After Exodus International, the largest and most prominent ministry to address homosexuality, closed its doors in 2013, the public, both Christian and secular, became more skeptical about the possibility of homosexuals “going straight.”
As a result, a different approach developed, one in which someone who was Christian but same-sex attracted could still identify himself as “gay” but also hold the historic, orthodox biblical view on sexuality. This new approach began showing itself through the writings of authors and teachers Wesley Hill, Nate Collins, Eve Tushnet, Gregory Coles, and Preston Sprinkle, among others.
This approach was highlighted at the July 2018 Revoice Conference in St. Louis, a conference that underscored the chasm between those viewing homosexuality as a sin and identity to be renounced, versus those viewing it as a sin to commit but an identity to embrace. Gay Christians were the targeted participants of the conference, and many within the Christian church applauded.
Many voiced concerns as well, particularly about the terms the conference employed. In addition to gay Christians, it referred to homosexuals as a sexual minority, advocated spiritual friendships as ways of satisfying unmet needs for deep bonding, extolled the community gay Christians created, and pondered the prophetic voice they had when rebuking the church’s idolatrous emphasis on marriage and family.
The conference was birthed by a void felt decades ago when same-sex attracted believers felt they had no resource for ministry and support. While Exodus International met that need for years, its closing reintroduced the void, adding to it the question as to whether or not change is possible for Christians wrestling with homosexual temptations.
Since much of the terminology used at Revoice squares poorly with Scripture, its terms should be avoided but its participants listened to as they describe a struggle the church should acknowledge. In so doing, Christians should reject the labels Revoice has proposed, while accepting the challenge to respond to their needs.
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. “
Exodus International, the foremost ministry to same-sex attracted people, closed its operations in 2013 after thirty years of ministry, amidst considerable internal and external controversies (see Part One of this series). Its demise accompanied a shift in the church’s approach to homosexuality.
For decades, Christians heard pastors and other influential leaders take the position that homosexuality was a serious sin, that gays can be redeemed and experience change, and that pro-gay legislation would damage the country. For the most part, believers agreed with these positions. Yet many took issue not with the positions but with the way they sometimes were made.
The Rev. Jerry Falwell, for example, referred to AIDS in 1983 as God’s judgment on gays, a remark he later retracted.1 Pat Robertson said, “Many of those people involved in Adolf Hitler were Satanists. Many were homosexuals. The two things seem to go together.”2 Outspokenly conservative Christian Senator Jessie Helms claimed, when referring to homosexuals, ‘‘We have got to call a spade a spade, and a perverted human being a perverted human being.’’3 And one of Exodus’s founders, Frank Worthen, recalled hearing radio teacher J. Vernon McGee refer to gays in the 1970s as “dogs and swine” who “couldn’t be saved.”4
Though extreme rhetoric like this became rarer with time, it remained. Its most egregious recent examples were remarks made by two separate pastors when a Florida gunman murdered forty-nine people at a gay bar in Orlando in 2016, both clergyman referring to the victims as “Sodomites” and “pedophiles,” and both expressing relief that they’d been killed.5
Clearly, most pastors and Christian leaders neither expressed nor felt these sentiments. But enough did, their remarks repeated in countless news reports and sound bites. This fueled the stereotype of the “homophobic Christian,” leaving many believers weary of antigay comments, and reluctant to say anything against homosexuality as a result.
The closing of Exodus in 2013 had a similar effect on the Christian population. Its executive director’s apology to the gay community, for the alleged harm it had done over the years by promising gays they could change, sent shock waves.6 It was taken as a white flag, flown to surrender any claim that homosexuals could turn to Christ and find freedom. This increased the widespread and still prominent belief in the “once gay, always gay” doctrine, a belief more Christians and non-Christians began adopting in the wake of Exodus’s demise. Psychologist John Wolff, a graduate of Rosemead School of Psychology, who spent two years in therapy for his own attractions, observed, “I’ve seen a real shift away from some of the language (that) you need to go to counseling, you can experience healing that can make you straight. When Exodus came forward and said ‘We’re sorry for some of the harm that we’ve done,’ I think it was a wake-up call to many members of faith communities that for the vast majority of people, these treatments don’t work.”7
The impact of all of this wasn’t lost on believers who struggled with same-sex attractions. After all, considering Chambers’s public apology and statement that 99 percent of the people he knew who’d tried to change had not been able to,8 could anyone really be expected to go from gay to straight, or was celibacy the only option for Christians having these feelings?
If homosexual attractions were, in fact, permanent, then many strugglers concluded they would be better off yielding to them. The Billboard chart-topping contemporary Christian music artist Trey Pearson, who “came out” as a gay Christian in 2016, reached that conclusion and announced, “I finally decided to come out because I couldn’t keep trying to be something that I wasn’t. God wants me to be healthy, authentic, whole, integrated and my truest self.”9
Others remained committed to the biblical position that homosexual activity is sinful. Although they concurred with Pearson’s view that homosexual desires cannot be changed, they couldn’t see that as a reason to yield to them. Yet while rejecting a pro-gay interpretation of Christianity, they also rejected the “gays going straight” or “ex-gay” approach that had been so dominant in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. In light of the Exodus controversies, that approach seemed, to them, unsatisfactory.
