On “The Nashville Statement”

I am and will always be steeped in and stained with the blood of Jesus Christ. There will never be a time when I don’t think about what life would’ve been like for me had I followed through with my plans to head off to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY upon graduating college. Maybe I would still go to church. Perhaps I’d live in a Southern town as opposed to a Northern city. It is entirely possible that I might have become one of these brave modern-day crusaders that seek—in a time of racism, political polarization, open Nazism, and hate—to take a stand against the “threat” of the LGBTQ community to the value of families and all civility, but I really hope not.

I want to believe there is still much wisdom in the Christian tradition. Many passages of the bible come to my mind as I live in and around the people of my immediate social environment. For example, the beatitudes and Jesus’ sermon on the  mount have been a constant reminder for me to be humble and treat others with respect—you know, the way I want to be treated. There are so many people I know personally who follow the teachings of Jesus and are the very pinnacle of good and decent human beings. Many are my friends and my family, and I love them, dearly. We have differences, and we respect each other and discuss those differences with open minds and good intentions. The ones that think differently from me have come to their conclusions based on their experiences. I cannot deny them those conclusions, and I would never try…

…unless they promoted inequality, violence, and discrimination against others I know and love that have come to separate conclusions.

Let me begin with a little background.

I grew up a Southern Baptist, and it is a fact that I learned how to become a person through the lens of Evangelical Christianity. In the same way that people are not entirely good or entirely evil, there are things about my upbringing specific to evangelicalism that have been both beneficial and detrimental. Usually I can categorize them with efficiency. Sometimes the water gets a little muddy, and I have trouble deciding.

The community of faith in which I grew up taught me how to love other people selflessly and to make sacrifices for the good of all people, showing me that love was more important than wealth or fame or power and that I couldn’t live life—at least a good life—outside of a community. If asked where they learned to live like this, they would likely respond that they grew up reading about Jesus and doing their best to emulate how he is represented in the gospels. Maybe that’s true. It could also be the people around them who taught them to live that way. Interpretations of Jesus’ message vary greatly and change drastically from place to place, person to person, and time to time.

In any case, during difficult times in my own life, many of these same wonderful people have reached out to me, giving me encouragement and support, because they know me and love me.

But then again, I’ve never been gay, trans, or queer and have never aggressively challenged their belief system. I’ve never been told that I can’t get married because I’m gay. I have only ever been a white heterosexual male, and my experience is the only one I have. I’m not saying that they would’ve treated me differently; I know many wouldn’t have. But I think about this.

It is with great shame that I once held the discriminatory and bigoted beliefs laid out in the Nashville Statement put out by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood this week. I could say that I didn’t know any better, but the truth is that I didn’t stop to ask myself important questions before deciding on answers. I didn’t think critically or have any open minded conversations with people who might think differently than I. And lastly, I failed to consult the very people I deemed “sinful” because I blindly trusted the interpretations of an ancient text written in the context of an ancient civilization full of inequality, sexism, superstition, and ignorance over that of any modern day human experience or scientific evidence.

I am ashamed of this. It is one of the deeper shames of my life, but I am thankful that I was finally able to see past this with help from friends and family.

My criticisms of Christianity go well beyond the stances taken on the LGBTQ community and its relationship with the church. I’ve searched my experiences comparing them to what I know about Jesus and the teachings of the bible, and as of now, I don’t see the world the same way I did when I was a believer. A few years back, I would’ve said of someone like me that they didn’t want to believe the way I did because they didn’t want to live the way I did. And there’s some truth to that I think.

Given the nature of this personal opinion piece as a response, I felt it necessary to explain where I’m coming from and where I am in terms of my own worldview. If you’re curious and want to delve into that further, shoot me an email, give me a call, or let’s grab a beer or coffee if you don’t drink.

The real reason I wrote this article is because I am appalled that the people that I once called my brothers and sisters chose at this time in our history—when literal Nazis take to the streets chanting “Blood and Soil”—to publish what they call “The Nashville Statement“. If you’d prefer to read it in entirety, I’ve enclosed a link to the statement above. To summarize, the document is a belief statement made up of a series of articles that dictate what the signers do and do not believe about human sexuality and marriage. The consensus is much of the same: marriage should only exist between a man and a woman; sex should only be enjoyed by the married; men and women are ‘created’ inherently different; and these differences do not make them unequal.

