This past week I was part of an effort that put America’s theological and moral fault lines fully in view. I was a signer of something called the Nashville Statement, a document adopted by a group of evangelical Christians seeking to reaffirm traditional Christian values on sexuality.
Within hours, the vitriol in response to our document showed why such clarification is necessary.
One of the most intense lines of criticism was that we, signers of the document, dismiss the pain and suffering of those who live outside those historic Biblical sexual norms. That we weren’t acknowledging the rejection they feel in the church and were making their sins appear more significant than our own.
To be clear: Christians understand the brokenness of the world. We signers know ourselves, like all humanity, to be broken by sin. We have no right to face the world from a claim of moral superiority. We know and confess that Christians have often failed to speak the truth in love.
In releasing the Nashville Statement, we in fact are acting out of love and concern for people who are increasingly confused about what God has clarified in Holy Scripture.
Evangelical Christians believe that God has spoken in the Bible, and that obedience to what he has spoken is both true and essential for human wholeness, freedom, and fulfillment — for human flourishing.
We fully understand that our culture is increasingly influenced by the promise that human flourishing can come by what is styled as sexual liberation and the overthrowing of historic Christianity’s witness to God’s purpose in making us as sexual beings — even making us as male and female.
The statement was carefully written. Love of neighbor requires us to speak clearly and very specifically to the truths affirmed and the errors denied in the document.
It would be much easier to be quiet, to let the moral revolution proceed unanswered, and to seek some kind of refuge in silence or ambiguity. For the sake of same-sex attracted people and others, we did not believe we could remain silent — or unclear — and be faithful.
The backlash to the document shows why it is so needed: While the Christian church has held to a normative understanding of biblical sexuality for over two millennia, we now face challenges to biblical teaching that require an unprecedented level of specificity. It affirmed what would have been universally acknowledged as the historic Christian faith without question or controversy until just the last several years.
We understand that we live in an increasingly post-Christian world, and that a vast revolution in sexual morality is now fundamentally reshaping the landscape. Churches and pastors, Christian institutions and individual Christians, are now under intense pressure to adopt this new sexual morality, along with its redefinition of marriage and gender.
The “Nashville Statement,” like many other doctrinal declarations common to Christian history, seeks to summarize, clarify, and affirm what Holy Scripture reveals. In this case, we find ourselves clarifying what no previous generation of Christians has been called upon to clarify. We must now clarify and specify what the Bible teaches about human sexuality, marriage, and what it means to be made male and female.
The Nashville Statement affirms God’s design for marriage as “a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman.” Those are the very purposes of marriage affirmed, for example, in the historic Book of Common Prayer. Chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage are affirmed as the clear teaching of the Bible. We deny that God designed marriage “to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship.” The Christian church — in all of its major branches — has joined in this denial for 2,000 years.
We affirm that God created Adam and Eve as the first human beings, as the statement says, “in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.” Further, we affirm that God calls his human creatures “to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.”
The statement denies that same-sex attraction “is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.”
Pastors, parents, and individual Christians are asking for clear answers to what they see as new questions. We have attempted to provide them. Churches and Christian institutions have asked for a statement to which they can point for reference and affirmation. We have sought to assist them.
Many of the responses to the “Nashville Statement” have underlined the urgency and the necessity of the document. One response, offered as the “Denver Statement,” released by a church in Colorado, specifically affirms “that the glorious variety of gender and sexual expression is a reflection of God’s original creation design and are aspects of human flourishing.”
That affirmation is certainly in keeping with the moral revolution, but intellectual honesty requires the admission that it cannot be squared with the Bible’s account of creation. The “Denver Statement” denies “that sexual attraction for the same sex is outside the natural goodness of God’s original creation.” That fits the new sexual morality quite well, but runs counter to the consistent teaching of Scripture in both the Old and New Testaments.
Several of the responses have been quite candid in celebrating the overthrow of two thousand years of Christian moral teaching. Fair enough, but such a celebration acknowledges a severe break with historic Christianity. The “Denver Statement” makes this point clearly: “Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in an exciting, beautiful, liberating, and holy period of historic transition.”
In less than one week, the “Nashville Statement” has marked an ironic achievement. It has incited those who would replace Christianity with a new religion teaching a new morality to be explicit in their rejection of the historic Christian faith.
The main goal of the “Nashville Statement” is to point all persons, regardless of the form of our struggles over sexuality or self-identity, to salvation and wholeness in Christ. With all our hearts, we believe that the sexual revolution cannot deliver on its promises, but that Christ always delivers on his.
The very fact that the statement made headlines and was greeted with shock and surprise in some quarters underlines why it was needed. We believe that human dignity, human flourishing, and true human freedom are at stake. We know that two rival visions of what it means to be human are now fully apparent. We stand by the vision affirmed in the historic Christian faith.
Albert Mohler Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.