Thoughts on Revoice, Unnecessary Division, and the PCA

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At the risk of speaking too soon, I thought I would share a few thoughts as my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, heads into its annual General Assembly gathering in Dallas (think Southern Baptist Convention, but for Presbyterians).

Speaking of the SBC, earlier this month our Baptist friends debated and approved a resolution regarding human sexuality and marriage. This resolution was spawned by an ongoing debate within the SBC that is similar to the one happening currently in the PCA. It’s a big conversation these days, not only for us but for the entire Church in the West.

At the center of the debate is a conference on human sexuality called Revoice. According to its website, Revoice aims to provide support and encouragement for same-sex attracted Christians and their loved ones, “so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality” (emphasis mine).

Revoice participants gather not to celebrate homosexuality or “gayness,” but rather to find support, understanding, and inspiration for obedience and personal holiness from a community that understands and empathizes more fully than many (culturally) conservative, nuclear family focused, and sometimes homophobic churches do.

Some Background

I am a big empathy-plus-faithfulness guy. So, when I was first introduced to the core message, beliefs, and goals of this organization, I thought:

“This is good. Another ministry that upholds the biblical teaching on sex and marriage—namely, that sex is a gift from God to be freely enjoyed by one man and one woman inside a lifelong, exclusive, monogamous marriage covenant. In addition, Revoice wants to help provide guidance, empathy, and support for Christian men and women who (a) experience same-sex attraction, and (b) seek to uphold and encourage obedience to the biblical sex and marriage ethic by chaste, celibate singleness akin to Jesus and the apostle Paul, or by marrying a person of the opposite sex as Revoice founder, Nate Collins, has done.”

When I first announced my appreciation for Revoice’s core message as stated above, I experienced a backlash from a few folks that I did not expect. To be fair, some of the backlash was warranted because of a seminar title that appeared later on their website that was provocative, potentially misleading, and in many ways unhelpful. To Revoice’s credit, they humbly listened to their critics (including me) and have since become more careful with their words. They have also since released a detailed doctrinal statement, a statement on sexual ethics and Christian obedience, and a statement on public posture and Christian witness.

In addition to this, some concerned parties also began to characterize Revoice (and my general appreciation for their core message as stated above) as some sort of first step in a “slippery slope” toward liberalism, biblical infidelity, and so forth. I was even accused on a blog, written by someone that I have never met (that’s usually how it goes), of having some sort of secret, hidden agenda up my sleeve to steer the PCA toward denial of the historic, biblical teaching on sex and marriage. This accusation was comical to me for two reasons. First, I have neither the power nor the influence to steer the PCA in such a way. Second, even if I did, I would have no interest in doing so.

Anyone who has read my books, listened to my sermons in their full context (which of course is different than pulling sound-bites out of their context to try to make them say what they are not intended to say), or read any of my related essays on the subject (here is a sample), should be quite aware that I have no interest in trashing historic, biblical ethics. Rather, my interest is to support and encourage people who wish to organize their lives (and sexuality) around healthy biblical faith, healthy biblical repentance, and healthy biblical ethics.

Some Things I Hope We Will All Consider

Going in to General Assembly, whatever they may or may not think of Revoice (there should be room to disagree agreeably in our preferred methodologies and nuances), I hope my fellow ministers and elders will carefully consider the following thoughts.

My hope here is to resist and renounce all slippery slopes. This includes slopes that slip liberal left as well as ones that slip conservative right. The left-leaning slope subtracts from Scripture. The right-leaning slope adds to Scripture. Both create division in Christ’s Church, and both invite the Lord’s displeasure and judgment (Revelation 22:18-19).

I also hope that we will be careful to honor the prayer that our Lord offered up for us before he journeyed to the cross, namely, that we would love one another. As my beloved friend and esteemed colleague David Filson has said, Jesus is reading all of our emails and Facebook posts, and he is listening in on all of our conversations, debates, and the ways that we talk about each other.

On the Use of Language

One common concern expressed by some is over the use of the word “gay” to describe anyone who also identifies as “Christian.”

For example, conservative theologian and Gospel Coalition founder, Don Carson, writes of a “gay young man who wants to live his life under the authority of King Jesus” in his endorsement of Gregory Coles’ book, Single, Gay, Christian (Coles also led the worship at Revoice).

In spite of Carson’s long record of biblical orthodoxy and strong commitment to the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of Scripture and biblical ethics, some would allege that his use of the word “gay,” even in this context, is problematic. According to those critics, the word “gay” ought never be used to describe someone who identifies as “Christian” and that the word “Christian” ought never be used to describe someone who identifies as “gay.” Period.

Similar concerns have been raised about the use of the term “sexual minority” as conservative reformed theologian and historian, Carl Trueman, uses the term in this book review.

Though I, like Trueman, have sometimes used the term “sexual minority” to describe the minority experience of having same-sex attraction, I don’t use terms like “gay Christian” in my own language. For those who wish to allege that I use or support such language, you will not find it anywhere in my teaching, preaching, or writing.

Instead of the “gay Christian” language, I use terms like “Christians who experience same-sex attraction” to ensure that I am clearly understood by my audience. Similarly, Nate Collins, Greg Johnson, and Stephen Moss—all of whom are leaders for Revoice—are uncomfortable using the “gay Christian” moniker to describe themselves, and they do not do so. Their website also puts emphasis on the phrase, “same sex attraction.”

This being said, it seems to me that it ought still to be allowed, provided that terms are carefully defined, for chaste Christians who experience same-sex attraction to use the word “gay” as a modifier to describe their feelings and temptations.

Lexically, the word “gay” can refer to homosexual practice, pornography, or indulged fantasy, which according to Romans 1 and other Scriptures is sinful. This kind of “gay” is on par with other porneia-related sins like pornography, sexual abuse, hetero-adultery, and hetero-immorality, all of which are even more ubiquitous among Christian churches than their homoerotic counterparts.

