This week, an influential group of evangelical Christians publicly doubled down on intolerance in a message about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that represents a renewed commitment to open bigotry.
The Nashville Statement, released by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood on Tuesday, says that only heterosexuality is permissible, calls people born with intersex conditions “disordered,” derides transgender identities as “transgenderism” and makes clear that anyone who is an L.G.B.T. person is immoral.
While sentiments from a group like this, which describes itself as a “coalition for biblical sexuality,” are nothing new, the statement sent a particularly dangerous message to the approximately half of L.G.B.T. people who, according to the Pew Research Center, identify as Christian: You don’t belong in our religion. And anyone who so much as accepts you isn’t Christian either.
The statement can’t be written off as the regressive stance of a fringe group: More than 150 influential conservative evangelical leaders, half of whom belong to the Southern Baptist Convention, signed the statement. Steve Gaines, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and member of Donald Trump’s faith advisory board, endorsed it. Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, also signed on. Presidents of seminaries, editors and writers at the largest conservative publications, as well as presidents and directors of conservative think tanks added their names.
The Nashville Statement’s harm is more than symbolic. The hateful beliefs it endorses have real-life, devastating consequences.
L.G.B.T. youths have disproportionately high rates of suicide and of anxiety and depression — problems that are undoubtedly worsened by the condemnation of those who hold beliefs like the ones in the Nashville Statement. Those whose families reject them, most of whom are from religious backgrounds, are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers. L.G.B.T. youths also suffer from high rates of homelessness. Because of conservative churches’ teachings about sexuality, some parents prefer their L.G.B.T. children sleep on the streets instead of in their homes.
Evangelicals’ promotion of “reparative therapy” that tries to change L.G.B.T. people’s sexual orientation or gender identity, which has been condemned by every major medical organization, has also brought harm and death. It’s no exaggeration to say that when Americans believe their churches require them to embrace messages like the one in the Nashville Statement, lives are at stake.
More broadly, the type of theology underlying the Nashville Statement is used to defend the denial of goods and services to same-sex couples. The political power evangelicals hold in the United States allows them to codify their beliefs in law. Dozens of “religious freedom restoration acts,” primarily in the form of so-called bathroom bills, have focused on policing the lives of L.G.B.T. people. Since the 2014 decision by the Department of Education to include gender identity under Title IX protections, more than 60 Christian colleges have requested — and many have received — waivers to discriminate against L.G.B.T. students.
The backlash to the statement was swift and encouraging. The hashtag #NashvilleStatement trended on Twitter shortly after it was released. Civil rights activists, authors and celebrities — Christian and non-Christian alike —
Perhaps this was fueled in part by the perception of hypocrisy surrounding the statement. Eighty percent of white evangelicals support Donald Trump, despite conduct in his personal life that flagrantly departs from traditional Christian values and his admission that he has never asked God for forgiveness — prompting the question of whether the set of religious issues these Christians choose to focus on is politically rather than morally motivated.
But as a queer Christian who does organizing work at the intersections of faith and sexuality, I’m most heartened by those who have spoken out against the backward theology of the Nashville Statement specifically because of the serious harm it poses to people like me.
Mayor Megan Barry of Nashville was quick to say that the statement was not a representation of the inclusive values of her city and its residents. Representative Ted Lieu of California also denounced the statement, pointing to Scripture’s commandment to love your neighbor. A prominent Lutheran minister, Nadia Bolz-Weber, criticized “shortsighted and limited thinking, teaching and preaching that has ruined lives and dishonored God.”
Christians United delivered an important countermessage to those left adrift by the rejection from their religious leaders: “We deny that Christ rejects anyone from his loving embrace because of their sexuality or gender identity. We likewise deny that homosexuality, bisexuality, queer sexuality, trans identity, asexuality, or any other queer identity is sinful, distorted, or outside of God’s created intent.”
Members of the clergy and laity, Christians and non-Christians, politicians and citizens, should continue to speak with one moral voice against this kind of dangerous intolerance. Every time it manifests itself, whether in a widely publicized statement or a message from a hometown pastor, we should condemn theology that causes L.G.B.T. people harm as the spiritual malpractice that it is.