Wishful Thinking, Forced Intimacy, and The Nashville Statement

photo-1474367658825-e5858839e99d_optI started counseling LGB people and mixed orientation couples about two decades ago. Initially, I had high hopes that counseling might regularly assist same-sex attracted people become straight or bisexual. In a story that has been told elsewhere, I have since changed my mind.
Part of what helped form my current views of sexual orientation was the experience of counseling and researching mixed orientation couples. I concluded: If heterosexual responding did not happen for same-sex attracted people in that context, it probably wasn’t going to happen at all. For couples already married, I decided to work with them to maintain their marriage if that is what they believed was right. However, I don’t make unrealistic promises. And if people decide to part, I certainly understand the pressures which lead to that decision.
Due to my work, I read a recent article at John Piper’s website by Nashville Statement signer Rosaria Butterfield. In it, she gives some of the worstNashville logo advice I have ever read to a woman in a mixed orientation marriage. Below I respond to it. My response to the article is not theological. Instead, I respond as a clinician and researcher.
In essence, Butterfield denies people are gay:

A mixed-orientation marriage combines one spouse who “is” gay and the other who “is” straight. This new language for sexuality and humanity has become our post-Christian world’s reigning (and godless) logic. Gay may be how someone feels, but it can never be who someone inherently is. Because all human beings are made in God’s image, we are called to reflect God’s image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We are a Genesis 1:27 people, born male or female with a soul that will last forever, and a body that will either be glorified in the New Jerusalem or suffer unspeakable anguish in hell.

After working with LGBT people for two decades, I believe some people are inherently gay. They have never been attracted to a member of the opposite sex, even while married to one. They have tried everything to change, but nothing changes.
Some people are bisexual and seem to fluctuate without warning or conscious choice. Others are basically gay, but fall in love with one member of the opposite sex. If that love is dashed or ceases for some reason, then there is nothing left of their straightness.
Butterfield says there is one size because of the Bible. Even though that’s not exactly what the Bible says, that’s how she and her Nashville Statement interpret it so that’s how anyone she talks to has to be. I used to look at people that way. I won’t do that anymore. There are many things in this world I wish were different but wishful thinking won’t change how things are.
She continues:

Being born male or female comes with ethical and moral responsibilities, blessings, and constraints — by God’s design and for the purpose of image-bearing. Because creation is an identity issue, my feelings — no matter how deep, abiding, or original to my conscience — are not my identity or descriptive of what kind of Christian I am.

In other words, no matter how real reality is, it isn’t really real unless it matches up with her understanding of the Bible. What Butterfield overlooks is that she is basing her argument on her feelings about the Bible. She is confident that her interpretation is the right one. She feels strongly about it. Her feelings are more right than the feelings of the woman she is talking to. She believes that God’s design for most people is normative for all people. No exceptions are allowed. The fact is that some people are naturally different than the norm. No matter how strongly she feels that such exceptions shouldn’t exist, they do.

No, friend. I am not in a mixed-orientation marriage and neither are you. This false category banks on modernism’s magnetism to personal pain as proof of purpose. Like Frankenstein’s creature, modernity’s identity is piecemealed from the unconverted woman that you once were. But gospel identity calls us to the future. Jesus always leads from the front of the line. If you are in Christ — and I believe that you are — then you are a new woman. You have a Galatians 2:20 identity. If you are in Christ, then you are in the process of being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). You truly are who you will become when you are glorified one day.

The denial of sexual orientation leads to a denial of the present. The woman Butterfield is talking to is living in a body and brain right now, not “one day” by and by. She has a husband she can’t bear to be with and a conflict that is real in the present. She needs something more than it will be well someday.
I do agree with Butterfield’s caution about ending a marriage. What I advocate for in this post is honesty and reality not broken homes. Many couples I have worked with keep their marriage but with real and honest expectations. Furthermore, they do so after an extended period of examining their beliefs to determine that they want an intact marriage more than anything else. If they don’t have those beliefs, then they may peacefully and amicably part ways.

Worst Advice Ever

However, probably the worst advice I have ever read for same-sex attracted people is what comes next:

Your lot has fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6). Pray for eyes to see this. Recommit yourself to one-flesh love with your husband. Pray together that your hearts would be knit together through Christ. Make time to talk honestly with your husband about how your body works. Show him. Make time to preserve your marriage bed as a place of joy and comfort and pleasure. Have sexual intercourse often. This is God’s medicine for a healthy marriage. One-fleshness is certainly more than sex, but it is not less than sex. Your husband is not your roommate. Treating him as such is sin.

