From Nashville to Denver (Part 2): My Critique of “The Denver Statement”

In my previous post, I critiqued the recent Evangelical statement known as The Nashville Statement regarding biblical sexuality in general, and homosexuality and transgenderism in particular. My criticism of it came down to basically this: although many of its points did, in fact, reflect the historical Christian position on a number of things, it was extremely tone-deaf and came across as highly Pharisaical. On top of that, some of the points it claimed to be biblically-supported really were points that the Bible never really addresses in the first place.

In this post, though, I want to take a closer look at The Denver Statement (written by Nadia Bolz-Weber), one of the progressive responses to The Nashville Statement. Overall, The Denver Statement definitely reflects a heart that longs to comfort certain marginalized groups that have suffered a tremendous amount of hatred and hostility that has far too often come from religious circles. On that, I applaud people like Bolz-Weber who want to rectify the very real hurt and pain that has been inflicted, sadly, by people claiming to be Christians.

That being said, The Denver Statement struck me as reactionary, ill-thought out, and theologically troublesome. Beyond an over-generalized sentiment that “we should just love everybody,” I didn’t see anything resembling an actual, historical Christian outlook on the issues of marriage and personhood. Basically, it was preaching to its own choir, and just as many Evangelicals, because they already agree with the sentiment found in The Nashville Statement will fail to see the glaring problems in it, so too will many progressives, since they already agree with the sentiment found in The Denver Statement, will fail to see its own glaring problems.

Denver’s Preamble
The initial problems can be found in Denver’s Preamble, in the way it mischaracterizes, not so much traditional Christian morality when it comes to sexual practices, but the very basic concepts of male and female themselves. It says that we are living in an exciting and “holy period of historic transition,” in that Western culture is revising “what it means to be a human being,” and is “expanding the limits and definitions previously imposed by fundamentalist Christians.” It considers such thinking as “binary and backward thinking” that is “shortsighted and limited” and that has “ruined lives and dishonored God.”

Well, the first problem with that statement is that it is false: the concept of humanity consisting of males and females is pretty much universal. Every culture throughout human history has defined people along those binary biological lines for one simple reason: it’s true. As modern science has clearly shown, there are two biological sexes, men (having XY chromosomes) and women (having XX chromosomes). To say, therefore, that such definitions have been “imposed by fundamentalist Christians” is historically and demonstrably false. Furthermore, by calling such thinking “binary, backwards, short-sighted and limited,” Denver is not just condemning “fundamentalist Christianity,” but it is rejecting the entirety of Church Tradition, science, and human history itself.

I don’t know why it claims something so obviously false, but my guess would be because it’s easier to gain sympathy for your position if you frame the debate that way. If you say, “We’re fighting the backward thinking that those fundamentalists have imposed on us,” you’re bound to get one reaction, whereas if you say, “We want to throw out something that science has proved and that all cultures and societies throughout human history have always practiced and accepted,” you’ll probably get another, more skeptical reaction.

But in any case, the fact is, what Denver claims at the beginning of its statement is demonstrably false.

Changing Topics…
Throughout Denver’s statement, I noticed that in its responses to the various points in Nashville’s statement, it routinely changes the topic from the actual point being made in the Nashville statement. For example, in Article 1, Nashville had affirmed that God designed marriage to be between a man and a woman. Denver countered, though, by affirming that God “created humanity out of love and for the purpose of love.” Well that’s nice—who’s going to deny that? I don’t think one signer of The Nashville Statement would disagree. The problem is that Nashville was specifically talking about marriage, not some ambiguous statement about love. By responding in the way it did, Denver implied that those who signed The Nashville Statement are against love.

When it does address marriage, Denver denies that “God intends marriage as a gift only to be enjoyed by those who happen to be heterosexual, cis-gendered and fertile.” I have no doubt it believes that, but I believe a legitimate question might be, “Given the fact that at no point in human history (up until the early 21st century in Western culture) has marriage been anything other than just that, on what do you base that belief? Where has God indicated his intention for marriage has changed?”

Another example of how Denver changes topics can be seen in Article 2. In reaction to Nashville’s statement that God expects chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage, Denver pivots and states, “God created us as sexual beings in endless variety,” and then denies that the only kind of “sexual expression” considered holy is that of a “cisgendered, heterosexual, married couple who waited to have sex until they were married.”

First of all, does Denver really think God created us as sexual beings in endless variety? What does that even mean? And secondly, given the fact that Nashville specifically says sexual intercourse should be only done within marriage, why does Denver instead use the term sexual expression? Because given what it proceeds to say, it’s quite clear that it really is talking about sexual intercourse. Let’s be clear, Denver is saying, “The church says married heterosexuals can have sex, why can’t homosexuals (or anyone) have sex too, in or outside of marriage?” Just state clearly what you really believe—don’t hide behind ambiguity.

