If you follow social media and news online, you’ve likely heard about the Nashville Statement, put together by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Along with several dozen other Christian leaders, I’m one of the initial signatories of this statement, which seeks to provide a Christ-honoring and biblically faithful standard on homosexuality and transgenderism.
When it was posted in late August, unfortunately during Hurricane Harvey (its release was prearranged some time earlier), it caused another kind of cultural and online hurricane. Here are a couple of comments from people on Twitter who expressed disappointment at my signing it:
So disappointed in @randyalcorn for signing #nashvillestatement. He gave me hope of heaven & now he banished me for loving people.
Somehow @randyalcorn believes, from an eternal perspective, that publicly condemning LGBTQIA people who are facing persecution is good.
Redefining God’s Love
I cannot apologize for signing a statement that I believe to be true to Scripture and true to reality. As for the claim that by signing it I “banished” someone “for loving people,” I hardly know what to say. I believe that I truly love people who think and live differently than I do in terms of sexual desires and practices. I also believe God loves them far more than I, or the people who sent these tweets, do.
But instead of expecting the God of love to define love as we do, we need to look at what He actually reveals in His Word. The Nashville Statement attempts to do this. We need to realize that we can’t truly love people by lying to them and saying God believes their actions to be right, when He has said He doesn’t.
This would be like claiming that it is unloving to say racism is wrong or that abortion or adultery are wrong. Some do claim that, at least concerning abortion, but it’s simply not true. The most loving thing we can do is provide people alternatives to abortion, and be quick to offer the gospel of God’s grace to those who’ve had abortions, as we should and do to all who have committed sexual immorality and every other sin, including greed and gossip and gluttony. But the solution is not to say “abortion is right” or “homosexual marriage is right” any more than to say “greed is right” or “gossip is right.”
Why a Statement?
Some have honestly wondered, “Why the need for such a statement? Isn’t it more divisive and offensive than it is helpful?” First, I highly recommend reading the actual statement before either criticizing or commending it (that should go without saying, but remarkably does not). Second, I also recommend reading through these posts from other signers that give excellent answers to that question, starting with the article by Rosaria Butterfield, who lived as a lesbian for many years:
Rosaria Butterfield: “Why I Signed the Nashville Statement”
In his article, Albert Mohler writes:
The backlash to the document shows why it is so needed: While the Christian church has held to a normative understanding of biblical sexuality for over two millennia, we now face challenges to biblical teaching that require an unprecedented level of specificity. It affirmed what would have been universally acknowledged as the historic Christian faith without question or controversy until just the last several years.
…Pastors, parents, and individual Christians are asking for clear answers to what they see as new questions. We have attempted to provide them. Churches and Christian institutions have asked for a statement to which they can point for reference and affirmation. We have sought to assist them.
Homosexuality and the Historic Christian Faith
It’s amazing the degree of anger in other comments you can read online, especially considering that this is hardly a new position for those who’ve signed the statement. I’ve written blog posts related to homosexuality in the past, and stressed that the Bible makes clear that God’s very best for all of our lives involves our purity and obedience to Him. This includes forsaking all sexual sins, heterosexual and homosexual, outside of the marriage covenant between a man and a woman.
This isn’t about condemning or persecuting people or pointing a finger at them. It’s about speaking the truth in love, for people’s good, because true love doesn’t deny God’s revealed truth:
“But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, CSB).
“There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12, CSB).
“Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6, CSB).
In response to my comment that we need to speak the truth in love about homosexuality, a commenter on Twitter responded:
That’s not what this is. You’re saying, in Article 10, if I don’t have the same CONCLUSION as you about Scripture, I can’t be saved.
Here’s what article 10 actually says:
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.
I find it odd to hear people say that if I were a true Christian I would support homosexual marriage and transgenderism, then turn around and say I have no right to consider these inconsistent with the historic Christian faith.
Of course they are inconsistent with both Scripture and the historic Christian faith. Feel free to reject Scripture or the historic Christian faith if you so choose, but don’t feel free to retroactively revise them to make them fit the positions that our culture has come to embrace in, oh, about the last five minutes!
It may feel much nicer and more loving, but such revisionism is not only objectively wrong, but also cowardly and ultimately unloving. Our job is not to reinvent and dilute and dismantle the Christian faith, nor to cower in fear about declaring it. Rather, it is to accurately represent it and live it out faithfully and humbly. Our job is not to disagree with God and say that sin is right and that moral righteousness is wrong, but to explain that the God who offers us His grace does so in the context of recognizing our proneness to violate His truth.
Denny Burk offers some helpful insight to the pushback on this specific part of the statement in his post, “Why the Nashville Statement now, and what about article 10?”He writes this:
We labor for moral clarity on the point not so that we can say to sinners, “Keep out!” We are standing with our arms wide open saying, “Please, come in. Come to the waters of life available to any and every sinner who turns from sin to trust in Christ.” But we cannot make plain the path to life to those who think they don’t need it. And the revisionists of our time are leading precious people away from Jesus and not to Jesus because they are telling them that they have no judgment to fear. This is the opposite of love.
