Denny Burk

Andy Stanley’s Version of Christianity

Stanley brushes aside what the Bible says about homosexuality as “clobber” verses, as if those texts somehow harm gay sinners. He even suggests that a change of theology is in order if churches can’t welcome gay people into their midst.

I just finished listening to Pastor Andy Stanley’s Sunday morning sermon to North Point Community Church. I have to say that it is one of the most subversively anti-Christian messages that I have ever heard. Stanley says at the outset that he is preaching the message as a response to Albert Mohler’s column in World magazine titled, “The Train Is Leaving the Station.” In that article, Mohler criticizes a North Point-hosted conference that features gay-affirming speakers.
Stanley never explicitly names Mohler in his message, but he does say at the outset that he does not hold to the same version of Christianity that Mohler holds to. The rest of Stanley’s message certainly bears that out. Indeed, the entire message is an apologia of sorts for North Point’s decision to host gay-affirming speakers and for North Point’s teaching on sexuality. Stanley writes,
“[Mohler] is actually accusing me of departing from his version of biblical Christianity. So I want to go on record and say, I have never subscribed to his version of biblical Christianity to begin with, so I’m not leaving anything. And if he were here he would say, ‘Well, Andy, I’ve never subscribed to your version of biblical Christianity.’ And that’s okay. We can agree to disagree, but this is so extraordinarily misleading. In my opinion, just my opinion, his version of biblical Christianity is the problem. His version, this version of biblical Christianity is why people are leaving Christianity unnecessarily. It’s the version that causes people to resist the Christian faith because they can’t find Jesus in the midst of all the other stuff and all the other theology and all the other complexity that gets blobbed on to the message.
Bottom line, that version of Christianity draws lines. And Jesus drew circles. He drew circles so large and included so many people in his circle that it consistently made religious leaders nervous.”
Stanley frames the message as if this imbroglio is merely a misunderstanding and that critics like Mohler just don’t get it. Stanley says that North Point didn’t host a bible or theology conference. Rather, it was a “pastoral” conference designed to restore the relationships of parents to their gay children. He further contends that North Point has not changed its teaching on sexuality. He says that North Point continues to teach that biblical marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and that sex outside of marriage is not God’s best. Sounds pretty Christian, right?
Well, not really. Actually, not at all. Stanley immediately follows that affirmation by saying that some gay Christians find this teaching too hard to follow. He says gay people at North Point know what the Bible says about marriage, but they choose to enter gay marriages anyway because they don’t want to spend their lives alone. They don’t want to live without love and a family, so they marry a same-sex partner and then just add that to following Jesus. Stanley says that North Point doesn’t draw “lines” to keep those people out of the church. Rather, they draw “circles” of inclusion so that they can remain at North Point as gay “married” couples. In Stanley’s words,
“[Gay Christians] choose a same sex marriage, not because they’re convinced it’s biblical. They read the same Bible we do. They chose to marry for the same reason many of us do, love, companionship and family.
And in the end, as was the case for all of us, and this is the important thing I want you to hear me say, it’s their decision. Our decision is to decide how we respond to their decision. Our decision as a group of local churches is how are we going to respond to their decisions? And we decided 28 years ago. We draw circles, we don’t draw lines. We draw big circles. If someone desires to follow Jesus, regardless of their starting point, regardless of their past, regardless of their current circumstances, our message is come and see and come sit with me. And this is not new. This is who we are. It’s who we’ve always been. And this is why I love our church and this is why I’m so extraordinarily proud of you. We aren’t condoning sin, we are restoring relationships, and we are literally saving lives.”
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Texas Baptists Offer Lessons to Southern Baptists on Female Pastors

The proponents for female pastors by and large do not ground their arguments in scripture, but the conservatives do. This is no small point. Two of the messengers speaking against the motion took their stand on scripture. They quoted specific verses about pastoral qualifications and encouraged messengers not to question God’s word. Given the context, these two men showed great boldness and conviction. What a contrast to messengers who argued for female pastors and who made broad appeals to justice and equality. They talked about how women will be traumatized and damaged if they aren’t allowed to serve as pastors. But there was very little appeal to scripture.

