The controversy over the upcoming Revoice conference continues to resound through social media. To catch up a little, read my first post on the matter.
Revoice is an organization composed of people who seek “to encourage, support, and empower gay, lesbian, and other same-sex attracted Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic, Christian sexual ethic.” The group encourages same-sex attracted people to be open about their orientation in traditional church structures but to remain celibate.
In essence, it looks like those opposed to Revoice don’t like it that Revoice supporters refer to themselves as gay or queer or as a sexual minority person. Both sides believe gay people should be celibate, but the anti-Revoicers don’t think it is right to use gay as a self-description.
Evidence is compelling to me that same-sex attracted people demonstrate a variety of essential differences which justify a descriptive difference even if they decide their beliefs don’t allow same-sex sexual behavior.
At the heart of the discussion is biblical exegesis of I Corinthians 6 suggesting that Christian converts not only leave their behavior behind but also their identity and state of being. Recently, Rev. Owen Strachan made this point in a Patheos post, writing:
In layman’s terms, Paul views the Corinthians as having broken decisively with their old identity and practice. They were thieves, but are not any longer. They were drunkards, but are not any longer. They were homosexuals (whether the malakoi or the arsevokoitai, the passive or active homosexual partner, respectively, according to the Greek) but are not any longer.
David Garland says it well in his own exegetical commentary: “The implication is that Christianity not only offers a completely new sexual ethos and a new ethos regarding material possessions but also brings about a complete transformation of individuals. God’s grace does not mean that God benignly accepts humans in all their fallenness, forgives them, and then leaves them in that fallenness. God is in the business not of whitewashing sins but of transforming sinners.”
The verses in question are I Corinthians 6:9-11:
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor [a]effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Assuming these words are translated correctly,* I wonder if there could be another way to understand this passage. Strachan wants us to believe that spiritual conversion changes a person from gay to not gay. His exegetical partners set up a complete transformation standard for conversion.
However, empirically speaking, this is rare. Most same-sex attracted people who have converted to Christianity remain same-sex attracted many years after conversion. Since Strachan and his Revoice critics view same-sex desire and attraction (not just behavior) as sin, then they leave the same-sex attracted Christian without hope. I don’t know what they think changes at conversion for a gay person. I know this is an inconvenient observation, but it is a true one. I asked Strachan in a comment at his blog to address this issue but he has not answered.
In the list above, some of those traits are more likely to change completely with conversion than others. For instance, I have little trouble believing a thief will completely transform but not all converted alcoholics do. Relapse happens.
Will Covetous Believers Go to Heaven?
In my view, the I Corinthians 6 passage affirms that God can reach anyone with forgiveness and redemption. Even swindlers, thieves and adulterers can be justified, and once justified, one is always justified. Once you were not justified, but now you are. Some of those Corinthians were pretty far gone but God forgave and justified even them. To say that God requires a complete transformation standard defies human experience. If covetous believers aren’t going to make it, then very few are going to make it, including many preachers.
As far as I can tell, the Revoice approach is quite traditional but recognizes the reality of human experience. To them, “gay” doesn’t signal a rejection of their beliefs but rather is a matter bearing true witness.
*It is no secret that the translation of several of the traits described as sins in the I Corinthians 6 passage has been disputed. I am not taking a position in this post on the accuracy of the translation.