Outdoing one another in showing honor in light of the #NashvilleStatement

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.

Article 10
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.


Our Common Humanity

As the news about the mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando came upon me yesterday, I found myself caught short.  In a nation where these things seem to happen with great regularity, it is easy, eventually, to fail to see the death of 5 or 10 or even 50 people as anything other than “everyday life.”  For this sin of complacency, I continually ask God for forgiveness.  Still, there was something about the events in Pulse that made this one feel different.  My response wasn’t quite as visceral as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and yet there were some stark similarities for me.


I came to understand this feeling deep within me with the help of a post my mother would later write on her Facebook feed.  My mother’s brother was a gay man who contract HIV in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.  He lived for probably twenty years with the disease when most others died within months.  As a result, my childhood is in many ways defined by the ongoing struggle in the gay community to find voice as well as safety.   I grew up on the periphery of the gay culture of the 80s and 90s, and I can still vividly recall overhearing stories that the grownups would tell of harassment, hatred, and even violence.  I remember how taken aback we all were when my uncle, who was fairly apolitical when it came to gay rights, focusing his attention instead on those marginalized because of HIV/AIDS, showed up a family holiday wearing a shirt like this one.


I may not have understood it at the time, but these stories have framed the way in which I have experienced the ongoing struggle for equal rights in the LGBT community.  With those sorts of memories in the foundation of my life experience, perhaps it is no wonder that I can see the tie between the innocent slaughter of children at elementary school and the intentional killing of such a vulnerable group of people, targeted in a soft location, with few exits, by a man who was radicalized by Islam in much the way many have been radicalized against the LGBT community by Christianity.  Like those children in Sandy Hook, these beloved children of God at Pulse were sitting ducks.  In the midst of my reeling over the appalling details, I posted a short prayer.  It was all that I could muster:

That we might someday figure out how to respect the dignity of every human being; we pray to the Lord.

Many preachers came to the news of Pulse too late for it to inform their sermons yesterday.  I do not begrudge them not dealing with it in the homiletical exercise on short notice: the implications are too dicey to be handled with haste.  This Sunday, however, after a week of reflection, with the 24 hour news cycles repeating the story again and again and again, it would seem wise, perhaps, to engage with the portion of Paul’s letter to the Galatians appointed for Proper 7C.  In it, we read Paul’s famous words about our common humanity.

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

As followers of Jesus, our task is to make these words of Paul a reality by living in such a way that declares that in Christ, there is no gay or straight, no black or white, no HIV+ or HIV-, but rather a common humanity, made holy and indivisible through the saving power of the incarnation.  In light of our common humanity, we show respect for the dignity of every human being: gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, male, female, black, white, ignorant, and learned. Or, more simply, as Jesus put it, quoting Leviticus 19, as Christians, we are called, above all to “love your neighbor as yourself.”