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Sometimes public events aren’t quite as public as they seem. There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes. Such was almost certainly the case, for example, with the Aug. 29 release of a “Nashville Statement” on human sexuality. Drawn up in significant measure by thoughtful people with close ties to the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the statement is intended to serve evangelical Christians as a reference point on sex and gender issues.
Evangelical leaders and theologians founded CBMW in the late 1980s to provide similar guidance—from a frankly Biblical perspective—concerning the respective roles of men and women in the home, the church, and beyond. Part of CBMW’s enduring fruit was a document called the “Danvers Statement,” spelling out a so-called “complementarian” view of God’s intended relationship between men and women. Danvers was seen by many, and accurately so, as a response to the growing acceptance by many evangelicals of an “egalitarian” view that seemed more in keeping with the tone of a contemporary secular culture.
But who could have known how quickly the discussion would move past male and female relationships to a conversation instead on who is male, who is female, and who is somewhere in between? Most of us would have been hard-pressed 25 years ago to provide even a general working definition of the term “transgender.” We’re not much more ready in 2017.
So who has the right in such a confusing context to step up and help us navigate such a sticky wicket? What gives an independent and freewheeling group like CBMW the prerogative of telling the rest of evangelical Christendom what we’re supposed to think and teach on all these startlingly radical gender issues?
Most of us would have been hard-pressed 25 years ago to provide even a general working definition of the term ‘transgender.’
I ask that because the evidence suggests quite a few folks are fairly cautious about offering such advice. Only 159 individuals from across the country accepted the invitation to be up-front signatories to the Nashville Statement. I have no doubt there will be hundreds—and probably even thousands—of secondary signers. But for an issue said by some Christian leaders to be the dominant cultural question of our lifetimes, 159 people is a pretty paltry initial showing.
CBMW, I’m sure, will be happy to show you who’s on the list of 159. But maybe we ought to be asking instead who’s not there. That, of course, is a disruptive question to pursue. But there are indeed lots of genuinely good reasons someone might not sign—explanations I heard when I touched base with some folks I thought might be there but weren’t:
• “I wasn’t invited to sign.” But if an invitation was required, I thought to myself, this venture was private, and not public.
• “I heard about it, but with less than 48 hours to decide.” That was admittedly a bit of awkward planning on the part of CBMW.
• “I am in senior management with the organization where I’m employed, but I’d think twice before signing something in public that might seem to speak for my whole organization.”
• “I am in a campus ministry, and find this to be an excellent statement. I would very much like to sign. It would give me a great foundation for discussions with my students. But there’s also a real chance it could bring an end to our ministry’s presence on this campus.”
• “I am part of a denomination and a local church that have already spoken on these issues. If I signed this as well, it might look as if I’m piling on, and that I’ve got a hang-up on this one issue.”
So who’s left? You be the judge as to who ought to put his or her name on the line—and who deserves an empathetic response for holding back.
I signed. So did our editor in chief, Marvin Olasky. Our employer knows that WORLD is a sufficiently public target that we might take a hit or two from readers who consider us intolerant and fanatically narrow-minded. But we think we’re ready for that discussion.
The Danvers Statement 30 years ago wasn’t perfect. The Nashville Statement of 2017 isn’t perfect either. Both will continue to be improved with age. Read this newest installment and see what you think. And if you choose not to sign, we’d be interested in hearing your reasons.