion over LGBT Christianity.
If you have other links or interpretations that would be helpful for me to include, please leave a comment at the bottom of this page. I'll add the most relevant ones into the post over the next few days (if you want me to credit you, please make sure you leave your name).
Preamble to the Nashville Statement
Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being.
Commentary: On its face, the first sentence is accurate: the United States is changing into a post-Christian society. This glosses over the reality that throughout its history, a significant portion of the evangelical community in the United States has been only marginally Christian (or Christian in name only). Many of these Christians did not carry the same values we would use today to describe a faithful follower of Christ; they established and maintained the slave trade in our country, fought against civil rights, repeatedly pressed for war, stood in favor of capital punishment, and pursued all sorts of other actions and ideologies that work against the message and example of Jesus Christ.
Indeed, even though the authors of this statement suggest that Christianity has historically held to a consistent principle of valuing human life, the reality of Christian history is far more complicated and messy than that. (For more on the historical authenticity of Christian culture in the United States, I highly recommend The Search for Christian America, by Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden.)
By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female.
Commentary: This is basically propaganda. It’s an attempt to draw “good, God-fearing Christians” into a war with “secular culture” that has abandoned all notion of God. Is it true that most people in the United States don’t believe God has a plan for humans? I don’t know. A Gallup poll in 2016 indicated that between 80% and 90% of Americans still believe in a God, so I find it unlikely. Regardless, I think it’s probably safe to say that the authors of the Nashville Statement don’t have stats to back up their claim about the “spirit of our age” either. They’re not interested in truth or reality here - they are too busy making a case about why this statement is important.
It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.
Commentary: The key point they are making here is that the authors believe orientation and gender identity are a matter of choice (or personal preference). Truly, this seems to be the crux of their argument inasmuch that, if they’re wrong on this point - if a person’s orientation has any foundationally determined characteristics - the entire statement begins to crumble. To hold to the idea that orientation is a choice requires one to ignore decades of research. And it only takes a single honest conversation with a gay Christian to learn that they would never have chosen this for themselves.
In addition to the false assumption regarding the role of human choice in sexual orientation, the authors here are backwards in their assertions about God’s approach to rules and human happiness. I absolutely agree with them that God’s call for us is the path that leads to true joy, but I don’t think God arbitrarily chooses rules for us and then lavishes blessing upon us when we follow them. Instead, I believe because God knows our nature as humans, knows what’s good for us and brings us long-term joy, God has created guidelines to take us down that path.
The difference is subtle, but important. First, a God who arbitrarily chooses rules is a God who is self-absorbed and seeks God’s own satisfaction, even when it’s not in the best interest of us. But a God who knows what brings us long-term joy is a God who is intimately involved with us and cares for us first. This is a God who loves. Second, the model of a God who guides us along the path that will bring us joy is open to other means of achieving that joy. Humanity can find truth and joy even outside the direct guidance of God because that capacity for truth and joy is something that is hardwired into our very being - it is the image of God within us.
This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?
Commentary: I almost can’t read this paragraph without laughing. It’s such a blatant posturing of us-versus-them. It’s seeking to draw anyone who doesn’t agree with this statement as an enemy warrior with a sword raised high for battle. I wrote a poem called “The War is Coming!” a couple years ago that’s basically about exactly this. Summary: People thrive on having an enemy to rally against, so when there’s no one to combat, we tend to create an enemy in our own imaginations. That’s what this paragraph is doing. It’s a rallying cry, a call to arms, a summons to war. It’s a new variation of what Christians have done all along, from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the Salem witch trials.
We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female.
Commentary: Never mind the issues of racial justice, gender equality, economic disparity, flooding along the Gulf Coast, or any number of other legitimate social issues that could be the focal point of Christian faithfulness for our generation. This is where they have chosen to make their stand against culture.
Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes gladhearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves.
Commentary: I deliberately pulled out these few sentences separately because it’s the one section of this entire document that I can actually agree with. Ironically, though, even though the authors say that God alone deserves our total allegiance, they seem to be suggesting that this Nashville Statement and its depiction of sexuality deserve our total allegiance….
