Revoice and Again I Say Revoice

Revoice is a new 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 but to remain celibate.

Despite the emphasis on celibacy, they are open about their experiences and they reject efforts to change orientation. They also openly describe themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

Revoice has scheduled a conference in late July that has generated some controversy, especially among those restless reformed folk who brought us the Nashville Statement.

A quick critic of the conference has emerged in Owen Strachan. In a post at the Center for Public Theology, Strachan begins with a case study of a divorced couple who parted ways over the husband’s homosexuality. He suggests that Revoice will teach things that lead to such divorces. Strachan then offers his own answers which he claims lead to hope.

The Rest of Many Stories

Strachan tells us that a person dealing with same-sex attraction is “not a special case.” He adds that the “key to victory in this area” is “understanding this, and rejecting the now-common spirit of victimhood.” Strachan assures the reader that Jesus is bigger than “any attraction, any lust, any unbiblical identity. ”

Without contesting his theological rhetoric at this point, I think it is only fair to offer some contrasting vignettes to his story. In fact, I suspect Revoice has emerged because the approach that Strachan advocates hasn’t worked very well. This is the practical problem for those who criticize Revoice. Despite the theological precision, there is a long history of damage which  cannot be denied.

Ex-Gay History

I have been researching and counseling same-sex attracted evangelicals since 1998. Initially, I defended reorientation therapy and ex-gay ministries. Yet, after much clinical experience and a reevaluation of the evidence, I changed my views. Here are just a few vignettes and points which should make Rev. Strachan reconsider his confident critique of Revoice. The men below once advocated an approach to victory over what they once considered sin which is very much like what Strachan wrote about in his critique of Revoice.

Michael Bussee

One of the founders of Exodus International, Michael Bussee and his eventual lover Gary Cooper left Exodus when they admitted to each other that they hadn’t changed orientation. They had been advised by their Christian ministry to believe God was giving them victory over their temptations but the victory never came.

John Paulk

The founder of Focus on the Family’s Love Won Out program, John Paulk was described by Christianity Today as the “poster boy” for the ex-gay movement. He was photographed in a gay bar while leading the movement and then after he left FOTF in 2003, he later divorced his wife Anne in 2013 and came out again as gay.

John Smid

John Smid was the director of Love in Action in Memphis TN, one of the flagship ministries of Exodus International. LIA was very much geared toward avoiding temptation, the appearance of evil, mortification of the flesh and generally following the kind of advice articulated by Strachen. However, sometime after Exodus closed down in 2013, Smid and his wife divorced and he later married a man.

Randy Thomas

Randy Thomas was for many years a leader in Exodus International and was Vice-President at the time it closed. Exodus rejected identity labels like gay or lesbian. While with Exodua, Thomas spoke to groups and exhorted them to victory over the flesh with slogans like “the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality but holiness.” Five years after the closing of Exodus, Randy is out as bisexual and in a same-sex relationship.

I could go on. There are many such stories. I also know people who manage to adhere to their traditional views. Some go along with Strachan’s views whereas more lean toward Revoice’s approach.

Get Real

Like so many from the Exodus International era, Strachan throws out theological language which sounds hopeful in theory but doesn’t work out so well in practice when applied to LGBT people.  Comparing sexual orientation to greed or anger just shows how little one understands about the subject and the real people involved.

Strachan has every right to advocate for his theological understanding of sexual orientation. However, my objection is the rhetoric which promises victory, without defining what that means. When I read that Jesus is “bigger” than something, I think He is going to conquer it or take it away. When I read victory, I think actual winning.

Strachan then promises that his way is better than Revoice’s way. Reality and experience say otherwise. This is a real problem which he doesn’t confront. Maybe he doesn’t know enough GLBT people to know it is a problem. But it is definitely is a problem because in actual practice, real people infrequently get the results promised by the rhetoric used in the article.

Instead of criticizing his brothers and sisters, perhaps Strachan should work on making his own message a little clearer. Tell his readers that people rarely change and that there are just as many failures as he defines them using his method as use the others he dislikes. That would at least be more honest.

People who want to remain traditional in their actions have a hard enough time without being severely criticized by those who are, in many ways, ideologically similar. Indeed, it might be that exclusionary attitude that makes progressives look attractive.

