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Itching Ears Part 5: Greg Johnson’s explanation of Revoice

Itching Ears Part 5: Greg Johnson’s explanation of Revoice

[This is Part 5 in a series. Please see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 as well.]

Greg Johnson writes

How can the gospel give me hope? What does it mean that God sets the lonely in families? What particular blessings and challenges does celibacy bring for women? And might God call me into a heterosexual marriage? What particular challenges and opportunities have others in ‘mixed-orientation’ marriages faced? What do I do if I develop a same-sex crush on my brother or sister in Jesus? How can I keep my same-sex friendships from becoming weird or unhealthy? What boundaries should I set? In what ways can I still serve my church?

This tangle of questions all share the assumption that, whatever hope the Gospel may give, it will not include the promise that “sin shall not be your master.”

Read this last paragraph again and see if the essence of all these questions isn’t that this man is a slave of sin and is asking how he can make the best of his situation?

These questions are all coming from a passive victim. Homosexuality has this person thoroughly in its power and he’s asking, under the circumstances of this slavery, how can I make the best of it?

Speaking as pastors, each of these questions assume that we don’t wage war against our sin.

Be on the alert. Cut off the hand that offends. Keep a guard over your heart. Make no provision for the flesh.

Don’t be passive. Flee sexual immorality. Avoid even the appearance of sin. Like Joseph, leave your tunic in her hands and tear out of the house.

We are not a victim of our emotions. Sin shall not be master over us. We must fight the good fight.

And as for the workshop that seems to cause the most confusion online? Is there anything admirable that we can acknowledge within the literature, art and struggles of “queer” culture. From a biblical perspective, what is redeemable—what evidence of the imago dei is present within the literature of that movement? What longings does one find in “queer” art and film that point to a bigger need for God? Reformed folks, you should expect to ask this question. You were trained to ask this question. Don’t get shocked when we ask this question. We ask this question of every culture. It is a question and not an endorsement.

Sorry, but no. The two of us were not trained to ask this question.

One of us got his M.Div. from Reformed in Jackson and the other at Covenant in St. Louis, but neither of us has ever ever asked this question.

Both of us studied at Indiana University which is home to the Kinsey Institute of sexual perversion, yet neither of us has ever found ourselves daydreaming about where we may find “evidence of the imago dei” within the literature of the queer movement. We’ve known lots of queers personally—though that’s not what our friends in the Indiana University School of Music called themselves—and we consider Revoice’s terminology repulsive. We understand these St. Louis, Missouri men are trying very hard to show themselves masters of contextualization despite living under the Arch beside the Mississippi River out on the Great Plains.

But “the virtues of queer culture?” Seriously?

“Redeeming culture” is the Reformed code phrase for “I want to watch sex and violence at the theater and act like an art snob and you have to respect me for it.”Randy Shilts had the honesty to title his book, “And the Band Played On.” He didn’t chronicle “the virtues of queer culture.” He chronicled death. Heroically, he chronicled the mutual slaughter in the Castro by means of AIDS. Do we really have such a short memory of the culture of the Castro and its decimation? Have these guys read none of the history of gay rights and wrongs? Are they so heartless as to care nothing of the decimation which defined queer culture for the past twenty-five years? Must Christians of a Reformed persuasion always lie about sin and death and Hell? Have they no tone but triumphalism?

Pardon us if we deny that Francis Schaeffer would have any interest in someone’s ludicrous proposal of this or that virtue of queer culture.

“Redeeming culture” is the Reformed code phrase for “I want to watch sex and violence at the theater and act like an art snob and you have to respect me for it.” Redeeming culture is how we wind up with The Gospel Coalition telling us how a skin flick points us to Christ. Neither the love of God nor the love of our neighbor grows out of imbibing cultural artifacts documenting man’s rebellion against God.

We can’t believe we even had to write that sentence.  

How do God’s people view Canaanite culture?

Beware that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, “How do these nations serve their gods, that I also may do likewise?”

You shall not behave thus toward the LORD your God, for every abominable act which the LORD hates they have done for their gods; for they even burn their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30-32).

Someone will say, “But, but, but…Paul at the Areopagus!” Okay, Paul knew some pagan poets. But he used their works to condemn their worldview, not to get Christians to imitate them!

