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Topic: The Nashville Statement

Responding to CT’s editorial against the Nashville Statement

October 30, 2017

Mark Galli has penned an editorial criticizing the Nashville Statement in the November issue of Christianity Today. He raises a number of concerns and claims that the statement “ended up confusing some issues and has divided advocates of biblical sexuality.” In the end, he sees the statement as a failed project in spite of the good intentions of those who endorsed it.

I was disappointed to see that Galli has taken an editorial position against the Nashville Statement. My disappointment, however, is not because the statement is above criticism. It certainly isn’t. I for one welcome faithful criticism that would offer improvements based on the light of scripture. Unfortunately, Galli does not offer any such criticism. Nor does he offer even a single argument to demonstrate how the statement might fall short of God’s revelation in scripture or in nature. Not one.

Rather, Galli contends that the Nashville Statement comes up short because of who it presumably excludes and because of how it was drafted. A word about each of these items of concern:

First, Galli contends that the Nashville Statement should be rejected because it excludes Christians who embrace a gay identity. Drawing attention to Article 7 of the Statement, Galli writes:

The Nashville Statement says, “We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” This critiques those who, while honoring the Bible’s teaching to refrain from same-sex relations, still describe themselves as “gay Christians.” Some signers of the statement have argued that our identity cannot be grounded in a broken state but instead must be grounded in Christ. This argument fails to appreciate the nuances of identity, however.

Galli then goes on to argue that just as alcoholics do well to embrace their alcoholic identity, so also gay Christians do well to embrace their gay identity.

In response to this, I would simply point out that Galli’s criticism is not that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement is false or unsupported in scripture. His argument is simply that those who embrace a gay identity might disagree with it. He may be right that some who embrace a gay identity will not wish to support the statement, but that fact should not be confused with a substantive critique of Article 7 on the merits. Nor should it obscure the fact that Christians who experience same-sex attraction can and do endorse the statement (e.g., Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, Christopher Yuan).

Article 7 simply says, “We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” If Galli believes this statement to be unfaithful to scripture, then it would be much more constructive for him to tell readers how it falls short.

Notice that Article 7 focuses on God’s purpose in his creation design and in his redemptive work through Christ. The careful reader will recognize that this article is concerned with the revelation of God’s design in both nature and scripture. In what sense does Galli think it consistent with God’s design to embrace a transgender self-concept? In what sense is it consistent with God’s design to embrace a gay self-concept? Does Galli think that adopting such self-concepts are a part of God’s original design in creation? Does Galli believe that people will embrace a gay or transgender self-concept in the new heavens and the new earth?

Galli offers us no guidance on these questions, but they are precisely the kinds of questions that ordinary Christians are asking and that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement answers. And I believe the statement does so in a way that is consistent with both natural law and scriptural revelation.

Rather than answering these pressing questions, however, Galli contends that “at the root of same-sex attraction lies a genuine good: the longing for deep friendship.” In this way, Galli claims that the foundation of same-sex attraction is something good and holy. But is this really a faithful biblical account of the “root of same-sex attraction”? Does the Bible really teach that homosexual desire arises from a wholesome longing for friendship?

A biblical anthropology grounds fallen desires in the fallen human condition. Jesus teaches that sexual immorality springs from the heart (Mark 7:21-23). Paul says that sinful desire derives from a principle of sin that resides deep within all of us (Romans 7:8). As Sam Allberry has written, “Desires for things that God has forbidden are a reflection of how sin has distorted me, not how God has made me” (Is God Anti-Gay, p. 30).

The root of same-sex sexual desire, therefore, is not a “longing for deep friendship.” The root is the sinful nature from which Jesus offers redemption and freedom (Romans 6:17). This account of the human condition is absent in Galli’s critique, but it is what the Bible teaches and what the Nashville Statement affirms.

Second, Galli contends that the Nashville Statement fails because it “was largely driven by The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood… and lacked broader participation.” On what basis does Galli make the claim that the participation was too narrow? I have seen no reporting from CT on how the Nashville Statement came about. The one report that CT did produce has errors and includes no interviews with the principal framers of the statement. I have yet to have any reporter from CT ask me about how the statement came about, who the principal drafters were, who attended the meeting in Nashville, and what evangelical traditions they represent.

So what is the basis for the claim that the statement “lacked broader participation” from the evangelical community? The principal drafters in fact included a broad range of evangelical traditions including Presbyterian, Anglican, Baptist, Charismatic, non-denominational, and others. The 180+ initial signatories represent an even wider array of evangelical traditions—for example, J. I. Packer and Sam Allberry (Anglican), R. C. Sproul and Rosaria Butterfield (Presbyterian), H. B. Charles and John Piper (Baptist), John MacArthur and Kent Hughes (Independent), James Dobson (Nazarene), and the list goes on and on. This is not even to mention the denominational affiliation of the over 18,000 persons who added their names online. The reception internationally has been tremendous and has led to translations of the statement into German, Spanish, and Chinese. Whether this representation would be broad enough for CT, I cannot say. But to say that the statement lacked broad participation is unfounded and misleading. The participation in this effort went far beyond CBMW’s usual constituency.

At the end of the day, the success of the Nashville Statement will not be measured in how many people signed the statement. It was never our aim to make signing the statement a test of orthodoxy. In fact, the point of the signatures was merely to enable us to commend the statement to as broad a swath of evangelicals as possible. The statement will be a success if its affirmations and denials find resonance in the hearts of ordinary Christians–if they recognize in the statement a faithful representation of scriptural teaching. That success will take time to accrue, but we are already seeing evidence that it is happening.

The Nashville Statement is not a culture-war document. It is a church document. It stakes out no public policy positions. It advocates for no particular piece of legislation or political program. Rather, it was drafted by churchmen from a variety of evangelical traditions who aim to catechize God’s people about their place in the true story of the world. And fundamental to that storyline is our “personal and physical design as male and female.”

We believe that God’s design for his world and his people is not bad news but good news. And that is what we wish to proclaim. We all stand in need of grace. This story of sin and repentance, of faith and forgiveness is our story too. It is our hope and prayer that everyone who reads The Nashville Statement will find it to be their story as well.

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