Statements like this from the Southern Baptist Convention are nothing new. It is a tired trope of stagnation many in the Christian community, I am proud to say, have made the decision to stand against. I’m sad to say, the contents of the Nashville Statement did not surprise me, but I was initially confused by why the drafters named it “The Nashville Statement” instead of something, anything else. After some research, I discovered the real reason for the name “Nashville Statement” is because the signers met there to discuss and sign the document in person. This naming convention is nothing new, and many historical documents are named for the location of their signing. Nashville Mayor, Megan Barry, made sure to publicly reject that this document has anything to do the social climate of the city of Nashville on Twitter after the statement was released.

What confuses me at this point is why now is the time for such a statement.

Marriage equality isn’t really what’s dominating the headlines at the moment. That isn’t to say that there isn’t still a long way to go for the civil rights of the LGBTQ community.

Men and women toting swastika-embroidered flags next to confederate banners have taken to the streets to protest the removal of confederate monuments all over these United States. The tension between those that would prefer to keep the statues and monuments where they are and those that would seek to see them removed came to a head several weeks ago in the city of Charlottesville, NC where a young woman named Heather Heyer was murdered by a Neo-Nazi who drove his vehicle into a crowd of anti-protesters standing against bigotry and racism, violence and hate.

Our current president came under heavy fire because he did not immediately denounce these violent acts for what they were: domestic terrorism. And instead of immediately speaking out against these racist/hate groups across America that praised the actions of the young man who murdered Heather, he issued a statement days later against racism only to reiterate his initial statement the following day from the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan, NY.

I suspect his reasoning is because those protesting the removal of confederate monuments—“very fine people” marching alongside Nazis and white supremacists—make up his base of supporters, and saying anything that would lose that base could cost political points and support.

You know it. I know it. Everybody knows it.

And so, at this point in our nation’s history, the Southern Baptist Convention decides to issue a statement about biblical sexuality? Again?

And which ‘biblical sexuality’ are we talking about here? Prostitution? Polygamy? Incest? Patriarchy? Grabbing ’em by the pussy? Which one?

Historically, the signers of the Nashville Statement can universally agree on their stance against homosexuality based on two passages in the bible (Leviticus 20:13 and Romans 1:26-28) but have trouble when it comes to racism, white nationalism, and Nazism. They recently put out a statement against white nationalism and the alternative right movement but only after coming under fire for not doing so sooner (not unlike our current president). It wasn’t too long ago that they couldn’t agree on segregation, and the Southern Baptists were initially founded because of a disagreement in 1845 about whether or not slave holding persons should be missionaries.

I now want to bring your attention to Article X from the Nashville Statement. The following is a direct quote:

“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.”

The wording here is quite interesting. I’m not positing that the Nashville Statement is entirely political, as these are views that have been long held by the Southern Baptist Convention and other denominations within the Christian faith, but at the same time it’s interesting that transgenderism is included.

The only reasoning I can think of for issuing such a statement at this time is to justify the recent call from our president to ban transgender persons from military service. Where else has this topic surfaced recently aside from public restroom use?

Religion has played an enormous part in the politics of our nation, and evangelicals have traditionally been on the side of conservative parties. In recent news, Russell Moore, director of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, was almost ousted from the Southern Baptist convention for being hypercritical of then-presidential candidate, Donald Trump. Moore’s criticisms of religion in politics and more specifically the Southern Baptist Convention’s open support for the Republican party have cost him support from within the evangelical community, and he is quoted to have said that Donald Trump has “serious moral problems”.

Moore’s name is fourth on the list of signers of the Nashville Statement, made up of 185 men and 13 women.

Does the Nashville Statement have a political agenda? Absolutely. The question is whether or not it has political ties to the Trump administration. I don’t know, but I think it’s worth asking. My gut tells me yes, but we all know what happens when you assume.

While I no longer consider myself part of the Christian faith, I ask that my friends and family who are openly denounce this statement of bigotry and hate and hold their religious leaders responsible. We should also ask ourselves the tough questions and do our best to fight for the rights and equality of everyone around us, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, or creed, even if we disagree. I find it difficult to think that Jesus, who is written to have spent time with thieves, beggars, prostitutes, lepers, and “the least of these”, would stand with such documentation.

The Nashville Statement flies in the face of everything that Jesus stood for, casting stones at those the Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the signers of this document would seek to condemn to hell fire.

Thanks for reading,

Michial Miller

8-31-2017

 

 

 

 

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