I recently attended a rally in my town to advocate for the spread of “kindness” rather than vitriolic hate speech. I did so because there is apparently so much confusion over what our world needs most right now that cos-playing white nationalists in Confederate uniforms have taken to the streets in order to publicly lament their loss of “autonomy as individual states within an overreaching federal system” or “slaves” roughly 152 years ago.
It’s a rather strange time to be alive.
So when a large group of Christians with very many Twitter followers, convened in Middle Tennessee this week to create and release a document they have ominously entitled “THE NASHVILLE STATEMENT” I had to know more. (Namely, because I love Connie Britton in the show Nashville and her other work on Friday Night Lights.)
However, instead of a theological justification for exactly why God allowed Hayden Panettiere, another Nashville character, to commit war crimes against Southern accents for roughly 6 seasons on network television, I got this:
“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. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.
This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?”
To which, at first blush, I thought: FINALLY! a group of people willing to take a stand that could alienate them from their revenue streams in favor of delivering moral clarity on the issues currently besieging our globe like historic flooding resulting from climate change, institutional racism, violence parading as patriotism, and bald faced power grabs by “Christian leaders” so desperate for some White House correspondence stock that they have proclaimed Thermonuclear War a “God ordained right” for our president to undertake if he feels threatened.
Then I read this:
“WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”
“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.”
And (oddly enough) this:
“WE DENY that killing off Rayna James (Connie Britton) in Season 5 of Nashville made the show more dynamic. It didn’t, and is inconsistent with both God’s designs for soapy drama (see Shonda Rhimes) and/or a biblical definition of ‘Must See TV.'”
Of course THE NASHVILLE STATEMENT is a 10-page document signed by yet another cabal of “Christian leaders” during one of the most tumultuous summers in recent memory that unsurprisingly fails to mention anything constructive for people of faith and goodwill to do other than repudiate another group of people whom they have already repudiated ad nauseam.
So, in the spirit of tone-deafly dragging soapboxes into the middle of (say) a Houston convention center where thousands of now homeless families and individuals are trying to get some much needed sleep on uncomfortable cots thanks to a 500 year flood, may I suggest a few quick notes for your “NASHVILLE STATEMENT”?
The word “Transgenderism” sounds like something one might catch from eating undercooked shrimp on a Carnival cruise line. If it weirds you out for people so uncomfortable with their biological sex that they take steps at their own personal peril to mitigate this discomfort (like changing clothes, names, hair, and physiology), maybe don’t discuss it like it’s incurable gout. Personally, I enjoy addressing people with greetings like: “Hi Gary!” (That is, of course, only if they enjoy being called “Gary.”) I find using people’s preferred names and identities makes them more relatable and less likely to be sacrificed on the altar of my need to score political points from a pulpit or a Nashville Holiday Inn Convention Center (I’m assuming).
Please discontinue the use of phrases like “counter-cultural witness,” “biblical conviction,” and/or “courage” to describe taking a stand that absolutely WILL NOT result in rejection or reprimand from anyone paying your salaries, filling your nonprofit boards, watching your Christian television shows, questioning your political affiliations, buying your books, filling your conferences, or attending your seminaries and/or for-profit online schools of supernatural ministry. It isn’t courageous to energize your base.
For clarity’s sake: was anyone currently confused about where a group of mostly Southern Baptist men — more than one of which has blamed natural disasters on the existence of civil rights legislation protecting LGBTQIA people — stood on the issue of sexual and gender non-conformity? I must say, never in my life have I been more clear on how a person or pastor using the adjective “biblical” to describe anything from toothpaste brands to shallow justifications for electing Donald Trump to the highest office in the land feels about the LGBTQIA community. In short: we know, even without the PDF.
Naming this theological knee-capper of a resolution THE NASHVILLE STATEMENT as if it were going to be forever enshrined in the annals of revered Christian history feels about as historically weighty as those “Old Timey Photos” families take at Dollywood where dad’s holding a toy rifle and mom is weirdly dressed up like a sexy saloon worker. Not only is it pastiche and overpriced, it attempts to cheaply memorialize parts of American life that no one who actually lived through them would ever do voluntarily. (Exhibit A: cos-playing Confederate soldiers at your local monuments)
Whether you agree with the sentiments put forth by this statement, or you strongly oppose them, or you believe that healthy disagreement about other people’s sexuality and gender identity will serve to finally unravel the validity of a centuries old religious tradition that has been used to justify genocide and slavery on almost every continent: Let me remind you, the one (arguably) biblical definition of “courage” almost never involves nailing someone else to a cross in the name of your God.
According to the witness encountered in those testimonies to the life of Jesus so many pastors pass over on their way to Romans, the word courage or “counter-cultural witness” is typically reserved for those willing to die themselves — even when that “self” would later be termed “fully God” by some council in a city we can no longer find on a map — rather than a term for those using oppressed minority groups as a bullet shield for their own existential anxieties about losing political power in a changing world.*
(*NOTE: I even seem to remember reading somewhere that it was actually anxious religious leaders in bed with the Roman empire, and not people attempting to carve out a life on the margins of orthodox religious life, who brought Jesus to the executioner.)
So, here’s a much shorter statement:
God doesn’t kill, shame, reject, or condemn other people to save the world.
God allows God’s self to be killed, shamed, rejected, and condemned to save the world.
No matter how many people sign up for it, nailing other people to crosses designed for those of us who seek to follow this crucified God will always result in more chaos, fear, violence, and darkness.
And we need the light, now — more than ever — because the creek has already risen, and there are actual Nazis at the gate.