I have spent a significant amount of time gathering the dozens of quotes below that, I believe, represent in their own words the most problematic parts of what is being promoted by those involved with Revoice. I have included sparse commentary with some of the quotations and have bolded some text within the quotations in order to signal why I find it to be relevant. The only way to claim misrepresentation or distortion in the following text would be to point out that the quotations have been taken out of their original context—which is why I encourage you to go and read these sources for yourself.
Much controversy has swirled around the upcoming Revoice conference being held at a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) church in St. Louis on July 26–28. Here is its stated purpose: “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.”
A number of writers have signaled significant disagreements with the personalities involved with the Revoice conference:
- Steven Wedgeworth, A Critical Review of Spiritual Friendship, Mere Orthodoxy
- Kevin DeYoung, Words, Labels, and ‘Sexual Minorities’, The Gospel Coalition
- Tim Challies, The Controversy Behind the Revoice Conference, Challies.com
- Denny Burk, What about the Revoice Conference?, DennyBurk.com
- Richard Phillips, Can the “Welcoming Church” Speak the Truth?, Reformation21
- Todd Pruitt, For the Love of Those Fighting Against Homosexuality, Mortification of Spin
- Owen Strachan, The Revoice Conference and the Hope of Every Sinner, Center for Public Theology
The disagreements include issues related to the Bible’s teaching on sexuality and how Christians should live in accordance with the Christian faith as revealed in the Scriptures.
This is why I have spent a significant amount of time gathering the dozens of quotes below that, I believe, represent in their own words the most problematic parts of what is being promoted by those involved with Revoice. I have included sparse commentary with some of the quotations and have bolded some text within the quotations in order to signal why I find it to be relevant. The only way to claim misrepresentation or distortion in the following text would be to point out that the quotations have been taken out of their original context—which is why I encourage you to go and read these sources for yourself.
I am grateful that the speakers and writers affiliated with Revoice are committed to what the Bible teaches about marriage and about the sinfulness of homosexual acts. I want to cheer them on in that. Nevertheless, there are other issues that have been problematic in their writings.
I believe the raft of quotations below shows that much of the concern surrounding Revoice is not unfounded, and I hope those involved in Revoice will seek to clarify their position(s) as well as understand why many in good faith have significant disagreements with the position(s) presented below.
Eve Tushnet is a keynote speaker at Revoice.
To “Side B” Christians, including myself, I’d say, “Keep in mind whenever you speak on sexual ethics and gay people that many of the people most deeply affected by your words have been pretty severely mistreated in the past by people who claimed to represent what you believe. The people at GCN have been hurt by their churches, and often this hurt is ongoing–GCN is their temporary reprieve. When you speak and act, you’re speaking and acting in the context of a deranged, disordered culture which has made an idol of heterosexuality, and sacrificed queer children to that idol.”
And I’d add, “A lot of the stories I heard at the conference were stories of moving from a ‘Side B’ sexual ethic lived out in judgment, condemnation, shame, and despair, to a ‘Side A’ ethic lived out in hope, welcome, and trust. That’s a story of someone becoming more Christian, not less.”
And to “Side A” I’d say, “Look, we’re all in this together. Even from a ‘Side A’ perspective, you shouldn’t be ‘Side A’ because the other alternative is death. Right now so many people feel that they have no options other than rejecting themselves or rejecting their church. ‘Side B’ tries to show that the historic Christian ethic can be lived by gay people without self-hatred or shame. The more people know that, the more they will be able to discern their own sexual ethic from a place of safety. That way those who do become ‘Side A’ will do so because from a score of beautiful options this one seemed the most true–not because they thought their choices were Side A or suicide.”
-Eve Tushnet, “O Wanderer, Come Home: Notes from the Gay Christian Network Conference,” Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/evetushnet/2015/01/o-wanderer-come-home-notes-from-the-gay-christian-network-conference.html, accessed June 10, 2018.
[Nota bene: While “Side B” accepts the biblical and historical Christian position that same-sex sexual activity is sinful, “Side A,” which includes individuals such as Matthew Vines, does not.]
Washington, D.C.’s Pride parade was fairly restrained: It featured a cornucopia of Episcopalians, and all the marchers went out of their way to sweetly drape beads over the little elementary-school girls standing in front of me. There were Affirming Baptists; as the parade passed by me, a knot of gay men to my right joked — in that gay way that is never really joking all the way down — that maybe they could be Baptists again now. There were strollers, lots of strollers . . . at least five floats’ lengths away from the guys in the padded leather thongs. . . .