On the other hand, the word “gay” can also mean having feelings—including unwanted ones—toward people of the same sex. For Christians like Nate Collins, Greg Johnson, and Stephen Moss (as well as others like Tim Geiger from Harvest, USA), these feelings are not to be indulged or pursued, but rather, mortified daily. The classic word for these kinds of unwanted feelings is “temptation.”

Although he was in no way fallen, was without a sinful nature, and never for a moment experienced a sinful desire, Jesus nonetheless was also “tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). In his deity, Jesus could not and therefore did not sin. In his humanity, Jesus nonetheless subjected himself to the same temptations we experience. In this, we see that sin and temptation are different things and must be treated as such.

Are We Consistent in Our Vernacular?

Shifting gears a bit, the question I would ask us PCA ministers and elders to consider is this:

If it’s always wrong for same-sex attracted, chaste and celibate Christians to use the word “gay” to describe their experience of temptation (versus using the word as an identity marker, which would not be right), is it also wrong for others to use words like “alcoholic” or “addict” or “anxious” or “insomniac” or “sinner” to describe THEIR unique feelings and the unique temptations that flow from them? Or, is it okay, at least under certain circumstances, to do so?

For those like me who don’t use the “gay Christian” language to describe fellow Christians, this empathy-filled, pastoral insight from same-sex attracted minister, Sam Alberry, is helpful:

“I think people who come to faith from the LGBT+ community are going to instinctively say, ‘I’m a gay Christian.’ I think that’s a very understandable starting point. It wouldn’t be where I’d want them to finally land in terms of the language they use. But I wouldn’t want to jump up and down on a new or young Christian just for using that language as if it’s only, ever, always wrong. They may just not have had a chance to think that kind of thing through yet.”

I appreciate Sam’s thoughtful and pastoral approach toward people who are in process, especially for men and women who can’t find other words to describe their feelings and temptations. Having himself shared their situation, Sam graciously and patiently makes allowance for others in the process of shepherding them.

Perhaps for similar reasons and in a specific context, Paul gave himself latitude to use two phrases from Stoic and Epicurean philosophy—two systems filled with biblical error but that, like all human systems and cultures, because of the Image of God have kernels of God’s truth in them—in order to build relational, evangelistic, and pastoral bridges (Acts 17:28). Perhaps this is also why, in a specific context, Jesus affirmed prostitutes who were entering God’s kingdom faster than strident, judicious, doctrinaire religious folk (Matthew 21:31). Perhaps it is also why, in a certain context, he identified a Samaritan—assumed by his religious audience to be both heretical and the moral scum of the earth—as the hero and protagonist of one of his most famous parables (Luke 10:25-37).

As for Paul’s own self-understanding, he identifies himself not only as a saint but as a sinner. He does not say “I was the chief of sinners,” but “I am the chief of sinners.” Paul’s present-tense language is acceptable to us because he is Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is also acceptable because of the manner in which Paul uses it.

In calling himself a sinner, we know and accept that Paul is not celebrating sin or declaring any intention to commit sin. At the same time, sin is something that is always crouching at his door. It will remain for him daily struggle (not an identity, but a struggle; not a cause for celebration, but a cause for daily repentance and reliance on the Lord) until the day of his death.

Even the Lord Jesus “became sin for us” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Although he did not in any way share our experience as sinners, in some mysterious way he bore  and carried our experience as sinners. He named himself among us, allowing himself to be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

As a man who, unlike Jesus, did have a fallen and sinful nature, David wrote, “In sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Sin is not merely about our behavior. It is also a condition into which we have been born. Theologians call this condition “original sin,” and the Bible uses terms like “the flesh” and “the old man” to describe it. Even in our most redeemed and holy and sanctified state, until we are Home, we will always be sinners.

Although it’s not a complete apples-to-apples comparison, most of the Christians I know who describe themselves as “gay” use the word in a similar way that Paul did when he called himself a sinner. They use the word not as a banner or as an identity, but as an honest recognition of their broken state as those effected by original sin.

To be frank, many of these Christians steward their sexuality far better, and far more faithfully, than their single straight Christian peers. We mustn’t forget or downplay that the most common sex and marriage sins in our churches are hetero-lust, hetero-porn, hetero-immorality, hetero-abuse, and the kinds of divorce and remarriage that are condemned by Scripture.

We also embrace Luther’s famous assertion that Christians are “simultaneously saints and sinners” until the Lord returns. Until that day, we will never be one without the other. Biblically, we aren’t merely permitted to use the word “sinner” in reference to ourselves. Rather, we are required to do so. It is only when we confess our sins—both original sin and volitional sin—that we are healed.

Many PCA ministers and elders resonate with, preach, and teach John Piper’s concept of “Christian hedonism.” We allow this because we accept Piper’s own explanation of what he means by the word “hedonist.” To Piper, a Christian hedonist is one who seeks her or his ultimate pleasure in God. With this new reframing and redefining of a word that is typically associated with seeking pleasure through self-indulgence, promiscuity, and sin, we nonetheless accept and embrace and even champion Piper’s alternative use of the term.

Why can’t we offer similar charity and latitude regarding the use of words, especially when such words are placed within the context of statements like this one from the Revoice website:

“We believe God calls his people to a life of holiness, and that it is the responsibility of every Christian to turn away from all illicit sexual desire, and to steward their sexuality in obedience to Christ. Further, we believe that both singleness and marriage are vocations to be honored and commended by the Church. We believe that all Christians who joyfully embrace celibacy—whether on a temporary basis before marrying, or as a lifelong pattern of faithfulness—uniquely model the life of the world to come, when the people of God neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels. (Matt. 5:8,48; 1 Cor. 6:13; Heb. 13:4; 1 Cor. 7:6–9; Matt. 19:10-12; Matt. 22:30)”

On Mortification and God’s Providence

Another concern that has been raised by some in the PCA is over a supposed de-emphasis upon the mortification of sin (My personal favorite on the subject is an oldie by John Owen, which can be purchased here).

