Concerns About the Nashville Declaration
Don’t Be Quick to Jump On the Bandwagon
When the Manhattan Declaration was created, evangelicals widely celebrated as pastors and laymen were eager to sign on to the document designed to defend religious liberty. Trusted Evangelical Intelligentsia leaders – men like Albert Mohler – quickly signed on to the document, and legions followed. Others, like John MacArthur and R.C. Sproul, held off jumping on the bandwagon, reviewed it carefully, and they eventually chose to not sign it. Older, wiser brethren – those who, like MacArthur and Sproul, had already been tested with the peer pressure of Evangelicals and Catholics Together – chose to wait patiently, investigate the document’s origins and be cautious.
While declarations designed for ecumenical approval are not always troublesome (the Davers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy are two examples of declarations that are reasonable, clear and productive), some (like Evangelicals and Catholics Together or Every Living Thing) are inherently troublesome.
There are several risks involved with issue declarations designed to garner wide-spread religious support, and there are questions that must be asked:
1. Do you support those who crafted the document, and are you completely confident that your support will not have unintended consequences? In other words, by signing the document, will you become a useful idiot in someone else’s propaganda campaign?
2. Is the declaration abundantly clear in its words and definitions, or is it intentionally vague? If it is vague, why? If you do not know why it is vague, refer back to question #1 above.
3. Declarations are designed to draw lines in the sand. Are you sure – are you positive – that you are comfortable where the declaration draws that line?
4. Is the declaration committee soliciting signatures from those who you are not to Biblically “yoke” yourself with (2 Corinthians 6:16)?
Who Drafted the Nashville Declaration?
The Nashville Declaration – according to ecumenist and Eastern Idolater, Rod Dreher – was put together by “evangelical heavy hitters” (read that, the Evangelical Intelligenstsia). Dreher, who is not a Christian in any meaningful sense, says that he “endorses” the document, although he will not sign it because he is not an evangelical (link above). The “evangelical heavy hitters” Dreher refers to are chiefly those associated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, as the CBMW sponsored the declaration. Signatories include culture warriors like Tony Perkins and James Dobson, trusted men like John MacArthur (who does not easily put his endorsement on things), New Calvinists like D.A. Carson and Wayne Grudem, charismatics like Jack Deere and Sam Storms, presidents and former presidents of the SBC like Steve Gaines, Ronnie Floyd and Johnny Hunt, SBC seminary presidents like Albert Mohler, Danny Akin and Paige Patterson, former lesbian-turned-lecturer, Rosaria Butterfield, anti-LGBT incendiary, Robert Gagnon and super gay-friendly, Karen Swallow Prior (the latter two are on startlingly opposite sides of the spectrum on this issue, showing exactly how wide a berth the declaration creates).
Please note that these names are signatories of the completed declaration, and not necessarily the drafters of the declaration, which was sponsored by the CBMW. The information regarding who the individuals were who were hands-on in the process of creating the document is heretofore unknown, but its signatories range from theologically sound to theologically unsound and on human sexuality range from unwavering (Gagnon) to reeds shaking in the wind (Swallow Prior).
Is the Declaration Sufficiently Clear?
The Nashville Declaration is clear on multiple points. These include the God-created design of marriage between only one man and only one woman and the sinfulness of any deviation thereof (Article 1), God’s command for chastity outside of marriage and faithfulness inside of marriage (Article 2), that gender is given by God (Article 3) and necessary for “human flourishing” (Article 4), and that gender is tied to sex (Article 5). The declaration is clear that genetic or bodily abnormalities have no significant consequence on the principles at stake in this debate (Article 6).
There is one concern with the first five articles; while God’s design of the binary male-female was asserted and while God’s design of “traditional marriage” was asserted, the declaration did so without using the word sin. One would be hard-pressed to argue that a carefully crafted document that would be unveiled as widely as the Nashville Declaration omitted sin unintentionally. While some might argue (in fact, most might argue) that by referring to God’s design, all else is by default sin, and thus sin is implied. The fact is, there are many evangelical leaders who’ve danced around the sinfulness of sodomy by referring to it as “not God’s design” or “not ideal” or “not conducivie to human flourishing.” I wish the document would have used that all-important three-letter word in the first six articles.
Beginning in chapter 7, however, things get considerably murkier.
The Troubling Parts
For whatever reason, the drafters of the Nashville Declaration chose to use the word “self-conception” to refer to what many call “self-identification” or “self-identify.” I can understand why they wouldn’t want to operate from the pagan lexicon of words and definitions (and good on them), but when you use the term “self-conception” and use it in the context of human sexuality, it becomes confusing…considering that “conception” is something that happens in heterosexual unions only. Of course, the drafters aren’t implying anything about procreation when they write “self-conception,” but phrasing it differently (like “self-perception”) would have been helpful.
