A Biblical Response to ‘Side B Sexual Ethics’ & the Revoice Conference

This longer post is largely a paper I wrote to provide the theological tools necessary to critique a new movement among evangelicals known as Side B Sexual Ethics. I provide definitions in the post below. My aim with this post is to equip the Church to handle difficult conversations with Biblical and theologically accurate responses. It is longer, but I pray in its length it serves to provide strong theological basis to understand more deeply.

Introduction & Thesis

The Revoice Conference was launched in 2018 with the mission statement, ‘To support and encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians—as well as those who love them—so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.’[1] The conference is part of a much larger movement within evangelicalism commonly referred to as ‘Side B’ which in general shares a similar mission to the conference.[2] Since the inaugural gathering of the Revoice Conference it has been met with both praise and critique from Evangelicalism. More liberal minded thinkers and activists have shunned their traditional view of marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman for life, while more conservative thinkers have cautiously highlighted Biblical inconsistencies in the larger moral framework of Side B adherents.

It is important to recognize that across the modern evangelical world there are major distinct frameworks for engaging sexual ethics, particularly discussion on homosexuality. Denny Burke describes four approaches within modern Western Church towards same sex attraction and behavior.[3] The Liberal Approach elevates personal experience over the Word of God and attempts to discredit the Biblical teachings on sexuality. The Revisionist Approach believes the Biblical condemnation of homosexuality only forbids excessive forms of homosexual lust but has nothing to say against modern same sex committed loving couples. According to the Revisionists, same sex marriage is Biblically permissible. The Neo-Traditional Approach embraces the Bible’s teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman for life. They also affirm that homosexual behavior is sinful and call same sex attracted individuals to celibacy in order to glorify God. Their distinction is that they believe that there are positive spiritual benefits and fruit to be found in embracing one’s same sex attraction. The Traditional Approach sees all homosexual activity and desire as sinful and proper grounds for repentance and mortification.

This paper does not attempt to engage with either the Liberal or Revisionist approaches but rather will focus on distinguishing theological differences between the Neo-Traditional (Side B) and Traditional approaches.[4] I suggest that there are not only major theological differences between the Neo-Traditional and Traditional approach to sexual morality, but further that the Neo-Traditional view and its accompanying Revoice Conference must be firmly rejected as incompatible with Biblical Christianity.

In this paper I offer three primary problems that I consider the greatest potential departures and areas of confusion from the Traditional View. First, the attempt to discover positive spiritual benefits in same sex attraction poses an Anthropological Problem. To answer this, we must inquire about our nature as made in the image of God and the effects of Original Sin on humanity. Second, the normalization and celebration of one’s ongoing same sex attraction poses a Concupiscence Problem. To answer this, we must inquire into fallen human desires and what Scripture calls us to do with them. Third, the call to find one’s identity as a ‘Gay Christian’ or a ‘sexual minority’ poses an Identity Problem. To answer this, we must inquire about the effects of regeneration on a soul and the hope of transformation offered through the Holy Spirit. 

Section 1: The Anthropological Problem

Neo-Traditionalism and the Revoice Conference have posed an Anthropological challenge to historic traditional ethics on biblical sexuality. One of the core claims is that there exists within same sex attractions the potential for spiritual fruit. This idea is central to many of the speakers at Revoice who emphasize the redeeming aspects of homosexual desires and the potential benefits to Christendom that those with same sex attractions might offer.[5] Perhaps Nate Collins poses the discussion most clearly when he writes, “One of my main arguments in this book is that being gay (understood as an aesthetic orientation) is not sinful in itself…”[6] Or as he writes elsewhere,  “there is no morally significant difference between fallen heterosexuality and fallen homosexuality.”[7] This normalization of homosexuality, removing same sex attraction as a morally culpable sin, and leveling of the moral playing field between homosexual and heterosexual orientations is woven throughout the larger conversation at Revoice.

In order to determine if this moral conclusion is accurate, we need to get to the root of the discussion and reflect on God’s original creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When God created us, was part of what he called, “very good,” (Genesis 1:31) the possibility of romantically affectionate desires for a person of the same gender? If the answer to this question is no, then we must label these desires sinful and attribute them as consequence of the fall.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, in alignment with other historic Reformed creeds asks in Question 10, “How did God create man?” The catechism answers, “God created man, male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.”[8] Man was created by God and endowed with an Original Righteousness. Louis Berkhoff summarizes the Reformed position on the condition of man in creation, “He [Adam] was by nature endowed with that original righteousness which is the crowning glory of the image of God, and consequently lived in a state of positive holiness. The loss of that righteousness meant the loss of something that belonged to the very nature of man in its ideal state.”[9] Innate desires towards objects considered forbidden by God’s law were therefore not part of God’s original design, but are results of the serpent and sin’s effect on humanity. There was no thought of the mind, nor intention of the will other than to be image bearers of their God in whom they found complete joy and satisfaction.

