Tag Archives: same-sex marriage

Statements: What Does Nashville Have to Do With Chicago?

On August 29, 2017, a group of evangelical leaders announced the signing of the Nashville Statement. If you have not heard of it, you should go and read it for yourself.

The Nashville Statement was crafted by the leadership of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), in response to recent cultural changes regarding the public acceptance of gay marriage and transgender identification. For those Christians who have felt that the evangelical church has not taken a firm enough stand against these cultural trends, this is a boldly direct statement that such Christians should spend some time carefully studying.

CBMW originally had its beginnings, in the 1980s, opposing the acceptance of women as elders and/or pastors, in churches, as well as affirming male-headship in the home. But now, with the Nashville Statementunder the leadership of Bible professor Denny Burk, CBMW has broadened its scope to “equip the church on the meaning of biblical sexuality.”

Why is it called the Nashville Statement? Well, because, like other Christian confessional documents, ranging from the Nicene Creed, to the Augsburg Confession, to the Westminster Confession, it was written in Nashville, Tennessee. It contains a listing of articles, made of various affirmations (“WE AFFIRM”) and denials (“WE DENY”), that seek to address a biblical approach to gender dysphoria and same-sex desire and behavior.

The written style of the Nashville Statement is therefore much like the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, drafted in Chicago, in the 1970s. Like the Chicago Statement, the Nashville Statement enjoys some of the same positive characteristics as well as suffering some of the same problems that these type of documents have.

As I have written about before, the Chicago Statement succeeded in defining a view of biblical authority, that many evangelical Christians could rally around and support, rightly affirming the Bible’s truthfulness. On the other hand, the Chicago Statement was unsuccessful in resolving a number of issues surrounding how the Bible is to be interpreted. Much of the challenge that has arisen, since the Chicago Statement’s signing, involves how terms, like inerrancy, that are not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, are to be defined and applied in Christian hermeneutics.

The Nashville Statement carries much of the same properties, but within a different scope. The Nashville Statement is already gathering an impressive number of Christian leaders, across a wide set of backgrounds, who have publicly signed onto the document. It affirms the beliefs that Christians have held for 2000 years. In our sexually confused world, this is a big deal. I would not be surprised if the Nashville Statement becomes a unifying banner for many, if not most, conservative evangelicals.

Alas, the Nashville Statement has its difficulties. It uses terminology and language that some might find antiquated, offensive, or otherwise, difficult to define, such as “homosexual,” “divinely ordained differences between male and female” (Article 3 & 4), “homosexual or transgender self-conception” (Article 7), and “transgenderism” (Article 10). What does all of this mean?

For example, does the Nashville Statement mean that those who identify as gay and celibate persons can consider themselves as being fully Christian, or does it preclude such self-identification? I honestly do not know. As far as I can tell, many of the signers (and non-signers) of Nashville themselves are deeply divided on this.

There has been a firestorm of criticism from the progressive wing of Christianity, such as this counter-statement, Christians United: In Support of LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church.  However, there have also been a different set of criticisms from other conservative evangelicals.

From my perspective, I would not have written such a document in the same manner. While the Nashville Statement affirms central ideas that I would strongly endorse, like in defending a biblical concept of marriage, I doubt that it successfully casts a vision of how to reach out to an LGBT+ population, that remains either hidden in silence in, or already alienated from, evangelical churches.

This is a pastoral crisis in our churches, and it has been that way for years. A 2009 study shows that teenagers who struggle with same-sex desires, many of whom come from Christian families, who experience rejection from their families, are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide, than other teenagers. I personally know a number of folks who have left evangelical church communities, feeling that evangelical churches are not safe and supportive environments for addressing LGBT+ questions.

I pay close attention to the writings of Mark Yarhouse, professor of clinical psychology at Regent University, in Virginia Beach, who believes that the Nashville Statement lacks the type of nuanced, mature reflection necessary to address extremely difficult and complex questions surrounding gender dysphoria, that many Christians, and often even scientists and psychologists today, do not know that much about. I also agree strongly with the critique offered by theologian Preston Sprinkle, author of People To Be Loved. The Nashville Statement will be a rallying point for many Christians, in that it affirms an approach to biblical sexuality. But it offers very little in terms of how Christians can faithfully love and care for friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family members who struggle with sexual and gender identity issues. As Preston Sprinkle puts it, the evangelical conversation in this area typically “has been profoundly impersonal and one-sided (lots of truth and very little grace).”

Will the Nashville Statement have the staying power of a Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, or even a Nicene Creed? I do not know. Either way, I do hope for something better in evangelical churches, a Christian vision that fosters a spiritual posture that enables Christians to be agents of healing, as opposed to having the reputation as being agents of condemnation.


Thinking About Ditching Your Copy of The Message? … Consider This

(UPDATE 4:30PM:  PLEASE READ TO VERY END OF THE POST). As some of you probably already know, the veteran Christian author, Eugene Peterson, has apparently changed his views regarding same-sex marriage. Twitter lit up like crazy yesterday, after an interview with Peterson suggested that the author, of great books like, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, and the popular paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, would perform a same-sex wedding, if he was asked.

Peterson is getting up there in years, and he says he is withdrawing from public life. But with the news yesterday, he joins a growing chorus of evangelical leaders, who have changed their views on same-sex marriage in the church, such as Tony Campolo and HGTV’s Jen Hatmaker. This is disconcerting to those who believe the church is capitulating to pressure from the culture, while others believe that this is a long-due, over-corrective to the church’s mistreatment of gay and lesbian people.

Lifeway Christian Stores is talking about refusing to sell Peterson’s books, while others are suggesting that Christians stop using Peterson’s The Message, in their Bible reading. There are few things to consider here:

  • Peterson’s books have proven to be very helpful over the years, before anyone knew about yesterday’s news. Furthermore, while The Message is still a helpful paraphrase of Scripture, for getting a long overview of different books of the Bible, by reading long passages of Scripture in one sitting, it is no replacement for a good study Bible. I frequently run into people who try to put verse numbers into The Message, to help in their study, but I am afraid they are sorely missing the point. My New Testament professor in seminary, Donald Hagner, was asked years ago to be a consultant for The Message. But when the book came out in print,  “The Hag,” as his students affectionately called him, felt embarrassed by some of the things that Peterson did with the text, to make it more readable. I have teased my old professor for years about this, and after every time I mention it to him, I still get a rise from him. I am sure Professor Hagner feels even more embarrassed today! But still, the point is, The Message is a good tool for what it was designed for, and not for what it was not meant for.

 

  • Regarding the gay and lesbian topic, Christians need to own up to the fact that the church has had a lousy track record in caring for and ministering to gay and lesbian people over the years. When Newsweek journalist, Kurt Eichenwald, went on his infamous, multi-dozen page tirade against the Bible, in the Newsweek Christmas issue of 2014, he did so when he learned that a neighboring family, who were evangelical Christians, kicked their son out of the house, and put him on the street, when that teenage son finally had the gutsy courage to come forward to his parents, to tell them that he was wrestling with sexual feelings for other boys, that he did not seem able to control. Folks, stuff life this happens all of the time in evangelical churches, and we simply have to do a better job in reaching out to people who struggle with same-sex desires. It is possible that doing something positive is the thrust behind Peterson’s motivation. Prudence demands that we give Eugene Petersen some latitude.

 

  • Nevertheless, Eugene Peterson’s change of views, assuming he genuinely holds them, is not warranted by what the Bible teaches. The Bible does teach that marriage is between a man and a woman, and we do people no favor by side-stepping parts of the Bible that are unpopular.

A brief look at Peter’s example in Scripture might help. The Apostle Peter was like a lightning rod for the early church, as documented all throughout the Book of Acts. But even though Peter was perhaps the most significant leader in the church, he was not perfect. When Peter started to shun table fellowship with Gentile Christians, the Apostle Paul totally got in his face for his error (Read Galatians 2:11-14). Paul knew that the Gospel was meant for all people, not just the Jews, and persistently challenged Peter upfront. But Paul never discredited the good things Peter had done to promote the Gospel. In the end, Peter eventually changed his mind, and supported Paul’s ministry.

To this day, we are still reading Peter’s two letters (1 and 2 Peter) and the Gospel of Mark, that he collaborated with Mark. If we were to have prematurely written off Peter as being without hope, we would have lost a large chunk of our New Testament! So, there is something to hope for, too, that Eugene Petersen might rethink his position.

For that reason, I plan on keeping my copy of The Message…. but I am still not going to put verse numbers in it!!

UPDATE: July 13, 2017, in the PM.

Okay, folks. Back away from the bonfire! …. You can put away that gasoline that you were going to pour on your stack of The Message Bibles. ChristianityToday reports this afternoon that Eugene Petersen has retracted his earlier statement regarding same-sex marriage. That was pretty quick, and the whole debacle has some telling lessons on how public statements, issued and heard in sound bites, taken out of context, can cause harm for Christian witness. To the extent, that I said something that misrepresented Eugene Peterson, a man I respect and admire, I sincerely apologize   …… Still, I AM NOT GOING TO PUT VERSE NUMBERS IN MY COPY OF THE MESSAGE, AND YOU SHOULD NOT EITHER!!

