Reckless Love: Notes on Revoice ’18

Reckless Love: Notes on Revoice ’18 August 1, 2018

# I asked a lot of people what had been the highlight of the conference for them, and everybody gave the same two answers. Most people mentioned the worship services first. I totally agree. I don’t cry, y’all–even the first ten minutes of Up just make me misty–but I was wiping away tears during the final worship service. To see all these people who had worshiped and praised our God for years, for decades, in churches where they didn’t know any other gay people who were trying to surrender their lives to God, and who now could worship surrounded by hundreds of people who understood what they’d been through–oh my gosh, you guys, it was amazing. So beautiful. I’ve never been in a crowd of that kind, and I’ve been doing this work for donkeys’ years. The spirit of joy, surrender, and praise was electric: the suffering (“Here in the death of Christ I live”) but also the trust in our Redeemer (“If You left the grave behind, so will I”).

The second answer everybody gave was “the people”: meeting other lgbt or same-sex attracted believers, who shared at least one specific and difficult portion of our sexual ethic. I always say that when I became Catholic I didn’t even know of any other gay people who’d sought to live in harmony with the Church’s teachings. So many people have never met anyone else like them. And I heard over and over a note of–almost, surprise?–in people’s voices as they talked about how much they loved meeting the people of Revoice. Me too, you guys, after the first night I was like a half-second from yodeling, “I love everybody in this baaaaaaaaaaaaaar!” But I want to attend to that surprise for a moment.

There were straight people at Revoice and that is great–parents of gay attendees, spouses in mixed-orientation marriages, pastors seeking to learn about our community and its needs. But the large majority of the attendees were not straight. I mentioned in my other Revoice post that gay people have often been conditioned to believe that we’re uniquely difficult to love–that we’re “challenging” Christians, if we’re even Christians at all. This is one reason I think it’s so important to get to know other gay people. As you begin to love and admire them, and see them as imago Dei, you start to trust that you yourself might be loved by God and made in His image. You begin to know that God loves in a way that isn’t abstract or dutiful; you learn that He can delight in His gay children, because you do. This is a gift Revoice gave to so many isolated or suffering people.

# You know, I have other things I could say, but I think those are really the most important! Kyle Keating writes, “[T]he conference desperately needs good-faith critics who can offer valuable pushback in places where it has gone too far affirming either [the] spirit of the age or a spirit of self-righteousness.” That’s totally right. He mentions the issues of language & identity and lol imo those are almost always a distraction in this conversation. But here are a few gestures at potential areas for criticism.

I actually think that for a conference centered on people who have often been really badly treated by fellow Christians, Revoice was remarkably un-selfrighteous! Forgiveness came up several times, including in both Nate Collins’s & Wesley Hill’s keynotes. I loved Wes’s statement that when we are freed from sin and shame by Christ the Liberator, we are also freed to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us. Gabriel reflected on grieving as a necessary part of pardoning, and that sounds right to me: If you minimize or make excuses for the harm done, that isn’t forgiveness. Forgiveness requires reckoning with what really happened. I think Revoice struck the right balance of naming and grieving the harms done to gay people in the churches, without falling into self-pity or dehumanizing those who harmed us. But I know at least one attendee thought that was a danger we didn’t always avoid.

As far as “the spirit of the age”–this is one reason I’m always banging on about Christian history! I just finished re-reading Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde’s memoir. Toward the end of the book Lorde is pretty candid about some major mistakes she made in relationships: things she tried which we, here in 2018, can look at and say, “How did you ever think that would end well?” But how could a black lesbian in 1956, unsheltered, unguided, learn to structure her life? I am constantly talking about the past because I don’t want us to try to build a Christian life from whatever ingredients we happen to have in the pantry.

But the reality is that we are trying something, if not completely new, then in a new context and facing new challenges. And we will make a lot of mistakes in doing that. I was struck by how often people discussed (often very insightfully!) ways of life they had been living for less than ten years. People who could have been our mentors are mostly very closeted, very heretical (often because very wounded by Christians), or very dead. And so we have these like thirtysomethings doing their best to guide and mentor people. Those who have been serving longer, like Tim Otto, have so much to teach us, but I know some of our witness is callow because the “elders” in our movement often don’t remember so far back as the disco era. This means that lots of younger people project their hopes and longings onto us–tell me there’s an okay future for me!–and we can be tempted to overpromise, and to put up a facade that we’re doing better than we really are.

I suspect only time, and deeper community bonds which will allow us to see one another’s lives up close, will really address this problem. And community is what Revoice is giving us.

# On a final note, I was both grateful and, frankly, startled by how kind Greg Johnson and Memorial PCA Church were to us. All these straight Christians who could’ve been doing anything at all with their time went out of their way, again and again, to welcome us, show us every kind of hospitality, and interpret us charitably even though they were the ones who’d have to take the flak for any of our mistakes. I honestly felt treated so gently by these people. What a blessing.

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