Some Pastoral Concerns over recent Criticisms of Revoice

This is not a typical hee-haw. For starters, this is a long post, coming from weeks of concerned reflection. Also, this donkey brays mostly about world events or politics. My concerns here are for my Christian friends.

The recent Revoice conference provided a safe place for believers who experience same sex attraction (SSA). They discussed issues they face, within their stated confession of Christian orthodoxy and a traditional view of marriage. As their heterosexually-attracted brother, I share their commitments to hospitality and historic Christianity.

My appeal is pastoral. In Ephesians 4, brothers and sisters in Christ are urged to have spiritual discernment and speak the truth in love. Truth without compassion is harsh; compassion without truth is sentimentality. To speak the truth in love is how we grow together in Christ. As a Christian minister with SSA friends, I humbly offer the following Pastoral Concerns.

Heterosexually-attracted believers like me need to be quick to listen and slow to speak to our same-sex attracted brothers and sisters in Christ. SSA believers face both internal struggles and external cultural pressures — from the Left and Right, which often happens if you seek to stay in line with the Gospel. Since Revoice seeks to stay faithful to Christian orthodoxy and to historic Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality, let us consider some “costs of discipleship” these believers must face:

  • They must define their identity in the image of God, not in their sexuality. Gender is closely related to how all humans reflect God. That is clear from the Hebrew parallelism in Genesis 1:27. Gender reflects our God-given dignity and identity. But gender does not define human identity. Our SSA brothers and sisters hold a view that is rejected by most LGBTQ friends.

  • They must deny their SSA impulses, and either seek celibate spiritual friendships in community, or marry the opposite sex. These are hard choices and self-sacrificing lifestyles.

  • They face scorn when they define their identity and dignity in Christ, not in their SSA orientation. LGBTQ friends may tell our SSA brothers and sisters in Christ that they are not “true to themselves” if they reject “gender identity” to embrace God's “image-bearer identity”.

Before we charge our brothers and sisters with wrong beliefs or behaviors, we should show care as we speak and as we write about Revoice. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body … when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

These specific criticisms of Revoice have raised concerns for me:
  • Criticism of the PCA host church, which provided a safe forum to openly discuss challenges that SSA Christians face. If we fail to offer such forums, we drive fellow orthodox believers, who experience SSA, out from gospel-centered churches, and into unbelieving LGBTQ communities. So I commend the St. Louis PCA congregation for their courageous hospitality.

  • Criticism of Revoice motives and goals. Is Revoice making worldly accommodation? Or is Revoice imitating the incarnation? Jesus was criticized as the “friend of sinners.” Revoice says its mission is to remain faithful to the truth, while engaging a broken, sin-distorted world. Jesus prayed for our spiritual unity and our protection as we reach out in mission to the world (John 17:11-19). Jesus sanctified himself, to sanctify us in truth. The Father sent Jesus into the world. Jesus sends us into the world. We need God’s truth and protection, but not for worldly accommodation or tribal isolation.

  • Criticism of Revoice speakers. There may be real concerns, but we will never agree with every author’s published writings or statements. This is no reason to discredit a conference which offered space to openly discuss and debate many hard, controversial issues.

  • Criticism of views of original sin, mortification, and sanctification. This is an area that merits close self-examination and evaluation. What is Revoice’s doctrine of sin? And, are our views completely biblical?

Before we charge our SSA brothers and sisters in Christ with either wrong beliefs or sinful practices, we should ask ourselves:
  • Do we truncate our doctrine of sin and the fall? Our sinful hearts, our inherited sin natures, are the inward source of outward sinful behaviors (Mark 7:17-23). But sin’s entry into the world is manifested throughout a fallen and distorted creation. That includes our inherited genetic traits.

