This last summer, the Revoice Conference was hosted by Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, MO (PCA). The purpose of the conference as stated on the website is: “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.” Included in the talks was one workshop asking: What queer treasure will be brought into the New Jerusalem? Revoice and the related Gay Celibate Christian movement seek a way to identify with homosexual temptation while affirming the Bible’s teaching about homosexual practice and Christian marriage.
A Failure to Love Sexual Sinners
I want to frame my critique of this conference and the related ministries (Spiritual Friendship, Livingout dot org, etc) with a critique of the Bible-believing Church as a whole. But I need to state this point carefully. It is trendy to blame the conservative Church for not being loving enough, for forcing those who struggle with sexual sin underground or out of the church.
Revoice is one way to disobey God’s command to minister to sexual sinners, but in many ways, they are merely doing what much of the conservative church has done clumsily. That is, most modern conservative Christian churches fail to love sexual sinners by failing to preach the gospel and the full counsel of God to every sexual sin. I do not believe our sin has been in not being nice or kind or hospitable (though there are no doubt instances of that). Our sin has primarily been in cowardly silence and beating around the bush and embarrassment combined with a fumbling attempt to stay biblical.
But Jesus died a shameful death for shameful sin. If the human race has not committed abominations, then there was no need for Jesus to die a cursed death. And so, I do believe the Christian Church has failed to love sexual sinners, but it has done so primarily through a failure to name sin biblically, preach the gospel into every dark corner of human depravity, and to practice church discipline consistently. The church has not preached the gospel boldly to pornography, fornication, divorce, adultery – nor have we practiced consistent church discipline in these areas, and so we cannot be shocked when we fall down the next step of the staircase of sexual confusion.
Ten Failures of Revoice & the Gay Celibate Christian Movement
- Muddled and contradictory language throughout, starting with the mission statement. How do you empower sinful identities to flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrines of marriage and sexuality? How do you empower sin to be holy? If the answer to that question is anything other than repentance, we’re in trouble. What other gender and sexual minorities would Revoice be willing to include? Would they say that they want to empower pedophiles? What about those tempted to bestiality? What about those tempted to incest? What pedophile treasure will be brought into the New Jerusalem? To ask the question is to answer it. But the Bible actually tells us: “For without [the city] are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie” (Rev. 22:15, cf. Dt. 23:18). Other examples of muddled language can be found in a recent “Church Audit” published on the Livingout dot org website: “Your church family meetings include people who could be labeled LGBTQI+/same-sex attracted.” The ambiguities are rampant. “Include?” “Could be labeled as?” What is that “plus sign?” Are they included forever in any way? Is Church discipline an “inclusive” practice? Another statement from the audit: “Church family members instinctively share meals, homes, holidays, festivals, money, children with others from different backgrounds and life situations to them.” Without clear distinctions, the muddle creates real awkwardness if not terrifying naivete. Are same-sex tempted men sharing homes together? Are parents being encouraged to share their children with pedophile-tempted adults?
- The assumption built into the Revoice mission statement and in most of the Gay but Celibate literature is that there is some way of identifying with these sins without actually practicing them. The assumption seems to be that there is something inherently good about the inclination/orientation that should be redeemed while rejecting the lifestyle. But this is like trying to affirm the seed while rejecting the plant. But Paul says, “Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). There is no suggestion or inference in Scripture that the impulse/temptation to sin carries within it something inherently good, something to be appreciated or celebrated. Sin is to be uprooted, completely mortified/killed (Col. 3:1ff). The impulse/temptation (inside us) to sin is a result of our fallen nature (Js. 1:14-15). Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are, but without sin – but his experience of temptation was only from the outside.
- These movements have a strong tendency to flatten out all sexual sin. E.g. “We are all sexually broken,” etc. But the Bible clearly teaches that some sexual sins are the result of previous sin. “The mouth of the strange women is a deep pit; he that is abhorred of the Lord shall fall therein” (Prov. 22:14). “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves…” (Rom. 1:21-24). Adultery is a judgment from God, and homosexuality is a judgment from God. There is a certain kind of hard-hearted rebellion that results in same-sex lust. It is true that all sexual sin equally deserves death and is therefore equally justified in the sight of God by the blood of Christ, but it is not true that all sexual sin is therefore equally vile or damaging. Some sexual sins are more unnatural, and therefore cause more damage in this world, requiring more sanctification/restitution to put right.