We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.
Commentary: Remember, these are the same Christians who complain that LGBT persons set their identity by their orientation. Yet here we are with a written and signed document of a bunch of evangelicals saying that a person’s identity is, in fact, based in their sexuality. The really ironic thing for me is that I don’t think I’ve ever met a gay person who wanted their orientation to be the defining characteristic of their identity - it’s always been society (namely, Christian society) that has forced them to emphasize their sexuality.
We believe that God’s design for his creation and his way of salvation serve to bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good. God’s good plan provides us with the greatest freedom. Jesus said he came that we might have life and have it in overflowing measure. He is for us and not against us. Therefore, in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture, we offer the following affirmations and denials.
Commentary: Refer back to my previous comments about the God who loves us first and foremost. Also, while I completely agree with the idea that God’s plan is good for us, I should be clear that I think the articles we are about to read are absolutely not God’s plan. Some of it, I believe, are actually the worst parts of our broken humanity.
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.
Commentary: The selfless act of entering into a lifelong bond between committed marriage partners is absolutely a picture and a symbol of the covenant between God and humanity, which was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. But to make that covenant about sexuality and procreation is to read one’s own worldview into the Bible rather than letting Scripture speak into us (compare it to the portrait of marriage Paul paints in Ephesians 5). This statement also shows a complete disregard for the biblical depiction of marriage throughout most of our Old Testament, where polygamy was the norm and an inability to have children was a recurring theme. If the authors intended to craft a statement of sexuality based on the Bible, they’re not off to a good start.
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.
Commentary: Scripture seems to be pretty clear across the board that sex within marriage is the ideal, but I think this is because God knows it is the standard that is best for our own happiness and health. Sex is complicated, and enjoying it within the confines of a committed, lifelong relationship minimizes the risks and maximizes the rewards.
I can’t help but think, though, that with all this talk about healthy and unhealthy sexuality, the authors of this statement should have addressed the rampant hyper-sexualization in our Christian community that has resulted in an epidemic of pornography consumption, the development of a rape culture in our society, the unhealthy focus on purity and modesty in our churches, and the rise of sex slavery as an institution. I suppose they just figured it would be easier focus on the two guys that want to commit their lives to one another.
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.
Commentary: First of all, this approach depends greatly on a literal six-day interpretation of the creation accounts in Genesis, where a man and woman named “Adam and Eve” were actual, physical human beings that lived and breathed. I don’t want to get into the various views on creation, and on whether Adam and Eve were actual people or merely just archetypes for all of humanity, but the story of creation is clearly not focused on prescribing distinct gender roles between male and female. In fact, many of those same gender roles did not come into existence until after the Fall in Genesis 3 (see Article 4).
Secondly, look at how the whole “separate but equal” thing worked out during the Civil Rights movement. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that when the group in power gets to determine what constitutes “equal,” the result is never actual equality. “Separate and equal” in the case of gender roles has historically been damaging to the perceived worth (and self-perception) of women. They have long suffered emotional and physical abuse, unfair wages, and a lack of career and social opportunities.
Men aren’t exempt from these damaging stereotypes either. Too often, men who don’t fit the evangelical mold of masculinity are isolated from the church. Repeating the words “we think men and women are equal in worth” over and over again doesn’t suddenly negate the overt sexism of the authors - it makes them either a liar or a hypocrite.
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.
Commentary: The archetypal distinctions between the roles of men and women described in Genesis were very clearly a direct result of “the Fall,” so the denial in this article is understandably shallow. If you take a moment to re-read the creation story of Genesis 2-3, it is immediately evident that before sin entered the world, men and women lived in complete equality and harmony. As a consequence of sin, women were made subject to their husbands and husbands were made responsible for providing food and safety for their families. Those consequences are the definitions the CBMW describes as the “divinely ordained differences between male and female” and was in no way a part of God’s original design for creation.
