What Al Mohler Gets Right … and Wrong … about the Revoice Conference

 

Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist seminary, and host of The Briefing, a podcast I recommend, is an important voice in evangelical Christianity, offering moral clarity and biblical perspective on critical, cultural issues challenging the church today. So, it is with some thoughtful hesitation that I must offer a rejoinder to a recent commentary he gave on WORLD magazine’s, The World and Everything in It, radio and podcast program.

In Dr. Mohler’s three and half minute commentary, he expressed grave concerns about the Revoice Conference, a new church conference, being held this week in St. Louis. A look at their website summarizes its purpose, that of “supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.

What bothers Dr. Mohler the most is the rather broad use of LGBT-type terminology and identity language when it comes to sexuality. In particular, Dr. Mohler is alarmed by one workshop session entitled, “Redeeming Queer Culture and Adventure.” He concludes that the organizers of Revoice are trying to embrace something that is, in reality, contradictory. In other words, you can not affirm any redemptive aspect of “queer” culture and at the same time hold to a Scriptural model of sexual morality.

Dr. Mohler has a point here. If I was leading the workshop, I would steer away from the “queer” terminology, as it has such negative connotations in the church today. Furthermore, many Christians are becoming confused as to what to think about gender identity issues. In this respect, Dr. Mohler is totally right. If someone identifies themselves as a “gay Christian,” without clarification, it could be very, very troubling, as our identity should be founded on Christ, and not upon our sin.

Sadly, however, Dr. Mohler’s critique completely misses the reason why the conference is being held in the first place. It is time to set the record straight.

When Exodus International, the largest “ex-gay” ministry in the world, ceased to function back in 2013, it left a huge void as to how Christians can faithfully minister the Gospel with those who wrestle with same-sex attractions, all while western societies appear to be racing towards the legal acceptance of same-sex marriage. Christians can be thankful for testimonies from authors like Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yuan, and those in the Restored Hope Network, who despite great difficulties, have found deliverance from their struggle with same-sex desire.

However, not every Christian shares that same set of positive experiences.

A small, yet still significant, group of believers in our churches have been doing everything they can to try to change their sexual orientation, and yet the hoped for deliverance has never come. They have tried counseling, psychotherapy, prayer, parental reconciliation, even shock treatment, and still, they wake up in the morning, still finding themselves attracted to members of the same sex. And yet they honor the Bible’s teaching on sex and marriage.

They feel sidelined by the church. They remain silent in our congregations, fearful of being exposed. How can the church effectively offer the love of Christ, and the support of welcoming community, to these people?

The Revoice Conference exists to try to answer that very question.

Contrary to Dr. Mohler’s puzzling view that the Revoice leaders “want evangelicals to accept LGBTQ identity as permanent,” like trying to pull the wool over our eyes, there are believers in our churches who are trying to figure out how to live the Christian life, when their sexual attractions do not appear to be changing, as Dr. Mohler would expect them to be. Author Gregory Coles is one of them. I have several such Christian friends.

I am not able to attend the conference this year, but I am very glad that this conference exists, as it is an attempt to fill that void with praying people who care about this “sexual minority” group. The thought of hundreds of otherwise silent believers standing together, singing their praise to Jesus, is really exciting!

I probably will not agree with everything being “revoiced” at this conference. Nevertheless, we need to have conversations about this in the church, including between the likes of Dr. Mohler and the Revoice Conference leaders.

But can I make a plea for one thing? When having these conversations, let us please not throw people, who are finding it difficult to flourish in evangelical churches, under the bus in the process. Let us embrace them with joy instead!

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About Clarke Morledge

Clarke Morledge -- Computer Network Engineer, College of William and Mary... I hiked the Mount of the Holy Cross, one of the famous Colorado Fourteeners, with some friends in July, 2012. My buddy, Mike Scott, snapped this photo of me on the summit. View all posts by Clarke Morledge

7 responses to “What Al Mohler Gets Right … and Wrong … about the Revoice Conference

  • Grainne McDonald

    Mohler is wrong about practically everything.

    Like

    • Clarke Morledge

      Thanks, Grainne, for commenting at Veracity.

