Despite many critical reactions, the Nashville Statement continues to attract signers. The creators of the statement hoped to draw a line in the church sand and they apparently have succeeded.
The statement is divisive regarding the moral status of homosexual acts and desire. It isn’t surprising for the signers to consider same-sex sexual behavior to be sinful. This was already widely known. However, the statement draws a more controversial line when it declares same-sex attraction to be sinful even if never acted upon and asserts that same-sex attraction can be eliminated by following Jesus.
Article 12 of the statement says:
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.
When I first read this, it sounded like a condemnation of both same-sex attraction and behavior. It also seems like the authors and signers believe same-sex attraction can be “put to death” or eradicated. Although reparative therapy is nowhere referenced in this statement, this sounds like the authors expect same-sex attracted people to be able to kill their attractions by religious means.
The statement was authored by the Committee for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Writing for CBMW, Denny Burk confirmed my reading of the statement. About Article 12, he said:
The Nashville Statement leaves no room for such revisions nor does it leave ambiguity on the question. But we are not merely reasserting what the Bible says about the moral status of homosexuality. We are also saying that the gospel of Jesus of Christ offers hope for those laboring under the power of this particular temptation:
Elsewhere, Burk has been even more clear that same-sex attraction is inherently sinful. In his article, Is Homosexual Orientation Sinful?
When a person feels themselves experiencing an attraction or a desire toward a person of the same sex, what is their responsibility before God at that point? Is a desire for sexual activity with a person of the same sex a morally benign desire? In the terms that Jesus teaches us, it is always sinful to desire something that God forbids. And the very experience of the desire becomes an occasion for repentance. And it is pastoral malpractice to tell someone who is feeling a sexual attraction for a person of the same sex that they need not repent. In the moment they feel their sexual desire aroused in such a way—in that moment—they must confess the desire as sinful and turn from it. (p. 108)
Burk answers his article’s question in the affirmative.
So how do we answer the question, “Is same-sex orientation sinful?” Insofar as same-sex orientation designates the experience of sexual desire for a person of the same-sex, yes, it is sinful. Insofar as same-sex orientation indicates emotional/romantic attractions that brim with erotic possibility, yes, those attractions too are sinful. Insofar as sexual orientation designates an identity, yes, that identity too is a sinful fiction that contradicts God’s purposes for his creation. (p. 114)
What’s the Problem Here?
Whether one affirms same-sex orientation or not, Article 12 is problematic on empirical grounds. First, efforts to eliminate same-sex desires, religious or not, haven’t been effective. Burk wrote in his blog post that the Nashville Statement “offers hope” for same-sex attracted people. Based on nearly 20 years of research and clinical experience with GLB people, I believe the statement offers false hope based on wishful thinking. It is the rare person who credibly reports that their same-sex attractions are “put to death.” This experience, if it can be believed at all, is the infrequent exception rather than the rule. The Nashville Statement promises much more than is true for the majority of Christians I’ve encountered who have tried to follow these teachings. For many, the result is discouragement, depression, suicidal wishes, and a rejection of the faith. There is no reason to sugarcoat this. It is a denial of reality to do so.
Burk offers consistent doctrinal reasons for his position on orientation when he says that it is “sinful to desire something that God forbids.” However, I question his analysis of the meaning of desire. In fact, I question whether or not we can know for sure what Jesus had in view when he taught that a married man who lusts for another woman has committed adultery. I am not certain that we can judge the modern concept of sexual orientation by this illustration. Was Jesus teaching about sexual orientation or was he teaching about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees (Mt. 5:20) and the continuity of the moral law? I doubt Burk will take the rest of this teaching in Matthew 5:29-30 just as literally as he does verse 28.
28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (emphasis added)
If Jesus is speaking literally, then why doesn’t the Nashville Statement affirm elective organ and limb donation as the appropriate pastoral response to illicit sexual desire?
None of the signers would sign up for such pastoral advice. However, they have agreed with a pastoral response which offers false hope and not much else. So no matter what one believes about the morality of same-sex sexual acts, the Nashville Statement affirms a view of sexual orientation and change that has been discredited and encourages pastors to mislead their same-sex attracted congregants. Along with other problems, this is reason enough to reject the Nashville Statement.
If people want to sign a statement, perhaps they could consider this one.