Full disclosure: I really don’t like writing about controversial topics.
I’m sure part of it is my own sinful cowardice. Part of it is knowing I’m never the most articulate or knowledgeable on any given “hot topic”. Finally, I’m convinced that most “hot” topics, aren’t that “hot” and usually fizzle out after a few days.
Yet, when I read The Nashville Statement I felt differently.
Don’t get me wrong, I still felt a sense of cowardice creep up because I saw how hostile our culture has become to things I believe. I still don’t think I’m even close to the most articulate or knowledgeable on the topic (this article is the best I’ve seen explaining the heart behind the statement). What was different, however, was that I don’t believe this topic will fizzle out in a few days. In my short time working in ministry, issues related to sexuality are the most consistent, most confusing, and most urgently needing clarity.
So, as a rookie pastor reading this document, I was grateful. And I don’t say that lightly. I have friends who experience same-sex attraction. I’m not under the impression that reading this document was easy for them – even if they agreed with it. The Nashville Statement addresses topics that are tender, intimate, and for many, packed with pain.
When I read The Nashville Statement, my heart swirled with both gratitude and gravity. I see it as a gift to hold and a burden to bear.
The Gift: A Shaping Force, Not a Counseling Script
When I read The Nashville Statement I didn’t see myself reading a script for counseling situations. I plan to reference it in the future for its precise language and helpful summaries of what I believe Scripture teaches, but I didn’t see it as something to be memorized and quoted to friends who experience same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria. Yes, the truth is objective, static; but the people I minister to are dynamic and complicated. They need wise application of objective truth to their situation. I don’t envision myself sitting down with friends experiencing same sex attraction and reading them The Nashville Statement verbatim. It’s not a script to read for every pastoral situation, and I don’t think the writers of the document intended it to be one. Instead, I envision it as a foundation I can stand on that provides the nuances that match the complexities of some of the most difficult problems people face. I’m grateful for the clarity it provides on issues surrounded by confusion for many Christians.
The Burden: Compelled by Constraints
The deeper effect the statement had on me was how it drove me toward my friends who experience the sins it describes. Most critiques I have read say The Nashville Statement is a constraining document. It will lead to even more isolation from Christians toward those in their communities who experience these sexual sins. I would argue the opposite. If the truths of The Nashville Statement do not compel me toward loving relationships with my LGBTQ neighbor, I obviously don’t believe what the statement says. My signature on The Nashville Statement is worthless if it results in me merely signing off on a document. If I believe that people flourish most when they embrace God’s good design for marriage and sexuality, wouldn’t that compel me into relationships with my LGBTQ neighbor? I feel the burden of this because I’m often better at articulating the truths of God’s good design and transforming grace, but often struggle to embody them by pursuing relationships with those different from me.
I believe that Jesus gives the most abundant life (John 10:10). I believe that when people delight in and obey God’s Word they flourish like fruitful trees (Psalm 1). I believe that the Bible is God’s revelation of Himself and that it is perfect truth, and when that truth is grasped even by the weakest faith it gives joy, peace, hope, and freedom (Romans 15:13; John 8:32).
I’m grateful and burdened by The Nashville Statement – that’s why I signed it. I would encourage Christians to read it. My prayer is that as the cultural conversation moves on to the next “hot topic”, my heart will not. My prayer is that I’ll stay close to the truth of God’s life-giving word, and close to those who need it most – starting with myself.
Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement(P&R, 2017).