      I probably would not go that far against Mohler, but I do share a tremendous amount of frustration with him on this issue. In a recent interview in the Baptist Press, Mohler admitted that the primary organizer of the Revoice Conference, Nate Collins, was once a student at Southern Baptist seminary, and that Collins’ father was once associated with Boyce College, the undergraduate institution tied to Southern. But amazingly, Mohler makes this shocking statement:

      “I would not allow anyone associated with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary or Boyce College to be involved in this [Revoice] conference.”

      http://www.bpnews.net/51341/lgbt-christians-conf-draws-sbts-erlc-responses

      Wow. This comes across as Mohler being more hostile to Revoice than what he was in the WORLD podcast.

      But Al Mohler is nevertheless a more kind, gentler critic of Revoice than some of the more vocal, and frankly, embarrassingly obnoxious critics on social media. There are legitimate questions and concerns that I still have, but most of the vocal Revoice critics are simply way, way over the top.

      I listened to one of the streamed live sessions from the Revoice conference last night, and it was FANTASTIC. The theme was on “lament,” specifically as to how the church has failed to serve those within the body of Christ, who do not fit into the typical “success” stories, for those wrestling with same-sex attraction. It was sobering and convicting, and refreshing at the same time. It will be very interesting to see if the Revoice Conference will be able to make all of the conference recordings publicly available, so that listeners can review the individual workshops, and then make their own evaluation of the Scriptural content in each.

      Like

  • Clarke Morledge

    For those interested more in this story, you should read this following entry at the Jesus Creed blog. Pay particular attention to the comments, as they demonstrate that sincere, biblically-informed believers are not all of the same mind on this issue. I make some of my observations in the comments, consistent with what I written here on Veracity:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2018/07/31/an-undeniable-witness-reflections-on-the-revoice-conference/

    As I reported in my previous post on Gregory Coles’ book _Single, Gay, Christian_, much of the controversy revolves around how we as Christians use LGBTQ language.

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    • Clarke Morledge

      It is interesting to note that while Dr. Mohler “would not allow anyone associated with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary or Boyce College to be involved in this [Revoice] conference,” one of his top New Testament scholars at Southern, Tom Schreiner, reviewed the entire manuscript for Nate Collins’ book, _All But Invisible_, which is the intellectual foundation behind the Revoice Conference movement.

      I find it hard to believe that Dr. Schreiner would allow Nate Collins to use his name in Collins’ book if Dr. Schreiner did not have some sympathies with Collins’ project. Dr. Schreiner is one of foremost NT scholars in the country championing a complementation view of women in ministry; i.e. no women elders in church leadership.

      I find Dr. Mohler’s restrictive comments ironic in light of Schreiner’s involvement in the project.

      Also, Dr. Mohler rejects much of the argument presented in Gregory Coles’ book, _Single, Gay, Christian_, even though D. A. Carson, another foremost scholar of evangelical complementarianism, and president of The Gospel Coalition, added his endorsement to Coles’ book.

      There is a MAJOR DISCONNECT in evangelicalism on this issue in the church.

      Like

  • Clarke Morledge

    To reiterate, Al Mohler is a godly man, and I value and appreciate his wisdom and teaching. But on this article, he really missed it.

    (1) He pinpoints the most controversial of the talks at Revoice as a paradigm for understanding the entire conference. He completely ignores a number of talks that I am sure Dr. Mohler himself would gladly support. Here is one of those workshops:

    ———————————

    SO WHY CAN WE EAT SHELLFISH? A LOOK AT LEVITICUS AND HOW IT RELATES TO QUESTIONS OF SEXUALITY TODAY.

    Presenter: Jay Sklar, PhD

    Leviticus is well-known for its prohibitions against homosexual sex (Lev 18:22; 20:13). But there are legitimate questions about why these prohibitions should apply and why others in Leviticus do not. In this session, we will look at some of the most common reasons it is argued the prohibitions of Lev 18:22 and 20:13 no longer apply before turning to consider why they do still apply. Throughout the session, we will also consider why Leviticus itself can legitimately be viewed as part of God’s good news for his people today.

    ———————————

    Dr. Jay Sklar is one of the premier Old Testament scholars of our day. The session description is something that I am sure Dr. Mohler would wholeheartedly endorse. So why did he not mention it in his World radio piece?