Ultimately, the message of the creation narratives is that we all bear the image of God: man, woman, gay, straight, black, white, transgender, cisgender, poor, rich, humble, arrogant, curly hair, straight hair, dimples, dimple-less, likes chocolate, hates chocolate. Each one of us was created by God exactly as we are. We cannot rewrite the creation account to establish some kind of unbiblical “divinely appointed” gender role.
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.
Commentary: There is no basis for this in Scripture. And this is horrific in the way it identifies people. Did you know that somewhere between 1-2% of the population is born intersex? This means that it is about as common for a person to be born without clear male/female genital markers as it is for a person to have red hair (source). There is a ton of information out there about intersex persons, so there is no reason for educated people to be ignorant about the existence of such a significant portion of humanity.
It’s also worth reminding you that, time and again in this statement, the authors are equating identity with sexuality. This is not an association being made by LGBT persons, it is one being thrown on them by a specific subset of Christians (the same ones authoring these kinds of statements). Our self-conception (whether male or female, gay or straight) should be based around our identities in Christ, not our genitals.
WE AFFIRM that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.
WE DENY that ambiguities related to a person’s biological sex render one incapable of living a fruitful life in joyful obedience to Christ.
Commentary: Read the original of Article 6 again. Do you see how it doesn’t actually say anything? It confesses that intersex persons exist, and it confesses that the Bible even mentions them (although it fails to mention the story of the Ethiopian eunuch and how that could possibly shed some light on how we might embrace sex/gender nonconforming individuals), and it says that they are able to follow Christ. But it doesn’t take any kind of posture regarding marriage or sexuality or companionship for intersex persons. How are they even supposed to live out the “God appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female” (as stated in Article 5) when the biology does not clearly indicate whether they are male or female? In that void, how are we supposed to read this without assuming that intersex are being condemned for whatever decision they might make for their future and happiness?
As before, the authors of the statement are rendering a person’s sex as a deeply formational part of their identity, which is contrary to Scripture, contrary to history, and contrary to rationality. Our identity as Christians is formed in Christ, not in our genitals.
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.
Commentary: To accept this binary of sexuality (that everyone is created, or defined, as male or female) is to deny the reality before us. We know there are a variety of sexual orientations and gender nonconformities, and most (if not all) people who fall into those non-standard categorizations had no choice in the matter. They are not sexual deviants; they are not troublemakers; they are not perverts; they are not rebels. This was never something they “chose to adopt” as if they were putting on a different jacket.
Although we don’t yet completely understand the science or psychology behind it, we can no longer say that sexual orientation is merely a preference that one adopts. Instead, we can do our best to support our LGBT friends as they stand up in a society that has rejected them for their entire lives. They are people, bearers of the image of God. Many of them are Christian brothers and sisters. And they have something to teach us about the saving, delivering power of Christ... if we will only listen.
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.
Commentary: This article, which leans on the idea they developed earlier that orientation is a choice, suggests that the only way for LGBT persons to be upstanding Christians is to resist the “temptation” of their orientation. If they live a lie, abandoning their innate inclinations and replacing them with a veneer of heteronormativity, they can be acceptable by God. For generations, well-meaning gay Christians have tried to live this way, and the result has too often been crippling depression, bitter marriages, broken families, and divided churches.
Taken to its conclusion, this article sets up gay conversion therapy as a legitimate “treatment” for LGBT persons. Let’s be clear on this point: conversion therapy is one of the most devastating and cruel ploys being used by Christians today. It has been proven to be entirely ineffective and, at the same time, it destroys the person’s sense of worth. Don’t believe me? Read this story. Conversion therapy for minors is actually banned in several states and many U.S. territories and cities, as well as in many other countries.
WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.
WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.
Commentary: This article is a crafty one. On its face, it says that giving into extramarital sexual temptation leads to further sexual temptation (“directing them… toward sexual immorality”) - a spiral that becomes sexual addiction. Thus, it's suggesting that gay people, because they are embracing sinful sexuality, are (at the very least) on the road to rampant sexual misconduct (addiction). is an attempt to portray every LGBT person as a sex addict, a stereotype that is patently false. The authors cleverly added the tag at the end of the affirmation to indicate that they applied this same standard to everyone, regardless of orientation and, if the article stood on its own, that would be an acceptable interpretation of it. But in the context established by the preamble and the articles preceding this one, it is clear that the authors have targeted the LGBT community, so the inclusion of “heterosexual” in this instance reads as little more than a disingenuous add-on.
