Don’t Be Upset about Nashville

Tolerance of a belief ends when it leads to harmful action.


In the midst of relief efforts underway in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released what they have called the Nashville Statement. Named for the city in which it was written, it’s a 14-point declaration on human sexuality.

If you know anything about the CBMW or the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission which hosted the CBMW at its annual conference, then you can probably guess what the Statement says. Naturally, it caused quite a stir on social media, and many friends and colleagues of mine have publicly spoken out against it.

But for those of us in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I’m here to tell you why you shouldn’t be so upset about the Nashville Statement.

It’s nothing new.

The Nashville statement isn’t groundbreaking. None of the views it espouses are new teachings, or even new interpretations of old teachings. It required no theological discernment to write and doesn’t go into any depth (just like the Biblical interpretation that informs it). Many evangelical and fundamentalist churches hold to these same views. The Statement even acknowledges this lack of originality.

It says there are only two sexes (and that those “in between” physically must adhere to one or the other), gender is identical to biological sex, sex is solely for procreation, and cisgenderism and heterosexuality are the only gender identifications and sexualities created by God. Old hat, nothing revolutionary.

On many fundamental facts, it’s just plain wrong.

It’s based on a tired, shallow reading of the Bible. It also outright denies basic facts about humanity, sexuality, genetics, and science that have been known and proven for decades now. We know that in addition to visibly male and visibly female, there are people who visibly don’t conform to either side of the sex binary. There are XX and XY chromosome combinations (what we consider “female” and “male”), but also XXY, XO, and mutations that cause some XX to develop severely masculine features and some XY to develop female internal sex organs or features–all of which are associated with the term “intersex”.

The statement mischaracterizes the nature of homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, asexuality, queerness, genderfluidity, genderqueerness, and even heterosexuality. It relies on the “absence of evidence” informal fallacy in determining what is and what is not acceptable, which is a fallacy for a reason. It completely ignores decades of careful research around these questions. Frankly, the statement is not just narrow-minded in its understanding of theology, but also in its understanding of facts.

Finally, you shouldn’t be upset about the Nashville Statement because the ELCA accepts it.

Shocking, right? But go ahead and read Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, the ELCA’s social statement on… well, human sexuality. This is usually the statement cited when people talk about how awful the ELCA is (along with our horrible, terrible, no good willingness to work with the Episcopal Church). And in the eyes of many who signed the Nashville Statement, that sentiment is justified.

The ELCA’s social statement on human sexuality says many commendable things. It acknowledges that sexuality is for more than simple procreation. It recognizes that marriages can become so toxic, harmful, and dangerous that divorce must follow. It lifts up that some in the church recognize the validity of what it calls “lifelong, publicly accountable, monogamous, same-gender relationships”. It affirms a wider spectrum of sexuality and gender identity than the Nashville Statement. It supports birth control!

But have you read it? Then you know that it says this:

The historic Christian tradition and the Lutheran Confessions have recognized marriage as a covenant between a man and a woman.

And this:

We further believe that this church, on the basis of  “the bound conscience,” will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.

Which leads to this:

On the basis of  conscience-bound belief, some are convinced that same-gender sexual behavior is sinful, contrary to biblical teaching and their understanding of  natural law.  They believe same-gender sexual behavior carries the grave danger of  unrepentant sin.  They therefore conclude that the neighbor and the community are best served by calling people in same-gender sexual relationships to repentance for that behavior and to a celibate lifestyle.  Such decisions are intended to be accompanied by pastoral response and community support.

The reality is that while some (few) parts of Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust are supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, it fails in two spectacular ways. One isn’t really the statement’s fault: social statements in the ELCA aren’t enforceable laws. They are teaching documents that guide policy, but they aren’t binding on anyone. Everyone is free to disregard them if they wish.

But the biggest failure is that Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust goes through all of this effort to carefully discuss sexuality, then explicitly and intentionally says that the harmful views of the Nashville Statement are not only found in the church, but should be honored and celebrated.

In theory, this sounds like a good idea. All viewpoints are acknowledged, our inability to agree is acknowledged, and there is a (tacit) commitment to continuing dialogue.

