How to Evade the Real Issues

In the weeks following the Revoice Conference, quite a number of critical responses have focused on “identity.” The primary objection seems to be that we make being LGB into an “identity,” which isn’t a biblical way to talk. As I’ve written before, it’s not clear what our critics mean by “identity.” What exactly is the objection? Oftentimes, it just seems to be using words or phrases like “gay” or “sexual minority” in reference to ourselves; the same objections do not usually arise regarding those who use “same-sex attracted” instead.


Rosaria Butterfield claims that many of us are “not converted” and “cannot have union with Christ” because we have “made an identity” out of our sexuality. (Source)

This has always struck me as an odd way to argue, and I have wondered why ideas around “identity” and “ontology” are so frequently central to criticism of Revoice and Spiritual Friendship. I do think there are legitimate concerns surrounding identity, and in particular how we are to view ourselves as Christians. And those of us who contribute to Spiritual Friendship are fallible humans who may get these questions wrong at times. But I’ve found that at least in some cases, there is more going on than the “iron sharpens iron” discussion I would hope we can have.

On Spiritual Friendship, we have previously discussed the distinction between ontology (who someone is) and phenomenology (what someone experiences). Critics have insisted that we make everything about ontology. It has dawned on me that actually, what they are often doing is refusing to discuss phenomenology. Phenomenology brings up a lot of uncomfortable and difficult questions they seem to have no real interest in addressing.

The experience of finding oneself attracted to the same sex is phenomenological. It is a phenomenological observation that attraction is usually discovered rather than chosen. (To their credit, many critics such as Rosaria Butterfield do acknowledge that some people experience “unchosen homosexual desire.”) The fact that people who find themselves attracted to the same sex often continue to have the experience long after conversion to Christianity is another phenomenological reality. The common tendency to have a corresponding lack of romantic and sexual attraction to the opposite sex is phenomenological. Similarly, the observation that no method for changing sexual attraction has ever been shown to be reliable (despite numerous attempts to find such a method) is a phenomenological one.

These phenomenological realities provide the backdrop for Revoice, and are also realities we have been trying to deal with at Spiritual Friendship since the blog was founded.

Johanna Finegan noted in her excellent Revoice preconference talk one way that “identity” has been used to obscure a phenomenological reality. She spoke of how when it became apparent that sexual orientation generally wasn’t changing as a result of ex-gay approaches, leaders started focusing on “identity” so it could sound like they were achieving something significant.

I’ve found this sort of evasion is a larger theme among some of our critics who focus most on questions of “identity” or “ontology.”

For example, Rosaria Butterfield has not to my knowledge spoken recently about whether or not she continues to experience sexual temptation towards other women. People talk about her as a “former lesbian,” and as long as everything is defined in terms of “identity,” she can get away with saying that. But this allows equivocation, where people get the idea that if Rosaria Butterfield can stop being a lesbian, so can the celibate lesbian in front of you. Perhaps the difference is only as deep as what words the person is using, rather than anything more significant. Without further clarification from Butterfield, we’ll never know.

Similarly, it allows Butterfield to ignore differences between her experience of sexual temptation and that of others. In Johanna Finegan’s talk, she talks of realizing she was “gay” quite early in life. Many of us have had similar experiences. In Butterfield’s book, she talks about having had heterosexual relationships in her teens and undergraduate years, and pursued romantic and sexual relationships with women only after becoming disillusioned with relationships with men and becoming steeped in feminist theory.

But Butterfield seems to be allergic to discussing what the practical outworking of these different experiences might be. She classifies these as questions of “identity,” which she categorically refuses to consider. Instead, she wants to discuss only generic biblical theology, with explicit suspicion of even considering ideas that come from sources such as psychology. Discussion of a pattern of attraction wasn’t discussed much before Freud, so Butterfield acts as though only a Freudian framework would allow us to talk about it, even as she makes vague statements about how a faithful Christian who experiences “unwanted homosexual desire” can be one with Christ through “repentance.”

Even something like “repentance” can be obscured by an inability to see issues of phenomenology. Consider this point from Johanna Finegan’s talk: “I think how you would resist a temptation is pretty much exactly the same as how you would resist if it was actually a sin. You don’t feed it in your mind, you don’t do what it says, you try to turn the other way and do the opposite.”

How does this actually differ from the “repentance” that critics such as Butterfield want? Is the issue just that they think it’s sinful to use certain English words in reference to ourselves, so they think we need to repent of that? Are they thinking that if we just stopped describing ourselves as “lesbian” or “gay” or “bisexual,” we’d stop experiencing the feelings we’re feeling? That would be a phenomenological assertion (not just an ontological one). A refusal to talk about the phenomenology of sexual orientation leaves us without clear answers to these questions.

