Matthew Lee Anderson, “Evangelicalism’s flight 93 moment: Reflections on the Nasvhille statement” at Mere Orthodoxy = https://mereorthodoxy.com/flight-93-nashville-statement/. Anderson went quiet for a while in order to concentrate on his doctoral studies. Either he graduated or is far enough along that he can return to writing. Good. A longish article that is difficult to summarize. If I understand it correctly Anderson critiques the conservative evangelicals who signed the recent Nashville statement that seeks to affirm traditional Christian teaching on sexuality. Anderson does not – at least not that I can tell – criticize what the statement says. So much as he critiques (1) how the statement says which (1b) reflects in part what it says and (2) those who signed it for not giving adequate attention to conservative evangelical critiques of the statement. So progressives and progressive Christians fell over themselves to attack it. Sure. And I appreciate how Anderson responds to that.
While more sober criticisms contained enough truth to sound respectable, they were soon overwhelmed by farcical counterstatements that reaffirmed the progressive sexual ethic is not recognizably Christian. Their pseudo-theological dressings mean you have to squint to see what they really want: polyamory. Which is mildly disappointing, I must say. A paganism undefiled by the trappings of evangelical formalism would be more fun than the lukewarm, ‘respectable’ version on offer. Progressive Christians should put down their Enneagram charts and make paganism great again. After all, I can think more enjoyable ways of fighting to make polyamory permissible than releasing a statement.
More importantly there are conservative evangelical voices (and some traditional Christian voices that are not evangelicals) that Anderson argues are largely being ignored. And that is a problem. One key point is that evangelical Christians should first confess and repent what we have done and not done. And then we can dare catechize fellow Christians on sexuality. Anderson later on in his article points out parts of the statement that appear to single out gay Christians who adhere to traditional Christian teaching and practice. Perhaps one can summarize that the statement is peculiar in and of itself. And especially in terms of how its signers and supporters defend it. Including against conservative evangelical critique.
In short: the Nashville Statement is more apt for catechesis in our endless culture war than the confident, faithful affirmation of the Gospel within our churches. We know it is more apt for such a purpose partly because that is how its defenders have used it, contrary to their claim that it is not a “culture war document.” The statement’s affirmations and silences, its form and its presentation are consciously designed to reach as broad an audience as our media allow. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But it is literally unbelievable that the drafters are “astounded” by the attention they have received. How precisely does one write a statement announcing a crisis, and then claim to be surprised when controversy ensues? When Owen Strachan touts the statement made “national news” for purportedly non-controversial beliefs, it’s hard to not wonder: Is it possible they have had their reward in full?
One last point. Along the way and toward the end Anderson addresses the issue of good intentions and how both progressives and apparently evangelicals use them as a catch all excuse and defense.
The appeal to intentions in order to settle matters of dispute is a shibboleth in evangelical circles, but there are (at least) two deep, relevant problems with it. First, it is ironically a close cousin of the ‘spirit of the age’ that the Nashville Statement so forcefully denounces. One person ignores the social and material conditions of their bodies and angelically asserts they have a different gender; another ignores the social and material conditions of their words and angelically asserts that they have meant something different than what we heard. Such a principle is self-exonerating; it means no one can be wrong about what they have done, because their private, inaccessible intentions are the final arbiter of what they’ve done. It is a principle that subsequently breeds deep self-deception and insularity, as it is a trump card that ends disagreement and dissent.
If Anderson is correct this is a serious problem. It is one of the reasons for my suspicion of “progressive” cultural politics and religion. “We mean well” we hear from people who sometimes say things that are foolish and heretical and who – to be blunt – sometimes hurt people and wreck churches. (Disclaimer – I am not saying “progressive” politics or religion are always bad or abusive. I am saying that over the last few years I observed and experienced foolish and hurtful being dished out by progressives. Who mean well.)