The controversy surrounding Revoice continues to swirl, and keeping up with it has become exhausting. However, it is a movement worth defending, and I offer here various defenses written in response to its critics. I will attempt to update this post as appropriate.
“We also acknowledge that different Christian faith traditions will use different terminology to describe the manner in which LGBT experience intersects with Christian faith. The terms we use as an organization are, correspondingly, diverse, in order to draw churched, unchurched, and dechurched individuals into conversation about matters related to faith, gender, and sexuality. We suspect that some, if not most, of the criticism that has been directed toward us is the result of unfamiliarity, discomfort, and even outright disagreement with some of this terminology. We grieve this reality, and have no desire to stir division or dissension within the Body of Christ. We are simply modeling what we believe to be an appropriate, gospel-centered approach to an issue around which a consensus has yet to develop . . .”
“The process of sanctification in this life is not necessarily about eradicating fallen desires. Rather, we form Christian character when, relying on God’s grace, we refuse to consent to temptations to sin, either in thought or in deed. . . . We understand the turn to spiritual friendship as an Augustinian purification that turns toward a real good, not as a Freudian sublimation that tries to keep as much disordered libido as we can without crossing a line.”
“The Augustinian roots of this criticism count more in favor of the Spiritual Friendship movement than against it. . . . Evil desire is not itself sin until we consent to it. . . .
“The procreative sexuality of married men and women includes desire for the right object, but it is always excessive or self-seeking or disordered in some way [emphasis added]. Hence in Augustine’s teaching every sexual act, even of married Christians, is sin in need of forgiveness, precisely because it involves consenting to our inevitably concupiscent sexual desires rather than mortifying them. In that regard, the spiritual friendship movement is better off than Christian marriage. . . . The dangers appear worth the risk. . . . If all ‘sublimation’ means is that the energy of eros is diverted into what, in Augustinian terms, is a different desire–a desire for friendship rather than for sex–then there is no reason not to avail ourselves of this handy term.”
This is mortification, as the Augustinian tradition has always understood Paul’s term: not that the concupiscent desire is simply eliminated–which will not happen in this life–but that it is not consented to, in act, in will, or in fantasy.
“There [are] a lot of the ways that we experience intimacy and desires for intimacy. So the desire to not be alone in your life, the desire to have companionship, to have close, intimate, emotional companionship—these are all things that we experience in relation to orientation that are not intrinsically sexual. To the extent that those desires are neglected or that we fail to integrate those into a theological understanding of orientation—we’re going to have unhelpful pastoral responses in trying to explain how Christianity can still meet the real relationship needs of gay and lesbian [people].
“We have to recognize that all kinds of loves will motivate us in the way we pursue relationships. And the way to be holy in those moments is to steward those loves well and not to reduce them to things that they don’t mean. Erōs does not mean sexual love. . . . So much of how have reconciled the faith has come through our existential crisis, and we are now thriving in our spirituality and in our relationships (some of us thriving in opposite-sex marriages). So many of us have found joy, actually, and contentment and a quiet confidence in God’s sovereignty.
“Our first value is explicitly the historic Christian teaching about marriage and sexuality. And so anybody who adheres to that is welcome at Revoice and, I would say, should find some kind of a home there. As long as it happens within or underneath that value and submission to that value, then the conversation can happen in helpful and truthful ways.”
Bless you prison, bless you for being in my life. For there, lying upon the rotting prison straw, I came to realize that the object of life is not prosperity as we are made to believe, but the maturity of the human soul.
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Gulag Archipelago
“The goal of the conference is to help those who believe in the historic, biblical sexual ethic figure out how to thrive within churches that share those biblical commitments. These are sisters and brothers who are paying a lot more than a tithe to follow Jesus.”
Greg Johnson, lead pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, the host venue for this summer’s Revoice conference, replies to a harsh critique of Revoice in the Aquila Report: “Is there anything admirable that we can acknowledge within the literature, art and struggles of ‘queer’ culture? From a biblical perspective, what is redeemable—what evidence of the imago dei is present within the literature of that movement? What longings does one find in ‘queer’ art and film that point to a bigger need for God? Reformed folks, you should expect to ask this question. You were trained to ask this question. Don’t get shocked when we ask this question. We ask this question of every culture. It is a question and not an endorsement.”