Here is an interesting development in the debate over female pastors among Baptists. At last week’s annual meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT), messengers considered a motion that calls the BGCT to…
Affirm women in all ministry and pastoral roles, and that the BGCT Executive Board be instructed to have staff create programs, resources and advocacy initiatives to assist churches in affirming appointing and employing women in ministerial and pastoral roles.
This motion is no surprise in the context of the BGCT. While the BGCT still has theologically conservative churches in its ranks, it also has a good number of progressive churches as well. It is the progressive wing of Texas Baptists that has historically opposed the SBC’s position on pastoral qualifications and that has kept the BGCT open and welcoming to churches with female pastors.
Nevertheless, the motion did not pass as submitted. After some debate, messengers approved an amended motion that removes the affirmation of women serving as “pastors.” The amended motion reads as follows:
Request the BGCT Executive Board to resource BGCT staff to continue developing more strategies, resources, and advocacy initiatives to assist churches in affirming, appointing, and employing women in ministry and leadership roles.
So what happened here? Why was a female-pastor-welcoming convention unable to pass a formal affirmation of women serving as pastors? I was able to listen to a recording of the entire debate, which lasted just over 30 minutes. You can listen to the entire debate here: Texas Baptists Debate Motion about Female Pastors: [Download Audio Here]
The bottom line is that some of the progressive messengers wished for the BGCT to go on the record affirming women serving as pastors. Conservative messengers spoke against this and argued that such a view is directly at odds with Scripture. Other messengers struck a moderate tone and argued that the BGCT shouldn’t make this a point of division and should accept both views among their cooperating churches. One of the “moderates” even suggested that the BGCT will eventually get to full affirmation, but it is too soon to do that now. Give it some time, and Texas Baptists will get there. But not right now. Progressives strongly opposed the watered-down amendment. They wanted the formal affirmation of female pastors. But in the end they lost, and the moderates carried the day.
The debate is illuminating in more ways than one. And I think there may be some lessons in it for the Southern Baptist Convention as we continue our own debate concerning female pastors.
1. The doctrinal dividing line concerns the office of pastor, and the progressives understand this. They made this very clear during the debate. Another progressive made it clear after the vote in an editorial for the Baptist Standard:
Texas Baptists’ denial of unilaterally affirming women as pastors reveals something deeply troubling about their lack of precise language… A woman’s calling by God will not change if we, Texas Baptists, choose to call her something else. However, our inability to call a woman what she is demonstrates our disregard for precise language… Why is this inaccuracy allowed to continue within Texas Baptist life?
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The “Narrative” vs. the Reality of SBC ‘23

Critics in the media are trying to weave a narrative that Southern Baptists chose their complementarian theology over abuse reform and women in ministry. That narrative is a lie. It’s also theologically and practically a false choice. We don’t have to pick between our complementarian theology and abuse reform/women in ministry. We can do it all at once, and we did.

It’s been nearly a week since the SBC annual meeting finished up in New Orleans. I have been fascinated to read all of the “reports” and commentary that have come out over the last seven days. One thing that has become very clear. Even some of the “straight news” reporting has been beholden to a narrative that distorts what actually happened.
According to the narrative, abuse reforms “slowed down” while Southern Baptists reasserted the “patriarchy” by excluding female pastors. The New York Times published a “report” that amounts to little more than thinly veiled contempt. The article frets about an “ultraconservative” take-over and reduces the SBC’s relevance to being “a key Republican voting bloc ahead of the 2024 presidential election.”
TIME magazine warns of “The Southern Baptist Convention’s Long War for the Patriarchy.” Beth Allison Barr wrote for that the SBC is “ignoring” the abused in order to “increase the power of men.” Barr even alleges that our complementarian theology amounts to “beliefs that rationalize and enable abuse against women.”
This is no surprise. The SBC is a complementarian convention. It’s written into our governing documents. The world hates this teaching and will try to paint the teaching in the worst possible light. Egalitarians and feminists have been levelling the abuse-slander against complementarians for decades. It is the worst sort of ad hominem, and egalitarians have found it a useful tactic when they are otherwise losing the biblical argument.
And make no mistake about last week. Proponents of female pastors were losing the argument. The SBC voted overwhelmingly to exclude two churches with female pastors. The convention also amended its doctrinal statement to clarify that the terms pastor, elder, and overseer are merely three ways of referring to the same office. Also, the convention voted to approve an amendment to the SBC Constitution which defines a cooperating church as one that “affirms, appoints, or employs only men as any kind of pastor or elder as qualified by Scripture.” None of these votes were close. They were all 80-90% supermajorities.
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Rick Warren Knows Exactly What He Is Doing

