How The Side B Project Failed
At this point in time, one may legitimately ask just how sharp the dividing line remains between “Side A” and “Side B,” when it seems almost no expression of gay identity is out of bounds for Side B Christians. This question was openly raised in a Religion News report last year, in which Collins suggested some in the Side B camp might feel they have more “shared ground” with “Side A people who are Christians” than with more conservative same-sex attracted Christians, some of whom might have roots in the old “ex-gay” movement.
In 2018, Wesley Hill published a report in First Things on a movement that claimed to be breaking new ground in the Christian discourse around faith and sexuality. It was the inaugural year of the Revoice conference, which billed itself as an ecumenical orthodox space for same-sex attracted Christians who wanted to honor a traditional sexual ethic, yet believed the Church’s approach to the issue needed to be rethought—“revoiced.” Such Christians needed more than a “vocation of no,” Hill argued. They needed a way to integrate their sexuality into their Christianity. They needed a “vocation of yes.”
Carl R. Trueman was an early critic of the Revoice project, although he was sympathetic in theory. Despite some concerns, he hoped the movement would self-correct and mature in response to good-faith criticism. But following a World magazine report on the conference’s 2022 convention, Trueman offered a less than favorable updated assessment: So far from self-correcting, the movement had ignored its critics and taken on board all the trappings of sexual identitarianism, from “preferred pronouns” to queer theory to the splintering of attendees into “affinity groups” based on their particular orientation. Cautiously hopeful as he’d once been, Trueman could no longer see anything to salvage. Besides all this, the conference’s inaugural host church, Memorial Presbyterian, recently voted to leave the PCA amid swirling controversy around its LGBT community outreach and its openly gay lead pastor, Greg Johnson.
The speed of this decline naturally prompts a question: Was there ever anything to salvage? In its current incarnation, are we witnessing a radical moral turn? Or are we witnessing the inevitable end of an inherently flawed project?
Before the first Revoice conference, Wesley Hill and Ron Belgau co-founded the group blog Spiritual Friendship in 2012, where they developed their new philosophy together with an ecumenical group of contributors. Catholic writer Eve Tushnet also contributed thoughts at her Patheos blog. As a shorthand for groups with divergent views on the topic, they used the metaphor of a record’s “A” and “B” sides. “Side A Christians” believed God would bless their gay relationships, while “Side B Christians” pursued chastity, some through heterosexual marriage, but most through celibacy.
Yet, even in celibacy, they proposed that they could still accept and sublimate their sexuality as a kind of gift. Perhaps they could even recover a covenantal model of “spiritual friendship” that would offer a chaste relational substitute for marital permanence, even if both parties were same-sex attracted. Tushnet, who first coined the phrase “a vocation of yes,” has recently written about her own exclusive commitment to another woman, the sort of commitment she has argued can strengthen a gay person’s walk with God. They openly identify as “a lesbian couple.”
In developing this philosophy, various Side B writers have rejected the idea that homosexual temptation is uniquely disordered. In his 2017 book All But Invisible, Revoice founder Nate Collins argued that the word “disordered” should apply equally to any sexual attraction outside monogamous male-female marriage. That same year, future Revoice collaborator Gregory Coles published his memoir Single, Gay, Christian, in which he speculated that his homosexual proclivity was not even a result of the Fall. Meanwhile, Hill, Belgau, and Tushnet all consistently normalized certain manifestations of same-sex desire, blurring the lines between proto-romance and “spiritual friendship.”
This normalization has been succinctly crystallized by Revoice charter speaker Grant Hartley, who has asserted explicitly that not all same-sex romance is “off limits” in a Side B framework, only same-sex sex. He goes on to elaborate that some “Side B folks” might “pursue relationships with the same sex which might be called ‘romantic’—the category of ‘romance’ is vague.” Hartley first provoked controversy with his inaugural Revoice talk, endorsed by Hill, which proposed that Christians could mine gay culture for “queer treasure.” For example, he analogizes “coming out of the closet” to death and resurrection. Even in spaces like a gay club, he feels a sense of “homecoming.”