Sunday, September 3, 2017

The Nashville Statement, Procreation, and the Purpose of Marriage

Views of marriage that see childbearing as its main purpose are ultimately reductionist. They fail to take into account all the purposes for which marriage was ordained, and many of them end up misrepresenting the reasons that women were created. I cannot possibly speak to the circumstances of every childless married couple. Some may well have selfish motivations for forgoing parenthood. Then again, some people might be choosing parenthood for bad reasons: to give themselves an identity, to keep up with the Joneses, to fill their timeline with cute pictures that will impress their friends.


Friends, I hesitated to write this, but I believe what I have to say needs to be said. Please know that the criticisms in this article are not aimed at every person associated with the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood or all the signers of the Nashville Statement. More to the point, I consider the signers to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, I love them, and I welcome a respectful dialogue between us.

Two days ago, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood released the Nashville Statement, a document composed “in the hope of serving Christ’s church and witnessing publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture”. It presents a series of affirmations and denials that touch on such issues as marriage, gender roles, homosexuality, and transgenderism. Having reviewed this document, I would say that those final two issues seem to be creating most of the concern on the part of the authors. Consider this portion of the preamble.

We are persuaded that faithfulness in our generation means declaring once again the true story of the world and of our place in it—particularly as male and female. Christian Scripture teaches that there is but one God who alone is Creator and Lord of all. To him alone, every person owes glad-hearted thanksgiving, heart-felt praise, and total allegiance. This is the path not only of glorifying God, but of knowing ourselves. To forget our Creator is to forget who we are, for he made us for himself. And we cannot know ourselves truly without truly knowing him who made us. We did not make ourselves. We are not our own. Our true identity, as male and female persons, is given by God. It is not only foolish, but hopeless, to try to make ourselves what God did not create us to be.

It seems like every day we hear news reports about children sent to the principal’s office for failing to call a classmate by his or her desired gender pronoun, bathroom laws being changed and then changed again, Christian leaders vacillating on the issue of gay marriage, or liberal politicians labeling traditional Christian teachings as hateful bigotry. That is the era in which we live, and it has come at us at a dizzying pace. There is an urgent need for the church to declare the truths of biblical orthodoxy regarding human sexuality. We cannot possibly expect the world to obey God’s commands when it has forsaken the God who gave them, but we must nevertheless refuse to live as the world lives and believe the lies that they believe. If we forsake the Word of God, we forsake God Himself.

Therefore, I should begin by saying that I broadly agree with the content of the Nashville Statement. I am not even opposed to the concept of an ecumenical group of Christian leaders getting together to draft a new confessional document. I am by no means suggesting that we forsake our historic confessions, which are of utmost importance. Nevertheless, every confession was new at some point in history, and every generation of Christians has been forced to rise to new challenges. The Westminster Assembly of 1643-1653 did not address the issue of transgenderism, for it simply wasn’t a real issue at that time. Science had not advanced to the point where one could safely undergo gender reassignment surgery. We live in a different age, and it is vital that we address the challenges of that age.

The question is, has the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (hereafter CBMW) gone about this the right way? Indeed, are they even the best organization to be putting out such a statement? That may seem like an odd question to ask, given that manhood and womanhood are in their very name, but given some of the things this organization has promoted over the years, it is a question that we must ask. Several prominent Christian voices have already been raised in response to the Nashville Statement. They have pointed out the fact that it discusses God-designed gender roles but is ambiguous as to what those include. This has raised suspicions in the minds of some. They have also noted that some of the initial signatories have taught a doctrine of the Trinity that is not in line with the traditional Reformed confessions or even the Nicene Creed. (Here I refer to the doctrine known as the Eternal Subordination of the Son.) I am sure that other authors will develop these issues in greater depth, but I am choosing today to focus on something that might be missed by others who are not as sensitive to the pain it can cause.

Article 1 of the Nashville Statement says the following: “We affirm that God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife, and is meant to signify the covenant love between Christ and his bride the church.” The one word here that hit me like a ton of bricks was procreative. What message was CBMW attempting to send by including this term?

On the most basic level, they could simply be saying that human procreation is only supposed to occur within marriage. That is a perfectly biblical teaching. However, I think the authors had other things on their mind here. If we are talking what is only allowed in marriage, then it would have been sufficient to say that the marital union is sexual. They have gone further by saying that it is both sexual and procreational. Why?

I can think of three possible reasons. 1) They are attempting to argue that same-sex marriage is invalid because it cannot be procreative. 2) They are attempting to say that the sole or primary purpose of sex in marriage is procreation. 3) They are attempting to say that marriages should never be deliberately childless.

I could see the people associated with CBMW making any of those arguments. The first is definitely within their wheelhouse. The second is more in line with traditional Catholic teaching, but as we will see, evangelical Protestants have an odd degree of crossover with that branch of Christianity. The third has been a popular line of reasoning for some of those associated with CBMW, most particularly Albert Mohler.

I do not deny that marriages between two people of the same sex cannot be truly procreative. That is just a biological fact. I nevertheless find it to be a poor argument in this day and age. The broader culture no longer accepts that such relationships are unnatural or harmful to society because of the lack of procreation. It does not even expect heterosexual marriages to be procreative. Therefore, you are not going to win anyone over by making this point. Same-sex relationships are wrong because God says so repeatedly and emphatically in His Word. The only way you can get around this is by attempting to argue that we should treat the New Testament gospel like the Old Testament law, with certain aspects that were only meant for that time and place. This is not the traditional orthodox understanding of scripture, and it is not one that scripture itself leaves open to us. Let that be argument enough against the practice of same-sex marriage.

Protestants have been fighting ever since the Reformation to recover the notion of sex as a pleasurable experience within marriage rather than a necessary evil required for the continuation of humanity. I am disappointed when I see anyone ceding this ground back to the Catholics. No one denies that sex is procreative, but it is not onlyprocreative. Read the Song of Solomon. Sex is not a necessary evil and it is not only about making babies. It is a good gift of God that is a great blessing when used correctly. Let us not forsake this biblical definition.

What of that third point? How does procreation fit in with the purpose of marriage? Are married couples required to have children? Is this the highest purpose of marriage?

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