I have been debating over the last week or so about whether I wanted to watch the Revoice conference that happened over Columbus Day weekend. I am overwhelmed with stuff to read and watch and do, and the prospect seemed daunting, especially as I have two other conferences worth of talks I am hoping to get to. Columbus Day weekend seems to be the time when all the conferences meet, and then there’s only a certain amount of time you can access the talks (at least for some) when it is all over. Anyway, after Esther O’Reilly’s interesting tweeting, I decided to go for it. I’m about a third of the way through, so my thoughts thus far are only that much baked. But I’m afraid that if I leave off responding till the end, I will forget things along the way. So here are just some rough impressions thus far.
First of all, I am very grateful about the high view of suffering articulated in almost all the talks I’ve seen. There is not a whiff of prosperity preaching anywhere. One of the most tragic things about Christianity in America over the last century has been the bad bad bad idea (though nearly impossible to avoid, at least in human terms) that if you behave a certain way, or do certain works, or believe certain ideas, or pray certain prayers, God will bless you and give you your desires. That is the great tragedy of the Christian message–that God does not bless you in the way you most desire when you follow him. And that is because you don’t know what is really good for you or what you should want. Because that is true, you have to walk in the way of the cross, which necessarily includes suffering, which is ultimately the way to life. Every person I heard well articulated the necessity of suffering in the Christian life, both its purposes and its gifts.
Second of all, I can see why there was so much anger from the left about the existence of the conference at all. All those Revoice people are haters of humanity, I saw some people tweeting. It seems that some Side A people tuned in, believing that they would hear stuff about how to be a good Christian and have good LGBTetc. relationships, and then were disappointed because nowhere (at least so far) has there been any idea that if you are a Christian, you can be in a sexual relationship with any one of the same sex. Marriage, everyone at the conference agrees, is between one man and one woman, so it would be really disappointing if you thought you were going to hear something else.
Third, however, I can see why some people would tune in thinking that they might hear that some same-sex sexual situations would be ok, and that is because the conference has used the standard terms “LGBTQ+” and “Sexual Minorities,” both of which, in secular terms, implies actual sex and not the vastly more difficult to comprehend terrain of friendship. These terms are used with fluency, and without apology–not that I’m asking anyone to apologize for anything–but they are by no means neutral terms, which is literally why everyone is worked up all the time. They are both theologically weighted, and politically so. They signal a certain stance on the issue. Revoice, it appears, is trying to take and appropriate them for orthodox Christian uses, but I don’t expect that will really work in the long term.
Fourth, also I heard an idea that I have encountered in lots of other places and seems to be gaining a lot of traction (though modified, of course, by Revoice to be about friendship rather than any sexual, erotic relationships). That idea is that same-sex relationships are actually better than heterosexual ones. They are deeper and more true. This idea is clearly articulated in the book Modern Kinship: A Queer Guide to Christian Marriage, and many other places as well. I find this idea troubling, to say the least, and I was not delighted to hear notes of it in several of the talks.
Which leads me to my final thought, which is that so far Revoice is indulging, however unwittingly, in some historical revisionism. I was formed and shaped as a Christian in the last four decades through the same evangelicalism that everyone else was. I endured the purity culture and the Biblical Manhood and Womanhood stuff. I did have some critical and emotional distance from some of it, but in other ways, it was more intense for me. I have, in other words, the same “lived experience” and I don’t agree with the way the last several decades of Christian evangelical culture is being recounted. It isn’t true that only one kind of Christian masculinity has been acceptable, or that men over the last forty years have been told that they are only men if they don’t cry and do watch sports, or that there were no other ways of being a woman than the Proverbs 31 option. Certainly, there were some strains of that within evangelicalism, but growing up in the very center of one of the most conservative portions of that culture, I can say with confidence that that is a straw person. Certainly there are trends within American Christianity that are sub-Christian and bad. But I don’t accept the sweeping narrative about “straight” Christianity that has been completely wounding for everyone and needs to be thrown out onto the ash-heap of history.
I guess I do have one more thought before I rush into my day. This is my own objection to the way Christianity is shaping up in this current moment. And that is that Biblical Christianity (as in, the version you can read about on the pages of the Bible) should not “make space” or “center” the idea of minority communities within the church. There should be the local church connected hierarchically to elders and bishops and accountability structures and so forth, and that should be it. We shouldn’t be thinking in terms of minorities, of groups within a group, and most especially about any of those groups in terms of power. I don’t think this is a Christian idea. It is, rather, a misunderstanding of Paul’s no slave, no free, no man, no woman thing–not that all those groups should gather themselves together, but that the distinctions that might divide no longer have the power to do so. Unfortunately, I have to go do other things and will have to thrust off fleshing that out for another time. Anyway, I will be back with more impressions later!