And the Catholic Church gave men and women an image of Woman whom they could truly love. Catholic lesbians can yearn for Mother Church; we can yearn for the Virgin. Catholicism offered same-sex attracted women the images of womanhood that helped them render their desires sublime. Beatrice makes sense not only to Dante but to me.
Ron Belgau is a presenter at Revoice and speaker at “Learning to Desire Love,” a pre-conference hosted by Spiritual Friendship
I believe that gay sex is sinful, and that the desire for gay sex, though not itself sinful, is a temptation that cannot be regarded as morally neutral. But what I have just described is a desire that is much more complex than simply a desire for gay sex. Unless we are dumb enough to accept the Freudian picture of human desire, there is no good reason to think that my feelings for my friend were derived primarily from disordered sexual desires.
-Ron Belgau, “What Does “Sexual Orientation” Orient?,” Spiritual Friendship, accessed June 18, 2018.
A traditional Christian sexual ethic distinguishes between two things. First, it teaches that the desire to have sex with others of our own sex is a temptation to sin which is a result of the fall, but it is not, in itself, sinful(nor can we necessarily choose who we are attracted to). Second, it teaches that homosexual activity is a sin, because we can choose how we act in response to our desires.
-Ron Belgau, ““Gay”: Clarity or Obfuscation? (Part 1),” Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/08/13/gay-clarity-or-obfuscation-1/, accessed June 18, 2018.
It is important to communicate the Church’s teaching clearly. That teaching is that homosexual acts are always contrary to God’s plan, and that the desire for such acts is a temptation.
-Ron Belgau, ““Gay”: Clarity or Obfuscation? (Part 2),” Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/08/16/gay-clarity-or-obfuscation-2/, accessed June 18, 2018.
For example, on one occasion during the 1992 election, a visiting revival preacher declared from the pulpit at my home church that if America didn’t bring back the death penalty for homosexuality, God would destroy it like He had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. The congregation responded with a resounding, “Amen!” (It did not help that I was leading the music that week, and so I was sitting behind the pastor facing the congregation when this happened.)
There were a lot of ways I could have responded to that pastor. In the first place, God intended to destroy Sodom before the men of Sodom threatened to rape the angels (see Genesis 18:20-33). In the second place, the sexual aspect of Sodom’s sin involved gang rape, not a consensual and monogamous relationship between two men. In the third place, most references in both the Old and New Testaments identify sins other than homosexual activity as the cause of Sodom’s destruction (see, in particular, Ezekiel 16:48-50). And finally, despite the fact that Sodom was often invoked in my church as the epitome of human evil, the Bible actually compared Sodom favorably to God’s own people (Ezekiel 16:48, 52; Matthew 11:23-24), and promised to restore Sodom in the resurrection (Ezekiel 16:53).
But the pastor was not engaged in Biblical exegesis. He was engaged in the tribal rhetoric of the culture wars. Any attempt to challenge his rhetoric would have been met with shaming, exclusion, and condemnation. . . .
That night, we split a few logs from the woodpile, built a fire in the fireplace, and made hot apple cider. Then we sat on the couch, staring at our physics textbooks and doing practice problems. Later, after the fire had died down and his parents had gone to bed, the conversation circled back to gays in the military.
“Doesn’t the concept of two men holding hands weird you out?” he asked.
Then he slid closer to me on the couch and reached for my hand.
My body froze. Don’t show any emotion! Remember to breathe! I tried to keep my face a mask as I explained that my personal feelings about whether or not two men holding hands was weird did not factor into the question of whether gays and lesbians could honorably defend their country. Fairness, I said, isn’t about how comfortable I feel—for example, the idea of my parents having sex weirds me out, but that doesn’t mean I would discriminate against them (I had used that line in my speech, and it usually got a good laugh, so I wasn’t above recycling it in conversation).
“But aren’t you totally weirded out by two guys cuddling?” he persisted. Then he laid his head against my chest, where presumably he could hear my heart race. We kept arguing. After a few minutes, I took the risk of running my fingers through his hair. He did not resist, and we sat like that for the next couple of hours—he maintaining that homosexuality was disgusting, while I maintained that, whether it was disgusting or not, we should not discriminate against those who happened to be gay or lesbian.