But this is what it looks like in practice: LGBTQ+ individuals routinely denied entrance to the candidacy process; LGBTQ+ candidates for ministry routinely denied interviews with congregations, or refused interviews by congregations; congregations refusing to allow their pastors to carry out the duties of their office for LGBTQ+ couples; LGBTQ+ individuals cast out of the community; all in the name of “bound conscience”. All of this is explicitly allowed in the church.

Tolerance of a belief ends when it leads to harmful action. And that’s what the ELCA allows. Our church explicitly allows discrimination against and the abuse of LGBTQ+ individuals because “bound conscience” protects not only attitudes, but actions that follow them. None of this is hypothetical–it happens, and the church condones it.

So yes. Continue the fight against the bad theology and science behind the Nashville Statement. We need to do better. We must do better. We didn’t sign the Nashville Statement. But it’s a little hypocritical to get too outraged by it when we allow its teachings in our own church.

Featured Image: “Flag Day” by Jglsongs is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

I’m Not Ready

I couldn’t sleep the night after. I rarely cry, and I didn’t that night, but I felt like I wanted to. When I woke up the following morning, my fears had found form.

The election for the United States electoral college has come and gone. In a month and a week, the new President of the United States will be elected (if this sounds confusing, please watch this helpful explanation on how the electoral college works).

My preferred candidate didn’t win the electoral college election. My second-preferred candidate didn’t win, either.

Am I disappointed? Yes. I would have preferred someone else as the 45th President of the United States. I’m as disappointed as I was in 2000 and 2004. I’m as disappointed as many of my family were in 2008 and 2012. I worry about what the next four years might bring.

But I’m also afraid. I couldn’t sleep the night after the election. I rarely cry, and I didn’t that night, but I felt like I wanted to. When I woke up the following morning, my fears had found form. The night after, the days after the election, there was a spike in homophobic, xenophobic, and racist threats and physical attacks. People I know, who are the targets of such aggression, poured out their hearts and expressed their terror at the thought of leaving their homes, wondering if they would be the next victims. Calls to suicide prevention hotlines have spiked dramatically.

In the midst of these voices another call was heard: Get over it. Your candidate lost. So what? Stop whining. Move on.

Let me be clear. There are people who are dramatically upset that Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, and Evan McMullin lost the election for no other reason than they lost.

But the people I know who are truly frightened today aren’t afraid because they lost the election. They are afraid because in the wake of the election they are being threatened and physically attacked.

Let me repeat that: They aren’t afraid because they lost the election. They are afraid because in the wake of the election they are being threatened and physically attacked.

They aren’t afraid because they lost the election. They are afraid because in the wake of the election, they are being threatened and physically attacked.

Get over it. Your candidate lost. So what? Stop whining. Move on.

Maybe I’m not ready to simply move on.

Maybe I remember when even after the constitutionality of same-sex marriage was declared, elected officials still refused to grant people that hard-earned right, making my friends wonder if their marriages were in jeopardy, too.

Maybe I remember when I asked my transgender friend which pronouns she preferred, and she nearly cried; no one had ever asked her that before, and people had only used pronouns to mock or attack her.

Maybe I remember how many times I heard my own family refer to our current President as “that nigger”, and even when others chastised it, they accepted it. “That’s just they way they are,” they said.

Maybe I remember my classmate telling me how often he was stopped by cops while walking down the street of the city our seminary was in, because he was black.

Maybe I remember the first time one of my friends told me that they were victims of sexual assault, and when they tried to stand up for themselves, they were immediately shunned by their friends, who made every excuse possible for her attacker’s actions.

Maybe I remember a bishop in the ELCA (my church) being told by one of our congregation’s call committees that he had better send them “No blacks, no gays, no women,” and people thinking that was perfectly okay.

I want our country to come together once again, to work together, to work towards unity. But maybe, because people consistently refuse to acknowledge the horror and torture that people I love have been subjected to for years, maybe I’m not ready to simply forget it all and move on.

I’m not ready to move on. Not while the people telling me to move on won’t listen to the voices begging them to listen to their stories and what’s happening to them. Not while victims continue to go unheard or are dismissed with a flippant “get over it”. I’m not ready to move on.

