Reactions to last weekend’s Revoice conference hosted by Memorial Presbyterian Church (Presbyterian Church in America) in St. Louis range from praise to condemnation. The 400 attendees heard from speakers who self-identify as both Christian and gay, lesbian, or same-sex attracted. The topics discussed included the loneliness of lifelong celibacy, the nature of “mixed-orientation marriages,” and church ministry with and for lesbians and gays.
One reason the conference was controversial: Its use of fuzzy pro-gay terminology such as “sexual minority” and “queer culture.” One breakout session on redeeming “queer culture” spoke of the “virtues of queer culture” and asked, “What queer treasure, honor, and glory will be brought into the New Jerusalem at the end of time?”
One keynote speaker, author and seminary professor Wesley Hill, said Jesus did not support “trimming God’s standard down to fit whatever chaos is true of our lives. … 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.” Others also spoke about how churches could support the same-sex attracted who stood firmly against physical sin.
But conference organizer Nate Collins spoke of a larger gay role in churches.
“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 teaching of the progressive sexual ethic, but other, more subtle forms of false teaching?” he asked attendees. “Is it possible that gender and sexual minorities who live 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.”
In a series of tweets, Tom Buck, who pastors First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas, criticized Collins’ implication that “those who oppose the ‘Gay Christian Prophets’ are like the bad shepherds in Jeremiah who act unjustly towards them.” Buck asked whether “we are to believe that the ones God has sent to save the church from His created order in Genesis are those who are disordered in their attractions as described in Romans 1?”
Revoice was clearly an emotional event for many participants. Ethan McCarthy, an editor at InterVarsity Press, wrote, “After the final session ended on Saturday night, I lingered for a while, sitting alone in my pew. I watched the joyful faces all around me, the hugs, the happy circles of conversation. I didn’t want to leave; I don’t think anyone did.”
Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a WORLD News Group board member, offered thoughtful considerations about Revoice. “We should lament the brokenness and understand the many failings of the Christian church toward those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community,” Mohler wrote. But he also criticized the conference for trying to “build a halfway house between LGBTQ+ culture and evangelical Christianity.” He called the conference “a house built on the sand” and “not the voice of faithful Christianity.”
Kevin DeYoung, who pastors a PCA church near Charlotte, N.C., took issue with conference language, especially the use of “sexual minority,” a term seeming to imply that “sexual orientation is a constituent part of one’s identity.” He called his denomination to pay more attention to language: “In short, words matter. It’s not alarmism to point out that indifference to words and definitions has often been one of the first steps to theological liberalism.”
Denny Burk, a professor at Boyce College, wrote that while many at Revoice embraced a Biblical view of marriage, they professed an unbiblical view of human identity. “We are not arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin,” he told Baptist Press. “We are addressing real-life, serious questions. I don’t think the proponents of Revoice are providing faithful answers.”
Christians who are same-sex attracted do face real-life, serious questions. Here’s an analogy—flawed as all analogies are, but perhaps useful. One of our best WORLD Magazine interviews has been with poet Armando Valladares, who spent more than two decades in Fidel Castro’s prisons in Cuba because he refused to swear allegiance to Communism. After an international campaign led to the release of Valladares in 1982, he wrote about another political prisoner, Fernando López Toro, who once told him that what hurt most about prison torments “was to think that our sacrifice was useless. Fernando was not broken by the pain but by the futility of the pain.”
Christians who are same-sex attracted but refuse to give in often face pain. They are making a sacrifice as, by God’s grace, they follow a Biblical path. To stay the course they need support, not praise for “queer treasure, honor, and glory.”
What happens to those bravely refusing to act on same-sex desire if church leaders offer mixed messages rather than faithful answers?