Christians who experience same-sex attraction tell us that trying to “pray the gay away” has, in their experience, been about as effective as similar attempts to pray terminal cancer away. For same-sex attraction and terminal cancer (or if you don’t like the cancer analogy, let’s say a chronic insomnia), in rare instances the healing does miraculously come, and we have God to thank and praise for that.

But to presume upon God that change will and should come—and if it doesn’t then we have a moral problem and cause for bringing someone up on charges—is to take a triumphalistic, unrealistic, dishonest, un-reformed, pastorally and emotionally and psychologically and spiritually injurious stance regarding sanctification and holiness. It is also to deny the “not yet” in our already/not yet theology regarding the kingdom of God.

In God’s providence and according to all the statistics, prayerful healing from terminal cancer and prayerful healing from same sex attraction in this lifetime are both quite rare. This does not mean that the person praying for healing is any less faithful, or any more flawed, than the rest of us. Rather, it means that sometimes God, in his mysterious wisdom, chooses to answer our prayers with a “no” for the purpose of giving us what he determines to be a better “yes.”

The redemptive “no” from our Father has precedent. Even Jesus prayed that he wouldn’t have to go to the cross, and God declined the request so that we could all be saved:

“Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39).

Then, to show the full extent of his love toward both his Father and us, Jesus was obedient to death, even death on a cross, as the Triune God had determined before the creation of the world. There was nothing fallen or sinful associated with Jesus’ prayer, only temptation—for he was tempted in every way, just as we are, yet was without sin.

On a different occasion under different circumstances, Paul prayed that God would take away his thorn in the flesh, a prayer that God denied three times. Why? So that the virtues of humility and dependence would be further advanced in Paul, and that God’s glory and power would be manifest through Paul’s weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

When people ask God to take away their terminal cancer or their chronic insomnia or their same-sex attraction, it often plays out in the same way. My own personal belief is that God puts obedient, same-sex attracted Christians in our midst to show us what denying oneself, taking up a cross daily, and following Jesus can look like. Our faith is supposed to cost us something, and our brothers and sisters help show us the way.

Along similar lines, my lovely friend and hero Joni Eareckson Tada is fond of saying, “Sometimes God allows what he hates in order to accomplish what God loves.”

Are the Scriptures above (or am I) suggesting that God cannot or does not answer “yes” in this lifetime to such healing prayers? Absolutely not. God can do anything that is in accord with his holy will.

Are the same Scriptures (or am I) suggesting that sometimes God’s holy will is to say a temporary “no” to our healing prayers in order to give us a better “yes” according to his infinite wisdom? Absolutely yes.

Pastoral Considerations

Former PCA minister, Francis Schaeffer, offers a helpful perspective on this. Schaeffer wrote:

“The mistake…that the orthodox people have made…is [to say] that homophile tendencies are sin in themselves, even if there is no homosexual practice. Therefore, the homophile tends to be pushed out of human life (and especially orthodox church life) even if he does not practice homosexuality. This, I believe, is both cruel and wrong.”

Similarly, John Stott said that if “gay people” cannot find love, identity, and completeness in our church families, then we ought to stop using the word “family” to describe our churches.

If you are interested in hearing more about this reality, consider this talk by Johanna Finegan, who is a PCA member, is attracted to women, is married to a man, was educated at MIT, and quotes the likes of Luther, Trueman, Mohler, Butterfield, and several Puritans in her reasoning.

Or consider the following Facebook comment by Rev. Greg Johnson, a minister in the PCA who is single, sexually chaste, and has for over 40 years been attracted only to men:

“I know that (those who do not share my experience) mean well when (they) say we are “downplaying the gospel’s power to mortify sinful desires” where same-sex attraction is concerned. I hope you will ask __________…I suspect he will give you the same answer that Alan Downs of Exodus gave. Or Mike Rosenbush of Focus on the Family gave. Or that I would give…I suspect none of us has seen an exclusively SSA man ever become straight. Obedient? Yes. But not straight. For now, I mortify my sinful flesh daily knowing that my true healing awaits me in glory. When Pentecostals sell the false hope of healing, their victims pay for that false hope with subsequent feelings of shame, defeat and despair when healing does not come. The same is true with Christians with SSA. When you suggest that it can be mortified away, we pay for that false hope with feelings of shame, defeat and despair when our orientations don’t change. That over-realized eschatology has driven most people like me from the faith. There is a reason this conversation desperately needs to be revoiced.”

The basic point is this. If we aren’t inclined to punish or prosecute fellow Christians for failing to successfully eliminate their alcohol cravings, their cancer, or their chronic insomnia, why on earth would we be inclined to punish or prosecute a fellow Christian for failing to successfully eliminate unwanted feelings of same-sex attraction?

When we encounter a person who is tempted by greed but who lives generously, or who is tempted by anger but who lives kind, or who is tempted by gluttony but who lives self-controlled, or who is tempted by wanting to give a false report but who lives truthful, we applaud them for their biblical obedience. We might even invite them to give their testimony in church.

Why would we not likewise applaud, and even platform, those who are tempted by same-sex attraction but who live chaste? Something tells me, especially in this day and age, that we should.

Perhaps instead of piling on scrutiny, we ought to come alongside these Christians and help support them in their efforts to be faithful. As the same-sex attracted Christian and poet, W.H. Auden once wrote to a friend:

“There are days when the knowledge that there will never be a place which I can call home, that there will never be a person with whom I shall be one flesh, seem more than I can bear, and if it wasn’t for you, and a few—how few—like you, I don’t think I could.”

Recently, Greg Johnson published his story in Christianity Today. The title given is, “I Used to Hide My Shame. Now I Take Shelter Under the Gospel.” I hope that you will carefully read Greg’s story. Greg, a Christian minister who has been attracted to men for his entire 40-plus years of life, has never once kissed or held hands romantically with another person, because he loves Jesus.

