If you read much news about Christianity then you may be aware of the “Nashville Statement.” It has surfaced in a number of locations with much commentary pro and con. There are those who disagree with the affirmations and denials, those who agree, and those who may agree–at least in part–but find something important missing. This final group commonly notices the cold expression of facts and beliefs that seems devoid of human connection. It appears to these individuals that love and relationship are missing, that it is a statement about people rather than to people.
At the same time, I am reading Heal us, Emmanuel: A Call for Racial Reconciliation, Representation, and Unity in the Church. This is an edited volume containing the voices of Presbyterian pastors from all walks of life about race problems in the church. Though a book about an entirely different subject as the Nashville Statement, there are two details that might help us identify the significant limitations of creedal statements:
- Ideological statements vs. redemptive conversations. When talking about the problems of racial disunity in the United States it could be easy to mis-understand which conversation we should be having at a given time. While it is good to discuss what we think are the facts, causes, and solutions to systemic discrimination, sometimes those conversations are destructive. For example, if you begin to talk about an injustice you just experienced and the listener responds by saying, “well, that might have happened but it really isn’t a big problem” chances are you will not continue long in that conversation. Why not? You were not loved, not listened to, not shown compassion. What you needed was someone to validate you and to show concern for your experience. Statements of belief, important as they are, rarely meet people in their pain and confusion. Pastoral letters often do as they invite the other into a conversation. This point is made by Rev Lance Lewis in chapter 1 (especially on pages 3-6). In that section he suggests that ideological/political conversations alone “rob us of the opportunity to show genuine concern and love for the Black community.” Conversations, on the other hand, start with experience and move towards grounding in redemptive and theological foundations.
- Creedal orthodoxy vs. orthopraxy. In chapter 5, “We’ve come this far by faith” Rev Stan Long makes this statement, “Dr. [Carl] Ellis once stated that for the White Christian community, creedal orthodoxy is supreme. It is the primary evaluative tool. However, for the Black Christian community, ethical orthopraxy is supreme. We determine the authenticity of one’s confession through ethics, not creed.” Creedal statements often talk about facts in the abstract and rarely how it looks on the ground, in real life. Statements such as these, especially about what others should do/not do, might better start out with the author’s own failings to love the other well. While creeds are important–the church often recites ancient creeds each Sunday–what one does after the service tells us more about whether those creeds mean much.
As a Presbyterian, I am a creedal Christian. I do think there are lines to be drawn in life. There are boundaries to be observed and even protected. There are beliefs to be stated in black and white text. However, I don’t think creeds make good conversationalists as they cannot provide in-the-moment wisdom (who am I talking to, what do they need now?) nor do they reveal the kind of person you are and have been to the other person in the conversation. And if we creedal Christians are honest, we have not always done well engaging the ones we believe are operating outside the lines we cherish.