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Why Nashville and Why Now?

November 16, 2022

Editor’s note: The following essay appears in the Fall 2022 issue of Eikon.

When I left the office of CBMW on the last Monday of August 2017, I did not yet know what we were about to unleash. It was the eve of the public release of the Nashville Statement. Three days earlier, we had convened a meeting of over 80 Christian leaders and scholars in Nashville, Tennessee to finalize a doctrinal statement concerning the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and gender identity. We had three days to gather initial signatories before the statement’s public release on Tuesday, August 29. We were elated about the impressive list of evangelical signatories who signed-on in those three days — J.I. Packer, R. C. Sproul, Jim Dobson, John Piper, Albert Mohler, Kevin DeYoung, John MacArthur, Don Carson, Marvin Olasky, H. B. Charles, Rosaria Butterfield, Nancy Leigh DeMoss, and many more. It was a veritable who’s who of evangelical leaders and scholars. We could hardly have been more pleased by the response from signatories on the eve of the public release.

And yet as I left the office that evening, I remained dubious about how much of an impact the statement would make. After all, when CBMW launched the Danvers Statement 30 years earlier, only one media outlet (Christianity Today) showed up to the press conference.[1] Why would anyone pay attention to a doctrinal statement that simply proclaims what Christians everywhere have believed for the last 2,000 years about sexual morality? We never intended for the Nashville Statement to be a culture war document. We designed it to be a resource for churches and ministries who wanted a faithful articulation of the Bible’s teaching on one of the most difficult and pressing challenges of our time. Would anyone pay attention to this? I wasn’t sure that they would. So as I was leaving, I stopped in the doorway and said to the staff, “I hope someone will cover this. Maybe Christianity Today will pick it up?”[2]

Little did I know that — within the next few days — The Nashville Statement would be covered by news outlets from coast to coast and would be going viral online for days and weeks to come. The overwhelming response was provoked by the Mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry, who denounced the statement in a tweet: “The @CBMWorg’s so-called ‘Nashville Statement’ is poorly named and does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville.” Those 22 words thrust the Nashville Statement into the national spotlight and under the scrutiny of mainstream media who tried to portray the statement as a culture war artifact. They were wrong about that, but sadly the impression seemed to stick with many. 

The New York Times ran an op-ed titled “The Nashville Statement Is an Attack on L.G.B.T. Christians.”[3] The Washington Post included a straight news piece by Katelyn Beatty suggesting that the impetus for the Nashville Statement was somehow connected to support for President Trump.[4] The New Republic argued that “The Nashville Statement Is the Religious Right’s Death Rattle” and that “Beneath an unequivocal stance against queer sexual orientation lies a deep insecurity about the Christian right’s position in American politics.”[5] A number of celebrities piled on as well, denigrating the Nashville Statement and its authors as sexually repressed bigots acting out in the culture war.[6]

These reports were wildly inaccurate. Nevertheless, this coverage gave the impression that the point of the Nashville Statement was simply an effort by the religious right to whip up the culture war for political purposes. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Ironically, no news outlet reporting on The Nashville Statement ever asked me or the other principal drafter for an interview. To this day, no reporter has asked me who the principal drafters even were, why we came together to draft it, who was in the room in Nashville versus who signed after the fact. If they had asked me, I would have told them that the narrative woven by the media is a gross distortion.[7]

I also would have told them about the drafters’ real aims. The Nashville Statement was never intended as a culture-war document. It was intended as a resource for churches and ministries.[8] It is not a manifesto to the world but a confession for the church. 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.” Those of us who drafted The Nashville Statement saw a need for the church to confess what it has always believed and to do so faithfully given the current challenges that she faces. We were hoping to produce a resource that could help with that.