So far as I can recall, although I was quite happy with cuddling with him, the idea of trying to escalate this into a sexual encounter never seriously crossed my mind. At any rate, although I have extraordinarily vivid memories of this particular evening, I don’t remember struggling that much against sexual temptation. I just remember a feeling of incredible tenderness, somewhat offset by the cognitive dissonance in his arguments.
The next day, he went out of his way to say that he was not gay.
“I never said you were,” I replied, choosing my words with some precision.
The relationship lasted, in more or less that form, throughout our freshman year. We continued to study together, continued to explore Seattle together, continued talking late into the night. If we were alone—which was not often, since we both had roommates—we might cuddle.
We continued to argue about homosexuality as a theoretical question, gradually arriving at a consensus that the Bible did condemn gay sex, but that gay people could have a David-and-Jonathan-style friendship, as long as they didn’t have sex.
He continued to deny that he was gay, and I could read him well enough to see that nothing would be gained by my coming out to him.
-Ron Belgau, “The Desires of the Heart,” Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2016/10/13/the-desires-of-the-heart/, accessed June 18, 2018.
Wesley Hill is a keynote speaker at Revoice.
If I am a Christian, then I belong (like it or not) to the Body of Christ. By virtue of baptism, I am no longer “my own person”; in belonging to Christ, I also belong to the other members of his body, the church. And so, these days, I find myself less and less interested in asking where each gay Christian, myself included, “stands” on the question of the morality of gay sex. Instead, I want—even, or precisely, as an Anglican—to explore the question Eve Tushnet, a Roman Catholic, raised recently: is there a way to see my own convictions as somehow less important than the matter of my membership in the church of which I’m a part?
-Wesley Hill, “Church before Sex,” Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2013/04/29/church-before-sex-2/, accessed June 18, 2018.
Sometimes it really does look as if a same-sex friendship might be better and truer if we were able to express our love in sexual intimacy. But our reading of Scripture and the Christian tradition keeps telling us otherwise, and we trust that it won’t ultimately lead us astray.
In one of his wonderful “sermons” on homosexuality and the church, the Anglican theologian Oliver O’Donovan said: “It is perfectly possible to think of desires as no matter for blame, and yet be persuaded that their literal enactment can never be their true fulfilment.” I’ve thought about that sentence a great deal over the past few years. And I think it would be my way of trying to answer my friend Tim: Can we think of same-sex desire as no matter for blame and yet, at the same time, remain persuaded that its literal, physical expression in sexual intimacy is not the true fulfillment God has in mind for our desires? That, at least, is what I understand myself to be trying to do.
-Wesley Hill, “True Fulfillment,” Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2016/03/23/true-fulfillment/, accessed June 18, 2018.
I use “same sex attraction,” “homosexual desire,” “homosexuality,” and related terms interchangeably. Likewise I’ve used a variety of terms for lesbian and gay people. Instead of sticking to one term, such as “homosexual Christian,” I also refer to myself as a “gay Christian” or “Christian who experiences homosexual desires.” These phrases are all synonymous for me, and though they are open to misunderstanding, in my judgment the gains in using them outweigh the potential hazards.
-Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 21.
RNS: Let’s get practical. Give me one thing–only one–that you think churches should do to promote and nurture your kind of friendship?
[Wesley Hill]: I wish more churches would recognize that certain friends are, for gay Christians, our “significant others.” Right now, if you’re gay and celibate in a lot of conservative churches, you’re probably going to feel under suspicion–or worse. If you sit with your best friend in church, if you go on vacation with your friend, or if you spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with her and her family, you may get raised eyebrows or else just blinking incomprehension. I’d like that to change.
I’d like to see close, committed, promise-sealed friendships become normalized in churches that continue to teach the historic, traditional Christian sexual ethic. What if we treated it as important, honorable, and godly for a celibate gay Christian to commit to a close friend precisely as a way of growing in Christian love? That would make a big difference in how we currently think about homosexuality.
-Jonathan Merritt, “Celibate gay Christian leader urges faithful to ‘normalize’ committed friendships,” Religion News Service, https://religionnews.com/2015/04/07/celibate-gay-christian-leader-urges-faithful-reimagine-friendship/, accessed June 18, 2018.