    (2) Let us examine the FULL DESCRIPTION of the most controversial talk at the conference, and examine Dr. Mohler’s response to it. First, the ENTIRE description of the talk:

    ———————————

    REDEEMING QUEER CULTURE: AN ADVENTURE

    Presenter: Grant Hartley

    For the sexual minority seeking to submit his or her life fully to Christ and to the historic Christian sexual ethic, queer culture presents a bit of a dilemma; rather than combing through and analyzing to find which parts are to be rejected, to be redeemed, or to be received with joy (Acts 17:16-34), Christians have often discarded the virtues of queer culture along with the vices, which leaves culturally connected Christian sexual minorities torn between two cultures, two histories, and two communities. So questions that have until now been largely unanswered remain: what does queer culture (and specifically, queer literature and theory) have to offer us who follow Christ? What queer treasure, honor, and glory will be brought into the New Jerusalem at the end of time (Revelation 21:24-26)?

    ———————————

    I will be straight up here. I do not like the title much either. I really wonder about what Mr. Hartley really said. So, I agree with Dr. Mohler. The whole “queer” thing is just a bit weird to me, at the very least. But here is Dr. Mohler’s response:

    ‘That is shocking language. The organizers of the conference want to celebrate LGBTQ culture—even styled as queer culture—while claiming to hold a Biblical model of sexual morality.”

    Wait a second. “Celebrate LGBTQ culture?” Where in the talk description does Mr. Hartley discuss “celebrating” LGBTQ culture? On what basis does Dr. Mohler contend that Hartley is making such a statement?

    Obviously, Dr. Mohler does not find ANYTHING in “queer” culture to be “celebrated.” But notice that the workshop title is about “Redeeming” that culture.

    What is redemption? Are we not all, sinners, whom Christ has bled and died for, so that we might be redeemed? Including those who label themselves as “queer?”

    How is Dr. Mohler defining “redemption” here? I really do not know.

    What I do know is that he does not like “queer” culture. Fair enough. But key phrases and concepts are left either misrepresented or unclear.

    (3) Here is the real humzinger that did it for me. Dr. Mohler contends that the Revoice conference organizers:

    “want evangelicals to accept LGBTQ identity as permanent.”

    Accepting LGBTQ identity as “permanent?”

    Where does Revoice talk about this, a supposed “permanent” identity for LGBTQ?

    I searched all of the Revoice conference materials, and I could find nothing to substantiate this claim. I read much of Nate Collins’ book, the primary organizer of the conference, to see if he made such a claim, that LGBTQ identity is “permanent.”

    I found no evidence of such a claim.

    Such Christians at Revoice do claim that the changing of same-sex attraction or orientation is rare, but I see no evidence that it never changes, in the literature of Revoice. Same-sex orientation change may be rare, but it is not impossible. With God, all things are possible.

    Dr. Mohler is welcome to his criticism, much of it valid. But he needs to substantiate ALL of his claims with evidence.

    WORLD magazine could have done a little better by fact-checking this article before it went to press. It is disappointing that they did not.

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  • Clarke Morledge

    Despite disagreements I have with Al Mohler on this, he does present some valid criticisms of Revoice. But I find it very sad that in much of the criticism of Revoice, very little is made of the fact that we have a problem with the high suicide rate of young people growing up in evangelical churches, who wrestle with same-sex attraction.

    The following blog post by the “Traveling Nun” explains why Revoice, despite its shortcomings, is worthy attempt to try to address this problem:

    https://www.meditationsofatravelingnun.com/revoice-conference-we-need/

    Like

  • Clarke Morledge

    I found a couple more reflections of Revoice that are worth noting.

    Patheos Blogger Esther O’Reilly has an informed critique contra-Revoice here, focusing on some of the inconsistency of what was said at Revoice. I will give her the benefit of the doubt that her warnings are warranted. I mostly get my view of Revoice from the primary thought leaders Ron Belgau, Nate Collins, Matthew Lee Anderson, Wesley Hill, and Preston Sprinkle. I am sure there are others who differ from the above, but to what degree and how serious, I can not say without knowing more.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/youngfogey/2018/08/christians-should-say-no-to-revoices-vocation-of-yes/

    On the other side, here are two critiques, one more Matthew Lee Anderson, a speaker and advocate for Revoice, who is crazy smart:

    https://mereorthodoxy.com/assorted-thoughts-revoice/

    And here from Brad Littlejohn, on how easy it is for Christians to make other Christians into the enemy. Littlejohn actually has some genuine concerns about Revoice, but he writes in a more level headed manner. This is probably what annoys me the most about the whole controversy, just how over the top some conservative critics have been towards the whole thing. You would think that there is this huge “fifth column” in our midst out to destroy the church… pretty sad:

    https://bradlittlejohn.com/2018/08/07/revoice-the-culture-war-and-the-friend-enemy-distinction/

    Like

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