Incidentally, it bothers me how both progressives and conservative Evangelicals tend to even view marriage. As I was growing up, marriage (for all practical purposes) was presented to me as “something you do so you can have sex without God getting angry.” Yeah, it’s that “holy covenant thing,” but really it was about “falling in love,” having a beautiful wedding ceremony, and then getting to have sex. You won’t be lonely anymore, and you won’t feel like an outsider in church—you’ll be “married,” and thus really accepted as part of the church…and you can have sex. And honestly, since, on a practical level, that is how marriage tends to be presented, I can see why an LGBTQ Christian wants marriage extended to them as well.

But I don’t think that is the true Christian teaching regarding marriage. I’m going to expand on this in my next post, but basically, I put it this way: “Christian marriage is not a right, or a gift; it is a sacrament.” As long as we see marriage in terms of, “Who does God favor more, and thus give that extra ‘gift’ of marriage and guilt-free sex to?” I think we (both progressives and conservative Evangelicals) don’t really understand what Christian marriage really is.

Purposeful Omissions…
Another thing I found troubling in The Denver Statement is how it purposely omitted certain parts of some of Nashville’s Articles when it was basically cutting-and-pasting from The Nashville Statement. I found this troubling because the things they purposely omitted were, the issues of homosexuality and transgenderism aside, core tenets of the Christian faith.

For example, in Article 12, Nashville had stated, “We affirm that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” That statement, in and of itself, is completely in line with traditional Christian teaching regarding salvation and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. How could any Christian object to that statement?

For some reason, though, Denver responded with, “We affirm that the grace of God in Christ is sufficient for this day”—omitting any mention of the “merciful pardon and transforming power” that enables a Christian to put to death sinful desires. Why leave out talk of pardon and transformation? It should be obvious: given the specific topic that both Nashville and Denver address, it seemed that Denver purposely left those words out because it refused to say that homosexuals and transgendered people have any “sinful desires” that need pardoning or transforming. Thus, in its zeal to support the LGBTQ community, Denver has ended up denying a basic tenet regarding what Christian salvation even is.

And then, in response to Nashville’s denial that the grace of God cannot forgive any kind of sexual sins (which again, is true), Denver responded with “We deny that the grace of God in Christ is something that must be supplemented by works, piety or doctrine.” Well, that is simply not true. Sure, it lines up with the standard Reformation slogan, “Sola Gratia” (Grace alone), but the fact is, the Reformers were wrong on that. As the Apostle Paul said, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” and as James said, “Faith without works is dead.” Grace is not a “get out of hell card,” that lets you do whatever the hell you want. Because salvation is essentially the restoring of our relationship with God, the fact is, it involves work. To use the analogy of marriage, you can’t get married, and then not work at it (works), nor be faithful to your spouse (piety), nor strive to understand your spouse more (doctrine), and expect that relationship to thrive and grow.

This point about salvation and grace goes far beyond just this specific issue of homosexuality and transgenderism. But the problem I see with Denver here is that in its zeal to argue for the acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism, it has ended up obliterating what salvation in Christ entails. Put the issues of homosexuality and transgenderism to the side for a moment, when it comes to salvation and the Christian life, Denver’s Article 12 is simply not true.

Another glaring omission can be found in Article 14. Nashville basically made a standard statement that is completely in line with the Gospel: “We affirm that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ’s death and resurrection, forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior.”

Denver essentially cut-and-pasted Nashville’s statement, with one omission: it left out the part about repenting of sin and trusting in Christ alone. Again, put the issues of homosexuality and transgenderism to the side, why would Denver omit talk about repentance and trusting in Christ alone? Such a purposeful omission is telling. Quite frankly, it is a denial of the Gospel. In an ironic way, just as I said Nashville came across as Pharisaical, Denver on this point does also. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about hanging out with “sinners,” Jesus said in reply, “It is the sick who realize they are in need of a physician. I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.” Essentially, Denver is saying, “We have nothing to repent of…” and that is the very definition of being self-righteous. On top of that, it seems Denver is also denying one of the most basic Christian messages: salvation is to be found in Christ alone.

I find these omissions to be highly problematic. Reaching out to people who have been marginalized and abused, and arguing for gay marriage is one thing; but if you find yourself downplaying or even rejecting basic tenets of the Christian Gospel to do so, that is quite another thing altogether.

Corollary Trends Tied to Transgenderism
In addition to arguing for gay marriage, the other main argument found in The Denver Statement is that there are “varieties of gender and sexual expression,” and that one’s biological sex is not always linked with one’s self-conception of one’s gender. I’m going to explain what that means in my final post, but what I want to focus on now a few corollary issues stemming from the issue of transgenderism that I find rather troubling. To be clear, I agree with Denver’s fundamental point that we need to speak out against the abuse and hostility that has been directed toward the LGBTQ community. On that point, Denver is completely right.

