As a campus ministry serving a large and diverse body on the campus of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, we at UKirk-UTK believe that all people should have the opportunity to bring their honest selves to a community of faith to know God’s love for them and their call to love themselves, their neighbors, and God. We believe that God calls people to such a community without qualification. As a result, we believe that any words of exclusion in the name of Christ are oxymoronic; the Gospel calls people to awareness of their dignity as a child of God, it never pushes people outside of a community of faith based on their honest self they bring to such a community.
The Nashville Statement, a statement that seeks to define marriage, gender identity, sexuality, and neighborliness in our modern and complicated world speaks words of exclusion to our sisters, brothers, friends, and neighbors in the LGBTQ community and situates them outside of a faithful life as a follower of Christ. Additionally, the statement draws lines in the sand for those who find themselves as allies of the LGBTQ community and equates an affirming and loving posture as unfaithful.
As a pastor and as the leader of a community of faith who strives, daily, to live as a faithful person in the midst of a complicated world, I reject the words, and the theology behind the words, of the Nashville Statement. I believe that any ideology that compromises one’s ability to see another person as a child of God falls tragically short of the life, teachings, and death of Jesus Christ, who lived and died to remind the various peoples of his time and place of their dignity and identity as a child of God in God’s radical community of love.
In his own time and place, Jesus sought to minister first to the folks whose personhood was compromised by exclusion due to the interpretation of Holy Scripture by well-meaning people of faith. The narrative of the Gospel that Jesus presents, however, forced those religious leaders (and us) in the study of Scripture that point to God and faithful living to look up from these books and look into the eyes of people, people who bear God’s image in a real and living way. A person’s desire to be right should never come at the expense of being kind and loving to our fellow sisters or brother in the human family we find ourselves in.
The message of the Gospel encourages people to see the image of God in themselves and acknowledge it in others. I believe that’s the point of faithful living that Jesus sought to embody through word and deed. Anytime we encounter people of faith drawing lines in the sand in the Bible and proclaiming who’s in and who’s out, we find Jesus ministering to those people who have been excluded in God’s name.
I believe the life and ministry of Jesus Christ undermines the words of the Nashville Statement because they are words that hurt and create a chasm between people in our complicated world. I believe Jesus would minister to those in the LGBTQ community and allies of the LGBTQ community who are hurt by the words of the Nashville Statement.
The reality of our walk with God is that it’s not quite as simple and clear-cut as we find the articles of the Nashville Statement. A faithful walk with God forces us to do the difficult work of loving ourselves when advertisements and images in the media seek to profit from a compromised sense of self, love others who disagree with us and we disagree with, and love God who, above all, loves us as a parent loves their children. Ideology that dehumanizes human beings into “issues” that can be debated or disagreed with works against the Gospel narrative that Jesus lived and died for.
John Johnson, Chair of the Board of Directors
Emily Sweetland, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors
Jaclyn Beeler, Communications Coordinator
Jack Marshall, Chair of the Student Leadership Board
Mary Grace Reynolds, Vice Chair of the Student Leadership Board
Aubrey Bader, Clerk of the Student Leadership Board