UPDATE: July 16, 2017

As the initial controversy has died down, I will link some helpful posts here, from a variety of perspectives, regarding the Eugene Peterson affair this week, or The Message as a translation/paraphrase. Your feedback is welcome:


“Loving Day” and the Sin of Previous Generations

Virginia judge Leon Bazille’s handwritten theological justification for banning interracial marriage. He ends by saying, “The fact that [God] separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” What Bible was he reading from?

Fifty years ago today, the United States Supreme Court struck down a Virginia law forbidding interracial marriage. The Loving vs. Virginia decision cut at the heart of racist ideology in my home state, and paved the way for American democracy to recognize that skin-color makes no difference when it comes to marriage. For couples in interracial marriages today, June 12 is often remembered as “Loving Day.”

What makes this so tragic for the Gospel is that a racist ideology had for centuries been falsely linked with the Bible. The biblical teaching that prohibited Jews from marrying people outside of the Mosaic covenant had been twisted to say that people of different skin-color, irrespective of God’s covenantal purposes, should not be allowed to marry.

Folks, unless you have not figured it out before by reading this blog, Bible interpretation matters.

In addition to what I wrote in reviewing Loving, a 2016 film of the story behind the Loving vs. Virginia case, I believe the legacy stemming from Christian rejection of interracial marriage is a good example of what is meant by this difficult passage of the Bible:

“The Lord…[forgives] iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6-7)

One application of this passage is that sin has its way of being repeated generation after generation, unless it is properly addressed, through confession and repentance. In recent decades, most Christians have thought that interracial marriage is not forbidden by the Bible, but over the past fifty years, this has not always been the case.

I have had more than one conversation in some thirty years, where a believer simply assumed that the Bible really did forbid interracial marriage. In every case where I challenged the believer to give me a prooftext, the answer every time was something like, “Well, someone told me it was in the Bible. I just do not know where it is.

Mmmmpph.

Why would anyone go around saying “the Bible says,” when in fact, they have no clue as to what the Bible says?

At best, that is merely uninformed, or just plain, lazy-thinking Christianity. At worst, it is a subtle way of justifying sin. Furthermore, the fact that it took a secular court to force Christians to rethink how they were misinterpreting the Bible is a scandal in and of itself.

We should therefore not be surprised when so many in our society today apply the same logic about interracial marriage to same-sex marriage. As the thinking goes, “Christians were wrong to condemn interracial marriage some fifty years ago, so why should Christians be condemning same-sex marriage today? Marriage is about people loving one another and being happy as individuals making their own decisions. What does race and gender have anything to do with it?

I can easily sympathize with what drives the argument, based on how poorly Christians in past eras misinterpreted the Bible. However, unlike the falsehood of racial ideology, the Bible does understand God’s purpose in marriage to have gender as an essential component to it. But how many Christians today think theologically about marriage?

So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27)

Here Genesis sees human gender as a primary way of reflecting God’s character, demonstrating to the world around us, the nature of the God of the Bible. But how many of us think of God’s purpose for marriage in this way, as a means of displaying the attributes of God? The God of the Bible is Triune, the Father and Son in union through the bond of the Spirit, distinct persons yet in fundamental unity with one another.

Surely, those Christians from earlier eras who opposed interracial marriage were not theologically sound when they were thinking about marriage. Could it be that Christians today still need to learn more of thinking theologically about marriage? Could it be that we have some more confession and repentance to do today?

HT: The Gospel Coalition has a helpful article summarizing the significance behind Loving vs. Virginia.


Loving vs. Virginia vs. the Bible

Richard and Mildred Loving

Richard and Mildred Loving

My grandmother grew up in a rural part of King and Queen County, Virginia. In those days, as she put it, the “colored” people lived in communities separate from the “white” people, but everyone seemed to get along.

The house she grew up in was less than a twenty minute drive from Central Point, a very small town in Caroline County, Virginia.  In the mid-20th century, a story developed in Central Point that has forever changed American society, and that still continues to reverberate in the cultural discussions of our day, some 50-60 years later.

Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter were just two teenagers, from rural and mainly poor families, who fell in love with one another.  In 1958, they drove up to Washington, D.C to get married. The difficulty was that Loving was white and Jeter was part-black and part-Cherokee. In the Commonwealth of Virginia in those days, it was against the law for a white man to marry a black woman. When the couple returned to Virginia, the police raided the Loving home, and they were arrested.