Accordingly, the identity “gay Christian” became an acceptable solution in the eyes of some who wanted to remain faithful in conduct but held no expectation of change in their sexual feelings. Convinced they could not or probably would not experience heterosexual response, they opted for “gay” as a primary identifying characteristic one adapts to, rather than a set of feelings one seeks to be freed from.
That mindset, in turn, has produced and enhanced a new approach to homosexuality, ushering in a new set of debates over how the issue should be addressed and, in particular, under what terms.
The voices associated with repentance from homosexuality, from the mid-1970s until recently, have traditionally expressed a threefold testimony. They report having been attracted to the same sex, having acted on those attractions, and then, through repentance, conversion, and sanctification, having been freed from the power of the attractions, or the attractions themselves, or both. Examples are found in messages by Andrew Comiskey,10 Sy Rogers,11 Anne Paulk,12 Stephen Black,13 and this author as well.14
While similar modern testimonies can easily be found — the Restored Hope Network website, for example, carries many15 — other voices are reporting similar beliefs but a different experience: that of the gay Christian who abstains from homosexual behavior, but remains homosexual in orientation, and retains a gay identity.
Wesley Hill, whose book Washed and Waiting16 broke new ground for this perspective in 2010, is one of the most prominent. Additionally, Roman Catholic journalist and speaker Eve Tushnet’s observations as a self-identified lesbian Roman Catholic,17 Preston Sprinkle’s guidance as a heterosexual pastor shepherding gay Christians,18 Gregory Cole’s autobiographical navigation of homosexuality and Christianity,19 Nate Collins’s observations on faith and sexuality,20 and Ron Belgau’s writings on same-sex “spiritual friendships”21 all add volume to this new chorus proclaiming, essentially, “We are gay Christians, faithful to Christ in our sexual behavior, yet identifying ourselves as LGBTQ people who are part of both the Christian and the LGBTQ communities.”
In response, we can celebrate their decision to abstain from homosexual behavior, while questioning the wisdom, and biblical soundness, of the identity they claim and the concepts they promote.
It is that very dispute over identity and concepts that found a climactic, defining moment July 2018 in St. Louis at an event titled the Revoice Conference.22
The Revoice Conference and Controversy
When addressing homosexuality from a Christian perspective, terminology is an ongoing concern, and nowhere has that concern shown itself more plainly than in the controversies surrounding Revoice.
Having once identified as a Gay Christian, deeply committed to LGBTQ activism and, as a staff member with a gay church, promoting a prohomosexual interpretation of the Bible, I followed the recent Revoice Conference in St. Louis with keen interest.
The event billed itself as a gathering “supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other gender and sexual minority Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”23 For obvious reasons, I was intrigued, unable to attend but eager to hear the videotaped presentations as soon as they were available.
Listening, I empathized with testimonials of people describing the loneliness of struggling with homosexual feelings they were afraid to admit. I rejoiced hearing speaker after speaker affirm the biblical position on marriage, despite their own difficulties living out that position. I resonated with accounts of rejection or misunderstanding from fellow believers.
I wanted, in fact, to resonate with all of it. But while reviewing materials about the conference and its speakers before it was held, then listening to its actual presentations, I found myself more troubled than enthused. In this, I soon learned, I was not alone.
The event underscored a growing Christian controversy over how believers who are attracted to the same sex, though not acting on those attractions out of obedience to God, should refer to themselves. Until recently, they’ve either remained nameless, or chosen the phrase “same-sex attracted” to identify themselves or their experience. (In earlier times, the somewhat clumsy term “ex-gay” was employed, but it’s largely been abandoned.)
Today, though, a growing number call themselves Gay Christians, LGBTQ Christians, or members of a sexual minority. They should not to be confused with others who’ve traditionally worn the gay Christian label, subscribing to a revised version of the Bible that condones homosexuality and sanctions same-sex relationships. In contrast to them, this new group, also claiming the gay Christian label, holds the position that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sin, yet their identity remains gay because their attractions are homo rather than hetero in nature. It is in their expressions of this identity, through books, conferences, and online writings, that they find increased tension with others in the Christian community.
That tension erupted noticeably over Revoice. Few Bible-believing Christians would object to a conference serving people who experience homosexual desires and want help resisting them and moving on in sanctification and community. For decades, organizations such as Exodus International, Restored Hope Network, Courage, and Homosexual Anonymous have done just that with widespread Christian support. But the idea of doing so while describing themselves as “gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other gender and sexual minority Christians” clashed with the sensibilities of many believers.
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Dr. Albert Mohler dismissed the conference as “a house built upon the sand,” which was “not the voice of faithful Christianity.”24 Andrew T. Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission noted that “finding an identity in what should be mortified according to Scripture is unambiguously problematic.”25 Christian radio host Janet Mefford called the event “a radical attempt to try to change the church’s views on sin and biblical sexuality,”26 and Pastor Toby Sumpter of the video podcast Cross Politic took his objections further, confronting Pastor Greg Johnson, whose church hosted the Revoice Conference, by advising him to “go to your elders and…ask them to cancel the conference. I don’t think you understand what you’re doing, and I’m telling you this is doing inconceivable harm to your church, the people that are going to attend and to the body of Christ here in this country.”27
The Revoice conference was held at Memorial Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America, PCA) in St. Louis and its location proved controversial since the PCA to which Memorial belongs is widely regarded as a biblically conservative and sound Reformed denomination. Revoice was not endorsed or approved at the denominational level of the PCA, and Kevin DeYoung, pastor of a large PCA church, also wrote about his concerns regarding the conference prior to its convening in his blog post, “Words, Labels, and ‘Sexual Minorities.’”28
Passions over the conference reflect the widening polarization among believers over how the homosexual issue should be addressed by the church, and how same-sex attracted people should be discipled within it. Its ramifications for ministry and teaching are huge, making it a subject worthy of serious analysis by looking at its context, its content, and the concerns it raises.
