Matt and I are down here in the sultry humidity of Florida for a few days, which, in all previous moments of my life, would have been just the ticket. But New York has been seriously hot and humid all through October, so, NGL, it feels just about the same, except with palm trees. In spite of it all, I’ve been able to keep trucking along through the Revoice talks, with an eye to writing a longer piece for CRJ very soon. But I did have another few smattering of thoughts as I’m going along, that I want to keep hold of.
One surprising moment was the talk by Misty Irons—and let me just interrupt myself and say that all of the talks are so well delivered. Every speaker has been so interesting and well-spoken, clear and well-argued. Don’t read this with an ear for any of my usual snark. I said this before, but this year’s Revoice is taking the Christian life and faith seriously. And I appreciate very much the articulations of woe from many speakers about people who started out as Side B and then just couldn’t cope and went to Side A. The stresses of being a faithful Christian in this volatile climate are not easy for anyone, but for those associated with this movement, it is surely more intense. They are standing right on the fault line that is opening up under all of our feet. In other words, I am attempting to be mindful of the “lived experience” of the moment, because that is part of the deal, but I am going to keep going at the theology of the thing because I really do believe that everything is theological. And I think many of the speakers of Revoice would agree with me.
So, back to the surprising moment of Misty Irons. (I don’t have a transcript, so please bear with my memory). She proposed the interesting exegetical idea that the deep, and at times emotional, disagreements that are going on between those on the side of the Gay Christian idea, which for Revoice has settled out into “Sexual Minority” language, and those (like me, and the bishops of the ACNA) who think that the Gay Christian idea is problematical, are experiencing the same kind of theological rift that New Testament Christians had with the Judaizers. Gentile Christians had a particular identity—and Ms. Irons does use identity here in its modern sense—and Jewish Christians had another. The Jewish Christians, as more and more Gentile converts entered the church, could not accept the identity of those Gentiles and insisted that they undergo the added burden, as part of their Christian walk, of also becoming Jewish. This disagreement was so contentious that the Church met in council, and much of Paul’s writing is preoccupied with it.
Making Gay Christians leave aside their identity as Gay is the same kind of thing, she says. The Biblical Sexual Ethic that they embrace is more than sufficient, and the questions of identity should not preoccupy non-gay Christians.
I’ve been chewing on this for half a day. I do find it interesting. My two immediate objections, however, are first that I don’t think we can read modern sensibilities about sexual identity back into the text. The text can speak to us in our current trouble, of course, but we can’t read ourselves in backward. Jews and Gentiles didn’t share our modern conceptions of the self, nor the peculiar necessity of a sexually identified self, and so the corresponding divisions do not quite correspond. Second, there is nothing at all about being a Jew or a Gentile that can be associated with the Fall. Nothing at all about being black or white, Asian or African or European or anything at all can be considered in terms of the Fall. That is the trouble. Christians who don’t want to use Gay Christian language believe that concupiscence is sinful. The fallen inclinations of the soul because of original sin, even if we do not act upon them, along with the sinful thoughts, words, and deeds upon which we do act, all of it should be repented of. The presence of sinfully disordered dispositions testifies to our spiritual bond with and participation in Adam–both his rebellious act and the guilt that comes to us from it. We are party to it. Disordered inclinations are not created, they arise from the already sinful heart. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is created and therefore good. Concupiscence is not created. Disordered orientations should, then, not be an identifying marker. Are those of us who say such things akin to Judaizers? That is a curious proposition that sets affections that God did not create (and, in fact, condemns) alongside essential human qualities that he did.
I only have one more minute to write, tragically, so I will just try to badly articulate one more impression that I’m mulling over. I do think that Christians should, of course, engage with the cultural moments in which they find themselves. They cannot go back and try to litigate old theological disagreements all the time. Revoice is one way of doing that. As a movement, it is right in the very thick of the cultural drama unfolding before America’s eyes. Every single person has to have a sexual identity in this new moment. If you don’t want to have one, too bad. Not having a sexual identity is a kind of sexual identity. What should Christians do about this? Revoice would have us lean in and accept this fact on the ground. If you aren’t gay, you’re straight or bi or queer or something else like that. Straight and Gay should sort it out with the categories that are being given to it by the prevailing culture. They should live according to the scriptures, but the categories in which they swim have to be accepted alongside the testimony of the Bible.
As a person who believes in missionary work among the lost and perishing, I’m going to keep thinking about this for a bit. Ultimately, though, I’m pretty sure that by the time the gray Florida clouds give way to night, I’m going to say that I don’t think Christians have to accept the new ideology of sexual identity. I think there’s another way. But now I have to go. Have a nice day!!!