In light of the extreme suffering from Hurricane Harvey, claims that the hurricane was somehow God’s punishment for Homosexuality, white supremacists marching, and millions of Christians frantically trying to say “that’s not what we believe!” a conservative group calling themselves a “coalition for biblical sexuality” has released The Nashville Statement. There couldn’t have been a worse time to drop such an incendiary piece of literature.
What is it?
For starters, it’s nothing new.
Most of us have heard the beliefs of conservative fundamentalist Christians in bits and pieces at various times. This document simply collects them in one place.
It says homosexuality is a sin, sex outside of heterosexual marriage of any kind is a sin, those who do not identify as cisgender are not in alignment with God’s purposes for themselves, the world, or redemption, and it goes on to say that anyone that does not agree with these views as outlined in their document is sinning by holding a different perspective (see article 10).
Article 10 also states that those who sign this document deny that an acceptable response to these differing perspectives is to “agree to disagree,” but rather the only Christian response is to speak against these sinful perspectives, and to refuse to use language that would affirm such sinful perspectives (see article 11).
Then it affirms that Jesus came to save all sinners, and that through the grace of God those who are transgender and homosexual can forsake all these sinful ways and be made into heterosexual, cisgendered, God following Christians.
If you’re a conservative Christian, this doctrine is probably somewhat standard. If you’re a liberal Christian this entire document probably makes you cringe, ready to get on the megaphone and declare that you don’t believe that, and that this isn’t what the Bible really teaches. Most importantly, if you are LGBTQ, none of us really even have a right to try to say what you are feeling. At the very least, you must be feeling just a little extra rejected by Christians at the moment.
But real hope doesn’t come from proving anyone wrong or right, and we’re all invited into the love and freedom that the true gospel of Jesus promises.
Hang with me a minute. We’re going somewhere worthwhile. I promise.
We get caught up in defending our ideas. I get it. I did it. I was the guy on my high school campus who led the Christian clubs, and who got into debates with the leader of the Gay Straight Alliance club (If you’re reading this right now K, thank you for being in my life. I’m so much better because of you).
Here’s the thing about ideas: The moment we draw our “line in the sand” and declare that we will “die for what we believe” or anything like that, we leave behind anyone who isn’t “us.” We segregate. We make them the “other” in the wrong and make ourselves the righteous ones that “belong.”
Love breathes empathy, and when we sign statements (or oppose statements) designed to divide we cut off Love’s air supply. We suffocate her.
So that’s where we’re going. Love is in danger of dying. She can’t breath. You and I have a job to do. Together, we can breathe in empathy, and bring love back. Ready for some CPR?
The “Other” is Me
You aren’t right. You can’t be, because you can’t see the whole picture. Neither can I. Nor can the Coalition for Biblical Sexuality.
Those that follow the Bible have some great scriptures that teach this, such as those in Revelation that tell us we do not have the right to judge others, and to allow others to keep doing what they are doing rather than try to change them (Rev 21:11). We have the words of the Apostle Paul who says that Love is the only thing that truly matters; to cling to that until the day of Redemption (basically until Jesus comes back and it’s all over) because we only see in part, like looking through a dark glass (1 Cor 13).
So no matter what god you serve or what you hold as truth, part of you has to remember that it’s a partial truth, a partial knowledge–seen through the filter of all the feelings and thoughts you have ever felt or had about everything that has ever happened in your life. That’s why we need empathy.
Empathy reminds us that we are all human, that we all do things for the same core reasons, and that the “other” is really just us, seen through a different lens.
For my conservative Christian friends reading this (if you are here, you belong and you are a friend in my eyes) I get that you believe there is a unique knowledge of truth received upon salvation, and that the Holy Spirit leads you to the truths you believe/declare right now. I hear you. I’m with you. That’s why I’m encouraging us to remember that even with that reality, the Bible makes it clear that we still only see in part, we still don’t know the truth except through a dark lens, and we still have been directed by God not to judge the hearts of others.
So, for all of us, I’m going to try to do something that I have no right to do. It will be broken, incomplete, and nearsighted. Much like performing CPR is giving breaths filled mostly with toxic carbon dioxide and only some oxygen, my words will be filled with misunderstanding and only some life giving truth. But I’m going to to do it anyway, because CPR sometimes saves lives, and Love deserves everything I’ve got.
I belong to all the communities involved in this conversation in some way. I have many LGBTQ+ friends, and they mean the world to me. I have many conservative Christian friends who I deeply love as well. Plus plenty of liberals of every kind, Christian or otherwise. I try, through my dark lens, to listen to all of them, and to pursue empathy.
So I am going to try to breathe empathy into each heart that reads this, Christian or atheist, straight or gay, gender binary or not, by speaking from each perspective. Please forgive where I misrepresent you, because no matter how hard I try, I will. You would make the same mistakes too. Remember that you are a part of this conversation, and that the world needs who you are. So try to open your heart to the “other” that I present, and add your voice to our community in the comments, with links to anywhere your voice is heard more clearly than what you or I can share here. You belong, you matter, and God loves you deeply.