When John sees the kings of the earth bringing their glory into Zion he gives us no reason to believe that the king of Lot’s Sodom will be among them. Neither every king nor every kingdom will be there because…brace yourself…not all of them will be redeemed. “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

There are still other questions for pastors and other Christian leaders. What can we do to help our churches help sexual minorities connect, feel loved, and grow as disciples of Jesus? What guidelines are helpful for pastoral care? And what do you do if your teenager tells you he thinks he is gay? How can we reach out to and love people in the gay community as a part of our mission field that needs reconciliation with God as much as the rest of us?

What can we do to help? That’s a good question. These are mostly good questions and we ought to be working through them as pastors and elders and Titus 2 women. One thing is for sure, the answers at this conference are not what these precious souls need. The church does need to come to terms with how to love people with these temptations. It sure would help if pastors and elders were already involved in the work of leading their congregations in confession of sin, in working in every area to guide the souls under their care toward faith-filled repentance from dead works. If your teenager has seen repentance and faith, your teenager will be better prepared to live by faith.

The gospel of Jesus speaks to all of these questions, and the conference organizers have tried to bring together a team of experienced Christian leaders to help us think these things though.

Under the FAQ heading on the Revoice website, the conference has tabs explaining the mission, vision and theology of the event:

What is the Mission of Revoice?

To encourage, support, and empower gay, lesbian, and other same-sex-attracted Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic, Christian sexual ethic.

Again, substitute any sin you like and see if this mission holds up: To encourage, support, and empower murderers and other violence-loving Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic, Christian relational ethic. Of course, to speak of the will of God by calling it “the historic, Christian sexual ethic” is to lose faith right out of the gate. I (Andy Halsey) grew up in the liberal mainline Presbyterian denomination, and I can tell you the highest authority they appealed to was something called “heritage.” Not the word of God but our Presbyterian heritage. History is a mixed bag, filled with both heresy and orthodoxy. Life doesn’t come to us through a historic ethic of any kind. God, the Holy Spirit, brings us life, as He enables us to trust His revealed word.  

What is the vision of Revoice?

Revoice exists because we want to see LGBT people who adhere to the historic, Christian sexual ethic flourish in their local faith communities. We 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.

The Apostle Paul told us to lay aside the old man. So away with such a notion that an LGBT person comes to Christ in order to adopt a different rule of conduct, to become a celibate LGBT person. No—if you are in Christ you are born again. In no way are you to continue through life keeping a name for yourself that signifies sin and rebellion. “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Ephesians 4:22-24). If you are in Christ and by faith are obeying Christ by laying aside the old man, why in the world are you keeping the old man’s name? You are no longer LGBT. You are Christian. You were betrothed to Christ. Take His name. You were called out of LGBT.

Let that name go.

What does Revoice believe about human sexuality?

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. 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. Together, these two 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.

The second commitment cannot be proven from Scripture. Protestants have long stood against celibacy as an ideal because a) it is not Biblical, and b) it results in a degradation of marriage. Steven Ozment, in When Father’s Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe, writes, “Both experience and belief had set Protestants unalterably against the celibate life. To them it contradicted both the Bible and human nature, and created more personal and social problems than it solved.” Though Johnson and Revoice probably wouldn’t claim that “living the de-coupled life” is better than the married life, they would argue it is equal. That is untrue, as well. Scripture presents two options for every man and woman: marriage (1 Cor. 7:9) or the supernatural gift of singleness (1 Cor. 7:7). Marriage or chastity…not celibacy.

But a historic, or traditional, sexual ethic in itself is not automatically a Christian sexual ethic. Simply abstaining from sex outside of marriage does not make one a faithful and thriving disciple and follower of Christ.

Indeed.

“Simply abstaining from sex outside of marriage does not make one a faithful and thriving disciple and follower of Christ.”

Precisely right.

Those who belong to Christ are to confess our sexual sins to elders and pastors. We are to obey our sex, seeking to live as a masculine man or a feminine woman. We are to love and embrace real accountability for our sexuality, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

Followers of Jesus who are in the process of repenting and putting off long-established patterns of behavior should not be leading ministries or taking on church office and trying to fulfill responsibilities to guard the flock. Which is to say those struggling with same-sex temptation should not be pastors, elders, deacons, or Titus 2 “older women.”

