Several of our authors recently attended the inaugural Revoice conference in St. Louis: a gathering for sexual minorities in the church. Here are our thoughts on the (controversial?) conference we experienced together.
What were your feelings going into Revoice? Did you read any of the Revoice criticism online? Did it faze your attendance at all?
TOM: I’m pretty active on Twitter, and it was hard to avoid the criticism — mostly attacks from evangelicals and fundamentalists. The articles and tweets from fellow believers got disheartening to read, over and over, and eventually I had to step away.
I get that some will always disagree on using the “gay” or “LGBT” label in conjunction with “Christian.” Revoice certainly didn’t denounce this usage, a clear divergence from “ex-gay” conferences I’ve attended in the past. I’m not a huge fan of the association for myself, but at some point can we all set aside and move beyond our preferred labels or lack thereof?
Can evangelicals and Catholics and everyone in between stop and recognize — nay, marvel — that 400+ people traveled from all over the world to unite as one Body and put Jesus before their sexuality — indeed, before all else?
MARSHALL: No one dragged me kicking and screaming to Revoice. I went voluntarily, but only after several other brothers here persuaded me.
TOM: Glad we could convince you to come along, Marshall! Your presence was appreciated, as always. I value your perspective.
RYAN: I was very excited about Revoice! I arrived ready to drink from the firehose.
I actually tried to avoid the criticism online — not because I didn’t want to expose myself to other points of view, but because I’ve heard the same arguments over and over again. None so far has persuaded me, so I didn’t think that keeping up with the controversy was going to edify me. I believed it would only leave me weary and disappointed.
At one point in her keynote, Eve Tushnet commented that the Revoice community is “united largely by its sacrifices.” Reading between the lines, I heard a quiet, deft refutation of one of the criticisms of Revoice — that we shouldn’t let something “broken” about us mark and define our community.
Eve pointed out that we are choosing not to be united by some fallen aspect of our hearts but by how we choose to respond to that fallenness.
I appreciated Eve’s point because, really, that’s the camaraderie I felt at Revoice: the fact that everyone there could relate to what I’ve given up to follow Jesus was far more important and exciting than anyone there being able to relate to my particular brand of sins or temptations. I think uniting over that facet is helpful.
DEAN: Honestly, the criticisms helped me understand I was doing the right thing by attending. The people criticizing Revoice were people I usually don’t agree with anyway. Hearing them be upset about the conference and denounce it — that only encouraged my decision to attend!
JACOB: I was familiar enough with the conference organizers and keynote speakers to trust their hearts and agendas, so none of the critiques even came close to changing my mind about attending. With this being the first-ever Revoice, I didn’t know what to expect going in. But I’m beyond thrilled that I got to be part of its debut.
EUGENE: I live in St. Louis and personally know many of the Revoice organizers. To have this massive conference take place in my backyard has been thrilling.
I was definitely dismayed by a lot of the criticism. Not the fact that there was criticism at all (criticism can be very healthy, of course) but the sheer ignorance in so much of it. Nobody seemed to make any effort to understand the real meaning and purpose of Revoice.
I listened to a super obnoxious podcast that made me so angry. They straight-up said that they were going to mock the conference and everything to do with “Side B” sexual ethics. They also said that the promoting of friendships among Side B guys was “creepy.”
Just so you guys know, I very much enjoy being “creepy” with you all.
TOM: Aww thanks, Eugene. Wait.
SAM: I suffer from iwanteveryonetolikemeitis, so on a normal day I’m already stressed about a good chunk of the Christian world — both on- and offline — thinking my mere existence is controversial.
So, when I saw the criticism for Revoice, I got sick to my stomach. I’m on Twitter all day for work, and it grew nauseating to see people — some who I respect — trash the conference, day after day. Even though I LIVE for some good drama, I just wanted to forget for five minutes how controversial it is to be LGBTQ+ and Christian.
Ultimately, I decided to attend Revoice because I knew a lot of other people in attendance and I felt safe. I couldn’t imagine having the courage to attend something like this alone, having seen all the criticism. I was very anxious in the days leading up to the conference, but the second I walked into the church for registration, I felt 100% at peace.
Also, I blasted “Fearless” by Taylor Swift. Because if there’s one thing I’m sure of in life it’s that a Taylor Swift song can get me through everything.
The themes for the three nights of Revoice were Praise, Lament, and Hope, respectively. Did any one theme/night particularly resonate?
