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Religious Tolerance logo

2017:

An evangelical Christian statement
about homosexuality and transgender persons

About the "Nashville Statement"
on human sexuality:

LGBT in scrabble blocks 9

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During 2017-AUG, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) 1 convened a meeting at the annual conference of Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission with whom they are in partnership. Some members of President Trump's Evangelical Advisory Board were in attendance. Since 81% of evangelicals voted for President Trump, they are an important advisory group to the President.

The Council finalize the wording of their statement concerning homosexual orientation, transgender identity, pre-marital sex, and other topics related to human sexuality. More than 150 conservative Christian pastors, leaders, and academics initially signed the statement at the meeting in Nashville, TN; many more have signed since. The Council subsequently released the statement on AUG-29.

Eliel Cruz, writing for the New York Times listed some of the evangelical leaders who have signed the statement:

"Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and member of Donald Trump’s faith advisory board, endorsed it. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, also signed on. Presidents of seminaries, editors and writers at the largest conservative publications, as well as presidents and directors of conservative think tanks added their names. 10

The document is called the "Nashville Statement." 2 The Council followed a historical Christian tradition of naming important statements and proclamations after the city in which they were finalized. Megan Barry, the Mayor of Nashville, was displeased with the title. She tweeted that the Council's:

"... so-called 'Nashville Statement' is poorly named and does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville."

According to the Facts & Trends web site, Tennessee is the only state in the U.S. where the majority of adults (52%) identify themselves as evangelical Christians. 2 Most of them, along with other religious conservatives in the state, would probably agree with the conclusions of the Nashville Statement. However, city residents throughout North America tend to be significantly more politically and religiously liberal than rural residents. Mayor Barry is probably correct; most Nashville residents would reject much of the Nashville Statement; many of them would consider it bigoted against sexual minorities.

The Nashville Statement is composed of 14 Articles. Article 10 summarizes the message of the Statement:

"WE AFFIRM that is is sinful to approve of [either] homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree."

Most humans around the world follow Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, and base their beliefs on the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures, the Bible, or Qur'an. Unfortunately, there is no consensus on the validity of passages that deal with human sexuality, or on how to interpret those passages. Thus there is no consensus within Christianity, or other religions, about the acceptability of various forms of sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and gender identity:

  • Many religious conservatives regard their holy book's passages as being inspired -- or even written by God in the case of Islam. Thus the text is considered to be "Gods word," as inerrant -- without error -- and permanent guide to human behaviors and beliefs.

  • Many religious liberals, NOTAs 5 (those who are NOT Affiliated with an organized religion), secularists, and sexual minorities note that the holy books were written during a pre-scientific time before the massive growth in knowledge about human sexuality during the 20th century. Therefore, the books' passages concerning sexual behavior, homosexuality orientation, bisexual orientation, transgender identity, etc. are not necessarily valid today; some should be modified; others rejected.

Many people who read the Nashville Statement will realize that the Articles match passages in the Bible as as they are literally interpreted by conservative Christians. However, some would also realize that they do not match those same passages as interpreted by liberal Christians. That is, the Bible contains ambiguous passages that can be understood in different ways. If the Bible were clear and unambiguous or if Christians could assess clarification of the will and intent of God, then there would not be over 30,000 Christian denominations, sects and faith groups in existence. Thus, the question is not whether the Nashville statement is right or wrong. Rather it is whether:

  • The Nashville Statement accurately reflects a conservative interpretation of the Bible, and

  • Whether a conservative interpretation is the correct one, or whether it has been superceded by scientific research.

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An analysis of the Nashville Statement:

Webmaster's comment:

Unfortunately, the text is too long to be shown here because of copyright restrictions. The possibility of us being able to obtain clearance from the CBMW to quote it in full is essentially zero. Therefore we will paraphrase the CBMW's articles.

The Nashville Statement is composed of 14 Articles. Its full text can be read at the CBMW web site. We compare below each Article with more religiously liberal beliefs of human sexuality, marriage, and biblical interpretation.

  • Article 1 says that God set up marriage as a permanent monogamous union of one woman and one man. It parallels the relationship between Christ and his Church. Same-sex monogamous marriages, polygamous marriages involving one man and multiple women, polyandrous marriages involving one woman and multiple men, and other arrangements are thus forbidden. Also, marriage is a commitment made between two humans and God.

