August 30, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, August 30, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’re going to talk about why a group of evangelical leaders has released a document offering clarity on gender and sexuality in a time of confusion; we’re going to ask the question and answer it: ‘Why is sexuality such a big deal for the church?’; and we’re going to understand why the human scale is really the most important scale when it comes to a big story like Hurricane Harvey.
Evangelical coalition releases Nashville statement, a manifesto on biblical sexuality
In a time of confusion, one of the greatest gifts that can be given to and by Christ’s church is clarity, and clarity requires at times that matters of truth, matters of truth in particular times of trial, should to be put into words in order to bear the testimony of that clarity. A manifesto was released yesterday; it’s known as the Nashville Statement, it’s a coalition for biblical sexuality. A group of evangelical leaders had gathered in Nashville for a meeting to determine how the statement should be released, and it was released yesterday morning by the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I, I should say at the beginning, was a speaker at the event and a signatory to this statement, and there are many others, as we shall see, who signed it as well. The big issue is this: What took place as released on August 29, 2017 was a statement by Christians who believe that it is our responsibility to speak clearly to issues of gender and sex and sexuality and biblical morality in a time when these issues are commonly confused. By late yesterday the Nashville Statement was one of the most often discussed issues in social media and it had gained a great deal of media attention as well. More on that attention in just a moment, back to the statement for now.
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The statement begins with a preamble that states,
“Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being.”
Now as the statement makes clear, there is a particular subversion of a biblical understanding of humanity — what it means to be human — at the level of denying the gift of what it means to be a man and a woman, and for that to be a part of God’s intention in creation for each one of us as revealed even in our anatomy; it’s a biological fact. In discussions as the statement was being framed, one of the points I really wanted to make is that our understanding of human dignity as grounded in creation has to acknowledge that in the very same verse in which we are told that God had created human beings in his image, thus distinctive creatures — the only creatures made in God’s image — it also states unequivocally that God has made those human beings in his image as male and female. Thus, one of the things we need to make very clear as Christians is that a subversion of what it means to be male and female is actually a subversion of human dignity of any adequate understanding of human dignity that can undergird what makes human beings distinct from other creatures, and furthermore, what undergirds the understanding that every single human being is made in God’s image.
Following the form of other important evangelical statements and manifestoes, this document includes affirmations and denials. This is a yes and no structure that has a long history in the Christian church. The structure’s explained by this: It’s not enough to say what we do believe when clarity also requires that we say what we do not believe. It’s not just enough to say this is what we believe the Bible teaches, we must also say this is contrary to what we understand the Bible to teach. Article 1 states classical Christian biblical doctrine in reality,
“WE AFFIRM that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.
WE DENY that God has designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship. We also deny that marriage is a mere human contract rather than a covenant made before God.”
That Article 1 states a most fundamental Christian — historic Christian — understanding of what God has revealed in Scripture and in nature, but it also indicates the yes and no, the affirmation and denial structure that is so important to this document. By the time we come to Article 3 we read,
“WE AFFIRM that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
WE DENY that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.”
Again, that’s a very important. Explaining that God, for his glory and for our good, has made us as male and female and distinguished us as male and female, but not in terms of an issue of greater or lesser in terms of his image, but rather as equal.
Article four states
“WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.”
Now that gets to one of the central fault lines in terms of much contemporary discussion, often involving those who identify as Christians. It comes down to exactly the right theological and biblical question: Is homosexuality and same-sex attraction something that is a part of the goodness of God’s creation from the beginning or is it evidence of a distortion and the confusion after the Fall? The reality is that the Bible makes very clear that it is a result of a distortion and confusion after the Fall. I’d say it’s exactly the right question because if indeed sexual relationships and relatedness between persons of the same sex were a part of the goodness of God’s creation from the very beginning, if this is a part of God’s creative intention, then of course we would have to bless it, but it’s very clear that such a claim runs contrary not only to specific text in Scripture, but to the totality of the biblical revelation.
Amongst the articles that are likely to attract the greatest attention would be Article 8,
“WE AFFIRM that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.
WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation, or that it puts a person outside the hope of the gospel.”
Then Article 10,
“WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of 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.”