- Related, is the failure to name sexual sins biblically. “You shall not lie with a male, as with a woman: it is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. It is perversion/confusion. Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants” (Lev. 18:22-25). “If a man lies with a male as he lies with with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them… (Lev. 20:13-16). “There shall be no harlot of the daughters of Israel or a [male prostitute] of the sons of Israel. You shall not bring the wages of a harlot or the price of a dog [slang for male prostitute] to the house of the Lord your God for any vowed offering, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God” (Dt. 23:17-18). Putting these texts together with the prophets, particularly Jeremiah and Ezekiel, I conclude that abominations are the sort of sins that defile the land. They are particularly infectious and socially polluting, requiring God to swiftly judge whole nations (cf. Jer. 4:1, 6:15, 8:12, 32:34-36ff). Speaking of the New Jerusalem, John says, “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (Rev. 21:27). “For this reason, God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting…” (Rom. 1:26-28). The word for “vile” literally means “dishonorable,” and likewise, the word “shameful” is used in the Old Testament Septuagint to translate the word “nakedness” (e.g. Lev. 20) as well as unclean excrement (Dt. 23:13-14). Finally, as noted earlier, the Bible refers to homosexuals as “dogs,” highlighting the beastly nature of these acts. Naming is act of submission to God and a means of exercising godly authority in the world. If the Church would embrace it’s calling to rule over these sexual confusions, we must name them biblically.
- Revoice and related ministries fail to condemn the sin of effeminacy and softness: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves… shall inherit the kingdom of God…” (1 Cor. 6:9-10). The queer will not inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. The word for “effeminate” is malakoi, and the word means “soft.” Robert Gagnon argues persuasively that this word does refer to passive partners in sodomy, but it can also include a man feminizing his appearance and manner. The only other use of the word in the New Testament is in the gospels where Jesus asks about John the Baptist and whether they would expect to find him in a king’s palace wearing “soft” clothes (Mt. 11:8, Lk. 7:25). Related, is the Bible’s prohibition against crossdressing: “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God” (Dt. 22:5). The synonymous word in Hebrew is rak which means soft, tender, or fainthearted (cf. Dt. 20:8, 2 Chron. 13:7). This is also why the Bible describes men who grow fainthearted in battle as acting like women (Is. 19:16, Jer. 51:30). The failure of men to embrace their glory to be strong, and to use their strength to do the good things God has assigned them and protect the weak is the sin of effeminacy.
- Revoice and similar ministries often fail to emphasize the fact that Christians are new creations in Christ, with sexed bodies given as specific gender assignments. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). Some, like Sam Allberry, are eager to emphasize identity in Christ, yet sometimes, this “identity in Christ” effectively de-sexes individuals. But finding your identity in Christ means a sanctification of your created body and its attendant gendered assignments. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. If God created you with a male body, He has given you an assignment to live in this world as a man. If God gave you a female body, He has given you an assignment to live in this world as a woman. This means, to put it frankly, because of this binary sexed nature of human beings made in the image of God, all human interaction in this world is inherently heterosexual. There is only one obedient orientation and it is heterosexual. This affects everything from child-rearing to brother/sister relationships, to business and professional relationships to courting and marriage. And everything in between. Holding doors for women, being ready and willing to defend women and children, standing when a woman enters the room – these are ways we signal honor for the heterosexuality of the world. These are ways that the marriage bed is honored by all (Heb. 13:4). Being “in Christ” does not obliterate those good, creational differences and assignments. “There is neither male nor female in Christ” is speaking specifically about justification and the fact that all have an equal inheritance in Christ, but that fact that Paul can also say that women must not teach men or have authority over them but love the fruitfulness of childbearing because Adam was created first clearly indicates that these sexed creational realities have not been obliterated (1 Tim. 2). This also clearly indicates that there are only two sexes (Gen. 1:27, Mk. 10:6).
- Bad homosexual genealogies: what is the origin of homosexual desire? “For this cause God gave them up to vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another…” (Rom. 1:26-27) The origin of homosexual desire is a rejection of heterosexual desire. It is not a desire for same sex friendship. It is a rejection of what is embedded in nature. This desire may certainly be driven by deep hurts or abuses or loneliness. But the Bible gives no indication that there is some kind inherent gift or glory in not embracing the natural glory of being made male/female in the image of God and therefore oriented toward heterosexual marriage.