Even the Vatican knows this. Read their document banning those with”deep-seated homosexual tendencies” (as opposed to those involved in sodomitic acts) from being admitted to seminary or church office.1

The cry in the PCA right now is for women to be used in all aspects of ministry (except the pulpit every Sunday morning), but being a “thriving disciple” does not mean being up front. For many, following Christ simply means repenting and pursuing godliness, standing firm in the faith and recognizing their limitations for holding office. Women should not be in session meetings. Those with deep-seated temptations for same-sex intimacy must not be in seminary or the pulpit.

Furthermore, LGBT people who remain faithful to the Bible’s teaching about sexual expression do not automatically thrive as Christians in their local church. A Christian sexual ethic that is life-giving for all people, including LGBT people, is not something that we can simply assume we already possess, but must instead be a goal that all Christians—straight and nonstraight—continually attempt to construct and refine anew in their own cultural context. Settling for less than this results in a version of the traditional sexual ethic whose cultural relevance might not be immediately apparent to populations of people who live at the margins of our society. For these individuals, a culturally irrelevant sexual ethic simply doesn’t feel livable.

The above explanation is a denial of the sufficiency of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Johnson argues that we must find a “life-giving ethic for all people, including LGBT people” and that we don’t currently have it because we haven’t done work “to construct and refine anew in [our] own cultural context.”

We get the impression that the Revoice men and women would argue that the Apostle Paul didn’t know about the complexities and subtleties of sexual orientation because he lived in a heterosexually monolithic time…

Those who know ancient history blush at such ignorance.

Read the classic text by Italian classicist Eva Cantarella titled Bisexuality in the Ancient World (and note she has been challenged by her fellow academics, but refuses to change the title to Homosexuality in the Ancient World). Only those who are ignorant concerning the pervasiveness of the LGBTQ perversions in the ancient Greek and Roman cultures of the Apostle Paul’s time could speak and write patronizingly concerning the Paul’s instructions and commands in his New Testament epistles. The assumption that, had the Apostle Paul been appraised of today’s wisdom concerning the LGBTQ “sexual minorities,” he would never have written his deficient cisgender sexual ethic, demonstrates a complete ignorance concerning the ancient world.

Johnson goes on to argue that “settling for less than this results in a version of the traditional sexual ethic whose cultural relevance might not be immediately apparent to populations of people who live at the margins of our society.” Johnson rattles his saber, warning Biblical Christians that the Apostle Paul’s sexual ethic (of Scripture) “simply doesn’t feel livable” to his sexual minorities.

But stop. Is this not precisely the use of the Law that Scripture commends?

I would not have come to know sin except through the Law; for I would not have known about coveting if the Law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. (Romans 7:7-8)

By the grace of God, the raw truth of God’s commandments and condemnations leads us to Jesus. God’s law removes our ignorance, helping us to come to a knowledge of sin.

Do Greg Johnson, Stephen Moss, and Covenant Theological Seminary’s Vice President of Academics, Jay Sklar, really want to remove this help? Have they and their women and men of Revoice found a better way than the way of the Spirit of God?

I hope this helps provide context.

Yes, it does.

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1. 2. Homosexuality and the Ordained Ministry 

From the time of the Second Vatican Council until today, various Documents of the Magisterium, and especially the Catechism of the Catholic Church, have confirmed the teaching of the Church on homosexuality. The Catechism distinguishes between homosexual acts and homosexual tendencies.

Regarding acts, it teaches that Sacred Scripture presents them as grave sins. The Tradition has constantly considered them as intrinsically immoral and contrary to the natural law. Consequently, under no circumstance can they be approved.

Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are found in a number of men and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a trial. Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. They are called to fulfil God’s will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter.

In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called “gay culture”.

Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies. CONGREGATION FOR CATHOLIC EDUCATION; Instruction Concerning the Criteria for the Discernment of Vocations with regard to Persons with Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and to Holy Orders.

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About The Authors

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Andrew Dionne is the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, SC. He serves on the boards of Clearnote Pastors College and Personhood South Carolina. He has six children and a lovely wife.

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Andy Halsey is a PCA pastor serving in Charleston, MS. He is husband of one wife and father of more than four children.

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