More than 400 Union University alumni have signed a letter of protest over the president and three faculty members signing the Nashville Statement, an evangelical declaration that upholds traditional marriage and describes homosexuality and transgenderism as sinful.
Union University is a Southern Baptist school in Jackson, Tennessee. The letter of protest illustrates the challenges faced by conservative religious institutions as they seek to continue being an influence at a time when progressive ideas are becoming entrenched in the culture.
Signed by recent graduates as well as some who graduated decades ago, the letter calls the Nashville Statement “a declaration of bigotry and condemnation that is a far cry [from] the faith, hope, love, and acceptance we were taught was the hallmark of the faith of Union University.”
The Nashville Statement was approved Aug. 25 at a meeting of evangelical leaders in Nashville and was named for the city in keeping with a historical Christian practice of naming doctrinal statements for the places where they were written. Many of the initial signatories were Southern Baptists.
The Union University alumni letter takes issue with various aspects of the Nashville Statement, including a section that says faithful Christians cannot agree to disagree about homosexual behavior and transgenderism. The letter also expresses outrage over what it claims is the statement’s “cruel condemnation” of people who are openly LGBT.
“We were deeply grieved that our alma mater, where we thought we were taught to love our fellow humans and live for a higher purpose, has instead decided its role is to decide who is saved and who is condemned,” the letter says. “It is our belief that nothing is outside God’s creation, and it is right of no person to condemn any other.”
However, while firm in explaining standards for Christian behavior increasingly treated with contempt in today’s culture, the Nashville Statement makes clear the belief that no one is “outside the hope of the gospel.” The statement reiterates historical Christian beliefs that were widely accepted until only recently.
In addition to Union University President Samuel W. “Dub” Oliver, other initial Nashville Statement signers from the school included Nathan Finn, dean of Union’s School of Theology and Missions; C. Ben Mitchell, the Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy; and Hunter Baker, associate professor of political science. The school declined to comment for The Tennessee Star on the alumni letter.
Baker wrote a column for The Federalist in which he explained his decision to sign the statement. He said that his “faith amounts to nothing if it merely changes with the winds of culture.”
“I signed because a fearful, sideline-standing part of myself would rather not,” Baker wrote. “I keep thinking about what the Bible says about the remnant of believers, the ones who hold fast. We expect the world to go another way. The temptation is always to find a way to go with it while maintaining we are still true.”
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, a left-wing Democrat, spoke out against the statement, saying it “does not represent the inclusive values of the city,” and three Nashville progressives drafted a counter statement that says “you are created in the image and likeness of God (however you define it)” and “God loves you just the way you are – no matter where you land on the spectrum of the LGTBQIA+ continuum.”