While I’m on the subject of Greg, he took some hits when his church, Memorial PCA in St. Louis, hosted the first Revoice Conference in 2018. Instead of defending himself, Greg asked his Presbytery to investigate him for his views and practices. In effect, Greg invited his fellow ministers and elders to scrutinize him, and if found guilty of biblical infidelity, to prosecute him and kick him out of the denomination. The Presbytery obliged, and at the end of the investigation, Greg was judged orthodox and faithful.

The Presbytery report also concluded, “We do not believe that doctrinal positions contrary to the Scriptures and our confessional standards were advanced at Revoice 18” (emphasis mine).

It turns out that the closer you get to a person or a thing, the more faithful and orthodox that person or thing might reveal him/itself to be.

I wonder how many of us would consider inviting our own Presbyteries to investigate us for a wandering eye or questionable internet habits—or for that matter things like online gossip, slander, being quick to speak and slow to listen, mischaracterizing others, giving a false report, believing the worst about people, and not accepting people’s own explanations of their own words and statements as the truest understanding of what they actually believe?

I wonder how many of us would consider becoming more concerned about the logs in our own eyes than we are about the specks in the eyes of others?

Friends on All Sides

I do not write any of this to take a side. I actually have friends—very good friends—on all sides of this discussion, although I tend to agree with some friends more often than others. In all of these friendships, there have been moments of great encouragement as well as uncomfortable tension. Also in all of these friendships, not in spite of the tension but precisely because of it, my affection for my friends on all sides has deepened. What’s more, my perspective has been sharpened and refined because of them.

I think that’s actually what happens in a real brotherhood or family. Sometimes we support and applaud each other, sometimes we get under each other’s skin and even hurt each other. Sometimes we agree on things, sometimes we disagree. And through it all, those who are humble and teachable will become the better for it.

(On a related note, I have now revised this essay over twenty times in response to valid concerns and critiques of previous, less clear versions, and I may continue to do so).

I believe that real relationship is a much more charitable alternative to private Facebook groups, “gotcha” blog posts, ill-informed conspiracy theories, and public-witness-damaging tribal echo chambers. In the days before us, I hope that all of my fellow ministers and elders in the PCA will join me in believing this, and be resolved to act upon it.

In the end, my own bottom line is this. Whether or not Revoice (or Harvest USA) is our cup of tea, I hope we in the PCA can at least agree and seek unity around one, simple fact. It remains indisputably true that not a single minister or elder in the PCA denies, diminishes, or doubts the historic, biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality.

As far as I can tell, every single minister and elder in the PCA believes and teaches that sex and marriage are God’s gifts, given for one man and one woman in the context of marriage.

As far as I can tell, no PCA minister or elder takes issue with Westminster Larger Catechism answer #139.

As far as I can tell, the most “liberal” people in the PCA are on the “left” side of a denomination that is biblically, theologically, and ethically conservative. This means that the most liberal people in the PCA (if we want to call them that) are in fact biblically, theologically, and ethically conservative. Just ask their friends and neighbors who are gay but who don’t identify as Christians.

Unless our universally shared biblical conservatism on these matters changes, why on earth would some of our members continue to take shots at others? It seems that in doing so, we are missing a whole forest because we remain judiciously fixated on a few trees. It seems that in doing so, we risk playing right into the devil’s hands.

There is no smoking gun here, folks. Regrettable seminar titles in some circles, yes. Suspicion and judicious mistrust in other circles, yes.

But a smoking gun, no way.

So, what if we put the semantics and mortification discussions—which are indeed important discussions that should be had—inside the bigger, weightier context?

An easily-lost, and supremely significant reality is that the people we are talking about are denying themselves daily for the sake of Jesus. Like Greg Johnson and Stephen Moss, some of them are foregoing romantic involvement altogether because they love Jesus. In this, they join the company of the apostle Paul and of Jesus. In this, they share a certain fellowship with the angels.

We are also talking about people who, like the same-sex attracted Nate Collins, Johanna Finegan, and Harvest USA’s Tim Geiger marry and have children with a person of the opposite sex because they love Jesus.

As we have these discussions, let’s also consider how we might celebrate and support these valiant, exemplary, self-denying, obedient souls in their ongoing pursuit of holiness.

Along the way, let’s also consider what we might learn from them.

The End of the Matter

The last thing I’ll add is this.

It is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I—while also being a deeply committed, theologically and biblically and ethically orthodox Christian—am the worst.

 


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38 responses to “Thoughts on Revoice, Unnecessary Division, and the PCA”

  1. Rev. Loren Bell says:

    This is just beautiful. Scott, you are a gift to the church.

  2. Robert Marshall Murphy says:

    Thanks, Scott, for this thoughtful reflection. I had not read that Schaeffer quote before. I appreciate Greg Johnson’s success in his struggle, but I wonder what the failure rate would be, with us calling people to celibacy. The Catholic Church has not had a great track record with that. Do you lend any credence to those who say words like “orientation” aren’t in the Bible, not because Greek lacked such concepts, but because they don’t really exist separate from concepts like “lust”? Thank you for such careful reasoning.

  3. David Young says:

    Thanks Scott!
    Good word. I really appreciate this.
    I love the Francis Shaeffer quote — what is the citation? Where can I find this quote’s origin?

    Thanks again!
    David

  4. Bruce Griffin says:

    Well said and I greatly appreciate the wisdom, love, and honesty expressed in it.

  5. Helen Louise Herndon says:

    As to the statement, “If it’s always wrong for same-sex attracted, chaste and celibate Christians to use the word “gay” to describe their struggle, is it also always wrong for them to use words like “alcoholic” or “addict” or “anxious” or “sinner” to describe THEIR struggles? Or, is it okay to use these terms—just like “alcoholic” and “sinner”—to describe a unique sort of struggle?” Few alcoholics or addicts call themselves alcoholic or addict Christians. They may speak of their struggles, but they generally do not identify their Christianity with such adjectives or modifiers. And since this relates to the sexual moral realm, what Christians identify themselves as fornicator, adulterer, incest, etc. Christians? That is more of a comparison than those used by the writer. What is important is to not compare with non-equivalencies. That does not strengthen any argument. And since gay is a synonym for homosexual, why would anyone identify himself/herself as such related to his/her position in Christ? No one identifies himself/herself as a heterosexual Christian. I hope this clarifies why the issue is so controversial, that is, identifying oneself by one’s sinful proclivity or temptation. It’s not healthy or spiritual.