Phillip Cary, a professor of philosophy at Eastern University, joined associate digital media producer Morgan Lee and editor in chief Mark Galli to discuss how the Bible defines temptation, why it’s hard for Christians to disentangle sin and temptation, and what it means when some of the pillars of faith reached radically different conclusions.
“We ask our brothers in the Lord to grant us a judgment of charity in assuming the best until hearing us out. . . . Even the unintentional passing on of a false report grieves our God and damages the purity, peace and unity of the church. Here are four of the most common misrepresentations we are hearing.”
Misrepresentation 1. “Revoice believes that same-sex sexual attraction is morally neutral.”
Same-sex temptations, while of sin and sinful are not necessarily “a sin” unless and until the human will is engaged. Jesus was tempted yet did not sin. There is a distinction between temptation and sin. In teaching us to pray, our Lord teaches us to pray for forgiveness from sins but deliverance from temptation.
Misrepresentation 2. “Spiritual Friendship promotes romantic quasi-marriages for gay men.”
Spiritual Friendship is an effort to highlight the value of non-romantic biblical friendship. The driving thesis is that God designed us to have God-centered, committed friendships with believers of the same sex. Examples include Ruth and Naomi and David and Jonathan. . . . A goal is to learn how to develop God-centered biblical friendships in a culture that only values romance. . . . The Bible says that God sets the lonely in families. Frankly, what Wes and Ron are promoting as Spiritual Friendship applies to any Christian and especially to any single Christian. We each need a band of brothers.
Misrepresentation 3. “Revoice is promoting gay identity instead of identity in Christ.”
In Washed and Waiting, Wesley Hill describes this distinction between the former, which is his identity, and the latter, which is his struggle. “Washed and waiting. That is my life – my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do.” Many of the conference presenters are in print stating explicitly that they reject essentialist or ontological view of sexual orientation. . . . Many Revoice presenters identify as same-sex attracted. They are not building their identity on same-sex attraction. . . . These are Christians who are living out a costly obedience.
The Christian is not a sinner emeritus, a former sinner or an ex-sinner. The Christian is simultaneously righteous in Christ and a sinner. Christ is our core identity. Sinner describes our ongoing experience. It is not a sin to identify with one’s weakness.
Misrepresentation 4. “Revoice presents a bad way to tackle sexual sin.”
How can we help believers with same-sex attraction spiritually thrive in our churches? Realize that a same-sex attracted believer’s biggest struggle may not be with lustful thoughts. Her biggest struggle might be learning how to give or receive love. . . . Even though Jesus spent time with prostitutes and drunkards, we haven’t reached out to the LGBT community with love, compassion and the gospel.
“Imagine that you experience unwanted same-sex attraction, and out of allegiance to King Jesus, you commit yourself to a life of celibacy precisely because you believe Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6 are true and good and beautiful. Now imagine that a fellow Christian cites this very same passage to show that you are “perverting biblical teaching,” are being “biblically unfaithful and fundamentally unsound.” That’s like citing Paul’s prohibition “do not get drunk with wine” (Eph 5:18) to condemn a Christian who’s tempted to drink but has been twenty years sober. . . . Instead of sitting in the stands lobbing linguistic critiques, we should be rushing to the field to bring them water. . . . Revoice is a diverse gathering of sold-out Jesus followers who believe in God’s design for marriage as a union between two sexually different persons. . . . I endorse Revoice out of a deep admiration and profound appreciation of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ who are walking the narrow road in the midst of so much misunderstanding and critique. . . .
“Let me remind us again: everyone at Revoice agrees that marriage is between a man and a woman and that same-sex lust and sexual behavior are sin. In this day and age (at least in the West), these are radical claims. Do we really want to ostracize those who have questions about the finer linguistic nuances within this historically Christian perspective? What is needed—and desperately so—is not a posture of “you’re biblically unfaithful until you stop using an acronym,” but “because you’re my brother or sister, help me understand where you’re coming from—and here’s a cold bucket of water to refresh your soul.” Despite the dozens of clarifying articles written over the past several years that explain what Wes Hill, Ron Belgau, and others mean when they say “gay,” critics continue to rehash the same old points—ones that have been either clarified, corrected, or refuted. I can’t help but wonder whether Revoice critics are not listening to understand, but listening only to critique—or not listening at all.”