There are 14 different articles in the statement, every one of them important and they are sequential in terms of the unfolding of the very clear claims made in this manifesto. What makes this document on the one hand so timely is the fact that it speaks with genuine gospel commitment and genuine Christian compassion to the entire church, including persons who are struggling with same-sex desires or with gender confusion. At the same time, out of that same love and gospel conviction, it speaks with clarity to what God has very clearly revealed in his Word concerning not only his original design for human beings made in his image male and female, but for the exercise of the sexual gift entirely, as Scripture says, within the context of marriage defined, as the statement says, as a covenantal sexual procreative lifelong union of a man and a woman.
The entire statement can be found at nashvillestatement.com, and there you will also see a list of the original signatories. It’s a range of evangelical leaders; what binds those evangelical leaders together is a concern for the burden of speaking clarity during this time the confusion. And that clarity, not coming from ourselves, but rather, we believe, from the authority of God’s unchanging Word. But in the aftermath in the immediate media response to the release of the statement yesterday, just as predicted, there are the immediate claims that those who signed this statement, and again I am among them, are simply amongst those whom history will leave behind, the argument that this will one day be an embarrassment to the signatories or at least to their children and grandchildren. But here is where we have to understand as I have tried to make clear on The Briefing over and over again, that there really is no middle ground on these questions, we really are talking about a forced decision. Either you will join with the clarity, the biblical clarity, found in this document or you’re going to join with those who hold to a revisionist understanding not only of how the Bible is to be interpreted but also the gospel of Jesus Christ. There’s no way around it. We are now facing a forced set of alternatives, and there is no place to hide.
The document is called the Nashville Statement because it was in a meeting in Nashville that it was most thoroughly discussed, and where the decision was made to go forward with its release. Interestingly, one of the early responders to the document was none other than the Mayor of Nashville. Mayor Megan Barry said on Twitter that what she called the so-called Nashville Statement and I quote,
“is poorly named and does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville”
Now the mayor’s very openly supportive of LGBTQ issues, that’s beyond doubt. The interesting thing about that is that here the elected Mayor of Nashville, holding a political office, felt that she had to respond to a statement made by Christian leaders in her city and to distance her city from the document. That tells us also something about the political climate we now face. Some of the earliest critics to the document have their say in an article published late yesterday at the Huffington Post by Antonia Blumberg. One of the critics she cited was Brandan Robertson, identified as a Christian minister and LGBTQ activists. Among the statements quoted he said,
“This is indeed yet another sad day in the history of the modern evangelical movement.”
he went on to say,
“The most heart breaking part of this statement is that this document will promote and perpetuate teachings that will cause verifiable psychological harm to LGBT+ Christian youth in churches around the world.”
Now at this point we simply have to note what’s at stake here. Here you have two contrary worldviews, two different ways of looking at the world, two entirely different theologies, and one emphasizes what’s identified as ‘verifiable psychological harm’ that can come to LGBTQ youth on the one hand, and on the other hand biblical truth as is revealed in God’s Word. Now there is no way that Brandan Robertson would want to put it that way, but that’s exactly what we’re facing here. It is a question as to whether or not the Bible — as it has been understood by the Christian church for 2000 years — is either divine truth, and thus it is for our good, or it is an instrument of psychological harm to LGBTQ youth and young people. This shows us why there really is no middle ground on these issues because here you have two absolutely distinct and impossible to reconcile statements about Scripture. Either Scripture, as its been understood by the church for 2000 years, is God’s truth, and thus not only true but good for us, or it is an instrument of psychological harm; it is one or the other.
Once again, I hope you will go in read the statement for yourself. I think it’s very important, I think it’s historic, I think it’s deeply biblical, I think it’s urgently timely. You can read it at nashvillestatement.com, and there you will also see the signatories. And we’re about to see a sorting in terms of evangelical Christianity, and one of those sorts comes down to this: Do you sig this statement or do you oppose it? Those are two very different worldviews and they will lead to very different theological and spiritual consequences.
Nowhere to hide: Church faces unavoidable questions on issues of sexuality
Next we turn to an article recently published at Religion News Service by Emily McFarlan Miller. She asked a question in the headline:
“Why is sexuality such a big deal for the church?”