  6. Bruce Clark says:

    Thanks, Scott, for this. I always enjoy reading your thoughts.

    David, the Schaeffer quote is from the book Letters of Francis A. Schaeffer (Crossway Books, 1985), p. 194, excerpted from a letter dated Aug. 11th, 1968 to a pastor in Europe.

    I’d encourage any readers (especially those within the PCA) who are wrestling with these difficult issues to read the recent reports from the following presbyteries: the Central Carolina Presbytery (easily found on the Gospel Coalition website and elsewhere); the Missouri Presbytery, which Scott mentions above (found here: https://mopres.org/resources/papers/201905-reportOnMemorialAndRevoice.pdf). Full disclosure: I served on the committee who wrote that latter report. If I may: for me personally, the section the Missouri report that was most meaningful to me (and which I didn’t write!) is Section 2 (“Context”), because it gives an incredibly helpful (but brief!) overview of the history of evangelical ministry to SSA Christians, placing Revoice (both as a conference and a new organization) within a greater historical and cultural context. Trying to understand Revoice (and recent evangelical discussions about homosexuality) without this context is, to say the least, like an American vacationing in the UK, assuming that, because both countries “speak English,” the meaning of every word will be the same. To try to discuss the Revoice project (or even to watch the Revoice conference’s general sessions on YouTube) without knowing this context is, imho, altogether unwise. None of likes to have our words or actions taken out of context….

    Scott, if I may make a very small, friendly correction: Your quote of D.A. Carson comes not from the Forward of Coles’ (very moving)book Single, Gay, Christian, but rather from Carson’s endorsement of the book. Wes Hill wrote the Forward.

    Blessings,

    Bruce

  7. Helen Louise Herndon says:

    As a fellow Presbyterian Christian with a degree in Biblical Education from a college founded by an Irish Presbyterian, I trust seeking a model from Scripture can be accepted here. Nowhere in the Bible does a Christian identify his/her Christianity with a propensity to any one sin especially in relationship to sexual morality. In fact, no Christian even identifies his/herself by heterosexuality. This is why I challenge the statement: “If it’s always wrong for same-sex attracted, chaste and celibate Christians to use the word “gay” to describe their struggle, is it also always wrong for them to use words like “alcoholic” or “addict” or “anxious” or “sinner” to describe THEIR struggles? Or, is it okay to use these terms—just like “alcoholic” and “sinner”—to describe a unique sort of struggle?” Few alcoholics or addicts call themselves alcoholic or addict Christians. They may speak of their struggles, but they generally do not identify their Christianity with such adjectives or modifiers. And since this relates to the sexual moral realm, what Christians identify themselves as fornicator, adulterer, incest, etc. Christians? That is more of a comparison than those used by the writer. What is important is to not compare with non-equivalencies. That does not strengthen any argument. And since gay is a synonym for homosexual, why would anyone identify himself/herself as such related to his/her position in Christ? No one identifies himself/herself as a heterosexual Christian. I hope this clarifies why the issue is so controversial, that is, identifying oneself by one’s sinful proclivity or temptation. Think also of the impact on children growing up in a Christian family or church and trying to understand why someone refers to him/herself as a gay Christian. Isn’t that planting confusion early in a child’s life?

  8. Al LaCour says:

    Scott, this is such a timely and thoughtful word. Your essay speaks right to the vital issues we face. Thanks for speaking the truth in love, for the edification of the Body, and for the glory of Christ.

  9. Michael Frazier, Th.D. says:

    Nice try, Scott, but you are dead wrong regarding this issue.

    There at this GA you will find your appeal has fallen on a stiff, and biblically sound theological rejection. This neo-homosexual acceptance will be vigorously eliminated from the PCA.

    You may as well go ahead and find yourself another place to hang your hat if you think this has a place in the PCA.

  10. Chris Brown says:

    Hi Scott,
    I enjoyed the goal of reconciliation here, and that you want to aim for more than just terminology and aim for encouragement. But at the same time it seems like your suggestions don’t address the problems that a number of men have voiced in concern to Revoice, and even to the presbytery’s review of Revoice. I think faithfulness to Christ should be commended and celebrated, but that we should equally have a concern to disciple our people, and teach them appropriate ways to talk about desires. I’d be interested in discussing this more privately via email if you would be interested.

    From a fellow TE

  11. Brian Davilla says:

    Michael Phillips,
    This arrogant attitude (nice try, Scott, find another place to hang your hat) is part of the problem, not just in the PCA, but in the body of Christ generally. Had you read objectively, you would see there is no “neo-homosexual acceptance” involved here, but a heart for those who struggle with sin; something that includes the best of us. Your description “stiff” I would call accurate, but rather than “sound” your view seems haughy.

  12. Mike Goodwin says:

    Well said, Scott. I completely agree. How can we pass judgement on those who are tempted, but don’t act on the temptation. Anyone in the recovery community, fighting addiction (alcohol, drugs, sex, etc) will tell you that they are a recovering addict, living in sobriety, by God’s grace, one day at a time. An alcoholic will tell you they will always be an alcoholic, but they don’t have to act on the desire that drink, just for today. Are we to reject these brothers and sisters, while accepting the problem drinkers among us that are living in denial or reject those who are saying no to sexual sin, but forgiving those who pray for forgiveness after sleep with their girlfriend every week?

