• In case you’ve not heard, the Nashville Statement, issued this week by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), an Evangelical “coalition for biblical sexuality” founded in 1987, is “controversial,” “bigotry-filled,” “anti-LGBT,” hateful, nasty, mean, and downright un-Christian. Of course, when you actually read the document—assuming you have some basic grounding in traditional Christian teaching about marriage, sexuality, and anthropology—you’ll discover it simply reiterates what the Catholic Church, the Orthodox churches, and traditional Protestants have always held. Which is why some Catholics have signed the document (CWR will soon have an article by a theologian who signed the Statement). For example, here is part of the Preamble to the rather succinct Statement:
As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being. By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God. This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?
Those are good questions, of course, and ones that must be asked, pondered, and answered. The Statement begins by declaring that “God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church” (Art. 1). This is basic, orthodox Christianity, as is this: “WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.” But, of course, that contradicts the new “orthodoxy” of our time, which rejects such differences—unless, I suppose, when a woman describes herself as “lesbian,” which apparently assumes there is something to being a “woman.” After all, applying logic to The Reign of Gay is something of a fool’s errand, as the Reign thrives on emotions, passions, and empty clichés (more on that in a moment).
• The most controversial section is likely Article X, which asserts:
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.
The seemingly omnipresent Fr. James Martin (aka, “Fr. Manners”), weighs in with his usual routine of soft-focused, soothing misdirection, with all seven of his points fixated on “LGBT people,” including:
I affirm: That LGBT people have been made to feel like dirt by many churches. I deny: That Jesus wants us to add to their immense suffering.
I affirm: That LGBT people are some of the holiest people I know. I deny: That Jesus wants us to judge others, when he clearly forbade it.
Fr. Martin, of course, has strongly judged many people, including those he deems racist and those he considers bigoted; it is always a one-way street. Here he judges many churches for hurting the feelings of LGBT people; he also concludes—via some sort of moral judgment, I gather—that “LGBT people are some of the holiest people I know.” He surely knows that Jesus’ words (“Judge not…”) in Matthew 7—found in the Sermon on the Mount, which is bursting with moral judgments!—have always been understood to refer to judging the soul and interior disposition of a person; it is surely not a command to never judge actions (that would be, in a word, stupid).
“On things that are manifest, therefore, let us pass judgment,” said St. Augustine in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, “but with regard to hidden things, let us leave the judgment to God.” The Catechism (and I’m happy to mail a copy to Fr. Martin if he needs one) states: “Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil” (CCC, 1749; emphasis added); it also notes, “There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery…” (CCC, 1756). Of course, there aren’t many Catholic priests writing books about building bridges between the Church and blasphemers, perjurers, and murderers, and saying the Church has much to learn from such folks. But, again, it’s always a one-way street with Fr. Martin. When he writes, “I deny: That LGBT people should be in any way singled out as the chief or only sinners,” one has to wonder why he misrepresents the Statement (which emphasizes that all sexual activity outside of marriage is sinful, which is traditional Christian teaching) and why he singles out “LGBT people” in nearly everything he writes and does while rarely (if ever) presenting what the Church teaches about sexuality, marriage, and such?
• Another Catholic, Chicago Tribune reporter Rex Huppke, weighs in with a variation on the Hallmark Card Jesus routine so popular among biblically-illiterate, passion-obsessed moderns:
I’m not a theologian. I’m not even a particularly good Catholic, if we’re being honest, but I do believe Jesus preached an important concept: Love.
Love is something most people can get behind. I’d argue it’s something that makes us human and, when embraced, makes us the best versions of ourselves.
The love Jesus encouraged is often distorted in ways that, in my mind, run afoul of what the man was talking about. The Nashville Statement is one of those distortions, a declaration that some love is acceptable and some love isn’t, that some people are acceptable in the eyes of God and some aren’t.
I believe God gave humans the ability to learn and grow and expand their understanding of each other and the world. The Nashville Statement says that being gay or lesbian or transgender is an offense to God. I believe it’s an offense to God to not acknowledge that all humans are different, to ignore the fact that telling LBGT people that they’re sinners, that their identity is wrong, that they’re somehow imperfect, is wildly and dangerously damaging, not to mention a sin in and of itself.