Mixed Orientation Couples and The Nashville Statement: What Would I Do?

Last week, I wrote about advice given by Nashville Statement signer Rosaria Butterfield to a heterosexually married woman who fell in love with acounseling image 2 woman. In addition, this woman had come to dislike her husband greatly and had not been intimate with him for over a year. Butterfield’s answer to the intimacy problem was for the woman to submit to sex often, even though she said she couldn’t bear it. My strong criticism of this generated intense discussion and questions about what I would do in such a situation. This post addresses those questions.
I don’t have to speculate since I have encountered scores of these counseling situations over the years with both straight and mixed orientation couples. Let’s review Butterfield’s scenario:

Sitting across from me at the kitchen table this afternoon, you poured out your heart. When you married your high school sweetheart at 19, you never once suspected you would be in this place. Now, at 39, after twenty years of marriage, you call yourself gay.
In tears, you tell me that you have “come out,” and that you’re not looking back. You haven’t had an affair. Yet. But there is this woman you met at the gym. You work out with her every morning, and you text with her throughout the day.
Even though you are a covenant member of a faithful church, sit under solid preaching, and put up a good front for the children, you have been inwardly despising your husband for some time now. Hearing him read the Bible makes you cringe. You haven’t been intimate with him for over a year now. You tell me you can’t bear it.

Apparently, according to Butterfield, the kitchen table woman is considering an exit from the marriage to be with the gym woman. Butterfield denies that the woman is gay since, in her mind, sexual orientation isn’t a category of existence. She cautions the woman against destroying the family, urges her to repent, submit to her husband’s leadership, and have sex often. It is the last bit of advice that I called the worst advice ever. Butterfield said:

Second, embrace the calling that God has given to you to be your husband’s wife. Your marriage is no arbitrary accident; God called you to it in his perfect providence. And God’s providence is your protection.
Your lot has fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6). Pray for eyes to see this. Recommit yourself to one-flesh love with your husband. Pray together that your hearts would be knit together through Christ. Make time to talk honestly with your husband about how your body works. Show him. Make time to preserve your marriage bed as a place of joy and comfort and pleasure. Have sexual intercourse often. This is God’s medicine for a healthy marriage. One-fleshness is certainly more than sex, but it is not less than sex. Your husband is not your roommate. Treating him as such is sin.

Based on my experience, I think Butterfield’s advice, if followed by the woman in her current emotional state, would hasten the demise of that marriage.

What is a Better Approach?

The first thing I would do in this case is to determine who the client is. Is it the woman or the marriage? If she came in to see me alone then I would work with her to pursue her goals in accord with the sexual identity therapy framework I developed along with Mark Yarhouse. We work within the value framework of the client after a vigorous process of clarifying values and beliefs.* This might mean the marriage might never be the focus.
Even though I would focus on her values and beliefs initially, I would certainly ask if she had any interest in saving the marriage. If she did, I would recommend that the husband come in as well. If he agreed, then the couple and relationship would become the focus.  For the sake of discussion, I will assume she has some interest in saving the marriage.
Intimacy is always a focus on marriage counseling but can never be forced. Especially in the church, there is a power differential between men and women. Counselors must be sensitive to this and treat each member of the couple with dignity and equal respect. No one is to be shamed for sexual desires nor should anyone be shamed for lack of sexual desire. The partner who is more interested in sex must understand that intimacy cannot be forced or coerced from the partner less interested in it. This truth applies to so many situations in marriage, not just the one in the Butterfield scenario.
Full personal histories and a history of their relationship would need to be fleshed out with all of the triumphs and failures. Circumstances surrounding courtship, marriage and births are critical to the development of their story. We want to figure out how the current crisis fits into the ongoing narrative. This is standard counseling work but it sets the stage for making intelligent recommendations tailored to the couple in the room.
I have worked with dozens of Christian couples who have implemented some form of Butterfield’s advice prior to seeing me. When women have done this against their will, the results have been resentment and anger. The marriage deteriorated to the point that counseling was a last resort before seeing the lawyer. I recall one case in particular where the a woman not only left her husband but left her church and lost her faith. Her husband had required her to see the elders on more than one occasion because sexual frequency wasn’t to his liking. Even after he realized how degrading the whole thing was, it was too late. She had enough.
Another woman complained of pain in intercourse but was forbidden by her husband of seeing a gynecologist. After she went anyway, it turned out she had a medical reason why intercourse was painful. When this information was shared with her husband and the pastor, it didn’t matter. She was still required to fulfill her wifely duty because it couldn’t be that bad. She had children after all. That was it, the marriage was over. There are too many more stories.
In the context of mixed orientation marriages, some marriages have stayed together and some haven’t. Some women are bisexual, decide that the family is irreplaceable and worth more than another relationship. Other women determine that they lied at the beginning, were never straight and feel horrible about it. The couples decide it would be best to end the relationship for everybody concerned. Some gay people (I call them spousosexual) have sufficient fluidity in their orientation that they fall in love with one member of the opposite sex without losing their general attraction to the same sex.  Although I don’t think it is common, some of those marriages survive.  The point is that the one-size-fits-all advice offered by Butterfield to woman who have resentment against their husbands would almost never fit anyone and should be removed from the web. I can only see pain and destruction coming from it in the context it was offered.