  13. Robert says:

    I feel like the term same-sex attraction is very vague. Everybody feel same-sex attraction. We are attracted to all kinds of people for all different reasons. I’m attracted to my father and my mother. I’m attracted to my pastor. I have to be attracted to someone in order to desire to create a relationship with them. Meaning all my friends at some point there was an attraction to them. What you’re talking about is sexual desire toward a person. Attraction is normal and not sinful. Sexual desire to anyone other than your spouse, is sinful. I think if the church would Define this better, then we wouldn’t need to feel like we have to focus so much on one type of sexual desire. Because any sexual desire for anyone other than your spouse, is sin. I think we are being influenced by the culture when we even decide that we need to play success and focus on a specific sin that is currently culturally popular. In the Old Testament, God gives us a list of unhealthy sexual interactions. Do we need a revoice for each one of these things? No, revoice exist because this specific sexual attraction is popular. I would even argue that revoice existing is a slippery slope. Because it’s bringing what is just a basic sin into the mainstream of Christianity. Why aren’t we just addressing this like any sexual sin. Why does it need to have it’s own genre in our world. I think that this is a danger in and of itself. Love to hear your thoughts.

  14. Antonio V Timbol says:

    Scott, I admire the grace and heart and the needle you are trying to thread within the PCA as explained in your post. As a former PCA elder and congregant I learned and grew much under solid biblical teaching in the 20 years we were involved. My family, wife and daughters benefited from worship and fellowship in our local church. Your biblical exposition in the post is indicative of solid thinking with a compassionate heart. However that is the exception rather than the norm.

    I had to leave the PCA in order to continue to follow Christ and his teachings not a sub-culture continually resistant to reform that would make it relevant. The problems in the PCA run much deeper than semantic volleyball. The “friendly fire” you received is symptomatic of a graceless mindset of law, of a denomination whose candle is slowly dimming as Christ’s hand is reaching to take it away. The PCA and other similar denominations are dying slowly on the vine because they are no longer grafted into the true branch. The Administrative Committees 5 years demographic tracking show an insulated tribe just treading water before it drowns. The heavy support Candidate and now President Trump receives from evangelicals across the board show the true fruits of decades of teaching that was tilted toward law unbalanced with just a rhetorical nod to grace. Illegal immigrants! They break the LAW! are the human? THEY BREAK THE LAW!

    You want to have soft heart toward Revoice’s mission. YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW!

    Jesus was full of grace and truth, not grace and law. Law is what man defines, truth is what God’s spirit writes in every heart that follows him.

    You’re a good man, Scott Sauls.

  15. David W King says:

    You have written a long, careful, thought-provoking essay (and my comment is long). Being OPC and not in the PCA, I am looking in from the outside and have not tried to learn what I can about the Revoice movement. So I’m just commenting on your article. (1) I think you say the right things about sin, biblical sexual ethics and marriage, mortification of sin and repentance, and the importance of a Christian believer’s finding his identity in Christ not in any besetting sin he may be struggling with or have been enslaved to in the past. (2) I think you are gracious and charitable toward people in the Revoice movement, trying to understand them from their point of view (helped by having good friends in it). (3) I’m still bothered, though, that here and there you seem a little fuzzy on whether sexual attraction to someone of the same sex is itself sin. As I see it, all lust (that is, in this context, all sinful sexual desire, whether hetero or homo is sinful). But if I may speak of generic sexual attraction to the opposite sex, that is not in itself sin, but God-created and good, though sin has perverted it, whereas sexual attraction to the same sex is in itself sinful, a perversion of the creation order as well as a violation of revealed Law. Sin still dwells within me (Rom.7), as in all born-again Christians, and I have my own struggles with certain besetting sins. That does not mean I am not a true believer in Christ. Someone who has been enslaved to drugs or alcohol, on becoming a babe in Christ, may continue to have cravings for what had enslaved them. I think those cravings are sinful, and when they arise in the thoughts as temptations, one needs to wage ware against them with the Word and prayer, and maybe seeking help from a trusted Christian friend. It seems to me the same can be true of those who have been ensnared in homosexuality and/or gender confusion, but have come to saving faith in Christ. They are united to Christ and righteous in Him, but they struggle with desires that are not just “unwanted”, but inherently sinful – which I’m sure makes the struggle that much harder, and it may indeed be life-long until glory.
    The one sentence that really bothers me in the essay, however, is this: “In his humanity, even Jesus, we are told, was tempted in every way, just as we are, even though in his deity, he was and is and forever will be without sin (Hebrews 4:15).” Even in its context it is not clear to me that you do not think that for Christ to have been tempted in all points “as we are” he had inner sinful desires as a man. That would be heresy, and I hope you can clear that up. I think it likely, and hope, the problem is a less than clear choice of words.
    Thank you for a thoughtful, gracious, contribution to the discussion.

    • scottsauls says:

      Thank you for your comments, David. I make that very point in the essay by pointing out that Jesus Christ “had no fallen nature.” That is another way of saying that unlike us, Jesus did not have inner sinful desires.

  16. Kathleen Dodd says:

    We went to Revoice and as parents of someone who recently came out it was a breath of fresh air.I feel strongly that we should love and continue a relationship with our daughter.She is engaged to a woman.At Revoice I met other parents with the same issue and gained great insite in to how to love her well and maintain my conservative Biblical ethics .It will not be an easy path or one we would have chosen but I have learned how to love all people better instead of judge.I have learned to look through the lens of grace.As far as language I have a daughter with Down.The word retarded drives me nuts because of the bad connotations that we draw from it.We now use special needs or even different needs.Staying away from bad connotations shows respect.May we do so.

  17. Joy says:

    Thank you for gracious words, Scott. I agree with much of what you said and am praying for GA this week.

    My concern with vocabulary usage is that if we don’t define our terms carefully and continually, misunderstanding will follow.

    All of us struggle with sin and we are to encourage one another to mortify our sin and live in obedience.

    I appreciate your heart of grace and love as you seek to minister to the body of Christ.