TOM: Lament. But that should be obvious coming from my melancholic self. If you tell me we’re all agreeing to lament today, you don’t have to tell me twice to break out the Kleenex and Sufjan.
MARSHALL: Lament also resonated with me. I am somewhat of an optimist, but what I felt most deeply at Revoice was weeping with those who weep. I won’t forget that.
RYAN: Seriously, that Lament night was a heavy-hitter. In my estimation, Ray’s testimony struck a very good balance between expressing anguish, trust in God, and love for His church. One other part of that night that spoke to me was Nate Collins‘s meditations on Jeremiah and what it means to bear God’s word to his people.
In exploring Jeremiah’s laments, Nate suggested that there is a prophetic aspect to our calling:
“Is it possible that gay people today are being sent by God like Jeremiah to find God’s words for the Church, to eat them and make them our own? To shed light on contemporary false teachings and even idolatries? Not just the false teaching of the progressive sexual ethic but other more subtle forms of false teaching? Is it possible that gender and sexual minorities who’ve lived lives of costly obedience are themselves a prophetic call to the Church to abandon idolatrous attitudes toward the nuclear family, toward sexual pleasure? If so, then we are prophets.”
Not that we all have, like, [movie trailer voice] the gift of prophecy, but the shape of the life we are called to is itself a message to God’s people: a call to repent, re-submit, re-obey. The message can be bitter to hear and bitter for God’s people to receive, but it must be spoken because of how God’s people (myself included) have strayed.
I’m still thinking through it, but maybe looking at our pain, frustration, and lament that way can help us see a value and a purpose in it.
TOM: I appreciated putting lament in a larger context. Not in a perpetual “woe is me” state but as a necessary movement toward hope. We praise God, we endure this long, dark valley of the shadow of death, and we trust Him to help us reach the other side.
EUGENE: Count me as another Enneagram Type 4 going for Lament. It all makes me so sad that a church would kick someone out even if he or she is following a traditional sexual ethic. Thankfully, I’ve never experienced anything like that. But the sheer injustice of this happening to others makes me weep. Perhaps there would be far, far more “Side B” guys out there had the church not shunned and rejected so many?
DEAN: My favorite was Hope, the final night. I think I already get praise and lament pretty well, but hope is something I have wrestled with. It was refreshing to be reminded of it again — that my hope is founded in Christ. The Gospel is the greatest source of hope we have.
SAM: Team Hope here, too, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t connect with the other themes. As celibate SSA/LGBTQ+ people, I think we really have to fight a lot of times to feel hopeful about our futures.
By the end of Revoice, I had nothing but hope! I have not felt so secure in my faith in a long time and truly feel joy in choosing God.
One thing I want to point out from the first night, Praise: Eve Tushnet spoke of not growing up in church, so when she became a Christian she never once worried whether God loved her because she was gay — God loved her regardless! It wasn’t even a question.
That hit home for me. LGBTQ+ people who have grown up in church need to be reminded just how much God loves them! I found myself coming to the realization that deep down, I’d wondered if God truly loved me because of my sexuality. I’m so thankful I serve a God of love.
JACOB: I’d also put myself in the Hope camp, in part because I don’t currently find myself in a season of lament but also because Wesley Hill was the highlight of the keynote speakers for me. His message wasn’t anything earth-shattering in terms of new revelations, but he preached the Gospel with clarity, power, and passion.
It’s true that our common sexualities are what brought us to Revoice, but our hope in Jesus is what truly unites us as brothers and sisters and allows us to go into this world with full assurance of faith.
Which workshop did you enjoy most? Any favorite quotes or insights from the conference speakers?
DEAN: I heard Ty Wyss speak of finding intimacy with God, saying “God honors our wrestling” and “God values honesty.” Those quotes resonated with me quite a bit.
I also loved Rev. Greg Johnson’s workshop on making the church a safe-haven for sexual minorities. He said it hinges on a church’s foundation upon the Gospel. In others words, does the church truly keep the Gospel at the core of all it does? If so, sexual minorities will have a better chance finding a place of love and acceptance.
RYAN: As someone involved in church ministry, I got a lot out of Pieter Valk’s talk, “How to Become Churches that Cultivate Celibacy and Mixed-Orientation Marriage.” A lot of his talk actually boiled down to what our churches are telling our children and youth, and it made me think more about my role teaching 3rd-5th graders at my church, wondering what it might look like to get more in touch with our youth ministry.