The question before us five years hence is whether we achieved that aim. I think we did. Since 2017, more churches and Christian institutions than we can count have adopted the Nashville Statement in one way or another. In 2019, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America voted to commend the Nashville Statement as a “Biblically Faithful Declaration” and as “affirming these orthodox, historic truths.”[9] The PCA adopted this measure as an answer to the Revoice conference, which had been hosted by a PCA church in the Missouri Presbytery. Also in 2019, the Southern Baptist Convention drafted and adopted a resolution “On Sexuality and Personal Identity” that made use of language from the Nashville Statement.[10] In 2017, “The Board of Trustees of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary unanimously approved a recommendation to adopt ‘The Nashville Statement’ as an official part of the school’s confessional documents.”[11] The board at Reformed Theological Seminary approved Nashville as a standard for its board members.[12] Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees unanimously adopted Nashville as a confessional standard in 2019, followed by the trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 2020.[13] Cedarville University adopted Nashville among its clarifying documents, and Union University trustees adopted a unanimous resolution of “appreciation for the biblical clarity and genuine compassion of the Nashville Statement and applauded [President] Oliver and other members of the Union faculty who were among its initial signers.”[14] Trustees at Southwest Baptist University voted to require its religion faculty to affirm the Nashville Statement.[15] And the list goes on and on. It has been impossible to track all the churches who have adopted Nashville since those actions rarely make it into news reports, but we have been privy to anecdotal evidence that churches have used the statement widely as well.[16] The institutional buy-in to the Nashville Statement has far exceeded our initial expectations over the last five years.[17]

We needed the Nashville Statement in 2017, and we still need it now. Even within the evangelical movement, we are still not all on the same page when it comes to sexuality, marriage, and gender identity. There are some within the evangelical movement who are surveying the situation and are trying to convince us that we can simply agree to disagree about the definition of marriage, the moral status of homosexuality, and gender identity. Some evangelicals will choose traditional views, and some will not. Our differences should not lead us to treat someone as outside the faith. But are they right when they make this claim?

Those of us who drafted and signed the Nashville Statement believe that those voices are not right. Five years ago, we believed that the time was ripe to make an unambiguous declaration of our allegiance to the Lord Jesus and to his revelation about who we are as sexual beings. Many of us believe that the fundamental challenge of our time is anthropological. Western man does not know who he is anymore. And he does not know himself because he does not know his God and Creator. He believes that his meaning and identity are self-determined, not God-determined.[18] And he is raging against anyone or anything that would brook his self-determination.

Evangelicals at the beginning of the twenty-first century find themselves in a situation of great conflict over sexuality and gender. As we ask in the Preamble:

Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim that his way is the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

Those of us who met in Nashville on August 25, 2017 showed up to answer that question in the affirmative. It is my aim in this essay to demonstrate why every Christian today should answer that question in the affirmative as well.

The Nashville Statement does indeed point the way forward for evangelicals, and it does so by addressing four challenges that evangelicals are facing: It addresses in biblical terms the moral status of (1) gay marriage, (2) disordered sexual desire, (3) gay and transgender identity, and (4) theological triage. There is much division in the evangelical world on each one of those questions. But our hope and prayer are that a declaration like this one would be a rallying cry for God’s people to the truth.

Gay Marriage

Shifting attitudes on homosexuality among self-identified evangelicals is beyond dispute at this point. In the summer of 2017, the Pew Research Center reported a dramatic shift in attitudes toward favoring gay marriage among a younger generation of white evangelicals…

Just a decade ago, the gap between younger evangelicals and older evangelicals on the issue was not wide, according to the Pew Research Center. But a new survey suggests that the generational divide has grown much wider, with about half of evangelicals born after 1964 now favoring gay marriage.

According to Pew, 47 percent of Generation X/millennial evangelicals (those born after 1964) favor gay marriage, compared with 26 percent of boomer and older evangelicals (those born between 1928 and 1964).[19]

The generational divide is clear. And it is not moving in the right direction. Attitudes have shifted dramatically among millennial evangelicals, and they have revisionist teachers greasing the skids for them. You no longer have to go to a mainline church or seminary to find revisionist biblical accounts of sexuality and gender. These trends are increasingly making inroads into the evangelical movement at the popular level.

It was only in 2014 that Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian hit the shelves, making the case that you can believe in biblical authority and embrace committed same-sex relationships.[20] He argues that the church has been wrong about homosexuality for the last two-thousand years because it has been misreading the Bible. Newer, revisionist accounts are the faithful readings. The older readings are not just wrong. Indeed, they are also repressive and harmful. Vines says nothing new in his book. He simply popularizes the work of James Brownson’s 2013 book Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships.[21]

Brownson and Vines represent a new departure in these conversations among evangelicals. In the past, evangelicals have been able to sniff-out erroneous approaches to these questions because the old way of affirming gay marriage typically began with dismissing the authority of scripture. For example, in a 2007 article on “Homosexuality and the Church,” New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson writes:

I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality — namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.[22]

You have to give credit to Luke Timothy Johnson for his honesty. His affirmation of gay marriage is downstream from his rejection of inerrancy and the authority of scripture. He makes that clear, and any evangelical with a modicum of discernment can detect up front that the prior issue is his rejection of the authority of scripture.

