While not exactly 95 Theses being nailed to a church door, 500 years after the start of the Protestant Reformation two conflicting theological statements on the issue of how much Christians should indulge those who engage in homosexual or transgender conduct have helped to clarify the issue.
On August 29, a group of evangelical leaders issued a “Christian manifesto” designed to provide “biblical guidance on how to address homosexuality and transgenderism.” Because the drafters had gathered in Nashville, the document was labeled “The Nashville Statement” (hereinafter “N”).
Within two days, a group of liberal leaders labeling themselves “Christians United in Support of LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church” (“CU”), issued their own statement in response.
Both statements use the same format — a short declaration of beliefs that are affirmed and denied. While less useful for persuasion, both are valuable as descriptions of the positions of each side. Anyone interested in the debate within Christian churches about LGBT issues should read both.
(Limited) Common Ground
There are a few areas of common ground. Both agree that “celibacy” (CU) or “chastity” (N) are acceptable lifestyles. Both express sympathy for people with an “intersex” condition (CU) or “disorder of sex development” (N) in which the markers of biological sex are atypical. Both agree that salvation through Christ is available to all people.
Both also agree that people who experience same-sex attractions can live faithful Christian lives. However, the Nashville Statement makes the important distinction between attractions, behaviors and self-identification, declaring, “We deny that any affections, desires or commitments ever justify sexual intercourse … outside marriage” (defined as the “union of one man and one woman”), and, “We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes.”
The differences, however, are stark. The CU statement says, “We deny that God intended human romantic relationships to be limited to one man and one woman …” The Nashville Statement asserts that “the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female”; the other (CU) rejects “forcing individuals to embrace a gender identity … based on their biology.”
Appeals to Creation
Neither makes extensive reference to Scripture, but both frequently appeal to God’s will being revealed in creation. The Nashville Statement, for example, warns against the transgender movement in its introduction:
We did not make ourselves. 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.
It also declares, “We deny that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation …”
The CU statement, on the other hand, asserts that “our wide spectrum of unique sexualities and gender identities is a perfect reflection of the magnitude of God’s creative work.”
A Holy Spirit
The CU statement makes repeated references to the Holy Spirit, declaring the conclusion that “the Holy Spirit’s call” is to a teaching “that includes, affirms and embraces the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and non-binary, queer community … just as they are.”
There are important things left unsaid in the CU statement. First, by defining marriage as “a covenantal bond between human beings …” — with no reference even to two persons — it implicitly leaves the door open for polygamous relationships.
The CU statement also says, “We affirm that sexuality … may be expressed in a variety of different ways” and “that commitment, consent, respect and self-sacrificial love” are necessary for any “relationship that is to be deemed holy and upright for a Christian.”
Missing is any statement that marriage — however it may be defined — is necessary for a “holy and upright” sexual relationship.
It is all the pillars of historic Christian sexual ethics that the “Christians United” seem to be abandoning, or at least are unwilling to affirm — not just the gender-specific ones.
These two concise statements should help people to clarify where they stand. Anyone who cannot agree with the affirmations and denials in the Nashville Statement has essentially departed from biblical and historical Christian orthodoxy.