I also enjoyed Jeb Ralston’s talk, “Rekindling Hope as a Sexual Minority in the Church.” I’ve been pondering hope a lot recently, and Jeb gave a very helpful list of concrete ways we can cultivate hope in our lives. He described how things like hospitality, art, nature, and even partying can remind us of the hope we have in Jesus.
EUGENE: Taylor Zimmerman’s “Building Your House Well: Understanding Boundaries in Interpersonal Relationships” was TERRIFIC. I just nodded “yes, yes, YES!” during the whole thing. He basically summed up the problems that have happened in a lot of my relationships with fellow “Side B” men.
I’ve had a lot of thoughts and experiences stewing in my mind like people having unrealistically high expectations for relationships and shutting down or dumping someone when those high expectations aren’t quite met.
I’m so glad someone else confirmed all my experiences so I know I’m not crazy.
Taylor made some fantastic points about boundaries. Boundaries are not punishments. Boundaries should be properly communicated and at the same time be flexible to changes depending on how people feel about things.
TOM: Laurie Krieg‘s “Understanding Core Needs” was phenomenal. By far my favorite workshop of the conference. Her personality was so bubbly and expressive and passionate and encouraging, and her talk was practical and life-giving for all people and all strugglers, not just gay/SSA folks. It always helps when I can zoom out and realize my struggles aren’t all that uncommon to anyone else in the Church.
I also thoroughly enjoyed Bekah’s testimony the final night of the conference. She spoke to this notion of God’s “taking away” her sexuality or reversing her sexual orientation:
“Why in the world would [God] be so cruel as to take away the thing that most deeply presses me into himself?”
So much BOOM. I literally can’t even.
JACOB: To echo Tom, Laurie Krieg was also my favorite workshop presenter. Her talk focused on identifying and addressing our core needs, and as someone who identifies as an Enneagram Type 2, talking or thinking about my own needs doesn’t always come easily. I loved how Laurie walked us through the Fall, explaining how pride has twisted all of our needs for healthy things into demands for unhealthy things and how Jesus redeems and restores all of them.
Laurie’s passion was captivating and her heart and love for the Lord was evident. I found my eyes welling up with tears several times as I found my soul drinking the truth of her words.
SAM: There was not a single bad workshop. I came away from every workshop feeling like I gained a ton of knowledge. Jack Bates’s “Coming Out in the Shadow of the Cross” was super timely for me as I’ve been considering coming out publicly.
Additionally, Grant Hartley’s “Redeeming Queer Culture: An Adventure” was SO GOOD. It really helped put in perspective how being queer is SO much more than a sex act. LGBTQ+ folks have a rich history of being talented, loved, valuable people, and we are so much more than just sex!
The workshop that left me in tears was Bekah Mason’s. Her workshop really hit me hard and helped me better understand the concept of chosen family. My dream car is literally a fully loaded Honda Odyssey. Being LGBTQ+ and choosing celibacy is VERY daunting for a hopeless romantic like me.
I’ve really struggled with the idea of not being someone’s husband or father, and as an only child I’m terrified that some day when my parents pass I’ll look around with no close family members and just die a lonely, sad existence. I’ve seen articles talking about gay celibate people living with married couples, and previously that just put me into a depression; it felt like failure not to have your own home and family, and I worried about being seen as subpar because I’d have to move in with some married couple.
After Bekah’s workshop, I now have a different understanding of family and community and just how important those are in our lives. We truly do choose our family, and we adopt others into our lives like we are adopted into the family of God.
I have no clue what my future looks like, but be it foster care or adoption or a godchild or something else, I know my God will give me a community of people to love and be loved by.
What was your favorite aspect of the conference?
MARSHALL: By far the best part of the conference was the people. It was a gathering of sincere followers of Christ, many of whom have actually given up sex for life because of loving obedience to God’s commands. I saw the inner beauty in so many as I got to know them as friends. I thank God for you all!
I also appreciated the times of worship: My sin, not in part but the whole, was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more!
JACOB: The worship through music was definitely my favorite part of the conference. We had the privilege of being led by Greg Coles who did a fantastic job with not only the song choices but also putting all of the music in singable keys! The whole experience was not only aesthetically amazing but also filled with this deep sense of unity and harmony (both literally and metaphorically) as everyone raised their voices and their hands together.
