So… that Nashville Statement thang…
Josh Daffern writes about what he views as the “fatal flaws” with the recent Nashville Statement, boiling down to basically an objection to what he considers its abrasive tone, seemingly stemming from his suspicion that the writers and signers of the Statement are “ivory tower” academics with no real world pastoral experience with homosexuals and the other attendant sexual perversions — Rosaria Butterfield’s signature apparently not withstanding. My general sentiment is that I’m thankful for what the Statement did state clearly, for how much it was able to cover with broad support from the conservative evangelical world, pleased with the backlash of criticism from the usual liberal “Christian” quarters, and grateful for the way it is exposing the limpness of some so-called “conservative evangelicals” like Josh Daffern. When Daffern wonders about how many homosexuals the drafters/signers of the statement are friends with, we ought to ask him in return whether he would feel the same way about a statement condemning racism. Would he be willing to sign a similar statement outlining the evil of racism and ethnic rivalry? I would imagine that he would. So would all the same criticisms apply? How many white/black supremacists does Daffern have in his church? How many does he know personally? And would he object to a statement on racism because he wouldn’t see it being useful to ministry to those seriously tempted to join the KKK? Or does he only have uber-sensitivity to those struggling with “cool” sins?
At the same time, there were a couple of unfortunate omissions and/or ambiguities in the Nashville Statement that will likely have the overall effect of making some feel more brave and courageous than they actually are being. First, failing to mention (even very briefly) what the glorious differences between men and women are was one such omission — most generally the fact that God created man first and therefore is the glory of God and that the woman was created second and is the glory of man (1 Cor. 11). Given the egalitarian days we live in, this creational order and difference needed to have been spelled out. It’s not merely the fact that male and female are different; it’s the fact that there is an order to their differences.
Secondly, and very much related, the Statement failed to be crystal clear about the sinfulness of identifying with particular sexual temptations. So first off, it is not sin to be tempted. But it is sinful for a man to be sexually attracted to another man. In other words, the sin of lust is not symmetrical for heterosexual and homosexual temptation. A Christian man may notice that a woman is sexually attractive and not give in to lust. A Christian man who thinks that another man is sexually attractive has already given in to a species of lust — even if he isn’t imagining specific sexual acts with the other man. In other words, the temptation begins much sooner for homosexual temptation, and this is related to what we noted above about the way God made the world. Woman is the glory of man, and therefore it is not sinful to notice this fact. But to even consider another man as the glory of man is to already give in to a dishonorable passion, even short of explicit sexual content. For a man to even consider another man to even be in the category of ‘persons of attraction’ is itself sexual confusion and a sin against the way God made the world. Just substitute in the words “horse” or “little boy” for the attraction and you should get the point easily. So the temptation actually begins at the point of Satan asking if God really said that the woman is the only glory of man. As soon as a man desires some other part of creation to take the place of woman as the glory of man, he has committed lust in his heart. If a man looks at a woman and lusts after her, he has committed adultery; if a man looks at tree or a dog or another man as sexually desirable in any way, he has already committed sin. But if the question merely occurs to the man and he refuses Satan’s offer, he has resisted temptation and not committed sin. I also think it’s important then that we not use the phrase “same sex attraction,” but rather “same sex temptation” — and furthermore that Christians not be identified by or classified by their temptations or put into communities full of other people with the same temptations. I don’t want married men going around identifying as “adultery tempted” even though they may occasionally experience that temptation, and I would be opposed to creating fellowship and accountability groups for men who self-identified as “adultery tempted.” I don’t want them “coming out” publicly and encouraging other men to “come out” with their experiences of adultery temptation. Um, not helpful. At the same time, men (whatever their temptation) should have godly elders to turn to (privately) who lovingly and compassionately ask them hard questions, admonish and rebuke them when they sin, and disciple them in Jesus Christ.
Thirdly, while not a fatal flaw, I do believe that Josh Daffern’s criticisms get at something else in a reverse negative sort of way. What I mean is that while Daffern demurs from the statement, claiming that it fails to love in its harshness, I would argue that the statement barely retains a full orbed truthfulness. So Daffern’s qualm is not with the Nashville Statement but with the Bible, God, and Jesus. As one fellow related when talking about this statement, he used to think that Jesus was just so very, very nice, and then one day he started actually reading the gospels and realized that Jesus wasn’t that super nice guy he had always thought He was. Jesus rebukes, He mocks, He calls one gentile woman a dog, He tells offensive stories, He deliberately confuses and offends. And He is the same one who looks on the multitudes with compassion, as sheep without a shepherd. He is the same one who weeps over Jerusalem, wishing they would be gathered like chicks under the wing of a mother hen. He calls to the weary and promises to give them rest. He is fierce and kind. He hates sin and loves the broken. And the whole Bible is full of this combo — the ferocity of prophets and the beautiful love of the prophets, the furious imprecations of the psalms and the glorious comfort of the psalms, the confusions of the apocalyptic visions and the clarity of declarations of forgiveness and cleansing, the wrath of God and the tender mercy of God, and so on. The Bible, God, and Jesus our Savior are far more fierce and bold than the Nashville Statement. The Bible calls homosexuality and its attendant sins an abomination, a perversion, vile passions — and yet it holds out a stubborn hope for cleansing and healing for even the worst of sinners.
One of the ways Christians get this wrong is by thinking that love is just a feeling or a sentiment. But that’s a lie from the pit of Hell. Love always implies a standard of right and wrong. You cannot love without a standard. Otherwise, how can you do good to someone? How can you sacrifice for the welfare of someone, if you don’t know which way is up or down? Sure, sometimes love just means a hug, a kind word of affirmation, a warm bowl of soup — yes, sometimes, but really only when those things are good and right and true — a kind word of affirmation to a lynch mob probably isn’t the thing they need. If we actually care about real people long term, then we must get beyond the sentimental and superficial. We must actually do them good. But this means you cannot love your neighbor, your enemy, or anyone without knowing what is right. If you mean well and do your neighbor harm, it doesn’t count as love. You can’t start a fire in your neighbor’s kitchen and call it love because you only intended to help them stay warm. The Bible says that homosexuality, crossdressing, and every form of prostitution are abominations (Lev. 18:22, 20:13, Dt. 22:5, 23:17-18), and an abomination is something that defiles the land (Lev. 18:25-30, Ez. 18:13). An abomination is something that causes desolation (Ez. 16:50ff, 33:26-29). It kills life (Dt. 7:25-26). It destroys life (Dt. 12:31). It empties the land of all living things. And most importantly, it drives God’s life-giving presence away (Dan. 11:31, 12:11, Mt. 24:15, Mk. 13:14).
So love means telling this truth with all the compassion and grace we can muster, while holding out the hope of healing and forgiveness and reconciliation in the bloodstained cross of Jesus Christ. But it is not love to let friends and neighbors defile our land, our cities, our nations without doing all that we can to stop them from the harm they are inflicting on themselves, those around them, and our world. We will be hated and considered hateful for doing this, but Jesus already told us that we will be hated because they hated Him first. And this will require even greater courage.