If we think of sexuality in terms of multiple layers—there is one’s basic erotic attractions, followed [or not] by the lustful cultivation of desire that Jesus describes as “looking to desire” [Matthew 5:28], and then the behaviors that can represent the fruition of that lust—then it seems we can talk about a basic attraction to women that need not be reduced to the temptation to lust. That first layer of desire, so to speak—the pre-lustful attraction that is simply part and parcel of being sexual creatures—is probably best thought of as having either sinful or virtuous realizations. It seems to me that it’s important to stress that women noticing the beauty of women can be virtuously actualized, for instance, in gratitude to God for their beauty, in intercession and loving service towards them, in friendship and conversation, etc. The technical term for this is, of course, “sublimation,” and I wanted Edwards to at least gesture in this direction.
-Wesley Hill, “The Healing Moment of Coming Out,” Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/06/23/the-healing-moment-of-coming-out/, accessed June 18, 2018.
Admittedly, however, there are problems with this model too. For instance, Gerald Bray responded to his fellow Anglicans who crafted the St. Andrew’s Day Statement with a caution: “To suggest, however obliquely, that friendship can be a homosexual substitute for marriage is dangerous and potentially destructive of the whole concept.” Drawing on the ancient distinction between eros and philia, Bray worried that if friendship were seen as entailing the sublimation of erotic love, then the whole Western ideal of self-giving, nonacquisitive love between members of the same sex may find itself on shaky ground. The only way friendship can be preserved as friendship is, apparently, if it is sharply distinguished from romantic attraction. One thinks too, in this connection, of C. S. Lewis’s contrasting images of erotic love and the love of friendship: we picture lovers face to face, lost in each other’s eyes, but we picture friends shoulder to shoulder, looking outward, engaged in some common pursuit. If the friends should turn and face one another, the whole tenor of their comradeship would be altered beyond recognition, and friendship as a unique form of human affection would be compromised.
More practically, it does seem worrisome, for those committed to chastity, to think of same-sex closeness becoming the occasion for sin. Imagine two gay Christian friends, both living a celibate life, who follow Aelred’s counsel and love one another so much that they commit to the possibility of laying down their lives on one another’s behalf. Surely, in such a friendship, the temptation to transgress sexual boundaries is immense—perhaps too immense to risk such closeness?
Pondering these dangers, though, I find myself thinking of another danger emerging from the opposite direction. I think of the gay Christians I know (among whom I count myself), and I remember the stories of their loneliness. I think of their despair over the lack of intimate human communion in their churches, and I wonder what can be done about it. From the vantage point afforded by their suffering, I find myself wondering whether celibacy without close friendship is really viable after all. And I wonder, which is the greater danger—the possibility of sexual transgression or the burden (and the attendant temptations) of isolation created by the absence of human closeness? A great company of saints witnesses to the fact that we can indeed flourish without sex; I don’t know of one who witnesses to the possibility of our flourishing without love.
-Wesley Hill, “The Problem of Gay Friendship,” The Other Journal, https://theotherjournal.com/2014/01/06/the-problem-of-gay-friendship/, accessed June 18, 2018.
Before I knew what was happening, or before I was willing to admit that I knew what was happening, it was too late to save the friendship.
In hindsight, the moment that symbolizes the end happened like this. I was walking back from the library for the last time. The next day I would board an airplane for home, having managed, in some way I can’t now fathom, to finish my master’s-degree thesis while stumbling through a darkening depression that left me almost unable to read. The occasion of that darkness was my friend’s new romance, and my experience of it was almost entirely defined by a deepening jealousy. My friend was my best friend. We both said so often. We had once shared a house and talked sometimes about doing so again in the future. And so, fingering the cellphone in my pocket, I tried to forget for a moment that I wanted him single again, wanted him all for myself. I tried to forget the painful, gradually dawning awareness that he did not want those things. I pulled out the phone and called him, ready to put my best, least envious, least aggrieved foot forward. Tonight would be our last time to see each other for a while, I told him when he answered. Could we, in light of that, have dinner together, just the two of us? I knew the answer as soon as he started to reply. He would not be able to have dinner with me, no. He and the woman he was now dating had already made plans, he said. For a moment, it seemed that he wanted to apologize, but instead he wished me a safe flight, promised we’d speak soon, and hung up. The next thing I did was look for a place where I could sob without being seen.
Little did I know what that self-denial would do to my longing.
It has taken me years of therapy and spiritual direction to face up to what, in retrospect, is the clearest, simplest explanation for those tears. I had fallen in love with my friend, and I was in that moment confronted with the realization that I wasn’t willing to share his love with anyone else.
