Missouri Presbytery Revoice Report: a close reading (8)
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 18 conference one year ago in St. Louis. The second Revoice (19) will soon be held, once 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 Report. This is eighth 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.
NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all footnotes are from Missouri Presbytery’s Report.
A. History and Context of Revoice
The emergence of Revoice upon the scene of the American evangelical landscape was startling for many sincere Christians. However, the Revoice organizers are fully aware of where they fit into the ongoing story of how the American evangelical church has engaged with the matter of homosexuality and the church over the last forty-five years.
Not “startling” at all. Fully predictable. We’ve all watched the Gospel Coalition, Al Mohler, Russ Moore, and Tim Keller give their imprimatur to Revoice for years, now. Not Revoice by name, but the entire ideological mess they promote and live by.
So again, Revoice’s critics are presented in an unfavorable light next to Revoicers themselves. “Sincere Christians” criticized Revoice because they were “startled,” implying that they were unaware and taken by surprise. Revoicers themselves though are “fully aware” of who and where they are.
But may we pause for a moment and point out the obvious?
The opponents of Revoice are not alone in being startled. Revoice and its supporters also were startled and haven’t quite recovered from their shock. Watch the reaction of President Mark Dalbey and his trustees at Covenant Theological Seminary. Shock and jaw, constantly accusing Revoice’s critics of “misrepresenting” Revoice, “slander,” and “lies.” Watch the efforts of Covenant Theological Seminary, Missouri Presbytery, and Memorial Presbyterian Church’s Session issuing a couple white flags of one sort and another. Covenant announces it will most certainly not allow any of its professors to speak at this year’s Revoice (19). Memorial will most certainly not allow this year’s Revoice (19) to meet in their building. Missouri Presbytery releases this Report with the disclaimer up front that readers should most certainly not interpret this Report as supportive of Revoice because that’s not at all how they intend their report to be taken. (That statement itself, twice repeated by Missouri Presbytery, is worthy of its own post.)
Yes, Revoice and their supporters were startled by the informed Biblical opposition they have met in their attempts to mainstream sodomitic desire and effeminacy inside the Christian Church.
The men of Revoice and Missouri Presbytery have no peaceful easy feeling as they continue to be the subjects of historically informed, discerning, intense opposition from pastors and elders who are working hard to expose their enticement of the flock to sin.
Godly pastors and elders crying out to Revoice and Missouri Presbytery, “Wake up, sleepers; you have “become like Sodom” and you “resemble Gomorrah” (Romans 9:29).
But no, put to sleep by their conceit that they are the discerning and loving and understanding ones, the men of Missouri Presbytery can’t help but assume critics are woefully ignorant of the facts. This is always the assumption of educationalists: conflict is merely misunderstanding caused by ignorance. Education is always and forever the answer, so here comes a long history lesson on the ins and outs of gay identity politics within the Church giving birth to Revoice.
The ministry Exodus International began in 1973, four years after the birth of the modern day pro-gay movement was galvanized at the Stonewall Riots in NYC (1969), and the same year that homosexuality was dropped from the list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Before this time, American society was generally in agreement that homosexuality was a mental disorder. From the early 1970s, secular society increasingly began to view homosexuality as simply an expression of human diversity, while the church continued to view homosexuality as something that needed to be cured. Exodus, bolstered by the new Christian Counseling movement, became the primary organization that supported and promoted ministries that put forth various models for healing people with homosexual desires. As the culture wars of the eighties and nineties raged against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic, Exodus-affiliated ministries became more aligned with psychological models that promised healing from homosexuality, generally termed Reparative Therapy.1
However, beginning in the early 2000s, younger evangelicals who were still in their teens, began to push back against the reparative model.
Each time Missouri Presbytery says “reparative” therapy or counseling, think “help a man to be a man” counseling. Reparative therapy is also known as gender-dysphoria, sexual orientation change, or conversion counseling. All hold in common helping men and women, boys and girls, to embrace the sex God made them.
Note well that all these forms of counseling are lumped together as “reparative therapy” in the statutes criminalizing this form of counseling being voted into law across our country.
The rise of the Internet Age allowed these young people, most of whom were experiencing homosexual attractions themselves, to access critiques of the reparative models and to hear testimonies of “ex-ex gays.”2 While most of the early critiques were from secular and theologically liberal sources, eventually evangelical critiques emerged. The most notable were from prominent Christian psychologists Mark Yarhouse and Warren Throckmorton, both of whom began as practitioners of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) but whose research later led them to abandon that model and develop alternatives. These young people began to reject Exodus and to view being put into Exodus programs by parents as unloving. Many of these younger believers, however, were evangelical and they maintained a commitment to Biblical authority.