I stand with them.

Featured Image: “Student Voices” by Phil Roeder is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

To those experiencing violence and intimidation from people who feel empowered to put their hate into action:

I stand with you. If you need someone to listen and support you, I’ll be there. If you need help finding safety, I’ll do what I can. If you feel alone, there are others willing to hear, listen, and talk. Email. Call. Get in touch with someone. You are not alone.

Courtesy of ReconcilingWorks.
Courtesy of ReconcilingWorks.

An Alternative Response

It might surprise us that some of Jesus’s closest followers would think that destroying an entire town over one insult is okay, but should we be surprised?

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost C
Preached at Faith Lutheran Church in Three Lakes, WI.

This sermon was preached from notecards, without a manuscript. The following is an approximation of the sermon’s message and theme.

1 Kings 19:15-21
Psalm 16
Galatians 5:1, 13-25
Luke 9:51-62

This month’s Living Lutheran had a fantastic reflection written by Professor Timothy K. Snyder of Wartburg Theological Seminary (one of the seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). Titled “Interrupting ordinary time”, Snyder’s reflection focused on the way Jesus in the lectionary readings for the month of June constantly overturned people’s expectations, interrupting their thinking and their beliefs, and brought something new to the table.

Jesus has spent the last few weeks overturning the powers that oppress wherever he finds them, whether they be the powers of death, sin, or even possession. Now, we are told, he “turns his face toward Jerusalem.” Whatever the phrase itself actually means, it’s clear that Jesus is now diving headfirst into the bulk of his important mission work. And the first place he plans to stop on his way to Jerusalem is a Samaritan village.

Who are the Samaritans? They are an ethnic group that is still around today–there’s about 750 of them. They claim descendant from the two half-tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (the sons of Joseph), which makes them very closely related to Jewish people, who are descendants of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Like the Jewish people, they believe themselves to be the true descendants of the Israelites. They have their own version of the Torah and they worshiped on Mount Gerezim instead of in Jerusalem.

And during Jesus’s time, the two groups absolutely hated each other. That’s not an exaggeration. They hated each other so much that both groups were basically forbidden from even speaking to the other, let alone touching each other or otherwise interacting. Which, at least in my mind, begs the question:

Why did Jesus plan to go to a Samaritan village?

Now for whatever reason (and we aren’t told what reason that is), the village rejects Jesus’s messengers. This rejection is so insulting and offensive to two of Jesus’s disciples, James and John–nicknamed the “sons of thunder”–, that their proposed solution is to destroy the village with divine fire.

Did you catch that? When insulted and offended, two of Jesus’s disciples thought that a perfectly just and appropriate response to this slight was to burn down the village and kill everyone in it. That’s how angry they were. That’s how much they hated Samaritans, that they were willing–eager–to destroy the whole town just to get back at them. All they needed was an excuse to exercise their rage.

13433306_10100138487187909_509039965970767913_oThere’s a reason I’m wearing this shirt this morning. Last week, I returned from a week away at Camp Luther in Conneaut, OH, where I served for the week as camp chaplain. As the chaplain at the camp, I was responsible for organizing daily worship. But I was also responsible for providing pastoral care in the case of an emergency, or if someone needed to talk to a pastor for any reason.

This was my second year serving as camp chaplain, and unfortunately, both times have been marked by tragedy. Last year, I was sitting on the porch of our cabin when I heard about the Charleston shooting, where an ELCA member went into a historically black church, sat down for Bible study, and when it was over got up and murdered nine people simply because they were black.

This year, before we left for camp, I drove my father-in-law to his church so he could lead worship. Just before the service began, one of his congregants ran up to him with their phone in their hand and said, “Pastor, you need to see this. There’s been a shooting in Orlando.” At that time, there were twenty people confirmed dead in the massacre that occurred at the Pulse gay nightclub. By the end of the service, that number had risen to forty-nine.