Against this Biblical theological of Original Righteousness stands the historic Roman Catholic view. According to Catholic tradition, Adam was not endowed with Original Righteousness as part of his nature, rather Original Righteousness was a sort of supernatural support provided by God to restrain Adam from his baser more animal-like instincts. Catholics often cite Augustine who saw a difference between the image and the likeness of God in Adam, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” (Genesis 1:26). According to Augustine, the image of God relates to mankind’s intellectual capacity, while the likeness of God relates to mankind’s moral faculties. Robert Bellarmin, a Teacher of the Catholic Church explains the Catholic position, “it must be known that divine providence at the beginning of creation, in order to provide a remedy for this disease or infirmity of human nature, which arose from the condition of matter, added to man a certain remarkable gift, that is to say, original justice, by which, like a kind of golden grain, the lower part is easily subject to the upper part, and the upper part to God would be contained.”[10] In Bellarmin’s description of the Catholic position we see that the disease and infirmity are part of our nature as it comes from the hand of God. He describes two parts to the nature of man, an upper and a lower part. The lower part, representing our animal-like instincts, contains the potential seeds of sin.

The Catholic Catechism of the Council of Trent, while speaking on concupiscence (a term we will engage with more deeply in section 2 but simply refers to inward wayward desires) acknowledges a form of these desires that is implanted in us by God’s design, “This lawful species of concupiscence was implanted in us by nature, and by the design of God…”[12] The catechism goes on to say that as long as the natural concupiscence stays within its proper bounds, it is not considered sin. “Further, the council teaches that original sin does not consist in those desires and temptations which are common to our fallen nature, because they remain even after baptism….”[13] Under this Roman Catholic view, God is primarily responsible for the potentially sinful tinder that dwells within the nature of man. This is why the Roman Catholic Catechism is able to call “homosexual acts intrinsically disordered,”[14]  but stop shy of calling the homosexual desire itself disordered. The Catholic tradition holds that the desires themselves are part of our nature as designed by God, not an effect of sin. The will must be applied to these natural appetites for sin to occur. As Anselm says in agreement with the Catholic position, “So then, it is not in experiencing these appetites, but in consenting to them that sin lies.”[15]

A third nuanced vision of Adam’s state of holiness in the Garden can be traced to the heretic Pelagius who denied that holiness is concreated. Augustine quotes Pelagius as saying, “Everything good, and everything evil, on account of which we are either laudable or blameworthy, is not born with us but done by us: for we are born not fully developed, but with a capacity for either conduct; and we are procreated as without virtue, so also without vice; and previous to the action of our own proper will, that alone is in man which God has formed.”[16] Pelagius thus believed that we are born today as Adam was created, neither with holiness nor with sin. Our obedience or lack of obedience is ultimately up to our own wills. For Pelagius, sins are therefore only those acts of the will which we commit. Pelagius placed man as beginning from a morally neutral position, dispositions and all, and therefore only guilty before God for those active choices of the will. Inherent or seemingly natural inclinations, are not morally culpable before God.

This distinction between Roman Catholicism, Pelagianism, and the Reformed theological perspectives on Anthropology may sound trivial at first glance but the implications are direct for the conversation at hand. By distinguishing between the image of God and his likeness, the Roman Catholic Church creates a theological possibility for the disease of sin as part of man’s original being as it came from the hands of God. Further, the rejection of Original Righteousness and Original Sin by Pelagius creates a theology that only implicates humanity for sins they actively choose to commit. Adherents to the Neo-Traditional perspective may not fully know it, but by claiming that same-sex-attraction is morally neutral they are standing either on the moral theological framework of Catholicism or Pelagianism. The Reformed Tradition flatly rejects these heresies and refuses to permit the idea that seeds of evil were planted by God within humanity, or that Original Sin is something to be rejected or minimized (Romans 5:12-16). God did not make man with a virus needing remedy, but created man with positive holiness and declared him, “very good.” Experiencing a sexual attraction to a person of the same gender represents a departure from God’s vision of sexuality, and therefore even the disposition towards same gender attraction is sinful and ought not provide a for Christian normativity, but is rather an occasion for repentance.