Phenomenological issues are critical because they are of immediate practical importance. For example, if I find myself attracted to a male friend in a way that involves some level of temptation, there are real questions I have to deal with. What kind of friendship is appropriate? How do I deal with the unasked-for feelings that remain? Simply saying that my true identity is in Christ rather than my sexuality does not actually answer these questions.

I find it noteworthy that when Ron Belgau directly asked this sort of question to Denny Burk, he never got a response. Instead, Denny later just complained about us as the “celibate gay identity movement,” having completely ignored the question for weeks. He may claim that he is interested in helping those who experience same-sex attraction, but instead he shows his true colors as someone who is more concerned with sticking to a particular limited framework that allows him to ignore important questions.

I have to admit, I’m finding it increasingly unlikely that we’ll have productive discussion with some of these critics. We have repeatedly attempted to address concerns around labels, for example. On the other hand, as I’ve just discussed, these critics have persistently failed to address the phenomenological concerns we’ve raised. We would love to discuss concerns about our approach with those who are willing to represent our beliefs honestly and address the phenomenological realities we are dealing with. However, I hope that those who are considering these recent criticisms can see the failure of our most vocal critics to do so. They seem to have no real answers for those they claim to care about and want to help. And while we don’t claim to have all the answers, I believe we’ve at least been asking the right questions. Let’s think through how to pursue answers that are faithful to God’s plan as laid out in Scripture, rather than ignoring the questions in order to focus only on “identity.”

60 thoughts on “How to Evade the Real Issues

  1. I’m so proud of you and all of you in this group. There is so much judgement towards you. I don’t understand it. You are trying to be obedient to God’s instructions and you get people in the church that are saying such mean and judgemental things towards you. It’s so hard when it’s our brothers and sisters in Christ that are saying these things.
    Know that there are so many more of us who are proud of you for trying to live your lives in obedience and sharing your experiences with us and are helping so many of us.
    May God always bless you and keep you in his loving embrace.

  2. This makes an important point that needs to be said. It’s unfortunate that many of this movement’s critics are so callously dishonest. But ignoring that fact doesn’t help anyone. And it’s a credit to the movement for challenging this duplicity and calling it out.

    I first noticed this duplicity in reading Burk’s paper that he presented alongside a paper by Wes at an ETS conference. Wes sought to raise these kinds of phenomenological concerns, but Burk sidestepped the argument by stating that nobody understood sexual orientation in the way that Wes proposed. At the time, I thought, “Well, no one except for most gay people I know.”

    But it’s not as though Burk et al. operate in a phenomenological vacuum. To the contrary, they generally operate with a number of phenomenological assumptions about what gay people experience and desire. But these assumptions function more as straw men than as honest descriptions of what gay people actually experience. In fact, few gay people I know would see themselves reflected in the fantastical straw men with whom Burk et al. would prefer to engage. After all, it’s no coincidence that their straw men lack the phenomenological complexity that poses a real challenge to the simplistic “theology” of Burk et al. That’s how they justify their focus on ontology. If you can replace the complex phenomenological experiences of real gay people with the one-dimensional simplicity of a self-serving stereotype, then there no genuine phenomenological question remains.

    Put another way, the problem with Burk et al. is not merely a misplaced focus on ontology. Rather, it’s an effort to erase and delegitimize the real experiences of gay people and engage instead with fantastical caricatures of their own creation, whereupon they use real gay people as whipping boys for the fantastical misdeeds of the caricature. Thereby, they hope to force gay people either to return to the closet or to continue receiving lashes for the misdeeds of the caricature.

    This is not a case of theological difference around which one can have reasonable debates. When one side of the debate insists on concocting its own self-serving reality, there’s no reasonable debate to be had. At the very least, we gay people can only have reasonable debates with people who take our phenomenological experiences seriously and who don’t resort to lazy caricatures whenever those experiences challenge the simplistic answers that Burk et al. proffer.

    • I much appreciated your thoughts, brother. They put into words numerous concerns I’ve had about the way Burk & co. have responded to this issue. I wonder if there would be a way to talk with you further and share some of my story?

  3. > Burk sidestepped the argument by stating that nobody understood sexual orientation in the way that Wes proposed.

    Not much surprises me anymore but (facepalm).

  4. There are two aspects to any conversation about identity 1) what the labels refer to in terms of self-understanding and 2) the tribalism of identity politics.

    LGBT is a strong card to play when it comes to identity politics. Failing to say the right things about race, gender and sexuality is regarded as a form of modern day blasphemy. Other identities such as nationality (unless you happen to be Palestinian) and class are not treated with the same “reverence” as the big three victim categories.

    At the same time, the majority of evangelicals belong to a group (straight, white and patriarchal) that is regarded as an unyielding oppressor class by the self-appointed high priests of intersectionality (although concessions are made for those who are willing to “confess” their privilege).

