“The Nashville Statement,” the Evangelical anti-LGBTI manifesto which made headlines recently, has been roundly denounced by many religious leaders in other Christian denominations. Instead of persuading others to join their bandwagon, the authors of the document seem to have repelled many religious-minded people. Their over-the-top reach to use Scriptures, natural law, and what they believe they know of the mind of God has backfired and they have ended up isolating themselves more than accomplishing anything else.
Catholic gay writer Andrew Sullivan critiqued “The Nashville Statement” (“NS”) recently in an essay for NYMag.com entitled “The Religious Right’s Suicidal Gay Obsession.” His thoughts provide some good ways to argue against the kind of rhetoric that the statement exemplifies. This is especially important to note since, though no Catholic leaders signed the statement, the same rhetoric often appears in Catholic discourse about LGBTI issues.
Sullivan starts off with a familiar argument: why pick only on LGBTI people? He writes that after one reads “NS”:
“. . . [Y]you immediately wonder if the statement is going to condemn divorce or contraception or multiple successive marriages or pornography or masturbation or countless other questions of sexual morality that heterosexuals grapple with. And you can search the document for any thoughts on these questions. In fact, it has almost nothing to say to 97 percent of humanity on sexual matters.
“What it does instead is condemn the 3 percent.”
I have never read a satisfactory response to this kind of argument. I don’t believe there is one.
But Sullivan goes deeper, hitting on the core of the “NS’ ” structure, which, he observes is to make LGBTI people invisible. He points out that the authors try to deny that LGBTI identity exists:
“[The Nashville Statement] erases our self-understanding entirely. Money quote: ‘We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.’ It is not just what we do that these Evangelical leaders object to; it is who we are. Our very ‘self-conception’ is a defiance of God’s will. We sure aren’t part of nature, even though scientists have observed variations on the sexual norm in countless other species.”
What I found most interesting about Sullivan’s commentary is that he uses the example of intersex people (those born with both male and female biological characteristics) as the linchpin to topple all of “NS’ ” arguments. Sullivan writes:
“When nature produces intersex people, the Evangelicals therefore have a bit of a problem. It’s very hard to simply say that intersex people have chosen some kind of sin by being neither male nor female, because their identity cannot simply be ascribed to their minds and souls, but to their bodies. Nature, i.e. God, surely made them. So what does the statement say? ‘We affirm that those born with a physical disorder of sex development are created in the image of God and have dignity and worth equal to all other image-bearers. They are acknowledged by our Lord Jesus in his words about “eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.” With all others they are welcome as faithful followers of Jesus Christ and should embrace their biological sex insofar as it may be known.’ I’m afraid to say I actually chuckled at this obvious cop-out. Even when confronted with the undeniable visible fact that God does not always create human beings who are clearly male or female, they simply say: Well, they are. Pick one.”
Sullivan very pointedly sums up the blindness inherent in this kind of thinking:
“What Evangelicals cannot seem to accept is the possibility that for the vast majority of humankind, male and female self-conception does indeed come completely naturally, that it is clearly integral to humanity’s reproduction and rearing of the next generation, that the sexes are indeed complementary rather than interchangeable … but that this is not the entire story. A small minority does not quite fit this rubric. God’s creation — a function, we now know, of evolution and natural selection — is more complex, and more wonderful and diverse, than most of us used to understand.”
I would add that a number of Catholic leaders also have problems accepting this reality.
Sullivan concludes by noting that the Evangelical thinking in “NS” is basically “suicidal,” because the younger generation is so far ahead of this anti-LGBTI mindset:
“I believe that for an entire generation, this question is a litmus test for whether Christianity really is about love, and whether the Gospels (which have nothing to say about homosexuality) should even get a hearing. I can date my own niece’s and nephew’s rejection of Christianity to the day the priest urged them to oppose equal rights for their uncle. That’s why Evangelicalism is dying so quickly among the young. The latest PRRI surveyshows that only one in ten Evangelicals are now under 30. It is no accident that the generation that has come to know gay and transgender people as people also finds it hard to dehumanize us in the way the Nashville Statement does, and see a church leadership that still treats us in this fashion as inimical to their own, yes, Christian values. And they are right to. This is what the signers of the Nashville Statement do not quite grasp. They just signed one of the longest suicide notes in history. Because what they’re saying is not merely callous. It is manifestly untrue.”
By extension, Catholic leaders who continue using the same or similar arguments in their statements about LGBTI issues are hurting not only LGBTI people (which is bad enough) but the whole possibility of reaching the next generation. Unlike Evangelical thinking, Catholic leaders have a long social justice tradition in their belief system which supports equality and justice and can easily be applied to LGBTI topics and people.
If nothing else, the Nashville Statement should serve as a wake-up call to Catholic leaders who still maintain an anti-LGBT stance to mend their ways before it is too late for the church.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, September 13, 2017