The Nashville Statement on LGBT issues and Christian theology has generated a lot of discussion this week. Scholar and author Alastair Roberts explains why he signed it.
The recent Nashville Statement, a US document articulating a conservative Christian stance on issues relating to sex and sexuality, has met with an exceedingly mixed reception, with much applause, criticism, and denunciations emanating from the predictable - and sometimes not so predictable - quarters. I was one of the original signatories of the document and would like to encourage other UK Christians to join me.
The statement defends the importance of our creation as male and female, as it relates to key matters pertaining to marriage, our relation to our sexed bodies, and our sexual conduct. The moral questions surrounding the nature and meaning of marriage, same-sex attraction, relations, and self-understanding, and transgender persons and transgenderism are all incredibly live ones in the current context.
Much confusion and error is to be found even in conservative Christian circles on these matters. As we are pressed by the culture to examine matters that we may have formerly taken for granted, many have lost their footing, uncertain of what to believe, or why we believe it. A statement that simply yet firmly presents an orthodox position can be both clarifying and emboldening at such a time, giving Christians a clearer apprehension of the truth, of the lines that need to be defended, and of the willingness of their leaders to nail their own colours to the mast. Also, like a flare shot up over a darkened field of debate, it reveals where different people are positioned and where troubling movement has occurred.
The Nashville Statement is a reassertion and defence of the creational reality of humanity, of the basic anthropological difference: that humanity is created and divinely blessed with fruitfulness as male and female. It is this reality that is under assault today on various fronts, as the natural order of creation is challenged by those who variously deny this difference, whether they reduce the sexed body to a superficial façade that can be changed, abandon substantive sexed selfhood for radical gender performativity, studiously downplay the ways in which the sexes are naturally physically and psychologically ordered to each other, or detach marriage from any procreative end or form. In standing against these developments, we aren’t expressing some peculiar or eccentric claims of Christian theology, but upholding creational realities that have been generally recognised across human ages and cultures.
We are moving into a transhumanist age, an age where human nature can be remade in our image. We are already experiencing or are on the brink of technologies and developments such as artificial wombs, the production of gametes from somatic cells, embryo selection, genetic engineering of human beings, among many other things. Sexual difference is threatened by an economic and social system that reduces people to gender neutralized creatures of autonomous choice. Our societies are already adopting a transhumanist logic in supporting the fiction of same-sex marriage. It has never been more important for us all—Christian and non-Christian alike—to have a firm grasp of anthropology.
The Statement is also a reaffirmation of the apostolic and catholic Christian stance on sexual holiness in its relation to the truth of the gospel. The body is at the centre of the Christian faith. The story of the gospel is a story of Christ’s body: conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, baptized by John in the Jordan, transfigured on the Mount, suffering under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead, and buried, raised on the third day, ascended into heaven, seated at God’s right hand, physically to return on the last day.
We aren’t expressing some peculiar or eccentric claims of Christian theology, but upholding creational realities that have been generally recognised across human ages
The Christian message of salvation has our bodies at its heart, which is one reason why we are baptized: baptism displays the fact that our bodies are caught up in the story of Christ’s body. Our bodies are marked out for resurrection; they have been bought at a price by God and must be set apart for his glory; our bodies are the limbs and organs of Christ; they are also the temple of the Holy Spirit. As Paul demonstrates in 1 Corinthians 5-6, Christian sexual behaviour lies immediately downstream from the greatest truths of the gospel. The male and femaleness of creation is not abandoned, but redeemed and brought into the glorious newness of life in Christ.
While important, this statement is far from the final or only word on the subject. The goodness of the truths set forth in this statement will only truly be practically discovered as wise and gracious leaders give us gospel-shaped guidance for charting our discipleship through the treacherous and difficult paths of our sexual brokenness and disorientation of our age, guidance marked by the truths of forgiveness, conversion, restoration, deliverance, and resurrection.
We must also beware of burnishing the sinfulness of others as a mirror within which to preen ourselves in self-righteousness. We should pray that this statement should not be an occasion for such sin. This document draws lines that need to be drawn, but various signatories ought to be exposed to rigorous challenge on other fronts. Several of the signatories themselves have parted ways from each other on matters of deepest consequence, not least among them the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. There are various other respects in which certain signatories entertain compromised understandings of important issues relating to sex and sexuality and in which we are all compromised by our disordered society.
We must further guard ourselves against the very real danger of allowing sides in present culture wars, though important, to blind us to the far more momentous need to uphold Christian truth in all its aspects and to resist the hyper-reactivity that is afflicting people on all sides of debates surrounding sex and sexuality. This requires of us the courage to criticize the people who are most closely aligned with us.
It is also important to recognize the many orthodox Christian critics of the statement, some of whom have identified genuine weaknesses in the document and how it has been released. Their criticisms should be listened to and weighed.
Having considered the criticisms, however, and recognised various of the statement’s weaknesses, I am determined that the perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of the good here. This statement is an important step, though only one step of many. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to sign it: I invite you to consider doing the same.
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