Where it fails, though, is actually somewhat similar to the way in which Nashville fails. The major complaint with Nashville is that its language easily has been used to justify hatred, violence, and abuse toward the LGBTQ community. And that is true. Even if the signers don’t intend their statement to be used in that way, the fact is, it is used in that way. Similarly, I feel the language of Denver also has been used to promote some equally dangerous and abusive behavior.

For example, studies have shown that somewhere between 85-95% of children who are confused about their gender eventually accept their biological sex by the time they pass through puberty. Given that fact, the growing tendency in some segments of our society to encourage children to take hormones or puberty-blockers, or even sex-reassignment surgery, amounts, in my opinion, to child abuse. The fact is that the suicide rate among transgendered people is about 40%. So why would anyone in their right mind allow certain procedures to be done to children that forever mutilate their bodies, and will essentially doom them to an existence of gender confusion, and an astronomical probability of suicide, when we know for a fact that the vast majority of children in that situation figure things out naturally during puberty? Instead of letting nature take its course, and having children develop out of that confusion, such procedures imprison them in a perpetual state that has a 40% suicide rate. Purposely doing that to a child is child abuse.

Another thing that should be disconcerting is how transgenderism is sometimes used as an excuse for sexual libertinism. A few months ago, on his Netflix show, Bill Nye had Rachel Bloom perform the song, “Sex Junk,” that supposedly was to promote transgender awareness. I beg to differ. It used the issue of transgenderism to promote sexual experimentation and promiscuity, and even appealed to science and evolution as a way to justify it.

As you can see in the video, Bloom is dancing with two men dressed up as women, and is singing lyrics that include:

“Versatile love may have some butt stuff”

“It’s evolution, ain’t nothing new,
There’s nothing taboo about sex stew”

“I’m down for anything, don’t box in my box;
Give someone a new handy, and then give yourself some props;”

[Speaking to the man] “Sexuality’s a spectrum, everyone is on it;
Even you might like it, if you sit up on it”

“Sex how you want it; it’s your goddamn right.”

Reaching out to comfort transgendered people who have suffered abuse and hostility is one thing; promoting sex “any way you want it,” and using transgenderism and an appeal to science to justify it is quite another—it is dishonest, manipulative, and perverse.

“Sex Junk” reflects the very thing that is resolutely condemned throughout the Bible. I do not see how a Christian can possibly approve of what “Sex Junk” is selling. To be clear, I’m not saying that The Denver Statement actually approves of these things–I don’t know. But we need to realize that, just as there are those who use the language reflected in Nashville to justify abusive and sinful behavior, there are also those who use the language reflected in Denver to justify some very abusive and sinful behavior as well.

Conclusion to The Denver Statement
Although I think the overall concern that The Denver Statement displays is praiseworthy (i.e. speaking out against hostility and abuse toward homosexuals and transgendered people), I’m afraid it not only “throws the baby out with the bathwater,” but it is also lights a fire that threatens to burn down the entire house.

  • The fact is, contrary to what Denver claims, marriage as being between a man and woman, and the binary distinction between men and women has not been imposed by fundamentalist Christians. Marriage being between men and women is universal throughout history, and the distinction between men and women is backed up by the scientific data: biologically, there are men and women. There is no other biological sex.
  • Homosexuality and transgenderism aside, Denver ends up either downplaying or denying many of the core teachings and tenets about the Christian understanding of the Gospel and salvation itself.
  • In its zeal to approve of homosexuality and transgenderism in all instances, Denver ends up denying there is such a thing as sexual immorality at all, and it fails to acknowledge their language has actually caused people to encourage sexual libertinism and abusive practices like allowing sex-change operations and hormonal therapy for children.

Basically, if Nashville is guilty of presuming to know God’s will about issues that are not directly addressed in Scripture (i.e. same-sex attraction or transgenderism), Denver is equally guilty of presuming God’s will about these issues as well. And the way it gets to its conclusions is by throwing out basic Christian teachings regarding sin and salvation as a whole. If Nadia Bolz-Weber denies that she has rejected these basic Christian teachings about sin and salvation, then I think a legitimate question would be, “Then why did you purposely leave them out of your statement? When Nashville stated these points, why did you purposely steer away from them?”

In my opinion, both The Nashville Statement and The Denver Statement fail on multiple levels in their declarations as to how the Church should address the current issues of gay marriage, homosexuality, and transgenderism. So that leaves us with the same question: how should Christians, how should the Church, address these issues? I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I have a perfect or easy answer. All I can do is to offer my own imperfect thoughts as they have developed over the past five years or so. That will be the topic of my next post.

3 Comments

  1. You’ve got some good ideas in these posts, Joel. Now that I’ve seen the first two, I feel I can pass more informed judgement on them. I’ll be watching for the third one.

  2. Insightful and thought provoking. Helpful to me, as a practicing Christian, attempting to live in correct and loving obedience. Having friends, family, and colleagues in the LGBTQ communities, I welcome more of your articles. I appreciate your effort to provide truth with facts in a rational format.

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