    The Revoice team seem to want (in part) the identity politics game – maybe because in the court of secular public opinion it gives them some form of power/authority over straight white males like Denny Burk? – and yet still be regarded as equally Christian when asked “What exactly do you mean by gay?” For example, what is the reason for using a provocative term like Queer in the context of discussing the traditional Christian sexual ethic? Do American side B Christians really refer to themselves as Queer?

    And evangelicals who talk-up an “Identity in Christ” are playing the same tribal game (search for it at BibleGateway and you’ll get 0 Bible results for “identity”).

    Neither side wants to back away identity politics entirely.

    • Corrections:

      > The Revoice team seem to want to play (in part) the identity politics game
      >Neither side wants to back away from identity politics entirely

      • “The tribalism of identity politics?”

        Politics usually involves negotiation about power.

        What would celibate gay people in the church have to gain, do you think, by using identity politics?

      • > What would celibate gay people in the church have to gain, do you think, by using identity politics?

        Perhaps a louder voice.

      • “What would celibate gay people in the church have to gain, do you think, by using identity politics?”

        The “protected class” power of the gay rights movement.

        The individual gay Christian will probably still feel overwhelmed in the context of their local church but Revoice and SF can use the LGBT card to put someone like Denny Burk on the defensive (in the context of the wider culture). Pro-gay is now mainstream with activist groups like the SPLC eager to label any church or Christian organisation that isn’t pro-gay as a “hate group”.

        The point of the gays rights movement was to legitimize gay relationships – so it is slightly confusing to see celibate gay Christians using the language of that movement (although it is understandable that they would like to see an end to “homophobia” in churches).

        It’s also inevitable that straight conservative Christians, who know that they have completely lost the culture wars, would react to celibate gay Christians using terms like LGBTQ+ and Queer by thinking/asking “Which side are you on?”

      • > I’m not accusing them of anything.

        Would it have been better if Evan had said “I don’t agree with the claims you made about Revoice”?

      • This thread appears to have got a bit mixed up – so I hope I’m responding correctly:

        > Would it have been better if Evan had said “I don’t agree with the claims you made about Revoice”?

        Yes. But I also understand how my comments might be considered accusatory.

        I’m genuinely not sure why the Revoice team adopted the language of progressive LGBTQ+ politics. It seems like an odd choice to me (and I’m on their “side”) I’m only speculating. It could be that US colleges and universities now teach almost everyone to view the world through the lens of intersectionality – which is why I commented on an earlier article that discussing these issues within the framework of “identity politics” is a way of feeling/being “normal” in the context of the wider culture.

      • > I’m genuinely not sure why the Revoice team adopted the language of progressive LGBTQ+ politics.

        Can you provide an example (or more than one) of them doing that?

        I realize that they used the word “queer”, and I realize that used to be a pejorative term for non-heterosexual persons … but that’s hardly a case of using “the language of progressive LGBTQ+ politics”.

      • > Can you provide an example (or more than one) of them doing that?

        The Revoice website has been updated (post conference) but I remember looking at it and thinking “This isn’t much different from what I would expect from the Reformation Project”

    • I don’t see where the Revoice conference organizers committed any of the acts of which you accuse them. This quibbling over language looks a lot more like a continued effort to no-platform gay Christians by depriving them of any useful way to describe their phenomenological situation.

      And, as you note, it’s not as though the critics are innocently peddling a mere “identity in Christ.” To the contrary, Burk, Butterfield, and other critics of Revoice promote a patriarchal social order that owes more to early-20th-century Freudian social theorists than it does to the Bible. I agree that it’s unhelpful to deploy certain terms for the primary purpose of promoting the kinds of anti-Christian ideologies that are common among LGBTQ activists. But I don’t see the Revoice folks doing that. Rather, they are using that language primarily to shine light upon and to challenge the identity politics that Burk, Butterfield, and others are implicitly promoting. After all, one often has to use the language of identity politics to shed light on someone else’s identity politics.

      • I’m not accusing them of anything. I’m saying their choice of words is confusing. I’d honestly like to know .why celibate gay Christians went with LGBTQ+.and Queer.

        The phenomenological angle is interesting but I do wonder if it’s a deflection for both sides.

      • I suspect that the terms were chosen because they’re the common terms that most non-heterosexual people use to describe themselves phenomenological.

        Bear in mind that the patriarchalists avoid using these terms because they’re still pitching the Moberly’s debunked ex-gay garbage.

