Rules Are for Schmucks: A Humanist Response to the Nashville Statement

Late last month, an impressive array of evangelicals calling themselves the “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” issued what they called the “Nashville Statement,” telling us God’s views on homosexuality, transgenderism, etc. As you might have guessed, God is dead-set against any sexual activity at all outside of marriage, which he “designed … to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman.”

This implies that a marriage that cannot be procreative, because of any physical incapacity of at least one of the partners, is also contrary to “God’s design” and therefore just as sinful as same-sex or polygamous marriage. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood doesn’t dwell on that aspect, though.

Another curious passage of the statement resoundingly proclaims that “WE DENY that sexual attraction for the same sex is part of the natural goodness of God’s original creation.” What they don’t mention is the part of God’s creation consisting of non-human animals, where same-sex fooling around is commonplace. I’m not sure how that squares with their take on “natural goodness.”

The only really new twist here, though, is their choice not just to condemn homosexuality per se, but to condemn with equal fervor anyone willing to tolerate it:

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 transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

They don’t explicitly take the next step and urge lawmakers to prohibit homosexual activity, but denying that it’s ok to “agree to disagree” gets you 99 percent of the way there.

Their statement is at least well-written and understandable. It got me thinking about how a thoughtful humanist would respond, other than just gasping, “This is terrible!”

To begin with, humanists don’t care much what the Bible, or any other religious book, has to say about the matter. We think the Bible has some good ideas in it, and some bad ones. The only way to decide which is which is to use our own experience and sense. Evangelicals do exactly the same thing, though they refuse to admit it.

The closest thing we have to a bible is our Humanist Manifesto. But contrary to the sola scriptura methodology of the evangelicals, we don’t look to the Humanist Manifesto for revealed truth. As the manifesto itself says, it is “not what we must believe but a consensus of what we do believe.”

What we do believe is that our response to homosexuality should be based on “observation, experimentation, and rational analysis,” and that it should be consistent with our commitment “to treating each person as having inherent worth and dignity.”

When I train my observation and rational analysis on questions of homosexuality, here’s what I see. I see that nearly everyone seeks out sexual activity and companionship of some sort. Most often, people prefer to engage with a member of the opposite gender—but not always. There are, and always have been, lots of people who prefer intimacy and companionship with members of their own sex, despite the massive negative consequences much of society imposes on this kind of behavior. Why? I don’t know. Then again, I don’t know why some people are left-handed, either. That’s just the way they are.

“[T]reating each person as having inherent worth and dignity” implies that left-handers and same-sex fans should be treated the same as more “normal” people, unless there is some important reason to do otherwise. The authors of the Nashville Statement say that inconsistency with “God’s design” is such a reason. But those who see no such design are left to our own experience and observation, and that of people we trust. I’ve encountered lots of same-sex attracted people, as well as lots of left-handers, and I’m at a loss to articulate a reason for treating any of them with less “respect and dignity” than anyone else.

So, according to the distinguished evangelicals, my position makes me as evil as the sodomites themselves, since they say “it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality.” That’s another key difference between evangelicals and humanists. Of course, we humanists don’t have “sin” per se, but we do have “severe disapproval.” But that disapproval is generally reserved for actual conduct, not just for thoughts. Our manifesto explicitly says “we respect those of differing yet humane views.” I don’t see anything “inhumane” in a Nashville Statement that explicitly extends salvation to gay people, if they “repent.” I just disagree with it, without concluding that its authors are “sinners” or otherwise horrible folks. We humanists are big fans of “agree to disagree.” Evangelicals, by their own admission, are not.

Americans are questioning the religious beliefs we were raised in more than ever before. Many of us have abandoned organized religion, and an even larger number have switched from one denomination to another. Folks who are on the fence between evangelical Christianity and a more humanist life stance (whether or not they use the word “humanist”) should think carefully about the differences between how evangelicals and humanists treat homosexuality, and be guided accordingly.