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An essay donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys

What it means to be human.
An analysis of the Nashville Statement.

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Seeing people for who they are.

2017-SEP: The Invictus Games were held in Toronto, Canada. It is an annual sports competition for injured veterans. One American woman participant, Kelly Elmlinger, had lost part of a leg to cancer. She was interviewed on the CBS This Morning news show, where she was asked what it meant to have her daughters with her. She replied with a powerful statement about how she was so proud of her young daughter because:

"... she doesn't see injury. She doesn't see illness. She doesn't see missing legs. These games aren't about the medals, these games are about the lives that you change. For her to see a person for who they really are and not what they're missing ... that right there is really what these games are about." 1

That reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr’s "I have a Dream" speech. On 1963-AUG-28, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, he said that he hoped that -- one day -- people would be judged by the content of their character not by the color of their skin. 2

 2

This is what the writers and signers of the Nashville Statement 3 have not learned yet: people should be judged by the content of their character, for who they are, NOT for their abilities or disabilities, or for their sexual orientation, gender identification, sex, race, etc.

In the opening preamble, the authors of the Statement make an interesting point:

"As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being." 3

A more accurate term than "revision" is "blossoming." There is a blossoming as more and more people continue to grow in their understanding of what it means to be human. Many of us have discovered that there is more to our humanity than our sexual organs, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability to procreate!

Mark Silk, in his article on the Religion News Service (RNS) website titled: "Evangelical leaders try to hold the line on gender" 4 noted the same thing. He remarked at the end of his piece:

"So, as far as the Nashville Statement is concerned, God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption boil down to body parts and procreation."

Actually this "transition" isn’t at all new! It started back in the Axial Age from about the 8th to the 3rd century BCE. Karen Armstrong has an excellent book about this age that saw the development on four different continents of the beginnings of our world’s great Religions. 5 You can google "Axial Age" to learn more about this period. The Sermon on the Mount is a beautiful expression of this transition to a higher level of understanding of what it means to be human! The Bible is a testament from Old to New of the changes taking place in human understanding about the world and themselves.

Since none of us are perfect are there some "flaws" or "imperfections" that are important, and some that are inconsequential? Who decides what is or is not a "flaw" or "imperfection" or  inconsequential? The young daughter of the Invictus Games participant has figured it out.

I realize that the biggest sin or flaw of the writers and endorsers of the Nashville Statement is that they don’t understand what it really means to be -- or is most important about being -- a human being. Or to put it another way, what it is about our species that makes us human. Or to put it still another way, what it is that sets our species apart from other animals. If our sole, or primary purpose is "to be fruitful and multiply" than we are little different from other animals. If our sole, or primary purpose is "to glorify God," as some Christians claim, than we are no different from other animals, plants, storms, gravity. That is because all of creation glorifies the creator.

One thing that makes us human and that sets us apart is our complex brain. If you believe that God created humans as they are, than you have to accept that he had his reasons for giving us this magnificent brain.

With this organ we have the ability to:

  • "see things that never were and wonder why not", 6

  • "to have dreams where one day all God’s children will be judged by the content of their character", 3

  • "to hold these truths to be self evident, that all men (as in human beings) are created equal and are endowed with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." 7

With our brains we can understand mathematics, logic, abstract ideas and rational thinking. This Nashville Statement was not a rational piece. Jonathan Merritt points this in a report he wrote for the Religion News Service website, titled "Take a deep breath. The Nashville Statement won’t change anything." 8

With our brains we can formulate questions, and figure out answers, AND tell the difference between right and wrong answers! One question the writers and signatories should have explored before they wrote and endorsed this piece was whether homosexuality and transgender feelings are a natural part of who a person is. Science and personal statements show us unequivocally that it is. A second question they should have explored is "What it really means to be a human being?"

Another thing that sets humans apart from some other species are our emotions, our ability to love, to feel another’s pain, to empathize, to experience joy and sorrow, anxiety and distress, peace and contentment.  There are other species that also experience these emotions, that is one reason why dogs are considered man’s best friend, it is the dog’s ability to experience many of the emotions that we experience.

And Compassion, we must not forget compassion. Humans have the ability to feel compassion for other humans, for animals and even for plants and forests, and our planet. Many think that compassion is about feeling pity for another. That is a gross misunderstanding. Pity often leads to non-action (those poor folk, better them than me). True Compassion leads to action that alleviates suffering. Compassion is defined as the ability to feel sorrow or pain of another, of the one that is different from us, or down trodden or suffering.

Our great complex brains give us the ability to identify causes and effects and to realize that effects can also become causes of other effects. When we have compassion we can decide to do what is needed to ease those effects by eliminating the causes.

Communication is another human ability that we share not only with many animals, but even with trees. Scientific research has confirmed that trees in a forest have communication networks.

One drawback of the ability to communicate is that some folk (as demonstrated with this Nashville Statement) don’t know when it is best to keep their opinions to themselves! This is a point Mr. Merritt made in his article. Having the legal right to say or believe something doesn’t mean it is appropriate to communicate it to others.

How can people possibly claim to understand God when they don’t understand what it means to be a human being, whom they claim is made in God’s image? We are so much more than just our sexual organs, our sexual orientation, gender identity, or our procreative capacity!

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Some related essays and sections on this web site that may interest you:

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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. "Wounded service men and women at Invictus Games hope to inspire others," CBS News, 2017-SEP-26, at: https://www.cbsnews.com/
  2. "Martin Luther King, Jr 'I have a dream' speech," You Tube, at: https://www.youtube.com/
  3. The text of the Nashville Statement is available at: https://cbmw.org/
  4. Mark Silk, "Evangelical leaders try to hold the line on gender," Religion News Service, 2017-AUG-30, at: http://religionnews.com/
  5. book cover Karen Armstrong, "The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions," Anchor; Reprint edition (2007). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  6. George Bernard Shaw quotation, at: https://www.brainyquote.com/
  7. "The Declaration of Independence," Independence Hall Association, at: http://www.ushistory.org/
  8. Jonathan Merritt, "Take a deep breath. The Nashville Statement won’t change anything," Religion News Service, 2017-AUG-30, at: http://religionnews.com/

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Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
Originally posted on: 2017-OCT-12
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