Mark Yarhouse provides the “Christian scholar” cover for all these Christian homosexualists and their Revoice-like movements. Interviewed by Christianity Today and discussing men who claim to be a woman trapped in a man’s body, Yarhouse says to such men that they “may benefit from space to find ways to identify with aspects of the opposite sex, as a way to manage extreme discomfort.” Yarhouse also says “redemption is not found by measuring how well a person’s gender identity aligns with their biological sex.” Concerning the Church’s reception of men asking to be addressed as women, he writes “it is an act of respect, even if we disagree, to let the person determine what they want to be called.” Now, referring to himself and Yarhouse, Throckmorton writes: “it is important to note that change of orientation is not an objective we promote.”
A psychologist, Yarhouse is very sophisticated in selling the Revoice errors to mainstream Evangelicals. He gets lots of press among them because of his terminal degree, his presenting himself as a research scientist, and his job at Regent University (Virginia)—an institution with some reputation for being culturally conservative. But his errors are obvious to Christians who know God’s Word and are not overly respectful of scholarly credentials.
Remember Yarhouse’s name. He’s long been designing the strategy of compromise with homosexualists now being touted by Christian celebrities such as the Gospel Coalition’s Tim Keller, Russ Moore, Al Mohler, Lig Duncan, and Sam Allberry. In that connection, don’t be fooled by some of these men’s statements critical of Revoice. Like Missouri Presbytery’s Revoicers, these men were startled by the strength of opposition Revoice met, so they followed Memorial Church, Covenant Seminary, and Missouri Presbytery in raising a few limited alarms.
What President Mark Dalbey and his Covenant Theological Seminary, Pastor Greg Johnson and his Memorial Presbyterian Church, Pastor Ron Lutjens and his Missouri Presbytery, Al Mohler and his friend Russ Moore, Tim Keller and his friend Lig Duncan, Christianity Today and its Wheaton College, and Warren Throckmorton and Mark Yarhouse refuse to admit is that it is sin to live contrary to the sex God made us; that our sex is assigned by God and we are to obey it; that this is the reason the Apostle Paul writes not just that men who lie with males (arsenokoitai, sodomites), but also men who play the woman (malakoi, effeminate), will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1Corinthians 6:9, 10).
Keep this in mind as you read the rest of Missouri Presbytery’s Report. These men are opposed to the grace of shame and they deny effeminacy is a sin that bars a man from Heaven.
Some of these young people adopted progressive biblical interpretations of the passages that mention homosexual behaviors and embraced the teaching that the Bible does not condemn homosexual acts in the confines of committed, mutual, relationships.
Tony Campolo’s wife was in the forefront of endorsing these “relationships” decades ago in Christianity Today.
However, others contended that the Bible does teach that homosexual sex acts are always sinful.
Always the “acts,” never the desires, identity, or “gay aesthetic.” The outside of the cup, only.
This new view of things drew together people of faith from all Christian traditions who shared two primary similarities: they identified as gay; and they rejected reparative therapy.
“People of faith from all Christian traditions” includes men in “committed mutual” homosexual relationships.
They disagreed among themselves on the morality of homosexual sex, a larger and dominant “side” accepting progressive interpretations and dubbed “the A side,” and a minority “side” regarding homosexual sex as sinful, “the B side.”3
This use of the phrase “somewhat disparagingly” is another hint making us hopeful Missouri Presbytery has some sympathy for reparative therapy.
Eventually, these “gay Christians” began gathering at the annual conferences of the Gay Christian Network (GCN), which had become a quasi-community comprised of both progressive, Side A gay people, as well as Side B people who had rejected reparative therapy and the related efforts of ministries like Exodus and its many affiliated organizations. By 2010, GCN was approaching the size of Exodus’ annual conference and was filled with mostly younger people. Soon Exodus began to weaken for a variety of reasons, including its aging demographic, its association with reparative therapy, lack of clear vision, the renunciation of its teachings by numerous former leaders, and a theological controversy over the teachings of its then president, Alan Chambers. These difficulties eventually led to Exodus’ closing in 2013.
The main group to form from the ashes of Exodus was Restored Hope Network, a ministry which retained its support for reparative therapy. By the time Exodus closed, Alan Chambers had made a public apology to the gay community for many things done at Exodus, including their support of reparative therapy. He stated that candidly that he did not believe it was effective. The GCN community had become home to formerly active Exodus leaders, such as John Smid and John Paulk,4 who had by then repudiated the reparative model and had endorsed gay relationships.