  18. M.D. Perkins says:

    Having spent many hours digesting the nuanced theological explanations offered on Spiritual Friendship and Revoice regarding Side B (such as Nate Collins’ concept of aesthetic orientation), I have a hard time believing that those who embrace or accept Revoice would not take issue with elements of Westminster Larger Catechism #139 — specifically that some of the sins forbidden by the seventh commandment include “all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections,” “impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel” and “entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage.” Indeed, the whole idea of Revoice seems to make an allowance for “unclean affections” and “entangling vows of single life.”

    Are the Westminster divines on the right-leaning slope/”adding to scripture” with these implications?

  19. Kevin says:

    Empathy correctly applied is a virtue. Empathy without discernment is a terrible vice. Arguably, misguided empathy is one of Satan’s most potent weapons. See Matthew 7:15 (warning against wolves in sheep’s clothing).

    Your overarching point is that the church should empathize with with same-sex attracted persons who also self-identify as Christians. You have also argued elsewhere that same-sex attracted, celibate persons should serve as church leaders and should adopt children. Your positions lack discernment, primarily because you assume that same-sex attracted and self-professing celibate believers collectively possess wholesome motives. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

    One would have to have their head in the sand to believe otherwise. It is common knowledge that tens of thousands of young boys have been sexually abused and sodomized by same-sex attracted, self-professing “celibate” priests. New reports of this abuse emerge on a daily basis. Similarly, the foster care system is rife with homosexual abuse of young boys. Further, homosexual activists have infiltrated numerous denominations and have subverted Biblical sexual ethic. In this environment, you are arguing for same-sex attracted individuals to serve as church leaders and to adopt?

    In a culture that tirelessly promotes sexual deviancy into every corner of the culture, vigilant believers are not as concerned with the church’s perceived lack of empathy towards homosexuality. Rather, they are more concerned that sexual degeneracy is making inroads into the church body, often using empathy as its preferred vehicle. Practically speaking, do you believe–regardless of the lip service paid to Biblical sexual ethic–that this post and the Revoice conference will more likely advance: (a) Biblical sexuality in the culture, or (b) sexual deviancy in the church body? If this question is honestly answered, I think you will be able to empathize with people who believe that those involved with Revoice are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

  20. Alem says:

    “and have since become more careful with their words.”
    Think of George Orwell on the use of language.
    Think of the frog in the kettle.
    Think of pressure building.
    Think of tolerance.
    And Christian love.
    And Christian unity!
    And losing members, $$$$

  21. Gail Millward says:

    I appreciate reading your insights. Thank you for taking the time to thoughtfully, carefully and prayerfully compose such an in-depth essay on this. It helps me think differently on many fronts.

  22. Bryan says:

    David King,

    I wanted to address this one part of what you said:

    “(3) I’m still bothered, though, that here and there you seem a little fuzzy on whether sexual attraction to someone of the same sex is itself sin. As I see it, all lust (that is, in this context, all sinful sexual desire, whether hetero or homo is sinful). But if I may speak of generic sexual attraction to the opposite sex, that is not in itself sin, but God-created and good, though sin has perverted it, whereas sexual attraction to the same sex is in itself sinful, a perversion of the creation order as well as a violation of revealed Law. ”

    Some random thoughts:

    –I think if you spoke to a person who is attracted to their same sex but living out celibacy due to their commitment to Biblical teaching, they would say that there is more to same-sex attraction than sexual attraction.

    –And also, I would say that being physically attracted to someone is not the same as lust. Attraction is basically involuntary. You more notice it than you consciously choose it. Married men and women may sometimes find that they are physically attracted to someone who they aren’t married to, but I don’t think we would call that sin by itself. It’s where it goes from there that matters.

    –Sexual lust isn’t something that happens to you or that you just “notice.” It’s an act of the will. It is deciding to take a physical attraction for someone and then use them for your own gratification in some way – fantasies, ogling their body, reducing them to a “thing” for your pleasure rather than a human being with intrinsic worth and dignity, beloved of God.

    –Temptation in a biblical context in and of itself means that some part of you desires something you aren’t supposed to have. If you weren’t on some level attracted to it, then it’s not really much of a temptation, is it? Yet we also know that temptation by itself isn’t sin because Christ was tempted yet did not sin.

    All that combined leads me to this: I believe one could find that they experience attraction to their own sex, and no similar attraction toward the opposite sex, yet by not giving in to lust and by directing that attraction toward good things like deep friendships, are not sinning. The mere attraction is not a sin anymore than mere attraction in a hetero way would be.

  23. Sharon W. says:

    So well said! Thank you for putting Jesus above all else, for seeking to show him to others. Thank you for facing the tough issues head on.
    It really is making Jesus the preeminent one in each of our lives and dying daily to our own sinful struggles which take different forms for everyone.

  24. THERESA YOUNCE says:

    Oh, Scott, thank you so much!

  25. Clarke Morledge says:

    Thank you, Scott. Glad to know that there are some thoughtful, reflective folks within the PCA.

    In reading some of the negative comments, it would appear that quite a few folks have fallen into the trap of confusing temptation with sin. Temptation and sin are not the same. Granted, a pattern of unrepentant sin can indeed serve as a type of temptation towards indulging in further sin. But we must be careful: We are to resist temptation, and we are to repent from our sin. To speak of “repenting” from temptation makes no sense, Scripturally, whatsoever. To speak of temptation itself as a sin merely condemns oneself, and locks us into a pattern of thinking that would inhibit our sanctification.

    The other issue with the negative comments is the tendency to confuse the description of one’s experience with a particular temptation with somehow “identifying” with our sin. The two are not the same. If those concerned would please read the online materials from both Revoice and SpiritualFriendship, they would read that both groups strive at great pains to make this distinction.

    Blessings to you, and may the PCA be a place where broken sinners can find hope and healing, in Christ.

