In late August, a broad group of pastors in the US issued a transphobic and homophobic “Nashville Statement” condemning gender and sexual diversity in God’s name. No one knows what the special occasion was, and the statement was nothing new, though none the less hateful and damaging.
Immediate opposition was sparked; this article names but a few examples and adds AUSE’s own comments.
Some of the queer, trans, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, gender-queer, asexual, straight, single, married, image-bearing Christians at the House for All Sinners and Saints (Denver, Co) responded with the “Denver Statement”. It challenges the “Nashville Statement” line by line, which is why a link to the Nashville Statement itself is not included in this reflection.
An ecumenical effort to refute the Nashville Statement quickly gathered speed; you can sign on at http://www.christiansunitedstatement.org/ , adding your name to these words: “WE AFFIRM that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God and that the great diversity expressed in humanity through our wide spectrum of unique sexualities and gender identities is a perfect reflection of the magnitude of God’s creative work.”
It would be easy for United Church of Canada members to simply shrug all this off as American, as evangelical, as “nothing to do with us, we’re already welcoming”. Yet Pastor Martha Spong, United Church of Christ, addresses this convenient detour; can we truly hear her words?
“Now, my Church people, some of you make space for your LGBTQIA+ siblings; we can really be part of the body of Christ with you. Some of you think you do it, but maybe you stopped at making a statement without doing any further work to figure out what might make us feel welcome to do things beyond coming to worship, or worry that if you have a rainbow anywhere on your premises, people will think you’re “the gay church.”
Meanwhile, our Evangelical cousins, empowered by the political success of the right, have doubled down on theology that is exclusive and cruel. They’ve affirmed their own superiority, denied the full humanity of LGBTQIA+ people, and declared that anyone who doesn’t agree and come over to their side of the line they are drawing is not a faithful Christian.
For Jesus’s sake and in Christ’s name, mainline pastors and leaders, have the conversations you’ve been putting off. I say these things with all love. Get clear about what it means to be welcoming and affirming.”
This challenge to the church is deeply relevant for the United Church of Canada, the faith community in which Affirm United/ S’affirmer Ensemble is primarily but not exclusively rooted. Too often, AUSE is told that a ministry feels it doesn’t need to become Affirming because it’s “already welcoming”. But what does this mean in practice? Practicing and preaching the love of God in the face of stereotyping, fearful hate such as the Nashville statement demands courage; it requires that all ministries and communities in the church be public, intentional, and explicit in their welcome. Being generically “welcoming” isn’t enough, and is too often a response rooted in heterosexist and cissexist privilege.
As AUSE Council member Serena Patterson writes in response to the Nashville Statement, “As Christians in the Affirming tradition, we live in surrounded by and filled with the love of God. We have come to know that love through our sacred texts of the Bible, through the wondrous, diverse glory of creation, and through our direct awe-filled experiences with God and the Divine.
Knowing the love of God in this way, we utterly reject the narrow and excluding message of the Nashville Statement. We are certain in our faith that God calls us together, a full and inclusive community of diverse gender expressions and romantic inclinations, to love one another as we are loved.
We are certain in our faith that in knowing, accepting and loving ourselves and one another—gay, lesbian, straight, two-spirited, trans-gendered, non-binary, questioning; neither static nor limited as individual and collectively we reflect the image of God—we are blessed beyond measure.
“To every person who has been denied acceptance into Christian community based upon sexual orientation or gender expression, we open our doors, filled with the joy and hope of a renewed and expanded relationship with God.”
As you consider your response to hateful words, of which the Nashville Statement is only the latest, ask how you might open doors and hearts. Beginning or discerning the Affirming process is but one way; the paths for sharing God’s radical love are endless.