The Revoice Conference Content
The most prominent speakers at Revoice (Wesley Hill, Nate Collins, Ron Belgau, Eve Tushnet, and Preston Sprinkle) are all published authors with sizeable followings. None of them are academic lightweights, and most of them hold degrees from respected Christian institutions.
Hill is an associate of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, who holds a PhD from Durham University in the UK and a BA from Wheaton College.29 Collins’s PhD is from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as an instructor of New Testament Interpretation.30 Sprinkle earned a PhD in New Testament from Aberdeen University in Scotland, and has been a professor of theology at Cedarville University, Nottingham University, and Eternity Bible College.31 It’s reasonable to expect graduates from universities such as these to show academic and doctrinal soundness.
Their messages at Revoice showed that soundness in a number of ways. During a general session, Hill affirmed that Jesus did not support “trimming God’s standard down to fit whatever chaos is true of our lives”32 then reaffirmed an important point about the gospel and sexual ethics: “Jesus was not out to undermine God’s holy will for our lives. If anything, Jesus ratcheted up the standard of sexual purity and sexual holiness…we don’t want to adjust or trim down the law of God to fit our own proclivities.”33 Likewise, Eve Tushnet reminded attendees that Scripture was “very clear” about ways same-sex attracted people should not express those attractions,34 and made an appeal for holiness by reminding them their bodies were “altars for the Lord.”35
This fidelity to Scripture in critical areas shown by other speakers at Revoice was noticed by Tim Geiger of Harvest Ministries, who attended the event: “Here is what I found positive. Every speaker I heard stated that acting on same-sex attraction was sinful. This is consistent with the traditional, orthodox understanding of God’s design for sex and sexuality. A second positive message was that marriage is between one man and one woman, for life. Again, an affirmation of the biblical paradigm for marriage.”36
But Revoice speakers also expressed ideas that were sometimes questionable and sometimes wrong. The most glaring of the “wrong” examples was the inclusion of a workshop titled “Redeeming Queer Culture: An Adventure,” which lamented the fact that “Christians have often discarded the virtues of queer culture along with the vices” and posed the question “What does queer culture (and specifically, queer literature and theory) have to offer us who follow Christ? What queer treasure, honor, and glory will be brought into the New Jerusalem at the end of time (Revelation 21:24–26)?”37
The astonishing use of the word “queer” to describe any Christian, blended with praise for “queer culture” and the audacity to declare that the future place of “queer treasures” is in the New Jerusalem, strains the credibility of the Revoice organizers when they say they hold to a historic, biblical Christian sexual ethic.
However, it would be unfair to brush all Revoice speakers with the same wide stroke. Collins clarified that while he doesn’t necessarily endorse the term “queer,” he wants to facilitate conversation among people who identify as gay Christians, even if they’re using language that he wouldn’t.38 But it is fair to question the wisdom of inserting such a blatantly offensive title and concept into a Christian gathering.
The best way to assess the ideas promoted by Revoice is to look at the content of its speakers’ writings and presentations. The content that is most problematic are the terms gay Christian, sexual minority, spiritual friendship, and mixed-orientation marriage. Concerns are also raised over themes expressed at the event, including the victimization of gay Christians, homosexuality as a “gift,” a community built around gay identity, and the uniqueness and prophetic implications of “gay Christian.”
Terms of Interest
Gay Christian (or “LGBTQ Christian”) is, as mentioned earlier, a term previously used for those embracing homosexual behavior and a Christian identity. But Revoice named and targeted another kind of “Gay Christian” — one who rejects homosexual behavior but owns its label — in its promotional material: “Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”39
Dr. Mark Yarhouse, director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at Regent University and author of the 2010 paper, “A Christian Perspective on Sexual Identity,” (who was not a Revoice speaker) seems comfortable with the term as well, utilizing it in his research and writings.40 Speakers Hill, Belgau, Collins, and Tushnet all refer to themselves as gay Christians, an identity organizers and attendees seemed at home with, as participants sported rainbow bracelets (even a rainbow Icthus) and others called the gathering their first exposure to openly gay people.41 Gay identity at Revoice was prominent and unapologetic.