In addition, the article insinuates that all sexual desire outside of a husband-wife relationship is immoral. This perspective is a common one within the bounds of fundamentalist “purity culture,” but it has dangerous consequences. Fundamentally, sex was created by God, and our sexual desires are natural and God-ordained. It is irresponsible to equate all sexual desire outside of marriage as being distorted by sin. We have an obligation to keep those desires in check (to refrain from lusting and thus objectifying the person), but to believe that all sexual attraction is inherently sinful leads to an overreaction in the other direction: a puritanical separation between genders and the sexism that comes with such separation.
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.
Commentary: This is essentially the CBMW drawing a line in the sand between themselves and any affirming Christians. Denny Burk, one of the primary authors of the Nashville statement, said that was exactly why they wrote it. This is perhaps the most dangerous of all the articles because it makes them - the evangelicals who affix their names to the statement - the sole judges of people’s Christianity, not God. Even the most conservative Christians I know wouldn’t claim to know the posture of someone else’s heart, yet the authors of the Nashville Statement have declared that anyone who does not absolutely affirm a heteronormative sexual ethic cannot be a part of the Kingdom of God. They have taken the role of God upon themselves.
The irony of this article is that, in recent months, there have been many other things that “good evangelical Christians” have supported in good conscience: pussy grabbing (and other related locker room talk), war, white supremacy, racial profiling, raising taxes on the poor, cutting healthcare, and so on. Yet this “line in the sand” declares that they know the mind, will, and heart of God, rather than humbly acknowledging that some faithful Christians have come to different conclusions than themselves.
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.
Commentary: The effect of this article is to allow them to cruelly damage those in the LGBT community, as long as they can justify to themselves that it they did it “in love.” I don’t get the arrogance of thinking that they have a perfect grasp of what constitutes “the truth of God.” I understand that they think their reading of Scripture is infallible, but even they must understand that God comes before the Bible, that God is bigger than the Bible. To presume that we understand the character of God is at best presumptuous and, at its worst, idolatrous. I’ve written before about the responsibility and danger of speaking truth in love.
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.
Commentary: I wish Christians would actually live our stated belief in the transforming power of Christ and the sufficiency of God’s grace. If the authors of this statement truly believe God offers grace and pardon for all, and that God equips believers to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord,” they should also believe that God will convict those whom God chooses to convict. The truth is that statements like this diminish the transformative power of the Holy Spirit because they imply that God needs us to tell people when and how they are wrong. As Billy Graham so beautifully reminded us, “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.” We need to trust the Holy Spirit to be the transforming agent, and focus instead on the challenge of loving all - even the people who live in ways with which we disagree.
In the context of the statement, this article is a thinly-veiled call for the conversion therapy alluded to previously. The evidence overwhelmingly indicates that orientation and gender identity are not characteristics that can be changed within a person, and attempts to do so only result in harm.
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.
Commentary: The authors take the concepts of changing one’s orientation and apply them to transgendered persons, a population that is virtually nonexistent in the biblical text. Transgenderism and gender dysphoria are relatively new topics that I don’t completely understand. But I cannot presume to know what is going on inside a person’s mind and heart as they “self-conceptualize” as the sex opposite of their birth sex.
Again, the call for transgendered persons to live a lie is heinous. Conversion therapy is awful.
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.
Commentary: While this sounds really great on the surface, the fact of the matter is that the actions evangelicals toward the LGBT community have not backed up their own words. Yes, they may say that all are able to come to Christ, but how would they feel if a transgendered person entered their church and sat in the pews next to their children? If evangelicals won’t let transgendered persons use a public restroom, how are we supposed to believe they’d allow them to drink from the same communion chalice?
If we really want people to believe that Christ’s grace is for all, then we must stop making asinine statements like these and start actually living out Christ’s love and mercy.