Rick Warren and Saddleback have done us the service of showing their hand. They want to persuade us to abandon what the Bible teaches and follow them in another direction. How will we respond in New Orleans?

The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) announced earlier this year that Saddleback church had been removed from the SBC over Saddleback’s calling female pastors. Just yesterday, the news broke that Saddleback has appealed that decision, which means that the matter will come before the messengers to the annual meeting in June in New Orleans. Rick Warren cites five reasons for Saddleback’s appeal.
First, Warren claims that “we’re challenging the ruling on behalf of millions of SBC women” who are forced to sit on the bench and cannot participate in the Great Commission. This is a false claim. Southern Baptists believe that God calls and gifts women for ministry. It’s written in our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M), and it’s the longstanding practice of our churches—including my own! We need and rely upon the ministries of women in our churches, and all of us—both men and women—are called to carry out the Great Commission. Our beliefs about the office of pastor don’t diminish God’s call on women’s lives one iota, and it’s a distortion to claim that it does. (See this really helpful thread from Jonathan Akin.)
Second, Warren claims that they are challenging the ruling not for their own church but for the “over 300 concerned pastors who have female pastors serving on their staff.” Warren is clear that he wishes to make the SBC a place where women can serve in the pastoral office. He knows that practice contradicts the BF&M, but he wants to lead the entire convention to abandon the BF&M on this point. Nevermind the fact that Southern Baptists have long settled this issue. Warren and Saddleback are going to bring this controversy again. I can hardly imagine a more divisive action on their part.
Third, Warren claims that the BF&M’s teaching about qualified male pastors has caused our missionary force to decline over the last 20 years. This one is a howler. Southern Baptists have never embraced females serving as pastors. Even before the controversy that led to the conservative resurgence in the 20th century, you would have been hard-pressed to find a female pastor anywhere in the convention. It was always a marginal position at best. Even the so-called moderate SBC churches by and large had male pastors. Even though the all-male pastorate wasn’t written into the BF&M until 2000, Southern Baptist practice on this matter has been really consistent. That has never changed. Trying to tie this issue to the number of missionaries currently serving is tendentious and absurd.
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So Calling God “Mother” Is No Big Deal After All?

The main complaint seems to be that it is wrong to publish a critical review of a book written by a colleague in ministry. While that is no doubt an important question, it is a bit of a distraction from the substance of the review. Peeler’s book contains significant Trinitarian and Christological problems that are in tension with both Nicea and Chalcedon.

This week has seen the appearance of two new reviews of Amy Peeler’s controversial book Women and the Gender of God. Both reviews are written by theology professors from Moody Bible Institute—the first by Marcus Johnson in Themelios and the second by John Clark in Touchstone. I reviewed Peeler’s book myself last January, so I read both of these new reviews with a keen interest to see if they saw what I did—that Peeler’s book contains some significant Trinitarian and Christological problems. It turns out that both of them did.
That is why I was surprised to see a bit of a meltdown online concerning Johnson’s review in Themelios. No review is above critique, including Johnson’s. Nevertheless, I’m left wondering why critics haven’t engaged more robustly with the theological substance of the review.
Esau McCauley claims that Themelios never should have published such a “harsh and biting” review because of an alleged conflict of interest. Beth Felkner Jones complains that the review is “unkind” and that Themelios failed to disclose that Johnson is on the same church staff with Peeler. Tom McCall lambastes the journal for rejecting (on theological grounds) a piece he previously wrote for them. McCall says he would “never pretend that Themelios is a reputable scholarly publication.” Beth Allison Barr pours a healthy portion of contempt upon the publisher as well.
The main complaint seems to be that it is wrong to publish a critical review of a book written by a colleague in ministry. While that is no doubt an important question, it is a bit of a distraction from the substance of the review. Peeler’s book contains significant Trinitarian and Christological problems that are in tension with both Nicea and Chalcedon. These problems have to be faced head-on and can’t be dismissed simply by denying the legitimacy of the reviewers. The problems with Peeler’s book remain no matter how much critics want to ignore reviewers with the temerity to point them out.
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An Open Letter Supporting Women as Pastors

I encourage you to read the letter for yourself. You will find that there is nothing new there. The doctrine expressed in it is boilerplate egalitarianism—a teaching Southern Baptists have time and again repudiated. What is new is that so many outside personalities are now taking such an interest in manipulating the SBC into abandoning its biblical beliefs about pastoral ministry. Scot McKnight, Beth Allison Barr, and over a thousand others have already added their signatures.

Earlier today, I saw that Scot McKnight posted an invitation to sign a statement affirming women as pastors in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The group hosting the letter is called Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM). Although I’m not aware of this group having any meaningful ties to the SBC any longer, this group has a history that was forged during the crucible of the SBC’s conservative resurgence. One early member of the group was Molly Marshall, former professor at Southern Seminary a well-known advocate for female pastors, and an advocate for “theological hospitality” toward those who affirm homosexuality.
BWIM tweeted about the letter before its release and gave a bit of a rationale for it:
BWIM is supporting and advocating for women on the SBC pastors list & is encouraging Baptist women to know that there is a bigger and more inclusive gospel than the one that promotes patriarchy as God’s design. Stay tuned for more details.*
The letter and signatures are designed to support the women and churches who dissent from what Southern Baptists believe. The SBC’s doctrinal statement says that the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by scripture, and this group doesn’t agree. Signers of the letter mean to express their disapproval and to show solidarity with those who have opposed the SBC’s beliefs on this matter.
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Taking a Dog by the Ears

Egalitarians and progressives have learned a lesson. They have learned that they can manipulate TGC with unfounded mob accusations of misogyny and harm. This is not good for [Joshua] Butler. It’s not good for TGC. And it’s certainly not good for the truth.

Last week people kept asking me if I was going to weigh-in on the drama du jour generated by a salacious post at The Gospel Coalition website. My response was that there was no way I would be taking this dog by the ears (Prov. 26:17). As far as I could tell, this was “strife” not belonging to me, and there was no sense in making it mine for no good reason. Nevertheless, over the weekend it became clear that the conversation had taken a turn in a way that implicates not just me but all complementarians. So here I am now.
The controversy concerns an essay that Joshua Butler wrote for TGC’s Keller Center last week. The essay is an excerpt from Butler’s forthcoming book Beautiful Union (Multnomah, 2023). Butler’s overall point is that the marriage relationship is an icon of the gospel. In other words, God has ordered the covenant of marriage such that the husband’s relationship to his wife images Christ’s relationship to the church. That much is boilerplate Christian typology that anyone who has ever read Ephesians 5 is well aware of:
Ephesians 5:23-32, “23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless… 31 For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.”
This typology is not a New Testament innovation but is the extension of similar typologies from the Old Testament in which God is portrayed as the husband to his people Israel (e.g., Isa. 54:5-7; Jer. 31:32; Hos. 2:19; Ezek. 16:8-14).
Had Butler’s article stopped there, it probably wouldn’t have spawned such a backlash. But it didn’t stop there. The article goes on to press the analogy in explicit, sexual terms. I’ll refrain from describing those terms here because I do believe that they are unseemly. Suffice it to say that it sexualizes Christ’s relationship to the church in a way that Scripture seems to carefully avoid. It presses biblical metaphors and types beyond anything reasonably warranted by the Bible’s own language. For me anyway, it made my skin crawl to see Christ depicted in this way. And just about everyone of nearly every theological persuasion seems to be in agreement on that much.
After a sonorous outcry, TGC pulled the article and replaced it with a link to the first two chapters of Butler’s book in hopes that greater context would lessen the offense. It didn’t work. I read the two chapters, and if anything they made matters worse. The outcry from critics then reached a fever pitch and pivoted from constructive to destructive. Many progressives and egalitarians in particular accused Butler and TGC of mainstreaming misogyny and abuse. They called not merely for a correction but for a cancellation. They wanted Butler’s head on a platter, and they got it.
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An Ecclesiastical Shot Heard Round the World