The term “sexual minority” is referenced in Revoice’s mission (see above) and indicates anyone whose sexual attractions are nonheterosexual. This is expounded on by Collins: “There is, I think, a degree of overlap between the experience of racial minorities and the experience of non-straight minorities that I think is important to note. Groups form based on social categories, and that just happens. And whenever groups form, a lot of times an in-group and an out-group will form. That’s mainly what this term is meant to suggest.”42 Dr. Mark Yarhouse seems to agree, using the term sexual minorities as the title of his recent book Listening to Sexual Minorities.43
Spiritual friendship is another term used by Revoice speakers, and it bespeaks a special bond between people of the same sex who are also same-sex attracted. It’s a nonsexual friendship, satisfying at least in part the desire for a spouse that cannot be fulfilled with someone of the same sex. Ron Belgau, writing for the Spiritual Friendship blog (a blog Dr. Mark Yarhouse also contributes to as a guest writer44), says it’s “grounded in shared discipleship”45 yet also an answer to the question, “God forbade the sexual and romantic love I desired. Was I just to be left out in the cold?”46
Wesley Hill expounds on this by explaining spiritual friendship as something more than common friendship; something less than a homosexual relationship:
We’re understanding “same-sex attraction” or “being gay” as broader, more inclusive categories that can’t be reduced to the behavior, or even the desire for, gay sex. Just as chaste chivalry, to take just one example, can be an expression of heterosexuality, so we’re suggesting that chaste friendship (or a number of other ways of expressing love) can be an expression of homosexuality. Having gay sex is one way of being gay, but, if we’re taking our cues from the Christian tradition, it need not (must not) be the definitive way.47
The “oppressed minority” theme was repeated by speakers Hill and Collins, among others. Critics of Revoice were compared to Pharisees who criticized Jesus, and those objecting to Revoice terminology were lumped together with those who literally abused homosexual people.
Collins: “We’re free even to love those who would throw stones at us.”48
Hill: ““I’m tired of people saying I’m using the wrong words. I’m tired of people saying that I’m not using enough of the right words….It’s exhausting to live in the darkness of rejection. It’s exhausting to constantly be defined by others by the ways you feel broken or by the ways you don’t measure up or by a warped understanding of how and who you love. It’s exhausting to feel like you have no option but to run away from love. Is it no wonder then, that for many of us the main reason we’re here tonight is because we’re just tired?”49
The “gay gift” theme showed itself when speakers referenced their sexuality as either not bad, possibly good, or even God-given. Pastor Ray Low, a New York City self-identified gay Christian, said that although he abstains from gay sex, he “doesn’t see anything wrong with his same-sex attractions.50 Tushnet had previously gone on record saying, “I really like being gay,”51 a sentiment verified by author Josh Gonnerman, who asserts, “There are many things I find valuable about my experience of being gay. Gay Christians are, perhaps, called to ‘otherness’…a kind of attraction that…is a gift to the Church.”52
The “gay Christian community” speakers validated the idea that Revoice participants found deeper community with each other than they could within the Body of Christ at large. Gonnerman, writing prior to Revoice, expounded on this: “My otherness as a gay man is shared with other people, and we in our shared otherness make a community. Being a gay Christian does not mean one must be separated from one’s gay brothers and sisters or dissent from the teaching of the Church.“53 Tushnet seems to agree: “But in terms of finding community within the church, right now my primary community within the church is pretty much other gay Christians. One of the things that I find really heartening is just how many people there are who are coming out and accepting themselves.”54 One attendee summed up the community theme by describing Revoice as “the family reunion I never knew I needed.”55
The “unique and prophetic” theme of Revoice separated the experience of the gay Christian’s struggle from that of other believers, and concluded their experience had prophetic implications for the broader church. The commitment to resist homosexual temptations was singled out as uniquely sacrificial: “Whatever disagreements other conservatives may have with us, surely that (struggle) should be celebrated as a striking instance of radical discipleship.”56
Gay Christian author David Bennet agrees, saying of the struggle, “It is not like other situations,”57 and Collins asked the conference:
Is it possible that gay people today are being sent by God like Jeremiah to find God’s words for the church to eat them and make them our own? To shed light on contemporary false teachings and even idolatries, not just the false teachings of the progressive sexual ethic but other more subtle forms of false teaching? Is it possible that gender and sexual minorities who have lived lives of costly obedience are themselves a prophetic call to the church to abandon idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family, toward sexual pleasure? If so, then we are prophets.58
Thereby Revoice and its participants are viewed as having a unique struggle most Christians are exempt from, exercising a radical discipleship not required of most believers, and having a call to prophetically rebuke the modern church’s idolatry of family and marriage.
Granted, each presenter agreed that same-sex marriage, and all forms of homosexual sex, fell outside God’s will, so to call Revoice unbiblical in all its positions is inaccurate. But to question its approach to those positions, the terms used in that approach, and the broader implications of its terminology, is legitimate and necessary.
Concerns about the terms
Gay Christian. Concerns are raised about the term gay Christian, for which there is no biblical precedent or justification. Albert Mohler points out, “This language implies that Christians can be identified in an ongoing manner with a sexual identity that is contrary to scripture.”59
We’re definitely called to confess specific sins (James 5:16), recognize the inevitability of temptations (Gal. 5:17), be on guard against them (1 Cor. 9:27) and not consider ourselves above and beyond them (1 Cor. 10:12). Never, though, are we called to identify ourselves with particular sins, or to be identified by our sin.
Perhaps the Revoice terminology is a reaction to the error some repentant homosexuals made when they declared themselves completely free of same-sex temptations, only to later fall back into them. But neither triumphalism nor acquiescence is called for. A believer who experiences homosexual temptations can say with integrity, “Sinful feelings draw me and I, like all believers, am called to mortify them” yet can also affirm, with equal integrity, “Sin shall not have dominion over me” (Rom. 6:14). “While I experience temptations, I’m not defined by them.”