Section 2: The Concupiscence Problem

 The term concupiscence was developed by Augustine as a Latin translation of the Biblical terms for desire. His interest, like ours, pertained to the inward desires towards sinful objects humans often experience, and whether or not those inward desires are sinful. Neo-Traditionalists, while rarely utilizing this historic term, in general speak about same sex desires in a way that aligns well with Roman Catholicism. They believe that the innate desires themselves are not sinful, but only become sin when they are acted upon whether by the will through lustful desire (Matthew 5:28) or physical sexual sin. This idea can be traced to various strains of Catholic theology. It is perhaps Pelagius’s view of Original Sin that most hits the mark for its defense. Pelagius rejects the historic Reformed definition of Original Righteousness as irrational.

Against this Roman Catholic view stands the Reformed tradition which believes that even the first motions of concupiscence are sinful. Those inward unwanted desires towards forbidden objects that precede human will are morally culpable affections. Francis Turretin states the entirety of the Reformed view succinctly,

“The very first motions of concupiscence do not cease to be sins, although they are neither wholly voluntary nor in our power. “I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet” (Rom. 7:7). Those very unbridled motions of concupiscence he not only calls “sin,” but “sin exceeding sinful” (kath’ hyperbolēn hamartōlon, Rom. 7:13). Although indeed these motions may not be in our power (eph’ hēmin), yet because they were such in the beginning and ought to be in accordance with the duty of man, they do not cease to be sins.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 593-594.

This language of first motions speaks to the point that it is not only the acts of the will that make a person morally culpable before God. Even though that may sound plausible to human ears, it is not the Biblical vision of sin. Charles Hodge develops this idea in his Systematic Theology by describing the sin of a miser. “When we say that a man is a miser, we do not mean simply that he hoards money, or grinds the face of the poor, but we mean that he has a disposition which in time past has led to such acts and which will continue to produce them so long as it rules in his heart.”[18] His point is directly applicable to the discussion at hand and his use of the term dispositions is helpful. When we speak of those who experience same sex attraction, even before we describe lustful thoughts and intentions towards a person of the same gender, we are describing a person who has a disposition of attraction towards a same gendered person. “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). “A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit” (Matthew 7:18). According to Christ, the outward fruit of a life reveals, but is not the sum total of, one’s sinfulness. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19). Jesus here is describing not only the acts themselves, but the heart condition that produced those sinful acts. “These terms include… all conscious states of the mind. It is, therefore, expressly asserted by our Lord, that moral character attaches to what lies deeper than any acts of the will, in the widest sense of those words, but also to that which lies lower than consciousness.”[19]

Those within the Neo-Traditional camp in general have attempted a variety of responses to these critiques. Nate Collins has attempted to shift the conversation away from sexual orientation. Collins suggests that the framework of sexual orientation represents a product of the Enlightenment, particularly developed by a German journalist in the mid 1800’s and then popularized by Freud. The problem says Collins is that this convention normalizes heterosexuality and stigmatizes everything else. Collins laments this when he writes, “it’s good to be normal, but only straight people are normal.”[20]  Collins suggests a better way to understand the variety of human attractions is by considering our “orientation towards beauty.” This section is vital to Collins’ entire framework and so I provide a lengthier quotation.

“The desire to admire beauty is a deeply human, and therefore personal, urge that God set within the human heart the moment he created the first man and woman. Before sexuality even entered the picture, the creation of humankind in the image of God guaranteed that men and women would perceive personhood as beautiful in itself… These general patterns that we discern in the way people experience the beauty of others are now the basis for distinguishing between straight and nonstraight orientations.”

Nate Collins, All But Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender & Sexuality , 303.

Collins and other Neo-Traditionalists disrupt the discussion by reevaluating whether the category of same-sex-attraction even exists at all. According to this view a same-sex-attracted individual may not be in sin by experiencing strong affections for those of the same gender so long as those affections are not sexual in nature. The natural disposition of preferring the beauty (physical, intellectual, character, etc.) of one gender over another individual amoral aspects of human relationships and friendship.

