This isn't Houston, it's Nashville

Written by Peter Smith on .

OK, the headline is a paraphrased line from the end of the epic movie "Nashville," but it's remarkable that there's any bandwidth this week for stories beyond the catastrophic flooding in Houston. Especially stories that seem unsurprising, considering those involved.

A subgroup of conservative evangelicals signed what's called the Nashville Statement, a manifesto essentially reaffirming what they've taught all along -- that the Bible teaches that gender is a matter of how you're born and not how you identify, and that marriage is between one man and one woman, ruling out same-sex marriage.

The statement from what's called a Coalition for Biblical Sexuaity emerges from a meeting in Nashville (hence the name) that included leaders of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The latter is based at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, and the list of signers is replete with prominent Southern Baptist professors and pastors, as well as others who embrace a patriarchal view of gender -- that men should be in authority in marriages and churches. Many of these others are in movements that embrace the New Calvinist, a resurgence of the doctrines of reformer John Calvin and his followers emphasizing God's sovereignty. The stances on patriarchy (also known as complementarianism, in the sense that male and female have complementary rather than interchangeable roles in church and family) isn't as explicitly articulated as in a host of earlier documents, like the Southern Baptists' famous "graciously submit" statement of 1998. Basically we're talking about two overlapping groups of signatories -- Southern Baptists, some of whom are New Calvinists, and New Calvinists, some of whom are not Southern Baptists, but in both cases they share patriarchal/complementarian views.

The Nashville Statement drew the most attention for seeming to deny the Christianity of those who disagree. It says it is "sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness."

Like the 1998 statement, this one took the outside world by more surprise than those who follow the participants. (Somebody once wrote that statements like this are about as expected as a convention of dentists supporting regular brushing.) The mayor of Nashville said the name given to the statement belies the city's inclusive ethos. Plenty of Christians took the statement to task for the timing (while Houston was under water), and for its clinical if not judgmental tone toward LGBT people and their loved ones. (See here and here.)  Some saw it as confirmation of evangelicalism's synchronization with Trumpism, although its signers included both supporters and opponents of Trump.

The same confusion happened with the Joel Osteen controversy, which from this distance is hard to tell if it was valid or a manufactured social-media rage. In any case, Osteen isn't a Trump endorser either. Nor did he sign this. In fact, lots of evangelicals didn't sign it, either on principle or because they operate in different orbits entirely. So it's a statement by evangelicals, but it can be debated whether it's an evangelical statement. 

It certainly isn't a widely shared Protestant statement. Iconoclastic Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz Weber wrote a counter-statement to say, in part: "WE DENY that the only type of sexual expression that can be considered holy is between a cis-gendered, heterosexual, married couple who waited to have sex until they were married. But if you fit in that group, good for you, we have no problem with your lifestyle choices."

Generally, the signers came from south of the Mason-Dixon Line, though there was at least one local signer of note -- Robert Gagnon, who has long written against homosexuality and until this month was professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.


Join the conversation:

Commenting policy | How to report abuse
Commenting policy | How to report abuse
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.