“Charity emerges from loving God above all, and loving everything else in and through love of God. Privileging temporal goods over the eternal good that is God turns love into concupiscence. . . . Humans yearn for the freedom to transcend their own condition in union with the good, yet they seek this transcendence in temporal realities that can never deliver it. . . . Augustine is insistent that the problem is not love per se—not amor or eros—but the prioritizing of the temporal over the eternal, the treatment of what we should use for our good over what we should enjoy as the source of our good. . . . Augustine is clear that ‘concupiscence itself is not sin any more in the regenerate.’’’
The Public Discourse: Thinking Deeply about Christian Love – Same-Sex Attraction, Sin, and Spiritual Friendship
“Burk and Butterfield have caricatured the Spiritual Friendship project as an attempt to base friendships on sinful desire. This, however, demonstrates a failure to engage with what we have said about the Christian tradition of virtue in friendship, the framework that animates our rehabilitation of a uniquely Christian anthropology. We have consistently pointed out that friendships based on sinful desire are what Aelred called ‘carnal’ friendships, arguing with Aelred that true friendships should be oriented around shared love of Christ.
“Moreover, while same-sex orientation has been the starting point for our attempt to rehabilitate Christian friendship—in no small part because romantic and marital love is off the table for most of us—we recognize that this project extends far beyond our particular life circumstances. As many have noted in recent years, as our relational categories have collapsed, we have found ourselves in the midst of a loneliness epidemic. The isolation and loneliness that mark our current circumstances point to the need to rehabilitate our notions of community. . . .
“Burk and Butterfield miss the point of the Spiritual Friendship project by viewing it as primarily about sexual desire rather than as an attempt to think deeply about Christian love. . . . We have learned from experience that chaste, Christ-centered friendships can be a school of virtue, and that living God’s design for human love is more desirable than our fallen desires.”
From Matthew Lee Anderson on Mere Orthodoxy:
- The Body and Its Pleasure: Toward an Evangelical Sexual Ethic
- The Christian and Homosexuality: Further Notes Toward an Evangelical Sexual Ethic
- Sex, Temptation, and the Gay Christian: What Chastity Demands
“I hope the stakeholders in Revoice will one day find churches so full of love and truth that they see no compelling reason to keep offering this conference. Until then, denominations, churches and para-church ministries have a significant and rewarding work ahead of them.”
“The use of the term ‘I am gay’ does not necessitate the adoption of a sinful identity. . . . I view same-sex orientation (SSO) as a stable pattern of attractions. This pattern of attractions falls under the biblical category of ‘weakness’ (ἀσθενείᾳ). It is a result of the fall, owing to sin in the world, and not the way it’s supposed to be. This is the same category as a disability or disease. Paul uses this word to describe his thorn in the flesh given to him by God through Satan (2 Corinthians 12:9) and the very nature of our fallen bodies (1 Corinthians 15:43). . . .
“Desires for friendship and love and service are not bad desires in and of themselves. Furthermore, same-sex attracted folks should be encouraged to cultivate friendships with the same sex that display these very things. Where I have been unclear is that if those desires arise from a weakness, a fallen reality, a disordered attraction as described above, then there needs to be a step before they can be faithfully pursued. In other words, if the source of a potentially good desire is an attraction that is disordered, then even if it is a potentially good desire it will end up in a disordered place. Disorder does not magically result in order. So the desire needs to be detached from the disordered source and rightly ordered toward the God glorifying end it is intended for. It is here that the biblical language of ‘taking every thought captive to obey Christ’ (2 Corinthians 10:5) can be helpfully applied to our desires. I take the desire captive, put it to death as it were, and resurrect it from a pure heart that seeks the pure telos (or end) the desire is intended to be oriented toward.”
My brain is somehow wired that I respond to the beauty of men like most men respond to the beauty of women. This is a disability owing to sin in the world. In that sense, it is not “morally neutral”; it exists in the world as a result of sin, and on the last day same-sex orientation will be eradicated from my body. And until that day . . . I continue to groan inwardly, eagerly awaiting the redemption of my body (Romans 8:21–25).
From Spiritual Friendship
“There’s no past tense to struggles with sin there, unless you’re in Heaven—in which case, I assume you are not listening to Mohler’s briefings or reading my blog: you have a better Source of instruction readily available. . . . Before putting forward a verb tense as the basis for a major doctrinal claim, it would be wise to consult the verb tenses of other verses relevant to the same claim, to make sure that all use the same tense. . . .
