Nashville Statement: the Antithesis of Generous Space

Since the release of the Nashville Statement (NS) on August 29, 2017 there have been many supportive and encouraging responses for LGBTQ+ people.  See:  Denver Statement Liturgists Statement Christians United Statement

While my sense is that the NS was intended to rally momentum and power among a certain group within the U.S. church, what it has actually caused is an outpouring of support for LGBTQ+ people from every corner of the Body of Christ.  As Brian McLaren articulated so well, “The statement puts pressure on the large number of LGBTQ-sympathetic Evangelicals who are trying to remain anonymous.”  Reminds me of the Elie Wiesel quote, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” The theology of the NS contributes to putting LGBTQ+ lives at risk – risk of suicide, risk of homelessness, risk of self-harming behaviours, risk of discrimination and violence, risk of loss of family, employment, education, or church, risk of abandoning faith for all the wrong reasons ……

While the NS is profoundly severed from the humanity of their LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ, many (but sadly not all) queer Christians that I know won’t be rattled in their relationship with Jesus or in their sense of self by it.  They recognize that it emerges from vastly different priorities and values than the ones they hold dear as faithful to Jesus and faithful to the scriptures.  And while I don’t want in any way to minimize how hurtful the NS is or the danger it poses in reinforcing toxic exclusion within the Body of Christ, in my experience the LGBTQ+ Christian conversation, even among Evangelicals, has grown so much in its accessibility, visibility, and credibility that the NS is seen by many as irrelevant.  I still believe that it presents a cross-road opportunity, and that many Christ-followers, especially those with straight and cisgender privilege, will need to choose to speak up and resist what the NS seeks to promote.  And I still lament and pray for those vulnerable to the influence of those who support the NS. But thankfully, many LGBTQ+ Christians will weather this storm like the many they have already weathered, resolute in their faith that God calls them Beloved.

The strategy of the NS is to draw very clear lines in the sand, bellowing the challenge, “Are you with us or are you against us?” To add even more drama to this ultimatum is the assertion that if you disagree with their declaration, you are not and cannot be a true Christian.

This could not be more contrary to the ways God has led us to cultivate community in Generous Space.  Rather than drawing lines in the sand, we are energized by shared commitment to core values.  We embrace humility in our relationships with each other.  We practice hospitality by seeking out voices that are missing from our conversation. We resist oppressive power structures by choosing mutuality again and again and again. We work for justice by dismantling barriers that are preventing people from flourishing – and we see loving relationship, a sense of family, and deep experiences of belonging, affirmation, and support as intrinsic aspects of flourishing. We cultivate space by adopting a dialogical posture where we don’t demand uniformity in thought or practice – we honour the autonomy of the individual while inviting them to life in community. And we commit to non-violence, seeking to do no harm within the community – and enacting restorative practices.

Some surmise that the NS, seemingly released with callous indifference to the urgent pastoral need in the face of white supremacy, loss of access to healthcare, or the devastating effects of flooding, is in response to declining members.  Many feel it is energized by fear and seeking to stir up fear of the other.

In Generous Space, God has been calling us to ever deeper embrace of the other. I marvel at how stepping into the realities of intersectionality is maturing our community.  When your faith has developed resilience in the face of accusation, exclusion, and injustice, you find yourself even more deeply identifying with the Incarnate One.  LGBTQ+ Christians are, I believe, at the growing edges of the church and are imagining and living into the new wineskins that the Body of Christ desperately needs.

I have often quoted Miroslav Volf as saying, “The harder I pursue justice, the blinder I become to the injustice that I myself perpetuate.” I’m not sure the best response to the NS is to try to crush the theological perspectives it represents.  I know LGBTQ+ people themselves who hold more traditional interpretive priorities on questions of marriage and sexual expression. And Generous Space intentionally welcomes those who hold diverse theological perspectives, asking simply for commitment to the values I’ve described above, in the expectation that our differences aren’t problems to fix but opportunities to grow and mature in learning to love well.  I hope that people won’t see themselves as against particular people who hold traditional/conservative/(however you want to describe non-affirming of same-sex relationships) views – but will rather focus on resisting the audacious claims to know who has been reconciled to God through Christ and who hasn’t; resisting the rigid definition of who is “in” and who is “out”; resisting the spirit of exclusion; resisting the trampling of the vulnerable; resisting the “othering” of anyone who is different than you are; resisting the claim that the scriptures can only be engaged faithfully from one rigid set of very certain priorities.

In a day when Christendom in North America is associated with hypocrisy, power-grabs, greed, and supremacist ideals, it is the antithesis of the NS that will be the new shoot rising up from the stump. I trust that the values that nurture the community of Generous Space will offer a life-giving alternative to all that the NS represents – and will stand as a winsome invitation to meet and get to know the Jesus who calls us Beloved, who stands with the oppressed, and who calls us to join in the work for justice.

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