September 1, 2017 Disclaimer: Before you read this post, please understand that my thoughts are growing on this topic as I engage with founding signees and other members of the body of Christ. I identified that I am wrestling with the point of sharing a theological statement with the public. I understand its use for the Church, not for the public. I understand how it helps to edify the Church; I do not understand nor see the fruit in how it can point the public to the gospel in its entirety. From my current perspective, I see it as hurting others due to misunderstandings more than proclaiming grace and truth of the gospel.
September 1 Evening Update: I so appreciate those who have engaged with me on this topic. This post is messy, and I’m not blameless in all I write. For anyone who has been offended or hurt, please forgive me. After reading Rosaria Butterfield’s explanation for her reasons in signing the Nashville Statement, I more fully understand the motivations of many of those who participated in this theological statement. As Bobby has said in response to my post and her post, “If false prophets have a say in the culture, are true prophets allowed to have a say also?”
I leave the post here so that others can navigate through their own feelings on this issue, as I can imagine for some it is just as messy as my feelings.
I also want to explain to everyone that though Bobby’s ministry to me is interwoven in what I write, Bobby doesn’t always read everything I write. I am growing in how to use my own platform, and I struggle with what to say and when to say it. Please have grace for me as I strive toward holiness.
I have decided also to sign the Nashville Statement for what it stands for against false teaching, though I have reservations in its presentation to those outside of the church. I so wish those who signed the Statement had written their why’s for signing and linked it to their signatures. I wish that those viewing the Statement knew the depth and width of the faith and ministries of these pastors, professors, and leaders.
My heart is heavy over the news and social media wildfires that are spreading with quick, snarling flame all over the US today. Anger is kindling in the hearts of many Christians and non-Christians who don’t understand the point of the Nashville Statement.
My heart is heavy for them because they view this as hate. They view this as an attack. Many already hate Christianity and this is just fuel to their cries for, “Burn!”
This should have been a conversation within the culture of pastors and Christians, but now instead, it is being misunderstood as a manifesto of hate by those who are unfamiliar with what “biblical truth” means.
My heart is also heavy for the leaders involved, because I know that they have a painful year ahead of them, as they lose friendships and witness with people who knew them on the fringe or in person.
I have sat across from the table to share a meal with many of the men and a few of the women who signed as the founding signees. Some of their younger children have sat at my feet in Sunday school. I’ve celebrated “Gotchya Days” for their adoptions. I know their adult children and am personal friends with them. I know the homosexual congregants in their churches who have been transformed by their commitment to the Gospel.
They have ministered to me in some of the darkest and hardest seasons of my life. They have taught my husband subjects of vast range, from theology to personal holiness to global visions. I do not doubt the faith or genuineness of heart of any of them. But I am burdened for them.
The Pain When You Become A Prophet
The Nashville Statement was meant to start a fireworks-style conversation over the very contentious issue of sexuality and gender. It was meant to reaffirm subtle and overt messages already shared from many of these signing leaders for decades. It was meant to draw a line for other pastors and believers to be able to say, “This is a gospel-centered church and this is not.”
Bobby and I, unfortunately, have experienced something like this on a much smaller scale. Two years ago over the summer, a sweet friend of ours who used to live in our community came to visit us. We all shared in frustrations and concerns that a man-centered gospel was being taught in our community.
We didn’t know the source.
Bobby and our friend mustered up the idea to ask the main Christian leaders in the community to come together to talk about this man-centered gospel. First they thought of writing a letter to act as an invitation to converse more.
I strongly advised against this because a letter is so easily misread. I am a writer and yet I always expect that what I write will be misunderstood. People don’t read through the whole message, they confuse words, or they jump to conclusions about intentions.
I suggested a video, but to keep it short. Tone can’t be confused but you don’t get into conversations that are meant to be left face-to-face. Five minutes at max.
The Aftermath of Proclaiming
Instead what resulted from their work together were seven videos of about ten to twenty minutes in length. I have confidence that what they said was biblically true, but I was totally against the whole idea of such a length of videos from the start.
Bobby shared the videos with different people that he and the sweet friend chose, including someone who Bobby and I didn’t want to share the videos with. The sweet friend insisted since he saw this person as a Christian leader in the community.
The sweet friend went back to his community and we stayed in ours.
A volcano of anger then erupted and spewed all over Bobby. The main message ringing in his ears was that, “It was all true, but his method was wrong.”
“You don’t have authority to speak into these people’s lives like that.”
“You can’t say these things and not show them love.”
“Who are you to judge these people?”
This was all from Christians, not unbelievers.
Bobby sought reconciliation with every single person who would talk to him about it. He apologized for the method, not for the truths. It was absolutely agonizing to live through, for both of us. It was divisive.
One shared with Bobby, “There are many here who love you and say you are the most holy person they know in this community. Then there are people who are so hurt and confused and are questioning their calling to even stay in this country.”