Our Quickly-Changing Cultural Landscape
It’s not only astounding but also revealing how quickly our culture (and many professing Christians with it) has abandoned thousands of years of consensus on the issue of homosexual marriage. Just five years ago (not merely a hundred or fifty or twenty years ago) the great majority of Americans—including Hillary Clinton—still believed homosexual marriage should not be legal. In fact, Hillary opposed legalized gay marriage as recently as 2013. That’s how quickly the cultural landscape has changed.
In 2000, Hillary Clinton went on record as stating this: “Marriage has historic, religious and moral content that goes back to the beginning of time, and I think a marriage is as a marriage has always been, between a man and a woman.”
The Democratic Party didn’t change its platform to include same-sex marriage until 2012. The fact that in the entire history of humanity this concept has not been regarded as right or legal in any culture until extremely recently is itself revealing. Is it possible that sometimes people throughout human history have been right about things (abortion comes to mind) that we are wrong about today?
And it’s not just the secular landscape that has shifted quickly—the views Christians hold about homosexuality have changed rapidly in the past decade. (See Denny Burk’s article Four stages of “evangelical” affirmation of gay marriage.) I believe that in the coming years, pastors and Bible teachers who reinterpret Scripture to make it popular and to sound “more loving” will increasingly try to take the moral high ground as they portray Bible-believers who hold to biblical views as hateful bigots. Of course, some are bigots, but most are not. And, of course, some who oppose one form of bigotry are themselves bigots in other areas. (Which is why so many people are so hateful toward those they claim are hateful, and so intolerant toward those they think—sometimes rightly and often wrongly—to be intolerant.)
The kindest, most Christ-like and grace-centered believers will be marginalized and labeled hateful despite their loving actions. They are the ones whose hearts break for gay and transgender people, and every other broken person including themselves and their loved ones, and who believe that love doesn’t mean refusal to tell the truth, but means acting in what God says are people’s true and ultimate best interests and will bring them eternal happiness.
Concerns over President Trump
I also want to address one other common concern about the statement. Many have remarked that those who signed the Nashville Statement haven’t spoken out about issues related to President Trump, and instead have chosen to focus on this particular issue, and therefore have lost their credibility.
I can’t speak about each of the initial signers, but I know many have been vocal about their concerns over President Trump both before and after he was elected, notably Russell Moore and John Piper. Before the election, I was one of many who warned against the character flaws of Donald Trump and his unbiblical attitudes and moral behavior that I believed were obvious in his life, his books, and his public statements.
Following his election I determined to refer to him as President Trump, just as I referred to his predecessor as President Obama. I’ve chosen to pray for him and our nation with as much respect as possible. This is not a double standard—I did the same with President Obama, whom I also had profound disagreements with (though those disagreements were in different areas—for instance, abortion). I can pray for my president and support him whenever possible, even though he says and does some things I cannot in good conscience support.
My intent is to show my respect to the office even when I disagree on some fundamental levels. I certainly agree with some of President Trump’s views, and I am totally supportive of his Supreme Court Justice appointment and the prolife actions he’s taken so far, including rescinding the Mexico City Policy. But I often take positions in blogs on issues and matters of morality, civility, and demeanor which show my disagreements with our president in numerous areas. (For example, my recent post on the events in Charlottesville, which included a post from Russell Moore, showed a different view of what happened there, than what President Trump shared in his tweet, where equal blame seemed to be implied: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.”)
Politics is not the main concern of my blogs. Just as I rarely posted about President Obama, I rarely post about President Trump. There are other Christian organizations whose focus is speaking to current issues that include politics, such as the Ethics &Religious Liberty Commission. (For example, see their recent article on DACA and Dreamers.)
To assume I always agree with our president just because I don’t announce my opposition to each misguided tweet he posts is simply incorrect. For journalists, or for that matter some Christian leaders, to portray the attitudes and actions of President Trump as if they are representative of all evangelical Bible-believing people is irresponsible and wildly inaccurate.
Indeed, I know many Christians who did not vote for President Trump precisely because of their convictions. And I know many others who, with reluctance, voted for President Trump because they saw no viable alternative. But they do not routinely defend his demeanor, offhand comments, or decisions as wise, and certainly not as Christ-honoring. The stereotype of evangelical Christians as blind justifiers of all our president’s attitudes and behaviors does disservice to the many believers and churches that are centered not on partisan politics, but on Jesus Christ and the Gospel of God’s Grace.
Showing Both Grace and Truth
So please don’t see the Nashville Statement as either political or hostile. I hope you will read all the way through it. If you do, I think you’ll see that it isn’t just another angry reaction or unkind backlash, but a thoughtful, careful expression of biblical truth.
We should respond to our culture’s rejection of biblical and historic Christian truth not with hatred or with cowardice. God help us to be like Jesus, who courageously exemplifies both grace and truth: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).