Forced intimacy is not intimacy. I can only imagine the horror of a person hearing these words. I have counseled numerous survivors of this kind of advice. What this does is ruin a person for any kind of intimacy, same-sex or opposite-sex.  Maybe some people can hear this, but to me, this sounds cult-like. Channeling early Mark Driscoll, Butterfield instructs this woman to allow her integrity to be violated in the name of God.
The Nashville Statement is supposed to be all about rightly ordered sexuality. I can’t see how a person entering into coerced intimacy reflects this. Butterfield very clearly tells this woman she sins if she doesn’t have sex against her will. This advice doesn’t even pass the test of her fellow Nashville Statement signer and Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood president Denny Burk’s criteria for ethical sexuality. In his book What is the Meaning of SexBurk wrote:

We ought to evaluate the ethics of any sexual act on the basis of its ability to encompass the four purposes [of sex]: consummation, procreation, love, and pleasure.

Butterfield’s kitchen table friend said she didn’t love her husband and derived no pleasure from the experience. How then is sex against her will an ethical act?
I hope DesiringGod.com reconsiders this article and removes it before anyone takes it seriously.

Could There Be a More Perfect Tweet?

If there’s a tweeting contest for 2017, I enter fellow Patheos blogger Hemant Mehta’s tweet.


The layers of this tweet would take political pundits many hours on CNN, FOX, and CNBC to unravel. At once, it nails Donald Trump and Roy Moore and succinctly expresses their immaturity and incompetence. And it captures the Twilight Zone that is our current national government.
Here is a screen cap of the tweet with Trump’s tweet in case it all doesn’t show up in the embedded tweet above.
childish tweet
For those who have been vacationing off planet, the Roy Moore story has taken social media by storm. He has denied molesting a 14 year old girl when he was in his 30s but the Washington Post story was well researched and has numerous GOP colleagues calling for him to get out of the Alabama Senate race. Now he has threatened to sue the Post.
I doubt he will sue. He and his accusers would testify under oath. If everything is as it seems to be, his accusers would debunk the stories about money changing hands in exchange for their story.  In print and subsequent interviews, his accusers seem credible. Furthermore, Moore would have to take the stand. He hasn’t been terribly convincing with his public statements. I don’t think it would go well for him unless of course he is completely innocent.
In this story, the shocking thing isn’t that people believe he could be innocent. False allegations do happen. Sometimes accusers lie. Many people only know Moore in a context where he is an honorable public servant. Naturally, they want to believe the best about him. What has been shocking to me is that too many Republican leaders have said they would support him even if the allegations were true.

The Nashville Statement and Sterling K. Brown: Is This Us?

Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown brilliantly plays Randall Pearson in the NBC drama This Is Us. According to his Twitter account, he is also “a childSterlingKBrown of God.” In a 2016 Facebook posting just after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Brown expanded on that by saying that he grew up in St. Louis as a Christian. He also said that he has three family members who are gay and he believes #gaylivesmatter. You can read the whole post below or at his Facebook page but for the sake of discussion, here is a quote about Christianity and affirmation of gay people:

I’m tired, y’all. I’m tired of folks using The Bible, or any religious text to justify the withholding of love. To justify the promotion of intolerance. And ultimately, the death and destruction of what God made. My heart aches for the innocent, and I can no longer play the role of Switzerland. If you have a problem with loving gay people, then you have a problem with love, and thus you have a problem with God. Because what is God, if not love? The conditions which many Christians place on “how best to love” someone who is different than themselves has got to stop.


Brown gives every indication of growing up in a tradition which is consistent with the Nashville Statement (see these prior posts for background on that statement). Brown’s Facebook posting is quite inconsistent with the Nashville Statement. And then there is the matter of Article 10 which reads:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Nashville logoAlthough he doesn’t specify his personal beliefs, Brown’s statement of support for LGBT people is remarkable. It sounds like there is some conflict in his family about the matter and yet he has come forward with a strong statement of support.
Dear Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, is Sterling K. Brown one of us?

Just Before Pledge Drive, K-LOVE Paid $58-Million for Three Stations

Just before the Fall Pledge Drive, K-LOVE purchased three stations from Entercom for $58-million. According to the industry blog, Radioinsight,

EMF [Educational Media Foundation – K-LOVE’s parent company] will acquire Classic Rock “100.3 The Sound” KSWD Los Angeles as well as 92.1 KSOQ Escondido CA (Simulcasts Country http://www.froggy101.com/“>97.3 KSON San Diego) and 95.9 WGGI Berwick PA (Simulcasts Country “Froggy 101” WGGY Wilkes-Barre).

