The chaos and confusion which are the inevitable products of the Sexual Revolution continue to expand and the challenges constantly proliferate. The LGBTQ+ revolution has long been the leading edge of the expanding chaos, and by now the genuinely revolutionary nature of the movement is fully apparent. The normalization of the behaviors and relationships and identities included (for now) in the LGBTQ+ spectrum will require nothing less than turning the world upside down.
This revolution requires a total redefinition of morality, cultural authority, personal identity, and more. The revolution requires a new vocabulary and a radically revised dictionary. Ultimately, the moral revolutionaries seek to redefine reality itself. And this revolution has no stopping point. The plus sign at the end of LGBTQ+ is a signal of more challenges sure to come.
Just a few days ago, a conference was held in St. Louis. The "Revoice" conference was advertised as "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."
The name was no accident, as the organizers called for a "revoicing" of the evangelical message on issues of sexuality, sexual identity, and beyond.
The organizers stated plainly that they "envision a future Christianity where LGBT people can be open and transparent in their faith communities about their orientation and/or experience of gender dysphoria without feeling inferior to their straight, cisgender brothers and sisters; where churches not only utilize but also celebrate the unique opportunities that life-long celibate LGBT people have to serve others; where Christian leaders boast about the faith of LGBT people who are living a sacrificial obedience for the sake of the Kingdom; and where LGBT people are welcomed into families so they, too, can experience the joys, challenges, and benefits of kinship."
They also stated emphatically: "We believe that the Bible restricts sexual activity to the context of a marriage covenant, which is defined in the Bible as the emotional, spiritual, and physical union of a man and a woman that is ordered toward procreation." And, "At the same time, we also believe that the Bible honors those who live out an extended commitment to celibacy, and that unmarried people should play a uniquely valuable role in the lives of local faith communities."
They acknowledged that these convictions "constitute the 'traditional sexual ethic', because it represents the worldview that the Bible consistently teaches across both the Old and New Testaments and that Christians have historically believed for millennia."
In other contexts, organizers have identified themselves with "great tradition Christianity," a recognition of a constant pattern of Christian teaching faithful to Scripture. That theological tradition is the source of the "traditional sexual ethic" acknowledged by the organizers.
The language is important, as language always is. The mission statement and website of the conference refer over and over again to "LGBT people" and uses the language of "sexual minorities" and even "queer Christians."
The principal organizer of the conference, Nate Collins, told Christianity Today: "We all believe that the Bible teaches a traditional, historic understanding of sexuality in marriage, and so we are not attempting in any way to redefine any of those doctrines. We're trying to live within the bounds of historic Christian teaching about sexuality and gender. But we find difficulty doing that for a lot of reasons."
Actually, the signals sent by many involved in the conference are a bit confusing, to say the least. In recent years, some in the evangelical world have urged references to "Side A" and "Side B" Christians who identify as LGBTQ. Side A refers to those who have abandoned the historic Christian teaching about sexuality and marriage and now affirm same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage. The Side A advocates are more associated with liberal Protestant denominations that have long ago abandoned biblical orthodoxy and now preach the sexual revolution.
Side B refers to those who identify as both LGBTQ and Christian, and who affirm the traditional Christian ethic on sexuality and marriage. Revoice seems clearly to identify as Side B, but some of the main organizers and speakers gladly join in common efforts with Side A advocates. LGBTQ identity binds Side A and Side B advocates together.
We should also note that Revoice did not have much of a voice on transgender questions. It is not at all clear, for example, what in the leaders' minds celibacy or a commitment to "the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality" is supposed to mean for the "T" in LGBT. Even the use of "LGBT" in this context is impossible to square with "historic Christian teaching about sexuality and gender."
Gregory Coles, author of Single, Gay, Christian, was worship leader for Revoice. In the book, Coles raises the scenario of two women who identify as Christians, one a lesbian married to a woman and the other a "straight" Christian who says she believes in the biblical ethic restricting sex to marriage between a man and a woman, but who is promiscuous in a series of heterosexual relationships. Coles then writes, "Theologically, I am more in agreement with the second friend. But whose life is most honoring to God? Who really loves Jesus more? Who am I more likely to see in heaven? I don't know."
Of course, that is a strange and forced scenario. The biblical answer would be that both women are living in sinful violation of Scripture.
Earlier in the book, Coles spoke of being in a room that included some who identify as Side A and some who identify as Side B (as Coles does). But his description of the predicament is telling. When asked to identify as Side A or Side B, Coles writes: "I didn't want to be reduced to a simple yes or no. I wanted a new side, something further along the alphabet, something full of asterisks and footnotes and caveats. I've never been fluent in the language of binaries."
Several issues press for immediate attention. One is the identification of people as "LGBT Christians" or "gay Christians." This language implies that Christians can be identified in an ongoing manner with a sexual identity that is contrary to Scripture. Behind the language is the modern conception of identity theory that is, in the end, fundamentally unbiblical. The use of the language of "sexual minorities" is a further extension of identity theory and modern critical theory and analysis. In this context, "sexual minority" simultaneously implies permanent identity and a demand for recognition as a minority. As Kevin DeYoung rightly noted, the use of this language implies a political status.
