The Loving Militancy of Church Clarity: 5 Ways its just like the Nashville Statement

I choose messy relationships over Church Clarity.

And I choose messy relationships over the Nashville Statement (as I’ve said here and here, and David Fitch and I discussed on our podcast).

In fact, as I process the launch of Church Clarity I see 5 ways that Church Clarity is just the inversion of the Nashville Statement, albeit as a loving militancy.

What is Church Clarity?

You can read a supportive or critical summaries.  But roughly, Church Clarity believes (from their site)

“that churches have a responsibility to be clear about their policies on their primary websites [about being affirming or not of LGBTQ]. Following a simple, yet consistent method, our crowdsourcers submit churches to be scored on how clearly their website communicates their actively enforced policies. Once the information is verified by Church Clarity, it is published to our database. We believe that ambiguity is harmful and clarity is reasonable.” (emphasis added)

Their desire is to minimize confusion by maximizing clarity.  All of which—on the one hand—seems reasonable enought.

But let us think about the implication of a website like Church Clarity evaluating websites of local churches and posting the results. All of this is so abstract and disconnected—so far from the lived realities of local church life.

For this reason, beyond all their differences, Church Clarity is just like the Nashville Statement—but in an inverted way.

5 Ways Church Clarity is Just like the Nashville Statement

1) Truth and Love Dichotomy

On the one hand, the Nashville Statement pushed the agenda of truth without much regard for love or mercy.  This was the complaint for many people I know.

Church Clarity, however, is pushing hard for love without regard for truth—except expressing the “truth” of being either affirming or non-affirming.

Church Clarity explicitly says it doesn’t care about matters of doctrine, only of policy.  This is a typical progressive-liberal bifurcation of how love and truth need to work together.

Those of us upset with the “need to stand for the truth” posture coming from the Nashville State are likewise uncomfortable with the militancy—yes, militancy—of the Church Clarity site.  Church Clarity positions itself on the side of love, but a love reduced to one issue, an issue reduced to whether or not it is posted clearly on the church website.

2) Push Toward Statements—Away From Relationships.

Both the Nashville Statement and Church Clarity lead us away from relationships. They prefer to substitute relationships for statements.  The Nashville Statement says this explicitly, that we should separate from church that don’t sign.  But Church Clarity also says this implicitly.

Church Clarity suggests that churches are merely a different form of consumerism and that churches who are not clear on the LGBTQ stance are engaging in false advertising (See their FAQs, first section).  “Customers” could join a churches—engage in real relationships— and then find out the product was not what they thought.

This is a disastrous reduction—not just of the Church, but of all human ways of relating—the to principle of consumer choice. The application of this kind of clarity amid consumerism will just continue the deep antagonisms of our contemporary culture.

My questions is, Did Jesus function this way? Did he provide such clarity on his identity, the means of salvation, and every other question he was asked? No, he didn’t.

3) Tendency To Instrumentalize Humans and Institutions.

Both the Nashville Statement and Church Clarity drive toward reductionism and instrumentalization.

On the one hand, the Nashville Statement does this by instrumentalizing human beings for “God’s Glory.”  Humans are just a tool by which God accomplishes certain goals, principally the exaltation of God’s own glory.

But Church Clarity goes the opposite direction. It instrumentalizes the church according to the goals of the state.  As they say, churches

“are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt religious organizations. In exchange for these subsidies, churches are expected to play a vital role of serving their communities. But there is very little accountability to demonstrate that they are earning that subsidy.” (emphasis added)

This continues the reductive, capitalistic view of human institutions—see the words “exchange” and “earning”.

But it adds the twist that the church is ultimately a tool of the government.

This is a curious inversion of the goal of the First Amendment where church and state would be separated—i.e. tax-exempt (esp. see this on tax-exemption)—so that government wouldn’t interfere with the Church.

But now, for Church Clarity, the government is expecting a return on investment from the church, with accountability pending if there is not (this is partly why I said this is more militant than the Nashville Statement.  It is not for nothing that people fear this database is just a precursor to litigation).