  26. betsy taylor says:

    Thank you for writing – I found this very interesting. I have wondered in regards to the transgender movement, if we are born sinful, than might that sin be same sex attraction or the feeling of being in the wrong body? Babies are born sick, disabled physically, but couldn’t we say we are born emotionally sick and disabled? Our sin might not be as visible as same sex attraction because it might be greed, lust, pride etc… that we can hide from the world. If you are born same sex attracted couldn’t that just be the result of sin in the world? I have argued with my family that we seem to have no problem with certain sins, but get stuck on homosexuality. I wonder if Satan laughs as we spend our time immersed in this one area whilst sin rages within us unnoticed because we are so busy figuring out what to do about all these wretched sinners around us. Aren’t we to examine our own hearts constantly? Wouldn’t that leave us less time to figure out what to call other sinners? I know it needs to be addressed because it is a huge topic in the culture, but I am curious if I am wrong or off base. Aren’t we called to love others without endorsing whatever their sin is? We can’t always pray away cancer and other things that exist because we live in a fallen world. Why would this be the one sin we could pray away?
    I hope I am not erring on being too liberal, but living a celibate life would be extremely hard no matter who you were attracted to!
    Thanks for having the courage to address this!
    Are there other forums where one can engage in thoughtful discussion about these issues?

  27. Ellen D. says:

    Thank you Scott. I am grateful for you and others who have hung their hats with our denomination because they love Jesus.

    And I pray for us all. It is easy to pass by, as I often have done. We need You more than any of us know. Deliver us from our hard hearts. Instead, give us soft hearts, a Christlike Spirit, and love one for another.

    In Christ.

  28. Carolyn R. Laser says:

    What a courageous, authentic, sensitive, compassionate and, I think, Biblical view of our fellow Christians, who struggle with the temptation of SSA. Like all of us who love Jesus, we too, have struggles against temptations of our own. We all need His love and grace to get through each day in a way that is honoring and pleasing to Him. We all fail daily, but we ask for His forgiveness and help to continue in a faithful and loving walk as we stumble, trip, fall and get up and carry on toward the goal for the prize in Christ Jesus. I pray that His amazing love and grace will temper our lives to learn to love and walk as Jesus did and that His Holy Spirit will daily guide us in this direction in all of our relationships.

  29. […] state as those affected by original sin,” wrote Christ Presbyterian pastor Scott Sauls, in a 4,700-word blog post urging his denomination against “unnecessary […]

  30. […] tone will unnecessarily alienate people. In a blog post prior to this week’s general assembly, Pastor Scott Sauls acknowledged that while the terms “gay Christian” or “sexual minority” could be used to […]

  31. […] state as those affected by original sin,” wrote Christ Presbyterian pastor Scott Sauls, in a 4,700-word blog post urging his denomination against “unnecessary […]

  32. Ed White says:

    Scott , as always I so appreciate your willingness to tackle extremely tough social issues and always communicating with what I know you desire to be wisdom flowing through you from the Holy Spirit and total adherence to absolute truths expressed in Scripture . The issues of actively practiced homosexuality ; same sex marriage ; same sex attraction with celibacy chosen by that person as a result of his love of Jesus and understanding of Scripture ; and even heterosexuals involved in sexually active relationships – so frequently living together before marriage – are all issues creating such strong emotions and division among God’s children .
    As one of the original founding members of CPC , my wife and I had moved our membership to a Sister Church for about 10 years and yet felt a mutual desire to come “ home “ for Church . You were in your early years at CPC and I vividly remember stating that I could not return until I unequivocally knew your position on same sex marriage . As the Lord always does , He provided what I needed in about three weeks as you preached an unbelievable sermon on human sexuality focused on the issues of homosexuality and same sex marriage . For me , it was a Holy Spirit Inspired message filled with compassion ; deep understanding of the complexities of the issue ; and dominated by the love which Jesus requires . You spoke of our wrongful judgement of the person — no more a sinner than I – and validated the Biblical principals of same sex sexual activity discerned as clearly a sin as identified in both the Old and New Testaments . You described same sex marriage as simply wrong despite any governmental laws that might make it legal — being “ legal “ and being acceptable and approved by our Lord are two drastically different things for us as Christians . For the first time , I was convicted of my previous harsh judgementsl attitude toward homosexuals and all too often crude comments and felt the cleansing washing of my face as tears fell down my cheeks .
    The Lord had provided my need through tour totally accurate description of God’s word and tied the bow on this box with ribbons of love and compassion . Then we had the Forum with the young Christian man from Birmingham who quickly stated “ please do not call me gay or a homosexual , but a same sex attracted man who knows the acting out of this attraction sexually is sinful and that same sex marriage is a sin . . He stated that he could never have the family that since a child he so desired and following God’s teaching was the more important thing placing this temptation on the altar each day praying to the Lord for strength . That day too in seeing the hurt and struggle of this young man and more important his pronounced love of the Lord had me basically sobbing .
    As you age , you realize that happiness and unhappiness are circumstantial occurrences that have a defined end . However , Joy through a love for Jesus is a state of being in the heart and soul and never leaves us all the way into Heaven regardless of the Earthly circumstance . Our responsibility in this and all scenarios is to love the person and encourage / challenge the person to stay within the teachings of our Holy Father . By being compliant and encouraging a person toward happiness via same sex marriage is not loving the two people and an appropriate stance should be taken in love — you Will lose popularity in this crazy world of today in doing so, but pursuit of popularity as a life priority should be near the bottom of our priorities . Thank you again Scott for the wisdom and a Godly love portrayed in your message .

  33. […] state as those affected by original sin,” wrote Christ Presbyterian pastor Scott Sauls, in a 4,700-word blog post urging his denomination against “unnecessary […]

  34. […] Coming to the defense of Johnson and Revoice is Scott Sauls who, like Johnson, is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In an article, he writes that Revoice participants gather to “find support, understanding, and inspiration for obedience and personal holiness.” It is fair to ask for the source of this “obedience and personal holiness.”   http://scottsauls.com/blog/2019/06/21/thoughts-on-revoice-unnecessary-division-and-the-pca/ […]

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