It is that very issuing of defining that ignited negative reactions to Revoice. Some consider it a secondary issue, like Dr. Mark Yarhouse, who described his friendship with a Christian woman who identified herself as “gay” while retaining an orthodox position and serving in leadership at Wheaton college. Defending her use of the term, he wrote, “I find there is a point of diminishing returns for me as someone who is not navigating this terrain to act as though I have the final word on how another brother or sister in Christ ought to use language.”60 Yet a year after Dr. Yarhouse voiced this view, his friend switched positions, leaving Wheaton, then coming out as openly lesbian, advocating for the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, and eventually marrying another woman.61
It’s an evolution from inclination to identity to inevitability, one I’ve seen repeated among believers who experience same-sex temptations (inclination) and decide to identify themselves by those inclinations. Frequently, that decision proves to be a stopping point between abstaining from homosexuality and embracing it, an embrace the individual claims is inevitable. Since “gay” is who he or she is, he or she concludes it must also be who God meant them to be. Embracing it seems an inevitable and logical outcome.
Yet it’s neither, because to label oneself gay is not only to identify with a sinful tendency but to also legitimize that tendency with positive wording. There’s nothing gay about any form of lust, and to repackage carnal desire in positive terms is to denigrate the seriousness of sin itself.
For me, part of the “old” that “has gone” is this idea of identifying myself and describing myself according to my sexual attractions. If I were to hold on to that label “gay,” as if it’s somehow intrinsic to who I am now, then by denying myself a same-sex relationship it would feel as if I’d be denying who I really am (an accusation some of my gay friends already level at me). If my true identity is in Christ, however, then denying myself a same-sex relationship seems like a much more positive outworking of my commitment to follow Jesus Christ and to put him first in my life.62
Words matter. The way we refer to our feelings will impact our response to them, a fact leading Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission to comment, “’I cannot understand how seeing one’s self as a gender and sexual minority — a class-like status that seeks to amplify and legitimize one’s sexual experiences — helps a sinful or fallen desire or self-perception recede, and affection for Christlikeness grow.’”63
Sexual Minority. This term is also problematic. Reading the testimonies of Revoice speakers, one applauds their honesty about their sexual struggles, and their refusal to yield to them. But one also wonders whether their struggles are as unique as they imply. Don’t most heterosexual Christians experience sexual temptation in some form? Don’t most have erotic desires they wish they didn’t have? Aren’t many Christians single, without a legitimate sexual outlet? Aren’t many of them married, yet sexually attracted (sometimes quite strongly) to someone other than their spouse? Is it unheard of, in fact, for Christians to fall in love with the wrong person, having to say “no” to both sexual and romantic longings as well?
Accordingly, we respectfully question the minority status of same-sex attracted Christian strugglers. They seem, in fact, to be quite mainstream, and very much in the majority. Granted, heterosexual lust doesn’t encompass the political and social controversies that homosexual lust does, making aspects of the same-sex attracted experience clearly unique. But the unique aspects of a struggle don’t make the experience of struggle itself unique. Struggle is the lot of any Christian who experiences the war between flesh and spirit, a relentless tension for all of believers in this fallen world.
Spiritual Friendship. This phrase is an unnecessary classification for a common experience and it may be an invitation to something unhealthy. If it is, as Belgau says, “based on shared discipleship,” then it’s experienced by any Christian knowing the joy of koinonea, deep communion in Christ with a treasured friend.
But Hill’s description (cited above) of chaste friendship being an expression of homosexuality constitutes a torturing of both terms. Chaste friendship must by definition be holy; homosexuality is by definition sexual. Blending the two demands a change in their meanings, or a violation of the one for the sake of the other.
That violation seems the likely outcome of same-sex attracted people depending on each other for the fulfillment marital union provides. If Christian friendship is viewed as a possible outgrowth of homosexuality, it’s no surprise to see it also endowed with qualities more suited to erotic than brotherly love. A heartbreaking example is a blogger named Anthony, self-described gay Christian celibate in a nonetheless committed, nonsexual friendship with another Christian gay man. He writes, “I know romance when I see it….When Kyle takes me out to dinner and sits in the booth beside me, it’s a romantic gesture; there’s special affection between us in our shared experience….I’m thankful for Kyle taking me out on dates, placing his hand on my knee when I’m upset, or verbalizing compassionate affirmation without worrying that it’s the made-up sin of romanticism.”64
This, like the “Queer treasures” example from the Revoice seminar cited previously, represents the extreme end of the spectrum. But, like its Queer treasure counterpart, it’s a real and possibly inevitable result, a place on the spectrum where many are likely to land.
Mixed-Orientation Marriage. Although the concept of mixed orientation marriage wasn’t prominent at Revoice, it appears in writings by its leaders,65 and is worth noting. A mixed-orientation marriage refers to marriages in which one partner is same-sex attracted, while the other is heterosexual. Within the church, unions like this form when a same-sex attracted person for biblical reasons has declined to act on those attractions, yet still yearns for marital partnership. He or she meets, loves, then marries someone of the opposite sex, committed to that person while retaining some degree of attraction to the same sex. At times, this accounts for struggles within the marriage.
But should that union be categorized outside the mainstream of marital challenges? More to the point, are tensions experienced by within so-called mixed-orientation marriages inherently and significantly different from tensions experienced by thousands of other heterosexual couples?
