On the Nashville Statement

READ-The-Nashville-Statement-on-LGBTQ-amp-Transgender-AcceptanceSocial media has been on fire in response to the Nashville Statement. As you’ve undoubtedly read by now, folks are lining up to either sign the statement or denounce it. I suspect that the hardening of these lines was the point for some of the authors of the statement. But rather than go that route, let’s take a step back for a moment.

I’ve written about my understanding of a traditional Christian sexual ethic in many places. No need to reiterate. So in terms of what you might call the underlying theology, I (along with many other conservative Christians) may agree with aspects of the Nashville Statement insofar as it attempts to reflect such an ethic.

However, the Nashville Statement does not simply reflect what we might call a traditional sexual ethic. It attempts to address several areas beyond the question of whether same-sex behavior is morally permissible or morally impermissible. Most notably, it takes on the question of language or the use of specific sexual identity labels. The use of various sexual identity labels, such as gay, lesbian, and bisexual, is actually a developmental process that has been fascinating to study, particularly among Christians who are sorting out sexual identity concerns. While the use of specific language (e.g., “gay”) has been a concern to a few outspoken conservatives, it has not been a litmus test for orthodoxy that carried the moral significance of behavior, where there is greater biblical clarity. In that way the Nashville Statement will be experienced by some as unnecessarily antagonistic toward some of the very people whose commitment to a biblical sexual ethic means they are living out costly obedience.

The language piece also fails to appreciate how younger people talk about their sexual orientation and ways in which “homosexuality” and “a homosexual orientation” has fallen out of the vernacular. Put differently, the word “gay” to the average 14-year-old is not synonymous with promiscuity the way it may have been for some of the authors of the Nashville Statement; rather, it is the way a teenager might reference his or her sexual orientation, which is important for youth ministers, for instance, to understand. Now I am not suggesting that there is never a pastoral concern about language; there may be, and I’ve discussed that topic at some length. But there isn’t always a pastoral concern about language, and there is a need to nuance this discussion for effective ministry and pastoral care.

Along these lines, I believe it was Andy Crouch who discussed the difference between postures and gestures. Postures are more fixed ways of positioning yourself in relation to a topic. Gestures are the many ways you express yourself in a specific ministry setting. He recommends Christians avoid rigid postures that limit their gestures. On the question of language, the Nashville Statement reflects a fairly rigid posture that, in places, is unnecessarily antagonistic toward other conservatives, particularly those who identity as celibate gay Christians.

Then there is “transgenderism.” It should be noted that “transgender” is an umbrella term for the many ways people experience, express, or live out a gender identity that is different than that of a person whose gender identity aligns with his or her biological sex. This is a complicated topic. There isn’t even consensus on who fits under the transgender umbrella, which is part of the problem when the word is used in such declarations. It can include people who report great distress, such as those who meet criteria for gender dysphoria, but to some the word transgender also captures those who cross-dress, drag queens and kings, transsexuals, those with intersex conditions, various non-binary gender identities, and so on. The diversity here is remarkable.

When I wrote Understanding Gender Dysphoria, which was published in 2015, I noted that transgender presentations were a wave that was going to crest on evangelicals and that the church was not prepared for it. I noted that we needed to think deeply and well about gender identity and to engage with some humility what we know and do not know from the best of science, as well as learn from mistakes made in how evangelicals engaged the topic of sexual identity and especially how evangelicals treated the actual people who were navigating sexual identity and faith. I was suggesting we could learn from that experience and make some adjustments as we encounter the topic of gender identity.

I’m afraid the Nashville Statement, perhaps out of a desire to establish the parameters for orthodoxy on gender identity concerns, gets ahead of evangelicals because it doesn’t reflect the careful, nuanced reflection needed to guide Christians toward critical engagement of gender theory, while also aiding in the development of more flexible postures needed in pastoral care.

The statement evangelicals need today is one that guides the church toward a flexible posture, grounded in Scripture, that allows for a range of gestures based on the needs associated with ministry and cultural engagement.

30 thoughts on “On the Nashville Statement

  1. Well-said, much needed. Thank you taking the time to write and for the helpful distinction between gestures and postures (with a nod to Andy Crouch).

  2. Well, seeing that once again, they entirely miss the point on gender identity, this statement isn’t worth the paper on which it is printed. It is especially annoying to see people of reasonable intelligence continue to parrot the uninformed and uneducated mantras that have long been disproven. In my opinion, willfull ignorance (and make no mistake, this statement is a clear example) is worse than being stupid.

  3. Thank you, Mark, for this thoughtful response that puts people – too often hurting and marginalized people – in the center.

  4. Thanks, Dr. Yarhouse. So, basically you’re saying you agree with the statement, but prefer a different “tone” had been taken?

    • I uphold a traditional Christian sexual ethic which locates sexual intimacy in the context of a covenant of marriage between a man and a woman. The tone is certainly a concern for me, but I also do not believe a traditional Christian sexual ethic hinges on whether a person uses sexual identity labels (e.g., “gay”), so that is more than tone. Also, I don’t think we know enough about or have thought sufficiently about gender identity, so I would wait on making declarations about all of that until we’ve had more time to study and listen and come to more insight on the experience of various gender identity concerns that have been and are present today.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I wasn’t familiar with your work until yesterday as I saw it referenced in an article on the CBMW website. Having come from an Evangelical background, I’m not at all surprised by their reaffirmation of their stance on marriage and homosexuality. While I don’t agree with it, I can certainly admit that a scriptural argument can be made in that regard. What I can’t agree with is the way they’ve repeatedly conflated “transgenderism” (which you note is an overly-simplistic catch-all for a complicated spectrum of identity and behavior) with homosexual attraction. Anyone who’s even scratched the surface of gender/body dysphoria should realize that it’s entirely separate from sexual attraction. CMBW’s position strikes me as a rather ham-handed refusal to even attempt to understand a subject that is incredibly complex, and that even professionals in the field disagree about. Coupled with the fact that scripture is virtually silent on the subject, one has to question what the CBMW’s motive is in taking such a hard line on the subject.