Forty-nine dead and fifty-three wounded. One man, one angry, disturbed man, converted to a radical, distorted version of Islam, hated the LGBTQ+ community so much that he felt justified bringing an assault rifle to a gay nightclub and shooting as many people as he could. This led to a three-hour standoff, a hostage crisis, a heroic rescue, an explosive breach of the building, and the death of the assailant. All because he hated gay people, hated them so much he thought it was okay to slaughter them.

When Jesus hears his disciples eagerly ask permission to destroy the Samaritan village out of hate, he rebukes them and calls them out on their hatred. It might surprise us that some of Jesus’s closest followers would think that destroying an entire town over one insult is okay, but should we be surprised?

In the Old Testament, there are plenty of examples of just that. The destruction and slaughter of Jericho by the Israelites simply because it was in the way, the total annihilation of Sodom of Gomorrah because of their lack of hospitality, the ten plagues sent against the entire Egyptian population because one man, Pharaoh, wouldn’t release his slaves, the whole book of Joshua and the conquest of Canaan; all of these examples would suggest that in the face of people you hate, it’s perfectly justified to call for genocide.

And lest we think that such logic only exists in the Old Testament, absolving us Christians, don’t forget that Jesus used the same logic when he cursed a fig tree to death because he was hungry and it didn’t have any fruit for him, and Peter strikes down Ananias and Sapphira dead when they try to cheat the fledgling Christian community.

Total destruction may have been what James and John expected, given their hatred of the Samaritans and the history and culture which they grew up in. Instead, Jesus outright rejects the idea he should destroy an entire town of people who disagree or even hate him, even people as vile and evil (in their eyes) as Samaritans.

Jesus’s entire life and ministry has been about rebuking violence and hate. Through Jesus, God presents alternatives to such destruction. There’s a reason why in a few weeks we’ll hear the story of the Good Samaritan, the Good Person-Y0u-Absolutely-Revile-and-Hate-and-Wish-Was-Dead, a story about putting aside the very same reckless hate that motivates James and John and embracing mercy for those we hate. Jesus’s last command to his disciples is that they should love another as he has loved them, with all their faults and wrongs intact.

Ultimately, God demonstrates this alternative to destruction on the cross. I’m not a fan of the penal substitutionary model of atonement: that Jesus -had- to die on the cross to pay a price for our sins, because God is not capable of forgiveness and must square the debt or God explodes (you can already see my bias). It’s just one theory of atonement. Instead, on the cross, I see God’s final rejection of such wanton destruction borne out of hate and wrath.

Instead, the cross demonstrates the great lengths that God will go to show mercy to those who hate and revile God (that would be us). The cross proves once and for all that God stands with us in chaos and violence, showing us another way to respond: not with hatred and violence, but with love, mercy and sacrifice. Christ went as far as human beings can go, death, to show us another way.

After this teachable moment with his disciples, Jesus’s mission seems to get more urgent, more immediate, as if something about that encounter convinced Jesus that there was a lot more work to be done. Maybe he saw in James and John the tendency that runs through all humanity to identify people we hate and seek to do them the maximum harm we’re able to inflict. Human history can easily be distilled into a constant barrage of “James and John in Samaria” moments. Maybe he knew that hate was going to be something he encountered for the rest of his ministry and that, ultimately, it would lead him to the cross.

So what about us? Do we fall prey to our desires of destruction? Even if we aren’t like those pastors, yes, pastors, who openly celebrated the deaths of the Orlando 49 as God’s will and something to cheer about (and I won’t dignify their comments with links–look them up yourselves), do we let our hate get the better of us? Do our opinions about the LGBTQ+ community and our silence about the hate done to them contribute to that very hate? Do we, like the priest and the Levite of the Good Samaritan story, walk by on the other side of the road because it’s not our problem?

How we respond to hate is just as important as whether we hate or not. For like Christ, we are called to show the kingdom of God. When James and John called for genocide, Christ called for peace. In the face of oppression, hate, and violence against his own self, Christ reflected courage, compassion and trust.

How do we respond?

Featured Image: “LGBT love is stronger than anti-gay hate – Peter Tatchell and other activists at London’s vigil in memory of the victims of the Orlando gay nightclub terror attack.” by Alisdare Hickson is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.