It was almost a year ago exactly when The Nashville Statement, a declaration coming from the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, was released. When it was made public, there was no shortage of people who wrote about it. Me included.
For many, it was problematic in the theology it espoused, the tone it took, the judgments it made on those who not only lived a certain lifestyle, but those who were okay with others living a certain lifestyle. The council saw themselves as the self-appointed gatekeepers to evangelicalism.
Needless to say, it caused a stir.
Now, just over a year later, and there’s another statement, this time from the group called Founder’s Ministries, and their Statement of Social Justice and the Gospel addresses all manner of theology from sexuality to gender roles to racism to heresy.
Already the internet is becoming saturated with defenses from those who chose to co-sign the statement in support of the theology it espouses, and those who have fundamental disagreements with the theology suggested, frustrated at how their views and understanding of Scripture are keeping them outside the ranks of the faith.
I have things to say to about the theology in it. And the people closest to me know what those things are.
But my biggest problem, the day after this statement was released as it’s already making the rounds in Christian subculture, has little to do with the theology and much more to do with the existence of the statement itself.
I just can’t seem to figure out when we, as followers of Jesus, became so obsessed with “statements” and “declarations” and “assertions” when it is so clearly a departure from the way the Son of God went about ministering to the masses.
Jesus could have summed up his entire ministry in a short paragraph (or 14 articles if he were to take a cue from the Nashville statement or the Social Justice and Gospel statement) left, and called it a day. But if what the gospels tell us is true, than Jesus was far more interested in relationships and meeting human needs, and having conversations, and telling stories that spoke to our deepest wonderings and pricked our most puzzling questions. In other words, Jesus was always looking to begin a dialogue, not shut it down. And “statements” made with “articles” affirming some things and denying others does exactly what Jesus was famous for not doing—and that is widening the gap between himself and those who were nothing like him.
In Scripture Jesus asks 307 questions of the people he surrounds himself with. He is asked 183. And he answers only three. Did Jesus have thoughts? Opinions? Definitive ideas and theology on the law and Scripture and right and wrong and everything in between? Absolutely. And in fact, the teachers of the law were famous for trying to get him to show his cards on such topics. But he only answered them three times. Not because he didn’t have anything to say. I am certain that if anyone had something to say to the questions set out to trap, trick and confuse, it was Jesus.
But he doesn’t do it. Because he knows something about statements and these metaphorical lines in the sand. Jesus knows that lines are a way of keeping the “right” people in and the “wrong” people out and that lines give all the power to the people who draw them and none of the power (or grace, or compassion, or understanding for that matter) to the ones still trying to figure out. Their indecision, their personal journeying, their individual pursuing of faith is not deemed decisive enough, or far enough along, and for that reason, sorry, thanks for playing, but you can see yourself out. You are not longer welcome here.
If I had my way, I would stop this juvenile practice of writing down what we are so convinced Scripture is so clear on, framing our thoughts in self important articles affirming and denying our personal preferences for what we believe the Bible asserts, and instead sit down with those we are certain are getting it wrong over a cup of coffee, a glass of wine, or a strong cocktail, if need be, and talk it out.
Because I’m convinced that what got us in the age of statements and declarations was not the culture’s evils or the spirit of the age’s tickling of our ears to lure us away from truth or conviction or thousands of years orthodoxy. What got us to this place of easily published lines in the sand was our growing distance from those who think differently than we do, have experiences different from ours, were raised in stories unlike the ones we come from ourselves, and have participated in journeys we couldn’t possibly know the first thing about by just observing from afar.
What got us here was a simple case of memory loss.
Of forgetting what Jesus did and how he behaved when he showed up with the wrong company, making the wrong friends, touching the wrong people and sharing a meal with the wrong dinner guests. We have forgotten that the whole point of Jesus showing up was to drive home the nearly impossible to believe and apparently harder to remember truth, that God came near. That has always been the first message of the incarnation. For 33 years before there was a death and three days of waiting and a resurrection no one saw coming, there was this primary message from the God the Father: “I came close. Now go and do the same.”
To be fair, statements aren’t completely ineffective. They will rile up the base. They will earn the applause of those who have already bought in to what we think. They will give us the accolades of the people who believe just like us, telling us we made the courageous decision to face a sinful culture while enduring persecution from those so far gone in the faith, God help them—but God bless us. Statements will do all of these things.
But they won’t make us any more like Jesus. And isn’t that the point?
So, the next time we are tempted to write a statement—or counter statement, sign a statement, affirm a statement or deny a statement—theology aside—we need to ask ourselves a question.
What are we hoping to get out of it?
What message is it sending and to who?
And what is it really accomplishing?
Or maybe we could just ask ourselves the question found on a woven bracelet I kept hanging from the rear view mirror of my Honda Civic, my junior year of High School.
What would Jesus do?
I think we already know. I just think it’s a lot harder to do than we would like. But I think it’s the way forward, or in this case, the way back. Back to the origins of an infant faith in an ancient culture that was unlike any before it because in this one, God was not distant, angry or primarily concerned with being right. He was close. He was near. He was present.
Now let’s go and do likewise.