    • Since words and their meanings vary according to the contexts they are used, their effects would also depend on the situations they are called upon. Terminologies such as ‘LGBT’ have almost no positive connotation within the majority of the mainstream evangelical world. In fact, they are being used by most church leaders in a way that veers away from the empowerment narrative being used by the secular world. Strategically speaking, using the term does not make their cause or situation easier. To say that celibate same sex Christians are using the word “gay” to gain power does not sit well with the realities out there. As such, its use is more descriptive rather than normative. It’s a description of one’s own experiences — which is basically phenomenological.

      Long before humans created ‘identities’, people had made sense of their existence in terms of their lived experiences. The bible talks about people’s experiences in several ways. Experiences matter because their effects are quite material, especially if they are shared by groups of individuals. To ignore these experiences is to be oblivious about their condition, pains, and sufferings.

      • > To say that celibate same sex Christians are using the word “gay” to gain power

        But only in the context of public spaces. I can’t be the only one who has noticed that anytime a high profile evangelical says anything about sexuality online the twitter mobs show up to accuse them of being “haters”.

        And gay is also a more neutral term than LGBTQ+ or Queer.

      • 🙂 Well, I would hope is doesn’t happen for them saying *anything* about sexuality … but maybe you’re right. Online twitter mobs seem to have a *lot* of time on their hands.

      • FWIW I agree with you that gay is also a more neutral term than queer … which is interesting since when TV shows started including gay characters in the early 70s, they had no problem calling them “queer” (Archie Bunker even dropped the word “f_g” a few times) but avoided the more neutral “gay”.

        So I guess the idea was “We’ll mention you, but just not in a neutral way.”

      • Well they jumped on the intersectional bandwagon when they came up with titles/themes for the conference workshops.

        The conference tagline as been changed from “Promoting LGBT+ flourishing in historic Christian traditions” to ” Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other gender and sexual minority Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality”

        LGBT+ or LGBTQ or Queer and “celibate gay Christians” are strange bedfellows

        Trivial stuff perhaps.

      • Joe,

        I see this as a distinction without a difference. But maybe I’m just not sufficiently woke.

        That said, I’m not sure that we can address these topics without bringing intersectionality into the debate. If folks like Burk, Bayly, Butterfield, et al. we’re merely promoting historic Christian positions, it wouldn’t be necessary. But they’re not. In most cases, they’re repackaging and reselling right-wing, secular, neo-Freudian social theory from the late 1800s and early 1900s, and claiming falsely that it reflects Christian teaching. By doing this, these false prophets spread a message that promotes anti-Christian social hierarchies based on race, sex, gender role, etc., and that are deployed to justify power systems that lavish privilege onto straight-presenting white males at others’ expense. So, those disadvantaged by those anti-Christian power systems can’t easily discuss the injustice they suffer without resorting to the language of intersectionality. Depriving them of that opportunity is simply an underhanded way of dismissing the harm certain people have suffered and leaving those anti-Christian power structures in place. That’s probably why it’s no accident that the loudest critics of Revoice are people whose ministry largely revolves around justifying these kind services if rigid social hierarchies.

        That said, I believe that Burk, Bayly, Butterfield, et al. promote these anti-Christian doctrines unwittingly, and for reasons that owe more to pragmatism than to some closeted commitment to neo-fascism. During my time in white evangelicalism, I saw two key beliefs that often lead people to an unwitting embrace of this neo-Freudian bunk. First, many white evangelicals believe that it’s usually better to be clear than to be right. So, there’s a tendency to gravitate toward belief systems that offer epistemic certainty, even if it’s a false certainty. Second, many white evangelicals think of justice in terms of whether society is rightly ordered rather than in terms of whether certain rights of every individual in that society are protected by that order. In other words, there’s a belief that certain people must lose out for the better good of society as a whole.

        I agree that those are valid considerations. But I fear that white evangelicals tend to emphaseize them too much to the exclusion of other considerations. During my time within white evangelicalism, I noticed that the movement had a disproportionate number of folks who scored a strong J on the fourth of the MB type indices. By contrast, I score as a strong P, so this was quite noticeable to me. I fear that the movement has tended to attract a disproportionate number of people who experience a strong psychological need for certainty and closure, and who experience anxiety in the face of change and uncertainty. This imbalance in the psychological makeup of its members, has led white evangelicals to favor a political theology focused on order and hierarchy. And it’s become more pronounced in recent years, as para-church groups like CBMW and TGC have sought to define the contours of orthodoxy around theological systems that ease the psychosocial anxieties of its members. So, this neo-Freudian “family values” ideology comes to feel right because does such a good job of easing the psychosocial anxieties of those who believe in it. Never mind that the main point of the Resurrection is God’s emphatic declaration that human particularity matters more than human notions of right order.