What About I Corinthans 7?

Let me close by saying a word about those who protest by appealing to I Corinthians 7. Here is the passage:

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

First, Paul said that he wrote this as “a concession, not as a command.” Now, I am not a theologian, I am not from Nashville, nor have I ever been a theologian in Nashville signing important documents, but it seems like it is important to note that this instruction isn’t a command. Those are not my words, but Paul’s.
As an aside, Paul said he wished everyone could be single. Does that mean God’s design is singleness? He said everyone has their own gift. What does that say about the person who never has had an opposite sex attraction?
Back to the passage, I recognize that this sounds like marriage is a kind of a transaction, each person has a duty. There is a sense in which this is true in a normal marriage. When people are basically happy with each other and want to have sex, then Paul said they should not deprive each other. Paul started off the instruction by saying he didn’t think it was good for a man to touch a woman (is that God’s design?), so he had to make it clear that for those who are married and want to have sex, he would make a concession and say it was fine for this occur. In the face of some killjoy saying “no sex,” Butterfield’s advice is great.
However, a little later in the passage, Paul gets to the situation Butterfield encounters in her article.

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

Butterfield’s kitchen table lady might leave her husband according to Paul but she shouldn’t remarry, nor should he remarry. I know mixed orientation couples who have an uneasy separation along these lines because living together was too confusing and painful. Of course, that result is not ideal, but it appears to be one envisioned even by a literal reading of I Corinthians.
In short, I don’t think Butterfield’s advice is a proper application of I Corinthians 7 to a marriage where both partners are not invested in the marriage.
 
*For more on sexual identity therapy, see these articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal as well as the SIT website.

Wishful Thinking, Forced Intimacy, and The Nashville Statement

photo-1474367658825-e5858839e99d_optI started counseling LGB people and mixed orientation couples about two decades ago. Initially, I had high hopes that counseling might regularly assist same-sex attracted people become straight or bisexual. In a story that has been told elsewhere, I have since changed my mind.
Part of what helped form my current views of sexual orientation was the experience of counseling and researching mixed orientation couples. I concluded: If heterosexual responding did not happen for same-sex attracted people in that context, it probably wasn’t going to happen at all. For couples already married, I decided to work with them to maintain their marriage if that is what they believed was right. However, I don’t make unrealistic promises. And if people decide to part, I certainly understand the pressures which lead to that decision.
Due to my work, I read a recent article at John Piper’s website by Nashville Statement signer Rosaria Butterfield. In it, she gives some of the worstNashville logo advice I have ever read to a woman in a mixed orientation marriage. Below I respond to it. My response to the article is not theological. Instead, I respond as a clinician and researcher.
In essence, Butterfield denies people are gay:

A mixed-orientation marriage combines one spouse who “is” gay and the other who “is” straight. This new language for sexuality and humanity has become our post-Christian world’s reigning (and godless) logic. Gay may be how someone feels, but it can never be who someone inherently is. Because all human beings are made in God’s image, we are called to reflect God’s image in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. We are a Genesis 1:27 people, born male or female with a soul that will last forever, and a body that will either be glorified in the New Jerusalem or suffer unspeakable anguish in hell.