Two responses to this are necessary. First, what Collins suggest is not necessarily new, either in philosophical or theological history. Gregory of Nyssa, considered a Saint of the Catholic Church, developed Socrates concepts of the Beautiful through a Christian lens. As with Collins, Gregory’s ideas of the Beautiful overlapped significantly with his views on gender and sensuality. He believed gender was something given to humanity in preparation for the fall, but our truest spiritual selves (our pleroma) are genderless, both in original creation as well as in the eschaton. Gender is therefore an accidental part of creation, not essential. Our upper appetites are always in search of the pleroma we had in Eden, our proximity to the truly Beautiful. J. Warren Smith, commenting on Gregory of Nyssa’s views says, “The soul is driven in search of the beautiful both because the soul’s proper orientation is toward that which is supremely beautiful and also because it hopes that by seeing and partaking of that which is lovely it may share in the object’s beauty and so regain its own original beauty…”[22] Gregory concludes that it is therefore the virgin who most draws near to the truly beautiful by subduing the brute-like desire for sex. His conclusion of suppressing the lower appetites is in alignment with Catholic teachings we have already seen in regards to our anthropology.

Second, while it may be accurate to say that the phrase “sexual-orientation” is a rather modern convention, the idea is much older. Romans 1 says that, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature.” In this text, Paul sees the sins of both dishonorable passions and homosexual activity as somewhat normalized in previous generations. While the phrase “sexual-orientation” is not utilized, the idea of passions for a same gendered individual is expressed. Further, Burke notes that both secular and Christian writers have expressed for many years that what Collins calls an “orientation to beauty” is simply not an accurate description of what most homosexuals experience. While how we see beauty and friendship may be part of a homosexual’s experience, the larger underpinning thrust is what gender sexual partner one prefers. Mark Yarhouse captures the general sentiment of what is being referred to when we speak of sexual orientation, “When we discuss sexual orientation… we are referring to what is often thought to be a more enduring pattern of attraction to another based on one’s sexual desire… Orientation is often discussed in our cultural context as heterosexual (sexual desire as attraction to the opposite sex), homosexual (to the same sex) and bisexual (to both sexes).”[23] To shift the entire conversation away from sexual orientation, as Collins has attempted to do, is to avoid speaking on the very real dispositions same-sex-attracted individuals experience and of which historical theology has much to say.

As a result of Collins’ shifting of the conversation from sexual orientation towards orientation towards beauty, the next jump that is made by Neo-Traditionalists is made possible, the attempted normalization of same-sex-attraction. Neo-Traditionalists generally claim that what is Biblically normal is uni-heterosexuality, one man and woman in the covenant of marriage for life, and that all sexual desire and activity outside of that marriage context, whether homosexual or heterosexual, is equally labeled sin. “Yet from the fall onward, heterosexual orientation has predisposed straight people to experience indiscriminate sexual desires towards members of the opposite sex in the same way that homosexual orientation has predisposed gay people towards members of the same sex. While the objects may differ, they are both illicit if they are oriented to individuals outside the biblical pattern defined by our doctrine of creation.”[24]

On the one hand, Collins is not entirely wrong. All sexual desires and actions outside of the context of the covenant of marriage between one man and woman are rightly called sin. The main difference that Collins fails to mention is that homosexual desires are never able to have the proper godly end in view, while heterosexual desires are. One disposition is ultimately aimed at God’s design of marriage between a man and a woman (Ephesians 5:32), while the other is not. Collins’ statement intending to equalize the moral landscape is only made possible if we accept the idea that inward dispositions are not sinful, which as we have previously seen is only made possible by accepting a Roman Catholic or Pelagian doctrine of Original Sin. As a practical example, it would not be considered sin for a heterosexual man to have a disposition that could appreciate and even desire a wife, while choosing a life of celibacy.[25] The intended end of the inward disposition is within bounds morally. It would however be considered sinful for a homosexual man to appreciate or desire a partner of the same gender, even while choosing a life of celibacy. This example illustrates well the problem with normalizing homosexuality alongside heterosexuality. It removes the historic understanding of Original Sin which finds misaligned dispositions morally culpable before a Holy God.