    However, the Bible discusses many forms of marriages other than those involving one women and one man, without condemnation. These include at least 15 polygamous marriages, in which Solomon holds the record with 700 wives and hundreds of concubines. By the same reasoning, the CBMW should allow all of these marriages to exist today. Yet the CBMW restricts marriage to one woman and one man. The Bible forbids persons of different religions to marry. The Bible discusses that when a married man dies without a child, his widow must marry her brother-in-law. Christians are forbidden to enter into interfaith marriages. A female virgin who was raped must marry her rapist. A female bride who is found to not be a virgin when she married was executed. Many mainline and liberal Christians believe that these passages make the Bible and unreliable source of information on marriage today.

    Implicit in the relationship between Christ and his church is a spiritual relationship between Christ and each Christian -- both women and men. Thus about half of these spiritual relationships are male-male in gender. That would seem to indicate that human marriages between two men would also correspond to Christ's spiritual relationship with his church.

  • Article 2 says that sexual activity is to be restricted to within a marriage of a female-male couple.

At the time that the Bible was written, this was a very wise restriction. There were no effective contraceptives available then, and so any sexual activity between a man and woman could easily result in a pregnancy which neither party could handle. However, many present-day religious liberals note that effective contraceptives now are available, to be used either before or shortly after intercourse, that prevent pregnancy from starting.

Also, in Biblical times, condoms had not been invented. This made male-male anal sex dangerous because of the existence of sexually transmitted infections.

  • Article 3 says in Genesis that God created both Adam and Eve as equals and with physical differences. Thus, they conclude that we should treat both males and females as equal "in dignity and worth."

This is an Article that most religious liberals and secularists can accept. However, most regard the Genesis creation story as not being literally true. They would note that studies have found that Mitochondrial Eve -- the matrilineal most recent common ancestor of all humans -- was alive sometime between 152,000 to 235,000 ago and lived in East Africa. Meanwhile, Y-chromosomal Adam, our patrilineal most recent common ancestor, lived more recently, about 142,000 years ago, and was born in a different area of Africa. They lived in different places at different times and never met. (More details).

Some religious liberals and others are theistic evolutionists. They believe that God steered Evolution through almost four billion years in order to eventually produce intelligent life in the form of humans. The sexual union of a male and female produces children whose DNA will be a mixture of both parent's DNA. That drives natural selection and leads to evolution. They would agree with Article 3 that both male and female humans are of "equal dignity and worth" simply because both are required for evolution to occur and both contribute equally to the evolutionary processes.

  • Article 4 says that males and females are physically different because of God's original design, and not as a result of the Fall.

Most religious liberals might agree with this Article, except that they might have difficulty accepting that God originally designed male and female sexes. They believe that two sexes evolved early in the history of evolution before any intelligent life forms existed. The two sexes made evolution towards intelligent species possible, as described above in Article 3.

Many would also reject the concept of "The Fall." They would probably interpret Genesis 3 allegorically and not as literal accounts of historical people and events. They might treat parts of the text symbolically -- as implying that:

  • Adam and Eve were created by God without a knowledge of good and evil, like the rest of the mammals and other animals.
  • All behaved on the basis of instinct.
  • The first couple later disobeyed instructions and ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and magically developed a moral and ethical sense.
  • They made a great leap upwards from an animal nature to a higher level of intelligence.

Thus, eating the fruit did not produce the Fall and Original Sin. Rather, it indicated the Rise of homo sapiens from an animal nature to full humanity. But Adam and Eve as a couple, the Garden of Eden, the tree and its fruit did not actually exist. Genesis, and the creation stories of other religions are to be interpreted allegorically -- as religious myth and not as a description of historical events.

  • Article 5 says that a person's biological sex, alone, defines their gender as male or female:

People have defined gender in three ways:

  • By the appearance of their genital structures at birth. This is used to fill out their birth certificate. Sometimes, with intersexual persons, it is not obvious what sex their genital structure imply. One way of settling the question for newborns is to examine their DNA.

  • By the sexual chromosomes in their DNA. Males generally have one or more Y chromosomes in their DNA; Females generally lack a Y chromosome.

  • By their gender identity: what their brain tells them that their gender is. This is the definition that most in the LGBT community and their allies accept.

About 99.4% of adult humans are cisgender: all three of the above definitions match; all indicate a female or all indicate a male.

In a small minority of individuals, they have female "lady parts," are clearly identified as female at birth, are raised female, and believe that they are female but are unable to become pregnant. That is because they are genetically male, and have complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS). Their DNA has one X and one Y sex chromosome, but their cells are resistant to male hormones (androgens). As a result, the person looks like a woman, has always felt that they are female, but has the genetic makeup of a man. It is unclear whether Article 5 would define them as female or male.