Entercom divested the stations as part of their merger with CBS.
This year K-LOVE has also acquired stations in other markets including Rhode Island, Louisiana, Virginia, and Ohio. These are just a few of the purchases. K-LOVE has been quite active this year. What is clear is that the pledge drives are making it possible for K-LOVE to increase market share not just stay on the air.
More expansion is likely to be in K-LOVE’s future. Radioinsight’s Lance Venta recently wrote:

Educational Media Foundation’s business model portends well to constant expansion. Multiple federal rules allow EMF to take advantage of loopholes that commercial operators do not have the opportunity to do so. As a non-profit EMF can take advantage of tax credits and loopholes. The networks take on the majority of their revenue through listener donations and as the group expands to more markets that brings more potential listeners and donors. With the main-studio waiver that each EMF license holds, the local stations do not exist as anything more than a rack of equipment at the translator site as programming currently all comes from a pair of locales. They don’t need to have a local studio or maintain local staffing cutting down costs.

Local Christian radio is just about gone. Many of these stations have been gobbled up by K-LOVE with no end in sight. The FCC just did away withKLOVE Car the requirement that broadcasters must have a local presence near the location where they have a license to broadcast. K-LOVE has long obtained waivers from this rule in order to broadcast nationally without needing to have a local station. Now they don’t need to get waivers.
The FCC move was opposed by smaller broadcasters who will now be at a disadvantage in their competition with larger corporations. Beyond competition, the concern is that news coverage could be slanted away from local interests.
Regarding K-LOVE and Christian music, K-LOVE already has an out-sized influence on trends in Christian music. Programmers control who has entrance into the market and who stays current. They control so much of the market that artists are at their mercy. Over the years, creativity has been hard to find within the evangelical bubble and I worry that the repetitive pop sounds coming from every market will stifle it even more.

K-LOVE Still Won't Reveal How Much Was Raised During Pledge Drive

Recently, K-LOVE completed their Fall Pledge Drive. It lasted at least one day longer than scheduled because they didn’t reach their goal in theKLOVE Car allotted time. Even though nobody I talked to at K-LOVE seemed to know how much they wanted to raise, they had to keep begging for money to reach it.

How Much Did K-LOVE Make During Pledge Drive?

I tried to find out how much K-LOVE raised during pledge drive. The giant radio organization had a surplus of over $60-million in 2016 so it isn’t clear why they needed to engage in such urgent solicitations.
During the pledge drive I talked to two customer service representatives who said they didn’t know the amount and forwarded me to someone else. I then left a voice mail but received no call in return. I also asked K-LOVE via Twitter and the K-LOVE Twitter manager told me to call the station. I had tried that.
I then asked my question via a private message on the K-LOVE Facebook page:

How much did KLOVE raise during the last pledge drive? If you don’t know exactly, what was the goal?

Someone named “Mike Pastor” (I wonder if that is his real name) wrote back and said:

Please write our CEO, Mike Novak with your financial questions or concerns. You can reach him at CEO @ klove. com. Thanks!

So then I wrote Novak on October 31 and asked my questions. He didn’t write back.

Dear Mr. Novak

Mike Novak, if you are reading, I would still like to know how much you raised during the fund drive. In fact, I think you should tell everyone on your website and on your station. Remember you are a 501(c)3 organization. It is the least you can do.
The least.
This is after your on-air personalities asked people for a week to give their best. Now, you should tell people how much you raised. Don’t you think that’s fair? You featured a woman who gave to K-LOVE instead of paying a bill. Don’t you think you should be transparent and tell people what their sacrifice added up to?
I realize you just acquired new stations in Los Angeles and elsewhere for nearly $58-million so you need some more cash. But shouldn’t you tell the folks why you want it and how much of it they just gave?