Other Neo-Traditionalists have pushed Nate Collins’ ideas to further extremes. Ron Belgau, the cofounder of the Spiritual Friendship Blog, has written of an evening with another man that included cuddling, laying his heads on his chest to enjoy his heartbeat, running hands through each other’s hair, holding hands, and feeling an overwhelming tenderness towards one another. He says, “I don’t remember struggling that much against sexual temptation. I just remember a feeling of incredible tenderness…”[26] In this example we have the fruit derived from the seeds planted by Nate Collins. If, as Collins suggests, we remove sexual orientation as a meaningful category to describe the experiences of those with same-sex-attracted dispositions, then entire new forms of physical and emotional intimacy that are historically reserved for romantic expressions, become grounds for fruitful and blessed intimacy between two people of the same gender. The logic here is twisted at best. Were a married man to behave this way with another man’s wife, we would rightfully label this behavior as adultery (Matthew 5:28). This is not to say that two people of the same gender cannot experience deep and intimate friendship and even a brotherly love for each other, such as David experienced with Jonathan. It is to say however that any kind of behavior that feeds a disposition towards sin and enflames inward attractions towards forbidden objects is not to be embraced, but rather to be repented of. Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Sin also carries on its war by entangling the affections and drawing them into an alliance against the mind. Grace may be enthroned in the mind, but if sin controls the affections, it has seized a fort from which it will continually assault the soul. Hence, as we shall see, mortification is chiefly directed to take place upon the affections.”[27]  We must mortify our sinful affections (Romans 8:13), not pour gasoline upon their sparks.

Section 3: The Identity Problem

Throughout the Neo-Traditional movement there exists a recurring theme that challenges same sex attracted individuals to identify as a ‘gay-Christian’ or as a ‘sexual minority.’ This is such a strong thread woven throughout the movement that Tim Keller actually includes this in his description of Side B Christianity when he defines it as, “People attracted to the same sex, though remaining celibate in obedience to the Bible, still can call themselves ‘gay Christians’ and see their attraction as a part of their identity which should be acknowledged like one’s race or nationality.”[28]  This poses a question of one’s identity that is directly built from the previously discussed anthropological and concupiscence questions. The string of thought is that if one’s same-sex-attraction is not in itself sinful, then it ought to be owned and celebrated as part of God’s expression of the imago-dei within. Nate Collins supports the use of the term gay-Christian by citing other secondary identities found within the New Testament, such as virgin and widow. Writing about Paul’s use of the term widow, Collins says, “the use [of that term] also makes it clear that gendered experiences—or circumstances in people’s lives that affect the way they experience their gender—were important enough to warrant the use of labels that could signify those experiences.”[29]  Is the term ‘Gay-Christian’ akin to something like the term widow, or virgin, and therefore an appropriate term for Christians who struggle with same sex attraction to utilize as a form of self-identity?

In response the Reformed Church affirms that our new identity in Christ must overwhelm any previous identity we ever had or might ever have. Paul writes, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). This is identity level language. We are crucified. We are set free from sin. If, as has been previously discussed, homosexual desires and dispositions are in fact sinful themselves as first motions of concupiscence, then it would stand to reason that the term ‘Gay Christian’ would be a contradiction of terms. To be a Christian is to be set free from the power of sin. Whether or not the term describes a lived experience, as sin it ought not provide grounds for identification.

The Westminster Confession speaking of repentance states, “By it a sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also of the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of his mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for and hates his sins, as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with him in all the ways of his commandments.” Rather than identifying with our sin, we are to grieve over its lasting presence in our life and continually offer repentance as we hope in God’s transformative power. The Belgic Confession, after describing the reality of the ongoing struggle with sin in a believer’s life even after receiving the mercy of justification in Christ states, “Not that they should rest securely in sin, but that a sense of this corruption should make believers often to sigh, desiring to be delivered from this body of death.”[30] We must not identify with the outwards markers of our ongoing struggles with sin, whether willful actions or the first motions of inner dispositions, but we must have a sense of our own corruption that causes us to sigh and cling to Christ in hope.

Misty Irons, a conference speaker at Revoice 2021, gave a highly lauded and often repeated message titled ‘The Church and the Gay Christian—A View From the Pew.’ In this talk Misty Irons defended the normalization of the term ‘Gay Christian’ by attempting to demonstrate a connection with it and Paul’s use of the phrase ‘Gentile Christians.’ According to Irons, the Bible often refers to gentiles in reference to their sinful status (Matthew 18:17, Galatians 2:15). Yet the highly scandalous first century term Gentile, was an identity marker for those grafted into the Church. Irons argues that today we often refer to gentiles in the Church as Gentile-Christians. According to Misty, if the term gentile can be redeemed and repurposed from its scandalous origins, so can the term gay. Irons states,

“It’s because the Gospel is not: “You Gentiles, come up to our level of righteousness and get circumcised. Give up your identity and take on ours.” Rather, the Gospel says: “In view of the surpassing glory of Christ, we Jews find ourselves identifying with you Gentiles, because you tell us something about who we are. Fellow sinners. Fellow law-breakers who are in need of the exact same grace.”