A biblical example: Jesus’ disciples tried to connect a man’s congenital blindness to personal sin: “His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” Jesus did not trace the source of his disability to particular sins. Instead, Jesus pointed to God’s purpose in sanctification: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:1-3)
  • Do we condemn those physically or genetically disabled when they cannot “mortify” inherited conditions? No, we offer them mercy. Most Revoice participants acknowledge SSA to be a fallen world condition, not a “born this way” gender identity. When they do this, they are criticized by the secular LGBTQ community.

  • Do we truncate our doctrine of mortification? SSA is not disconnected from original sin. All of us are extensively bent toward sexual immorality. Same-sex attraction may be differently directed, but is not different in kind. Sinful lusts also distort opposite-sex attraction. Are there occasional clinical cases of hermaphroditism (ovotesticular disorder)? Do we deny SSA genetic predispositions inherited from birth? If we do that, we may prescribe moralistic, behavioral, and “reparative” therapies to “put to death your SSA.” But those discredited approaches do great harm.

  • Do we truncate our doctrine of sanctification? Growth in holiness conforms us to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29), but does not make us married heterosexuals. We should respect SSA brothers and sisters in Christ who choose a celibate lifestyle. Jesus was celibate. This is sanctification into Christ-likeness that few disciples are able to “receive” as a gift from God (Matthew 19:10-12).

In an earlier post, I note that Jesus' call to discipleship (“deny himself … take up his cross daily … follow me”) in our times involves not only turning from self-satisfying behavior, but also from self-defining identity.

Revoice critics include The Gospel Reformation Network which published “A Time to Stand — Revoice and the Future of the PCA.” It would be wise for SSA believers, while acknowledging their SSA, to not label themselves as “Gay-Christians.” All hyphenated labels (“X-Christian, Y-Christian”) carry the risk of “add-on” self-justification. Cf. Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It would be better if all of us, same-sex or opposite-sex attracted, self-identified merely as fellow brothers and sisters, and fellow strugglers, in Christ. Jesus alone is the justifier and the sanctifier of our lives.

In May, 2016, The Gospel Coalition published “You are not Your Sexuality.” In it, Sam Allberry observes: “We must respond to the secular narrative with a Christian one … The world needs to hear same-sex attracted Christians like me share their experiences of God’s goodness in this issue.” This is profoundly true and worth a listen.

Allberry offers five important lessons that the church can learn from our SSA brothers and sisters in Christ:
1. Your identity is in Christ. 2. Discipleship is hard. 3. God’s Word is good. 4. The church is vital. 5. The future is glorious.

I commend Allberry’s video for his orthodoxy and his contextual testimony as our SSA brother in Christ.

My appeal here is to fellow believers, both same-sex-attracted and opposite-sex-attracted, to pursue truth-in-love and mutual accountability in the Body of Christ. We need to listen to one another with an irenic tone, with compassion, and with respect for the costs of discipleship faced by SSA Christians. They are not “others” in Christ's church, or the “Gay Christians.” They are our brothers and sisters. I want to see the works of God displayed in their lives. We have much to learn from SSA Christian friends.

As an opposite-sex attracted brother (who struggles with heterosexual lust), I care for my SSA Christian friends. Their commitment to historic Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage provokes criticism from the LGBTQ community. That’s why I grieve when my SSA friends are also condemned by fellow believers, or only find a welcome in gay-affirming churches. For them, and for us, celibacy or traditional marriage are hard and self-sacrificing discipleship choices. Within the bounds of biblical truth, we should offer mutual support and not judgment.

I invite your feedback on this Pastoral Appeal. Use this contact link to email me. Note: all comments posted on social media will be deleted.

And who is my Foreign Neighbor?

Who is my foreign neighbor? If we fail to answer this question, we will be like the lawyer in Luke 10, and xenophobia will sabotage filoxenia (Biblical hospitality, love of neighbor).

The term
"illegal aliens" is often used in crude, demeaning ways. The foreigners among us are rarely “illegals” or “enemies.” They are our neighbors, “resident - foreigners” in our country. What is their legal status (according to immigration policy)? And what is their moral status (as perceived and received by Christ’s church)?

