Missouri Presbytery Revoice Report: a close reading (2)

Missouri Presbytery Revoice Report: a close reading (2)

NOTE: Missouri Presbytery (PCA) is the ecclesiastical authority over Pastor Greg Johnson and the elders of Memorial Presbyterian Church. Pastor Johnson and Memorial hosted the first Revoice conference one year ago in St. Louis. The second Revoice will be held this year, again in St. Louis.

Responding to national pressure from inside and outside their denomination, Missouri Presbytery put together an investigatory committee and just issued their ReportThis is second in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here. Report text is indented. We pick up where we left off last time.

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NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all footnotes are from Missouri Presbytery’s Report.

A Word to the Critics

We understand how the critics can perceive the Revoice project as being a cloaked invasion of LGBTQ+ propaganda into the church. When reading some of the Revoice workshops or seeing incendiary or problematic social media posts from some of its attendees, it is easy to see how people can become alarmed and not notice the nuances that are actually there. We see how the insufficient communication by Revoice and its early mistakes added to the confusion and polarization in the heated debates around the conference. We can see how some might view the Revoice project as no more than a way young evangelicals can embrace the culturally popular gay narrative—the only caveat being, no sex. The committee has sympathy for how many sincere critics of Revoice would find this frightening. We also agree with the critics that just because someone refrains from sex, it does not mean that they are necessarily free from syncretistic worldly ideas.

As we pointed out last time, the Committee has no ability to see critics of Revoice as anything but afraid. Repeatedly speaking of critics’ fear is an effective rhetorical device long employed by the homosexualist movement starting decades ago with their labelling Christians opposed to sodomy and effeminacy “homophobic.”

Critics of Revoice are not principled in their opposition to heresy and false shepherds. They have merely “become alarmed,” and being fearful has blinded them so they do “not notice nuances that are actually there.” They mill about in “confusion,” and thus give way to “polarization” and “heated debates.”

Then this magnanimity: “The committee has sympathy for how many sincere critics of Revoice would find this frightening.”

From the start, the Committee demonstrates an incapacity to take Revoice’s opponents seriously. Apparently incapable of recognizing threats to the church’s purity and peace, every warning and principled objection to Revoice must be motivated by fear. But considering themselves quite sophisticated in all matters sexual and feeling a sense of responsibility to those whose fear and ignorance has rendered them incapable of recognizing the “nuance” in Revoice, the Committee assures such obtuse individuals of their “sympathy.”

Too, note those desperate to attain the rank of intellectual recognize nuance to be the coin of the realm.

We believe there has been much misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what Revoice actually teaches at the hands of its critics. But we also believe there are real disagreements between Revoice and the critics. It is not simply that if critics only understood Revoice’s teachings better they would come to understand that all their fears are unwarranted, and thus can safely be dismissed. There are many threads in the Revoice rope, and some of them certainly have more potential for syncretism—an improper blending of biblical truth with worldly ideas—than others. We are not unaware of the tweets that sound like gay pride, the celibate gay couples who exhibit romantic bonding, and the gay fellowships that seemingly emulate gay university groups.

For a moment, the Committee takes up the offense and anger of Revoicers and Covenant Theological Seminary’s president and trustees. Their critics are “misunderstanding” and promoting “misrepresentation” due to “all their fears.”

The second half of the paragraph seems to legitimate those fears until one notices the qualifiers and modifiers: some of Revoice’s “threads” have “more potential for syncretism than others.” They conclude the paragraph reassuring their readers “we are not unaware of” certain Revoice threads that are “seemingly” bad.

Revoice is a complex phenomenon. By this we do not just mean that Revoice brings up complicated questions—which it does. Rather, Revoice itself is not easy to define. The question “What is Revoice?” in many ways became one of the most difficult questions for our committee to answer. Who gets to give a definitive answer? In the lead up to the conference, Revoice, which was in its infancy as an organization, put out very few statements on many of the contested issues, especially compared to the number of statements written by other people about what they believe. Is Revoice represented by Spiritual Friendship’s writers? Not completely. Is it represented by the books written by keynote speakers? Perhaps, but there isn’t agreement across those authors on every issue either. Maybe this or that critic who attended the conference understands what Revoice really is, or maybe that blogger defending Revoice gets it right? The truth is, there were many experiences of Revoice and many answers to what Revoice is about, all of which give insight, while potentially missing other aspects of it.

If necessity is the mother of invention, complexity is the handmaiden of ambiguity.

It is understandable why so many critics who have expressed concern about Revoice would be afraid. From the outside, Revoice sounds so much like the gay ideology of the world. These critics remind the church that Paul warns believers not to be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ (Col. 2:8). These voices remind us that the wider culture in which we now live is flush with the philosophy of sexual freedom: people with homosexual desire should embrace it, enjoy it, and celebrate it, because the supposition is that sexuality is a core aspect of our human identity: “Be what you are sexually” about captures it. This philosophy teaches that gay people should be encouraged to be “out” about their sexuality and proud of it in order to overcome old-fashioned and deeply resented cultural messages shaped by homophobia that have only fostered a sense of shame or unworthiness in gay people. In contemporary society pain in the life of the gay person is generally rooted not in their own sexuality but in residual societal prejudices that view homosexuality as bad. Care for the homosexual person, therefore, is not about helping the person address his or her sexuality. It is about influencing systems and institutions to promote the welfare of the gay person and reinforce narratives that see their sexual proclivities as private and non-consequential, or even as a positive thing worthy of celebration. This philosophy is preached to us non-stop by the way gay characters are portrayed on television and in film, by government policies, and by civic Pride festivals. It is in the air we breathe.