  6. Is it any surprise many transgender persons question the need for church? If, for example, according to my research only 17% of trans identified persons list church as a source of spiritual support (the 2015 NCTE Transgender Survey of 27,700 trans persons had a slightly higher number of 19%), it may suggest the church has done a great job of creating exiles out of about 80+% of trans persons. The damage is too great and it won’t be easily undone by attempts—by a few—to become affirming and pastorally sensitive.

  7. Maybe the statement could be crafted to be a little more friendly – but maybe what we really need is something that calls a spade a spade.
    … “the word “gay” to the average 14-year-old is not synonymous with promiscuity”. Maybe so, but if a young man identifies as ‘gay’ and acts out accordingly, the result will usually be promiscuity. Don’t we have an obligation to inform our young people accordingly?
    The average 14-year-old is taught today that a man can become a woman. We know this is not true, any more than that an anorexic young girl is overweight. Don’t we need a dose of hard truth? It’s not loving to mislead people about reality and truth.
    “The statement evangelicals need today is one that guides the church toward a flexible posture, grounded in Scripture, that allows for a range of gestures based on the needs associated with ministry and cultural engagement.”
    Flexible, *grounded* in Scripture but *based* on cultural engagement? I fear that the former will be easily overwhelmed by the latter.

  8. Does “born gay,” LGBT really exist? Does science tell us that someone who is “gay” can change and develop romantic and sexual attractions to the opposite sex?

    Dr. Lisa Diamond, a lesbian psychologist, has received awards from the American Psychological Association for her work on “sexual orientation”. Even the gay “Division 44″ of the APA honors and lauds Dr. Diamond:

    “… her exceptional research has challenged prevailing notions of sexual orientation.”


    Diamond’s research has shown that “sexual fluidity” exists: “’It’s possible…for someone who is homosexual to fall in love with someone of a different gender…It appears to be something EVERYBODY is capable of…’”


    Dr. Diamond’s original research involved 90+ women who showed “fluidity” by becoming attracted to both men and women, even when they thought they were exclusively “lesbian”. But she wondered whether men might be “fluid” too, as she relates in her new video.

    (6:24) “…over the years I’ve come to sort of think about this more deeply…and…we simply haven’t had the kinds of samples and the kinds of studies that would actually allow us to rigorously answer the question of whether women and men are equally fluid.”

    Now, many studies with huge samples, numbering in the thousands, are available to study both male and female sexual fluidity. Dr. Diamond adds her own new study with a substantial sample of “159 women and 179 men”. All these studies show that men have “fluidity,” too.

    (37:27)” So what are the implications of all this? I’ve started to now come to see fluidity NOT as something that’s just specific to women, but as a GENERAL FEATURE OF HUMAN SEXUALITY.” She adds:

    “We have advocated for the civil rights of LGBT people on the basis of them being LGBT, right…And that really, really tricky now that we know that it’s not true.”


    Gay psychiatrist, Dr. Jack Drescher, based on studies from various countries, informs us that only “6 to 23 percent of boys and 12 to 27 percent of girls treated in gender clinics showed persistence of their gender dysphoria into adulthood”. Therefore, most ”transgendered” children (at least 77 percent of boys and 73 percent of girls) will give up this notion that they are trapped in a body of the wrong sex. Therefore, their earlier state was an illusion.

    It is a reasonable inference that transgender notions which persist are equally illusions.


  9. Brad Harper, author of Space at the Table: Conversations between an Evangelical Theologian and his Gay Son says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful response. I was deeply troubled by the statement for similar reasons. Moreover, it just makes it even more difficult to engage the LGBTQ community with the love of Christ.

  10. As a strong Christian I don’t give a damn about your high minded false teaching. You’re nothing but a sail without wind, a cracked pot that provides nothing and a coward willing to self aggrandize at the expense of fellow Christians. Churches and schools are being sued and silenced over the terror that the sexual identity Marxist movement is doing to the Christian family. You’re a supporter of the child abuse of millions of kids being brainwashed and reprogrammed by the radical Marxists of our day and all you can do is find a knife for the back of Christians who care to speak up. There is the judgement seat of Christ. Better think again.

  11. Thank you for this article. The NS has been translated in Dutch recently and I’ve been asked to sign it. I’m afraid that the same fruitless discussion as you had in the US, will be imported in our country. I fully agree with your article and I will not sign the NS. I very much miss the voice of the young gay christian people our organisation Hart van Homo’s works for. Sad.

  12. “Celibate gay Christians” is oxymoronic, and shows a misunderstanding of what homosexuality is biblically (which is the meaning that actually matters). Biblically, a person who is celibate would not be homosexual, because biblically a homosexual is someone who engages in same gender sexual behavior. While a person may have the temptation of same sex attraction, that is not itself homosexuality, and to label people who are tempted this way as “gay” or “homosexual” is incorrect, it is degrading to those with this temptation who resist carrying it out, and it contributes to the problem in our culture of the agenda to normalize the evil of homosexuality. A person who is tempted to steal something is not a thief unless the person actually steals something (or at least decides to), and a person tempted by same sex attraction is not “gay” or “homosexual” unless the person follows through with same gender sexual behavior (or at least chooses to lust for such).

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