Many gay men, I’ve since learned, have similar stories to tell about the hazards and hurts of falling in love with straight men who don’t—who can’t—reciprocate their attraction. But my story differs in one crucial respect: I chose—am choosing, in fact—to make myself vulnerable to this experience. Gay schoolboys’ crushes on straight friends can pack such a devastating wallop, many go out of their way not to repeat them, looking for love from then on out with people who actually want to love them back. But I don’t join them in that quest. My friends have told me I’d make a good husband, and I confess that I think they’re right, but I decided years ago that to pursue the kind of marriage I feel suited for—to pursue marriage to a man—would violate my Christian faith in a way my conscience couldn’t tolerate. . . .
When I first met the friend I eventually cut ties with—I’ll call him Spencer—I was convinced that I was managing desire well enough. On the day we were introduced to each other, we ended up with a dozen other guys in a church’s gymnasium playing “shirts versus skins” basketball. As Spencer peeled off his T-shirt, I stole a glance, suddenly stirred by his beauty but also determined not to go home and fantasize about it. I told myself that, like the early Christian renunciants I’d read about in Peter Brown, I didn’t want my mind to be ruled by lust. I could practice what the evangelicals of my childhood called “custody of the eyes.”
Still, I tried to befriend Spencer. I suggested we go out for dinner, just the two of us. Then, despite wanting to take him out again the following night, I would wait for what seemed like a respectable amount of time before texting to ask if he wanted to go have a beer at a hip new bar I’d heard of. (What are the rules for cultivating a chaste-but-much-closer-than-“normal” friendship? I wondered.) He always said yes and usually reciprocated with his own invitations.
-Wesley Hill, “Love, Again,” Comment, https://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/love-again/, accessed June 18, 2018.
When I, for instance, form close friendships with men, I often attribute my original impulse to do so, and my continuing efforts to maintain those friendships, to my sexuality. (That paradigm seems to make sense of my experience: as I once said in an email to a friend, “A sexual orientation is such a complex and, in most cases, it seems, intractable thing; I for one cannot imagine what ‘healing’ from my orientation would look like, given that it seems to manifest itself not only in physical attraction to male bodies but also in a preference for male company, with all that it entails,” such as conversation and emotional intimacy.)
-Wesley Hill, “Is Being Gay Sanctifiable?,” Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/02/26/is-being-gay-sanctifiable/, accessed June 18, 2018.
It wasn’t, for me, a matter of whether to be gay or Christian; I knew that I was both, somehow, and that eventually, not then, I’d have to figure out how to square that circle.
-Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), 18.
Perhaps celibate gay and lesbian Christians, precisely in and out of their celibacy, are called to express, rather than simply renounce and deny, same-sex love. And perhaps this is where, for all the potential trials and temptations that come with this way of thinking, same-sex friendship represents one way for gay Christians who wish to be celibate to say: ‘I am embracing a positive calling. I am, along with every other Christian, called to love and be loved.’
-Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), 76.
I also want to explore the way my same-sex attractions are inescapably bound up with my gift for and calling to friendship. My question, at root, is how I can steward and sanctify my homosexual orientation in such a way that it can be a doorway to blessing and grace.
-Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), 78-79.
In my experience, at least, being gay colors everything about me, even though I am celibate. It’s less a separable piece of my experience, like a shelf in my office, which is indistinguishable from the other shelves, and more like a proverbial drop of ink in a glass of water: not identical with the water, but also not entirely distinct from it either. Being gay is, for me, as much a sensibility as anything else: a heightened sensitivity to and passion for same-sex beauty that helps determine the kind of conversations I have, which people I’m drawn to spend time with, what novels and poems and films I enjoy, the particular visual art I appreciate, and also, I think, the kind of friendships I pursue and try to strengthen. I don’t imagine I would have invested half as much effort in loving my male friends, and making sacrifices of time, energy, and even money on their behalf, if I weren’t gay. My sexuality, my basic erotic orientation to the world, is inescapably intertwined with how I go about finding and keeping friends.
-Wesley Hill, Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2015), 80-81.
I write as a self-consciously gay, celibate Christian man, speaking on behalf of other LGBTQ Christian believers (celibate or not), who are already members in our churches and who are asking the question earnestly and prayerfully, ‘How should I live my life?’ Or, more urgently, ‘How and whom should I love with my life?’
-Wesley Hill, “How Should Gay Christians Love?” in Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Human Sexuality, ed. Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2017), 32-33.