After working with LGBT people for two decades, I believe some people are inherently gay. They have never been attracted to a member of the opposite sex, even while married to one. They have tried everything to change, but nothing changes.
Some people are bisexual and seem to fluctuate without warning or conscious choice. Others are basically gay, but fall in love with one member of the opposite sex. If that love is dashed or ceases for some reason, then there is nothing left of their straightness.
Butterfield says there is one size because of the Bible. Even though that’s not exactly what the Bible says, that’s how she and her Nashville Statement interpret it so that’s how anyone she talks to has to be. I used to look at people that way. I won’t do that anymore. There are many things in this world I wish were different but wishful thinking won’t change how things are.
She continues:

Being born male or female comes with ethical and moral responsibilities, blessings, and constraints — by God’s design and for the purpose of image-bearing. Because creation is an identity issue, my feelings — no matter how deep, abiding, or original to my conscience — are not my identity or descriptive of what kind of Christian I am.

In other words, no matter how real reality is, it isn’t really real unless it matches up with her understanding of the Bible. What Butterfield overlooks is that she is basing her argument on her feelings about the Bible. She is confident that her interpretation is the right one. She feels strongly about it. Her feelings are more right than the feelings of the woman she is talking to. She believes that God’s design for most people is normative for all people. No exceptions are allowed. The fact is that some people are naturally different than the norm. No matter how strongly she feels that such exceptions shouldn’t exist, they do.

No, friend. I am not in a mixed-orientation marriage and neither are you. This false category banks on modernism’s magnetism to personal pain as proof of purpose. Like Frankenstein’s creature, modernity’s identity is piecemealed from the unconverted woman that you once were. But gospel identity calls us to the future. Jesus always leads from the front of the line. If you are in Christ — and I believe that you are — then you are a new woman. You have a Galatians 2:20 identity. If you are in Christ, then you are in the process of being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). You truly are who you will become when you are glorified one day.

The denial of sexual orientation leads to a denial of the present. The woman Butterfield is talking to is living in a body and brain right now, not “one day” by and by. She has a husband she can’t bear to be with and a conflict that is real in the present. She needs something more than it will be well someday.
I do agree with Butterfield’s caution about ending a marriage. What I advocate for in this post is honesty and reality not broken homes. Many couples I have worked with keep their marriage but with real and honest expectations. Furthermore, they do so after an extended period of examining their beliefs to determine that they want an intact marriage more than anything else. If they don’t have those beliefs, then they may peacefully and amicably part ways.

Worst Advice Ever

However, probably the worst advice I have ever read for same-sex attracted people is what comes next:

Your lot has fallen in pleasant places (Psalm 16:6). Pray for eyes to see this. Recommit yourself to one-flesh love with your husband. Pray together that your hearts would be knit together through Christ. Make time to talk honestly with your husband about how your body works. Show him. Make time to preserve your marriage bed as a place of joy and comfort and pleasure. Have sexual intercourse often. This is God’s medicine for a healthy marriage. One-fleshness is certainly more than sex, but it is not less than sex. Your husband is not your roommate. Treating him as such is sin.

Forced intimacy is not intimacy. I can only imagine the horror of a person hearing these words. I have counseled numerous survivors of this kind of advice. What this does is ruin a person for any kind of intimacy, same-sex or opposite-sex.  Maybe some people can hear this, but to me, this sounds cult-like. Channeling early Mark Driscoll, Butterfield instructs this woman to allow her integrity to be violated in the name of God.
The Nashville Statement is supposed to be all about rightly ordered sexuality. I can’t see how a person entering into coerced intimacy reflects this. Butterfield very clearly tells this woman she sins if she doesn’t have sex against her will. This advice doesn’t even pass the test of her fellow Nashville Statement signer and Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood president Denny Burk’s criteria for ethical sexuality. In his book What is the Meaning of SexBurk wrote:

We ought to evaluate the ethics of any sexual act on the basis of its ability to encompass the four purposes [of sex]: consummation, procreation, love, and pleasure.

Butterfield’s kitchen table friend said she didn’t love her husband and derived no pleasure from the experience. How then is sex against her will an ethical act?
I hope DesiringGod.com reconsiders this article and removes it before anyone takes it seriously.

The Nashville Statement and Sterling K. Brown: Is This Us?

Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown brilliantly plays Randall Pearson in the NBC drama This Is Us. According to his Twitter account, he is also “a childSterlingKBrown of God.” In a 2016 Facebook posting just after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Brown expanded on that by saying that he grew up in St. Louis as a Christian. He also said that he has three family members who are gay and he believes #gaylivesmatter. You can read the whole post below or at his Facebook page but for the sake of discussion, here is a quote about Christianity and affirmation of gay people:

I’m tired, y’all. I’m tired of folks using The Bible, or any religious text to justify the withholding of love. To justify the promotion of intolerance. And ultimately, the death and destruction of what God made. My heart aches for the innocent, and I can no longer play the role of Switzerland. If you have a problem with loving gay people, then you have a problem with love, and thus you have a problem with God. Because what is God, if not love? The conditions which many Christians place on “how best to love” someone who is different than themselves has got to stop.


Brown gives every indication of growing up in a tradition which is consistent with the Nashville Statement (see these prior posts for background on that statement). Brown’s Facebook posting is quite inconsistent with the Nashville Statement. And then there is the matter of Article 10 which reads:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Nashville logoAlthough he doesn’t specify his personal beliefs, Brown’s statement of support for LGBT people is remarkable. It sounds like there is some conflict in his family about the matter and yet he has come forward with a strong statement of support.
Dear Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, is Sterling K. Brown one of us?

The Canons of Elvira and The Nashville Statement

Since the church has been making statements, church leaders have been telling people in the pews what to do and not to do in their beds. In theNashville logo context of talking about the Nashville Statement, a Grove City colleague recently pointed me to the Canons of Elvira as an early (303 AD or so) instance of this. Just for fun, here are some of the rules, called canons, that the church in Spain expected the people to live by. Before I provide a few of them, here is a description of the Synod of Elvira from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Held early in the fourth century at Elliberis, or Illiberis, in Spain, a city now in ruins not far from Granada. It was, so far as we know, the first council held in Spain, and was attended by nineteen bishops from all parts of the Peninsula. The exact year in which it was held is a matter of controversy upon which much has been written. Some copies of its Acts contain a date which corresponds with the year 324 of our reckoning; by some writers the council has accordingly been assigned to that year. Hardouin suggests 313, Mansi 309, and Hefele 305 or 306. Recent opinion (Duchesne, see below) would put the dateconsiderably earlier, from 300 to 303, consequently previous to the persecution of Diocletian. The principal bishop attending the council was the famous Hosius of Cordova. Twenty-six priests are also recorded as sitting with the bishops. Its eighty-one canons were, however, subscribed only by the bishops. These canons, all disciplinary, throw much light on the religious and ecclesiastical life of SpanishChristians on the eve of the triumph of Christianity. They deal with marriage, baptismidolatryfastingexcommunication, the cemeteries, usury, vigils, frequentation of Mass, the relations of Christians with pagansJewsheretics, etc.

Not all of these have to do with sex but they give some insight into how views of sin and morality have changed within the church. They don’t seem to be in an order and were not all decided at one time. Generally, it appears that the Christian leaders then didn’t think highly of sex, even in marriage. Becoming a leader meant giving it up.

33. Bishops, presbyters, deacons, and others with a position in the ministry are to abstain completely from sexual intercourse with their wives and from the procreation of children. If anyone disobeys, he shall be removed from the clerical office.

For non-leaders, punishments for violations were severe:

7. If a Christian completes penance for a sexual offense and then again commits fornication, he or she may not receive communion even when death approaches.
8. Women who without acceptable cause leave their husbands and join another man may not receive communion even when death approaches.
9. A baptized woman who leaves an adulterous husband who has been baptized, for another man, may not marry him. If she does, she may not receive communion until her former husband dies, unless she is seriously ill.
10. If an unbaptized woman marries another man after being deserted by her husband who was a catechumen, she may still be baptized. This is also true for female catechumens. If a Christian woman marries a man in the knowledge that he deserted his former wife without cause, she may receive communion only at the time of her death.
11. If a female catechumen marries a man in the knowledge that he deserted his former wife without cause, she may not be baptized for five years unless she becomes seriously ill.
12. Parents and other Christians who give up their children to sexual abuse are selling others’ bodies, and if they do so or sell their own bodies, they shall not receive communion even at death.
13. Virgins who have been consecrated to God shall not commune even as death approaches if they have broken the vow of virginity and do not repent. If, however, they repent and do not engage in intercourse again, they may commune when death approaches.
14 If a virgin does not preserve her virginity but then marries the man, she may commune after one year, without doing penance, for she only broke the laws of marriage. If she has been sexually active with other men, she must complete a penance of five years before being readmitted to communion.
15. Christian girls are not to marry pagans, no matter how few eligible men there are, for such marriages lead to adultery of the soul.
16. Heretics shall not be joined in marriage with Catholic girls unless they accept the Catholic faith. Catholic girls may not marry Jews or heretics, because they cannot find a unity when the faithful and the unfaithful are joined. Parents who allow this to happen shall not commune for five years.
17. If parents allow their daughter to marry a pagan priest, they shall not receive communion even at the time of death.
30. Those who sinned sexually as youth may not be ordained as subdeacons. This will guard against their being promoted to higher offices later on. If they have already been ordained, they shall be removed from their office.

Some canons are frightful:

5. If a woman beats her servant and causes death within three days, she shall undergo seven years’ penance if the injury was inflicted on purpose and five years’ if it was accidental. She shall not receive communion during this penance unless she becomes ill. If so, she may receive communion.
41. Christians are to prohibit their slaves from keeping idols in their houses. If this is impossible to enforce, they must at least avoid the idols and remain pure. If this does not happen, they are alienated from the church.
50. If any cleric or layperson eats with Jews, he or she shall be kept from communion as a way of correction.
80. Slaves who have been freed but whose former masters are yet alive may not be ordained as clergy.
68. A catechumen who conceives in adultery and then suffocates the child may be baptized only when death approaches.

Some are just odd:

35. Women are not to remain in a cemetery during the night. Some engage in wickedness rather than prayer.
62. Chariot racers or pantomimes must first renounce their profession and promise not to resume it before they may become Christians. If they fail to keep this promise, they shall be expelled from the church.
67. A woman who is baptized or is a catechumen must not associate with hairdressers or men with long hair. If she does this, she is to be denied communion.
81. A woman may not write to other lay Christians without her husband’s consent. A woman may not receive letters of friendship addressed to her only and not to her husband as well.

With my tongue in my cheek, I tend to agree with the part about mimes renouncing their miming. Those Elvirans were on to something there.
I have a feeling it won’t take 1700 years for future Christians to look back at the Nashville Statement and question dogmatism of these authors. We now let mimes (should we?), chariot drivers, hairdressers, and men with long hair in the church. Pastors aren’t removed from office for sex with their wives. Maybe someday, it will not be fashionable for evangelical Christians as a group to question the salvation of LGBT Christians.
Some things change and some things don’t. My point isn’t to suggest everything changes or that everything should change. I am saying that we should be open to the possibility that tradition plays a role in our moral reasoning and that what we know and don’t know about LGBT issues makes them candidates for issues which should be reexamined in light of current science and experience.

The Nashville Statement and God's Design

Nashville logoAs they say in journalism, the Nashville Statement has legs.  Mark Galli has a critical editorial about the NS in November’s Christianity Today. The President of NS sponsor Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Denny Burk answered that a couple of days ago. Downstream, I am now responding to Burk.
Because it is behind a paywall, I can’t read all of Galli’s op-ed. However, my main focus is what Burk has to say in reply. In particular, I want to briefly discuss God’s design and sexual orientation and gender identity.

God’s Design

Article 7 of the NS says:

We deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.

In his CT op-ed, Mark Galli criticized Article 7 of the NS for this position which stigmatize some Christians who consider themselves gay even though they refrain from gay sex.* Burk isn’t having it:

In response to this, I would simply point out that Galli’s criticism is not that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement is false or unsupported in scripture. His argument is simply that those who embrace a gay identity might disagree with it. He may be right that some who embrace a gay identity will not wish to support the statement, but that fact should not be confused with a substantive critique of Article 7 on the merits. Nor should it obscure the fact that Christians who experience same-sex attraction can and do endorse the statement (e.g., Sam Allberry, Rosaria Butterfield, Christopher Yuan).