Huppke, like Fr. Martin, grossly misrepresents the Statement, which never condemns anyone for their particular orientation, but proffers “that people who experience sexual attraction for the same sex may live a rich and fruitful life pleasing to God through faith in Jesus Christ, as they, like all Christians, walk in purity of life.” Which is essentially what the Catechism puts forth in its short section on homosexuality,
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection. (CCC, 2358-9)
• Huppke’s confused and contorted remarks reflect the sort of “moral therapeutic deism” that has increasingly dominated the public square in recent years. One of its assumptions, even if not spelled out in full, is that doctrine and dogma are unhelpful at best and “wildly and dangerously damaging” at worst. This sort of response, by a popular Evangelical writer and speaker, to the Nashville Statement has been common:
It’s a classic case of “blame the messenger”. Anyone familiar with the Old Testament knows that the Law was given to shape God’s people—both individually and as a covenantal household—and that the people constantly complained about the Law and its demands. There’s a reason that Jesus lambasted the scribes and Pharisees for being “sons of those who murdered the prophets” (Mt 23:29ff); it was the prophets who continually exhorted the people to return to the Law and the Covenant, to pursue holiness, justice, and goodness according to the truth revealed by God and right thinking. Yet human nature hasn’t changed one bit since then. However, there are “Christians” who confidently, contrary to all evidence and logic, claim otherwise:
Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in an exciting, beautiful, liberating, and holy period of historic transition. Western culture has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being by expanding the limits and definitions previously imposed by fundamentalist Christians. By and large, the spirit of our age discerns and delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life that is so much richer and more diverse than we have previously understood it to be. Many deny that God created all human beings for God’s glory, and believe that God’s good purposes for us are limited to those whose personal and physical design is cis-gendered, heterosexual, and socially acceptable expressions of male and female. However, many Christians now understand that binary and backwards thinking excludes a large and important part of God’s beautiful plan for God’s people. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for God’s creatures is clearly inclusive of a variety of identities of gender and expressions of sexuality that have previously been denied by shortsighted and limited thinking, teaching and preaching that has ruined lives and dishonored God.
Ah, the good old “spirit of our age”; it surely warms the heart of any neo-Hegelian out there. But, as the Apostle Paul told the Christians in Corinth—a city full of pagan, um, delights—”Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God” (1 Cor 2:12). (It also reminds me of one of the reasons Chesterton gave for being Catholic: “It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.”)
• Judging (there’s that word again) by this retweet, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, S.J., is also not a fan of the Nashville Statement:
• Over at Religion News, Jonathan Merritt trots out an oldie but goodie:
Three decades ago, gays and lesbians merely wanted some sort of civil recognition of their unions. They wanted the ability to visit their loved ones in the hospital and leave their inheritances to their partners. Conservative Christians rejected even modest compromises at the time.
Now, there is some truth to this. But the “merely” is a telling bit of nonsense. It’s either naive or deceptive. The push for “gay rights” has never been one with a compromised conclusion, even if some on both sides thought so; it was always going to go the distance, as the past few years have proven. As I wrote back in 2014:
I sensed this sort of “purging” in the wind over twenty years ago, and countless events since (Paul Kengor provides a short overview of recent events) that The Reign of Gay is here—and here to stay. One comment by Bob, in particular, has remained with me: “We don’t have any interest in being married. We just want the same civil rights. Anyone who thinks that gays will try to change marriage is paranoid and stupid.” Huh. Maybe Bob believed it—or maybe he didn’t give a damn about being “married” (I found out later, however, that he had been engaged years before—to a woman). Some homosexual activists, of course, scorn the idea of marriage; others see “gay marriage” as a necessary part of the moral makeover that has been underway for several decades now.
The push for “gay rights,” like nearly every single progressive, secularist, and leftist movement, has relied on three things: 1) an aggressive-passive approach which is founded on victim status; 2) a demonization of traditionalists and Christians as “haters” and “bigots”, and 3) presenting such rights as part of the inevitable movement of “progress” and “history”—a ploy proves that far too Americans are suckers for such empty, misleading language.
• Finally, I’m sure this Statement will be presented as another example of the “culture wars” and how the mean and nasty folks on “the right” are always trying to oppress the vulnerable minority (see #1 above). Over the past few months I’ve been reading bits and pieces of Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (University of Chicago Press, 2015). Hartman, to his credit, doesn’t hide his liberal sympathies; in fact, it’s quite clear that he’s all in favor of sexual “liberation” and against traditional, religious beliefs. But, also to his credit, his narrative and analysis is both very readable and revealing. One of the important takeaways is that Hartman is very upfront about how the various conservative movements (such as the Moral Majority) were in reaction to aggressive liberal attacks. “The conservative political movement for ‘family values’ that came to life in the 1970s,” he writes early in the book, “thus should be seen as a reaction to one of the many ways in which the New Left had recast American political culture. Conservatives fought for their definition of the good society, for their traditional, normative American, by resisting New Left sensibilities.” The New Left, he concludes, “lobbed the first shots in the culture wars that would come to define late twentieth-century American political culture.”
And, in a chapter titled “The Trouble with Gender,” Hartman describes how in the 1990s radical feminist thinkers such as Judith Butler were already working to destroy traditional understandings of “male” and female”. “Just as Nietzsche and Foucault theorized,” he writes, “there was no humanist self that presupposed political culture, Butler opposed the idea that there is a pregendered subject. Butler thought the best approach to subverting ‘masculine hegemony and heterosexist power’ was to make ‘gender trouble,’ or to render all gender boundaries unintelligible.” This, in turn, led to “queer theory,” which doesn’t just posit that a minority of people are “born gay,” but that homosexual acts are perfectly normal. In the words of Gore Vidal, “there is no such thing as a homosexual or hetersexual person, there are only homo- or heterosexual acts.” As Hartman shows, all of this is aimed at changing the political and social orders; it is aimed as a complete remaking of what it means to be human.
It is here, I am convinced, that we see what is really at stake: we can either believe that God alone can remake us as new creations” (1 Cor 5:17), or that we can remake ourselves, in our own image and likeness—that is, according to our passions, our desires, and our notions of “love”.