Again, the requisite theme is struck: we understand “why so many critics” of Revoice “would be afraid,” and the Committee goes on to list many of the critics’ fears. But note the Committee is not agreeing with those fears. Such fears dog men who react after a “first glance” that makes things “seem like.”

At first glance, it can seem like there is little difference between the Revoice project and the secular LGBT narrative other than Revoice’s call to celibacy. Critics are right to point out that whether we are adopting unbiblical worldviews is as important a question as whether we are living in obedience to the sexual ethic given to us by the Lord. It is understandable that to many critics it just looked like Revoice was taking its cues from the world and not from the Word of God. Both secular gay activists and Revoice speakers stress that some people simply are in some sense gay and must be accepted that way. Both appear to stress that gay is good (though Revoice leaders are careful to distinguish between same-sex sexual desire, which they consider sinful, and those desires “underneath” the sexual desire which are intrinsically good). To outsiders it can look like the world is saying gay people should gather together into their own subculture and celebrate with pride, and now people in the Church are saying gay people should gather together into their own Christian imitation of that subculture and celebrate via Revoice.

The Committee continues to channel Revoice’s critics. It could “seem like.” It could “look like.” It is “understandable.” Revoicers only “appear to stress that gay is good.” “To outsiders it can look like… people in the Church are saying.”

But these are not the Committee’s concerns. They are only the Committee’s summaries of reasons Revoice’s critics are afraid. Remember that Covenant Seminary told her professors to steer clear of Revoice this year, not because there is anything wrong with the conference or its aims, but because of “the increased lack of clarity surrounding this conference and topic.”

Talking with and reading many critics of Revoice helped us understand these concerns and why the language issue was so startling. We acknowledge that much of the language used by Revoice leaders and speakers, both at the conference and in the online advertisements for it, sounded alarmingly like the language used in gay-affirming circles across our society.

“Sounded alarmingly like,” but again, these are not the Committee’s own words and convictions. They are still speaking for Revoice’s critics, trying to convince them they understand their fears.

“However” announces the Committee’s own position:

However, while we understand why many people became concerned, we were saddened to discover that while so much criticism was leveled online and elsewhere, few people seem to have bothered to call and talk with leaders at Memorial and Revoice. We commend those who did enter into conversations and are grateful for how they shared their concerns with temperate language and kindness. However, the wide dissemination of false information and mistaken assumptions deeply wounded many of our brothers and sisters in Christ involved in the Revoice 18 conference. We see much need of peace-making in front of us. Still, we are grateful that by talking things through, at least some misunderstandings were cleared up, and forgiveness was encouraged where people had been hurt in the controversy.

We did call Memorial and Revoice. We called and spoke to Pastor Johnson himself weeks before he was interviewed on CrossPolitic, and over a year before the release of this Report. We talked the issues through with him and asked him if he himself was gay? He declined to answer, instead choosing Christianity Today as his forum for coming out one year later precisely when this Report was issued. Given the fact that Warhorn was far and away the most read and notable forum in which reports of Revoice’s errors were reported, readers of this Report would naturally assume we were the ones who “saddened” Missouri Presbyters writing this Report.

Not true, and we are saddened they did not say so.

Truthfully, though, we guess these pastors and elders knew it and disqualified us from commendation because, as they judged it, our conversation did not rise to the level of “approval of Revoice,” we did not use what they consider “temperate language and kindness,” and we were guilty of “dissemination of false information and mistaken assumptions” that “deeply wounded” and “hurt” Revoicers.

Were we to release some recording of the conversation, readers could listen and judge whether we were “temperate” and “kind.”

As to whether we are guilty of the “dissemination of false information and mistaken assumptions,” it’s easy for readers to check that out. Just read our Revoice posts and judge for yourself. We did a ton of them and transcribed a number of the Revoice sessions here on Warhorn, allowing these men and women to speak for themselves before showing their errors.

Nevertheless, the president of Covenant Theological Seminary and Missouri Presbytery incessantly accuse us of lying and slandering Revoicers,1 disseminating false information and mistaken assumptions about them which deeply wounded and hurt them. Yet not one lie, not one slander, not one piece of false information, and not one mistaken assumption was specified.

As we have said before, this itself is slander. Put up or be quiet. If there are lies and slander in our work, name them. Otherwise, these men themselves are the liars and slanderers. Because Revoicers claim they were slandered is no proof they were. Because men of Missouri Presbytery publicize Revoicers’ claims of victimhood does not legitimate those claims. And in connection with this matter, let us all keep in mind that the Biblical standard of justice is that any man who falsely accuses another of some sin becomes accountable for the same level of judgment and condemnation that would have been indicated had their claims been true.