This is a good summary of the tragic end of Exodus.
Over the next five years, GCN became even more progressive.5 Christians who felt alienated from the older, reparative models, but disagreed with the progressive side’s abandonment of the church’s traditional teaching, articulated an alternative model for faithfulness to the traditional biblical sexual ethic under the “side B umbrella.” However, their engagement with and support of each other was primarily through, blogs, online forums, and informal gatherings.6 Although they rejected the approach of Exodus, they did desire to have a community like Exodus that could support them. They felt their only options were either to be with the affirming community or with people who would counsel them to go into therapy aimed at changing their sexual orientation. This community felt that their experiences and views were being missed by the larger church on both the right and the left. They began to articulate a pastoral care model that relied on biblical discipleship and historical Christian disciplines rather than on counseling—all of it a response to gay people who rejected reparative therapy as the only right way to deal with homoerotic attractions.
No one has ever claimed reparative therapy is “the only right way to deal with homoerotic desires.” The Church’s primary tools with homosexual sinners have always been their primary tools with heterosexual sinners, also. Repentance. Faith in Jesus Christ. Prayer. The sacraments. Preaching. Fellowship, and the list goes on.
A community of people coalesced around this Side B position, and felt deep comradeship with one another. Most of them had grown up in the church and came to realize their sexuality while under the tutelage and care of the church.
Repeatedly Missouri Presbytery’s report speaks in the passive voice of how gays and the effeminate “came to realize their sexuality.” Al Mohler speaks the same way and The Grace of Shame goes into detail quoting President Mohler, demonstrating how his language opens the door to those who say it is God Himself who made them this way.
Note also how protective of Revoicers the men of Missouri Presbytery’s Report are in this history of Revoice’s origins. Their language claims Revoicers and their predecessors never schemed or planned from any coherent strategy. Rather they “coalesced,” “felt,” and “came to realize.” This language continues throughout, neatly fencing off any possibility of holding Revoicers accountable for building an organization whose reason to exist is repudiation of the sin of effeminacy and sodomy’s shame.
Unlike groups stressing that gay men and women should leave behind and repudiate the LGBTQ communities they came from when they turned to Christ and left their gay “lifestyle” behind them, these believers were trying to form their own “lifestyle” of obedience to Christ that did not require them to buy into the promises of sexual orientation change.
Yes, and this is the thrust behind Al Mohler reversing his longtime public denial of the existence of homosexual orientation, saying “I was wrong” and declaring he now believes in it.
The Side B group was overwhelmingly young because older leaders in evangelical ministries had affirmed sexual orientation change models to various degrees, and were suspicious of this new model.7
Again, readers should keep their eyes on this passive language, “coming to know of their sexuality.” Missouri Presbytery knows precisely what they are doing using this language. Jesus said “from the beginning He made them male and female.” Missouri Presbyters say “as young men and women, these gays and effeminates were ‘coming to know of their sexuality.'”
Also, it’s interesting the men of Missouri Presbytery explain that Revoicers reject Gospel Coalition spokeswoman, Rosaria Butterfield, because she had an “adult-age conversion story.”
When the Nashville Statement was released in 2017, many in the Side B community felt that the conservative church they count themselves to be members of did not care about their experiences or viewpoint.
The Nashville Statement was almost as noteworthy for the teaching of Scripture it avoided saying than for what it did say. Perfectly tuned for mainline Evangelicals as demonstrated in the above link, it is typical of Revoicers to take offense where none was intended or given. Revoice has always been about claiming victimhood, and not acknowledging this penchant of gays and effeminates does them no favor. Again and again Missouri Presbytery’s men tell readers how Revoicers “feel” about this and that. Here they simply report that Revoicers felt the Christian church “did not care about their experiences and viewpoint.”
This is a lie, but Missouri Presbytery is careful to make no judgment.
In late 2017, two people in the Side B community, Nate Collins and Stephen Moss, decided to respond.
Back a few years ago before Stephen Moss graduated from Covenant Theological Seminary, one of us called and spoke to him for well over an hour warning him that being the Reformed church’s poster-boy for gay pastors would not serve him well in the long run. We encouraged him to disassociate himself from Tim Keller’s former colleague at Redeemer, Pastor Scott Sauls, who had brought Moss to Nashville to promote LivingOUT-type gays and effeminate in ministry. Warhorn has quite a few pieces on Pastor Sauls, but Nashville Presbytery has not found it within themselves to say “no” to his schisms.
