Nashville Statement

Attention media folks: That White House PR event upset many on Southern Baptist right

Attention media folks: That White House PR event upset many on Southern Baptist right

To understand what's happening at the top of the Southern Baptist Convention these days, you really have to be willing to believe that, in the end, many religious believers truly believe that religious doctrine matters more than partisan politics.

Yes, I know. The headlines insist otherwise. Headlines tend to increase a few picas in size the minute the word "evangelicals" gets connected to the words "Donald Trump."

Here's a case in point. This past week, The New York Times basically ignored the dramatic national meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention -- with lots of developments linked to women and Baptists of color -- until it was possible to write a story with this headline: "Pence Reaches Out to Evangelicals. Not All of Them Reach Back."

But, hey, at least that one story did make an important point: One of the crucial tensions inside this particular SBC gathering was between clashing camps of solid "evangelicals." Actually, lots of people on both sides of that SBC debate about the Pence appearance would, under other circumstances, be called "fundamentalists" in the sacred pages of the Times.

This brings me to this weekend's think piece, which was written by Jonathan Leeman, editorial director of the 9Marks Journal and an active leader at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He is also the author of a new book entitled, "How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age."

The headline: "Truth, Power, and Pence at the SBC." Here's how this essay opens: 

I’m sitting here at the Southern Baptist Convention. Earlier today Vice President Mike Pence addressed the convention. We were told he initiated the offer to speak. I wish we had not accepted.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m grateful to God for our nation. I want him to bless it. But here’s a question for my fellow Southern Baptists and evangelicals more broadly: can you name a place in the Bible where God sends a ruler of a (non-Israelite) nation to speak to God’s people? Is the pattern not just the opposite?

Now, what's this all about? Is it a missive from a "moderate" (which means "liberal," in current SBC speak) at an urban church in a blue-zip DC zip code within shouting distance of the Capitol dome? 

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ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news

Way back in the late 1980s, the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado needed to elect a new bishop.

This led to an interesting series of events, with the various candidates -- there were a bunch -- traveling across that large and diverse state to meet with the faithful and to take questions. As the religion-beat writer at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP), I went along.

It was during that tour that I came up with a set of three questions that I have used, ever since, when probing doctrinal fault lines inside Christian organizations, both large and small. Here at GetReligion, we call these questions the "tmatt trio." One of them is rather relevant to this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) and my recent update post on the work of the LGBTQ activists at ChurchClarity.org.

But first, here are the three questions, as stated in an "On Religion" column I wrote about the polling work of the late George Gallup, Jr. It opened with a reference to a speech he gave in 1990.

About that time, I shared a set of three questions with Gallup that I had begun asking, after our previous discussions. The key, he affirmed, was that these were doctrinal, not political, questions. ... The questions:
* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?
* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

It is interesting, sometimes, to observe the lengths to which Christian leaders, academics and others will go to avoid giving clear answers to these questions, even the one focusing on the resurrection. The key is to pay close attention to their answers, seeking insights into where they stand in the vast spectrum -- liberal to orthodox -- of Christian life.

Now, look again at the third question: "Is sex outside of marriage a sin?"

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ChurchClarity.org is back, but Newsweek offers only one side of this crucial LGBTQ story

ChurchClarity.org is back, but Newsweek offers only one side of this crucial LGBTQ story

The activists at ChurchClarity.org are back, with another narrow, but important, set of numbers detailing what some strategic American churches are, and are not, saying about LGBTQ issues and other causes that are crucial to the Christian left.

Anyone who cares about the development of an open, candid, evangelical left has to be paying close attention to this project. That means bookmarking two essential websites -- ChurchClarity.org itself and the Religion News Service columns of Jonathan Merritt, the scribe who has done the most to provoke and define debates on the evangelical left on these topics.

The goal of the project, simply stated, is to examine the public statements of various churches -- symbolized by doctrinal documents on websites -- in order to determine where the leaders of these congregations stand on LGBTQ issues.

While some may see the project as hostile to Christian orthodoxy, the bottom line is that it's offering newsworthy material that reporters need to know about. It is also providing links to its source materials. Journalists can respect that (as demonstrated by this Rod Dreher post reacting to these surveys). 

The bottom line: Reporters can use ChurchClarity.org as a key voice in an important debate.

That is, journalists can choose to do that. It appears that some will settle for a public-relations approach. For example, see the Newsweek piece with this headline: "AMERICA’S LARGEST CHURCHES ARE ALL ANTI-LGBT AND LED BY MOSTLY WHITE MEN." Yes, the all-caps thing appears to be Newsweek style. Here is the overture:

None of America’s 100 largest churches are LGBT-affirming and almost all of them are led by white men, according to ChurchClarity.org, an organization that reports churches’ LGBT policies and rates congregations based on their level of clarity.

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Two conservative manifestos say something about Protestant dynamics, news values

Two conservative manifestos say something about Protestant dynamics, news values

Conservative U.S. Protestants are particularly active in issuing manifestoes. That could reflect their feeling of increased defensiveness over against the broader culture, or their perception that Christian liberals provide mushy or erroneous messages so definitions are needed, or other factors.

Two recent pronouncements that have won support from hundreds of endorsers tell us something about news judgment on religious issues and about internal dynamics within U.S. Protestantism as churches prepare to mark the Reformation 500th anniversary on October 31:

(1) The August “Nashville Statement,” narrow in both agenda and in organizational backing, consists of a preamble and 14 articles in a “we affirm” and “we deny” format. It proclaims U.S. traditionalist responses to the moral debates over same-sex couples and transgenderism.