So again, dear brothers of Covenant Theological Seminary and Missouri Presbytery, we’ve said it before and we say it again, please name our lies. Allow us to face our accusers and defend ourselves. We believe the free exchange of arguments here very public where you have released your Report is a perfect forum in which to be judged by peers—both yours and ours. You have made public accusations without talking to those you accuse, so man up and cite the errors. That’s what scholars do. That’s what Christians do.

Now of course, it is possible that President Dalbey and the men of Missouri Presbytery were not including Warhorn’s Revoice posts in their accusations of lies and slander. But if not us, who are these men? We testify that we have not read any statements critical of Revoice that could be found to be slanderous even in a secular court of law, but maybe we are unaware of some corner here or there where the accusations descended to the level of scurrilous and slanderous?

We’ve said all of this before. It’s time to move on.

Our committee worked to sort out fact from (what we in time found to be) a significant amount of misinformation and even conspiratorial accusations. We examined how and why Revoice uses the language it does and why so many SSA young people were deeply and positively impacted by Revoice. We discerned that the issues and questions have a nuance and complexity that are often missed in tweets and blogs and even articles and books. It is far too simple to write off Revoice as merely a Millennial movement too influenced by the world. Thinkers in the Revoice community are asking thoughtful but complicated questions, and the Revoice project itself is a complex phenomenon. Critics will have to decide whether to write off as mere posturing the following statement made by Revoice founder, Dr. Nate Collins, or to trust the sincerity of it and pray that it shapes the direction of Revoice. When asked in a Christianity Today online interview whether he thought being homosexually-oriented was a gift, Collins answered:

I’ve heard mostly progressive gay Christians talk about their gayness as a gift, and I don’t think that’s very helpful. It seems to be more rooted in an inability to conceive that there might be something sinful about their orientation. And that feels too aligned with “the spirit of our age”—that gay is good, as humanity is basically good. It’s not compatible with anything the Bible teaches about sin, and the fact that sin is part of everything we do.

We take “conspiratorial accusations” to be accusations of conspiracy. We doubt Missouri Presbytery is accusing us of conspiracy. Rather, they are accusing us of saying they and their Revoicers themselves are “conspiratorial.”

In one sense this is false, but in another true.

We do not believe Covenant Theological Seminary’s President Mark Dalbey, the session of Memorial Presbyterian Church, Memorial’s pastor Greg Johnson, and Covenant alumni are meeting in back rooms, drinking bourbon, smoking cigars, and plotting the gay takeover of the Presbyterian Church in America. Few men have the self-discipline to plan and carry out such conspiracies, even if they wanted to.

On the other hand, Satan is the Spirit of our age and is himself using the naive and simpletons to support his rebellion. Let the reader judge for himself. “Nuance” and “complexity” are tools he employs as a master craftsman.

Concerning Nate Collins’s statement, one swallow doth not a summer make.

We recognize that questions about how SSA believers ought to and ought not to relate to secular gay communities are complex ones. They touch on theological, missional, and pastoral themes such as common grace, how our theology informs systemic injustices, and how our pastoral care should balance concern over the sins of others perpetrated against SSA people with concern over the SSA person’s own sinful inclinations and choices.

“Systemic injustices” and “sins perpetrated against same-sex attracted people” are the sort of claims of victimhood homosexualists never stop whining about. Are we really going to grant that all previous generations of Christians neither understood nor loved them?

This is why we think the most important thing we can do is to reject the attitude that was exhibited in a letter from a fellow teaching elder to our entire presbytery which concluded “for my part, as long as you continue in this doctrine and practice you are not welcome at my dinner table nor in my denomination.” We think the most important thing we can do right now is to bring people together from our denomination not only around our dinner tables but also our conference tables, to begin sorting through more of these matters together in a humble and civil way, so as to bring unity and understanding.

“The most important thing they can do?” Really?

Missouri Presbytery is unwilling to acknowledge Revoice is heresy promoted by false shepherds who deny that effeminacy is a sin barring a man from the Kingdom of God. This is the reason the Apostle Paul warns us:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1Corinthians 6:9-11)

Do not be deceived. Savage wolves have come in among us, not sparing the flock; and from among our own selves men have arisen, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore we must be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years the Apostle Paul himself did not cease to admonish each one with tears (Acts 20:29-31).

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This is second in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here.

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1. See also https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVvghdAgE9s&feature=youtu.be.

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About The Authors

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Tim Bayly has been senior pastor of Clearnote Church, Bloomington since 1996. Married to Mary Lee, the Baylys have five children and twenty-something grandchildren. Tim's book on fatherhood is titled "Daddy Tried" and he is co-author of a book on homosexuality titled "The Grace of Shame.’

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Andrew Dionne is the Senior Pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church (Evangel Presbytery) 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 pastor ordained in the PCA. He has a wife and 5 children and lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

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