        So, while I think it’s necessary to employ the language of intersectionality in these discussions, it’s equally important to avoid the left-wing activists’ penchant for assuming that people like Burk, Bayly, Butterfield et al. are closeted agents of some neo-fascist conspiracy. Even so, we have to acknowledge that our differences hit upon broader questions of political theology and its development within the boundedly rational confines of human subcultures. I’d suggest that the unqualified embrace of Donald Trump by tens of millions of white evangelicals is evidence that the movement’s political theology has been influenced more by secular concerns than by distinctly Christian ones.

        I’d posit that the Spiritual Friendship narrative hews the closest to a traditionally Christian approach to these questions than anything else out there. Within the confines of white evangelicalism, it’s not fighting to stretch Christian orthodoxy to make room for people whom the Church has traditionally excluded. To the contrary, it’s seeking to extirpate a secular, extra-biblical social theory that improperly marginalized and excluded people whom the Church has traditionally included. There are serious discussions to be had about what that inclusion looks like in the 21st century. It probably doesn’t look like the narrow social vision that’s promoted by the Reformation Project. But it has to acknowledge that there’s no traditional Christian basis for pathologizing same-sex attraction and for marginalizing people who experience it. And that acknowledgement necessarily means deconstructing and dismantling the secular, anti-Christian, neo-Freudian social theory that Burk, Bayly, Butterfield et al. keep seeking to pass off as Christian orthodoxy.

      • That’s okay, I don’t mind discussing things that could seem trivial. However, I’m not sure I’m seeing a problem with the phrase “Promoting LGBT+ flourishing in historic Christian traditions.” Traditional Christians have had a huge problem with losing their LGBT+ members. Many will say that the answer is to abandon traditional beliefs — or at least the specific belief that gay sex is morally wrong — but Revoice sought to encourage Christians who are LGBT+ to, if you will, give the traditional beliefs another shot.

  5. You mentioned “power/authority…in the court of secular public opinion…over straight white males like Denny Burk.” So are these people looking for secular approval? Why? Seems kind of arcane. Secular public opinion is predominantly
    SideA anyway.

    • Quote: “So are these people looking for secular approval?”

      No, I’m not sayin that. But I am aware (who couldn’t be?) that the Denny Burks, Gospel Coalition, John Piper, ERLCs. hey even the Catholic Church etc of this world have lost the culture war on sexuality. It’s over and those who support the traditional Christian sexual ethic might as well be the Amish without the cute outfits. In this context celibate gay Christians who use the language of the culture wars victors are doing what exactly?

      I also don’t excuse Denny Burk etc from playing the same tribal game – were Christianity is the thing that middle class family family family types do in the suburbs.

      • It’s a stretch to suggest that Burk, Piper, ERLC, CBMW, and TGC promote a traditional Christian approach to sexual ethics. Their approach departs from a traditional Christian approach in several key ways.

        First, these groups generally promote recreational sex, as long as it’s of the heterosexual variety and committed within a committed opposite-sex relationship. The traditional Christian approach did not promote purely recreational sex.

        Second, these groups generally promote the family as the primary goal of adulthood, and tend to view non-married people as something less than full adults. They groups tend to view single men, in particular, with suspicion. By contrast, Christianity has generally taught that singleness is better.

        Third, the type of family life promoted is along the lines of the neo-Freudian nuclear family, where ones most significant relationships are to occur within the nuclear unit. Significant friendships with other men outside of marriage are discouraged. I spent the better part of my life in evangelicalism (PCA, specifically). A key realization in my decision to leave was the fact that I had no significant friendships within the church.

        Fourth, Christianity did not traditionally pathologize same-sex attraction. It certainly forbid certain same-sex sex acts. But it didn’t see such acts as the necessary and exclusive consequence of same-sex attraction. The tendency to pathologize same-sex attraction was something that arose from neo-Freudian social theory.

        It’s true that the culture is nowhere near to accepting a traditional Christian approach to sexuality. But that doesn’t mean that those who advocate for the traditional Christian approach should join with snake oil salesmen like Burk, Butterfield, and Piper. These folks are not selling anything that has any rooting in the history of Christianity. To the contrary, they are peddling early-20th-century junk science that was used by used by conservative neo-Freudian social theorists to justify social hierarchies based on race, sex, and gender role. Such social theories became popular within white evangelicalism in the 1960s and 1970s. But they aren’t biblical, and it’s time to cast them aside. The culture may yet mock us for our sexual prudery. But at least they’ll be mocking us for holding to something distinctly Christian.

        People often seem surprised that church-going evangelicals have found it easy to embrace Donald Trump. I was not surprised. The social narrative that groups like CBMW, ERLC, and TGC promote is textbook fascism with a thin veneer of Christianity. Nothing in Christian theology supports the kinds of social hierarchies based on race, sex, and gender role that one finds within white evangelicalism. No, these are traditionally fascist ideas, not traditionally Christian ideas. So, after seven decades of promoting soft-core fascism (although, perhaps, unwittingly or for pragmatic reasons), is it any wonder that white evangelical churchgoers think they hear the voice of Christ in the new-fascist policies of Donald Trump?

