The Progress-Index - - OPINION -

The Nash­ville State­ment is a re­cent doc­u­ment ad­dress­ing con­tem­po­rary is­sues of sex­u­al­ity and af­firm­ing tra­di­tional Chris­tian views. It has been signed by a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Chris­tian lead­ers. Un­for­tu­nately, as we have come to ex­pect in our po­lar­ized so­ci­ety, it has also oc­ca­sioned the pre­dictable firestorm of an­gry de­nun­ci­a­tion. So why did I sign it? The pri­mary rea­son I signed the Nash­ville State­ment is that, with many other Chris­tians, I be­lieve it ex­presses truth. Chris­tians (71 per­cent of Amer­i­can adults ac­cord­ing to Pew Re­search) hold that God has re­vealed Him­self to hu­mans in Chris­tian Scrip­ture. Many who re­ject this be­lief see it as ir­ra­tional and in­de­fen­si­ble; and yet, a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Philo­soph­i­cal So­ci­ety has ar­gued at great length that this claim fails to pass muster, and his views per­suaded even the ar­dent athe­ist philoso­pher Richard Rorty on this point.

In fact, it seems that many who find the Chris­tian view ob­jec­tion­able have de­voted too lit­tle thought to how peo­ple come to be­lieve what they be­lieve. Many per­ceive Chris­tians as be­liev­ing in Scrip­ture “by faith” be­cause they have noth­ing bet­ter: No facts, no rea­sons, no logic. But this is clearly a false di­chotomy. In fact, we hu­mans are all be­liev­ers, hold­ing large parts of what we be­lieve pri­mar­ily be­cause others around us be­lieve it, which makes it seem plau­si­ble to us (Peter Berger’s “plau­si­bil­ity struc­tures”). “Facts,” “rea­sons” and “logic” are far less de­ter­mi­na­tive for what we be­lieve than the pre­vail­ing views around us. As Earl Bab­bie ob­serves in a so­cial re­search text, “Most of what you and I know is a mat­ter of agree­ment [with others in our cul­ture] and be­lief. Lit­tle is based on per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence and dis­cov­ery. A big part of grow­ing up in any so­ci­ety, in fact, is the process of learn­ing to ac­cept what ev­ery­one around us ‘knows’ is so. … Most of what we know is a mat­ter of be­liev­ing what we’ve been told.”

So all hu­man be­ings are be­liev­ers: “Our el­e­men­tal as­sump­tions and be­liefs them­selves can­not be em­pir­i­cally ver­i­fied or es­tab­lished with cer­tainty. They are start­ing points, trusted premises, pos­tu­lated ax­ioms, pre­sup­po­si­tions — be­low’ which there is no deeper or more fi­nal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, proof, or ver­i­fi­ca­tion es­tab­lish­ing them. In philo­soph­i­cal terms, these be­liefs and com­mit­ments may be ‘jus­ti­fied,’ but they are not jus­ti­fi­able.”

So all hu­man be­ings live by faith in ideas and be­liefs they can­not nec­es­sar­ily prove — not just Chris­tians. It is not a mat­ter of who has jus­ti­fied, log­i­cal be­liefs ver­sus who has il­log­i­cal, un­jus­ti­fi­able be­liefs. It is, in fact, a mat­ter of those who (of­ten un­re­flec­tively) ab­sorb the pre­vail­ing mood, who live by the “tyranny of the pop­u­lar,” ver­sus those who be­lieve they have good rea­sons — not per­sua­sive to ev­ery­one — to be­lieve that God has com­mu­ni­cated to us some­thing more re­li­able than the pre­vail­ing zeit­geist. It is the non-re­li­gious who have the cir­cu­lar ar­gu­ment: “We be­lieve what we be­lieve be­cause ev­ery­one we choose to be­lieve be­lieves it.” There is noth­ing to be ashamed of in sid­ing with the vast ma­jor­ity of hu­man­ity in hold­ing to the be­lief that God ex­ists and that God has com­mu­ni­cated to hu­mans.

While Chris­tians be­lieve that God has re­vealed truth in the Scrip­tures, and feel bound by Scrip­ture’s author­ity, it is ac­cu­rate and ap­pro­pri­ate to can­didly ac­knowl­edge that Chris­tians, too, have of­ten failed to live up to the best of their own ideals. Some have crit­i­cized the Nash­ville State­ment for fail­ing to ac­knowl­edge Chris­tian fail­ings re­gard­ing some gen­der or sex­u­al­ity is­sues, and I am sym­pa­thetic to this crit­i­cism. Some­times we have mis­un­der­stood the Bi­ble. Some­times we are so cap­tured by our cul­ture that we eas­ily go along with what is pop­u­lar. The Chris­tian doc­trine of sin ought to make Chris­tians the most self-sus­pi­cious of our own be­liefs and prac­tices, since it is to re­mind us of our ten­dency to eas­ily go wrong. The fact that hu­mans of­ten fail to live by their stated con­vic­tions does not ex­cuse Chris­tians when we do so. Nev­er­the­less, hu­man im­per­fec­tion does not ob­vi­ate the re­spon­si­bil­ity to state what we be­lieve to be the truth.

Another rea­son I signed the Nash­ville State­ment is that I hold the his­toric Chris­tian be­lief that what is true is also good for us. Plato ar­gued this, and it was the stan­dard Western (and Chris­tian) con­vic­tion un­til the En­light­en­ment. If what Chris­tians be­lieve is true, and thus is good for us, it fol­lows that stat­ing those truths has the po­ten­tial to do in­di­vid­u­als and so­ci­ety great good. In fact, much em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence sug­gests the ben­e­fits of tra­di­tional Chris­tian be­liefs re­gard­ing sex­u­al­ity and mar­riage. For ex­am­ple, our stag­ger­ing di­vorce rate (some­thing like 50 per­cent) sug­gests that many of our cur­rent be­liefs and prac­tices tor­pedo re­la­tion­ships, mar­riage, civic en­gage­ment, etc. That is, as Amer­i­can at­ti­tudes and be­hav­iors have moved away from the tra­di­tional Chris­tian views stated in the Nash­ville State­ment, es­pe­cially since about 1960, many unan­tic­i­pated neg­a­tive con­se­quences have re­sulted.

There is an abun­dance of em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence that tra­di­tional mar­riage yields an abun­dance of ben­e­fits to the mar­riage part­ners and to their chil­dren. There is also abun­dant em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence that, con­trary to the cur­rent con­ven­tional wis­dom, re­li­gious in­volve­ment is ben­e­fi­cial to peo­ple.

The Den­ver State­ment, a re­cent counter-point to the Nash­ville State­ment by “pro­gres­sive Chris­tians,” states, “WE DENY that the only type of sex­ual ex­pres­sion that can be con­sid­ered holy is be­tween a cis-gen­dered, het­ero­sex­ual, mar­ried cou­ple who waited to have sex un­til they were mar­ried. But if you fit in that group, good for you, we have no prob­lem with your life­style choices.”

I ap­plaud the au­thors’ de­sire to be tol­er­ant. But in light of the wide­spread hos­tile re­ac­tion to the Nash­ville State­ment, one can be for­given for be­ing per­plexed that it seems that there is no prob­lem with ad­her­ing to the tra­di­tional life­style, but there is ap­par­ently a prob­lem with say­ing so out loud.

Dr. Ge­orge Van Pelt Camp­bell Grove City Col­lege Grove City, PA

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