“I presume that Mohler is not a closet Pelagian, and I do not think that his argument here should be seen as his coming-out party. I think it would be fairer to say that Mohler is a confused Calvinist, who, in trying to make an important point about sanctification, ended up making a claim that was much too sweeping.”
“Ultimately, holy, God-honoring friendship requires inner transformation of the heart; there is little chance of overt sexual activity with a straight friend, but that doesn’t, in itself, prevent lust in the heart. And two men who struggle with sexual attraction to the same sex can, if they mortify their desires for sexual sin in both thought and action, also cultivate a holy and God-honoring friendship. The key to this growth in sanctification is to, with God’s help, always resist lust, both in the heart and in external relationships. . . . However useful it may be to have a picture of sanctified friendship, it is even more useful to know how to go about sanctifying friendship. If I want to get to Louisville, a map that shows the route from where I am to Louisville is worth much more than a good picture of what Louisville itself looks like.”
Is it sinful to be tempted? Johana Finegan writes, “As a Reformed Christian (PCA) myself, I’d be the first to acknowledge that there are real differences in how Reformed Christians tend to think about sin and how Roman Catholics tend to think about sin. But I’d never have thought to draw the line where Burk and Butterfield do, precisely because so many Reformed Protestants, including those presently or formerly same-sex attracted individuals most connected with Burk, Butterfield, and the Nashville Statement—Sam Allberry, Christopher Yuan, and, well, Butterfield herself, all repeatedly draw this distinction in their writings and in their talks.”
“Christianity… is to regulate, not to eradicate, our affections.”
“Yes, same-sex sex acts are inherently (not circumstantially) immoral (i.e., in the classic language, “intrinsically disordered”), and that is part of what Christians are given to say in the world. But we are always also called to say another thing, and that is this: The people who perform those acts, or who want to, are fearfully and wonderfully made. They are beloved of God, and they should be loved, honored, and and sheltered by all of us who name the name of Christ too.”
We hold that there is always sin in the saints, until they are freed from their mortal frame, because depraved concupiscence resides in their flesh, and is at variance with rectitude.
Be sure to see page 2 for defenses from Wesley Hill, Bill Henson, and Ty Wyss.
Dang this is good! “I feel obliged to inform you that you are, in hunc effectum, a Hottentot. We mean precisely what we say; that’s why we say it. If we wanted a church with more compromises, they can be got two a penny at CVS, so why would we waste our energy and time with all this? This, aside from the fact that assuming bad intent on the part of an opponent is an ad hominem, which, as I’m sure you know, thanks to your admirable championing of classical learning, is a fallacy . . . I should have thought that the doctrinal statement ‘homosexual intercourse is wrong’ was a more important area of agreement among Christians than the severity of the adjectives chosen to describe it. . . .
“As for the advice to ‘stop being that way,’ has that ever worked for you? Have you heeded the Bible’s constant warnings against slander and gossip in your decision to believe the worst about us? Or tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither your fathers nor ye were able to bear? Since social conventions change over time and the culture of ancient Rome, Greece, Asia, and Palestine was radically different from our own, I trust you are not claiming that the social standards and conventional signals of the Idaho chimney represent God’s final say on matters of human, or even merely masculine, style. Regardless, since we’ve apparently gone full Footloose here, I’d remind you that He does not despise dancing in his heart.”
“If the critics could disabuse themselves of the culture war mentality, which turns all controversies into a zero-sum game, they could have the ears to hear that these same-sex attracted/gay Christians are trying to discern God’s mission for their lives . . .”
From Jack Bates
A good reply to Steven Wedgeworth’s critique of Spiritual Friendship on Mere Orthodoxy. “Wedgeworth presents himself as an arbiter of the historic Christian tradition, but he manifests time and again the inability to inhabit any other perspective than that of a straight white man raised in the twentieth century.”
“Wedgeworth keeps making the mistake of assuming that his unexamined twentieth-century Western notions of friendship vis-à-vis romantic love are obviously the correct ones. However, any student of history and the world knows that different times and places have had very different notions of what is proper to a friendship, including most–if not all–“emotions and activities” that Wedgeworth considers appropriate only to romantic love. Further, subcultures even in the modern West have very different notions of what is appropriate to friendship than our Mr. Wedgeworth. Is he unaware of this, or does he believe that the values of other times and cultures cannot hold a candle to his own? Neither is a good look. . . .