Misty Irons, “The Church and the Gay Christian – A View from the Pew,” presented at The Revoice Conference.

This is not an entirely new argument, and has historically been used to push for full homosexual activity to be included within the Church. John Perry provides a helpful review and critique of this historic argument and notes a few key areas where the analogy breaks down.[32] One key insight he provides is that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 did not permit gentiles who joined the Church to completely disregard torah law, in fact porneia was in the list of forbidden activity provided by the council. Additionally, the way Misty Irons has utilized this argument seems to create a category error. While she is not wrong to say that the word gentile was scandalous in its day, she is wrong in not identifying both the unique history and prophecies within the Old Testament related to gentile inclusion. When the New Testament Church celebrates gentiles having been grafted into God’s plan of redemption, they are celebrating fulfillment of prophecy, not simply salvation for one particular sinful group. The idea that the Bible provides the grounds for finding our identity in a particular sinful disposition is inherently false. All Christians will experience sinfulness in one way or another. But when the Apostle Paul speaks of our identity, he does not instruct us to cling to our brokenness but reminds us of our deepest reality. “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:10-11).

Beyond the term Gay-Christian, another term has developed in recent history within the Neo-Traditional framework that must be critiqued, sexual minority. Greg Johnson, a former PCA Pastor who has been at the center of much of the ongoing controversy around Revoice Conference, wrote these words, “The conference organizers have preferred the term “sexual minority” because it encompasses all those whose experience of sexuality is significantly different from the norm, and even includes eunuchs like the African man who was the first Gentile convert.”[33] Johnson goes on to say to explain the potential for the phrase to be lumped into ongoing cultural battles with cultural Marxism, but does not intend for the phrase to be used in that way.

Johnson acknowledges that the term minority is loaded with cultural baggage that potentially makes the conversation more difficult. He also recognizes the potential connection with Marxist ideology which he desires to avoid. I’m grateful for his considerations and acknowledge that all terminology is fraught with challenges. Yet, we must evaluate this language and its effect to see if the language is permissible in a Christian setting.

The term sexual-minority¬ at times alludes to, and at other times directly engages with, ideas that Traditional Christianity would not affirm. Simple questions emerge such as ‘what sexual preferences or fetishes are permitted underneath the banner?’ must be answered. There are many emerging sexual identities within our modern culture whose adherents might self-identify as a sexual minority. Are these all welcome by Revoice? If one, why not another?

Additionally, though Johnson wishes to avoid the Marxist ideology associated with the term minority, it unfortunately is impossible to escape, even within Revoice. Borrowing from Marx’s original ideas, Modern Critical Theory is an ideological and moral framework that sees the world as broken into those with power and those without. The term minority becomes a marker of pride for those in a powerless circumstance. It provides a common ground with a common telos to destabilize the historic cultural values that created the minority difficulties in the first place. Carl Trueman summarizes it when he writes, “the world is divided up between those who have power and those who do not; the dominant Western narrative of truth is really an ideological construct designed to preserve the power structure of the status quo; and the goal of critical theory is therefore to destabilize this power structure by destabilizing the dominant narratives that are used to justify – ‘naturalize” – it.;”[34] 

The problem is that the dominant narrative that this phrase is attempting to disrupt is in fact the Biblical narrative. As Revoice speakers utilize the term, they often do so in reference to the shared suffering of minority groups. The argument is that the way to change culture is by celebrating the attributes that make the particular group a minority, in this case their sexual orientation, and by doing so assisting cultural progress by changing the traditional values. As an example of the scope-increase of this terminology, World News reported startling new developments in 2022’s Revoice Conference.

“Speakers have always emphasized homosexuality as an identity, not just a behavior. But this year, such assertions from the dais seemed more insistent, with speakers assiduously using civil-rights language to present radical change as settled truth. That identity rhetoric extended to transgender ideology. Speakers frequently referred to “sexual and gender minorities” and used preferred pronouns, along with terms such as women “assigned female at birth.”

