TXAB: The Christ Almighty Blog

04 September 2017

The Nashville Statement, and sexism.

Or, how to disguise prejudice as orthodoxy.

Last Tuesday, 29 August, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released a manifesto they titled the Nashville Statement. Likely they balked at calling it the Nashville Creed, ’cause even though the creeds predate Catholicism, there’s still a sizable number of anti-Catholic Protestants that figure everything which took place before 1510 is “Catholic” and therefore wrong. But I digress.

In short, the statement is a declaration against homosexuality and transsexuality. Supposedly it presents the “biblical” view on these subjects, although if you read it y’might notice it neither quotes, nor provides references to, the bible. Whatsoever.

Nor does it refer to the Holy Spirit. Whatsoever. Supposedly any repentance and transformation is gonna be achieved by “the grace of God in Christ,” i.e. the force of God’s loving attitude, as opposed to the person of the trinity who empowers change and applies grace. You’ll see in a bit why this significant lapse in trinitarian thinking oughta raise some eyebrows.

Obviously the Statement’s been getting pushback from pagans who wanna know where on earth these guys get off condemning them. And of course from theologically liberal Christians who feel it’s graceless to condemn people for an issue which they believe is not entirely settled. And of course from gay Christians.

I’m not theologically liberal. (Though people who consider me more liberal than they are, will certainly take issue with that statement.) Nor am I gay. Nonetheless I have two issues with the Statement which prevent me from signing off on it, much less signing it.

The most obvious, and the one that’s not gonna need a lot of commentary from me, is its divisive intent. Like I said, it’s an attempt at a creed: This is how they figure all true Christians should believe, and if you agree you’re orthodox, and if you don’t you’re heretic. The Statement draws a pretty obvious line in the sand, and expects people to choose a side. But divisiveness, need I remind you, is a work of the flesh. Ga 5.20 Instead of loving our neighbor as ourselves, this Statement is gonna make us bite and devour one another, Ga 5.14-15 and do nothing to further God’s kingdom.

Yeah, I know. Many a Christian will insist the kingdom’s gotta be pure. By which they mean as little sin in it as possible. I agree. How do we go about doing that? Discipleship. We encourage people to follow Jesus’s teachings and the Holy Spirit’s leading. It’s the Spirit’s job to sort all that stuff out. Jn 16.8 It’s not a manifesto’s job. It’s not our job either: Our job is to love our neighbors and lead them to Jesus.

The reason Christians swap the job of loving our neighbors, for the job of denouncing sin? Obviously they hate sin. Less obviously, they don’t so much care for their neighbors. The neighbors sin, and they hate sin. Their “good news,” which is no longer so good, becomes about how the neighbors are sinning, and the world is perishing. The only bright spot is how Jesus saves us from perishing, Jn 3.16 but the rest of the preaching? Death, hellfire, and damnation.

Well, enough about that. The other issue I have is how the Nashville Statement is a subtle declaration against egalitarianism, the belief that women are priests, teachers, and ministers in the church, same as men. And that’s the particular axe I’m gonna grind today.

The guys behind the Statement.

Egalitarianism is the reason the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood exists in the first place.

In 1987, a number of prominent Calvinist pastors and teachers met in Dallas to discuss their problems with churches who allow women to preach and teach. From there they drafted a viewpoint they label “complementarian.” Really it’s a friendly-sounding repackaging of patriarchy: Men are the masters of church and home. (And state, but the CBMW decided to concede that battle. Besides, if church can take over state, that’ll sort itself out.) The way complementarianism rephrases it, is to say men and women have different roles in society. It’s just all the women’s roles are conveniently placed under the men’s roles. Men have a place, women have a place… and women had better know their place.

That was and is the CBMW’s mission. To make patriarchy palatable to the present day. To make it sound biblical and orthodox. To give sexists some useful arguments whenever they wanna quench what the Holy Spirit is empowering women to do in his churches.

One of the CBMW’s founders, Dr. Wayne Grudem of Phoenix Seminary, has even gone so far as to redefine the trinity so it conforms to complementarian ideas. Starts with this verse—

1 Corinthians 11.3 KWL
I want you to know Christ is the head of every man,
man the head of woman, and God the head of Christ.

—and others where Jesus talks about doing his Father’s will. Jn 5.19, 8.28, 14.10, 14.31 From these, Grudem extrapolated the idea the Son is subordinate to the Father. Always has been; always will be. It’s part of his nature, and has been ever since he was created begotten. (Whoops; almost went full Arian there. I’ll explain the Arianism a moment.)