A masterpiece of courage, clarity, and conviction. Conservative Anglican churches in Africa represent nearly half of the world’s estimated 100 million Anglicans (source). Who knew when Europeans brought Anglicanism to Africa that God would one day raise up those Africans to save the church from the heterodox Europeans?

No doubt many of you have already read about the Church of England’s recent decision to bless same-sex marriages. The orthodox leaders of the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches (GSFA) have responded with a declaration that is nothing less than an ecclesiastical shot heard round the world. These leaders are largely from Africa, although other regions are also represented. They have set forth a series of resolutions that effectively declare their independence from the heterodox Church of England.
Rather than explain it, I will let you read the powerful declaration in their own words:
As the Church of England has departed from the historic faith passed down from the Apostles by this innovation in the liturgies of the Church and her pastoral practice (contravening her own Canon A5), she has disqualified herself from leading the Communion as the historic “Mother” Church. Indeed, the Church of England has chosen to break communion with those provinces who remain faithful to the historic biblical faith expressed in the Anglican formularies (the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Book of Homilies) and applied to the matter of marriage and sexuality in Lambeth Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference…
As much as the GSFA Primates also want to keep the unity of the visible Church and the fabric of the Anglican Communion, our calling to be ‘a holy remnant’ does not allow us be “in communion” with those provinces that have departed from the historic faith and taken the path of false teaching. This breaks our hearts and we pray for the revisionist provinces to return to ‘the faith once delivered’ (Jude 3) and to us…
The GSFA is no longer able to recognise the present Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Hon & Most Revd Justin Welby, as the “first among equals” Leader of the global Communion.
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Answering Objections to Saddleback’s Removal from the SBC

To be in friendly cooperation, a church must have a faith and practice that is in step with the BF&M [The Baptist Faith & Message]. Contradicting what the BF&M says about female pastors is by definition not “closely identifying” with the BF&M. Indeed, it’s a direct contradiction of the BF&M.

I have seen a variety of responses to the news yesterday that the SBC has found Saddleback Church to be out of step with “the Convention’s adopted statement of faith” and now no longer recognizes them as a “cooperating” church (Art. 3, SBC Constitution). As many of you know, the presenting issue is Saddleback’s recognition of a variety of female pastors, including one of their new lead teaching pastors. Having female pastors contradicts our statement of faith, The Baptist Faith & Message (BF&M), which says, “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.”
As you can imagine, many of the public responses have been negative. On social media, some of the commentary has been incendiary and dismissive and therefore not worthy of serious engagement. Other critics simply do not like what Southern Baptists believe. Still, there are two objections that I thought it might be worth the effort to answer.
The first objection appears in a social media thread that Rick Warren himself “liked” on Twitter. The author shares a series of quotations from around the time that the BF&M was adopted in 2000 and observes how many SBC leaders at the time said that the BF&M would never be used to “coerce” Baptist churches. He quotes from one 2000 Baptist Press article which has compelling comments from both Albert Mohler and Adrian Rogers:
“We don’t have the right, the authority or the power to limit anybody,” Rogers noted. “We would resist that. What we are stating is what we believe mainstream Baptists believe…It is not a creed. It is a statement of what most of us believe.”
Other media questions focused on the new BFM’s stance against women serving as senior pastors.
“We would never presume to tell another church whom they may call as a pastor or tell another person whether or not they may serve as pastor,” Mohler said. “We’re not trying to force our beliefs on someone else.”
The author highlights these remarks and others like them to show that the BF&M was never meant to be “binding on individual SBC congregations” (source). He concludes from this that the BF&M was never intended to be a “parameter for cooperation” (source). Both of these observations are wrong and represent a serious misunderstanding of our polity.
Right now in 2023, I heartily affirm what both Adrian Rogers and Albert Mohler said 23 years ago. The SBC does not have the right or authority to tell any church whom they may call as pastor. The SBC has zero authority to tell a church what they can or cannot do or what they must or must not believe. How a church governs itself or chooses its pastors is not what this dispute is about.
This discussion is about whether the SBC has a right to recognize which churches are in friendly cooperation with the convention. Our polity says that the SBC does have that right. Furthermore, the SBC Constitution defines some parameters for determining which churches are in friendly cooperation. The Constitution says it this way:
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Report Says Revoice Embraces Radical Gender Ideology

