Like many of my sisters and brothers in Christ, I have read with sadness the recently published Nashville Statement signed by more than 150 leaders in the Evangelical tradition. As I read these words, I wondered aloud, again like many of my sisters and brothers in Christ, “Why now? What purpose does this serve in a world where White Supremacists march the streets with impunity, where the threat of nuclear was is more real than ever in my lifetime, and where a hurricane has cost $23 billion of property damage and dozens of lives?” I’ve struggled for the right words to say; how I might respond, not that the world needs to know my thoughts on the matter, but I do write a blog and bloggers always think people care about their opinions.
Of particular note, at least in my opinion, are Articles 7 and 10 of the Nashville Statement. Article 7 is of interest because it seems to suggest that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice that is made. Here is where our ability to have a conversation on this topic breaks down. Beginning in the second half of the 19th century, that which would become Evangelicalism in the United States made a conscious decision to hold science at arms length and to trust in the inerrancy of Scripture. This is why we have things like the Creation Museum, which seeks to discredit the scientific suggestion that world was not created in seven, twenty-four hour periods because one of the two Biblical accounts of creation says so. Fast forward to 2017, and with no clear scientific study that says where homosexual attraction comes from, it is a no-brainer for the anti-scientific bias in evangelicalism to say, without hesitation, that homosexuality can be and “adopted self-conception.” Without room for scientific exploration on the subject, there is no way sexual orientation will ever be seen as something other than a choice, and a sinful one at that. There is no room in this mindset for conversation on the topic, even if the rest of the world still sees it as an open question.
Which leads me to Article 10, the much more destructive of the two. I commend to you Carol Howard Merritt’s reflection for the Christian Century on this topic. Because of the inherent danger in it, I will publish Article 10 in its entirety.
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.
Those of you who read this blog with regularity will know that my favorite word in the Church is “adiaphora,” which means “things indifferent.” The idea of adiaphora within Christianity came into focus during the Protestant Reformation as debates between Roman Catholics and early Reformers tended to be based on fundamental disagreements over that which was a core doctrine of the faith. By adopting Article 10, these Evangelical leaders have drawn a clear line in the sand. Human sexuality and gender identity are, for them, matters of core doctrine, and one’s beliefs on these matters are a part of what it means to be redeemed in Christ. It is Article 10 that brings me the most sadness because a friend of mine from high school whom I deeply respect for his faith, even if our theologies on topics like this don’t match up, is one of the original signatories of the Nashville Statement. Article 10 seems to say that he does not see my faith as valid, and that the only clear path for me as a Christian who affirms God’s love for all God’s children, including the LGBT community, is the road to hell. I have reached out to my friend and let him know that while I disagree with him on this issue, I will continue to pray for his ministry as I hope he will mine.
This, finally, leads me to the Bible, the topic which this blog purports to be about. Sunday’s lesson from Romans 12 is a quick-hitting list of admonitions from Paul to the Christians in Rome. As we hear them, they can make us feel good, but in such rapid succession, it might be hard to note how difficult these Godly admonitions are to live by. This is especially true at the end of verse 10 where he writes, “Outdo one another in showing honor.” Another way to translate that might be “lead the way in showing respect.” This is affirmed in the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church in which we vow, with God’s help, to respect the dignity of every human being. We affirm that it can only be done “with God’s help” because, quite frankly, human beings can be hard to love. Our ability to show respect at all times, is flawed, but it is by God’s grace that we are able to lead the way in showing respect. With Paul’s words in mind and in light of current events, from Charlottesville to Pyongyang and from Washington DC to Nashville, I pray that I might have the grace and courage to lead the way in showing respect to everyone, even as I pray the same for you, dear reader.