The larger problem is the idea that any believer can claim identity with a pattern of sexual attraction that is itself sinful. The Apostle Paul answers this question definitively when he explains in 1 Corinthians 6:11, such were some of you. But, writes Paul by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, "you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God."
There have been Christian believers throughout the entire history of the church that have struggled with same-sex temptation and who have come to know that pattern of temptation as what we now understand as a sexual orientation. Whatever the language we choose to use, Christians do understand that some people come to know a pattern of temptation and sexual attraction that is directed toward others of the same sex. In his book, All But Invisible, Nate Collins argues that the most important element in same-sex orientation is its "givenness." By that he means that it is an orientation or pattern of attraction that is not chosen but discovered.
But "givenness" in a fallen world does not mean that the orientation -- the same-sex attraction itself -- is not sinful. The Bible identifies internal temptation as sin. As Denny Burk and Heath Lambert argue, "same-sex attraction, not just homosexual behavior, is sinful." We are called to repent both of sin and of any inner temptation to sin.
The issues here are bigger than sexuality. As Denny Burk and Rosaria Butterfield rightly explain, we confront here a basic evangelical disagreement with Roman Catholicism. Ever since the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Roman Catholic Church has insisted that involuntary incentive to sin is not itself sin. In the most amazing sentence, the Council of Trent declared: "This concupiscence, which the apostle sometimes calls sin, the holy Synod declares that the Catholic Church has never understood it to be called sin." Don't miss the acknowledgement that the doctrine of Trent is contrary to the language of the apostle. Furthermore, remember that Catholic theology includes both infant baptism and baptismal regeneration -- meaning that evangelicals and Catholics have fundamentally divergent understandings of both justification and sanctification.
John Calvin referred to concupiscence as "depraved" and "at variance with rectitude." In this verdict, Calvin was joined by other Protestants -- and the New Testament. Just think of the language of the historic Book of Common Prayer, praying in repentance for the "devices and desires of our own hearts."
Surely, the mortification of sin required of Christians would demand that we put as much distance as possible between ourselves and any temptation to sin (Romans 8:12-13).
In the interview with Christianity Today just prior to the conference, Nate Collins attempted to respond to criticisms by insisting, as he does in his book, that sexual orientation and same-sex attraction are not always erotic, but can be celebrated as aesthetic and relational. He affirms that same-sex sexual attraction is sinful, but he argues that sexual orientation is actually not necessarily erotic, but centered in "the perception and admiration of personal beauty." In his book he refers to this as an "aesthetic orientation," a term he concedes is his own.
Wesley Hill, another speaker at Revoice, is a major proponent of "spiritual friendships" within LBGT identity. He has written: "Being gay is, for me, as much a sensibility as anything else: a heightened sensitivity to and passion for same-sex beauty . . . ."
Same-sex attraction is not limited to sexual attraction, but it strains all credibility to argue that this "aesthetic orientation" can be non-sexual. Considered more closely, the "aesthetic orientation" actually appears to be even more deeply rooted in a sinful impulse. Aesthetic attractions are as corrupted by sin as the sexual passions. To put the matter bluntly, are we to affirm that an "aesthetic orientation" towards the same sex is pure and blameless and non-sexual? This would be severe pastoral malpractice.
Speakers at Revoice pointed to Ruth and Naomi and David and Jonathan as biblical examples, but in both cases the relationship was clearly and definitively neither erotic or aesthetic and references to them in this light are deliberately misleading. The "spiritual friendship" model, related to LGBTQ identity, is just not compatible with an evangelical biblical theology, even if Catholics can eagerly affirm the idea.
In one of the more astounding moments of Revoice, Nate Collins read from Jeremiah 15 and then asked:
"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? 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, we are prophets."
Idolatry of the nuclear family? Here we see the destabilizing power of the sexual revolution and modern critical theory at full force.
It is, of course, possible for human beings to idolize anything, but that is not what is really at stake in Collins's comment. He really claims that gay people are called to a prophetic role to correct the church for believing in the normative nature of the nuclear family.
Before pressing further, we should note that the term "nuclear family," referring to a father and mother and their children in one household is a fairly recent term, dating back only to the twentieth century. The family, of course, is as old as Genesis. The more accurate term for describing the family is not "nuclear" but "natural" or "conjugal."
And right there is the issue. What the Bible reveals, from Genesis 1 onward, is the fact that God created human beings as male and female, both made in his image, and made for the conjugal relationship of marriage and procreation which is the very first divine command to humankind (Genesis 1:28). Marriage, the conjugal union of a man and a woman, is revealed as God's creative purpose, from the beginning.
Even those men and women who do not marry are defined by the conjugal union that brought them into being and by the normative nature of the natural family (both "nuclear" and extended) that is honored throughout Holy Scripture. The subversion of marriage and the family has been one of the most devastating results of modernity, and this very subversion is central to the ambitions of the sexual revolutionaries.
In his book, Collins identifies "heteronormativity" as a central problem in both secular society and the church: "It's one thing to say that the only kind of sexual expression permitted by Scripture is the heterosexual pattern. It's another thing to say that heterosexual orientations as they are embedded in our fallen world are not sinful in themselves because they match the general creational pattern."