Mary Jackson and Todd Vician, “Identity Crisis: Ascendant Gender Ideology Undermines Group Trying to Balance Homosexuality and Biblical Orthodoxy,” World News

The article goes on to describe the conference giving out stickers to attendees to define their preferred pronouns and swag with the phrase, ‘“Queer today, Queer tomorrow: Like God, Some Things Don’t Change,’” In a previous generation John Owen fought with a different ideology yet a similar situation. He was burdened with the temptation to mix secular philosophy with Biblical theology. He wrote, “The very degree to which theology is mingled with this human leaven [“gentile scholastic philosophy”], to that degree it is adulterated, and its purity is spoiled.”[36]  Owen’s words are wise advice to any culture, ancient or modern, considering utilizing secular philosophy to define our human experience. Biblically, we believe the Bible is sufficient to provide the answers to any challenge the Church may face. Whenever we discover frameworks for thinking or processing our experiences that sound and look much like the same frameworks our secular peers utilize, we ought to have a sense that perhaps we have borrowed from culture more than we have discovered from Scripture. In this case, it is clear that much secular philosophical borrowing has already taken place.


I have tried to demonstrate through this paper that the Neo-Traditional sexual ethic, while impactful in its desire to love same sex attracted followers of Christ while holding to a biblical view of marriage, has crossed irreconcilable lines with Historic Biblical Christianity. While additional topics can and should be discussed, this paper has limited its scope to evaluating three core theological differences between the Neo-Traditional and the Traditional sexual ethic: anthropology, concupiscence, and identity.

The differences begin in the doctrine of Anthropology. While most speakers at Revoice may not fully understand the theological underpinnings of their claims, it is the Roman Catholic view or the Pelagian view that supports their positions. According to Roman Catholics, God implanted the seeds of sin into the nature of humanity in his original creation. Our lower appetites, our inner animal instincts, are therefore not necessarily sinful. What is sinful is to exert the will upon them. It is only upon this foundation that the Neo-Traditional view can claim that same sex attractions are not sinful. As we have seen, this view is far out of line with the historic Reformed theology of Creation and Original Sin that refuses to credit God with implanting the seeds of sin in the hearts of humanity. When God made man, he said it was very good.

Secondly, the Neo-Traditional sexual ethic has a faulty view of concupiscence. Once again, relying on Roman Catholic theology, the Neo-Traditional sexual ethic believes it is not sinful simply to experience a same sex attracted disposition.[37] The attraction is neutral morally and only becomes sinful when the will is enforced upon it. I have demonstrated how this faulty view of concupiscence is directly developed from a faulty view of anthropology. Again, the Reformers rightly stood against such heretical teachings by demonstrating from the Scriptures that all of our affections are sinful, including the first motions of concupiscence, our inward dispositions towards forbidden objects.

Finally, developing from a faulty view of concupiscence, the Neo-Traditional sexual ethic has developed a faulty sense of identity in which being gay is a mark to be celebrated and normalized in culture and throughout the Church. This too is a gross misrepresentation of what it means to be in Christ. As followers of Christ, we must never celebrate sin as normal. Rather we must encourage one another to, “to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).

I believe that God is in the business of changing hearts and lives. God is able, and has many times over, changed false affections and dispositions towards godliness. I have personal friends who were same sex attracted but have since had an inward desire change, since meeting Christ, and are now joyfully married to Christian wives. I also have other same-sex-attracted friends who despite many prayers for transformation have not had such a change take place. The Church must care boldly for brothers and sisters in Christ with the whole counsel of God. The invitation is not only to repentance, but to deep life in community, within the Church. It is an invitation to rich friendship, to discovering the precious treasure of contentment in Christ (Philippians 4:11), and to the full hope found in setting one’s gaze towards the day when, “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). While I have not attempted to provide a full theological plan for how to care well for those who experience same-sex-attraction, I have shown that our pastoral response must include continued repentance for that which is rightly sin.

As I conclude, I wish to have a word of what God has done in me through this process. As part of my research in reading, watching, and listening to adherents and leaders of Side B Christianity, it has become very apparent that the theologically conservative Church of which I am a Pastor within, has historically failed to be bold in our love of the LGBT+ community. Hearing so many stories of isolation and loneliness, of depression, suicide, and hospital visits due to stress, has caused me as a Pastor to ask what I have truly done to care for this community. I confess I have not done enough to learn, to listen, or to engage. I also confess I do not have simple programmatic answers or solutions. I fear that by striking a blow against ‘Side B’ I am risking compounding the pain the LGBT+ community feels from generations of poor pastoral care. At the same time, it is the truth of Scripture that has the power to truly love people and set them up for success. I am convinced that it is in our love for God and the relentless pursuit of renewing our mind through the study of His Word, and courageous responsibility of destroying arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:5), that the real power to heal and transform will be discovered. I pray this paper will serve as a faithful stepping stone in that direction.