Well, that is a good question. It’s a fair question to ask in today’s contemporary context. Why does the church find itself so regularly, in terms of controversy and conversation, about the questions a sexuality? And the reason comes down to this: There is no way to avoid them. This is a society, as a whole, that puts these issues of sexuality right on the front burner in virtually every single edition of the newspaper, just about every single day’s cycle the news, and, furthermore, in terms of public and policy conversation. But furthermore, the Christian church is being directly asked the question: Is this right; is this wrong? Will you bless this; will you not? Will you conduct a same-sex marriage or would you not conduct a same-sex marriage? These are unavoidable questions, that’s why there is no place to hide.
I explained to Emily McFarlan Miller Religion News Service, that there’s no way for the church to avoid these questions, and the fact that we’re talking so much about these issues now really has everything to do with the fact that the entire public conversation, the public square, is aflame with these issues. In the article, I was able to make the points I wanted to make about why this conversation is unavoidable and why gospel minded Christians committed to Scripture find ourselves having to discuss these issues over and over again, and the RNS story makes also very clear that the other side of the argument is constantly raising these issues. Emily McFarlan Miller ends her article with these words,
“And while those who hold what Mohler refers to as a historic Christian view of sexuality maintain that their view is the biblical one, others say the Bible may not be so clear. A glance,” she writes, “at Romans 1 suggests its writer, Paul, may not have had the same kind of committed same-sex relationships in mind that readers see and experience today.”
That according to Matthew Vines, an LGBTQ activist also cited in the article.
“Plus, there are only about five verses in the Bible that mention homosexuality,” that said by another source, “compared with hundreds of passages about ‘care for the poor, justice for all persons, welcoming the stranger’ and other topics that don’t command the same energy and financial support.”
Now the big thing to notice here is the fact that the Bible’s unavoidable. It’s kind of held off in this article until the very last point, that at the end of the Bible is unavoidable, and you’re either going to have to claim that the apostle Paul really didn’t know what he was talking about when it comes to human sexuality, or you’re going to believe that inspired by the Holy Spirit he tells us exactly what God wants us to know about what it means to be male and female and what it means to be given the sexual gift. We need to note that these issues are not only unavoidable in the public square in terms of the media political and policy conversation, eventually they are tragically unavoidable even on the playground. That is just how far these issues are being driven through every dimension of the culture even to persons of virtually every age. As we saw just recently, with schools being very involved in transgender lessons to kindergartners. We now know that there is nowhere to hide, even in preschool.
Why the human scale is the most important scale when it comes to Hurricane Harvey
Finally, we look at the fact that as of yesterday the storm that had been known as Hurricane Harvey is now described as
“the most extreme rain event in US history.”
As we saw yesterday, these are statistics that absolutely defy human imagination. Pointing out how small we are, how huge the cosmos is, and how these giant storms actually put us in our perspective in terms of the bigness of the universe and the smallness of what it means to be human, but it also points to the fact that human beings actually are, not only as we believe, but as is revealed in Scripture, the most important beings on the entire planet. That from a Christian biblical worldview is why we rightly care so much about the human beings whose lives have been endangered and are even now endangered in this storm. It is because even though the storm is so big and it is so unstoppable, and even as these massive natural occurrences defy our imagination even in scale, the biggest and most important scale comes down to every single human life, precisely because we believe that every single human being is made in the image of God. And so rightly, our minds and hearts right now are directed towards those in Houston and, furthermore, anywhere in the world where under these kinds of circumstances or some other natural circumstances or storm or earthquake or fire or famine, there is human suffering. The Christian understands that our concern for fellow human beings, even as compared to the fact that we do not have the same concern for inanimate objects or even for other creatures on the same terms, comes down to the biblical worldview and the fact that we really do believe, not only that every single human being is made an image of God, but that because of that we actually must, as Jesus said, see every single human being as our neighbor. As stories like this unfold day by day, it’s very easy for a certain fatigue to set in and for us all to say, ‘we’ve heard and said enough about that. Let’s move on.’ If only it were so easy for the people who are even now living in the midst of the rain and the flood and the aftermath. The stories about big weather really are interesting, fascinating, sometimes even scary. But it’s the story about every single human being, right down on the human scale, it’s that story that’s more important.