Burk says Galli doesn’t use the Bible to criticize the NS, then Burk resorts to a defense which relies less on the Bible and more on natural law. As I will demonstrate below, Galli and Burk both look to nature but see different things. Burk continues:

Notice that Article 7 focuses on God’s purpose in his creation design and in his redemptive work through Christ. The careful reader will recognize that this article is concerned with the revelation of God’s design in both nature and scripture. In what sense does Galli think it consistent with God’s design to embrace a transgender self-concept? In what sense is it consistent with God’s design to embrace a gay self-concept? Does Galli think that adopting such self-concepts are a part of God’s original design in creation? Does Galli believe that people will embrace a gay or transgender self-concept in the new heavens and the new earth?
Galli offers us no guidance on these questions, but they are precisely the kinds of questions that ordinary Christians are asking and that Article 7 of the Nashville Statement answers. And I believe the statement does so in a way that is consistent with both natural law and scriptural revelation.

Burk looks at nature, sees the typical arrangement, calls it God’s design and asks Galli questions. He wants Galli to answer that embracing a transgender or gay self-concept isn’t consistent with God’s design. Burk wants him to say that such self-conceptions were not part of the original plan nor will they be part of the eventual eternal state. Therefore, we shouldn’t affirm them now.
Let me now speak for Galli and ask some questions of my own. Mr. Burk, what about the exceptions? Do they not exist? Are they not valuable? In what sense do you think it is consistent with God’s design to pretend that LGBT people don’t exist now? Do you think straight and cisgender people become undesigned if we acknowledge that non-straight and transgender people exist? If those people who exist in exception honestly acknowledge it, will anyone be excluded from the new heavens and the new earth? Can’t the typical and the atypical coexist in your world? They do in mine.
Galli points to one part of nature and says the NS doesn’t fully capture it. Burk comes along, points to a more orderly part of nature and says everybody is supposed to be straight and cisgender even if they aren’t.

Exceptions Happen

In fact, there are many exceptions to “design” in nature.  Among humans, some people have extra bones or teeth, some have webbed toes, some are missing limbs. Some couples are unable to have children. Among sheep, some rams attempt to mate with other rams. This does not alter the behavior of the straight rams. Arguing against LGBT people from God’s design is a weak argument because LGBT people also exist in God’s world. I don’t believe they are a surprise or have thwarted His plans. The basic means of furthering the species is intact even if a small percentage of people aren’t going to find love and attachment in the usual way.
 
Oppose same-sex sexual behavior if that is your conviction, but don’t tell LGBT people that their very existence is an attack on God’s created order and then tell them in the next breath that your statement to that effect is “an expression of love” for them.
Read my other posts about the Nashville Statement here.
*The issues are similar for transgender persons but for simplicity, I will focus on sexual orientation.

Nashville Statement Question: Are GLBT Christians Saved?

Nashville logoSince the Nashville Statement was published by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a focus of criticism has been Article 10 which states:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

The president of the Council is Denny Burk. About Article 10, Burk wrote:

That is why Article 10 of The Nashville Statement is as important as any other article before you today… We are not arguing today about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. We are not spinning our wheels about adiaphora or some issue of moral indifference. We are declaring what it means to be a male or female image-bearer. We are defining the nature of the marriage covenant and of the sexual holiness and virtue. To get these questions wrong is to walk away from Jesus not to him. There is no more central concern than that.
Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.

Some observers have interpreted Article 10 as a claim that GLBT Christians and those who affirm them are not Christians at all. Saying that those who reject the Nashville Statement are “rejecting Christianity altogether” appears to be a strong statement about salvation and so it isn’t completely clear what the CBMW authors and signers have in mind.
Over the past week, I asked several Nashville Statement authors and signers how they understood Article 10. Most said the article wasn’t a statement about salvation. However, the CBMW and leaders involved in the group (e.g., Denny Burk) haven’t answered direct requests for an interpretation.