[1] Revoice, “Our Mission, Vision, and Values,” 2022, https://revoice.us/about/our-mission-and-vision/.

[2] Side A refers to more liberal strains of Evangelicalism that deny or distort the authority of Scripture to defend and promote gay marriage. Side B has posited itself as the “Biblical” attempt to care for the LGBT+ community as it maintains a commitment to marriage between one man and one woman for life.

[3] Denny Burk and Heath Lambert, Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says About Sexual Orientation and Change (Pittsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2015), 21.

[4] This is not to say that ongoing dialogue with the more liberal strains of Christianity is not required. It is simply to isolate the scope of this work to the dialogue among Bible believing Christians that hold to the historic Biblical perspective of marriage between one man and one woman for life.

[5] It must be distinguished here that my claim is not that a follower of Christ who experiences same sex attraction will have no spiritual fruit or benefit to offer the Church. Rather, my claim is more limited in scope towards one’s sexual attraction. Same-sex-attraction, as I will demonstrate, is a sin and is therefore not grounds to seek spiritual fruit, but rather is grounds for repentance.

[6] Nate Collins, All But Invisible: Exploring Identity Questions at the Intersection of Faith, Gender & Sexuality (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017), 303.

[7] Collins, All, 286.

[8] Philip Shaff, The Creeds of Christendom, with a History and Critical Notes, Vol. 3. The Evangelical Protestant Creeds (New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1882), 677-678.

[9] Louis Berkhoff, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 1938), 209.

[10] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 2. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 104.

[11] We will deal with concupiscence at length in section 2. Concupiscence from a theological perspective refers to innate strong desires, and most often is utilized in reference to sensuality and sexuality.

[12] Theodore Buckley, The Catechism of the Council of Trent (London: George Routledge and Co, 1852), 466.

[13] William Addis and Thomas Arnold, A Catholic Dictionary (New York: The Catholic Publication Society Co., 1887), 632.

[14] Buckley, The Catechism, 466.

[15] Anselm, The Major Works (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 362-363.

[16] William Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2003), 495.

[17] Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, James T. Dennison Jr. Vol. 1. (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1992), 593-594.

[18] Hodge, Systematic, 108.

[19] Hodge, Systematic, 110.

[20] Collins, All, 139.

[21] Collins, All, 150.

[22] Warren Smith, Passion and Paradise: Human and Divine Emotion in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa (New York, NY: The Crossroads Publishing Company, 2004), 190.

[23] Burk, Transforming, 28.

[24] Collins, All, 146.

[25] “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

[26] Ron Belgau, “The Desires of the Heart,” Spiritual Friendship, October 13, 2018, https://spiritualfriendship.org/2016/10/13/the-desires-of-the-heart/.

[27] John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 110.

[28] Tim Keller, “What’s Happening in the PCA?” By Faith Online, March 21, 2022. https://byfaithonline.com/whats-happening-in-the-pca.

[29] Collins, All, 252.

[30] Rick Brannon, Historic Creeds and Confessions (Oak Harbor, WA: Lexham Press, 1997).

[31] Misty Irons, “The Church and the Gay Christian – A View from the Pew,” Presented at The Revoice Conference, St. Louis, MO, 2021, revoice.us.

[32] John Perry, “Gentiles and Homosexuals: A Brief History of an Analogy,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 38, no. 2 (2022), http://www.jstor.org/stable/25676560, 2010: 321-47.

[33] Greg Johnson, “A Reply to ’Queer Culture in the PCA?” The Aquila Report, May 28, 2018. https://theaquilareport.com/a-reply-to-queer-culture-in-the-pca/.

[34] Carl Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (United States: Crossway, 2020), 226.

[35] Mary Jackson and Todd Vician, “Identity Crisis: Ascendant Gender Ideology Undermines Group Trying to Balance Homosexuality and Biblical Orthodoxy,” World News, October 21, 2022. https://wng.org/articles/identity-crisis-1666367393.

[36] Jeffrey Johnson, The Failure of Natural Theology: A Critical Appraisal of the Philosophical Theology of Thomas Aquinas (Free Grace Press LLC, 2021).

[37] While this paper has primarily dealt with the discussion of homosexuality. Side B Christianity, and particularly the Revoice Conference, applies this same principle to the transgender community.

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