Theology Is Not The Same As Pastoral Care
There’s been a lot said about the Nashville Statement recently released by the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW). In brief, the statement is comprised of 14 affirmations and denials regarding sexuality & gender as they relate to the Christian faith. The CBMW seems to have a large influence in the evangelical world and I appreciate most any ministry that dares to enter into this conversation filled with landmines, gray areas, & nuanced language which make thinking about these areas difficult, let alone talking about them in relationship with other people.
There wasn’t too much I disagreed with as I read the statement, but I got to the end and felt a mix of let down and confusion. The statements were simple & fairly clear but the purpose of drafting a document for pastors and ministry leaders to sign left me a little perplexed. I’ve been in ministry in this area for several years and have the lived experience of navigating the complexities of faith, sexuality, identity, & gender. I keep a fairly good pulse on where the conversation is in culture and in the church. I’m a big believer in answering the questions people are actually asking rather than giving information to show people how much I know. So when I read the Nashville Statement I was frustrated and let down because I wanted to know where the rest of it was. Mostly though, I’m tired of hearing statements that draw a line in the sand without much intention of reaching across that line to love people and show them how good Jesus is.
Where is the part that shows me how to (or at least gets me started) loving gay people that are interested in Jesus? How do I walk with the transgender person that was raised in church, loves Jesus, and feels that the only viable way forward for her is to transition her body to match what she feels inside? How do I encourage the man that feels called to celibacy, experiences exclusive same sex attraction and feels the church to be a relational desert rather than an oasis?
The Nashville Statement didn’t seem to say anything new. I wasn’t surprised and I wasn’t outraged. I was more confused as to why a group of amazing Christian leaders who really know their theology and, I believe, really love Jesus, would spend months of their time and energy drafting theological statements rather than showing people how their theology can lead to pastoral care. Clear theology (who I believe God to be) is necessary because if my theology is correct, I will be incredibly compassionate. My theology informs my compassion, rather than my compassion for people leading my theology. But if my theology never leads to compassion, I have to at least question whether my theology about this outrageously gracious and kind God is something I actually believe. So we can say that we love and feel compassion for LGBT people, but MOST of the LGBT community is saying, “we’re waiting for you to prove it”.
Over many decades, we have said “This is what we believe” and that has been the end of the conversation. I wonder if in 10, 20, or 30 years, we will still be writing theological statements that are clean & clear, black & white, and void of the messy areas that involve walking with a person on a journey through unresolved issues, unmet expectations, and unclear next steps with Jesus. I don’t think we need something new, but I do want something more. I feel like the Nashville Statement could have been dated 20 years prior and no one would have known the difference because this is what the church has been saying for a long time – and it hasn’t produced the fruit of Christian people being safe, empathic, disciple makers of the LGBT community.
I don’t suspect that those who wrote the statement would consider these 14 articles to be exhaustive on LGBT issues and the church. I’m sure they didn’t write it to be so. However, because we’ve lacked practical insight on how to walk with LGBT people, the current generation is abandoning a conservative sexual ethic for the sake of relational engagement.
I often hear that telling people the truth is loving. I agree. But a doctrinal statement of what someone is for or against has never made me feel loved or drawn me into relationship. A friend remaining present in the midst of my confusion and pain, however, has in fact done just that. This is what we need guidance and direction on. So, evangelical leaders, I respectfully ask you to PLEASE spend some time & energy, your education and ministry expertise in drafting practical ways that Christians with orthodox beliefs can care well for their gay neighbor. Evangelical leaders, we’re asking for your help. We have to have more than a signature letting us know who is on what side and much more than a statement designed to draw a line in the sand.
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You can find the full Nashville Statement at https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement