Top leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention joined other evangelical leaders in a statement Aug. 29 declaring homosexuality and transgender identity to be sinful and not something about which faithful Christians can agree to disagree.
The Nashville Statement was discussed and endorsed at a meeting Aug. 25 held in conjunction with the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s national conference on parenting in Nashville, Tenn., according to an announcement by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
ERLC President Russell Moore, whose agency is listed as co-sponsor, called the statement “an urgently needed moment of gospel clarity.”
The Nashville Statement — endorsed by five SBC agency heads, the presidents of all six seminaries and eight current and former convention presidents — is introduced as “an evangelical coalition statement on biblical sexuality.”
It defines marriage as a “lifelong union of one man and one woman” and denies justification for any “sexual intercourse before or outside marriage.” The statement says one purpose of marriage is procreation, thereby excluding the recognition of any “homosexual, polygamous or polyamorous relationship.”
It affirms the male and female sexes as part of God’s created order and denies “that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”
While people with same-sex attractions can be faithful followers of Christ if they remain celibate, the Nashville Statement says, no “enduring pattern of desire for sexual immorality justifies sexually immoral behavior.”
It addresses churches that are LGBT-affirming, denying “that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”
The statement says through God’s grace, sinners can “forsake transgender self-conceptions” and eventually come to “accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.”
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry said on Twitter the “so-called Nashville” statement “is poorly named and does not represent the inclusive values of the city and people” of her community.
Evangelical author Rachel Held Evans said it condemns not only “all LGBT people” but also labels “as non-Christians those who love and support them.”
There are 148 initial signatories on the Nashville Statement. They include a number of SBC pastors and professors, along with evangelical leaders including author John Piper and Focus on the Family Founder James Dobson, blogger and radio host Erick Erickson and National Review senior writer David French.
“The spirit of our age does not delight in God’s good design of male and female,” said Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. “Consequently, confusion reigns over some of the most basic questions of our humanity. The aim of the Nashville Statement is to shine a light into the darkness — to declare the goodness of God’s design in our sexuality and in creating us as male and female.”
Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, took over in June 2016 as ninth president of the organization founded in 1987 to oppose the influence of feminism in the church. Early on he reaffirmed the Danvers Statement — the council’s founding document named after the Massachusetts city where it was written — but called for “a new statement of conviction” addressing issues that weren’t on the radar 30 years ago.
The Nashville Statement builds on the Danvers Statement’s “complementarian” reading of Scripture, which says that men and women are fundamentally equal before God but assigned complementarity roles of male headship and wifely submission in the church and home.
The new statement reaffirms that heterosexual marriage “is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.” It affirms “divinely ordained differences between male and female” as part of God’s original creation design and denies such differences “are a result of the fall” or “a tragedy to be overcome.”
LGBT activist Brandan Robertson, lead pastor of Missiongathering Christian Church in San Diego, Calif., said a few years ago it appeared that SBC leaders were becoming more open to dialogue about matters of human sexuality but more recently appear to be retreating to the harsher condemnation of the past.
“In 2014, I organized a group of nearly 20 national LGBT leaders to meet with nearly 30 SBC leaders at the ERLC conference in Nashville,” Robertson said in an email exchange Aug. 29. “We spent nearly three hours in deep conversation in a suite provided by the SBC.”
Robertson said he once had a close enough relationship with Russell Moore and the ERLC staff where he could email and get a direct response. “Now, it seems, they are tremendously fearful, probably because of the political climate of our country and the pressure Moore faced for speaking against Trump.”
Robertson said the shift is “remarkably sad,” because as SBC leadership hardens its attitudes against gays, studies show that suicide rates among LGBT youth in religious homes are on the rise.
“This is something every SBC/evangelical must be held accountable for,” he said.