I have to come clean, y’all! I am an Evangelical Christian. Yep, I am born again, washed in the blood, saved by grace. Tons of black Christian women living in the Americas and throughout the world are Evangelical or “born again” believers, so I know that I am in phenomenal company. One of my favorite black feminist scholars, Dr. Brittney Cooper, has written at length about her tension between the way she thinks about the world as a black feminist woman and the abiding Evangelical spirituality she just can’t shake. I sincerely believe that God created us and that God breathed life into our bodies. I believe we are in the image of God and that although our sins separate us from God, Jesus came to do salvific work. I believe Jesus was more than one of the great teachers and revolutionaries of human history, Jesus is also my Savior. I believe that God created each of us for a Divine purpose. You are here for a divine reason. I believe all these things down to my core.
That being said, the Nashville Statement is antithetical to everything I believe as born again Christian. The statement was released yesterday on the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood website. They released a statement that you can read here. They also included a link at the bottom of the webpage that allows readers to donate to help them with “distributing The Nashville Statement and developing resources to equip pastors and churches to stand firm for the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.” I was so confused yesterday when I saw #NashvilleStatement trending on Twitter. I thought the country musicians of America got together and released a statement on behalf of their city! But, instead, I found a group of Evangelical Christians who wanted money to tell churches that being a Christian is about protecting Biblical manhood and womanhood and rebuking homosexuality. What a mess! I am not sending a dime of my disposable income to an organization that can speak out about gender and sexuality but has not recently released any statements on racism, sexual violence, war, or the fact that an entire American city is underwater.
That is where my faith begins, but it is far from where it ends. If the Nashville Statement is indicative of what Evangelical Christianity is in America today, it is missing the mark for two reasons.
- Evangelical Christianity misses the reality that God created these human bodies we own. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Furthermore, sexuality is a gift from God. Can sexuality be misdirected? Can we express our sexuality in harmful or sinful ways? Yes, of course! But God has given us lots of gifts that we misuse and abuse like our intellect and our financial capital, and we are not in any hurry to do away with those things. Plenty of folks in monogamous heterosexual union engage in abusive, harmful, and sinful sexual practices. Also, when did Adam and Eve get married? Where is the marriage certificate? The way I read Genesis 1 and 2, God saw that there was a lonely man in the Garden of Eden who needed a human partner, so God created a woman. After Eve was created, Adam snatched her up. There is no talk of courting or consent. Then, the two of them decided they knew more than God did and got themselves kicked out of paradise. Remind me why we place this story on a pedestal and say that Christian marriages ought to be modeled after it? Our male heroes of Scripture do not do much better. Does anyone remember David who sexually violated the wife of the man next door? It seems like David was sleeping with anyone with a pulse, and he raised a son who followed in his footsteps. Jesus was part of the lineage of King David, a Moabite woman who seduced her wealthy Israelite husband in the night, and a prostitute who provided haven to Israelite men. So many people who are more brilliant than me have said it a million times over, but clearly, it needs to be repeated. Evangelical Churches need to teach us, regardless of our sexual preferences or gender identity, how to express our sexuality in healthy ways that honor God.
- Second, where is the love? God did not have to create humanity. God chose to create humanity because God wanted to give human hands and human feet to the good work of being stewards of Creation. When humans sinned against God in Genesis 3, God did not destroy us and start from scratch. No, God saw fit to preserve us. When we sinned against God time and time again, God still did not destroy us completely, in Genesis 7 God sent a flood, but preserved one human family to carry out the good work humans are called to do. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, humans sinned. They worshipped false gods, they were deceptive, they abused, they plundered, they killed, they raped, they were jealous, they grasped for power, and yet, God brought them to a land of promise. Even in exile, God was with them. Even when humans saw fit to condemn God’s only Son to die, God redeemed us. The epistles remind us often that we are the Body of Christ and that the message of Christ is this, “Love one another.” So, in response to this statement, I say, where is the love? Where is the earth-shattering agape love that gives us life?
I have read Scripture. I have studied Scripture both as an act of spirituality and as a Divinity School student. and I will tell you that the Holy Bible says a lot about gender and sexuality. Even with all that is said, there is a troubling silence in Scripture around issues of gender and sexuality in Scripture. There are several acts of sexual violence that are left uninterrogated. In 2 Samuel 13, Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar, and when their brother Absalom heard it, he plotted for two years to murder him for what he had done. But, where was the healing for Tamar? We do not see her again to see what happened to her.
Then there was the traveling man who stayed the night with an old man in Ephraim. During the night, the men in the town tried to rape him. Instead of speaking out against the very concept of sexual violence, the man’s host offered his guest’s concubine and his virgin daughter. He said that these men could do as they pleased with the women, but not to do this “vile thing” to his male guest. Judges 19 is silent about what became of the virgin daughter, but we do know that the men received the concubine. They raped and abused her all night. When they released her, she returned to the home and fell on the doorstep. How she even managed to find her way back is beyond me! In the morning, the man picked her up, took her home, and when they arrived at his home, he cut her lifeless body into twelve pieces and sent her to the territories of Israel. As in the story of David’s sons, men rose to action. Instead of questioning why this man had not protected his female companion, they went to war against the men who had done this cruel act. It is past time for us to stop valorizing Biblical manhood if it is all about allowing women to be abused and then using women’s broken bodies to incite war against each other. People, regardless of gender identification, would do well to take better care of each other.
Despite my shared faith in one Body, one baptism, and one Hope in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ with my Evangelical brothers and sisters, I cannot stand behind so-called Christian men (and women) who do not speak out against a President who advocates sexual violence, whose policies deny the personhood of people based on their sexuality or gender identification, whose policies ensure that the poor get poorer, and whose very presence in the White House encourages a public resurgence of white supremacist action that disproportionately destroys the lives of our Jewish and Muslims brothers and sisters and people of color. I do not stand behind so-called Christian men (and women) who see a city underwater and decide that now is the perfect time to release their stance on sexuality and Biblical manhood and womanhood.
I cannot stand by when so-called Christian documents are released that say things like “WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions and by divine forbearance to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.” Transgender people have God’s grace, and same sex loving people have God’s grace. Furthermore, women who are victims of sexual abuse have God’s grace. Women who decide what they will and will not do with their bodies have God’s grace. Married women have God’s grace (regardless of the gender of their partner), and unmarried women have God’s grace. Scripture and the witness of Jesus Christ in the world have God’s grace yesterday, today, and forever, and if we as Christians believe anything to the contrary, I think we all need a refresher on what grace is all about.