Over the summer, I’ve had the opportunity to travel and speak to high school and college students about topics that bring about no small amount of cultural controversy. Whether the topic be on sexuality or gender, there’s a noticeable tension that overtakes the room and grips students as I explain the Bible’s teaching on such topics. That tension results from the Scriptures declaring the opposite of what the culture teaches on what it means to be male and female, and how sexual relations are to be governed.
The temptation is to view such occasions as merely an academic exercise—like discussing a theology of creation, how general and special revelation interact with one another, biology, and ideas like complementarity.
After a recent speaking opportunity, though, I was reminded that academic discussions are not merely academic abstractions. Pastoral implications always abound.
As I was about to leave the room after my talk, a young man in his teens came up to me to ask me advice on how to relate faithfully to his family, which is both anti-Christian and pro-LGBT. He told me that his parents have no understanding of his faith. In the course of our discussion, he also confided in me that he too struggles with same-sex attraction.
My heart went out for this teen. Barely old enough to drive, he is trying to live faithfully amid a family and a culture that says the very opposite of the hope he is clinging to in the Scriptures. I did not need to tell him that homosexuality is sinful; he knew it already. More than anything, he was wondering what faithful discipleship means for a situation like his.
I tell this story because there’s a conference that has generated a lot of online conversation—the Revoice Conference. It’s a conference that purports to be about the task of “Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”
That’s a laudable aim. Christians should support any same-sex attracted Christian or gender-confused Christian that is trying to find their identity in Christ (Gal. 2:20).
But I have pastoral concerns about how the conference is being framed and the potential confusion it might sow among impressionable audiences.
On the one hand, the Revoice Conference has not yet even occurred, so speculation about the conference could potentially be unwarranted. I would welcome being wrong were I confident that the voices behind the conference were offering a clear biblical viewpoint on such matters. But on the other hand, the conference’s programming and the casual embrace of finding one’s identity in what the Scriptures prohibit, seems to be an enormous miscalculation with real-world implications.
When looking at the programming, one finds topics such as “redeeming queer culture,” “queer visibility,” and a whole host of other topics where the determining factor in shaping one’s identity and response to the world seems to be whether one is a sexual or gender minority. To be clear, Revoice is appropriating the language of sexual and gender progressives who have zero interest in maintaining any semblance of Christian teaching. This raises important questions: Why does Revoice find it useful to appropriate secular identity theory? How does this help recalibrate a Christian’s identity toward union with Christ (Gal. 3:27; Col. 2:6; Col. 3:1-11)? Why valorize a past-tense category of sinfulness that Scripture considers a vice (1 Cor. 6:9-11)?
Here’s why I am deeply skeptical about what will happen at Revoice: The Revoice Conference is a flashpoint in a much larger and longstanding conversation. Many speakers and presenters at Revoice have made alarming arguments in the past. While attempting to esteem the Christian tradition’s teaching on sexuality and gender, the shift toward finding an identity in what should be mortified according to Scripture is unambiguously problematic.
I’m sure this conference aims for both pastoral and academic discussion. But what are the pastoral implications of this conference for the teen I met who is trying to live faithfully?
Imagine being this teenager I mentioned at the beginning. You understand and accept what the Bible teaches about your sexual desires, but then you hear about a conference that esteems being a sexual or gender minority while at the same time being Christian. “I can have a gay identity and be Christian,” the teen tells himself. “Maybe the cultural narrative is not that far from where Christians can find themselves as well,” the teen happily considers. Inch by inch, the teen finds less and less conflict between their desires and their faith until this newfound compatibility gives birth to sexual sin. For a teen such as this, it will be exponentially more difficult for he or she to offer their body as a living sacrifice when the mind is clouded with confusion sown by thinking one can identify with prohibited desires and not end up forfeiting faithfulness (Rom. 12:1-2).
Any discussion on gender and sexuality has as its proper end the pastoral care of persons who may be gripped by homosexual desire or confused distress over their gender. Any activity, academic or not, that does not have greater conformity with Christ as its ultimate purpose fails to be authentically Christian (Rom. 8:29). I cannot understand how seeing one’s self as a gender and sexual minority—a class-like status that seeks to amplify and legitimize one’s sexual experiences—helps a sinful or fallen desire or self-perception recede, and affection for Christlikeness grow.