Social Issues, Theology

The Nashville Statement and ‘noble heresies’

rainbow_flag-300x200I haven’t weighed in much on the Nashville Statement, save for a few articles I shared that summarize my feelings better than I could. I just didn’t have much to say that hadn’t already been said. But the phrase “noble heresy” came to mind during my morning “God time” today, and I feel compelled to explore that a bit further.

When I think of “noble heresies,” I think of the brave men and women who ostracized themselves in their congregations when their pastors preached on the wrong side of justice. I think of the Dietrich Bonhoeffers during the Holocaust, the abolitionists and civil rights protestors: many of whom risked their jobs, reputations, and even their lives because they truly believed that the church they loved was wrong about something.

We know this couldn’t have been easy. At the time, such people were likely called heretics for defying centuries of tradition. They were accused of making up their own rules for personal gain.

As an Episcopalian, I value tradition. But lately I have come to wonder if “tradition” always means “unchangeable.” Not all traditions are good, and not all structures deserve to remain in place simply because they are, well, old. After all, only within my lifetime did the Catholic Church issue an apology to Galileo for his theories about the earth’s position in the solar system, rectifying a centuries-old “tradition.”

If there’s anything I have learned lately, I believe that God is good, but people who love him can still be wrong sometimes.

Let me repeat: God is good, but people. Can. Be. Wrong.

Something I am increasingly certain about – a rarity for me – is that the “church” (referring strictly to mainstream American Protestantism here) is wrong about homosexuality, and its treatment of the LGBT community.

Admittedly, I kept these views to myself for a long time because I was afraid of backlash, though I’m not entirely sure why. I’m a straight, cis-gendered woman, after all. I have nothing to gain by proving that God is A-Okay with homosexuality, because it’s not my “lifestyle” I’m seeking approval for. But those accusations will come anyway. I have gay friends I love dearly and greatly respect. My heart breaks hearing their stories about how they have been rejected by two families: blood families and spiritual ones. I want a better world for them, and as a straight ally, some change must start with me.

My “noble heresy,” if I dare call it that, is that Christianity’s handling of Scripture regarding homosexuality and gender identity has been largely irresponsible. I have my reasons, but rather than repeat arguments that scholars have made, I encourage you to seek them out yourself (I’ll share some resources at the end of this post).

The biggest game-changer for me was examining the fruit of anti-LGBT rhetoric, and I have found it to be poison. Jesus said good trees produce good fruit; I have never heard a story about a gay person embracing his or her identity that didn’t include rejection, bullying, or other major losses. LGBT teens still have some of the highest rates of homelessness and suicide, and “conversion therapy” has been shown to be not only ineffective, but dangerous.

We now know that the church has been wrong before when it came to justifying slavery, opposing women’s rights, and matters of science. None of these issues are pertinent to the question of salvation. So what are the odds that the church, as a whole, is also wrong about this, too?

I’m generally unafraid to admit that I might be wrong about many things. I very well could be wrong in my conclusions about God and homosexuality, but if that’s the case, I trust that God himself will show me. The most damaging part of the Nashville Statement is ruling out constructive discussion with people who read Scripture differently.

Article 10 of the document clearly states,

“WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or trangenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”

There’s nothing noble about that heresy. There is nothing loving about cutting off opportunities for discussion and growth. And there’s certainly nothing loving about making homosexuality the new center of the gospel message.

If I’m going to be a heretic, I will be one who errs on the side of love. I will err on the side of compassion and inclusion. I value those things far more than I care about being “right.”

Highly recommended resources:

Changing our Mind by David Gushee

Torn by Justin Lee

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines


Like this post? Check out Confessions of a Jew-ish Skeptic, now available on Amazon.

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4 thoughts on “The Nashville Statement and ‘noble heresies’”

  1. Reblogged this on Be Persuaded and commented:
    “Perhaps on the rare occasion pursuing the right course demands an act of noble heresy …”

    That’s Governor Swann’s comment about piracy, but I think it applies here. For too long people have been erring by obeying the letter of the law for fear of the uncontrollable freedom the spirit of the text allows. Churches have squandered an immeasurable amount of potential and people in order to get out of fulfilling their debt of love. That’s what noble heresies are – love carried out to the full, a 1 Corinthians 14 kind of love. It’s because you love someone you want to break the bonds that bind them, be they a systematic evil like slavery, a cultural evil like refusing rights, or a church-created evil as a result of bad theology. Let us love freely, let us love our neighbors, and let us love one another – even our brothers and sisters who don’t believe in noble heresies – we all need love.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Noble Heresy and the changes of institutional interpretations of scriptures it can engender are also part of the traditions of faith communities. It seems to me that in order for a congregation to avoid ossifying into bitter stagnation and irrelevance, to remain vibrant and responsive and well serve its members, it must stay in some sense young and learning. That brings up a favorite quote:

    “To stay young requires unceasing cultivation of the ability to unlearn old falsehoods.”
    Robert A. Heinlein

    Welcome to the tradition of Noble Heresy.

    Liked by 2 people

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