The Canons of Elvira and The Nashville Statement

Since the church has been making statements, church leaders have been telling people in the pews what to do and not to do in their beds. In theNashville logo context of talking about the Nashville Statement, a Grove City colleague recently pointed me to the Canons of Elvira as an early (303 AD or so) instance of this. Just for fun, here are some of the rules, called canons, that the church in Spain expected the people to live by. Before I provide a few of them, here is a description of the Synod of Elvira from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Held early in the fourth century at Elliberis, or Illiberis, in Spain, a city now in ruins not far from Granada. It was, so far as we know, the first council held in Spain, and was attended by nineteen bishops from all parts of the Peninsula. The exact year in which it was held is a matter of controversy upon which much has been written. Some copies of its Acts contain a date which corresponds with the year 324 of our reckoning; by some writers the council has accordingly been assigned to that year. Hardouin suggests 313, Mansi 309, and Hefele 305 or 306. Recent opinion (Duchesne, see below) would put the dateconsiderably earlier, from 300 to 303, consequently previous to the persecution of Diocletian. The principal bishop attending the council was the famous Hosius of Cordova. Twenty-six priests are also recorded as sitting with the bishops. Its eighty-one canons were, however, subscribed only by the bishops. These canons, all disciplinary, throw much light on the religious and ecclesiastical life of SpanishChristians on the eve of the triumph of Christianity. They deal with marriage, baptismidolatryfastingexcommunication, the cemeteries, usury, vigils, frequentation of Mass, the relations of Christians with pagansJewsheretics, etc.

Not all of these have to do with sex but they give some insight into how views of sin and morality have changed within the church. They don’t seem to be in an order and were not all decided at one time. Generally, it appears that the Christian leaders then didn’t think highly of sex, even in marriage. Becoming a leader meant giving it up.

33. Bishops, presbyters, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives and from the procreation of children. If anyone disobeys, he shall be removed from the clerical office.

For non-leaders, punishments for violations were severe:

7. If a Christian completes penance for a sexual offense and then again commits fornication, he or she may not receive communion even when death approaches.
8. Women who without acceptable cause leave their husbands and join another man may not receive communion even when death approaches.
9. A baptized woman who leaves an adulterous husband who has been baptized, for another man, may not marry him. If she does, she may not receive communion until her former husband dies, unless she is seriously ill.
10. If an unbaptized woman marries another man after being deserted by her husband who was a catechumen, she may still be baptized. This is also true for female catechumens. If a Christian woman marries a man in the knowledge that he deserted his former wife without cause, she may receive communion only at the time of her death.
11. If a female catechumen marries a man in the knowledge that he deserted his former wife without cause, she may not be baptized for five years unless she becomes seriously ill.
12. Parents and other Christians who give up their children to sexual abuse are selling others’ bodies, and if they do so or sell their own bodies, they shall not receive communion even at death.
13. Virgins who have been consecrated to God shall not commune even as death approaches if they have broken the vow of virginity and do not repent. If, however, they repent and do not engage in intercourse again, they may commune when death approaches.
14 If a virgin does not preserve her virginity but then marries the man, she may commune after one year, without doing penance, for she only broke the laws of marriage. If she has been sexually active with other men, she must complete a penance of five years before being readmitted to communion.
15. Christian girls are not to marry pagans, no matter how few eligible men there are, for such marriages lead to adultery of the soul.
16. Heretics shall not be joined in marriage with Catholic girls unless they accept the Catholic faith. Catholic girls may not marry Jews or heretics, because they cannot find a unity when the faithful and the unfaithful are joined. Parents who allow this to happen shall not commune for five years.
17. If parents allow their daughter to marry a pagan priest, they shall not receive communion even at the time of death.
30. Those who sinned sexually as youth may not be ordained as subdeacons. This will guard against their being promoted to higher offices later on. If they have already been ordained, they shall be removed from their office.

Some canons are frightful:

5. If a woman beats her servant and causes death within three days, she shall undergo seven years’ penance if the injury was inflicted on purpose and five years’ if it was accidental. She shall not receive communion during this penance unless she becomes ill. If so, she may receive communion.
41. Christians are to prohibit their slaves from keeping idols in their houses. If this is impossible to enforce, they must at least avoid the idols and remain pure. If this does not happen, they are alienated from the church.
50. If any cleric or layperson eats with Jews, he or she shall be kept from communion as a way of correction.
80. Slaves who have been freed but whose former masters are yet alive may not be ordained as clergy.
68. A catechumen who conceives in adultery and then suffocates the child may be baptized only when death approaches.

Some are just odd:

35. Women are not to remain in a cemetery during the night. Some engage in wickedness rather than prayer.
62. Chariot racers or pantomimes must first renounce their profession and promise not to resume it before they may become Christians. If they fail to keep this promise, they shall be expelled from the church.
67. A woman who is baptized or is a catechumen must not associate with hairdressers or men with long hair. If she does this, she is to be denied communion.
81. A woman may not write to other lay Christians without her husband’s consent. A woman may not receive letters of friendship addressed to her only and not to her husband as well.

