I fear that rather than establishing a faithful path for Christians, Revoice is precipitating a grievous division in the American church. They do this first by grounding their reading of the Scriptures in secular ideology, second by insisting the disagreements about identity are purely semantic, and third by claiming to uphold a biblical sexual ethic while at the same time embracing those who reject this ethic, calling them Christian brothers and sisters.
Revoice 2021 Together met in October 2021 in Dallas to encourage what they call “sexual minorities” within the church to obedience, to reach out evangelistically to LGBTQ people, and to minister to “sexual majority” Christians. The conference featured Eve Tushnet, Preston Sprinkle, Greg Johnson, Misty Irons, Greg Coles, and many other speakers, as well as panels on gender minorities, racial minorities, and women. With an emphasis on community support (reflected in the theme “together”), the speakers called the gathered assembly to be obedient to a biblical sexual ethic, as well as acknowledging the pain that the church has caused to those who identify as LGBTQ.
Revoice 2021 positions itself in the theological mainstream, as if the controversies surrounding the conference and movement are purely semantic. The wider evangelical church, for example, by policing the language of people who identify as LGBTQ, are said to erect artificial barriers for entrance into the kingdom of God, akin to those of New Testament era Judaizers. Revoice, as a movement, is prepared to forgive and reach out to those in the church who are complicit in this grave sin, but the church should repent and move on from these kinds of debates for the sake of mission and the witness of the gospel.
Rather than a purely semantic disagreement over whether or not to use the word “gay,” the language applied to self-hood and identity by Revoice points to underlying philosophical and theological assumptions that Christians should identify themselves by sexual behavior and inclinations, grounding this identification in a secular gender ideology rather than the Scriptures. Furthermore, by framing the semantic issues as Side A and Side B — referring often to “Side A brothers and sisters” — they make the question of sexuality, both behavior and identity, to be adiaphora, a non-essential issue that Christians are free to disagree about. Rather than a “slippery slope,” both the ideology and language that Revoice is embracing will eventually take them over a spiritual cliff.
“The Gospel is for men as they are and as they think they are,” writes John Taylor in The Primal Vision: Christian Presence amid African Religion. He wrote in the middle of the last century, half a world away from the debates and controversies surrounding Revoice — an “annual gathering for Christians who are sexual minorities” seeking to “flourish in historic Christian traditions.” Taylor asks, “What has the Christian, present in such a world, to share or to learn about the self?” He posits one answer to that question — which is ours as well — with a line by Dr. J. H. Oldham: “The individual self has no independent existence which gives it the power to enter into relationships with other selves. Only through living intercourse with other selves can it become a self at all.” As if to take up that very work, Revoice’s 2021 theme was “Together.” That word encompasses, for them, the extraordinary communion they share because of their various sexual identities. Though they cannot engage in the actions associated with those identities — sex — experiencing sexual identity provides a deeper and richer sense of what it means to be human in relationship to other people. Their LGBTQ posture toward the world offers a baptism of affirmation to those of every sexual orientation.
With calls to be fabulous, to worship and adore Christ, but overall to be obedient, the speakers at Revoice, though at times defensive in their articulation of frustration and pain, positioned themselves as the new theological mainstream. Rather than continuing a protracted and contentious argument with critical voices in the church, they see themselves both as forging a way forward that reaches out evangelically to a world soaked in LGBTQ assumptions, and as uniquely called to minister to a too long ascendant Christian sexual majority culture.
I was by turns heartened and troubled as I watched the Revoice21 Together conference, the fourth conference since its founding in 2018. To stand publicly for sexual fidelity in celibacy and marriage and to proclaim the universal need for repentant belief in the gospel in a decadent time such as this is, to understate it, courageous. And, from that exposed and isolated position, especially when considering the grief represented in a room full of people who also feel rejected by other Christians, it is understandable that the leaders and speakers of Revoice would say that purely semantic matters of identity are settled. Continued disputes threaten to destroy the witness and mission of the whole church.
Nevertheless, I fear that rather than establishing a faithful path for Christians, Revoice is precipitating a grievous division in the American church. They do this first by grounding their reading of the Scriptures in secular ideology, second by insisting the disagreements about identity are purely semantic, and third by claiming to uphold a biblical sexual ethic while at the same time embracing those who reject this ethic, calling them Christian brothers and sisters.
If Revoice were to listen, however painfully, to what their critics are trying to say, it might be possible for the fissures to be mended and unity in the church to be restored. However, from the murky theological and philosophical assumptions articulated by many speakers, as well as the repeated reference to people who call themselves “Side A Christians” (people who believe that God has created and blessed monogamous homosexual relationships) as “our Side A brothers and sisters,” I fear it will not be so.