If you are involved in the egalitarian movement, you have probably heard of the CBMW (Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). This organization is the Baptist propaganda organ for complementarian theology. This organization has ensured that its take on gender doctrine has been incorporated into every orthodoxy statement alongside fundamental doctrines such as salvation by grace and the triune nature of God issued by the Baptist Church and its associated bodies from the “Baptist Faith and Message” to the mission statement of the Acts 29 church planting organization.
You may be tempted to believe that the Nashville Statement is simply about homosexuality. It is not. For the CBMW, homosexuality and gender hierarchy are inextricable issues. This group has expressed collectively and individually that the blame for the rise of homosexuality and transgenderism should be placed solely and squarely at the feet of feminism and egalitarianism. They believe that the erosion of the “traditional marriage/family” concept is due to the failure of men and women to embrace the restrictive gender roles that CBMW believes God has ordained since before the Fall. They believe that the refusal of women and the diffidence of men to embrace dominant masculinity and submissive femininity have greased the slippery slope of gender fluidity, creating “gender confusion”. They believe that only a return to their strict gender dichotomy can stem the tide of LGBT madness and pansexual promiscuity.
It is my opinion that one cannot embrace the Nashville Statement without embracing the entire complementarian gender programme. I believe that its originators and signatories would agree. I will not address directly the statements made on LGBT issues. I will not ask you to decide either way on LGBT (which, according to the Statement Article 10 makes me a heretic). I simply intend to dissect the complementarian-ese and illustrate how the gender doctrine is entwined throughout this statement.
Note: the intention here is not to be non-intersectional. The intention is to focus on one specific aspect of the Statement. Many others have probably better addressed other aspects of this than I could. Not to mention, this exposition will be long enough as it is.
“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.”
I won’t delve into the many issues that arise when one says that marriage must be procreative when infertility is a fact of many unions. I do however want to point out that, innocuous as this statement may sound, there are too many people, many who have signed this document, many who are well known preachers, pastors, and writers, who take this metaphorical relationship between Christ and the church far too literally. These are the preachers of the ESS doctrine: The Eternal Subordination of the Son. This is an Arian heresy that sacrifices the Triune Unity on the altar of marriage hierarchy. When such men assert that the marriage covenant is meant to image the relationship between Christ and the Church (an imminently orthodox doctrine in its pure interpretation), what they really attempt to do is to make man an intercessor between Christ and woman. Complementarians assert that the man is the priest of the household, leading the woman in the ways of God as he interprets them. His interpretation trumps hers. His authority over her is seen as like to Christ’s authority over the Church. There is no sense of scale.
“We affirm that God created Adam and Eve, the first human beings, in his (sic) own image, equal before God as persons, and distinct as male and female.
We deny that the divinely ordained differences between male and female render them unequal in dignity or worth.”
This is the empty disclaimer that complementarianism uses against its egalitarian critics. This is the “Separate But Equal” of complementarianism. The principle is “equal in dignity; different in function”. So it’s functional inequality. The “function” of men is to lead, have authority, preach, provide. The “function” of women is to submit, obey, listen, and care for the family in a subordinate “helper” role. When it comes to application, the equality of women under complementarianism is only empty talk, much like the “equality” of minorities under Jim Crow segregation.
“We affirm that divinely ordained differences between male and female reflect God’s original creation design and are meant for human good and human flourishing.
We deny that such differences are a result of the Fall or are a tragedy to be overcome.”
This is not about transgenderism. This is not about anyone trying to deny the physical reality of male physiology and female physiology: no one is seriously arguing that biological disparities are a result of the Fall. There is no one arguing that we were Ken and Barbie before the Fall. The differences being asserted here have to do with deterministic gender roles. This doesn’t mean reproductive roles: I don’t believe anyone is arguing that either. I’m talking about behaviors and attitudes that are expected of men and of women from cradle to grave.
The “we deny” statement here is meant to rebut the egalitarian argument that hierarchy in marriage (like slavery and other forms of abuse, injustice, and exploitation) was a result of the Fall. Complementarians in general and the CBMW specifically believe that hierarchy in marriage was always God’s design. When God says in Genesis “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you,” complementarians see that not as the pronouncement of a curse but instead the declaration of a “beautiful” design. They do not see that hierarchy as ever being reversed or undone by the atonement and restoration of Christ, and many see the hierarchy of men over women persisting into eternity.
“We affirm that the differences between male and female reproductive structures are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female.
We deny that physical anomalies or psychological conditions nullify the God-appointed link between biological sex and self-conception as male or female.”
This IS about transgenderism and it isn’t. Complementarians believe that your sex is a material manifestation of a soul-deep, spiritual gendered identity. The fact of your biology obligates you to internalize a specific identity, as subjectively defined by CBMW. Self-conception of gender is considered a spiritual matter. It is important to them that males accept that masculinity is part of their identity through and through. Same for women and femininity. Thus, men being and acting “masculine” and women being and acting “feminine” (as CBMW sees and defines the terms): these become matters of orthodoxy and righteous obedience. Thus, a woman who acts masculine, even if she is heterosexual, is in opposition to “God’s design” and commits a crime against her very inborn nature.
CBMW arose in opposition to feminism in the church. Again, these men see the loss of strictly defined masculinity and femininity as the cause of “gender confusion”, homosexual urges, and transgenderism. They believe that reinstituting and preserving “traditional gender roles” such as male authority and female domesticity will clear up the confusion and restore heterosexual order.
The determinism of your physical body is so important to CBMW that they have to address both in Articles 5 and 6 those people who are born with various forms of hermaphroditism and what is termed “gender dysphoria”, which they consider a strictly psychological issue. They address these flies in the ointment, but they do not adequately explain them. Instead they feel compelled to allow that individuals born intersex can still fully participate in the faith, which is very telling because if they embraced the message of Galatians 3:28 that gender is irrelevant to the Spirit, there would be no need to make this clarification.
“We affirm that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.”
Have you ever thought of Creation and redemption as having gendered overtones? CBMW does. Gender is everything and is in everything. Redemption is gendered. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are gendered. Understanding your gender and staying in your gender role are vital to fulfilling your purpose in creation and redemption. Gender nonconformity is spiritual nonconformity.
Many of the other articles reinforce the assertions made here. CBMW wishes to design the rules of the game so that those who have Biblical concerns about homosexual and transgender issues will be required to accept patriarchy in the form of complementarianism. They see egalitarianism and the legitimizing of LGBT as one and the same, and they want you to stipulate the same. If successful, egalitarianism will be overtaken with the LGBT argument and they will discredit egalitarianism in that way. This is why Article 10 brooks no tolerance of differing opinions on sexuality.
I know egalitarians who fully endorse LGBT lifestyles and identities. I know egalitarians who reject these. I know egalitarians who are on the fence. Most egalitarians are tolerant of all three viewpoints. CBMW wants to make sexuality the Shibboleth that they use to weed egalitarianism out of their churches.
I encourage every stripe of egalitarian to reject the Nashville Statement. Do not sign it. Although it purports to be a scriptural statement in rejection of homosexuality and transgenderism, it conceals a poison pill of complementarianism that is anathema to every egalitarian conviction.