There’s been a lot of hullabaloo in certain circles lately over something called the Revoice conference. You can hunt it down yourself for greater detail, but I’ll summarize it in a way I think may be helpful.
The loud, vocal response of the majority of orthodox evangelicals to the LGBT movement has been “God says that’s sinful.” Believing this to be a true statement, and fearing the Lord, a number of folks who are tempted in this way declared that they would not be pursuing gay sex, or gay romance, and that however strong their desires were, Jesus was better and they would follow him. These people were left with the puzzle of how to live given these desires, which they saw as disruptive both of living an ordinary life and of their sanctification. Nevertheless believing that God would provide a way, they organized a conference to talk about what they thought that way might look like—while loudly and vocally saying that gay sex and gay romance was sinful.
Or something like that. This portrait is at least as fair as much of what’s out there.
It’s that “what’s out there” that concerns me. A lot of orthodox, evangelical people who believe they are speaking the truth in love have raised a ruckus over the Revoice conference, asking why we don’t celebrate rapists and pedophiles and racists as long as we’re celebrating other sins. I won’t link to them, especially since if you’re reading this and care, you likely already know exactly what I’m talking about.
Some have noted, rightly, that a lot of this looks like a twelve-year-old boy trying to score points with his classmates by being as lewd and crude as he can be. Shock is entertaining, it’s polarizing, it’s great for rousing the troops. My concern is that Jesus didn’t come to rouse the troops, to save the already saved, he came to save the lost. This tactic preaches to a certain kind of choir pretty effectively, but it drives away the lost.
(Of course, Jesus did preach to the “choir” occasionally, but mostly when they became self-righteous, with little grace for others and expecting much from God.)
This is bad evangelism and worse apologetics. Who wants to believe the claims of Jesus’ mercy and grace, of the possibility of forgiveness for even the worst of sinners, when the people preaching it act like spoiled brats who forgive nothing? If people need a reason to stay away from Christ, to stay away from the Church, to flee it like the plague, then this behavior certainly provides it.
But it’s not just bad evangelism, it’s also hypocritical. The same crowd criticizing Revoice and comparing it to the celebration of pedophiles also took a very vocal stand in favor of the idea that Jesus would forgive even pedophiles. They didn’t do this like fools, either. They knew that such sinful desires are difficult to get rid of, and that such people need some pretty serious accountability, for others’ sake as much as their own. Which, come to think of it, sounds a lot like the angle the Revoice people are taking on their own sin. But y’know, you got to own the libs, even if it requires sacrificing a little principle here and there.
Now I say all this not because I think the people involved in this sort of criticism are totally worthless. I respect some of them very highly, and they have been a blessing in my life personally, and in the lives of others. I don’t really even question the motives of most of them. I know they believe they’re taking a stand for the Gospel, and that’s why I rarely call them out on their tactics, much less in a tone so similar to their own. I believe that I owe them as much grace as I’m telling them they owe other people.
But they do owe that grace to other people. They don’t owe it to sinners to affirm their sin, or to celebrate it, but they do owe it to them to correct them lovingly. They don’t need to pretend sin is not sin, or to cease preaching the passages that identify it as such, but they need to offer the same grace and forgiveness that was offered to them. The fact that they don’t, the fact that they come across as screeching harpies when I know they can be such a blessing, such a light of the Gospel to people they count within their tribe, that fact makes their at least apparent hypocrisy so much more tragic. They demand repentance, and say we should give grace to those who repent, and rightly. But when people with wrong kind of sinful desires repent, and they can score points from not giving grace, then that goes out the window.
But that’s enough of my own ranting. I’ll end with a qualification, and with a suggestion on how we can do better.
The qualification is this: there is definitely something to criticize about Revoice. Just as I can love the critics, but hate it when their tactics misrepresent Christ so badly, so I can acknowledge that the Revoice folks are doing their best to follow Christ, but that they get some serious things wrong.
Which leads to the suggestion. Tone matters. A community devoted to rhetoric knows this, and they’re being disingenuous when they pretend otherwise. The problem is not the criticism, but how it’s couched. If you grow up in an aggressive, snarky community, perhaps aggression and snark is the best way to get a point across. For most people, that doesn’t work. For most people, they take that as insulting and ungracious, not as funny and edgy and cool. Shocking, I know.
During the time Revoice has been A Thing Online, I’ve seen several criticisms of it that strike a much better tone. These criticisms are careful to actually listen to what the speakers and organizers at Revoice have to say, to have the grace to take seriously the sacrifices they are making in pursuit of Christ. Their tone is respectful, and their criticisms are courteous and lovingly stated, and yet both specific and firm.
I think we can learn from these criticisms, so I will be linking a pair of particularly exemplary ones by Steven Wedgeworth:
In addition, Mere Orthodoxy, which hosts the first essay, is often pretty good about tone, and that while presenting multiple perspectives on an issue. For example, here is something of a defense of the perspective Revoice is coming from:
This is where I wish the rhetoric in my little corner of the Reformed world actually was. I wish I didn’t have to hear the language of snark, much less speak it. On occasion, it certainly has its place, but by and large I think it’s soul-destroying. God rebukes the scoffer not because nothing is ever worth scoffing at, but because a man who scoffs at everything soon losing reverence for anything. And there are things in this world worth revering.