Two people still have not forgiven Bobby (and maybe me?) for what happened. The first was the one we did not want to share with. We were utterly shunned and this person gossiped behind Bobby’s back and absolutely slandered him. Someone who believed in the gossip and slander later apologized. We weren’t as blessed with the others who were affected by the one-sided gossip.
The other was a friend who ministered and loved us over and over again. Until this happened.
Then, when I took to a social media group within our community later that year to explain our choices not to celebrate Halloween, it seems that was the last straw.
The friend is cordial, but communication is cold compared to the love he had for us before this mess happened. He was (is?) understandably frustrated. From my point of view, everything that comes out of my mouth when I speak to this man is like one of my huge feet just being tapped farther and farther down my throat. Bobby and I can’t make it right at this point. We can’t force ourselves onto others to make them forgive us and be our friends/brothers in Christ again.
The result of making and sharing the videos was really unprofitable. We made a line. So what? There was no discipleship involved. There was no changing of hearts. There was pain.
That’s about it.
Discretion is Key
So, I believe the Nashville Statement should have been for the eyes of Christians and their leaders. Maybe the signers and leaders would disagree because they are “in the culture” and their duty is to stand up for what is right.
I would disagree with their method for two main reasons.
[Not all of what I say in #1 is blameless or helpful. I leave it hear to say sorry to anyone that it has hurt. One of the original signers said to me privately, “Do all of the people who signed have a firm grasp on the culture? No. Do the majority of them? I believe so.” And Bobby’s valid point to me is that I cannot know the individual lives of each one of the original signers.]
- The leaders are not natives to the current American culture.
When pregnant with my daughter in 2011, I went to Thailand for an overseas trip with Keith and Glenda Eitel. Dr. Eitel is the president of the World M Center at SWBTS where Dr. Paige Patterson is president.
While there on this trip, Keith Eitel shared a story about his extended time in Africa. In the culture where he lived, drinking alcohol was seen as a must-do for men. Pastors even engaged in this practice of drinking and would often become staggeringly drunk. During one embarrassing event, one pastor got up with two bottles in his hands, barely able to stand on his feet. He shouted at Dr. Eitel that Eitel wasn’t even a man.
Being as seasoned as he was, Eitel did not impose upon them the standard not to drink. Though he had biblical convictions and could have proved it in a debate, he instead was faithful in discipleing these pastors through biblical texts. He knew that if he imposed a standard, these pastors would reject it once he was gone as a “white man’s theology.”
Eventually the pastor who had called Dr. Eitel out publically stated that drunkenness was wrong. Dr. Eitel explained this as “self-theologizing” – a much needed skill in the process of discipleship.
I share this story because the majority of the leaders now signing the Nashville Statement are not living in a culture that belongs to them. They are experiencing culture shock and they probably don’t even realize it. It is totally possible to have this happen to you in your own country. I experienced culture shock first when entering into the evangelical sub-culture and secondly when living among internationals in a rough neighborhood down the road from SWBTS.
Many of these leaders are now really coming to terms with white privilege for the first time. Some of them are learning their peers in the SBC still affirm racism. Some of them have wives who teach that it’s still important as a pastor’s wife to have curtains that match your couch. That is a direct quote that I’m not going to credit as I love the woman who said it, but she is so out of place with the reality of my generation in the current American majority culture.
This is what happens when you’re immersed in life as a pastor. You’re not the one doing the outreach. At least, if you’re faithful as a pastor to what scripture calls you to, you’re equipping the saints. You’re equipping them with the truth. The saints you equip are then going out and loving their neighbors. You are not necessarily the one who is doing all the ministry. If you’re following that pattern and have been focusing on ministering in the church, it might have been a while since you’ve set foot outside of church walls.
It might have been a while since you set foot into a public middle school where preteens are having sex and cutting happens in the bathroom. It might have been a while since you set foot in a public elementary school where teachers have record high drop out rates due to the things they witness there. You probably don’t hang out with mothers of young children who purposely dress their girls as boys, visa versa. Or just don’t care.
I’m not going to say these pastors don’t understand what we’re going through, as they can relate to the turmoil. Some of these leaders went through the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. But my childhood as a periodically-homeless, sexually molested, non-recognized minority in an urban neighborhood looks significantly different than many of the clean suburbs and homes they grew up in. The reality my children have to face is a 21st century global and tech-zapped one. These are challenges they did not face as children.
My children and I need to know how to love our homosexual neighbors as persecution is mounting that some of these leaders will probably not survive to see. I need to know how not to stick my foot in my mouth with my celibate, homosexual-denouncing gay brothers and sisters in Christ. I need to know how to support them.
I need encouragement to continue to share how sexual sin destroyed my life and nearly destroyed my marriage. People need to know that adultery is serious, that sexual sin is serious. They need to know there are ramifications. Simply saying that adultery is wrong doesn’t help anyone in fighting it.