According to WORLD, this year’s conference encouraged attendees to leave churches that do not affirm their orientation/gender identity and to form LGBTQ “affinity” groups in their local setting. Revoice doesn’t aim merely at being a conference. Its organizers aim at being a movement that spreads in churches throughout the country. And if your church doesn’t agree with Revoice teachings about affirming LGBTQ+ identities, then people should leave your church and find one that does.

When organizers announced the program for the first Revoice conference in 2018, the controversy surrounding the meeting was sharp and protracted. It was a conference appealing to so-called Side-B “gay Christians,” and it was founded in part as a repudiation of the Nashville Statement. Indeed, founder Nate Collins told Religion News Service in 2018 that he viewed the Nashville Statement as “pastorally insensitive” and as a form of “spiritual abuse.”
If the organizers of Revoice were trying to repudiate the Nashville Statement, they did a good job of it from the very beginning. The part of the Nashville Statement that seemed to offend so many of them was Article 7, which says, “WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” Article 7 was trying to communicate that followers of Christ must not construct an identity for themselves that contradicts God’s design in creation. And yet, forging and expressing LGBTQ+ identities seems to be a central focus of Revoice.
A lot has changed in America and even among evangelicals since that first Revoice conference. Since 2018, Bible-believing Christians have been put on notice about the dangers of Critical Theory and its offshoots in queer theory and third wave feminism. In 2020, Carl Trueman published a watershed book explaining how people in the West have come to think of maleness and femaleness as social constructs—malleable concepts that individuals can shape and adjust by an act of the will. We have all been witnessing radical gender theory trickle down from the ivory tower to main street as countless public schools and HR departments are force-feeding this ideology to their charges. There has been as much as a 4,000% increase in adolescent girls identifying as transgender—many of them still minor children and undergoing destructive “medical” interventions, including double mastectomies and puberty suppression.
In this context, one would think that Revoice might retreat from radical gender ideology and its denial of the male-female binary. And yet, WORLD magazine reports that the most recent Revoice conference—held a couple weeks ago in Plano, TX—has launched headlong into this error. The report says that Revoice has changed, but not for the better:
Revoice has changed, too. Speakers have always emphasized homosexuality as an identity, not just a behavior. But this year, such assertions from the dais seemed more insistent, with speakers assiduously using civil-rights language to present radical change as settled truth. That identity rhetoric extended to transgender ideology. Speakers frequently referred to “sexual and gender minorities” and used preferred pronouns, along with terms such as women “assigned female at birth.” The group’s reach and influence are growing, but leaders now emphasize parachurch activities. Speakers frequently referenced ongoing rejection within the church and encouraged attendees to form their own spiritual communities in local Revoice chapters.
This doesn’t sound like a retreat from radical gender theory, but a doubling-down on it. The report goes on:
On the conference’s first night, attendees formed lines at registration tables.
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