Before we dive into this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), please think about this scenario in the news.
Let's assume that a symbolic group of Christian leaders, representing a traditional form of the faith, got together and released a concise statement affirming 2,000 years of orthodox Christian teachings on sex, marriage and gender. What kind of press coverage would such a hypothetical statement receive, under "ordinary" news conditions?
Of course, that's a joke right there. What are "ordinary conditions" in the crazed age of Twitter and a reality television presidency?
But let's take this statement at face value. Let's say these Christian leaders affirmed that:
* " ... God has established marriage as a lifelong, exclusive relationship between one man and one woman. ..."
* "... [A]ll intimate sexual activity outside the marriage relationship, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise, is immoral, and therefore sin. ... "
* " ... God created the human race male and female and that all conduct with the intent to adopt a gender other than one’s birth gender is immoral and therefore sin. ... "
* "Marriage can only be between two people whose birth sex is male and female."
You get the idea. This assembly also affirmed that churches should not cooperate with activities that violate these principles, including allowing church properties to be used/rented for events of this kind -- like weddings.
So what kind of press coverage would this statement receive? Would there be an explosion of news reports and online commentary? Click here to find out.
Maybe the bishops in the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church in America should have called this 2016 document the "Rives Junction Statement"? Maybe then the mayor of Rives Junction, Mich., would have released a press statement condemning it, which would have told reporters that this was big news? What if it was called the "Byzantine Statement"?
I know, I know. There are way more evangelical Protestants in America than there are Eastern Orthodox Christians (and they have way more political clout). But, hey, the OCA has Russian roots! Journalists could have covered this as part of the great Russian conspiracy to oppress free-thinking Americans!
Why bring this up? The topic of this week's podcast was (#surprise) the ongoing fight about the rather ordinary Christian doctrines expressed in the Nashville Statement (click here for full text) released by the exotically named -- to the ears of mainstream reporters -- Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
Why did this document become such a big deal, in terms of mainstream news coverage?
Well, there were attempts to say that it had something to do with Donald Trump, even though -- if you know evangelicalism and you can count past four or five -- there were more #NeverTrump figures driving and signing this document than members of the evangelical support group for the president.
It is also clear that, as shown in previous controversies in evangelical academia (click here and then here) and nonprofit work, there are growing numbers of liberal evangelicals who are ready to take a stand against unpopular doctrines backed by 2,000 years of small-c catholic and small-o orthodox Christian moral theology.
It is also crucial, that in the Twitter-verse, there are popular writers on the evangelical left who frame these disputes in language that appeals to journalists.
But look at the content of the short OCA document. Then look at the Nashville Statement. What are the major differences on the hot-button issues?
Are there uniquely evangelical ideas and terms in the Nashville Statement? Of course. Would, as I explain in the podcast, the language in this document have been different if it Orthodox and Catholic thinkers had reviewed it? Yes. What if gays and lesbians who are doctrinal conservatives, who strive to follow ancient church teachings, had been given a chance to comment on key phrases?
The Nashville Statement was an evangelical document written to evangelicals who are trying to decide whether to compromise on doctrines linked to marriage, gender and sexuality. It was newsworthy, kind of. Why did it receive the national attention that it did? Readers: What do you think?