Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Nashville Statement on human sexuality


It's good in what it says. What's telling is what it doesn't say - i.e. the things that self-identifying evangelicals and complementarians yet either 1) can't bring themselves to say, or 2) don't agree on or 3) didn't think of including. I'd suspect that, in terms of the most telling omissions, it's mostly 1) and 2).

I speak of the role relationships between husband and wife within a family, and the general connection between masculinity and responsibility to provide godly, Christ-shaped leadership in general in life, and the general connection between femininity and the responsibility to honour the general assignment of leadership to males in God's creation order (whilst fully recognised the complete equality and dignity of male and female as made in the image of God). This doesn't get a word. Articles 3 and 4 mention "the divinely ordained differences between male and female". But what are these divinely ordained differences? The statement mentions nothing beyond biological differences, and that marriage is intended to reflect the relationship between Christ and his church. But in terms of key words like "leadership" or "submission"; or concepts like affirming the value of home-making and motherhood against the world's lies about them; entire silence.

And that's the elephant in the room. It's a key area on which evangelicals begun compromising long ago. It's the place where the rot has already set in and travelled far. So far, that it can't even be mentioned in a statement explicitly intended to outline the contours of Biblical teaching on human sexuality. It's either embarrassing, or self-condemning, or both. We can't say "the husband has a duty to always provide godly leadership and take final responsibility for everything that happens in his family; the wife has a duty to submit herself to her husband's leadership and obey him in all things that are lawful according to God's word", because we either don't believe it, or don't want people to think we believe it, or don't practise it. (Which is why evangelical weddings commonly drop these biblical vows, despite the Bible's clear words about them).

What difference does it make? A huge amount. Study the statement. Ask the question "So... what difference does all this doctrine about human sexuality make in practice, according to what's written here?" Unless there's some actual *content* to idea of the relationship between Christ and his church, all we have left is the actual sexual act. The articles speak about who can, and who can't, partake in bodily sexual relations. i.e. It's hugely reductionist. The sexual act itself is left, under this scheme, as basically something arbitrary - and it appears that the unbelievers' charge (that on this subject, the church is just interested in forbidding sex, and not in too much else) has weight to it. But is being male and female really only about who you can't have sexual relationships with? Is that he beginning and the end of it? Are fatherhood and motherhood potentially interchangeable words? Do "husband" and "wife" signify nothing about role relationship? If they do, then it's clearly important enough to mention beyond an unexplained reference to a Biblical image. But if they don't, then in fact we as evangelicals do have a hugely reductionist doctrine of human sexuality, which this statement does nothing to fix.

So, as I say, the statement is good - in what it says. But if you look at what it omits, then you then see that it's not appropriate only for evangelicals to sign these statements to indicate their doctrinal purity, and talk only about areas in which evangelical practice is still mostly "holding the line". We also need to repent, do the former works, and confess the things in which we've sinned.

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