There’s something uniquely powerful about singing songs that speak about “trust” and “sacrifice” and “the sufficiency of Christ” when you know that everyone you’re singing with empathizes with this particular cost of following Jesus. We know what it means to deny ourselves, and we know that our only hope for remaining faithful is by fixing our eyes on Christ.
DEAN: Like Marshall said — the people there. I loved getting to spend time with everyone there. They were incredible. I made so many new friends and connected with so many old friends — it was basically a big old reunion! I got to introduce different circles of friends to each other and watch them become friends as well.
RYAN: I think my favorite aspect was along the lines of Dean’s response: it felt like a giant family reunion. I got to meet people I had only heard about but long felt kinship toward. As I wrote above, I felt a deep and compelling connection with a lot of the people there based on the value we had placed on Jesus in our lives.
EUGENE: The fact that Revoice was in St. Louis, of course! No better city to have the conference, right? But no, seriously, I just loved the community aspect of Revoice. I loved watching all these people connect, especially in the hours after the evening sessions. So many people milling about, chatting, connecting, networking — it was so great.
It was also surreal seeing all of these folks from the various areas of my involvement in the “Side B” world meeting up and connecting in one place. We had our YOB community, folks from other Side B Facebook groups, local St. Louis folks, and hundreds of sooooo many other people that I didn’t know. It made me very happy and proud at the same time.
TOM: I can’t believe nobody has mentioned the incredible barbecue lunch on Saturday. The people?? Y’all are so short-sighted. They had COFFEE BARBECUE SAUCE.
SAM: I’m shocked no one has mentioned the ear-piercing station! (Silly, straights! Most of us have earrings already!)
TOM: For real, though, my highlight had to be the people. From my perspective as YOB editor and host of our podcast, it was humbling having folks approach me at the water station or lunch line or church pew thanking me and all of us for the work we do with YOB. There was one woman from New Zealand and another woman who comments on our blog and a super excited guy from Texas and so many others. So much support, so much love. So, so grateful.
SAM: Being around so many Jesus-loving LGBTQ+ people for a few days was so beautiful, refreshing, and, quite frankly, needed. I’ve been connected to this “Side B,” gay Christian world for about five years now, so I’ve seen a lot. In a way, meeting other individuals in the same position as me has lost the exciting, special feeling it used to have; however, Revoice was different. Revoice felt special.
Church is a huge source of anxiety for me, and it was so nice to know I was in a room full of people who I could be honest with and not have them turn their back on me.
I just wanted to spend an entire day walking around telling everyone how thankful I was that they existed and were here. The entire place radiated love and joy that gave me confidence I didn’t know I needed.
How would you improve the conference next year? Would you attend Revoice again?
TOM: Twitter handles on our nametags. I joked about this with another attendee. But really. That would be all kinds of awesome.
I’d love to see them incorporate some kind of organized mixer early into the conference. Small groups, maybe 20-30 people, perhaps separated by geographic region, ministers, marrieds, writers, etc. A way for folks to find a stronger niche or foothold among 400+ people.
I was fortunate to attend Revoice among a sizable group of YOB guys. My introverted self couldn’t have attended this conference without them, and I often wondered about the loner in attendance.
SAM: I definitely agree with some sort of mixer. I’d love to get to know more people and help people coming solo have someone they can eat lunch with.
RYAN: Similarly, I’d enjoy being assigned a small group of about 8-10 other participants to meet with each day to get to know one another and hear what they thought about the general sessions and individual workshops. I think it would be a good way to start up some new friendships and get exposed to lots of new perspectives.
I’m very interested in attending Revoice next year. I think it will be a good way to stay in touch with the rest of the non-straight Christian community, and it’s also fun to reconnect with everyone.
TOM: I attended another conference years ago (not related to faith or sexuality) where we were assigned random small groups based on animal stickers on our name badges. It was a really fun way to break cliques and process the conference with fresh, likeminded folks.
JACOB: I’m probably the odd person out with this opinion, but I’m actually glad they didn’t put us into small groups. Events like this are already taxing from the introvert’s standpoint, and I really appreciated the freedom to choose who I spent time with in smaller group settings or be myself for a little while.
I think it would’ve been great if some, if not all, of the workshops weren’t doubled up so that you didn’t have to make such impossible choices deciding which ones to attend. And while I appreciated the amount of free time we were given in the afternoons, I wouldn’t have minded there being a smaller window so we could listen to more speakers.
