Revisionism has been defined as the advocacy of revision of some political theory, religious doctrine, or historical or critical interpretation.
I recently attended a public talk on what the New Testament says about same-sex activity. Two points from Acts of Synod 1973 resonated with me: first, sexual orientation is unlikely to change, and second, the Christian Reformed Church has done (and continues to do) a lousy job of engaging with and meeting the needs of LGBT congregants. I’m troubled by the fruits of our current approach to these issues (depression, alienation, loneliness, suicide, rejection of or by the church).
The talk focused on contrasting traditional and revisionist arguments about the New Testament interpretations of passages that seem to address homosexuality. I reflected afterward that the comparison gave a negative connotation to the term revisionism when it comes to interpreting Scripture.
When I researched the term, I learned that historical revisionism sometimes brings to mind such faulty notions as denying the Holocaust. Yet some historians consider revision to be basic to historical scholarship, which continuously integrates new discoveries and interpretations of events. Consider, for example, events we might prefer to brush off, such as our past and current treatment of Indigenous peoples.
Similarly, with respect to Scripture, revisionism can be helpful or harmful. Recall some examples in Reformed thinking when revisionism was an important aspect of being Reformed. Without revisionism, wouldn't we still be stuck with traditional views of a flat earth and slavery? Or what would life today be like without John Calvin’s revised understanding of usury and interest in the economic context of his day?
Revision and reform are closely linked. We call ourselves the Reformed church as if it were past tense and complete. But we should be always reforming, allowing the Spirit to give us new vision and insight to re-vision what the Spirit says to us through Scripture.
Many people see the need for a closer look at the careful revisionist research into Scriptural, historical, and cultural context of arguments favoring reinterpreting the passages about same-sex relationships. Most, if not all, of these references relate to violent or exploitative relationships. Exploring these important details casts doubt on traditional conclusions when it comes to questions of same-sex activity.
I suggest we as a denomination take a closer look at the revisionist viewpoint. Listening to the stories of gay Christians who love Jesus but feel bruised and alienated by his church is also instructive. I’m ready to embrace the “revisionist” label in the positive sense.