- Frequently, the space that these folks are seeking to carve out is found in the categories of celibacy, friendship, and singleness. I believe this is a pastoral noose and a burden that is too heavy for many to bear. First, in some of the Spiritual Friendship writings, there is reference to lifelong covenants, buying houses together, vacationing, and even raising children together as “just friends.” But this is just as foolish as a man and woman doing the same thing as “just friends.” God has made the world such that certain liturgies, rituals create a certain kind gravity. You can’t be “just friends.” And while it’s certainly possible for two men or two women to be “just friends” this needs to be done without practicing certain rituals/liturgies that signify marriage or romance. But some of the Revoice folks are actually saying that it’s perfectly fine to “date” your same-sex friends, snuggle on the couch, and hold hands. This is pure folly. Two dudes sharing an apartment together should live as men and avoid any appearance of effeminacy. But all of that folly is built on the assumption that many same-sex tempted Christians just won’t or shouldn’t get married. But this is contrary to the teaching of Scripture. “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: it is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion (1 Cor. 7:8-9). What does it mean to “burn with passion?” I submit that it refers to anyone with any sort of ongoing, regular temptation to sexual sin. If you have any sort of temptation toward sexual sin, you ought to seek marriage. One of the common rejoinders to this is that Paul is clearly talking about heterosexually tempted people not homosexually tempted people. But this is to assume that the origin of homosexual temptation is fundamentally different that heterosexual temptation. But as we have seen, homosexual temptation is derived from a rejection of heterosexual orientation (Rom. 1). And interestingly, Paul describes homosexual lust as “burning” (Rom. 1:27). It’s a different Greek word, but it’s lexically synonymous. In Romans 1, it is clear that repentance for homosexual lust would be to return to the right and natural use of the sexes. And that is only expressed sexually in marriage. As Paul also says in 1 Cor. 7:5, marital sexual relations is one of the ways God protects His people from the temptations of Satan. None of this is an excuse for rushing into marriage imprudently, and it certainly remains a live possibility that some who seek marriage will not find a spouse. But in either case, we may confidently say that individuals who experience sexual temptation of any kind ought to be carefully pastored toward Christian marriage.
- One of the great failures of this movement is the frequent lack of distinction between reigning (justification) and remaining sin (sanctification). From the Livingout church audit: “No-one would be pressured into expecting or seeking any ‘healing’ or change that God has not promised any of us until the renewal of all things.” The rhetorical effect of this (whether intentional or not) is certainly to discourage expecting much healing. But the truth is that the gospels proclaim a marked deliverance from the power of reigning sin in every believer, while recognizing the ongoing battle with remaining sin (Rom. 6:11-12, Col. 3:1-4ff). This ambiguity is hardly surprising since many within the “Spiritual Friendship” movement are Roman Catholic. Roman Catholicism does not recognize the Protestant/biblical distinction between justification and sanctification. This is why Roman Catholicism (and Eastern Orthodoxy) have such a difficult time articulating a doctrine of eternal security by grace. It’s impossible not to feel the weight of sanctification as your necessary contribution to your salvation, especially when you believe that you lose your justification when you sin (according to the Catholic catechism). But the Bible teaches that justification means a radical new and permanent identity in Christ along with the destruction of the power of reigning sin, and from that firm rock of Christ, an all-out war against remaining sin commences with an absolutely sure victory in view because of the cross. It is a serious mistake for Protestants to make an alliance with Roman Catholics when it comes to proclaiming the gospel to those ensnared by sexual sin.
- Finally, one of the great errors of evangelicalism (for many decades) has been the assumption that experience with sin grants authority to speak on it. So adulterers or divorcees are sometimes granted authority to speak or even ordained as ministers because we think their experience in sin (and presumably repentance/forgiveness) somehow makes them understand those sins better. But this is not true at all. Jesus is our Great High Priest who sympathizes with us in our weakness. But He understands us better than anyone else precisely because He did not give into any sin. So too, those who remain firm and resist sin and preserved by God, are in a better position to lead and serve and teach the church than those burdened by temptations and past sins (Gal. 6:1, Lk. 7:41-42). While God is free to raise up the occasional Saul of Tarsus, and I would not automatically disqualify a man from office because of past homosexual temptation, our instinct should not be to grant authority to those who have fallen. They need our love, our care, true friendship, church discipline, but they do not need to be made authorities. But this is precisely what many of these men and women are clamoring for. Nate Collins, the founder of Revoice, spoke in his talk at this year’s conference about the idea that “LGBT Christians” were something like lonely prophetic voices calling the Church to faithfulness. But there is a massive difference between refugees of the world and apostles of the world. The former are welcome and the latter are not. The Christian Church must not submit to men and women who are struggling with these sins, or bow to their dominant narratives (e.g. they cannot be healed, many cannot marry, etc.). You do not turn the cancer ward over to the cancer patients. We certainly must listen to them, but they are not authorities on their sin. God and His Scriptures remain our perfect authority. Extreme patience and prudence should be practiced, but three (or fifteen) sad stories do not render Scripture incompetent to address our needs. God’s Word remains true and absolutely sufficient.