What Brownson and especially Vines achieve in their work is particularly significant, because they do not signal a rejection of the authority of scripture. Vines and Brownson want evangelicals to know that they can embrace gay marriage not because they reject the Bible but because they believe the Bible. They make the case that one can affirm the authority of scripture and gay marriage all at once. They offer revisionist readings and are careful not to offer an explicit denunciation of scripture when doing so. In this way, they are making an appeal to evangelicals in particular and are telling them that they can have their doctrine of inerrancy and gay marriage too.[23]

This is not the place to rehash criticisms of Brownson’s and Vines’s work. This has been ably done at length elsewhere.[24] Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the path that Brownson and Vines lay out is an enormous temptation for struggling believers who feel that they don’t have social capital to spare in order to stand for conjugal marriage. Brownson and Vines offer the strugglers a way to avoid the reproaches of Christ even as they claim to uphold the authority of scripture. It is that temptation that the Nashville Statement wishes to confront.

The Nashville Statement leaves no room for such revisions, nor does it leave ambiguity on the question. Article 1 reads as follows:

WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.

WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.

In the Nashville Statement, we are not merely reasserting what the Bible says about the moral status of homosexuality. We are also saying that the gospel of Jesus of Christ offers hope for those laboring under the power of this particular temptation. As Article 12 articulates:

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

We labor for moral clarity on these points not so that we can say, “Gays, keep out!” Instead we are standing with our arms wide open saying, “Please, come in. Come to the waters of life available to any and every sinner who turns from sin to trust in Christ.” But we cannot make plain the path to life to those who think they do not need it. And the revisionists of our time — the Brownsons and the Vines — are leading these dear people away from Jesus and not to Jesus because they are telling them that they have no judgment to fear. This is the opposite of love.

Disordered Sexual Desire

In February 2014, I wrote an essay for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission titled “Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?”[25] In the article, I quoted portions from Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting — portions that I believed to support my argument. Later that month, Wesley disagreed with me in an essay titled “Is Being Gay Sanctifiable?”[26] Wesley made the case that while some aspects of same-sex attraction or gay orientation might be fallen, not all aspects are fallen. In particular, those aspects that lead to chaste same-sex friendships are not sinful but, on the contrary, are sanctifiable. Wesley pushed back against my essay and Rosaria Butterfield’s then-recent book because we both had argued that homosexual attraction was sinful and needed to be repented of.[27] His underlying point is that it would be wrong for Christians to repent of same-sex attraction since same-sex attraction is not all bad. There were redeemable parts to same-sex attraction that needed to be clung to and cultivated and cherished.

Later that same year (2014), Wesley and I, along with Preston Sprinkle and Owen Strachan, came together in a session at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, and we tried to hash all of this out. We all presented papers followed by a spirited panel discussion. I had hoped that we might come to some common ground. While I think we may have come to understand each other better, we were still at odds over the moral status of same-sex attraction/orientation.

Wesley’s book Spiritual Friendship came out in early 2015. The book I wrote with Heath Lambert, Transforming Homosexuality, came out later in 2015.[28] Preston Sprinkle’s book People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue also came out in late 2015.[29] Our books made clear that we were still at odds over what the Bible has to say about homosexual orientation. This was hard because both sides of this debate were pointing to the Bible as our authority. Both sides agree about the Bible’s prohibition on same-sex acts. Both sides are professing an orthodox evangelical faith. And yet we found ourselves at an impasse concerning gay attraction and orientation. Our differences on this point have both theological and practical implications that cannot be ignored.

We were not the only parties to this conversation. If you were paying attention in 2014, 2015, and 2016, you saw the back and forth with Rosaria Butterfield, Owen Strachan, Sam Allberry, myself, and others forming one pole in this dispute and Wesley Hill, Ron Belgau, Preston Sprinkle, Nate Collins, and others forming an opposite pole. Notwithstanding the Roman Catholics at Spiritual Friendship, this had really shaken things up in evangelical conversations about sexuality.[30]

Even within my little subset of reformed evangelicalism, we were not all on the same page. In 2014, Reformed evangelicals were all over the place on this. In fact, we were not even using terms in the same way and could not come to agreement on what was meant by “orientation” and “attraction.” For that reason, one of our aims in spearheading the Nashville Statement was to come up with biblical language that spoke to the issues in spite of our disagreement about disputed terms. The astute reader will note that the terms orientation, gender, same-sex attraction, and identity appear nowhere in the affirmations and denials of The Nashville Statement. Instead of defining disputed terms like orientation and same-sex attraction, we accessed the Bible’s language about desire. And we did it perhaps most clearly in Articles 9 and 12:

WE AFFIRM that sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality — a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.