        That’s not to say that Burk et al. are fascists. I doubt that they are. Rather, they are well-meaning pragmatists who have unwittingly bought into a brand of soft-core fascism because such an approach provides clear answers within a subculture that prioritizes clarity, certainty, and clear boundaries over approaches that leave ambiguity and uncertainty.

        That said, the social system promoted by Burk et al. necessarily views those who experience same-sex attraction as defective human beings who need to be converted to heterosexuality. This is part and parcel of the package. Unless churches are willing to abandon this kind of neo-Freudian “family values” garbage, there’s no value in discussing these issues with them. Such a discussion has as much value as discussing with a neo-Nazi group how best to integrate Jews into its fellowship. And, sure, there may be a few self-hating Jews who would join such organizations, just as there are a few token gays who hang out with Burk et al. The Culture Wars have made for strange bedfellows. Many Christians have become too comfortable with soft-core forms of fascism because we’re both at odds with social progressives. The adoption of the “family values” theology is a key element of that compromise, whereby we abandoned traditional Christian teaching for a kind of social authoritarianism whose roots lie far from the Gospel. Unless evangelical churches are willing to re-examine those errors (and churches affiliated with CBMW, ERLC, and TGC are not), then gay people aren’t likely to fare any better in those churches than Jews would within the panoply of neo-fascist groups that have arisen recently.

  6. Thank you for your reply, Mr Dorian. I agree that it is important to people to have their voice heard.

    But why don’t Revoice people join churches that do hear them? For example, why be a member of the Presbyterian Church in America when one could join Presbyterian Church USA?

    • Well it’s complicated, of course, and I don’t want to over-generalize about anyone, but I think that most people join churches that they agree with. In the case of Side B gays, they believe that gay sex is immoral so I’d imagine the majority join churches that believe that too.

      • Yes, people generally join churches they agree with.

        Unfortunately, it sounds like sideB people don’t have that option. If I understand correctly, they would disagree with Presbyterian USA in its acceptance of sideA beliefs. But churches that do not accept sideA seem, by and large, to view gay people, even celibate ones, warily. They don’t sound emotionally supportive to sideB persons. So, even if they can hammer out some doctrinal agreement, consider what would happen to out gay people who wished to, say, form a church based support group. We have just seen what happens with regard to Revoice; there is no reason to expect these churches to accept mini revoices closer to home. Alternatively, if they wished to have a church culture more supportive of unmarried people, whatever their orientation, there would be some in that group who could marry—the predominantly straight—and those who can’t—the predominantly gay. If we go with the model (exemplified by Wesley Hill) of gays being part of nuclear heterosexual families—baptismal sponsors to their children, third pair of adult hands in big families, (sort of like some characters in Chekhov plays that are part of the estate household). How likely are those churches to encourage this model, when many seem to believe sexual minorities are damaged people. The impression is they’d keep their kids away (they, of course, assume all their kids are straight and want to keep them that way.)

        Perhaps my intuitions are in error and there are doctrinally conservative churches that are openly supportive of sideB gays. Does anyone know of some?

      • There are definitely a number of individual congregations that are quite supportive. For example, the church that hosted Revoice, Memorial Presbyterian (PCA) in St. Louis. The Missouri Presbytery actually has an official presbytery report that is supportive of side B. And I’ve had a positive experience and good support from the PCA churches I’ve been in. For example, they let me lead a Sunday School class on sexuality at my current church.

        I know enough other side B folks with good experiences to know that these sorts of churches are around, at least in some areas. Though part of the advocacy Revoice (and we) are trying to do is to make this a more common thing.

        And I know there was some organizational presence of the Evangelical Covenant Church at Revoice. I actually grew up in that denomination, but I have been away from it for more than a decade, so I’m not as familiar with the facts on the ground there.

      • Good post hypatia. I think it’s pretty common for a conservative gay Christian to belong to a church that they agree with regarding sexuality — or at least, they couldn’t point to any particular claim that they disagree on — and yet have pretty bad experiences there (whether they come out of the closet or not), as you described.

        Obviously, something needs to be done (which I guess is part of the reason we’re all here talking).

      • I agree.

        I’d also note that many who align with the Spiritual Friendship movement tend to object generally to our society’s tendency to reduce people to their sexual attractions (or to what they claim those sexual attractions to be). In that sense, the Side A approach is no less confining than the rigid form of “compulsory heterosexuality” that Burk, Bayly, and Butterfield promote. In certain ways, these two ideologies are merely inversions of each other and represent opposite sides of the same Freudian coin. After all, Burk, Bayly, and Butterfield would agree with Matthew Vines that one’s sex and sexual orientation necessarily lock one into certain social roles; they just disagree on what those roles are. By contrast, the Spiritual Friendship narrative moves away from our culture’s errant captivity to Freud, and seeks to recover a view that better reflects the a Christian approach.