One of the most common private struggles experienced by Christian husbands or wives is that of wayward sexual or emotional attractions. Many a married believer experiences desires/thoughts/fantasies contrary to their marriage vows. Plenty of husbands or wives find it increasingly difficult, for myriad reasons, to respond sexually to their spouse. The recent revelation of a husband’s porn use, or a wife’s emotional affair, has traumatized more marriages than most of us will ever realize. Are these scenarios really that different from those of the mixed-orientation marriage?
Every marriage is by nature one of mixed orientation, the uniting of a man and woman, two very different genders embarking on a lifetime of trying to understand each other. Males and female pairings are mixed by nature; no marriage is exempt. To overemphasize the struggles of Christians with same-sex attractions, whether those struggles be marital or solitary, places them in an unnecessary and limiting “special needs” class. Worse, it can solidify, in their minds, the erroneous belief that they are fundamentally different than other Christian couples who are, in fact, traveling a very similar road of sanctification.
“Gay” as a Positive. There seems to be no wisdom in referring to homosexuality in a positive way. Despite Tushnet “liking” her gay status, or Low seeing nothing wrong with homosexual orientation, homosexuality remains an inclination described in scripture as “unclean” (Rom. 1:24), a result of humanity’s alienation from God. On the one hand, no believer attracted to the same sex should be ashamed of such temptations, because all believers experience temptation. On the other hand, same-sex attracted or otherwise, no Christian should view sinful temptations as anything but a negative. Certainly, God can use a negative (for example, the apostle Paul’s stubborn thorn in the flesh, described in 2 Corinthians 12:7–10) but it remains a negative, neither a gift nor a badge of honor.
Thereby a community based on a negative becomes community built on sand. Tim Geiger of Harvest USA Ministries attended Revoice and, in his thoughtful critique, he proposes a more redemptive approach: “But the answer is not to create a separate queer culture within the Church, where Christians who identify as LGBTQ+ can flourish. If the Church is called to unity, then this is an opportunity for the Church to repent and be increasingly sensitive and compassionate to those wounded by the power and effects of sin — and even wounded by the Church.”66
The Prophetic Call of Revoice. And what of Hill’s belief in the prophetic call of Revoice? To me, reflecting on my own experiences with both the church and the gay community, it overstates the role of same-sex strugglers and understates the call all believers share: to be examples, to each other and the world, of lives conformed to God’s Word and yielded to His will.
In that sense, any person saying “no” to deeply ingrained sin and “yes” to God becomes a testimony worth hearing from, whatever the sin may be. Perhaps the greatest error Revoice committed was that of casting itself into a too-specialized light, not realizing its attendees have far more in common with all Christians than they have differences.
In attempting to overspecialize, Revoice has redefined the sanctification experience with terms that are unbiblical, likely to enhance more confusion than truth, and solidifying those calling themselves gay Christians in a mindset that holds the luxury of a victim’s status but none of a Victor’s power.
As a conference, it’s not alone in this redefinition. The Devoted Conference, sponsored by the organization Love Boldly, offers youth pastors “tools and resources for your life and ministry with LGBTQ+ youth.”67 Its speakers include Revoice leader Nate Collins; author Gregory Coles (whose book Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity [InterVarsity Press, 2017] was reviewed by this author for the Christian Research Journal68); former Exodus executive director Alan Chambers; and Christy Messick, a lesbian in a same-sex marriage and a participant in the Reformation Project, which seeks to “reform church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity,” envisioning “a global church that fully affirms LGBTQ people.”69
The trends are clear, and the body of Christ is challenged to embrace ministry approaches that are biblically sound, reject those that have fallen short, and avoid those that claim a form of godliness but compromise that very thing, often leading to an embrace of what they claim to renounce.
For those reasons, come next June 2019 when the second Revoice Conference is convened in St. Louis, my hope is that discerning Christians will politely decline.
Joe Dallas is the program director of Genesis Counseling in Tustin, California, a Christian counseling service to men dealing with sexual addiction, homosexuality, and other sexual/relational problems. He is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors and is the author of several books on human sexuality, including Speaking of Homosexuality (Baker Books, 2016).
1 Hans Johnson and William Eskridge, “The Legacy of Falwell’s Bully Pulpit,” The Washington Post, May 19, 2007, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp dyn/content/article/2007/05/18/AR2007051801392.html.
2 Leslie Bentz, “The Top 10: Facebook ‘Vomit’ Button for Gays and Other Pat Robertson Quotes,” CNN, July 9, 2013, https://www.cnn.com/2013/07/09/us/pat-robertson-facebook-remark/index.html.
3 Edward I. Kochnov, “Senator Helms’s Callousness toward AIDS Victims,” New York Times, November 7, 1987, https://www.nytimes.com/1987/11/07/opinion/senator-helms-s-callousness-toward-aids-victims.html.
4 Frank Worthen, Destiny Bridge (Winnipeg: Forever Books, 2010), 174.
5 Stephen Lemons, “Tempe Pastor Hails Orlando Massacre for Leaving ‘50 Less Pedophiles in This World,’“ Phoenix New Times, June 13, 2016, https://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/news/tempe-pastor-hails-orlando-massacre-for-leaving-50-less-pedophiles-in-this-world-video-8372346; and Meg Wagner, “California Pastor Rejoices in Massacre at Orlando Gay Club ‘The Tragedy Is That More of Them Didn’t Die,’“ New York Daily News, June 14, 2016, http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/california-pastor-celebrates-massacre-orlando-gay-club-article-1.2673335.