From: those who wrote the Nashville Statement, to those we have called sinners
We aren’t doing this out of hate. Our heart is genuinely to see the world healed of all the brokenness and suffering that exists within it, and this is what we are trying to do here. We aren’t evil, or trying to hurt you. We are your coworkers and your friends, and we are doing our best to articulate what we believe will heal the world and end suffering. We share the same goals, and our heart is that you would be whole, fulfilled, satisfied.
If what we have shared repels you from Jesus, then we have failed, because our heart is actually to share with you the most valuable thing we have ever discovered. We know a truth that changed everything when we found it. We have come into contact with God (we know you don’t believe in God, but please just hear us here). He wasn’t what we expected Him to be. He changed how we see things, and He gave us purpose, meaning, and identity. He gave us a way to pursue wholeness for ourselves and our communities, and we are trying to do that here.
We are the ones that follow those scriptures mentioned earlier. We know we see in part, and we know we can’t be absolutely certain we are right. Our scriptures teach us that. So please, don’t make us your enemy. If you try to engage us on these topics, we probably won’t get much closer to love or deeper friendship, because our beliefs are pretty set. We wouldn’t have signed this statement if they weren’t. Just keep pursuing friendship with us, forgive us when we hurt you, and trust that over time we will change our beliefs if God shows us we were off somewhere.
Jesus tells us in our scriptures that if we want to know Him, we need to spend time with the hurting, (Mat 25) and with all the hate and rejection you have experienced at the hands of the Church, you are exactly the people we need in our lives. Thank you for seeing past our differences to our hearts, and please try to pursue friendship with us. Jesus mostly spent his time with those that the religion of his day called sinners. We know deep down that those we are declaring our differences from are also exactly those that Jesus would have spent time with. Sometimes we just need reminding of it.
From the LGBTQ+ community, to those that believe what the Statement says:
We didn’t choose this. We know that’s what you believe, but it isn’t true for us. Almost none of us had a day where we said “I think I’ll choose to be gay” or “I think I’ve decided I want to be a woman instead of a man.” We were born this way. Whether that’s a genetic fact or not really isn’t important. What matters is that for us, this is who we are, and who we always have been.
You often feel ridiculed, attacked, and put down by culture. You feel you don’t have a voice and that the world is against you. If you think what you have gone through is painful, imagine being 12 in a locker room full of boys who are physically and verbally harassing you because they know you are different. Looking at them, not even fully understanding yourself why you don’t belong, and being threatened just because you don’t fit in. Imagine getting death threats because you are Christian, or being beaten by your peers for it, walking home at night wondering if you will be physically harmed tomorrow for your faith. Every one of us has gone through something like this, not because of our faith but because of something we can’t change.
You get this, because you have friends who are missionaries. They tell you stories about how they have to hide their identities so they aren’t killed, and how they can only covertly talk about the things most important to them. This is exactly what it’s like growing up LGBTQ+.
We know you met that gay or trans person who got saved and now isn’t gay anymore, that know you believe that could be us too, but think about it. Even that person you know who used to be gay or trans didn’t change until after they met Jesus, right? Yet you tell us who we are is wrong, and we have to change to meet him. That’s what we hear in these statements.
If you want us to ever get to know this Jesus or God that you talk about, don’t do things like the Nashville Statement. Please. It makes you look like you hate us. It makes it feel like all Christians want to do is force us to be someone we are not–someone we have never been and can’t even imagine ever existing.
We want the same things as you. We want to be whole, and happy, and to love well. We want to see this world healed, and to end the brokenness and suffering that we see in it every day. That’s a reason some of us end up Christian, because we are longing for the same things as you are. We aren’t your enemy and even if you don’t see us as your enemy, when you make “us” vs “them” declarations like this, you make us feel like we did in that locker room. You make us feel like we did when the youth group we went to kicked us out, or when that stranger on the street yelled insults at us and threatened us. When we read the Nashville Statement, or we see that you’ve signed it or posted something supporting it, we don’t get closer to Jesus. We don’t suddenly repent. We don’t come to a knowledge of what you call sin.
When we read the Nashville Statement, we don’t see Jesus. We only see people that don’t want us, and a God that doesn’t accept us.
If you want us to listen to you, or you have any interest whatsoever in us coming to know your Jesus, stop making statements and sharing them on Facebook. Instead, love us. Be our friends. Get to know us. Find out who we are from the inside, and try to see from our perspective. Ask questions instead of telling us answers. Find out how and why we are who and what we are. Honor us, and we will honor you. Show us acceptance, make us family, and we will listen to you. If you want to show us Jesus, then let us see Him in your love, not your doctrinal declarations of who is a sinner and who isn’t. That only alienates us from Him and you, and slows the world’s progress towards the transformation we all hope for.
Conversation in Friendship
None of this comes even close to what either of your groups deserve. Again, I’m trying to speak from both groups because in some ways I belong to both groups, and in other ways I belong to neither. I won’t get everything right, but I’m hoping to act as a bridge. You are wonderful people, and your hearts are to love others. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I believe you will find a breath that causes Love’s heart to beat anew.
From here, the only way to move forward is conversation in friendship. When we see each other as family first, and seek to see as the other sees, then we can begin to come alive with hope, and with the life that the gospel promises. Hurling our declarations will only divide us. Jesus came to dinner first, then spoke friend to friend, in relationship. Let’s know each other first, and from that place we will find Life that transforms us and the world.