[Editor’s note: This post is part of a symposium on the one-year anniversary of the Nashville Statement, which was released by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on August 25, 2017 after a meeting in Nashville hosted by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.]
Amid the flurry of online responses to the Nashville Statement was the accusation that the statement and signatories acted unlovingly toward the LGBT community. Almost a year later, in fact, one Christian critic called the Nashville Statement “pastorally insensitive” and “spiritual abuse.”
Since the command to love one’s neighbor issues from the very words of Jesus himself (Mark 12:31), the accusation that the Nashville Statement fails to love one’s neighbor is a serious charge.
But is it accurate?
Speaking from within the field of ethics, one fails to love their neighbor when someone seeks anything other than their neighbor’s good. And for the Christian, there are hierarchical “goods” to pursue on the neighbor’s behalf, but the ultimate good is their relationship to God. Oliver O’Donovan writes that “we are to love the neighbor because the neighbor is ordered to the love of God.” Similarly writing in On Christian Doctrine, Augustine states that “Whoever, then, loves his neighbor aright, ought to urge upon him that he too should love God with his whole heart, and soul, and mind. For in this way, loving his neighbor as himself, a man turns the whole current of his love both for himself and his neighbor into the channel of the love of God.”
The Nashville Statement was designed to help shore up evangelical conviction so that believers might be better equipped to bear faithful witness to their neighbors about the gospel. The Nashville Statement’s preamble declares that “we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us” and that the biblical sexual ethic is designed to “bring him the greatest glory and bring us the greatest good.” We seek our neighbor’s best interest by helping them to see the redemption which is found in Jesus Christ—a redemption that saves us from our sins, including sexual ones. We love our neighbor by sharing that truth and by doing so with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (Col. 3:12). This sort of love may be counterintuitive to the fallen mind that is set against God’s will. For that reason, such love may be unwelcome, spurned, or misunderstood. But that conflict does not diminish our obligation to love our neighbors on God’s terms, not our own. By aligning itself with God’s revelation in creation and Scripture, the Nashville Statement seeks nothing less than to equip believers to love their neighbors well by directing them to their ultimate good and flourishing.
It is very understandable that a fallen and sinful world depicts the articles of the Nashville Statement as the very opposite of love. The world’s definition of love requires affirmation of homosexuality and transgender identities, and the Nashville Statement affirms neither. In the eyes of the world, a view of Christian love that is anything less than affirmation will always be received as unloving. But that is a vision of neighbor love incongruent with Scripture.
Commenting on the purpose of loving one’s neighbor, Oliver O’Donovan writes in Resurrection and Moral Order, “that there is, in love for the neighbor, a recognition of his high calling and destiny to fellowship with God and a desire to further that destiny in the context of concern for his welfare.” The Christian, then, always seeks the welfare of their neighbor and the broader moral context their neighbor inhabits. One hears in this an echo of Jeremiah’s call to “seek the welfare of the city” (Jer. 29:7). An entailment of this truth is that the Christian cannot bifurcate their love of neighbor with their responsibility to the world around them.
To the Western world and the Western church, conflicts over sexuality are spilling into every corner. The Nashville Statement speaks to these fissures: Common occurrences such as divorce and abortion terminate marriages and unborn life. The glorification of homosexuality obscures sexual design and the mainstreaming of same-sex marriage threatens the stability of the natural family. Anthropological truths of male and female identity are overturned by the idea of gender plasticity. Newfound movements such as #MeToo confront the sexual degradation of women and abuse of power. Child sex abuse controversies are roiling both Protestants and Roman Catholics. All of these have in common a drift from, and denial of, God’s pattern for sexual morality. So, in turn, one of the most loving acts that evangelicals can give to their neighbor and this world is to point their understanding of sexuality back to God, and to reflect the basic truth that God’s pattern for sexual morality is a common grace meant for our good and His glory.
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.