The declaration asserts that “self-conception” (how one self-identifies) should be in accordance with how God made them, biologically male or female. In that article (Article 7), the declaration states that homosexual or transgender “self-conception” is inconsistent with God’s purposes. Again, the drafters of the declaration stops short of calling homosexuality or (attempted) transgenderism “sin.”
Article 8 is especially problematic. It states, “We affirm that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life, pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.”
There are a number of problems here, and like before, it’s by what is omitted rather than what is included. First, the Article does not clarify that Same Sex Attraction (SSA) is sin, in and of itself. In fact, the Article seems to imply that a Christian may have SSA and still be pleasing to God so long as they “walk in purity of life” (read that, “don’t act on the SSA”). I am greatly, greatly concerned that since Dr. Mohler did a 180-degree turn on reparative therapy several years ago, many in evangelicalism have changed their minds on the power of sanctification over sexual attraction. Simply put, there seems to be a trend in evangelicalism of exhorting those with SSA to singleness – giving up on hope that their natures might be renewed by the Holy Spirit – instead of encouraging them to pursue healthy, heterosexual marriage and fruitfulness. I am seeing a growing number of evangelicals (probably in the majority now) who will argue that SSA is not a sin, so long as it is not “acted upon.” Of course, Jesus taught us that sinful desires are – in and of themselves – sin (Matthew 5:28). While we rejoice that those with SSA refuse to phsyically give in to temptation, we must still acknowledge that the desire itself is sinful, needs constantly repented of, and to eventually by mortified by the Holy Spirit.
The fact is, “the purity of life” is not only what is on the outside of the cup, but also the inside. The declaration seems to use “walk in purity of life” to mean the external behavior only, and not the internal desire which – even by itself – is sinful.
In Article 9 we see the first mention of “sin”; that “sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality…” This statement is unassailable. However, in the denial portion of Article 9, it says, “We deny that an enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.” Here, the declaration again misses an opportunity to clarify that the “enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality” is itself immoral (sinful) and requires repentance. In fact, this Article seems to juxtapose sexually immoral desire from sexually immoral behavior, which puts the document at odds with the moral ethic taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
In Article 10, we continue to see an imposed separation between homosexuality and “homosexual immorality,” (as though the drafters felt that homosexual behavior must be specified, rather than just saying “homosexuality” in general). We see this careful division between homosexual behavior and desires in Article 10 that doesn’t exist for transgenderism, as the declaration includes no such caveat for transgenderism, calling it “transgenderism” rather than “transgender immorality.” If one didn’t know any differently, they would assume that the declaration argues homosexuality is sinful if acted upon, and transgenderism is sinful whether it is acted upon or not.
The Good Parts (and more troubling parts)
I was very pleased to see Article 11 call for truthfulness in how we refer to people, denying the use of preferred pronouns. Amen and Amen to that. And, as stated above, the first five chapters seemed very good.
Article 12 was written well enough that it might have almost alleviated all of my concerns listed above, had it been just a tad stronger. Article 12 says that God’s grace gives a “merciful pardon and transforming power” to “put to death sinful desires.” It’s here that the declaration seems clear that desires can be sinful, for which I am thankful, but at no point does the declaration directly say that Same Sex Attraction is the sinful desire to which it speaks, nor does it clarify (as oddly unnecessary as it may seem) that sinful desires are “sinful” in and of themselves. The denial of Article 12 was also excellent, denying that the grace of Christ is insufficient to forgive all sins and to make all holy.
Article 13 specifically says that the grace of God can “enable sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions,” which is excellent. What is – again – oddly lacking is a similar statement about Same Sex Attraction. If the drafters of the Nashville Declaration can assert that the Gospel can enable people to control desires for transgenderism, why not assert the Gospel can enable people to control desires for homosexuality?
Article 14 is essentially an assessment of the Gospel, and they fit in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, as well as Christ’s sufficiency in salvation. There is literally nothing to complain about there.
Should you Sign It?
My greatest reluctance is that if the document is vague enough that Russell Moore (who says he would attend a gay wedding reception) and Karen Swallow Prior (who has as many gay fans as Christian ones) can sign it, I wonder if perhaps it’s too vague. The seeming reluctance to call homosexual desire sinful in and of itself is another concern, especially considering that several Articles would have provided ample, pertinent opportunity to do so.
The question is whether or not the declaration’s ambiguities on homosexual desire provides enough room for someone to draw a line in the sand differently, and then allowing them to cite the declaration as proof of their orthodoxy.
Whatever you do, think about it. Ask how important it is in the first place. Be cautious. And most of all, don’t sign it just because one of your favorite leaders has signed it. The Intelligentsia live to sign things. Most would sign a cafeteria menu if you passed it to them. It’s an opportunity to be brave and take a stand when everyone else is being brave, taking a stand. Just be a Berean, and be careful.