Moss demurred, pushing on with his strategy by founding Revoice and encouraging its schism within the PCA. Now Stephen has a lot to answer for. We don’t know whether anyone else ever warned him, but noting the schism tearing apart the PCA today concerning Revoice, we should remember the command of Scripture:
As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10, 11; ESV)
Now then, the denouement:
They were advised that rather than starting an organization they ought to put on a small conference for Side B Christians—which is what they began to plan for.
We’re betting one or more of the men who wrote this Report were among those who gave Moss and Collins this advice.
Its purpose was to provide encouragement for Side B people as well as a platform for the unique point of view of the Side B community. The emphasis was on teaching and on giving Side B people opportunity to be together.
FirstLight and Revoice refuse to recognize the harm they cause repentant gays and effeminates by shunting them off into what many repentant gays term the church’s “gay ghettos” where men “sit around and talk about it.” These men are wise and godly, and thus have not continued in FirstLight, nor would they ever go near Revoice.
What do they know and understand that Missouri Presbytery doesn’t?
It was at this point in late 2017 that Mr. Moss, who was a member at Memorial Presbyterian Church, approached Memorial’s senior pastor, TE Greg Johnson, to see if Memorial would be willing to host a conference for Side B Christians with the primary speaker being Dr. Wesley Hill, an associate professor of New Testament at an evangelical Anglican seminary, Trinity School for Ministry. At this point the Session of Memorial approved the conference on the basis of this initial proposal. The rest of the conference speakers, including both plenary speakers and workshop speakers, were determined by Dr. Collins and Mr. Moss without review or approval by the Session at Memorial. Memorial’s Session did not view this as abnormal, given that they frequently allow groups to use their building who hold views that they might disagree with and because Memorial was merely hosting the event—not sponsoring it. The timeline of events below sets out the rest of the key events that followed.
Some disclaimers sandwiched in there, but nothing straightforward. Just small hints of second thoughts.
(For a detailed explanation of the unbiblical compromises and sophisticated equivocations Yarhouse and his followers promote among Evangelicals such as Revoicers, read The Grace of Shame: 7 Ways the Church Has Failed To Love Homosexuals.)
(This is eighth in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here.)
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|1.||↑||Technically, Reparative Therapy is but one form of therapy that was aimed at changing sexual orientation. It was developed by Joseph Nicolosi and is most closely associated with the National Association for the Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH). However, “reparative therapy” has become a catch-all phrase representing all forms of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE). [NOTE from Pastors Bayly, Dionne, and Halsey: A “catch-all phrase, indeed. Here, finally, we find an admission by the homosexualists that all the laws being passed across North America criminalizing counseling seeking to teach sodomites and the effeminate to “be a man” are not laws against so-called “reparative therapy,” but laws criminalizing parents helping their children to submit to the sex God made them “from the beginning.”]|
|2.||↑||People who tried reparative models but later rejected them and chose to embrace their homosexuality.|
|3.||↑||The “A side/B side language” actually derived from an on-line dialogue called “Bridges Across the Divide”. Justin Lee is credited as being the first representative of the “A” position and Ron Belgau that for the “B side”. Somewhat disparagingly, these groups termed those who advocate reparative change as “X side” in reference to Exodus. While this community has its own insider language of “A, B, X”, Exodus was seen as having their own insider language of “SSA” for “same-sex attracted.”|
|4.||↑||John Smid became famous for running Love in Action, a large Exodus inpatient program that became known for being particularly abusive. The movie Boy Erased is based on events from Love in Action. John Paulk was the face of reparative therapy. He was the founder Love Won Out, a conference ministry formed initially by Focus on the Family, and eventually handed over to Exodus International, and featured on the cover of Newsweek as an example of a reparative success story in 1998. Both men are now divorced and are openly gay affirming.|
|5.||↑||The founder Justin Lee, who is “side A” but showed sympathies for “side B” was ousted and the organization became more hostile to traditional voices. The organization is now called the Q Christian Fellowship.|
|6.||↑||Spiritual Friendship was the most well-known of these blogs, founded by two prominent side-B advocates Wesley Hill and Ron Belgau. See www.spiritualfriendship.org.|
|7.||↑||It should be pointed out that by this time several prominent evangelical leaders involved in the conversation about homosexuality, such as Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yuan, were advocating models of change without recourse to reparative theology that were more discipleship focused. However, the people in the B community generally did not relate to these writers since they had adult-age conversion stories and were not helpful to them in navigating their experience of coming to know of their sexuality while growing up in the church.|