WE DENY that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.

WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.

WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.

These articles declare that sin corrupts not merely our deeds but also our desires. This applies to every person, not just gay people. Christ aims to transform and sanctify our deeds, but he also aims to transform and sanctify our desires. That is the fundamental issue. A desire for gay sex can never be a holy desire and can never bear the good fruit of chaste same-sex friendships, and that is why it must be repented of. The Nashville Statement clarifies this point.

Gay Identity

As I mentioned above, careful readers of the Nashville Statement will notice that we did not use the term “identity” anywhere in the affirmations and denials. In the drafting process, the term was so contested that we ended up leaving it out. I have since discovered that we are not the only ones who have had difficulty with this term. Eighteen years ago, Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper said that the term’s meaning is vague in social scientific literature. They write,

Whatever its suggestiveness, whatever its indispensability in certain practical contexts, ‘identity’ is too ambiguous, too torn between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ meanings, essentialist connotations and constructivist qualifiers, to serve well the demands of social analysis.[31] Brubaker and Cooper attempt to sort this out in a 47-page essay, but still today the term can have ambiguous denotations and connotations.

What do we mean when we use the word “identity”? I am convinced that this is a term more frequently used than thought about. Oftentimes, people deploy the term without being sure exactly what they mean by it. Perhaps as a point of departure, we could access the definition provided in the Handbook of Self and Identity:

The traits and characteristics, social relations, roles, and social group memberships that define who one is… Identities are orienting, they provide a meaning-making lens and focus one’s attention on some but not other features of the immediate context.[32]

That definition is good so far as it goes, but it still leaves us with questions. Is “identity” as a category something that is self-constructed, socially constructed, or perhaps both? If it is constructed in some sense, is that even the right way to go about determining what a human being is? Doesn’t the Christian tradition treat human ontology as a matter prior to and not contingent upon any human construction?

Ryan Peterson has shown that “the language of ‘identity’ has received wide acceptance” not only in the social sciences but also “in theological discourse,” and yet “the meanings of ‘identity’ have not been clearly articulated” nor has identity-language “been related to the traditional categories of theological anthropology.”[33] This is a huge weakness in theological discourse that accesses identity language. Identity language is on the rise, and yet we so often are not even sure what we are referring to when we use it.

Peterson argues that if we are going to make fruitful use of the term, then we have to make a distinction between “created and constructed identities.” On the one hand, a constructed identity is a human construal of what a person is. Whatever that construal may be, its key feature is that it is a human construction. And that human structure is malleable — it can change over time. As a human construction, identity is not fixed. On the other hand, “Created identities are those divinely determined realities that (1) make a creature the particular creature that it is, (2) fix the creature’s purpose in creation, and (3) fix the creature’s appropriate end.”[34] The key feature of a created identity is that it is divinely determined and prior to any human construction.

That truth reveals a problem that we face in the fallen human condition. Human constructions may or may not match the divinely created identity. In Peterson’s words, “God is Creator and Lord, and the effort to arrive at self-definition apart from God is understood as sinful.”[35] Peterson is not talking about sexuality in this essay. He’s talking about theological anthropology more broadly. Nevertheless, he has put his finger on something that is absolutely salient to our discussion about gay identity. Any attempt at self-definition that contradicts one’s created identity is fundamentally sinful. This is the ancient wisdom of Psalm 100:3: “Know that the LORD Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves…”[36] God determines who we are quite apart from and prior to any consideration we have of ourselves.

The primary issue at hand concerns how we define or construe ourselves and whether our self-definition involves an attempt to evade God’s created design or an attempt to embrace it. So-called “Side B” Christians — like those associated with the Revoice conference — have used the moniker “gay Christian” as an identity category. Even though they reject homosexual acts, they still view themselves as “gay Christians” and identify as such.

In the Nashville Statement, we did not use the term “identity” to get at this. Instead, we used the term “self-concept.” Why? Because It was our aim to say that our self-construal is morally implicated. This is most clearly seen in Articles 5, 7, and 13, but I will focus on Article 7:

WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.

WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

The key term in Article 7 is “self-conception.” A self-concept is not merely what comes to mind when a person thinks of himself. It is also “what one believes is true of oneself.”[37] It is different from a self-perception, which implies a passive moral agency at best and which might also include an acknowledgement of one’s fallenness. A self-conception involves an agent’s active construal of himself in light of God’s revelation. No matter what our self-conception is, it ought to conform to God’s design in creating us and to the redemption of the body in the new creation. Homosexual and transgender self-concepts do not conform to God’s design, and therefore should not be embraced as true.

Theological Triage

The answer to the question of doctrinal triage — in my view — is as important as any other question that we are answering with the Nashville Statement. Why? Because one of the ways people corrupt sound teaching is not by an all-out revision of traditional interpretations of scripture, but by an attempt to demote LGBTQ+ issues to a second- or third-order doctrine.[38] They suggest that differences over the questions among otherwise faithful Christians really should not be dividing us.

For example, Stephen R. Holmes argues for the traditional view of marriage, and yet he also argues that the church needs to make “pastoral accommodation” for committed gay couples who wish to join the church and to be a part of the church’s life.[39] Just as divorced and remarried Christians are allowed to be members in good standing, so too should gay couples who wish to be a part of the church. Holmes writes, “Suppose a gay couple with children profess faith as a result of the outreach of the church. Is the breaking up of the family unit a pre-requisite for taking their profession of faith seriously? For baptism? For membership?”[40] Holmes’s answer is essentially a “no.” Pastoral accommodations should be made that allow the immoral relationship to continue even as the congregant is baptized and accepted into the church’s membership.

Another example we could point to is the conversation that unfolded among a handful of Christian writers late in the summer of 2017 before the release of the Nashville Statement. James K. A. Smith and Alan Jacobs both wrote arguing that those who affirm homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage can nevertheless be “orthodox” Christians.[41] An affirmation of untraditional sexual behavior need not nullify an affirmation of the creeds. They made their arguments, but they did not in the process announce a change in their own affirmation of conjugal marriage. They were merely saying that homosexual affirmation is not a matter of “orthodoxy.” Four years later, however, Smith wrote a social media post announcing an affirming position towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals.[42]

Wesley Hill also waded into the discussion about the proper deployment of the term “orthodoxy” when it comes to current controversies about sexuality. Hill has been a consistent opponent of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, he too recognizes as Christian those who embrace an “affirming” position. Hill writes:

As much as lies within me, until I have good reason to believe otherwise, I want to assume that my interlocutors who affirm same-sex marriage and who say the same creed with me each Sunday do so in good faith, and deserve to be answered on the basis of the orthodox Christian theology they profess…

As much as I think the revisionist view of the morality of same-sex sexual intimacy is blatantly and tragically wrong, I cannot see that all of those who hold it have ceased to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, and therefore I cannot see my way clear to remove myself from fellowship with them.[43]

The issue of who the church recognizes as Christian is a fundamental question for all of us. And here, Hill makes the case that even though he strongly disagrees with those who promote the “affirming” view, he still must recognize them as brothers and sisters in Christ and maintain fellowship with them so long as they continue to affirm the creeds.

It is here that the difference between us emerges. To see it, you have to think about how Hill’s stance plays out in the life of a local church. I am a pastor. Suppose a man in my congregation comes to me and says, “I feel like the Lord is leading me to marry so-and-so. So-and-so is married to an ungodly man. She desires a godly husband, and I want to be that for her. So she is going to divorce him to marry me.” The man goes on to explain that his relationship with this other man’s wife is actually not contrary to his commitment to Christ but will enable both him and the other man’s wife to follow Christ more faithfully. (That may sound far-fetched to you, but I have actually heard this defense of adultery before.)

As a pastor, what is my proper response to this would-be adulterer? Shall I confirm his affirmation of creedal orthodoxy and then let the adultery slide? He is, after all, not renouncing any fundamental doctrinal commitment. We are merely having a disagreement over a forthcoming divorce and remarriage. Since we have so much in common otherwise, should I just celebrate our common “creedal grammar” and continue to make appeals to him while staying united in fellowship?

I hope that you can see that such a response would be pastoral malpractice on my part. My actions would suggest affirmation even though I may personally hold a traditional view of marriage. The only proper response to such a situation would be to call that brother and sister to repentance and to make every effort to restore the sister’s marriage insofar as it is possible to do so. If the brother and sister resist calls to repentance, then the faithful and loving response is for the church to pursue that couple with church discipline. If they continue to resist the church’s call to repentance, then they must be excommunicated — meaning that they must be set outside of the church and no longer treated as a brother and sister in Christ.

