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Sarah Lindsay

The Nashville Statement and the Primacy of Biological Sex

Nashville
© 2009 Kaldari | via Wikimedia Commons

The last week in August, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released the Nashville Statement, a document on human sexuality that condemns homosexuality and transgenderism, and further makes this condemnation an essential faith issue. (This is rather rich from an organization that allows for a diversity of views on the Trinity, including views that have been condemned as heretical for more than 1500 years, but I digress.)

The response has been swift and widespread. In my own Twitter feed I saw not only Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey responding but also Roxane Gay and John Scalzi. Counter-statements have been written, such as the Liturgists Statement, spearheaded by Mike McHargue and Michael Gungor, and the Denver Statement, put together by Nadia Bolz-Weber and her church, House for All Sinners and Saints.

The Nashville Statement is damaging on many levels, although it crystalizes rather than changes what many evangelicals have been teaching for years. These teachings have harmed individuals and their families, and the statement ignores that pain in order to condemn any sexuality outside of cis-gender heterosexuality — and elevate that condemnation to an essential tenet of faith.

We can, and should, talk about how this statement ignores the lived experience of LGBTQ Christians. But we also need to think about why LGBTQ issues are at the heart of this statement — why condemn sexual orientation in explicit detail while leaving issues of pornography addiction and sexual abuse to fall into a broad condemnation of sexual immorality?1 The answer, I think, lies in the conviction of the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood that the core of our personhood lies in our biological sex.

A close reading of articles 4 and 5 from the statement underscore the primacy of biological sex:

Article 4

WE AFFIRM that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.

WE DENY that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.

Article 5

WE AFFIRM that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.

WE DENY that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.

Article 4 seems to affirm the uncontroversial idea that God created humanity in two separate biological sexes. Yet the phrasing “divinely ordained differences” immediately sets off warning bells — and the denial that differences result from the Fall cements that this article isn’t talking just about biological sex, as to the best of my knowledge no theologian has argued that biological sex came after the fall.

For the writers of the statement, God creates not only biological differences but also other differences between men and women. Those are undefined here, but anyone familiar with the work of CBMW or complementation theology can fill in the blanks. Men lead, women submit; men are rational and goal-driven, women emotional and relational; men provide, women nurture. In order to flourish as humans, this statement asserts, we must accept those differences.

Article 5 focuses specifically on biological sex, abandoning vague “differences” in order to assert that “reproductive structures” are “integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.” This article most obviously makes transgender people sinful, since their self-conception of gender is at odds with their biological sex.

But if we examine these two articles together, we see that it’s not only identifying as transgender that undercuts God’s purpose, but also rejecting any of the “divinely ordained differences” between men and women.

To be clear, I don’t want to undercut the damage this theology does to transgender individuals, who are already at a hugely increased risk of violence and suicide. But this view of transgender individuals arises from a conviction that gendered differences — not just biological differences — are created by God. Someone who does not identify with their birth sex, in this view, clearly rejects “divinely ordained difference,” and so does a woman pastor or stay-at-home father.

Thus, the Nashville Statement can’t address what I see as the much more concerning sexual immoralities in the church: the way that purity culture demeans both men and women, the concern for the reputation of the abuser rather than the well-being of the abused, the lack of any teaching on consent. In the world of CBMW, sexual sins are bad, but they don’t represent a perversion of the created order like same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.

For CBMW, this perversion of the created order arises from a refusal to accept differences between men and women. As the Preamble states in its opening paragraph:

It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences. The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

In addition to dramatically misunderstanding the theory of gender performativity (in which “autonomous preference” has only a small role), this suggests that the greatest moral challenge facing the church is the failure of men and women to find their primary identity in their biological sex, which in turn dictates the acceptable expression of gender.

Think about that for a moment. In order to flourish, we must find our identity not in our shared humanity, not even in Christ, but in our genitalia. And further, in the ability of that genitalia to determine our attractions, our talents, our spiritual gifts, our place within society.

This results in hurtful attitudes towards our LGTBQ brothers and sisters. But it also hurts all of us by insisting that we are not human together, we are not one in Christ. We are male and female above all else.

gender identity# #CBMW #LGBTQ


  1. Article 9 states: “sin distorts sexual desires by directing them away from the marriage covenant and toward sexual immorality— a distortion that includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality.”