If you are a Christian in the modern West, you’re now swimming in a culture—including a Christian culture—that doesn’t share that way of thinking about sexuality. Here’s how Steve Holmes has recently summarized where we find ourselves now:
“[I]f we truly understand the cultural situation in which we find ourselves, we have to accept that being gay/lesbian is a matter of human identity, not a matter of performing (or desiring) certain erotic activities. Thomas Aquinas could properly treat (male) homosexual activity as one amongst many species of lust, because culturally, that was how he and his readers experienced it; we experience our sexual desires as identities—gay, lesbian, or straight [footnote: Or indeed bi, trans, queer, or asexual…]—and so as something far more profound and basic to our sense of self than merely another experience of desire, whether disordered or not.”
Given that gulf between those radically differing ways of thinking about “homosexuality,” I think it may make sense to view the differences between Julie Rodgers (and others of us here at SF) and Owen Strachan as differences between multiple models/definitions of homosexuality. . . .
[M]any modern Westerners—especially, but not only, younger people—recognize that “being gay” today is a cultural identity. It’s a community designation (“gay community”); it names a way of being in the world (“gay culture”); it involves a continuous narrative (“when I came out… my gay friends…”); and it can exist even before or without lust and behavior (think of how many teenagers you know came out before their first kiss). It isn’t identical to “lust” or even “desire.”
I want to suggest—and I do so tentatively, as a sort of thought experiment—that when people like Julie (and I) say that their “being gay” can be the time or the place where they experience redemptive grace, they’re speaking very much within a contemporary framework of thinking about homosexuality.They’re recognizing that not all aspects of this new social construct—“being gay”—are reducible to what the Bible names as lust or what pre-modern Christians (and modern ones) recognized as sin. There’s a whole raft of experiences and social connections and relational histories and aesthetic sensibilities that go under the rubric of “being gay” for many of us moderns. And when we suggest that our coming to Christ doesn’t simply erase all that but instead purifies and elevates parts of it, we’re not suggesting that the inclination to have gay sex somehow gets sanctified. Rather, what we’re trying to articulate is that much of who we were as gay is somehow made Christian, somehow made the occasion of Christlike love and service: my connections with my gay friends, my discovery of deep friendship in a specific gay community, my awakened artistic sensibilities that I discovered through my involvement in gay culture (etc. etc. etc.)—those things aren’t simply discarded or displaced when I get baptized. Like the grass and the air in C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, they’re somehow made better and more real and more tilted toward self-giving love.
-Wesley Hill, “On Disagreeing About ‘Homosexuality’: A Thought Experiment,” Spiritual Friendship, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2014/12/17/on-disagreeing-about-homosexuality-a-thought-experiment/, accessed June 18, 2018.
Greg Coles is the worship leader for Revoice.
“It was true that the road of the celibate gay Christian had been, as I knew it so far, an excruciating one. It was true that being asked to ignore something so central to my identity seemed at times like an impossible request.”
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2017), 37.
I was still sympathetic to the revisionist argument that affirmed the possibility of same-sex marriage. Part of me still wanted to believe it, and I understood at the most visceral level why some sincere Christians might choose to adopt this view. But no matter how much I sympathized, how well I tried to understand, there were a few essential ideas that rang hollow to me.”
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2017), 37.
But I began to realize that my sexual orientation was an inextricable part of the bigger story God was telling over my life. My interests, my passions, my abilities, my temperament, my calling—there was no way to sever those things completely from the gay desires and mannerisms and attitudes that had developed alongside them. For the first time in my life, I felt free to celebrate the beautiful mess I had become.
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2017), 43.
Is it too dangerous, too unorthodox, to believe that I am uniquely designed to reflect the glory of God? That my orientation, before the fall, was meant to be a gift in appreciating the beauty of my own sex as I celebrated the friendship of the opposite sex? That perhaps within God’s flawless original design there might have been eunuchs, people called to lives of holy singleness?
We in the church recoil from the word gay, from the very notion of same-sex orientation, because we know what it looks like only outside of Eden, where everything has gone wrong. But what if there’s goodness hiding within the ruins? What if the calling to gay Christian celibacy is more than just a failure of straightness? What if God dreamed it for me, wove it into the fabric of my being as he knit be together and sang life into me.
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2017), 46-47.