6 Melissa Steffan, “Alan Chambers Apologizes to Gay Community, Exodus International to Shut Down,” Christianity Today, June 21, 2013, https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2013/june/alan-chambers-apologizes-to-gay-community-exodus.html.
7 Religion News Services, “They’re Gay, They’re Christian and They’re Celibate!,” Huffington Post, August 4, 2014, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/04/gay-christian-celibacy_n_5649015.html.
8 “Ex-Gay Panel Discussion with Alan Chambers,” January 6, 2012, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXgA7_QRvhg.
9 Jonathan Merritt, “Christian Rock Star Comes Out as Gay. Here’s the Letter He Wrote to the World,” Religion News Service, May 31, 2016, https://religionnews.com/2016/05/31/christian-rockstar-comes-out-as-gay-heres-the-letter-he-wrote-to-the-world/.
10 “About Andrew,” http://andrewcomiskey.com/about-andrew/.
11 Sy Rogers, “The Man in the Mirror,” Exodus Global Alliance, https://www.exodusglobalalliance.org/themaninthemirrorp338.php.
12 “Anne Paulk’s testimony for Amazing Love Event,” YouTube, September 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GTTloRVQjj8.
13 “Stephen Black’s Bio,” https://www.stephenblack.org/stephen-black-s-bio.
14 Mark Ellis, “Jesus Movement Prodigal Slid into Homosexual Sin, but God’s Love Drew Him Out,” March 14, 2013, God Reports, https://blog.godreports.com/2013/03/jesus-movement-prodigal-slid-into-homosexual-sin-but-gods-love-drew-him-out/.
15 “Transformational Stories,” Restored Hope Network, https://www.restoredhopenetwork.org/transformational-stories.
16 Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016).
17 Eve Tushnet, Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith (Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 2014).
18 Preston Sprinkle, People to Be Loved: Why Homosexuality Is Not Just an Issue (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015).
19 Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2017). For my review of this book, see Joe Dallas, “Wrestling with the ‘Gay Christian’ Label,” Christian Research Journal 40, 6 (2017), https://www.equip.org/article/wrestling-with-the-gay-christian-label/.
20 Nate Collins, All But Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Harper Collins, 2017).
21 “Musings on God, Sexuality, and Relationships,” Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/author/rbelgau/.
22 Revoice 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180615231009/https:/revoice.us/.
23 Revoice 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180615231009/https:/revoice.us/.
24 Dr. Albert Mohler, “Torn between Two Cultures? Revoice, LGBT Identity, and Biblical Christianity,” Albert Mohler blog, August 2, 2018, https://albertmohler.com/2018/08/02/torn-two-cultures-revoice-lgbt-identity-biblical-christianity/.
25 Andrew T. Walker, “What about Revoice?,” The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commissions of the Southern Baptist Convention website, https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/what-about-revoice.
26 “Pro LGBT Revoice Conference,” Janet Mefford Today podcast, June 1, 2018, https://soundcloud.com/janetmefferdtoday/6-01-18-janet-mefferd-today.
27 Cross Politic, YouTube, July 15, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wb5yk2IdGpc.
28 Kevin DeYoung, “Words, Labels, and ‘Sexual Minorities,’” The Gospel Coalition, June 1, 2018, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/words-labels-sexual-minorities/. PCA pastor Scott Sauls initially endorsed but rescinded his endorsement prior to the conference (see the June 15, 2018, capture of Revoice 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180615231009/https:/revoice.us/).
29 “Dr. Wesley Hill,” Trinity School for Ministry, http://www.tsm.edu/dr_wesley_hill/.
30 “Dr. Nate Collins Writer/Speaker,” The Center for Faith Sexuality and Gender, https://centerforfaith.com/about/leadership/dr-nate-collins.
31 “About Preston Sprinkle,” https://www.prestonsprinkle.com/about/.
32 Wesley Hill, Revoice Conference (General Session 3), July 28, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JeXx6HjFXc.
33 Wesley Hill, Revoice Conference (General Session 3), July 28, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9JeXx6HjFXc.
34 Eve Tushnet, Revoice General Session, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xC4u02b9-gk.
35 Eve Tushnet, Revoice General Session, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xC4u02b9-gk.
36 Tim Geiger, “Thoughts on Revoice,” Harvest USA, https://www.harvestusa.org/thoughts-on-revoice/#.W7Ti7fZFzIV.
37 Revoice 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180615231009/https:/revoice.us/. The workshop had been previously titled, “Possibility Models in Queer Theory and Literature: An Adventure,” Revoice 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180328083146/https://revoice.us/.
38 Mark Galli, “Revoice’s Founder Answers the LGBT Conference’s Critics,” Christianity Today, July 25, 2018, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/july-web-only/revoices-founder-answers-lgbt-conferences-critics.html.
39 Revoice 2018, https://web.archive.org/web/20180615231009/https:/revoice.us/.
40 Mark A. Yarhouse, Tranese Morgan, Kristin Anthony, Julia Sadusky, “Celibate Gay Christians: Sexual Identity and Religious Beliefs and Practices,” Sage journals, March 9, 2017, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1542305017693245. Dr. Yarhouse’s 2010 paper “A Christian Perspective on Sexual Identity” is accessible at the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding on the Trinity International University website, https://henrycenter.tiu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Yarhouse-Homosexuality.pdf. For the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, see https://sexualidentityinstitute.org/.