Let’s be careful to distinguish:

• IMMIGRANTS who are legal visa holders, according to our nation's laws
(yes, immigration reform is needed), with visa quotas, and certain legal restrictions.

• F-1 Visas are given to international students in academic or English Language programs at USA colleges and universities. An F-1 student must maintain a full-time course load. Their spouses and children can apply for a F-2 Visa. International students may stay 60 days after finishing their academic program, and may apply for a 1-year OPT (“Optional Practical Training”) extension before they return home.

• J-1 Visas are given to short-term visiting scholars and professors, who can demonstrate proof of financial support and health coverage from American universities, in order to do academic work or scientific research. Their spouses and children can apply for a J-2 Visa.

• H-1B Specialty Occupation Visas are for foreigners employed by USA companies in fields for which trained American workers are scarce. After 3-6 years, an H-1B worker may apply for a permanent resident visa, if sponsored by their employer or a close relative. The H-1B program is capped at 65,000 a year.

• Diversity Immigration Visa Program (“Green Card Lottery”) is a path to a US immigration Visa by drawing. 50-55,000 diversity Visas are given each year, chosen at random from all eligible applicants.

• GUEST WORKERS. Non-immigrant Visas for temporary or seasonal workers in agricultural (H-2A) and non-agricultural (H-2B) work. This program is capped at 66,000/year, and is only available to nationals from certain countries, for a maximum duration of three years.

• EXILES are different than immigrants.
Immigrants want a better life. But Exiles feel compelled to leave their homes. Those who call themselves Exiles say they want to go home. Immigrants leave for economic reasons. Exiles leave homes for political or religious reasons. Examples are the Israelites in Babylon or exiles from Cuba's Revolution. While Immigrants want to assimilate, Exiles do not easily assimilate (Psalm 137). Which is why God commanded the Israelites in exile to settle down for 70 years, to bless Babylon, for their own welfare (shalom) and for Babylon’s. (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

• REFUGEES flee their homelands, not driven by a desire to become American citizens, but because they and their families suffer from war, violence, famine, political oppression, or religious persecution. They seek refuge in a host country. As someone has said,
“Your enemy is not the refugee, but the one who made him a refugee.”

Why are these distinctions between resident-foreigners so important?

1. Legal
Immigrants and Guest Workers are foreigners, but enrich our society. They are not “illegal.” Whether as PhD’s and STEM majors, or as landscapers, harvesters, and roofers, they do work American workers are unqualified or unwilling to do. We need legal immigrants!

2. We should press and pray for politicians to make wise, just, and beneficial immigration laws. As a nation of immigrants, America will not become greater by restricting, but reforming immigration.

3. Apart from legal
Immigrants and Guest Workers, the most difficult questions concern Exiles and Refugees. Why, for example, did Cuban exiles get a fast track to USA citizenship, but not Haitians who also fled political oppression? How many Refugees from Africa, Central America, or Syria should the USA shelter? Can pro-life Christians, who condemn removing unborn children from the womb, morally justify taking children from the arms of refugee parents?

So,
who is my Foreign Neighbor? This question echos the lawyer’s question to Jesus (Luke 10): “And who is my neighbor — who am I commanded to love as myself?” Jesus' answer is a Gospel Story — the “Good Samaritan.”

For Jesus, the real question is not
“How big is my neighborhood?” Or, “What kind of neighbor must I love?” But rather, “Which of these proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” Jesus says we cannot define a neighbor, but only be a good neighbor. To show mercy like that Samaritan … who was a resident-foreigner.

Jesus is God’s ultimate Resident-Foreigner. God’s mandate, both to Israel and the church, is:
“You are to love the foreigner … you were foreigners.” For Christians, God's moral command trumps (pun intended) human laws. Whatever our nation decides about immigration policy, followers of Jesus must “welcome the stranger” as if welcoming Jesus (Matthew 25:35).