So maybe you have heard over the past few days about the Nashville Statement. I honestly don’t know how widespread it has become, but as someone who works in a local church, I guess I might be more likely to have heard about it or read it than some others may be. If you haven’t heard, a group of evangelical faith leaders met in Nashville in order to come to some sort of consensus on a doctrine regarding sexual stewardship. They released this 3-page document this week in the midst of nationwide concern for Houston. Besides Houston, there has been many other tragedies in the U.S. recently, for example, the show of hatred and evil in Charlottesville 3 weeks ago. Much of the Nashville Statement is directly in relation to the LGBTQ+ community. If you’d like to read the document, you can find it here.
I know, you are all still reading this to find out all about my beliefs regarding marriage and God-honoring sexuality, but that’s not why I am writing today. I will say that wherever you come down on these issues, I would try my best to understand your beliefs and how they have formed or changed throughout your life. I write this today because I think many are missing the point as I did when I read the document the first time.
I can honestly say that I know some wonderful, absolutely good-hearted people who fall on either side of the debate regarding the Church’s affirmation of those who have accepted non-traditional sexual lifestyles. And I do not write this to offend or send anyone into shock. I write this because I believe that the overwhelming majority of the current dialogue regarding the Nashville Statement has not been fruitful. There have been a lot of voices falling on deaf ears.
Before I go any further, let me clarify: I 100% believe that members of the Body of Christ have a responsibility to other members of the Body to hold each other accountable to live lives according to the calling that we have received as followers of Jesus Christ.
And now let me say: the only way in which we can or should hold each other accountable is within the context of a faith community in loving relationship with each other.
Think about it this way, has anyone that you did not have a relationship with ever scolded or chastised you? I would assume that was not an enjoyable experience. Has anyone that you don’t know ever said to you, “I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but…” That probably did not make you feel good. Throughout my life, I have often resented being told what to do. I’m working on maturing and growing, but man, that’s the worst! Now certainly, there are times in my life where I need guidance, and I’m even learning how to ask someone else for their input (what a novel concept), but I will only receive correction well from someone that I know loves me. Maybe this is just me, but I would bet you have felt similarly.
As followers of Christ, we are trying to be like Christ, right? If that’s the case, we need to look at the way that Jesus lived to inform every aspect of our lives. In Luke 19, there’s a story that I think really applies to this topic:
Jesus is traveling with his disciples through Jericho, and there’s a ton of people trying to see him. There’s this short tax collector (social stigma implied) in town named Zaccheus, and he really wants to see Jesus, but he can’t see over the crowds, so he climbs up in a tree just to catch a glimpse. Jesus sees Zaccheus up in the tree, and calls out to him, “Quick, come down! I must be a guest in your home today!” Ecstatic, Zaccheus takes Jesus to his home. But the people were not happy with this. They grumbled to each other, “He has gone to be the guest of a notorious sinner.” That day, Zaccheus’s heart was transformed. Because of his interaction with Jesus, who just went over to his house, he vows to give half of his money to the poor and to repay anyone he has cheated four times over!
So let’s think about this story. I would bet that Zaccheus knew that the religious folks disagreed with his lifestyle choices. But guess what, knowing that a bunch of religious people didn’t like him really didn’t make him want to change. All Zaccheus needed for radical life change was to interact with the transformative love of Jesus. People in our world could use a little more of that.
When dealing with people, Jesus always lead with love. He befriended many other “notorious sinners.” Jesus offered the Samaritan woman caught in adultery living water! Jesus had a quality about him that not only tolerated those who had been outcast by the religious establishment, but he attracted them! You know what’s not attractive? Someone that you don’t know telling you that you’re a sinner.
So let me bring this back to the Nashville Statement. Whatever side you find yourself on, there are real people, living breathing people, on the other side who legitimately believe that what they are standing for is right. People on every side of this issue are created in the image of God, and there are devoted followers of Christ who are still developing thoughts and views on these matters. We cannot let this be divisive in our faith communities.
Too many times, we, Christians, divide ourselves into different camps. We split ourselves by how we like to worship, our views on the Eucharist, our traditions, etc. And in the midst of a world that has an immediate need for the love of Jesus, we have found yet another thing that divides us instead of unifies us.
We need to be known more by what we are for than what we are against. We need to be identified by our love for one another, our neighbors, and our enemies. We need to be identified by our desire to lift the lowly, welcome the outcast, and break the chains of the oppressed.
And yes, we need to be having these important discussions in our faith communities regarding our views on these topics. But any view that does not begin with a love for God and for our neighbor is not a view that is from God. These topics need to be wrestled with in our faith communities, but not on Facebook or Twitter. These are not topics to make decrees about. These are conversations to be had together in homes and at coffee shops, not on the internet for the whole world to see. And when we do have these conversations, we must give each other permission to still be working it out in our hearts.
I must say that when it comes to withholding grace from those with whom I disagree, I am the chief of sinners, but I am encouraged because through the grace of God I know I can grow in that way. I pray that I will be a person who leads with love, and I pray the same for all of us.
Only through the power of God’s grace can we truly become people who can speak truth in love.