If subordination is how God himself functions, complementarians wanna claim it’s likewise how men and women function. Humans are made in God’s image, the Father’s the head of the Son, and similarly man the head of woman. Not because the first humans went wrong, and part of the woman’s consequence was the curse of subservience:

Genesis 3.16 KWL
The LORD told the woman, “I give you great, great pain.
Your childbearing: In pain you’ll have children.
You’ll long for your man, but he’ll reign over you.”

That’s where complementarians and I part ways. Jesus came to undo the Edenic curses on humanity. Obviously the curse of death Ge 3.19, Ro 6.23 is foremost in Christian thinking, but he also came to undo the other works of the devil. 1Jn 3.8 The first woman sinned and got all women cursed with subservience. The first man sinned and got all men cursed to toil on resistant ground. Ge 3.17-19 Crushing the serpent’s head, though… Ge 3.15 yeah, Jesus kinda fulfilled that one. But the rest of the chains, he came to break.

Jesus’s kingdom has come to restore humanity to the paradise Eden represented, to the state where we were first created. But complementarians insist the curses predate the fall. The woman was created to be the man’s ezér/“helper,” or partner. Ge 2.18 Sorta like the Holy Spirit is our parákliton/“helper,” or partner. But complementarians can’t help but read their attitudes into these interpretations. To them, the Spirit (who’s God, after all) is meant to be our boss, and woman’s meant to be a slave. Women were created to be bossed around. Partnership? Never. Hierarchy.

Okay. This theory about the Son’s eternal subordination to the Father? Heresy.

Technically it’s semi-Arian. It’s part of what Áreios of Alexandria used to teach in the 300s. He also looked at all the verses where Jesus submitted to his Father. He didn’t realize the Son was only subordinate to his Father while he was on earth—as every human oughta be, as our example of authentic humanity. Áreios figured the Son had always been under the Father. That he’s not equal to God; he’s another, lesser god.

It’s semi-Arian because Grudem never said (and I expect never will say) Jesus isn’t God. But when you make the Son, or the Holy Spirit, a lesser person in the trinity, you’ve made a lopsided trinity. Really not a trinity at all, ’cause the persons aren’t equal. They aren’t one. There’s just the Father, and the Son’s his right hand, and the Spirit’s his left.

Thanks to Áreios’s belief spreading like wildfire through the Roman Empire, the Council of Nicea had to convene in the 300s, investigate Arianism, and conclude the contrary—that scripture and commonsense reveal the persons of the trinity to be equal. Same substance, same honor, same authority, same majesty, same God.

True, not every complementarian has signed off on Grudem’s idea. Some did, briefly. After respected theologians pointed out the fact it’s heresy, they recanted. Others of them haven’t recanted one bit; they’re quietly teaching this idea of God, and hoping no one notices. That’s just how far some people are willing to go to defend patriarchy: They’re willing to redefine God himself if it helps ’em keep women out of church leadership. And keep their own positions secure.

Like Scot McKnight put it, “Those we can’t trust for orthodoxy on the trinity can’t be trusted when it comes to morality.”

I might add Grudem’s one of the translators of the English Standard Version, the 2007 update of the Revised Standard Version which isn’t gender-neutral. By gender-neutral I mean all the verses in the bible which apply to everyone, male and female alike, are translated that way: “All men” becomes “all people” when it means everybody, and not just a crowd of men. When the original authors’ intent wasn’t to emphasize a gender, neither should our translations. Problem is, the CBNW has a serious bug up their collective behind when it comes to anything gender-related. Grudem fought tooth and nail to keep the New International Version from becoming gender-neutral in 2005. Ultimately losing that battle, he joined a group which replaced the 1989 New Revised Standard Version (a perfectly good gender-neutral update of the RSV) with the ESV.

Yep, that’s how far the CBNW’s hangups extend. Knowing they’re willing to dabble in heresy to defend their prejudices, it’s why I look askance at anything the CBMW declares. Long before they ever issued the Nashville Statement.

Slipping patriarchy into the Statement.

I first became aware of the Nashville Statement ’cause I have friends on the Christian Left. They started raging about it immediately.

’Cause here’s yet another bloc who thinks Christianity needs a purge. Time to declare what God’s for and against, once and for all. (Well okay, as many times as it’ll take till somebody finally listens to them, ’cause they’re important, dangit. After all, they put the city’s name in their statement, just like the early Christians did with their creeds.) Time for fellow Christians to take a stand for righteousness, and sign off on their statement, and prove they’re real Christians, who refuse to be all things to all people so they might save some.