The evangelical church is a strange place to be a sexual minority. There are so many different attitudes crammed into a tight space—the person who reviles you, the person whose heart breaks for you, the person ready to cast demons out of you, the person ready to scout out a boyfriend for you—all sitting side by side sharing a Communion cup. There are people scattered across the political spectrum, across the theological spectrum. And then there’s you, tiptoeing through the minefield.
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2017), 61.
But when I hear most people outside the walls of the church use the word gay, they’re talking about an orientation, the nature of a person’s attractions, not about a specific sexual act. By this definition, gayness feels like a biographical detail as involuntary as your birth date or your dislike of anchovies. Being gay doesn’t mean you’re actively having sex, in the same way that being straight doesn’t mean you can’t be single and committed to sexual abstinence. Yes, most people who identify as gay intend to pursue their orientation through sexual expression, but so do most straight people.
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2017), 62.
The human impulse to get naked with another human being is certainly sexual in nature, but it’s also so much more than sexual. It’s about having every facet of yourself known, every crack and curve. It’s about having nothing left to hide. As a closeted gay person, you risk both kinds of nakedness at once, denying yourself emotional intimacy in the same breath that you deny sexual intimacy.
Living without sex is difficult. Living without intimacy is a death sentence.
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2018), 80.
It made me happy too, I realized as she spoke. I loved being safe around her, around other dear female friends who were married or dating or affianced. I could love these women, as the apostle Paul had commanded, like they were my sisters or mothers, without even the slightest temptation to violate that relationship. My gay body knows by instinct what so many straight men must fight to learn: that a woman’s body should never be just an object of male sexuality.
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2018), 93.
A dozen of us had gathered for the inaugural meeting of a new Christian group, a safe space where LGBTQ folks and those who loved them could study the Bible and worship together. As far as I knew, three of the participants openly identified as sexual minorities, and of those three, two also identified as Christians. The rest, it seemed, were friends, loved ones, curious observers, local ministers who had come to listen sympathetically . . . .
The meeting-and-greeting portion of the gathering lasted long enough that I got to deliver the same answer six or seven more times. Each time I was equally cautious to dodge the implied question everyone’s eyes seemed to ask next: Are you on Side A or Side B? In favor of same-sex relationships or against?
I didn’t want to be reduced to a simply yes or no. I wanted a new side, something further along the alphabet, something full of asterisks and footnotes and caveats. I’ve never been fluent in the language of binaries.
Meanwhile, as I met people who told me they considered same-sex marriage no different in the eyes of God than opposite-sex marriage, I pondered the unspoken questions of my own: Do these people know the same Jesus I know?
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2018), 104-105.
God would not be thwarted—not by our wrong answers, not even by our unrepentance or disbelief. Whether the twelve people in that tiny chapel chose to receive God’s grace or reject it, we could never diminish it. Grace would always be grace, and it would always be amazing.
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2018), 106.
There are only a few things I know for sure about showing love to gay people, and one of them is this: If you really want to love us, you have to respect us enough to let us make our own decisions. Even if you think we might get it wrong. Even if you’re sure we have gotten it wrong. You can’t just tell us to believe and expect us to believe it. That’s not how belief works—at least that’s not how it worked for me.
I needed to be given the space to read the Bible for myself, to listen to God’s voice distinct from all the other voices claiming to speak on his behalf. I needed to give myself permission to hear both yes and no.
Hearing from God isn’t hearing at all if we never take the risk of hearing more than one answer.
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2018), 107-108.
And yet if I’m honest, there are issues I consider more theologically straightforward than gay marriage that sincere Christians have disagreed on for centuries. Limited atonement? “Once saved, always saved”? Infant baptism? My stance on these issues seems to me so self-evident that I struggle to understand how anyone who claims a biblical faith might disagree with me. But I can’t make people read the Bible as I do. I can only explain to them how I’ve come to believe in the way I do, and love them like Jesus does, and urge them to love Jesus so deeply in return that they’re willing to trust whatever answer he gives them. Change of heart, change of mind, change of behavior—those things aren’t in my power, nor are they my responsibility. If we can’t share pews with people whose understanding of God differs from ours, we’ll spend our whole lives worshipping alone.”
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2018), 109.
“I’m convinced,” I said, “that in the end, God is more concerned with the depth and the recklessness of our love for him than he is with our right answers.”
-Gregory Coles, Single, Gay, Christian: A Personal Journey of Faith and Sexual Identity (Downers Grove: Intervarsity, 2018), 112.