Virginia Judge Leon Bazile ruled against the Lovings, and exiled them from Virginia, saying:

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

A new film by Jeff Nichols, Loving, is a dramatic portrayal of the Lovings’ story. Richard and Mildred decided to fight the verdict, and the case was taken to the United States Supreme Court. In 1967, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Lovings in Loving v. Virginia, and the ruling struck down all state laws forbidding interracial marriage. Virginia had been the first to pass such an anti-miscegenation law in 1691.

My grandmother died some years ago, and so I am not sure exactly what she would think about this new movie, where many of the events portrayed happened just a few miles from her childhood home. But I would not be surprised if her sentiments did not echo those of Judge Bazile.

As I have argued elsewhere (here and here), Judge Bazile’s idea, that the Bible forbids people with different skin color from marrying one another, is a complete fabrication, with no foundation in Holy Scripture. But clearly, many Virginians in my grandmother’s generation thought very differently. Sadly, there are still a number of folks in our churches who still think this way, despite what the Bible teaches.

Racism is a sin, and it runs deep from generation to generation. It surely exists in my own life, in ways unconsciously known to me.

Yet what was so insidious about the Loving story is that the Bible was used to blatantly justify such sinful attitudes. Shortly after the Supreme Court ruled in their favor, legally allowing them to return to their home in Virginia as a married couple, a cross was burned in the yard of their home in Caroline County.

A cross? Why would a symbol of Christ’s unending love for you and me be misused as a weapon of fear and intimidation?

The struggle against racism, both inside and outside of the church, has been a long and difficult one. We are almost one year shy of remembering the 50th year since Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and just a few months shy of the 50th year since the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia (June 12, 1967).

What can we learn from the Biblical missteps taken by believers in previous generations? Where has the message of the Bible been misused today? Let us not be deceived by our own chronological snobbery in our day and age. We are not much better than those who lived before us. Technology, and other advancements, have surely progressed, but the human spiritual condition remains the same. Where have we, in our current generation, twisted the Bible to legitimize some sin?

For those concerned about how Biblical values apply to the wider culture, the questions raised by Loving are essential to address (To learn more about the story, HBO did a documentary on the Lovings a few years ago, and here are some clips). If you have the opportunity to view this new film, Loving, I would love to hear from you as to what your thoughts are.


Jen Hatmaker and the Frustrated Evangelical Response to LGBTQ

The Babylon Bee, a Christian satire website, unloaded a clever piece on Jen Hatmaker today, expressing the type of dismay that many evangelical Christians are thinking. But are we really hearing the message underneath Jen Hatmaker's public pronouncement?

The Babylon Bee, a Christian satire website, unveiled a clever piece on Jen Hatmaker recently, expressing the type of dismay that many evangelical Christians are thinking. But are we really hearing the message underneath Jen Hatmaker’s public pronouncement?

Over the past week or so, Jen Hatmaker, the funny and vivacious reality TV star of the HGTV show, “My Big Family Renovation,” rocked the social-media world of evangelicalism asunder. Jen Hatmaker, a favorite in MOPS circles (that is, Mothers Of PreSchoolers, a very active group in our church), and popular speaker at various Christian women’s conferences, in an interview, publicly stated her affirmation of gay and lesbian marriages as potentially holy.

Well, this probably had the same effect as setting a stack of Bibles on fire.

Jen Hatmaker is but one in a steady stream of high-profile, evangelical celebrities and leaders to jump ship from supporting a traditional, evangelical view of human sexuality, to supporting gay and lesbian marriage in the church, over the past few years. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Rob Bell, Tony Campolo, and singer songwriter Jennifer Knapp, too. What was unthinkable ten or twenty years ago, is now becoming more common, as otherwise traditional “Bible-believers” are willing to discard 2,000 years of Christian teaching, particularly in the wake of the June, 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges.

What makes Jen Hatmaker a bit different is because she is not a pastor, or a theologian, or a super-talented singer. She comes across as a very down-to-earth, spunky, disarmingly honest and homespun happy mother, who has the same type of problems all of us have… and she has 109 thousand Twitter followers. That means that there are probably at least a handful of busy MOPS women in your conservative, evangelical church, who are probably a bit bewildered as to why Jen Hatmaker is making such a public stand on this topic.

These are not folks out there in liberal, mainline churches, who long ago dropped their commitment to biblical authority. Rather, they could be sitting next to you at your Bible-believing fellowship.

There is confusion in our churches.

What are we to make of this trend? How does someone with a high view of Scripture respond?  Continue reading


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