You getting the idea I don’t care for manifestos? I really don’t. They’re some special-interest group’s attempt to speak for the entire church, and even if I totally agree with them, the hard fact is they don’t speak for the entire church. Nobody does but Jesus. The time of a single universal church has been over for more than 10 centuries.

We all have our particular peeves. Sexism is mine. So when I found the link to the Nashville Statement, I started looking for any subtle little statements the CBMW had slipped in against egalitarianism. Didn’t take me long before I noticed their Article 4.

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.

WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

While they never did spell out all the “divinely ordained differences between male and female” they’re thinking about, they do deny these differences—namely the sexism and subservience—are the result of humanity’s fall. They’re not a curse to overcome; they’re meant for human good and human flourishing. Women need to shut up, stop agitating for their rights to be heard, and rejoice in their lower status. Just like slaves, back when American slavery was legal, needed to stop fighting for abolition and freedom, ’cause supposedly God meant for them to be in bonds.

This, I explained to my conservative friends, is why I can’t possibly sign off on the Nashville Statement.

Of course, not all my conservative friends are egalitarian. And even some of the egalitarians didn’t think Article 4 was all that bad. Men and women are physically different, after all. Different plumbing. Different hormones. Different ways we respond to those hormones. Not every difference between men and women is culturally mandated. Some of ’em are nature-ordained, and the usual assumption is that since God created nature (forgetting it kinda rebelled against him when humanity fell), that makes ’em God-ordained.

Okay, I concede men and women are physically different. And ain’t nothing wrong with these differences. But when the CBMW goes off on those differences, they’re seldom talking about physical gender characteristics and distinctions. They’re nearly always talking about how those distinctions lead to social distinctions. Which, they claim, weren’t created and perpetuated by society and humanity, but by God.

Their group’s entire raison d’être is to defend that view—and in so doing, promote patriarchy. To claim the bible’s descriptions of ancient patriarchal behavior are how God intends his kingdom to function, both in the present, and arguably even into the age to come. To fight it so vigorously, they even oppose saying, “Deliver me… from evildoers” Ps 140.1 NRSV in favor of “Deliver me… from evil men,” Ps 140.1 ESV lest the bible be compromised by gender confusion.

It’s a profoundly paranoid way to look at the world. ’Cause it’s based on fear. Not love.

But like I said, the egalitarians don’t necessarily see the problem. Can’t taste the poison in the fruit. And figure they have bigger fish to fry: They have serious concerns about homosexuality, transgenderism, and every LGBT issue that comes up in their churches. They figure it’s every Christian’s duty to take a stand for righteousness… and it’s not that great a compromise to concede to the CBMW’s godless stance on women. So, under the bus these women go.

Fear’ll get us to do all sorts of awful things.

Oh yeah… homosexuality.

The rest of the Nashville Statement is, frankly, a mess. Theological declarations made without any presentation of the biblical basis for these views. Which turns out to be kinda problematic.

Article 2, fr’instance. It presumes the existence of such a thing as nonmarital sexual activity. A way better biblical case can be made for the idea all sexual activity is marital, whether that’s your intent or not. 1Co 6.15-16 But popular culture, even in Jesus’s day, has insisted otherwise, and that’s the view the CBMW went with. Like most conservative Christians, they simply presume old-timey social standards must’ve been based on bible, and never question whether they ever really were.

Y’know, I just wrote a rant last week about same-gender marriage. In it I expressed my views (or lack of declared ones, anyway) about LGBT issues. Namely that I’m trying to be all things to all people so that I might save some, 1Co 9.22, 10.33 and I figure the best way to do that is to keep my mouth shut and be gracious to all.

It is, I repeat, a stance that’s not good enough for a lot of people. They want me to take a stand, and either vindicate their stand, or give ’em someone new to denounce. I figure if they’re just looking for someone to denounce, I’m never gonna win with such people. They might agree with me on one particular stance, but some other stance is gonna wind up outraging ’em regardless. When people really wanna burn witches badly enough, they’ll look for any clue you’re made of wood.

So yeah; not gonna go there today either. I’ll only say that steering clear of such manifestos, no matter the peer pressure, is more in line with grace than not. If I’m trying to share Jesus with a gay man, and he finds out I’ve signed off on the Nashville Statement, and is so outraged he won’t listen to me further, so much for my testimony. There are enough roadblocks to the gospel without me throwing a few landmines into the mix. So it’s all for the best, really.