People already feel the shame of sin that the Nashville Statement affirmed or denied. So much of what was said is already understood and hated by those outside of the church. Showing them the law doesn’t bring them life. The gospel does.
And the gospel seen in every day ministries of the saints. What needs to be seen are continued faithful congregants discipleing those struggling with these sins but who want to be transformed. There needs to be exemplified lives of holiness transformed by the gospel. Pastors could impose these beliefs on the culture, but unless these same pastors are giving new believers the tools to self-theologize, they’re going to throw off their beliefs in these areas as centuries old backwards thought that has no root in the Bible whatsoever.
- They were already shining as beacons of biblical affirmation and truth.
They already had an incredible impact on the culture through younger Christians and this method of “statement of conviction” frustrates their intentions.
John Piper taught me the difference between following faith in drudgery and actually desiring my savior. He taught me that Calvinists aren’t all depressed. He taught me that my miscarriage of my twins was not meaningless but working for me an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
John McArthur gave me the freedom and courage to live out what it means to be a biblical mother. He also helped me to see the fine line between unbiblical teachings that moms cannot work at all and the balanced perspective that the home comes first while children are of teachable ages. (In other words, working in or outside of the home is left to the godly discretion of each family.)
Francis Chan challenged me with his love for children and how his own children were acting as ministers along with him.
Wayne Grudem has shaped the minds of many theologians in our day through his systematic books and tools.
The Council of Biblical Mandhood and Womanhood was a bit lacking in female voices the last time I checked their website, but still the archives there are gold. I appreciated that they were there wrestling with issues that I am wrestling with, like what it means to be a biblical wife and mother.
There are a few names I don’t recognize on the list, but most of them I have either heard of or been shaped by their ministry. A handful of the founding signees, I have lived near, gone to church with, worked with, or met personally.
None of them needed to make this statement or sign it. Those who are wrestling with the truth of the gospel know already where all of the people who signed this statement stand on these issues. Or these young people were in the process of reading their blogs/books and listening to their sermons/podcasts. If these pastors wanted other pastors to affirm it, make a conference and pay for those bivocational pastors who can’t afford a plane ticket. Make bus services that will pick up pastors on the way to these conferences. This reaches the main audience needing to hear it.
These founding signee pastors and leaders are the shining stars (not idols!) in current Evangelical and Christian circles. Their personal ministries will outlast the backlash from the Nashville Statement.
And equipping and teaching is exactly the point of their ministries. They are not church fathers and mothers, but they are charged with the heavy weight of shepherding their flocks to be equipped with the word to go out into the world. Their flocks are supposed to be the very beautiful feet sharing the full message of the gospel to this confused world and culture. Not a watered down gospel, not a cheapened gospel, but the gospel through and through.
*** Added September 1, 2017***
3. The Nashville Statement’s presentation is presenting the holiness of God on sexuality to the public without the whole presentation of the gospel from creation, all falling short of the glory of God (including the signees), Savior, to new heaven and earth (there’s a brief and succinct nod to the gospel in Article 14). That the majority of these Articles are being read without 14 and all in part is as damaging as saying “God loves all” or “God hates sin.”
These sexual ethics are indeed truths, but they are not sharing the full picture of the gospel to an unchurched youth and public. Taken outside of the gospel, these affirmations and denials cannot alone stand for the entirety of the goodness God revealed for marriage, gender, and sexuality through the gospel through his word. Not that it matters without the fullness of the gospel, but these affirmations and denials also are left without supporting scripture for the unskilled in scripture.
Due to the omission of the full and complete gospel and the lack of scripture, the Nashville Statement is written from the assumption that the reader would already have a working knowledge of both. The average public American reader should not be counted as being knowledgable of the basic and orthodox principles of the Christian faith.
4. The community surrounding the gospel-centered Evangelical church is a subculture of the majority American culture. Other subcultures of America include rural or suburb African American communities compared to urban African American communities, rural Southern cultures, Amish culture, etc.
5. On a whole and generally speaking, with there of course being exceptions including among the signees, the American Evangelical church lacks love that lays down lives to serve neighbors.
******* End of addition ****
Ironically, just recently John Piper shared a video on the TGC on how to deal with the moral failures of those he looks up to like MLK, Edwards, and others. I do not see the Nashville Statement as a moral failure.
I do see it as a lack of discretion in method and poor use of platform.
Imagine how much more lasting this Nashville Statement would have been if the main signees were mostly formerly practicing homosexual and sexually deviant brothers and sisters in Christ who affirmed gospel-centered statements. (Yes, I saw Rosaria Butterfield on the list, but she’s a drop in the bucket compared to the list. By the way, Jackie Hill Perry below signed too.)
What if the role of the pastors would have been to affirm their self-theologizing to speak into their own cultures and platforms? Like what TGC does so right here in highlighting Jackie Hill Perry’s comments.
I believe we would see a much different reaction.
My heart and prayers go out to everyone. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
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