Last week, Hill wrote a report on the conference for First Things entitled “Revoice And a Vocation of Yes.” Before Hill wrote this piece, he and other Revoice organizers had already engaged in extended written back-and-forth with conservative thinkers like Al Mohler, Denny Burk, and Robert Gagnon. I would like to offer three more thoughts of my own, partly overlapping with but also adding to what’s already been said on the conservative side of these dialogues.
A lot of ink has been spilled in the evangelical blogosphere about the recently concluded Revoice conference. This conference was a gathering together of mostly same-sex attracted Christians who affirm traditional church teaching on the morality of homosexual acts, yet seek to reshape conversations about homosexuality in the church. One of its chief promoters was writer and theologian Wesley Hill, who has written books about his own personal story and co-founded the Spiritual Friendship movement. Last week, Hill wrote a report on the conference for First Things entitled “Revoice And a Vocation of Yes.” Before Hill wrote this piece, he and other Revoice organizers had already engaged in extended written back-and-forth with conservative thinkers like Al Mohler, Denny Burk, and Robert Gagnon. I would like to offer three more thoughts of my own, partly overlapping with but also adding to what’s already been said on the conservative side of these dialogues.
1. The “vocation of yes” is a slippery slope.
At the end of his First Things piece, Hill offers this summing-up of the “mantra” of Revoice in a quote from keynote speaker Eve Tushnet:
In a line that’s become a kind of mantra among Revoice attendees and presenters, the celibate lesbian Catholic writer Eve Tushnet has said: “[Y]ou can’t have a vocation of not-gay-marrying and not-having-sex. You can’t have a vocation of No.” What Revoice offers—and, please God, will go on offering for years to come—is a way of thinking Christianly about homosexuality and other non-straight sexual orientations that moves beyond enumerating the sins we’re called to renounce. Revoice is trying to pose the deeper question: To which forms of love and friendship and service are we called to say yes?
On the surface, this expresses the basic truth that people naturally desire a positive telos for their life, something that imbues life with meaning beyond self-abnegation. Unfortunately, within the framework of Revoice and the Spiritual Friendship movement, this takes the particular, pernicious form of trying to channel romantic same-sex attraction into an absolute vocational good. Tushnet has written that she feels uniquely equipped to serve women by virtue of her lesbianism, not in spite of it. This must be kept firmly in mind even as Hill and others brush aside the concern that Revoice is leading the church down a slippery slope.
Another Revoice speaker, Ray Low, also repeatedly affirmed that his orientation has conferred unique gifts and insight onto his ministerial vocation. Now a youth pastor, he spoke about how he was turned down or fired by multiple other churches. He alluded to some of the reasons in this particularly telling passage from his conference address:
You know, it’s funny how people outside of the LGBT community just love to speak for it. Some people have told me that maybe I should just not share this part of my life to the church. That I should just keep it secret, get the care that I need outside, or not bring it into my ministry. This particular church asked me if I could stop using certain words, if I would delete some of my posts. They even went so far as to ask if I would consider going to counseling for my attractions. And I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t agree to it. I couldn’t compromise myself. Why? Because the solution to decades of silence on this issue is to promote conversation, not to cover it up, to talk more and not less, and that’s exactly what I tried to do.
Notice how Low implicitly casts “the LGBT community” as his primary community, his primary group identifier. Notice also the indignation at the mere suggestion that he might consider sexual counseling. So far from viewing his persistent same-sex attractions as a burden or a cross to bear, he views them as so integral to his identity that he would be “compromising himself” by seeking counseling for them.
Revoice founder Nate Collins is married to a woman but still openly struggles with same-sex attraction. He gave a Christianity Today interview where he attempted to answer its conservative critics. On the one hand, some of his answers would seem to be in tension with Tushnet’s work. At one point, he even uses the word “disability” to refer to gay orientation and says progressives shouldn’t view it as a “gift.” On the other hand, he insists that “aesthetic appreciation” of “male beauty” must not be conflated with erotic attraction, and that a homosexual orientation towards “same-sex image-bearers” could still be celebrated and folded into a Christian’s vocational calling. See, for example, this deeply strange passage:
If I’m visiting a church and I sit next to somebody and am I interested, then I might want to strike up a conversation and perhaps invest in a friendship if we decide to join that church. That’s a very different response from if I’m walking down the street and I notice someone jogging past on a hot summer day not wearing a shirt. It’s a very different perception of beauty, and my response to that perception of beauty is going to be different. Now neither of those on the surface are intrinsically sexual, I don’t think.
This is dangerously confused talk, to say the least.