Pastor of PCA Church Hosting Revoice Conference Addresses Concerns Over Gay Identity, Language

Crosspolitic broadcast about the Revoice Conference with Pastor Greg Johnson, Memorial Presbyterian, a PCA congregation in St. Louis, Missouri, July 15, 2018. |

The pastor whose church is hosting the Revoice conference next weekend is addressing the confusion many have expressed about the event amid concerns unclean spirituality is being allowed into the Church.

The Revoice conference says it intends to "support, encourage, and empower" LGBT Christians and promote their "flourishing" within the historic Christian tradition and its doctrine of marriage and sexuality. It is scheduled to take place next weekend at Memorial Presbyterian, a PCA congregation in St. Louis, Missouri.

In a lively interview on the CrossPolitic podcast Sunday, Greg Johnson, who pastors Memorial Presbyterian, insisted the conference is approaching this in a way that attempts to cut through semantics and instead engage the issues of substance when it comes to Christians who may identify themselves as "gay."

Right from the start, Johnson was asked by host Jason Farley if he would allow his church to be used for a conference aiming to speak to Christians who say they have sexual attractions to children.

"If you're talking about people who have sexual brokenness, and they are committed to Christ, they are not acting on it, maybe they are taking chemical castration drugs, they're being monitored and they really want to know, 'How can I walk with Jesus?' I think we'd definitely consider taking them in and providing a safe place for that conversation," Johnson said.

Both similarities and differences exist between those who are same-sex attracted and those attracted to children, namely that a child is never able to give consent and the power differential in play, he said, adding that pedophilia is rape in every instance.

"Same-sex attraction is a disordering of friendship," he continued.

"We were made to have friends, brothers, a band of brothers, so to speak."

Farley pushed back against that argument, arguing that same-sex attraction is not a disordering of friendship but of the heterosexual orientation that God has given every human being, citing Romans 1.

Johnson then replied that "it's both."

"In the Reformed tradition, our understanding going back to Augustine is that sin is the privation of the good," he explained, when asked for biblical support of that claim.

"And anytime you're looking at the propulsion to sin, you can step back and say: 'What is being disordered here, what is being deformed here?' Because we are all deformed. None of us is as we were intended to be."

The Revoice conference has come under scrutiny by some Christians who assert they are appropriating unbiblical language and a framework that runs counter to the witness of Scripture and risks inviting unclean spirituality into the Church. Critics say the conference treats a certain kind of temptation to sin that Christians do not do with any other kind of proclivity to sin and have failed to address concerns. 

Revoice conference leaders and other major figures backing it hail from Southern Baptist institutions and affiliated entities, and other evangelical groups who maintain that the conference does no such thing, stressing that they hold fast to the Scriptural teaching on marriage and sexual ethics.

The podcast hosts dug deep into the theological minutiae and lingo that often surrounds the discourse in the church about sexuality, frequently emphasizing the need for repentance from sin.

Farley asked Johnson, given the mass media's seemingly endless coverage of the subject: "Where are all the PCA conferences reaching out to those who are tempted to [the sin of] white supremacy?"

Johnson responded that he hopes every congregation is addressing that issue, explaining that he was raised in a prejudiced cultural context where an empathy gap toward racial minorities existed.

Yet racism of all stripes is being "full-throatedly" condemned by everyone, Farley pressed him.

"Nobody is giving room for anybody to say ... 'I'm a white supremacist, I don't act on it because that would be sinful but I just am in the culture of white supremacy and there is some kind of intrinsic good to the culture of white supremacy. And so we all want to get together to support, encourage, and empower white supremacist Christians so they can flourish.' I just can't imagine that happening in a million years."

Other sins are not used in the same way that the identity markers and modern gay nomenclature are, he insisted repeatedly.

Notable negative attention Revoice has received has centered on one particular talk advertised on the conference website that explores what queer culture — specifically queer literature and theory — has to offer those who follow Christ, and what "queer treasure," honor, and glory will be brought into the New Jerusalem at the end of time as described in Revelation 21.

Farley inquired of Johnson, wouldn't it be like saying, "what pedophile treasure is going to be brought into the new Jerusalem?'

Johnson explained that in Revelation "the vision at the end of the age is that every people group on earth bring their cultural treasures into the Kingdom as tribute to offer them to God."

He went onto explain that that PCA denomination has examined the contested terminology and produced guidance resources after having consulted the arguments and thinking of Christian authors Wesley Hill, who identifies as gay, and Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian now married to a man, and their reasoning for why they still use certain words and phrases. 

"We concluded that so long as they are being clear about what they mean, and so long as what they mean lines up with a biblical ethic, that we advise our churches not to make an issue of terminology but look more at issues of substance," Johnson said.

Johnson added that he believes sexual "orientation" generally does not and cannot be changed.

Farley pushed back again, saying that such a claim is false and that it was evidence of how much the culture has brainwashed society. God has given everyone from the creation of the world an orientation that is tied to human biology, male and female, and it is something Jesus reaffirmed in the Gospel, he contended.

Johnson maintained that through the churches' mishandling of sexuality issues, Christians struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions have been driven away from their faith and that they want to be there for people who struggle.

Farley and the other hosts expressed that they believed that Revoice would have the opposite effect of its and Johnson's stated intentions, and while well-meaning, by lending credence to gay identity and culture, Christians who identify as such will become targets of a hostile society, and that the conference is not creating the space for individuals to leave homosexuality and everythng that comes with it behind.

Farley then called what Johnson was doing "wicked" and "horrible."

"To wave this flag, and I know you're trying to hold these things together, but they're not compatible," he asserted.

The conversation became even more spirited and ended at an impasse of sorts, with the interlocutors disagreeing on the terms with which people use to identify themselves and on other matters, such as whether or not an "attraction" was a volitional act of lust that demands repentance.

"There's a complexity of language here," Johnson said toward the end of the interview, noting that his presbytery "saw two ways of describing things that we thought, either one could be coming from a good heart and either one could be a healthy way of looking at it. And we're not going to judge over that."

"What we want is for the Gospel to be clear, because Jesus loves sinners."

Farley concluded the interview thanking Johnson for being willing to come on the show, but implored him to go to his elders and have them cancel the conference.

Johnson refused to make that move.

"We're not going to do that. These are our brothers and sisters."

"And I understand that it was very easy for Peter when the Judaizers said that 'you can't eat with these Gentiles.' It was very easy for them to say 'OK, then, I won't do it.' But what Paul told him was what you are doing is not in line with the Gospel."

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