Christ commands us to do this (Matt 18:15–18). The apostle Paul rebukes a church for failing to do this (1 Cor 5:1–2). It is not that Christians can never be in error without being excommunicated. It’s that the church can never be indifferent or passive toward brothers and sisters who fail to respond to such reproof. The church ultimately has to refuse to recognize sexual immorality as consistent with an authentic Christian commitment.

If the church’s obligation is clear with respect to adultery, why would it be unclear with respect to homosexual immorality? If I understand Hill and Smith and Jacobs correctly, their argument would treat homosexual immorality as a special case in the life of a church. If someone sincerely holds to creedal orthodoxy and sincerely pursues or promotes a revisionist view of marriage, then the church must not disfellowship them but must continue to recognize them as Christian. This seems to me the opposite of what scripture commands us to do. This seems like a sure-fire way for the church to lose its distinction from the world altogether.

If a church that holds to biblical marriage allows members to affirm the sanctity of homosexual relationships, what is the difference between that church and an “affirming” church? A church will either recognize gay marriages or not. A church will either ordain “affirming” clergy or not. There is no in-between position at the practical, congregational level. And if a church does not enforce moral boundaries in a way that is consistent with its traditional beliefs, then its ecclesial practice is no different from a church that affirms homosexual relationships. It is a de facto “affirming” church.

That is why Article 10 is absolutely critical to the Nashville Statement. It is a work of theological triage in that it shows the priority of this issue in our doctrinal commitments. Article 10 says this:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgender self-conceptions and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that homosexual immorality and transgender self-conceptions are matters of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Article 10 is not about adiaphora or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It is declaring that the affirming position is not merely aberrant Christianity. It is not Christianity at all. If this point is lost, then all is lost.


Why do we need the Nashville Statement, and why do we need it now? The reason is because Christians of every generation must follow Christ no matter what is thrown at them from the surrounding culture. In our generation, Christians in the West face massive resistance to what the Bible teaches about marriage, sexuality, and gender identity. It is becoming more and more costly socially, professionally, and legally to hew to the Bible’s teaching on these things. Moreover, many ordinary Christians have been caught unprepared to answer some of these new questions. We wrote the Nashville Statement not as an innovation but as a rearticulation of the ancient faith in the face of current challenges. Our aim was to provide a resource for Christians and ministries who wished for their own confessional language to this end. We have achieved the aim, but the work still goes on. The challenges have only become more acute, and we have only just begun to meet them.

Denny R. Burk is President of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Editor-in-Chief of Eikon.

[1] Wayne Grudem, “Personal Reflections on the History of CBMW and the State of the Gender Debate,” The Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood 14, no. 1 (2009): 14.

[2] The editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, wrote an opinion piece criticizing the Nashville Statement a couple months after its release. He complained that the statement lacked “broader participation” and excluded those who wish to identify as “gay Christians.” See Mark Galli, “What To Do with Statements and Confessions,” Christianity Today 61.9 (November 2017): 30. I responded to Galli’s editorial in Denny Burk, “Responding to CT’s editorial against the Nashville Statement,” CBMW, October 30, 2017,

[3] Eliel Cruz, “The Nashville Statement Is an Attack on L.G.B.T. Christians,” The New York Times, September 1, 2017,

[4] Katelyn Beaty, “Why Even Conservative Evangelicals Are Unhappy with the Anti-LGBT Nashville Statement,” The Washington Post, August 31, 2017,

[5] Sarah Jones, “The Nashville Statement Is the Religious Right’s Death Rattle,” The New Republic, September 5, 2017,

[6] E.g., Denis Leary,; Patton Oswalt,; Rachel Dratch,; Bradley Whitford,; Marlee Matlin,; Joy-Ann Reid,;

[7] I do not have space in this article to give a comprehensive account of how the Nashville Statement came about. So I will give a brief account of one part of it — the drafting process. I wrote the first draft of the Nashville Statement in early 2017. I sent the draft to Albert Mohler and John Piper for their feedback. Both of them replied that the draft was inadequate. Mohler suggested that the draft be re-written in the form of affirmations and denials. I produced a second draft in the form of affirmations and denials, and then shared it with Piper. Piper responded with a revision so substantial that he would have to be considered a co-author. His revision led to a protracted back-and-forth between the two of us over the theological details of the statement. Once we finally had a draft we both were happy with, I began circulating the draft privately and widely to other Christian leaders and theologians for their input and feedback, and the draft underwent further revision as a result of that feedback. Some of those offering feedback made it to the meeting in Nashville, and some of them didn’t. One week before meeting in Nashville, we shared the draft with those signed up to attend the conference. All the attendees had a chance to offer feedback on the draft before arriving in Nashville. On the day before the meeting in Nashville, a small drafting committee composed primarily of CBMW council members weighed and incorporated feedback from conference attendees. By the time we began our meeting in Nashville, we had a draft that had been heavily vetted and edited. During debate and discussion time, some final changes were made. Finally, those attending the meeting voted overwhelmingly to approve the draft. There were not any “no” votes.