(2) The September “Reforming Catholic Confession” defines in 11 sections and a related “explanation” what a wide swath of U.S. evangelical thinkers view as the essence of Protestant belief and how to approach Catholicism after these 500 years.

As of this writing, media discussion of #2 has been limited to parochial outlets and a few social conservative Web sites, while by contrast #1 has won coverage and heated reactions across the spectrum of “mainstream media” newspapers, broadcasts and Web sites.

Alongside the old local TV news cliche “if it bleeds, it leads,” The Guy sees two other maxims: “Who cares about doctrine any longer?” and “If it’s sex, it’s sexy.”

While cultural liberals accuse the conservatives of being obsessed about sex,  it’s equally the case that they feel forced to actively confront new challenges, like it or not. Such statements are less about changing minds of outsiders than shoring up beliefs within the  in-group.

Commentators think the Nashville group’s most dramatic assertion is that it’s sinful “to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism” and this “constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.” Strong stuff, and obviously controversial -- and thus newsworthy.

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Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

Is it big news when liberal Lutherans say the early church was wrong on sex? Why not?

When it comes to lesbians and gays in the ministry, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America speaks with a clear voice. So that doctrinal stance really isn't news anymore.

When it comes to ecclesiastical approval for same-sex marriage liturgies, the ELCA -- at this point -- leaves that decision up to local leaders. So it really isn't news when an ELCA congregation backs same-sex marriage.

When it comes to ordaining a trans candidate for the ministry, some folks in the ELCA have crossed that bridge, as well. So an ELCA church embracing trans rights isn't really news.

So what would members of this liberal mainline denomination need to do to make news, when releasing a manifesto on issues of sex, gender and marriage? That was the question raised by the recent "Denver Statement" that was released by (and I quote the document):

... some of the queer, trans, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, gender-queer, asexual, straight, single, married image-bearering Christians at House for All Sinners & Saints (Denver, Co).

That was also the question that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I addressed in this week's podcast. So click here to tune that in.

Now, in terms of news appeal, it helps to know that this relatively small, but media-friendly, Denver congregation was founded by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a 6-foot-1, tattooed, witty, weight-lifting, frequently profane ELCA pastor who has graced the bestseller lists at The New York Times. She's like a superhero who walked out of liberal Christian graphic novel.

So the Denver Statement made some news because it was released -- at Bolz-Weber's "Sarcastic Lutheran" blog -- in reaction to the Nashville Statement that created a mini-media storm with its rather ordinary restatement of some ancient Christian doctrines on sexuality.

So if the Nashville Statement was news, then it made sense that -- for a few reporters and columnists (including me) -- that the Denver Statement was also news. (Oddly enough, a previous statement on sexuality by the Orthodox Church in America -- strikingly similar to the Nashville Statement -- made zero news.)

But here's another journalism issue: Was the Denver document news merely because it openly rejected what the Nashville Statement had to say?

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Ponder this: Why did 'Rives Junction Statement' on sex and marriage draw zero news ink?

Ponder this: Why did 'Rives Junction Statement' on sex and marriage draw zero news ink?

Before we dive into this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), please think about this scenario in the news.

Let's assume that a symbolic group of Christian leaders, representing a traditional form of the faith, got together and released a concise statement affirming 2,000 years of orthodox Christian teachings on sex, marriage and gender. What kind of press coverage would such a hypothetical statement receive, under "ordinary" news conditions?

Of course, that's a joke right there. What are "ordinary conditions" in the crazed age of Twitter and a reality television presidency?

But let's take this statement at face value. Let's say that these Christian leaders affirmed that:

* " ... God has established marriage as a lifelong, exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. ..."

*  "... [A]ll intimate sexual activity outside the marriage relationship, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise, is immoral, and therefore sin. ... "

* " ... God created the human race male and female and that all conduct with the intent to adopt a gender other than one’s birth gender is immoral and therefore sin. ... "

* "Marriage can only be between two people whose birth sex is male and female."

You get the idea. This assembly also affirmed that churches should not cooperate with activities that violate these principles, including allowing church properties to be used/rented for events of this kind -- like weddings  

So what kind of press coverage would this statement receive? Would there be an explosion of news reports and online commentary?  Click here to find out.

Maybe the bishops in the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America should have called this 2016 document the "Rives Junction Statement"? Maybe then the mayor of Rives Junction, Mich., would have released a press statement condemning it, which would have told reporters that this was big news? What if it was called the "Byzantine Statement"?

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On the Nashville Statement, one national newspaper offers less slanted coverage than another

On the Nashville Statement, one national newspaper offers less slanted coverage than another

If you — like me — have been focused on news related to Harvey victims, you might have missed the headlines concerning a statement on sexuality released by evangelical leaders who convened in Nashville, Tenn., last week.

James A. Smith Sr., vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters, alerted me to the news.

Smith criticized the Washington Post's coverage of the news, calling that national newspaper's story "very biased."

Certainly, the Post's headline presents the news with a negative bent:

Evangelicals’ ‘Nashville Statement’ denouncing same-sex marriage is rebuked by city’s mayor

Compare that headline with the more neutral one offered by USA Today:

More than 150 evangelical religious leaders sign 'Christian manifesto' on human sexuality

The Post's lede:

A coalition of evangelical leaders released a “Christian manifesto” Tuesday asserting their belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and condemning the acceptance of “homosexual immorality or transgenderism.”
The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood outlined the views in what it called “The Nashville Statement,” and offered it as guidance to churches on how to address issues of sexuality. A group of evangelical leaders, scholars and pastors endorsed the statement Friday at a conference in Nashville. It was initially endorsed by more than 150 people.

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