by Samuel Mellish
Last week, over 150 evangelical Christians signed and endorsed a document known as the Nashville Statement. Its name taken from the city in which it was finalised, apparently continuing the ‘Christian’ tradition of doctrinal statements and councils relating to the places of their conception. The document consists of 14 articles, each containing an assertion and denial, focused on themes of sexuality, marriage and gender, underlined by notions of sin and subsequent forgiveness.
According to the Statement, marriage is defined as between a man and a woman; chastity within marriage is praised; distinct, God-ordained gender roles are outlined; and sin is connected to homosexuality and transgenderism. Supposedly rooted in scripture, the authors and signatories juxtapose these discriminatory narratives, with Christ’s love and forgiveness, consequently emphasising the alleged immorality of those who deviate from the defined path.
This is utterly appalling, and more terrifying when we consider that this is not a small organisation, with a marginalised following. Rather, the signatories included individuals such as Pastor Ronnie Floyd and televangelist James Robinson, both members of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board. These are powerful men, who are in positions to shape and determine national theological narratives, and as such, are incredibly dangerous. In codifying their homophobia and discrimination they are producing an official narrative that will shape and harden the views of particular communities, producing practical consequences for LGBTQ individuals. It will justify parents removing a roof from their child’s head, it will inspire bullying in schools, and will inevitably lead to pain and suffering, possibly even self-harm and death. We must remember this is a community still facing far too high levels of homelessness, suicide and mental health issues, across the international spectrum.
Unfortunately, it does more than this. Regardless of attempts to align the Statement with a larger history of theological councils, it does resonate with such works colonial undertones. In identifying marriage as between one man and one women, the authors are not just highlighting a single perspective, but claiming that this is the status of marriage for all time, both future and past, for all peoples. In doing so, they are colonising history, mobilising their forces to seize and destroy competing perspectives, ensuring when the dust clears only the Statement is perceived as true doctrine. But why do such colonial tendencies matter? Too often in our fast and highly commercialised world, we forget the histories and theologies that continue to define our actions, and who we are. Any force that is able to determine and claim those philosophical standpoints, with enough resources, is able to begin to mould the world in their image, as practised most infamously in the British Empire. Considering the image the Statement wishes paint, such imperialism is of concern.
More so, it sets a precedent in which theological doctrines are ultimately fixed, producing a ‘god’ who is marginalising and to be feared. This is an environment in which the colonial powers have a monopoly over theologising and, as such, are able to exclude and punish those who seek to undermine their position.
Obviously, this situation has not fully occurred, and the resistance against the Statement has been impressive. Indeed Christian United responded by proclaiming that:
A new day is dawning in the Church, and all Christians are being called to step out boldly and unapologetically in affirmation and celebration of our LGBT+ siblings as equal participants in the Kingdom of God.
Also, the Mayor of Nashville, Megan Barry tweeted:
The @CBMWorg‘s so-called “Nashville Statement” is poorly named and does not represent the inclusive values of the city & people of Nashville
As always with religion, there will be those who attempt to utilise theology to promote hatred and marginalisation. It is up to us, their opposition, to resist, and refuse to allow such colonial narratives to dominate and flourish. The inevitably about empires is that they always fall, but without us they will remain standing for far too long.