This post is a review of Revoice, not a defense. I really have no interest in the debate currently raging online over the merits of this conference (and I think people far more qualified than me have already responded). While I obviously support the conference, my goal in this review is not to defend all my reasons for supporting it. Instead, my goal is to hopefully give you a picture of why the conference is so important. And what the conference is changing. Whether you support it or not, there’s no denying that Revoice made a splash. And there’s significant reasons for why. Hopefully, I can get at a few of those reasons here.
I remember a time when the grace of God seemed eternally distant. A gift he designed for everyone but me. I remember the fear of being unsavable. A “vessel of wrath fitted for destruction.” My feelings a sign that I was “given over” into sin. I remember sleepless nights where I couldn’t bear to close my eyes lest I wake up in hell
I remember listening to the voice of the church toward LGBT+ people, and it wasn’t the voice of life. And when I think about the countless sexual and gender minorities who share experiences similar to mine, I recall the words of Jesus when he said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). But the voice of the church was death to us. It wasn’t the voice of Jesus
The Need for Revoice
The message that Christians internalize about LGBT+ people has looked nothing like the message of the Gospel for decades. I grew up in the church. Of all people, I should have known that “nothing can separate me from the love of God” (Rom. 8:39), not even my sexuality. But years of conditioning taught me the opposite.
Gay people were a perennial example of the “vessels of wrath” in Romans 9:22. They were “given over to a depraved mind,” a result of God’s judgment in Romans 1:28. And while I don’t remember a specific sermon about homosexuality in my childhood, these verses, along with hell and damnation, were so frequently applied to gay people in dismissive asides that the association was automatic.
The results of such thinking are predictable. When the voice of damnation dominates Christian discussion of homosexuality, gay people suffer. Consider that the likelihood of suicidality is 38 percent higher for religious gay men and 52 percent higher for religious lesbians. Think about that for a second. In all the hullabaloo over Revoice, I’ve yet to read a single criticism that seriously grapples with the reality of such data.
Intelligent Christians can no longer pretend that everything is fine. Because it’s not. At least not for gay people like me. Whether we admit it or not, people are dying. And Christians can’t afford to go on speaking death to those for whom Christ lives. The voice of the church ought to save.
Enter Revoice. A conference designed to “support, encourage, and empower gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.” I met one person during the conference who told me they literally wept when they read its mission statement. Flourish? Me?
Such an idea feels impossible to countless LGBT+ people raised in the church. But with Revoice, things are changing.
So What Exactly Did Revoice “Revoice”?
Revoice was a whirlwind of activity and excitement! Between the keynote presentations, moving testimonies, 20 workshops, phenomenal worship, and overflowing-with-joy community, I could probably talk about it for days. Instead,I want to identify a few things that stood out to me as uniquely “revoiced” at the conference.
1) Revoice shifted the Christian conversation on homosexuality from the negative to the positive.
It should go without saying that a theology of “no” is no theology at all. We should offer people more than a disheartening list of everything they’re not allowed to do in Christianity. But such a theology is exactly what the church has offered when it comes to homosexuality.
People have previously noted this problem. But acknowledging the negative theology around homosexuality does precious little if you never create the environment for a positive theology to flourish. Revoice created that environment. By delving into God’s “yes” to LGBT+ people, Revoice opened up the possibility of a life-giving pathway for sexual and gender minorities to explore, one characterized by calling instead of hiding.
As a result, Revoice shifted the conversation away from what gay people lose when they choose to follow Christ and began to explore what gay people gain. In the words of Eve Tushnet, “There is guidance in Scripture for ways to express longings for same-sex intimacy.” Prohibitions against sex are not prohibitions against love, and the Bible has much to say about love. Revoice opened the door to explore God’s “yes” to love.
2) Revoice reframed the Christian mindset toward homosexuality from one dominated by fear of sin to one elevated by hope in Christ.
Fear of sin dominates discussion of homosexuality in the church. And for an LGBT+ person, it’s paralyzing. Turn left, sin. Turn right, sin. Go straight, sin. No matter where you turn and no matter what you do, people see sin. And if you make the wrong move, your salvation could hang in the balance. For many, if not most, even just attempting to talk about their experience will cast doubt upon their Christian maturity.
But Revoice rejected a sin-based approach to sexual and gender minorities, declaring a Gospel-saturated freedom for LGBT+ people instead. “Jesus does not combat shame by rewriting the rule book,” Wesley Hill said, “but by removing condemnation and liberating sinners to a new way of life.”
Indeed, a profound sense of liberation pervaded the entire conference. As if everyone finally realized that Jesus had taken their shackles away. When people only talk about your experience in the context of temptation, it’s hard to imagine yourself as anything other than hopelessly handcuffed by sin. In practice, by constantly obsessing over homosexual sin, churches create prisons for gays and lesbians.
But Revoice declared, “In Christ, you are free.” And freedom in Christ is the truest kind of freedom. “You did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear,” Paul said, “but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” (Romans 8:15). In the words of Wesley Hill, “We are not condemned by Christ; we are accepted into the beloved… You are free for a life of love.”