        Most of us Protestants for whom the Spiritual Friendship approach is attractive probably find ourselves in evangelical churches that are pulling away from the Burk/Bayly/Butterfield approach.

      • In what ways do Side A and Burk/Bayly/Butterfield (essentially Side X) “lock one into certain social roles” that Side B doesn’t?

        Also, I’m not sure why you would classify Side A into a Freudian position. What does that mean, exactly?

      • Jeremy, I don’t doubt that there are “individual congregations” of any denomination that are open/welcome to the Side B message. But by and large, I think Hypatia is quite correct that for the most part, a good many denominations on both sides of the liberal/conservative divide hold Side B people in suspicion, just in different ways. Many of those conservative denominations do make it hard for Side B people to exist comfortably, which sends a good number of them to more liberal churches… they find the suspicion about their celibacy to be more tolerable than suspicion about their person, constitution, and inherent goodness. There are of course people who feel the opposite. But for the most part, I think Hypatia’s intuitions are justified.

      • DJ,

        I suppose this depends on what one means by Side B and Side X. For Burk, Butterfield, and Bayly, the chief objection to homosexuality appears to relate less to the sinfulness of certain forms of recreational homoerotic activity and more to its potential to invert particular social hierarchies, particularly those concerning sex and gender presentation. In their vision, men are to rule over women, and masculine men are to rule over effeminate men. In my experience within the PCA (when these ideas had more influence there than they do today, thankfully), a male’s obligation was to conform to a fairly particular social role that included exercising dominion over a woman and performing manhood according to a script reminiscent of a John Wayne character from a 1950s movie. I still remember being called out in an RUF-type meeting because I used the phrase “a sense in which.” According to this theory, real men don’t tolerate ambiguity and shades of truth: Everything is black or white, good or evil, right or wrong, etc. There’s never a sense in which something is right. I think that this is likely what you mean by Side X.

        I do believe that certain types of homoerotic activities are sinful, just as certain types of heteroerotic activities are sinful. But I believe that male sexuality is more fluid than most men want to admit, and that experiencing varying measures of same-sex attraction is simply part of the natural condition of our species. I reject the Freudian hypothesis that all manner of same-sex attraction has its necessary end in some kind of genital contact. The problem we face in North America is that, within the past 100 years, may of the social structures that benefited from same-sex attraction have fallen away with the promotion of a certain political ideology around the “nuclear” model of the family. In my view, the Side B effort is an effort to unburden the church from this Freudian baggage and to explore ways of reviving non-sexualized social scripts that benefit from same-sex attraction.

        One of my frustrations with Side B is that it tends to overplay its differences with Side A and tends to underplay its differences with Side X. In my view, Side B is no less compatible with Side A than it is with Side X. In fact, I’m generally much more comfortable around the Side A crowd than I am around the Side X crowd. At least the Side A folks don’t view my non-heterosexuality as a kind of pathology that mandates a forced conversion to heterosexuality. I’m glad to see that this movement has finally awakened to the recognition that our differences with Side X are greater than our agreements, and that churches need to choose whether they’re going to sign onto things like Burk’s Nashville Statement or MacArthur’s Statement on Social Justice, or whether they’re going to trust in a Gospel that isn’t primarily fixated on coddling the social anxieties of straight-presenting white men in a society where that status no longer carries the privilege it once did.

      • Quote: “Side A folks don’t view my non-heterosexuality as a kind of pathology that mandates a forced conversion to heterosexuality.”

        But they would view your “internalized homophobia” as a pathology. And they would quickly defriend you if you happened to be one of the 50% of the population that voted Republican at the last election.

      • From the America Magazine article: “Like any group, LGBT people bring special gifts to the church.”

        And their homosexuality isn’t one of those gifts. This is where Burk, Butterfield etc are right.- celibate gay Christian or SSA Christians or whatever label you want to use should be on a path of sanctification. What good cam come from caring too deeply about that which (at least) points to sin?

      • Ummmm … were you under the impression that SpiritualFriendship doesn’t believe gay Christians should be on a path of sanctification?

      • > “… were you under the impression that SpiritualFriendship doesn’t believe gay Christians should be on a path of sanctification?”

        I’m saying that Burk, Butterfield etc put more emphasis on that perspective – which is why it seems like they are at cross purposes with SF – who put more emphasis on pastoral concerns such as feeling accepted as a “sexual minority” in non-affirming churches.

        To put it more bluntly: why would you wave a rainbow flag if you also believe in mortifying the sin of homosexuality?