[8] I elaborated these points in Denny Burk, “Keeping Christianity Weird: Why the Nashville Statement Matters,” The Hill, September 3, 2017,

[9] Kate Shellnutt, “PCA Sides With the Nashville Statement Over Revoice’s Approach,” Christianity Today, June 28, 2019, See also Overture 4 from the 2019 General Assembly of the PCA:

[10] Matt Damico, “News: SBC Resolution on Sexuality Influenced by Nashville Statement,” CBMW, June 14, 2019,

[11] Andrew J. W. Smith, “Southern Seminary Trustees Vote to Adopt ‘The Nashville Statement’ as an Official Confessional Document,” News – SBTS, October 10, 2017,

[12] I was made aware of this action by the Chancellor of RTS.

[13] T. Patrick Hudson, “Midwestern Seminary Trustees Adopt ‘Nashville Statement,’ Conduct Significant Business during Spring Meeting,” Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, April 11, 2019,; Alex Sibley, “Southwestern Seminary Will Move Forward ‘Stronger than Ever before,’ Greenway Tells Trustees – TEXAN Online,” Southern Baptist Texan, April 8, 2020, sec. SBC,

[14] “Trustees Mark 20th Anniversary of Union University Germantown,” Union University, September 8, 2017, I learned about the action by Cedarville trustees from the President of the university.

[15] Brian Kaylor, “SBU Adds 3 Creedal Statements for Religion Professors,” Word & Way (blog), September 9, 2020,

[16] I have also seen reports about various Baptist state conventions adopting all or part of the Nashville Statement. E.g, Colin Smothers, “Arkansas Baptist State Convention Affirms Nashville Statement ‘without Equivocation,’” CBMW, December 6, 2017,

[17] There are many notable evangelicals who did not sign the Nashville Statement. Our aim, however, was never merely to collect a list of signatories. Our aim from the beginning was to effect institutional buy-in. We wanted to persuade Christian institutions to adopt the Nashville Statement (or something like it) as a part of their own confessional framework. The collection of signatures was merely a way to commend the statement to Christian institutions for their prayerful consideration and adoption.

On the five year anniversary of the Nashville Statement, the founder of Revoice Nate Collins called on endorsers to “repent” of their signing the Nashville Statement (see Nate Collins, Twitter post, August 29, 2022, 10:27 a.m.,  Collins’ call for repentance is both wrong on the merits and wrong about the relevance of signatories. Again, maintaining a list of signatories is not the point. Institutional buy-in is the point, and that continues apace. Since Collins’ call to repentance, 2 people have asked to have their names removed while 59 people have asked to have their names added. None of the “initial signatories” have asked to have their names removed since Collins’ call to repentance. I think this shows that signatories by and large still resonate with the biblical doctrines so clearly articulated in the Nashville Statement.

[18] Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2020); Carl R. Trueman, Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2022).

[19] Sarah Pulliam Bailey, “Poll Shows a Dramatic Generational Divide in White Evangelical Attitudes on Gay Marriage,” The Washington Post, June 27, 2017,

[20] Matthew Vines, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (New York: Convergent, 2014).

[21] James V. Brownson, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013).

[22] Luke Timothy Johnson and Eve Tushnet, “Homosexuality and the Church: Two Views,” Commonweal, June 15, 2007,

[23] Since the publication of the Nashville Statement, others have continued in this kind of argument. For example, see Karen R. Keen, Scripture, Ethics & the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2018). She writes, “Accepting same-sex relationships does not require compromising Scripture… I firmly believe it is possible to imagine a new response to the gay community — and to do so with faithfulness to God’s Word” (ibid., 103, 114).

[24] E.g., Preston Sprinkle, “Romans 1 and Homosexuality: A Critical Review of James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 24, no. 4 (2014): 515–28; R. Albert Mohler, Jr., ed., God and the Gay Christian: A Response to Matthew Vines, Conversant (Louisville, KY: SBTS Press, 2014).

