The recent release of the so-called Nashville Statement by a large group of conservative Evangelical opinion-leaders drew attention for its signatories’ obsession with the rapid normalization of LGBTQ folk in the United States and elsewhere. The statement purports to be a line-in-the-sand orthodox Christian declaration against the “secular spirit of the age” when it comes to sexual morality generally, and it does in passing condemn “sexual intercourse before or outside marriage.” But as my colleague Andrew Sullivan notes, not all of the fruits of the sexual revolution preoccupy these leaders:
[Y]ou immediately wonder if the statement is going to condemn divorce or contraception or multiple successive marriages or pornography or masturbation or countless other questions of sexual morality that heterosexuals grapple with. And you can search the document for any thoughts on these questions. In fact, it has almost nothing to say to 97 percent of humanity on sexual matters.
What it does instead is condemn the 3 percent.
There is, actually, a segment of the “97 percent” the Nashville Statement does condemn: Christians who do not share their views toward “the 3 percent” are not really Christian. That is the clear meaning of the Statement’s 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.
If there was any doubt about the anathema being hurled at affirming Christians, then Denny Burk, the president of the group that sponsored the statement, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, subsequently cleared it up:
Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.
As Sarah Jones points out at the New Republic, this is a radical proposition coming from Protestants, however dogmatic:
Evangelicals obey no canon law; each denomination is responsible for itself, an outgrowth of the Protestant belief in the individual priesthood of every believer. There is no evangelical magisterium, dictating the terms of excommunication and apostasy. Yet, in the Nashville Statement, the CBMW casts itself in exactly this role.
And as Jones also observes, this non–papal bull is supported by a cast of characters who transcend the current Evangelical argument over Donald Trump and the affiliation of the godly with the entirely secular goals of the Republican Party. The two big Southern Baptist dissenters against the Evangelical “marriage of convenience” with Trump and the GOP, Russell Moore and Albert Mohler, both signed the Nashville Statement. This should probably put paid to the idea that a new and younger cadre of Evangelical leaders are in the wings who will abandon the Christian right’s culture war.
The gauntlet the signatories of the Nashville Statement are throwing down may most notably involve homosexuality, but it’s rooted in biblical inerrancy, which has become a dogmatic justification for every imaginable kind of reactionary cultural, economic, and political point of view (especially, as Sarah Jones notes, anti-feminist patriarchy), just as it once served to rationalize slavery and then Jim Crow. For Christians, the “line in the sand” on sexuality is forcing a very basic choice, as Andrew Sullivan points out:
I believe that for an entire generation, this question is a litmus test for whether Christianity really is about love, and whether the Gospels (which have nothing to say about homosexuality) should even get a hearing.
For the present, it’s worth noting simply that the signatories of the Nashville Statement are trying to read right out of Christianity the Episcopalians, Lutherans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Moravians, Mennonites, Disciples of Christ, Unitarian-Universalists, and others, who formally accept LGBTQ folk as they are, not to mention the large majorities of members of many other Christian communities, including Catholics, who have no problem with “the 3 percent.”