The Nashville Statement – a statement signed by many ‘evangelical church leaders’ which denounces LGBT identities – has been responded to by so many people, and has caused so much pain, that it feels difficult to write more. It matters though, and so I will give it a try.
Many of the arguments against same sex relationships and marriage are predictable, and so I don’t wish to credit them by arguing back, other than to say that they stem from a very narrow reading of Scripture, and deny relationship to many – not just those who happen to be LGBT.
What I do want to talk about, though, are the statements made about transgender people. Trans people haven’t been mentioned much in church discourse on gender and sexuality and so these statements matter. And they are bad. Very bad.
Articles 3, 4, 5, 7 and 13 contain affirmations and denials which tear apart the identities of trans people, and basically deny their right to exist. I won’t link to the vitriolic text but, to give you some idea, it is summed up in the following:
We affirm that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male and female. We deny that the grace of God in Christ sanctions self-conceptions that are at odds with God’s revealed will. (Article 13)
Wow. Reading this as a transgender person makes it difficult to breathe. My identity – which I believe has been created and revealed to me by God – is shunned, shamed, negated, judged, misunderstood and undermined. I am afraid of what the people who signed the statement – some of whom I know and work alongside – think of me, and the harm they may wish to do to me. Reading it as a Christian makes me want to weep. I do not know how we can evangelise and share good news with a new generation if this is what many Christians think of as good news. I do not know how we can build a kingdom of redemption, an end to separation and an openness to God’s liberation if our thinking is bound up in rules and regulations that were not written for us. They were not written for today.
I could respond by telling my story, or by refuting the theology behind this statement, as I have done many times before. My gut won’t let me though. The pain, frustration and anxiety that this statement causes begs me to write my own statements in response. They won’t say everything – I don’t claim to know the whole truth, or to even be able to fully express what I do know, but I hope they express something of the errors behind this thinking and the hope that I believe we must hold on to.
1. I affirm that God created ha-adam – the human. A creature created of earth and enlivened by the breath of God. A creature that looked into its mirror, its flip-side, the creature taken out from within it and recognised himself in her eyes. A creature male and female, conjoined and separated, genderqueer and fluid, open to all of the possibilities that God enables.
I deny that God created any form of division – of gender or of any of the other arbitrary categories that humans have created over the millennia. I deny that sex or gender are a binary, knowing that many faithful, Spirit-filled people experience a spectrum, an ongoing creativity. I deny that our inadequate English translations of Scripture honour the colourful characteristics and range of meanings found in the Hebrew text.
2. I affirm the differences between individuals and communities, but also the similarities that are rooted in the love that God sows in each of our hearts. I affirm the biological variety that God created and creates, including the beauty of my intersex and transgender siblings. I affirm that God can create through the skilled hands of surgeons as well as through the parent’s womb. I affirm that biological sex is complex and often unknowable.
I deny that those who fall between the false binaries of male and female are created as ‘less than’. I deny that our genitals are the measure of our value as human beings. I deny that any person has a right to be concerned or curious about the genitals of any other. I deny that trans identities are self-conceived.
3. I affirm that God creates our identities as well as our bodies. I affirm that our minds, hearts and souls are as precious as – if not more precious than – the flesh in which we reside. I affirm the individual’s right to discern God’s will regarding their body and their identity. I affirm that all people – LGB or straight, trans or cis – are made in God’s image. I affirm that all people are capable of hearing God’s calling and responding with openness and the willingness to be re-created.
I deny that God creates mistakes. I deny that identity is a choice. I deny that God’s holiness is to be found in separation or rigid categorisation. I deny that God is incapable of recreation. I deny that humans can know all that God is and all that God has done and will do.
4. I affirm that God’s grace includes all, and loves all as they are. I affirm that sin refers to the separations that humans create through labelling and comparisons. I affirm that all people are part of those separations – the negative power structures that enchain us – and that all people are responsible for the healing of humanity and the world.
I deny that God’s grace refuses to sanction life in all its fullness.
Loving God, forgive us our attempts to separate and categorise, and help us to imagine the possibilities of your grace and to feel the call of your passionate love for us. Amen.