The Preamble of the Nashville Statement could not be more correct in its assessment of where we are as a culture. The authors of the statement begin with: "Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being."
It was this statement, beginning with this sentence that has set the internet on fire! (For those of you who have missed it, the Nashville Statement is a series of 14 affirmations and denials that clarify this group's understanding of a traditionally Christian view of sexuality.)
What I have found fascinating is that every single thing that has come across my Facebook and Twitter feed has been nothing but fire, anger, hurt, and hatred towards the signers of this statement. With all of this heat, I began to wonder how the signers of the Nashville Statement unintentionally found themselves firmly planted in the post-Christian world they had identified in their opening statement.
If the signers really understood that we are in a post-Christian context, then the tone would have been dramatically different. Instead, the tone felt like a line in the sand for the last gasp of the culture war. And with shots being fired, the post-Christian world responded with a nuclear bomb.
In no way do I want to debate the hermeneutics or exegesis or theological perspectives that all come into play when navigating a theology around sexuality. (That gets to be a conversation with real human beings sitting across from each other enjoying a cup of coffee.) What I do want to wrestle with is owning the reality that we truly are in a post-Christian society. Because we are not increasingly post-Christian, but actually post-Christian, then there are two important corrections Christians from both sides of the theological spectrum need to get a hold of.
1) For my more conservative friends: The Judeo-Christian understanding of traditional morality ship sailed a long time ago. It is easy to not recognize this shift because we live in community with like-minded people. We live our lives and don't consider much of the outside world because it doesn't seem to impact our immediate world. So while there seems to be an "increasingly post-Christian" context gaining momentum, many conservative Christians have failed to realize that their isolated communities are the only ones holding to their moral and theological world view.
What the backlash to this statement makes as clear as day is that a traditional view of sexuality is now a minority understanding in our culture. Even among Christians there is wide disagreement on many moral and theological issues and we are finding less and less common ground.
Embracing this reality can be scary. But I have found it to be freeing. Think of the freedom that comes from not being the watchmen on the wall, the last line of defense, and instead being missionaries to a unique cultural context.
If we see ourselves as missionaries rather than defenders, we are free to express the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that truly is good news to our context. We get to be like the missionaries all over the world and through the ages who have gone into unique contexts with discernment, led by the Holy Spirit, to find the thin places where the good news of Jesus can be good news to the culture. This is going to take some work; but this work can't happen until we change our perspective.
If the signers of the Nashville Statement really saw themselves as missionaries, then the tone, roll out, and timing would all have been different.
It might be time for conservative Christians to consider leading with a different foot as we engage culture and the world around us: to lead with humility, integrity, and a prophetic voice to our people, so they are living with humility and integrity. Then we can see what doors might be open to engaging the larger culture, especially on the topic of sexuality.
2) For my more progressive friends: I am heartbroken, along with you, over how the church has dehumanized and demonized the LGBT community. As people made in the image of God, we long to align our hearts with God to defend others, made in His image, who are being treated unfairly, who are bullied, and who are being marginalized. Christians from all stripes must stand up for the marginalized and oppressed, and fight for the dignity of all humans, no matter race, political persuasion, economic status, gender, or sex.
I am also becoming more and more heartbroken by the way my progressive friends seem to be giving too much away in this fight. Many are finding common cause with the secular context in which we live and piling on to their brothers and sisters in Christ.
The church has always had differences in theology and in our understanding of morality. The body of Christ is broad and diverse. And when we full-throated agree with our secular friends that our conservative brothers and sisters are hateful and bigoted, we are doing much more damage than good.
Having a different understanding of theology and even of morality does not make you hateful or bigoted. When Marriage Equality became the law of the land, the vast majority conservative Christians did not march in the streets, lobby congress, or shame their progressive friends. The loudest and most obnoxious voices on social media are not the norm. Most conservative Christians went into reactive mode, simply wanting to ensure religious freedom and to clarify their theology for their communities.
When my progressive friends pile on the shame and simply virtue-signal their perspectives on social media, they are driving a deeper wedge into the body of Christ. Without even realizing it, it is the progressive wing of the church that has become what it is fighting so hard against: self-righteous, hateful, dehumanizing shamers.
We truly live in a post-Christian culture!
This means that we must quit battling against ourselves. Quit the shame, virtue signaling, and Bible banging against each other. In fact, we need to take off our battle gear altogether. Our battle is not against flesh and blood. Our stance towards the world and towards each other needs to be seasoned with grace and mercy.
Jesus' prayer in John 17 is that we be one. Romans 14 gives us a way through with disputable matters.
The world needs the church, the conservative and the progressive, the white and the black, the church in the USA, and the church in the Congo, in Nicaragua, Korea, Ghana, Turkey, and the Ukraine. We all approach our theology and the moral implications of our theology greatly informed by our context. Let us hold our differences a little more loosely, but hold on with all of our might to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.
These are trying times. Times when we need wisdom and grace to win out over reactionary statements and shame. Times when we need to find what we have in common with each other and leverage our unity. For progressive and conservative Christians long for the Kingdom of God to come more fully, for people to live lives that conform more and more to the image of Jesus that propels us to bring the good news of reconciliation and freedom to the broken, oppressed, marginalized, and weakest among us. And may all glory and honor be to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.