That is simply wrong. Every human being past puberty is a sexual sinner of some form, but the attraction of a man to a woman, completed in the conjugal union of marriage, is precisely "the general creational pattern." Furthermore, in Romans 1:26-27 the Apostle Paul refers to same-sex passion and activity as "contrary to nature" -- thus the rejection of the "general creational pattern."
After the Fall, all human beings are born sinners and fall short of both the glory of God and the clear testimony of creation (Romans 1:18-32), but the creational pattern itself is not sinful. The New Testament presents the church as the family of faith, made up of all those adopted by God through Christ. Thus, all believers are brothers and sisters in one household of faith. Furthermore, the New Testament explicitly honors celibacy (which by the way, only makes sense against the background of normative marriage and family life), but that celibacy is chaste in form and directed toward gospel deployment (1 Corinthians 7:1-8). Collins rightly calls on congregations to leave no member without inclusion in family life -- a searing indictment of many congregations, to be sure. Similarly, Rosaria Butterfield has underlined the priority of gospel hospitality among Christians.
But denouncing "idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family" as a claimed prophetic role for those who identify as LGBTQ+ Christians reveals just how far the ideology of the sexual revisionists has reached even within American Christianity. The relativizing of the natural conjugal family represents what Malcolm Muggeridge called the "great liberal death wish." It stands in direct contradiction to the mandate given by God in Genesis 1:28. The Great Commission expands that mandate; it does not reverse it.
Even before the conference began, notice was given of a session entitled, "Redeeming Queer Culture: An Adventure." The description is itself astounding: "For the sexual minority seeking to submit his or her life fully to Christ and to the historic Christian sexual ethic, queer culture presents a bit of a dilemma; rather than combing through and analyzing which parts are to be rejected, or redeemed, or to be received with joy (Acts 17:16-34), Christians have often discarded the virtues of queer culture along with the vices, which leaves culturally connected Christian sexual minorities torn between two cultures, two histories, and two communities. So questions that have until now been largely unanswered remain: 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)?"
Putting the pieces together, it becomes clear that Revoice and its organizers would rewrite the meta-narrative of Scripture so that Creation before the Fall is not heterosexual in orientation and can even include same-sex "aesthetic orientation," the Fall is limited in its extent related to our sin nature, redemption does not mean that the "new creature" in Christ will break from identity with sin, and the New Creation will include "treasure, honor, and glory" from queer culture.
There is another big issue embedded in that session description. Note the mention of "culturally connected Christian sexual minorities." At first glance, that might seem to mean something like a connection to the culture at large. But in the language of the LGBTQ+ community, it means connection to "queer culture." The "culturally connected Christian sexual minority" (watch every word carefully) is, as the statement emphasizes, "torn between two cultures, two histories, and two communities." That means torn between queer culture and the church.
That, to state the matter clearly, is unstable, unfaithful, unworkable, unbiblical . . . impossible.
This returns us to the issue of sexual identity and Christian identity once again. A Christian who has been identified as LGBTQ+ will certainly pray for and be concerned for the conversion of friends in the LGBTQ+ community, and we can pray that personal friendships and Christian hospitality can lead to gospel advance among these friends and the LGBTQ+ community. But the identity of a Christian cannot be with any culture defined in its essence by the rejection of God's design and command.
Though that language has received scant attention it is among the most important associated with Revoice.
And the issue of language arises again and again and again. In his main address to the conference, Nate Collins lamented: "I'm tired. I'm tired of people saying I'm using the wrong words. I'm tired of people saying I'm not using enough of the right words."
In his interview with Christianity Today, Collins conceded that some of the language used on the website for the conference was seen as revealing a "slippery slope ethically," but he defended even the language by saying: "Right now the conversation on LGBT issues and gender, sexuality, and evangelicalism is fragmented. There's a lot of groups of people that use language in very specific ways that makes sense to them but doesn't make sense to people outside of their tribe."
Later, Collins said: "We're just trying to make space for people for whom the language they use is meaningful, in terms of how they are trying to reconcile their gender and sexuality with their faith."
At one very strange level, that is an open admission that the self-expressive language of many in the Revoice community reflects a movement in flux and in motion, even in language.
But references to "queer culture" are not accidental, and the language from the conference is clear enough. Revoice represents an attempt to build a half-way house between LGBTQ+ culture and evangelical Christianity. They want to define what they mean by "Side B," when the LGBTQ+ culture is unambiguously "Side A."
We should take the organizers of Revoice at their word and hear what they are saying. We should lament the brokenness and understand the many failings of the Christian church toward those who identify with the LGBTQ+ community. But we dare not add yet another failure to those failures. We cannot see Revoice as anything other than a house built upon the sand. Revoice is not the voice of faithful Christianity.
Christianity Today (2018, July 28). Revoice Founder Answers the LGBT Conference's Critics. Retrieved from https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/july-web-only/revoices-founder-answers-lgbt-conferences-critics.html
Denny Burk and Heath Lambert, Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2015)
Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2017)
Nate Collins, All But Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender, and Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2017)
Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015)