With my tongue in my cheek, I tend to agree with the part about mimes renouncing their miming. Those Elvirans were on to something there.
I have a feeling it won’t take 1700 years for future Christians to look back at the Nashville Statement and question dogmatism of these authors. We now let mimes (should we?), chariot drivers, hairdressers, and men with long hair in the church. Pastors aren’t removed from office for sex with their wives. Maybe someday, it will not be fashionable for evangelical Christians as a group to question the salvation of LGBT Christians.
Some things change and some things don’t. My point isn’t to suggest everything changes or that everything should change. I am saying that we should be open to the possibility that tradition plays a role in our moral reasoning and that what we know and don’t know about LGBT issues makes them candidates for issues which should be reexamined in light of current science and experience.

The Nashville Statement and God's Design

Nashville logoAs they say in journalism, the Nashville Statement has legs.  Mark Galli has a critical editorial about the NS in November’s Christianity Today. The President of NS sponsor Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Denny Burk answered that a couple of days ago. Downstream, I am now responding to Burk.
Because it is behind a paywall, I can’t read all of Galli’s op-ed. However, my main focus is what Burk has to say in reply. In particular, I want to briefly discuss God’s design and sexual orientation and gender identity.

God’s Design

Article 7 of the NS says:

We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

In his CT op-ed, Mark Galli criticized Article 7 of the NS for this position which stigmatize some Christians who consider themselves gay even though they refrain from gay sex.* Burk isn’t having it:

In response to this, I would simply point out that Galli’s criticism is not that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement is false or unsupported in scripture. His argument is simply that those who embrace a gay identity might disagree with it. He may be right that some who embrace a gay identity will not wish to support the statement, but that fact should not be confused with a substantive critique of Article 7 on the merits. Nor should it obscure the fact that Christians who experience same-sex attraction can and do endorse the statement (e.g., Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, Christopher Yuan).

Burk says Galli doesn’t use the Bible to criticize the NS, then Burk resorts to a defense which relies less on the Bible and more on natural law. As I will demonstrate below, Galli and Burk both look to nature but see different things. Burk continues:

Notice that Article 7 focuses on God’s purpose in his creation design and in his redemptive work through Christ. The careful reader will recognize that this article is concerned with the revelation of God’s design in both nature and scripture. In what sense does Galli think it consistent with God’s design to embrace a transgender self-concept? In what sense is it consistent with God’s design to embrace a gay self-concept? Does Galli think that adopting such self-concepts are a part of God’s original design in creation? Does Galli believe that people will embrace a gay or transgender self-concept in the new heavens and the new earth?
Galli offers us no guidance on these questions, but they are precisely the kinds of questions that ordinary Christians are asking and that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement answers. And I believe the statement does so in a way that is consistent with both natural law and scriptural revelation.

Burk looks at nature, sees the typical arrangement, calls it God’s design and asks Galli questions. He wants Galli to answer that embracing a transgender or gay self-concept isn’t consistent with God’s design. Burk wants him to say that such self-conceptions were not part of the original plan nor will they be part of the eventual eternal state. Therefore, we shouldn’t affirm them now.
Let me now speak for Galli and ask some questions of my own. Mr. Burk, what about the exceptions? Do they not exist? Are they not valuable? In what sense do you think it is consistent with God’s design to pretend that LGBT people don’t exist now? Do you think straight and cisgender people become undesigned if we acknowledge that non-straight and transgender people exist? If those people who exist in exception honestly acknowledge it, will anyone be excluded from the new heavens and the new earth? Can’t the typical and the atypical coexist in your world? They do in mine.
Galli points to one part of nature and says the NS doesn’t fully capture it. Burk comes along, points to a more orderly part of nature and says everybody is supposed to be straight and cisgender even if they aren’t.

Exceptions Happen

In fact, there are many exceptions to “design” in nature.  Among humans, some people have extra bones or teeth, some have webbed toes, some are missing limbs. Some couples are unable to have children. Among sheep, some rams attempt to mate with other rams. This does not alter the behavior of the straight rams. Arguing against LGBT people from God’s design is a weak argument because LGBT people also exist in God’s world. I don’t believe they are a surprise or have thwarted His plans. The basic means of furthering the species is intact even if a small percentage of people aren’t going to find love and attachment in the usual way.
 
Oppose same-sex sexual behavior if that is your conviction, but don’t tell LGBT people that their very existence is an attack on God’s created order and then tell them in the next breath that your statement to that effect is “an expression of love” for them.
Read my other posts about the Nashville Statement here.
*The issues are similar for transgender persons but for simplicity, I will focus on sexual orientation.