The so-called “Nashville Statement” hit the world last week, and I cannot begin to address its substance until I acknowledge the arrogance and injustice of naming it after my city. I have lived and worked in this city for over seventeen years, and this statement does not represent me or the vast majority of people who live and work here with me. The name belies the claim by the statement’s authors that their purpose was to express the Bible’s position on human sexuality. Why not give it a name that reflected that purpose? They wanted attention, and they wanted to claim a kind of grandiosity for their feeble work that attaching a to a popular city might provide. Nashville is responding, and let us hope this act of hubris becomes a cause of the failure of the statement.
Others are more capable than me of addressing the moral and ethical issues involved in the statement. I would prefer to focus on some issues about the use of the Bible that arise from the statement and in responses to it. The Bible first appears in Article 3 of the statement which says, “We affirm that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his own image…” This article affirms something that is not in the Bible, and it involves a misreading of the book of Genesis. Yes, God makes some humans in God’s image in Genesis 1:26-28, but God makes Adam in Genesis 2:7 and Eve in 2:22. The story in Genesis 2-3 goes to great lengths to claim that these two humans did not initially possess the divine image. They had to take it. God placed the divine image in a specific fruit, and forbade them to eat it. They acquired the divine image when they disobeyed the command and ate the fruit. This is first explained by the snake in 3:5: “God knows that on the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened and you will become like God.” The claim is confirmed by God in 3:22: “Look the human beings have become like one of us, knowing good and evil.”
How are human beings related to God? It is a complicated question, and the writers of the Bible provided many different answers, two of them right at the beginning. The answers are typically in the form of stories, not propositional statements. In one answer, God makes the unidentified humans in the divine image from the start. Possession of the divine image is essential to being human. In another answer, humans have to seize the divine image for themselves, contrary to God’s intent, and God has to make adjustments. It is the latter of these stories that has characters named Adam and Eve. You can believe God created humans in God’s image if you like. That claim is in the Bible, but realize you are being selective, choosing one of the Bible’s answers and rejecting others. It is also possible that the best answer to the question lies in an unresolved contest of stories.
This kind of selective reading, which ignores the composite nature of the Bible and misses the complexity of the important questions it is debating, is part of what leads to an ill-informed piece of interpretation like the “Nashville Statement.” The writers wanted to talk about the humans having the divine image, but they wanted the humans they were talking about to be paired up, in a marriage between a man and a woman. So, they conflated Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. This is symptomatic of the mishmash of biblical stuff in the statement. Biblical interpretation looks like this when someone has a predetermined position then goes looking for bits and pieces of the Bible they can weave together to support that position. Reading the Bible as a contested conversation surrounding difficult questions allows the Bible to identify its own matters of importance. Marriage and sexuality turn out not to be among the Bible’s obsessions, though the related issues of genealogical identity and inheritance are. The characters in the stories that address these subjects demonstrate a wide variety of family structures and relationships, for which the text provides no easy moral judgments. The bible is turns out not to be a good source out of which to build a series of “We affirm” and “We deny” propositions like the so called Nashville statement presents.