“Even if Mr. Wedgeworth’s beliefs about the proper boundaries of friendship were de rigueur in the modern West, is that in itself reason enough that these beliefs ought not to be questioned? It seems to me that one of the virtues of Side-B LGBTQ Christians is that we can challenge the odd modern Western fear of platonic male affection.”
“Classically in the Christian tradition, sins have been understood to involve the will; therefore, considering a desire a sin would be seen as a simple category error. Are you comfortable with (1) departing from the tradition and (2) making the necessary theological-anthropological and soteriological/hamartiological revisions your view requires?”
“The desire shows a deformation of soul–it is an inordinate desire–but not a sin. Similarly, we might say that when Jesus was hungry in the wilderness he desired bread insofar as it is in itself a good and would conduce to his flourishing from one perspective, but that he did not assent to the desiring for bread, since in the final analysis fasting was his good.”
The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.
From Eve Tushnet
“There is a future for you in the Church which is not isolated, silent, and shamed, but rich in love and fruitfulness. . . . I learned about the Scriptural and historical practices of devoted same-sex friendship. I saw the linked gravestones raised in tribute to pairs of friends. I read the promises friends would make: to share their home and their finances, to care for the friend’s children, to have Masses said for the soul of whichever friend died first. The beauty of these monuments and promises took my breath away. . . . To realize that same-sex love can be devoted, intimate, lifelong, utterly surrendered to God, obedient, beautiful, and sweet–this is a revelation. . . . We have so totally lost the vocabulary for friendship-as-kinship that we can only imagine same-sex love as ‘gay marriage lite.’”
“People who long for same-sex love and intimacy should maybe be encouraged to learn how to do that, since it is good, and holy, and beautiful. In spite of our consumerist, erotically-obsessed, and fragmented (but I repeat myself) culture; in spite of original sin; in spite of all our rationalizations and all the bad advice, I’ve seen gay people form deep same-sex friendships. . . . Some of these friendships are with other gay people. Some aren’t. All of them, from what I can tell, have brought the participants closer to their Lord.”
“Comparing sexual orientation to greed or anger just shows how little one understands about the subject and the real people involved. . . . People who want to remain traditional in their actions have a hard enough time without being severely criticized by those who are, in many ways, ideologically similar. Indeed, it might be that exclusionary attitude that makes progressives look attractive.”
“Celibate gay Christians are among the most devout followers of Christ that I have met. . . . Celibate gay Christians experience rejection from the broader LGBT community that does not understand their self-denial, as well as from other Christians for not fitting the expected heterosexual mold.”
“Widespread criticism of Revoice might lead some to conclude that an insurgent rebellion is underway within the Church. Accusations have been nothing short of astonishing — and sad. This is no revolt. Revoice is about refuge for Christian brothers and sisters.”
“I had thought that ‘not making room for the Devil’ was the very principle I had followed in giving up my favorite recreation, but if Manny was right I was accomplishing the opposite of what I hoped to accomplish: I was ceding territory to my Enemy — an enemy who does not give territory back. By going back onto the basketball court I was putting myself in moral danger, wasn’t I? Surely I was. But what if the alternative to moral risk, especially for Christians, is ceding spiritual territory you can’t get back? . . . Ours is not a spirit of fear.”
From Covenant Theological Seminary
- President Mark Dalbey & the Faculty of Covenant Seminary: “Covenant Seminary Statement on Marriage and Sexuality”
- A Brief Word from Jay Sklar on Presenting at the Revoice Conference
“The majority of the audience will be people who experience attraction to members of the same sex and yet are following Christ, find their core identity in Christ, and are striving to be faithful to Christ by upholding and abiding by the historic Christian understanding that sexual activity is to be carried out only in the context of heterosexual marriage. This means difficult and often very lonely obedience for them. If the Lord would be pleased to use me to encourage them in their faithfulness through the faithful ministering of God’s Word, it would be a tremendous privilege and honor.”
Additional Helpful Links
- Theology in the Raw Podcast: Nate Collins
- Lead Them Home: Interview with Nate Collins about Revoice 2018, Bill’s workshop, and the Sexuality/Faith conversation
- Spiritual Friendship: Learning to Desire Love
- Eve Tushnet: This July, Come to the Big Gay Christian Extravaganza!
- Scott Sauls: Thoughts on LGBTQ+, Porn, Promiscuity, Community, and Christian Faithfulness (a chapter excerpt from Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who are Tired of Taking Sides)