3) Revoice elevated the way LGBT+ Christians think about themselves, from a people characterized by deficit to one characterized by grace.
LGBT+ Christians are accustomed to thinking of themselves as the “messy people,” the ones that Christians must “learn” how to love. But Revoice turned such thinking on its head by situating gay Christians not primarily as the recipients of grace from supposedly sacrificial believers but as givers of grace to a church that lacks it.
“Lament is real because injustice is real,” Nate Collins said. “But ultimately, the injustice we experience comes from others who must be forgiven.”
By calling LGBT+ people toward a posture of forgiveness, Revoice did much more than simply acknowledge the harms done toward sexual minorities in the church. It actually situated LGBT+ people to be ministers of the Gospel within the community that caused them harm. In perhaps the most controversial quote of the conference, Nate Collins said the following:
“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 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.”
Such an idea — that gay Christians not only bear witness to the watching world but to the people of God themselves — outraged conservative critics. But there’s no denying it. Amongst Christians, when you consider the Freudian obsession with marital fulfillment set against the backdrop of rampant sexual immorality (from divorce to extra-marital sex to pornography to widespread allegations of sexual abuse against numerous Christian leaders), it’s hard to imagine celibate gay people as having anything less than a prophetic voice. Our lives bear witness to a Gospel reality the church has forgotten.
What Wasn’t Revoiced
“What we’re talking about is how to develop the historic Christian teaching about marriage, gender, and sexuality in ways that are faithful to Scripture, faithful to our only final authority.”
– Nate Collins, interview with Christianity Today
Revoice affirmed the traditional understanding of sexual ethics in Scripture. In other words, Revoice affirmed that God restricts sexual intercourse to the confines of marriage between one man and one woman for life and that sexual activity outside of these boundaries is sin. Speakers and organizers for Revoice also affirm that same-sex sexual desire is broken, fallen, and disordered. No one ever attempted to alter the foundational understanding of sexual ethics understood by Christians for the past two millennia.
Revoice also affirmed the rooting of Christian personhood in Jesus Christ. Many critics of the conference have attempted to accuse its organizers of catering to sexual identity. Some even labeled Revoice the “celibate gay Christian identity movement.” Such mischaracterizations are blatantly ridiculous. No one ever spoke about a supposed “celibate gay Christian identity” during Revoice. Not one person. Ever. In fact, speakers have articulated the opposite, speaking against building your identity upon sexual orientation. “If we talk in terms of identity,” Ron Belgau said during his workshop on ministering well to sexual and gender minorities, “understand that we are trying to speak the language of the culture.” Put simply, those who accuse Revoice of concealing a “gay Christian identity agenda” are mischaracterizing the conference in malicious ways.
What Could Be Better?
Revoice was a spectacular success. Personally, it blessed me in profound ways. I even found myself moved to tears at points during worship. A group of people, maligned by the world and terribly misunderstood by the church, all gathering together to worship their Lord and Savior and to support each other in following Scripture — it was amazing. But like all things, imperfect.
Next year, for example, it would be wonderful to see a greater number of women, people of color, and non-cis people attending the conference. White, cisgender males made up the vast majority of attendees. Which is not to say that I want fewer gay men next year. I adore each and every last one of you! I’d just like to see more of other people too!
Also, the absence of any conversation on gender dysphoria struck me as particularly disappointing. I will be the first to admit my ignorance when it comes to the “T” in LGBT, and I can’t help but wonder whether speakers and organizers at Revoice shared in my ignorance. When you don’t exactly know how to best approach a topic, sometimes it’s easier to avoid it altogether. But we can’t create an effective theological approach to a topic that no one ever talks about. Next year, at the very least, I hope that Revoice creates a space for dialogue on the experience of gender dysphoria and transgender people.
Finally, considering the heavy involvement of Spiritual Friendship at the conference, it was a bit surprising that no workshop seriously delved into friendship. A few touched on things like heartbreak and personal boundaries, but none dedicated space to a discussion of just friendship as a good worth pursuing, particularly same-sex friendship (unless I missed it somehow, correct me if I’m wrong!). A discussion of biblical same-sex love would seem pretty crucial if we believe that prohibitions against sex are not prohibitions against love. Next year’s food for thought.
For me, Revoice felt like an oasis in the midst of the desert, a safehouse in the midst of war. We stand bravely in a cultural moment where sexual gratification is king, and we proudly give glory to a King who is greater, who made us for so much more. And we are despised for it. By our own and by the world.
I’m reminded of the prophet Elijah, who despaired in the cave, believing himself to be the only one left who worshiped the God of the Bible. And God said, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18). At Revoice, we saw 400+ people who have not bowed to the god of sexual expression. And in a cultural moment where the church has lost all semblance of credibility on the topic of sexual morality, it felt amazing.
In some ways, it felt less like a conference and more like a celebration. There was so much palpable joy everywhere I went. Hugs and laughter and deep conversation abounded. It felt like a family reunion of people that I’m just discovering are family. And our family is growing. We are not alone.
So what about you? If you attended the conference, what were some of your takeaways? Was it what you expected? Different? A little bit of both? I’d love to hear from you! Please share!