In some cases there is a mismatch among the three criteria. Recent studies in human brains have found internal structures which come in two types: male and female. The male version of the structures are larger and contain a higher neuron density. In about 99.4% of adults, the sex of the brain structures match the the other two indicators of sex. About 0.6%, of adults are transgender. For example, they might have been identified as male at birth but developed female structures in their brain. As many transgender persons say, they have a female brain trapped in a male body, or vice versa. There is no consensus of how to define the gender of a non-cisgender adult. Some, like in Article 5, say that their genital structures and/or sex chromosomes define gender. Others accept that the brain structures rule. The former is the traditional definition. But transgender persons, their allies, and most human sexuality researchers accept what gender the person's brain tells them that they are. More details.

  • Article 6 seems to imply that intersexual persons have equal dignity and worth as cisgender persons. But a transgender person "should embrace their biological sex." There is no way that adult transgender persons can do this. They are stuck as being transgender.

As noticed in Article 5, being transgender in most cases appears to be caused by having a female brain in a male body or vice versa. Fortunately, Article 6 uses the word "should" and does not specifically say that they be excluded from becoming Christian.

  • Article 7 states that a person must not regard themselves as a homosexual or a transgender individual.

In the past, many conservative Christians believed that youths choose their sexual orientation -- whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual. Others believed that everyone is born heterosexual but some become addicted to homosexuality. However, human sexuality researches found many indicators pointed towards a genetic cause -- something buried in the person's DNA. Researchers searched for decades trying to find the "gay gene" with little success. Finally, the cause was recently found in epigenetics. One researcher compared DNA to a computer program, while epi marks correspond to the operating system. A test has been derived that checks a person's saliva, measures epigenetic components and predicts with 83% accuracy which persons will have a homosexual orientation. These components are formed during the embryonic stage of pregnancy and remain unchanged during the fetal stage, in newborns, and throughout life. This is conclusive proof that individuals do not choose their sexual orientation; it is predetermined before birth, just as most lesbians and gays have been claiming for decades.

Most religious conservatives have been claiming that transgender adults are merely "gender confused." They teach that most transgender adults are biological males but mistakenly think that they are really female (or sometimes have no gender or are of both genders) Meanwhile other adults are biological females but mistakenly think that they are really male (or sometimes of no gender or both genders) As described under Article 5, transgender persons have brain structures of the gender opposite to their biological sex. Again, it is not a choice; it is forced on them by their brain. They don't adopt "... a homosexual or transgender self-conception..." They have no alternative. That said, some who develop a transgender identification as young children somehow grow out of it later in life, for unknown reasons.

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  • Article 8 seems to imply that a person with a homosexual orientation can have a "rich and fruitful" life by not acting on their sexual attraction to members of the same sex; that is, if they remain celibate. Similarly, a person with a bisexual orientation who is sexually attracted to members of both sexes can have a "rich and fruitful" life by not acting on their sexual attraction to members of the same sex; that is, they restrict their sexual activity to persons of the opposite sex.

    However, Genesis 2:18 teaches the opposite. It has been translated in the NET Bible as: "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him." The word "companion" is translated by most other versions of the Bible as "helper." However "companion" may be a better English word because the original Hebrew word implies a condition of equality. Most humans do search out a lifetime companion to marry in order to lead a more fulfilled life. In the case of a person with a homosexual orientation, divorce statistics show that a only a person of the same gender has much of a chance of becoming a suitable companion.

  • Article 9 seems to say that sin causes some individuals -- whether they have a heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual orientation -- to engage in further sin through pre-marital or post-marital sex. Sex between a man and woman outside of a marriage relationship would certainly be an immoral activity in biblical times because no contraceptives were available, and such behavior would often start an unwanted pregnancy. However, for a unmarried person today, consensual safe sex is considered by many people to be a moral choice, particularly if it is in a committed relationship. And many people would regard consensual sexual activity as moral by persons in a same sex relationship. On the order of 95% of individuals would probably agree, because surveys show that people are not virgins at the time of their first marriage. However, adultery is almost universally regarded as immoral and a violation of the marriage covenant. There are about a half dozen passages in the Bible -- often referred to as "clobber passages" that some Christians interpret as condemning all same-gender sexual behavior. However, these passages appear ambiguous and are interpreted by other Christians as allowing such behavior.