Differences of Opinion Among Signers

One signer, radio host and minister Michael Brown, said God is the “ultimate judge” of who is saved and who isn’t. However, he added that, in his view, the article is pertinent to the topic of salvation. In response to my question about the meaning of Article X, Brown told me

God alone is the ultimate judge of who is saved and lost, but yes, I believe this is equivalent to a couple living in adultery. The Word says those who practice adultery will not inherit God’s kingdom, and therefore it is heretical to state they will (1 Cor 6:9-10).
But definitions are important here.
If by “gay Christians” you mean practicing homosexuals, I would say they cannot follow Jesus and practice homosexuality at the same time. (Again, God is their ultimate judge and He knows whether they are in ignorance or rebellion.) If you mean people who struggle with SSA but seek to honor the Lord, of course they can struggle while following Jesus. They are champions with whom we stand strong.
Can I say that someone is not saved if they affirm homosexual practice? Certainly, I cannot say that.
Can I say they are embracing heresy? That they are no longer evangelical? That they are endangering their souls and the souls of others? Absolutely.
This has been my position all along, so it was easy for me to sign on here.

Brown seems to hedge a bit but leans toward doubting the profession of salvation by a GLBT Christian. On the other hand, signer and Liberty University professor Karen Swallow Prior believes Article 10 refers to orthodoxy and not salvation. She said:

I see an important and crucial distinction between the word “faithfulness” (the word used in the statement) and the word “faith.”  A departure from “Christian faithfulness and witness” is not the same as a departure from “the Christian faith.”  I was surprised and dismayed that some people seem to see those two words as having the same meaning.

This is an important question. If the Nashville Statement authors and signers intend to limit salvation to those who affirm the statement, then Romans 10:13 will need to be reworded.

Those who call on the name of the Lord and affirm the Nashville Statement on GLBT issues shall be saved.

Nashville Statement signers, what do you think Article 10 means?

If you signed the statement, please leave a comment. What do you think Article 10 is all about? If you didn’t sign it, what is your impression of it?

Is the Nashville Statement Irenic?

Nashville logoWilliam Lane Craig said it is irenic but I think the answer may depend on which side of the line you are on.

Irenic – (adjective) aiming or aimed at peace. (noun) a part of Christian theology concerned with reconciling different denominations and sects.

Written and promoted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, the Nashville Statement is a series of affirmations and denials which condemns affirmation of GLBT people. The statement has been criticized by gay affirming and traditional Christians alike on various grounds.
A recent signer touted by the CBMW is Christian apologist William Lane Craig. In a statement tweeted by the Council, Craig said:


Given the level of controversy over the statement, it is hard to understand how the Nashville Statement brings Christians together. In fact, it brought some Christians together while excluding others.
One purpose of the Nashville Statement, according to one of the authors Denny Burk, is to draw a line in the sand. Article 10 of the statement reads:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.
WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

About that article, Burk said:

Readers who perceive Article 10 as a line in the sand have rightly perceived what this declaration is about. Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.

Signer Peter Sprigg said this about the statement:

Anyone who cannot agree with the affirmations and denials in the Nashville Statement has essentially departed from biblical and historical Christian orthodoxy.

I don’t think the authors and signers mean the statement to be about peace.
Catholics have signed the evangelical statement. New signer William Lane Craig’s take on the deity and humanity of Christ has raised some eyebrows. Various views of the trinity are represented among the signers. Some signers believe Christians can lose their salvation and others don’t.* Apparently, these are now minor differences compared to differences regarding views of sexual orientation and gender identity.
So a bunch of Christians have gathered together on one side of the line and others have gathered on the other side of the line.  Those who are aware of the statement have come together against each other. In this view of irenic, I suppose you could say gays are an irenogenic force.
I say the Nashville Statement is irenic like Donald Trump is irenic. Polarizing might be a better word.

The Romans Statement is an Irenic Statement

To me, an irenic statement is the one found in Romans 10: 6-13.

6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

If GLBT people believe in Jesus, according to the Roman Statement, they will never be put to shame. It takes Jesus’ followers to do that. By now, there are over 17,000 of them (click on signers) irenically on their side of the line.
Whatever beliefs one holds, I hope we can work a little harder to discuss them a bit more irenically.

Do Gays Stay Saved?

Over the past week, I have asked several signers of the Nashville Statement if Article 10 means that gays are not saved (“an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness”). I would really like to know what the authors of the Nashville Statement believe about this. Romans 10 seems clear that the matter is pretty simple, but Article 10 raises questions about what kind of gospel is being affirmed by this statement. Very few signers have commented and so the ambiguity remains. I would like to hear from any signers about what you believe Article 10 to mean regarding redemption.
 
*I have talked to several who have different views on whether or not gays remain saved if they identify as gay.