[25] Denny Burk, “Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?,” Canon & Culture (blog), February 18, 2014,

[26] Wesley Hill, “Is Being Gay Sanctifiable?,” Spiritual Friendship (blog), February 26, 2014, Later that year, Hill expanded on this thesis in “Is Being Gay Sanctifiable?,” in Issues in Sexuality and Gender (66th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, San Diego, CA, 2014).

[27] Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into Christian Faith (Pittsburgh, PA: Crown & Covenant, 2012). Hill took issue with Rosaria’s insistence that same-sex attraction needed to be mortified. Rosaria writes: “What good Christians don’t realize is that sexual sin is not recreational sex gone overboard. Sexual sin is predatory. It won’t be “healed” by redeeming the context or the genders. Sexual sin must simply be killed. What is left of your sexuality after this annihilation is up to God. But healing, to the sexual sinner, is death; nothing more and nothing less.” Hill later went on to develop this more fully in his 2015 book Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015).

[28] Denny Burk and Heath Lambert, Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change (Phillipsburg, N.J.: P&R, 2015).

[29] Preston Sprinkle, People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).

[30] That conversation came to a head after the publication of the Nashville Statement with the launch of the Revoice conference in the summer of 2018. The founder of Revoice, Nate Collins, has said that he started Revoice in part as a reaction against Nashville. In a 2018 interview, Collins told Katelyn Beaty, “The NS embodied a posture towards the conversation about gender and sexuality that was pastorally insensitive and missiologically counterproductive… I personally view the NS as a form of spiritual abuse.” See Katelyn Beaty, “Why Celibate LGBTQ Christians Stir Controversy on Right and Left Alike,” Religion News Service, August 16, 2018,

The debate over the ethics of same-sex attraction continued apace after the publication of the Nashville Statement. The Revoice conference was founded as a so-called “Side B” response and repudiation of Nashville. That debate sharpened to a focus on the Bible’s teaching about concupiscience. E.g., Denny Burk and Rosaria Butterfield, “Learning to Hate Our Sin without Hating Ourselves,” Public Discourse, July 4, 2018,

[31] Rogers Brubaker and Frederick Cooper, “Beyond ‘Identity,’” Theory and Society 29, no. 1 (2000): 1–47.

[32] Daphna Oyserman, Kristen Elmore, and George Smith, “Self, Self-Concept, and Identity,” in Handbook of Self and Identity, ed. Mark R. Leary and June Price Tangney, 2nd ed. (New York: Guilford, 2012), 69.

[33] Ryan S. Peterson, “Created and Constructed Identities in Theological Anthropology,” in The Christian Doctrine of Humanity: Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics, ed. Oliver D. Crisp and Fred Sanders, Explorations in Constructive Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018), 124.

[34] Peterson, 138.

[35] Peterson, 126-27.

[36] This translation of Psalm 100:3 is from the NASB and appears at the head of the Nashville Statement. Most modern translations, however, follow the Qere (the marginal reading) rather than the Kethib (the consonantal text), which is reflected in the NASB. The ESV represents the Qere reading as follows: “Know that the LORD, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his.” See the explanation in the NET Bible notes on Psalm 100:3: “The suffixed preposition ) לו”to him”( was confused aurally with the negative particle לא because the two sound identical.” For our purposes, either reading would support the overall theological point we are making with this verse. God created us, and our “identity” is contingent upon his design.


[37] Oyserman, Elmore, and Smith, “Self, Self-Concept, and Identity,” 69 (italics mine).

[38] See “theological triage” in R. Albert Mohler, Jr., “Confessional Evangelicalism,” in Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 68–96. See also R. Albert Mohler, Jr., He Is Not Silent: Preaching in a Postmodern World (Chicago: Moody, 2008), 109-111.

[39] See Stephen R. Holmes, “Listening to the Past and Reflecting on the Present,” in Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, ed. Preston Sprinkle, Counterpoints (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 190-93.

[40] Ibid., 193.

[41] James K. A. Smith, “On ‘Orthodox Christianity’: Some Observations, and a Couple of Questions,” Fors Clavigera (blog), August 4, 2017,; Alan Jacobs, “Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Definitions,” Snakes and Ladders (blog), August 6, 2017,

[42] James K. A. Smith, Twitter post, March 10, 2021, 10:58 a.m.,

[43] Wesley Hill, “Fellowship with the Unorthodox? Some Thoughts on a Recent Controversy,” Covenant (blog), August 8, 2017,

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