  • Article 10 states flatly that it is sinful for persons to approve of others with a homosexual orientation to be sexually active with members of the same gender. This position is undoubtedly based on the six or so clobber passages in the Bible whose precise meaning appears ambiguous. The Article also says that it is sinful to approve of a person with a transgender identity. However, research has shown that being transgender is beyond a person's control. Therapy has been shown to be useless in "curing" a person's gender identity that is different from their biological sex. Many believe that a person should not be condemned for accepting another person's gender identity if it is beyond the latter's control. It seems to imply that anyone who supports equal rights for the LGBT community -- including same-sex marriage -- cannnot be considered to be Christian.

  • Article 11 appears to define a person's gender only by the design of their visible genital organs or by their sex chromosomes. But a case can be made that one can define a persons sex by their gender identity -- about what their sexually dimorphic structures in their brain tell them that their gender is. That does not seem to conflict with any biblical passages.

  • Article 12 seems to imply that belief in Christ can transform a person with a homosexual orientation into a heterosexual orientation. Many "transformational ministries" attempted to do just that. There is no indication that they had any significant success. We are unaware of any study of conversion therapy that has been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Exodus International was the largest of these groups. They struggled for thirty years, and finally recognized that their success rate was equal -- or essentially equal -- to 0%, and that their efforts had harmed their clients. In mid 2013, they finally apologized to their clients for the harm they had done and terminated their organization.

  • Article 13 states that "the grace of God in Christ" will make transgender individuals who are Christian believers able to become cisgender. This is an interesting belief, for which we have never seen any proof. It is generally accepted that no therapy has ever converted an transgender adult to become cisgender, and many of the attempts to do so through counseling and therapy were probably religiously-based. On the other hand, for unknown reasons, pre-pubertal transgender children -- both Christians and others -- often do outgrow their transgender identity and become cisgender.

Webmaster's comment: I have sent an email to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood asking if any studies had been performed or data collected on Christian transgender persons who have been able to become cisgender through their acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior.

  • Article 14 states that Jesus' execution has guaranteed that anyone who has repented of their sins and trusts Jesus as Lord and Savior will be saved and guaranteed entry to Heaven after death. This is a common belief among conservative Christians. However, other conservatives believe that to repent of one's sins is an action and that is not required to attain salvation, since only the correct beliefs about Jesus will guarantee an afterlife in Heaven. Meanwhile, many mainline and liberal Christians believe in the literal truth of the "Sheep and Goats" section of Matthew 25. It states that salvation and entry to Heaven will be restricted to individuals who have helped others who were sick, hungry, naked, or in some other difficulty. Those who are indifferent to other people's suffering will go to Hell. Finally, others believe that the recurrent biblical theme of scapegoating -- stating that guilt and punishment can be transferred from a guilty person to an innocent person or people -- is profoundly immoral, and should be ignored wherever it occurs in the Bible.

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Reactions to the Nashville Statement. Individuals react in very different ways:

  • Eva Kendrick, the Alabama State Director of the Human Rights Campaign -- a pro-LGBT group -- described the Nashville Statement as "deadly theology," and as a "vicious, anti-LGBTQ manifesto attacking LGBTQ people as immoral and sinful ... and denying the dignity of transgender people." She said:

    "I ached for the thousands and thousands of LGBTQ youth across Alabama -- in every town, county, and legislative district -- who are suffering, even to the point of death, as a result of the communal shame and self-hate nurtured by theology at the heart of the "Nashville Statement. ..."

    "In 2017, an HRC Foundation post-election survey of more than 50,000 youth found that 70 percent of respondents reported witnessing bullying, hate messages, or harassment during or since the 2016 election, and that half of transgender youth reported feeling hopeless or worthless most of the time.

    The Trevor Project reports that for LGB youth, the rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater than non-LGB youth. 40 percent of transgender adults report having made a suicide attempt; 92 percent of those individuals reported having attempted before the age of 25.

    Studies also tell us, however, that family and community acceptance can literally save the lives of LGBTQ youth and young adults. The Family Acceptance Project has found that LGBTQ youth with highly affirming families have a low risk for suicide attempts, while LGBTQ youth who face high levels of rejection are eight times more likely to attempt suicide in their lifetimes. ..."

    "If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you're a young person and need to talk to someone, call The Trevor Project's 24-hour crisis hotline for youth at 1-866-488-7386." 6

  • Samuel D. James is associate acquisitions editor for Crossway Books and blogs at Mere Orthodoxy. He said:

    "The Nashville Statement is an attempt -- an imperfect one! -- at theological clarity. It summarizes in direct language what these evangelicals believe about sex, marriage, and identity. If it fails to speak accurately for every participant in this theological conversation, then we must acknowledge our own limitations and yearn for the day when we all shall know as we are known. For now, I’m thankful to be associated with institutions and leaders who believe that answers are better than non-answers, and that conviction is worth the risks." 7

  • Owen Strachan, writing for the Baptist Press, said:

    "The Nashville Statement lends invaluable biblical clarity to pastors and Christian leaders who are seeking, with great headwinds in their face, to help sinners pulled by homosexual and transgender identity to find Christ. It engages several of the most vexing and unanswered questions of our day, and it does so with grace and truth in equal measure. ..."