TOM: Count me in as someone who loves more scheduling! Some of us traveled from so far away to be there. Why not keep us busy for two mere days?
MARSHALL: For me, the speakers’ use of LGBTQ+ terminology was so confusing. As I carefully listened, I understood they were putting Christian definitions on LGBTQ+ words. Nobody ever advocated for gay marriage or engaging in gay sex; unfortunately, their confusing use of words caused many critics to misunderstand and reject the speakers entirely. Speakers should clearly define all terms and not speak so much like a college professor but more at a level that a broader group can understand.
I don’t believe in identifying myself by my past sins and present temptations. I identify as a new creature in Jesus Christ, a son of God! But I went to Revoice to support my friends and get involved in helpful, loving discussions free of nastiness and name-calling. I’d consider attending again, but mostly to support and discuss with friends, not so much to hear the speakers’ confusing presentations.
TOM: I thought they did a decent job using “LGBTQ” and “SSA” interchangeably. They definitely tilted toward the former, but I sensed an intentional effort toward including other labels-of-choice, too. I thought the tagline on their website did a good job summing it all up: 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.
It’s just tough to spout out eighteen letters in one breath, so I also appreciate this new “sexual minorities” nomenclature. It fits.
SAM: Tom, LGBTQ+ has the same number of syllables as heterosexual, sweetie, so it’s not that hard.
Shade aside, I also enjoyed how they used LGBTQ+ and SSA interchangeably. I know this will offend some people, but I do not want them to shy away from using LGBTQ+ labels now or in the future.
I’m like a low-budget Jonathan from Queer Eye. I’m not passing as straight anywhere this side of the Mississippi River.
Being able to use LGBTQ+ language to describe my life and experiences has been EXTREMELY beneficial to me; hearing it come directly from the pulpit was very redemptive for me.
Feeling seen is so important, and I did feel seen during Revoice.
DEAN: Next year, I’d include more workshops and sessions led by people of color and women. I’d also want to see and hear more about gender identity. There was a little talk about gender identities, intersex individuals, and the transgender community — but not nearly enough. I was actually slightly disheartened by this. Even amongst the non-Christian LGBT community, there is a tendency to overlook the gender aspect of our identities.
I would love to see the Church step up in this area and be a safe haven for those who are intersex, wrestle with gender dysphoria, or question their gender identity. How great would it be if the Church became a safe haven for those who even the sexual world doesn’t always make a space for!
I plan to attend next year and take a group of people from my church with me. I honestly cannot wait!
RYAN: Yes, more discussion on gender identity and trans issues would be helpful next year, although I appreciate the organizers taking time to wade into those matters carefully. It’s not a topic we can afford to ignore, but it’s also a topic we can’t afford to rush on.
TOM: I hope you do indeed take folks from your church next year, Dean. I’d love to see more straight people attend these conferences in the future. What an awesome learning experience for them and unifying experience for all of us! I pray for more integration with our local churches and the collective Church.
SAM: Like the others, I’d love to see more diversity at the conference, but not just in the speakers. The conference was a low-key white guy sausage fest. I’d love to see some more of my LGBTQ+ sisters and more POC overall in attendance next year. We need to make sure that we’re all doing our part to make Revoice a safe space for other minorities.
Lastly, if they want to bring an actual ear-piercing station next year, I wouldn’t stop them. We’d all look fabulous.
TOM: Sam. I love you. I love all you guys. I love all of our supporters and readers and listeners we ran into at Revoice. I’d definitely keep Revoice open on my calendar next summer. I’m excited to see where this goes — whatever this is.
I thoroughly enjoyed Wesley Hill’s words on Revoice:
“‘Yes, we’re gay, and yes, we’re committed to historic Christian belief and practice,’ everyone seemed to be saying. ‘But that’s just the boring preamble. What we really want to talk about is where we go from here.'”
I’ve felt similar things about our YOB community for some time now. So, we’re attracted to dudes and also have these unshakeable convictions and found each other online. All right. Cool.
But let’s go somewhere. Let’s fix a broken system. Let’s set a new example. Let’s not expect the Church to fix us, but let’s add our vital voices and stories and functions to this Body. Let’s all go somewhere from here.
Wherever here leads, I’ll see you guys there.
Did you attend the Revoice conference? What were your favorite moments from Revoice? Did you steer away from Revoice for any reason?