The president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest and several faculty members have signed a statement from conservative evangelicals saying same-sex attraction and identifying as transgender are sinful and that supporting either is immoral.
The 14-article manifesto, called “the Nashville Statement” for the city where it was ratified, was released late Tuesday by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, an evangelical coalition formed in 1987. More than 150 people had signed the document when it was put online Tuesday, including Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Richard Land, president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary in Matthews. Through the day Wednesday, it garnered more signatures.
The statement stirred backlash among more liberal laity and clergy members.
A spokeswoman for Southeastern said Akin had a family emergency and was not immediately available to discuss the manifesto.
But he tweeted, “There is much need for biblical clarity & compassion in the discussion on sexuality. This statement helps.” He provided a link to the statement.
Some critics said its release – on the heels of the national debate over whether Confederate statues continue to be used as tools of intimidation by white supremacists – is just a different expression of a familiar frustation.
“You know what this is about?” said Nancy Petty, pastor of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh. “This is about white, heterosexual men trying to maintain their control over the church, and trying to maintain their control over women. They know they can’t keep holding their position in society, and so they’re just grasping at straws.”
Petty, who is married to a woman, said that as more churches recognize same-sex unions and ordain gay and lesbian pastors, men who have traditionally held most positions of power in churches feel threatened.
“They call it a ‘manifesto.’ White supremacists issue manifestos. And they want to say this is biblical, but it’s not.”
Professors at Southeastern who signed the document are Daniel Heimbach, Mark Liederbach, Kenneth Keathley and Keith Whitfield.
Whitfield attended last weekend’s national conference of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission in Nashville and the meeting of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood during the conference, where the manifesto was approved and signed. Those present included conservative Baptists, Presbyterians and others, Whitfield said.
He said the document had been written and sent ahead of time to those who attended, and that the group did only minor editing before approving it. Whitfield, who teaches systematic theology, in which students try to determine what the Bible says about particular topics, said he saw the document as “a statement of core Christian beliefs about a current cultural issue.”
Whitfield said the Nashville Statement could provide guidance for churches, evangelical institutions and individuals who have theological questions about human sexuality.
Petty said the statement would be hurtful to some LGBTQ people of faith.
“I have people [in the church] who are trying to heal from this stuff that they got their whole lives, growing up in these churches that just heaped this spiritual abuse on them Sunday after Sunday after Sunday,” Petty said. “The church holds a lot of power for people.
“And it makes me so angry that people who are good, God-loving people, who are doing everything they can to live into being who God created them to be, constantly has somebody saying to them, ‘You’re not good enough. There is something wrong with you.’”
Whitfield, a former pastor, said the group knew that those who disagreed with the manifesto’s positions would be upset by it, but said, “I would question how a statement about core beliefs caused pain to others.”
The statement represents what one group of people believes the Bible teaches, Whitfield said, which is that God has a design for the way humans are to live in the world. Believing that, and not sharing it with people who have an opportunity to change the way they live, would be wrong, Whitfield said.
“It doesn’t mean we’re condemning individuals,” he said. “This is not personal.”
In a preamble to the document on its website, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood says, “As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being,” adding that it is now common for people to express sexuality as an individual preference.
In a statement that accompanied the document’s release online, Denny Burk, president of the CBMW, said, “The spirit of our age does not delight in God’s good design of male and female. Consequently, confusion reigns over some of the most basic questions of our humanity.
“The aim of the Nashville Statement is to shine a light into the darkness – to declare the goodness of God’s design in our sexuality and in creating us as male and female.”
The document then lists 14 articles, each presented with a statement of affirmation and denial.
Among other things, the articles say that: marriage is between one man and one woman; God’s will is for all people to remain chaste outside of marriage; people born with “a physical order of sex development” should embrace their biological sex “insofar as it may be known”; that “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception” is not consistent with God’s purposes; that people who are attracted to others of the same sex can live a life that pleases God, but the attraction is sinful and acting on it can’t be justified.
The 10th article says, “It is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and ... such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”
It adds that the group denies “that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”