    "The Nashville Statement does not represent a nuking of existing bridges to Christ. Calling sin sinful and urging the wayward to repent and trust Christ is not problematic for Christian witness. It is Christian witness. There is no witness without it. There is no love without it. There is no hope without it. Out of such a biblical conviction, let us build friendships with unbelievers wherever we can. Let us never stop emulating John the Baptist -- let us tell the truth to them, the whole truth.

    Let us also count the cost.

    Any stance that promotes the Word of God is going to rile the devil, as The Nashville Statement surely has. But we are not people who fear the devil or who fear the world. We love God and we love our neighbor, and so we will walk John's path, and share John's message, and point the lost -- infinitely far from God, just as we once were -- to John's Messiah." 8

  • star symbol On 2017-AUG-30, Christians United issued "The Statement" in opposition to the Nashville Statement. It asserts that:

    "A new day is dawning in the Church, and all Christians are being called to step out boldly and unapologetically in affirmation and celebration of our LGBT+ siblings as equal participants in the Kingdom of God."

    Webmaster's note to the reader:

    If you are a member of the LGBT community, I recommend that you read The Statement by Christians United in full. 11

    I suspect that the Nashville Statement will trigger hundreds if not thousands of suicide attempts across the U.S. among lesbians, gays and in particular transgender persons. If you know anyone in the LGBT community, please consider passing the URL of The Statement, 11 and perhaps the URL of this essay to them.

    They have prepared a statement composed of ten affirm/deny articles. Their stance is summed up in the final entry, Article 10:

    "WE DENY that Christ rejects anyone from his loving embrace because of their sexuality or gender identity. We likewise deny that homosexuality, bisexuality, queer sexuality, trans* identity, asexuality, or any other queer identity is sinful, distorted, or outside of God's created intent." 11

  • Rev. Meg Riley, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Minneapolis wrote "An Open Letter to the Closeted Gay Men Who Helped Draft the Nashville Statement" which is definitely worth reading. She wrote, in part:

    "I don’t care if you like to lie about your sexuality. To each their own. But when you project your shame and self-hatred on the children who are trying to live into their authentic selves, when you spew out your terror and shame and judgment and try to pin it on God, when you throw it all over people who already have enough hate to deal with in the world, I call you on it." 12

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has a web site at: https://cbmw.org/
  2. The text of the Nashville Statement is available at: https://cbmw.org/
  3. "The Most (and Least) Evangelical States," Facts & Trends, 2015-NOV-10, at: https://factsandtrends.net/
  4. Holly Meyer, "Evangelical leaders issue Nashville Statement, a 'Christian manifesto' on human sexuality," USA Today, 2017-AUG-29, at: https://www.usatoday.com/
  5. We refer to religiously unaffiliated persons as "NOTAs" which is an acronym for "NOT Affiliated." Others prefer the term "Nones". Unfortunately, Nones and Nuns are both religious terms that are homophones: they sound identical and can be confusing in speeches, over radio and over TV.
  6. Eva Kendrick, "The 'Nashville Statement' is deadly theology," Alabama Media Group, 2017-SEP-03, at: http://www.al.com/
  7. Samuel D. James, "The Nashville Statement's imperfect clarity," First Things, 2017-SEP-05, at: https://www.firstthings.com/
  8. Owen Strachan, "FIRST-PERSON: John the Baptist & The Nashville Statement," Baptist Press, 2017-SEP-06, at: http://bpnews.net/
  9. Image: CC0 Creative Commons by Wokandapix at https://pixabay.com/
  10. Eliel Cruz, "The Nashville Statement Is an Attack on L.G.B.T. Christians," The New York Times, 2017-SEP-01, at: https://www.nytimes.com/
  11. "The Statement," Christians United, 2017-AUG-30, at: http://www.christiansunitedstatement.org/
  12. Rev. Meg Riley, "An Open Letter to the Closeted Gay Men Who Helped Draft the Nashville Statement," Quest for Meaning, undated, at: https://www.questformeaning.org/

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Copyright © Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2017-SEP-07
Latest update: 2017-SEP-08
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