The signers of the Nashville State undoubtedly seek to use the government in service of the church.

Church clarity inverts this and seeks to use the church as a tool of the government.

4) Engaging in Culture Wars

It is interesting that Jonathan Merritt quotes conservative Al Moler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the importance of gaining clarity.

As Merritt states, “If one can set aside [Church Clarity]’s leadership team for a moment, it’s obvious that the organization shares a common goal with conservative Christians like Mohler: to pressure pastors and churches with unclear positions on homosexuality to unambiguously state their views.”

Yes, it is obvious that conservatives and progressives agree.  Which means they agree that they are playing the culture war game, but from different sides. The church, however, should not engage in this war any longer (see the previous three reasons for why).

5) Ideological in Nature

I suppose this is a restatement of #2 and #4, but I just want to say it again.

Both the Nashville Statement and Church Clarity, in the name of helping and serving people, reduce the entire complexity of human relationships and interactions to a narrow grid of ideas and affirmations.

This approach sucks the humanity right out of the situation, all in the name of clarity.

How Peace is Achieved

I spent 11 days in Israel this summer learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the different ways they are seeking peace there.

The ONLY ONES working are the ones worked out on the ground in actual relationships.  I heard of a water ministry helping to secure drinking water for everyone living off the Jordan River. I heard of school programs that brought Israeli and Palestinian children together. I heard of farming co-opts bring Palestinian and Israeli neighbors together.

On the ground relationships are the only way toward peace, mutuality, and reconciliation.  Everything else is lost in abstraction and will only reproduce the entrenched tendencies present between people.

The Clarity of Jesus

To both the signers of the Nashville Statement and the directors of Church Clarity, I ask this: If clarity is so important, why did Jesus offer so little of it?

Why did he answer questions with more questions? Why did he speak in parables? And why do we have FOUR different Gospels instead of one?

It is because the clarity we often seek is not the kind of clarity God is drawing us into. God is drawing us further and further into the messiness of relationship, and further and further away from ideological encounters.

And it is time for people on all sides of the ideological—cultural war—spectrum to get used to it.  Relationships are messy.  Let’s get to work.


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A Modest Plea for Coaches to Stay Pastors

When God called me to be a pastor I resolved I would never view the pastorate as a career ladder to be climbed.

Growing up I had seen and heard people talk about how some youth pastor had now become an associate pastor, with the implication being that someday he would be a senior pastor.  Or the similar idea was to move from a smaller to a larger church, and the really successful would become mega-church pastors, or at least staff pastors at a mega-church.

But with many in my generation of a pastors and ministers (I’m 36), dissatisfied with the church growth movement and its lack of growing mature disciples, I didn’t want to think of pastoral success in terms of butts (in seats), bucks, and buildings. I wanted to think in terms of faithfulness and longevity wherever God called me to serve.

And so I, like many others, had given up on worldly dreams of influence and success, and settled into a “long obedience in the same direction.

Or have we?

While it is true that in the circles I’ve been part of there is little ambition to be a mega-church pastor, I’ve begun to see something that might be analogous: the desire to be a church consultant/coach.

Over the last 10 years I have seen an increasing trend of those who talk about and then implement a “side business” of church consulting and coaching.  I saw this initially with those connected to mainline churches (probably because they have an established infrastructure for such things), but now more so within evangelical circles.

Certainly there are a variety of reasons one would become a coach: because you were asked, because you feel you have something to offer, you need a little extra income.

But I think there is also a more subtle ambition at work here.  It is sometimes expresses in words like “I feel God is calling me to lead leaders…” “I think God is calling me to greater influence…to influence the influencers…” “I want to pastor the pastors…”.  I have heard these and similar sentiments as justifications for becoming a church coach, which often entails an exiting of local pastoral ministry.

The trouble is, this is exactly how mega-church pastors talk about leading their churches, and how they justify the conferences they speak at.  Have we really come so far from climbing the pastoral “career ladder” when we sound like those whom we criticize for building their own kingdoms under the banner of building God’s church?

Read the rest of this post over at Scot McKnight’s “Jesus Creed“.