      • > I’m saying that …


        Feel free, I won’t try to stop you. 🙂 But that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be listening — TBH I’ve grown a little tired of the stuff you’ve been saying. 😦

      • Joe,

        That may be the self-serving way that Burk, Bayly, and Butterfield (BBB) would frame the issue. But that hardly means that it’s a valid framing.

        The main distinction that I see is that BBB view the endpoint of sanctification as heterosexuality, or, at the very least, conformity to a script that acknowledges one’s place within certain social hierarchies based on race, sex, and gender presentation.

        I’m asexual, but, in the US, find myself more socially comfortable around gay men than straight women. I spent a number of years in churches that promoted the BBB ideology. In my experience in several such churches, my asexuality was just as problematic as homosexuality. I still needed to be sanctified towards heterosexuality or, at the very least, repent regularly for my lack of heterosexuality.

        There are pastoral concerns regarding the BBB ideology. But the pastoral concern is that churches are pushing people towards the wrong endpoint. In short, they’re pushing people towards a socially constructed notion of manhood and womanhood that has no biblical basis whatsoever.

        If the SF folks talk less about sanctification, it’s likely because they don’t view sanctification as requiring social conformity to any particular model. They’re open to the idea that sanctification can look differently for different people in different places. After all, the BBB notion of manhood and womanhood amounts to little more than repackaged variant of the mid-20th-century pop psychology that shaped the values of the middle-class white subculture that emerged in North America in the years following WWII. There’s no reason why that should define the endpoint of sanctification. Sure, many middle-class whites in North America experience a degree of comfort with that social narrative. But that hardly means that it’s the exclusive shape that sanctification can take.

      • > “TBH I’ve grown a little tired of the stuff you’ve been saying”

        Fine. Good that you said it. My gripe with SF and the wider SSA community is that conversations are far too inhibited. Everyone wants to be so fcking nuanced.

      • Evan: “The main distinction that I see is that BBB view the endpoint of sanctification as heterosexuality…”

        Yeah they do this but Burk showed up here a couple of years ago and he wasn’t a total jerk. I’ve said it before – BBB know they have lost the culture war – they are running scared on the LGBTQ++ narrative (OK there are regional pockets of resistance). But super weirdly they are also right on some things – the whole “gay sex/desire is sin” thing which WE gay/ssa/lgbtq Christians are supposed to agree with (despite it being a complete mind fck). So cut them some slack, is all I’m saying.

      • “So cut them some slack, is all I’m saying.” No actually you’ve said a lot more than that.

      • I just now got an alert on this. So, sorry for the delayed response.

        But, yes, Joe is suggesting a lot more than that. I’ve never met Burk. But I’m sure that anyone is capable of congeniality on occasion. From my perspective, all that matters is that Burk promotes an ideology that views that diminishes me, as an asexual, to a sub-human status. Therefore, I have no option but to oppose him.

      • I’ve just got an alert as well.

        But nah – Burk is just a person asking/saying stuff that makes us “celibate gay Christians” feel uncomfortable. If he is a ‘bigot’, tell him to fck off. All of Western culture is on our LGBTQI side. He knows that. We know that. He isn’t the one with any social power (except perhaps in the limited context of his local church).

    • (Granted, I’m assuming that that’s the kind of Christian you mean when you say the Revoice people, since Revoice was a conference promoting abstinence among gay people.)

    • Hi Evan. I can’t really say whether everything you’ve said about BBB is right or not. I just want to say, Why focus so much attention on those 3 specific people, when there are (literally) two billions other Christians in the world?

  7. I loved this post, Jeremy. I have been beyond upset, even horrified, at the way people like Dr. Butterfield (whom I appreciate on several levels) have handled Revoice and SF — even to the point of deliberately continuing to present slanderous accusations and falsehoods.

    I am pained by this, because SF (and to a lesser extent Revoice) has been an absolute lifeline for me as I’ve attempted to navigate life in an especially conservative, often brittle wing of evangelicalism. You guys have helped me not hate myself and to have hope. For that, I will always be grateful.

    I am praying all of you know the love of God, and the grace of Christ, and the transforming fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

    • > I loved this post, Jeremy. I have been beyond upset, even horrified, at the way people like Dr. Butterfield (whom I appreciate on several levels) have handled Revoice and SF — even to the point of deliberately continuing to present slanderous accusations and falsehoods.

      Hi Copeland Son. Didn’t Butterfield say that she sees little difference between Side B (who believe that gay sex is morally wrong) and Side A (who believe that it isn’t)?

  8. > straight conservative Christians, who know that they have completely lost the culture wars

    I don’t think we conservatives have lost the culture wars. I also don’t think that many conservatives would agree with you on that… If anything, it seems (especially reading twitter) that many see themselves as God’s paladins in the culture wars.

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