More than 300 Christian leaders have signed a statement released Aug. 30 declaring that God accepts LGBT+ persons as they are and not just if they vow celibacy or are willing and able to change their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“We affirm that one may live proudly and openly as an LGBT+ individual and as a faithful follower of Jesus Christ, and that LGBT+ individuals must be fully embraced and included in every level of Christian leadership, life and ministry without exception in order for the church to fully embrace its call to be the body of Christ,” says Article 7 of Christians United Statement Support of LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church.
The 10-point statement is a direct response to the release a day before of the Nashville Statement by conservative evangelical leaders claiming that homosexuality and transgender identity are sinful and not something about which faithful Christians can agree to disagree.
To the contrary, the Christians United statement calls for unity “in the midst of our diversity of sexual orientations, gender identities, relationships and beliefs about the same” and denies “that teachings on the biblical interpretation of sexuality and gender identity constitute a matter of orthodoxy and should be a cause for division among Christians.”
Original signers include David Key, board chair of the Association of Welcome and Affirming Baptists, and Danny Cortez, co-pastor at New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, Calif., a congregation kicked out of the Southern Baptist Convention three years ago for declaring itself a “Third Way” congregation — neither endorsing nor condemning homosexuality but viewing it as a matter about which sincere Christians can honestly disagree in the same way Christians differ in their understanding of the Bible’s teaching about divorce.
Lead author of the Christians United response is Brandan Robertson, a 25-year-old Moody Bible Institute graduate who since coming out as bisexual has worked as an author, activist and speaker to advocate for LGBT inclusion and equality in the church and society.
His focus recently has been on teachings common in evangelical Christianity that he says are particularly harmful to vulnerable youth trying to come to terms with their own sexuality, evidenced by high rates of homeless and suicide among teenagers who identify as LGBT+.
Robertson is lead pastor of Missiongathering Christian Church in San Diego, Calif., and executive director of Nomad Partnerships, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting the human rights of LGBT+ individuals and helping those who have been wounded by communities of faith.
This past June he traveled to Phoenix, Ariz., in hopes of discussing concerns with Southern Baptist leaders gathered there for the convention’s annual meeting, but after being spotted and recognized inside the meeting hall reported that he and three fellow activists were ordered to turn in their registration badges and leave.
Robertson also showed up last week in Nashville, Tenn., for the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s national conference, where the Nashville Statement was finalized before being made public Aug. 29.
After being denied access to a workshop telling parents how to talk about LGBT issues to their children, he and other demonstrators stood outside in the hallway at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center praying, singing and making themselves available for one-on-one conversations.
Robertson said in an email Aug. 29 the Christians United statement is intended “to show that the pro-LGBT+ contingent among Christians is growing rapidly and to offer hope to any LGBT+ Christians in SBC/Evangelical contexts, showing them that there is space for them at the table of God’s grace.”
Early signatories endorsing the Christians United statement include Paula Dempsey and Carole Collins, directors of partnership relations and of operations and finance with the Alliance of Baptists, respectively, and nearly 40 pastors of Baptist churches.
The statement affirms that every human being is created in the image of God and denies that God’s creative intent is “limited to a gender binary” or that God’s desire is for romance to be expressed only “in heterosexual relationships between one man and one woman.”
While affirming that marriage is intended to be a lifelong, monogamous relationship, the signers deny the Bible limits romantic love to only members of the opposite sex or that same-sex relationships are the result of human sin.
While the majority of persons identify as male and female, they say God created some individuals whose gender identity “does not fall on such a binary spectrum” and that forcing them to “embrace a gender identity that matches the cultural assumptions based on their biology” is neither healthy nor necessary.
“We affirm that non-inclusive teaching causes significant psychological and spiritual harm to LGBT+ individuals in Christian churches around the world,” the statement says. “We likewise affirm that the church of Jesus Christ is guilty of preaching a harmful message that has caused hundreds of thousands of individuals to face bullying, abuse and exclusion from their families and communities, and must publicly repent and seek reconciliation with the LGBT+ community for the harm that has been done to them in the name of Christ.”
Prepared by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the Nashville Statement began trending on Twitter within moments of its release and has been widely reported in the media, with the bulk of the reaction being negative.
CBMW President Denny Burk doubled down on the part of the document he says has generated the most pushback, an article affirming “that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness” and denying “that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.”
“Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about,” Burk said in an article posted on the council’s website Aug. 29. “Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.”