On the Christian left, the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is known for her blasts of profane theology, a wit honed in stand-up comedy, the 6-foot-1 tattooed frame of a bodybuilder and confessions about her old life of drugs and sleeping around.
As founder of Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints, she has emerged as a popular apologist for the liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, yet has also shown she can appeal to evangelical progressives. The Washington Post summed up her message like this: “God doesn’t love you more if you do good things, or if you believe certain things.”
So it’s no surprise that Bolz-Weber took to the Internet to attack the recent Nashville Statement by evangelicals at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which made headlines with its defense of ancient doctrines on sex, gender and marriage.
For starters, it said: “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.”
In response, the “Denver Statement” was posted at Nadia-Bolz’s “Sarcastic Lutheran” website as the work of “some of the queer, trans, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, gender-queer, asexual, straight, single, married image-bearing Christians” in her flock.
In its preamble, they declared: “Western culture has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being by expanding the limits and definitions previously imposed by fundamentalist Christians. By and large, the spirit of our age discerns and delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life that is so much richer and more diverse than we have previously understood it to be. ...
“The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for God’s creatures is clearly inclusive of a variety of identities of gender and expressions of sexuality that have previously been denied by shortsighted and limited thinking, teaching and preaching that has ruined lives and dishonored God.”
It’s hard to know where to begin in responding to this, since Nadia-Bolz and her co-writers begin with such a sweeping dismissal of centuries of Christian doctrine, said Denny Burk, president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
“If the ‘limits and definitions’ we defended were imposed by fundamentalist Christians then we should all reject them,” said Burk. But this debate isn’t “about fundamentalism at all. It’s about the Bible and how Christians have read it ... from the beginning.”
Until very recently, he said, all branches of Christianity shared a common vision that began in the first chapter of Genesis: “So God created man in his own image. ... Male and female he created them.”
The Denver Statement “is not just arguing for a change or two in Christian definitions and doctrines, it is offering an entire new anthropology,” said Burk, who leads the Center for Gospel and Culture at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. “At this point, we don’t even agree on what it means to be a human being, created by God in his image.”
In addition to the House for All Sinners and Saints document, 300-plus liberal Christian educators and leaders — “Christians United in Support of LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church” — released a point-by-point response to the Nashville Statement.
Its preamble noted, speaking to signers of the Nashville Statement: “In every generation there are those who resist the Spirit’s leading in various ways and cling to the dogmas and traditions that God is calling us to rethink and reform.”
The Denver Statement, meanwhile, affirmed that “there is no longer male or female but all are one in Christ Jesus our Lord.” In a related passage, the document strongly denied that “gender is always linked with biological sex characteristics, and we deny that those whose bodies contain physical or psychological realities outside of the ‘norm’ need curing or reparation.”
Then, in one of its clearest doctrinal statements on sexual ethics, Nadia-Bolz and her flock stressed: “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.”