41 Wesley Hill, “Revoice and the Vocation of Yes,” First Things, August 7, 2018, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/08/revoice-and-a-vocation-of-yes.
42 Galli, “Revoice’s Founder Answers the LGBT Conference’s Critics.”
43 Dr. Mark Yarhouse, Listening to Sexual Minorities (Downers Grove, IN: IVP Academic, 2018). The term “sexual minority” is increasingly common among Christians seeking to live within “the traditional Christian sex ethic” (see, e.g., Sexual Minority Fellowship, St. Louis, SMF, https://smf-stlouis.org/).
44 Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/author/myarhouse/.
45 Ron Belgau, “Spiritual Friendship in 300 Words,” Spiritual Friendship blog, August 29, 2012, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2012/08/29/spiritual-friendship-in-300-words/.
46 Belgau, “Spiritual Friendship in 300 Words.”
47 Wesley Hill, “Is Being Gay Sanctifiable?,” Spiritual Friendship blog, February 26, 2014, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/02/26/is-being-gay-sanctifiable/.
48 Michael Gryboski, “Revoice Speakers ‘Lament’ Treatment of Gay Christians in Church, Share Stories of Rejection,” Christian Post, August 1, 2018, https://www.christianpost.com/news/revoice-speakers-lament-treatment-gay-christians-church-share-stories-rejection-226528/.
49 Michael Gryboski, “Revoice Speakers ‘Lament’ Treatment of Gay Christians in Church, Share Stories of Rejection,” Christian Post, August 1, 2018, https://www.christianpost.com/news/revoice-speakers-lament-treatment-gay-christians-church-share-stories-rejection-226528/.
50 Rob Ditmer, “Here’s What Actually Happened at Revoice,” Church Leaders, July 31, 2018, https://churchleaders.com/news/329927-heres-what-actually-happened-at-revoice.html.
51 Mark Oppenheimer, “A Gay Catholic Voice against Same-Sex Marriage,” New York Times, June 4, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/05/us/05beliefs.html.
52 Josua Gonnerman, “Why I Call Myself a Gay Christian,” First Things, May 23, 2012, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2012/05/why-i-call-myself-a-gay-christian.
53 Gonnerman, “Why I Call Myself a Gay Christian.”
54 Sean Salai, “‘Gay and Catholic’: An Interview with Author Eve Tushnet,”
American Magazine, July 3, 2014, https://www.americamagazine.org/content/all-things/gay-and-catholic-interview-author-eve-tushnet.
55 Wesley Hill, “Revoice and a Vocation of Yes,” First Things, August 7, 2018, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/08/revoice-and-a-vocation-of-yes.
56 Gryboski, “Revoice Speakers.”
57 David Bennett, “Why I Call Myself a Gay Celibate Christian,” Christian Today, September 1, 2017, https://www.christiantoday.com/article/why-i-call-myself-a-gay-celibate-christian-and-say-no-to-nashville/112891.htm.
58 Ditmer, “Here’s What Actually Happened at Revoice.”
59 Mohler, “Torn between Two Cultures?”
60 Dr. Mark Yarhouse, “On the Expectation of Change,” Spiritual Friendship blog, December 16, 2014, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/12/16/on-the-expectation-of-change/#more-4105.
61 Julie Rodgers, “How a Leading Christian College Turned against Its Gay Leader,” Time Magazine, February 23, 2016, http://time.com/4233666/wheaton-college-gay-leader/.
62 Jonathan Berry, “Why Not Say You’re Gay?,” Living Out, websitehttp://www.livingout.org/why-not-say-you-re-gay-.
63 Andrew Walker, “What About Revoice?,” The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commissions of the Southern Baptist Convention, https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/what-about-revoice.
64 “Are Celibate Gay Christians Prohibited from Same-Sex Romance?,” Liturgical Queer, July 24, 2018, https://liturgicalqueer.com/2018/07/24/are-celibate-gay-christians-prohibited-from-same-sex-romance/.
65 Mike Allen, “Celibacy vs. Mixed Orientation Marriage: Is There Too Much Celibacy Talk in Side B?,” Spiritual Friendship blog, June 10, 2016, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2016/06/10/celibacy-vs-mixed-orientation-marriage-is-there-too-much-celibacy-talk-in-side-b/. For a particularly clear articulation by a writer on the Spiritual Friendship blog (not a speaker at Revoice), see Melinda Selmys, “Orientation Change vs. Mixed Orientation Marriage,” Spiritual Friendship blog, September 24, 2013, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/09/24/orientation-change-vs-mixed-orientation-marriage/.
66 Geiger, “Thoughts.”
67 “Devoted for Youth Pastors,” Love Boldly, https://www.loveboldly.net/devoted.
68 Joe Dallas, “Wrestling with the Gay Christian Label: A Review of Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity by Gregory Coles,” Christian Research Journal, 40, 6 (2017): 56, also online at https://www.equip.org/article/wrestling-with-the-gay-christian-label/.
69 The Reformation Project, https://www.reformationproject.org/.