“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” – Acts 17:11
It’s been some time since my last blog post, but in light of the recent adoption of an overture concerning sexuality and gender by the recent PCA (Presbyterian Church in America) general assembly, I wanted to share some thoughts. Specifically, the general assembly adopted overture 4, which called for the assembly to “declare the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood’s “Nashville Statement” on biblical sexuality as a biblically faithful declaration and refer the “Nashville Statement” to the Committee on Discipleship Ministries for inclusion and promotion among its denominational teaching materials”
In proclaiming the Nashville Statement, its authors purport to “[serve] Christ’s church and [witness] publicly to the good purposes of God for human sexuality revealed in Christian Scripture”. They then state 14 articles, each of which affirms a statement about an aspects of sexuality, marriage, and gender and denies a contrasting statement regarding the same. The Nashville Statement starts with orthodox scriptural teachings regarding marriage (namely union between man and woman that signifies the covenant love between Christ and the church), a call for chastity outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage, and God’s creation of the male and the female who are equal in dignity and worth. The Statement then makes various assertions about God’s purpose in creating two genders, role of biology in self-conception, implications for those with anomalous development of sexual organs, self-conception of homosexuals and transgenders, ability of homosexuals to live a rich life before God, power given by God to put to death sinful desires, and several other matters. The statement can be found at: https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/. This Statement has generated much controversy both within and outside the church. Many outside the church have decried this Statement as yet another example of purported bigotry and intolerance by those in the church. Within the church, many have approved it, while others have criticized the Statement as incomplete, false in parts, and/or divisive regardless of its veracity.
In this context, a gathering of gay Christians who purportedly adhere to orthodox scriptural teachings regarding sexuality has occurred for the past two summers. This conference, called Revoice, purports to “support and encourage gay, lesbian, bisexual, and other same-sex attracted Christians – as well as those who love them – so that all in the Church might be empowered to live in gospel unity while observing historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality”. This conference was held at a historic PCA church in St. Louis last year, and it garnered both much praise but perhaps even more criticism. The conference generated such controversy, in part, because it was held at a PCA church, a denomination that has steadfastly taught the orthodox teachings on sexuality, and because speakers included PCA officers and scholar (from Covenant Theological Seminary, a PCA seminary in St. Louis). The controversy caused the president of Covenant and then the seminary itself to publicly distance itself from Revoice. One critical aspect of the Nashville Statement that Revoice proponents objected to was Article 7, which states “WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” For Nashville Statement proponents, a Christian’s identity should not be based on sinful desires and actions, while for Revoice proponents, a Christian’s identity can include all aspects of one’s experience, including those that could lead to temptation and sin.
In this context, the General Assembly of the PCA recently adopted overture 4, which squarely favors the views of the Nashville Statement over the views of Revoice. There was a lengthy period of “debate” during which those for and against overture 4 made their cases. One notable speaker was Pastor Greg Johnson, who recently came out publicly as someone who identifies as gay, and he gave an impassioned speech about his experience of struggling with same sex attractions and shame and ultimately finding redemption in Christ. Nonetheless, the assembly agreed to adopt the Nashville Statement while setting up a committee to study homosexuality and transgenderism. Christian publications immediately reported this as a victory for Nashville Statement proponents while the Revoice camp has expressed much disappointment and anger.
There is much that can be said about the merits and flaws of both the Nashville Statement and Revoice. For the Nashville Statement, it bravely proclaims historic teachings about sexuality and gender in a hostile cultural environment, yet this Statement may also be infused with cultural biases that are not necessarily scriptural. For Revoice, it admirably seeks to create a space for a group of people that has been ostracized in the church, yet it may do this by blurring the lines between sin and righteousness and adopting cultural values and conceptions that conflict with scripture. I hope to address these and other thoughts about these two camps at a later time.
For now, I am mainly troubled that the General Assembly adopted overture 4 at this time. By squarely putting its weight behind one side of this debate, the PCA is unnecessarily alienating brothers and sisters in Christ who love the Lord and are seeking to find and follow His will. The Assembly’s adoption of the overture calling for a committee to study homosexuality and transgenderism shows that there is need for learning, humility, dialogue, and prayer about this topic within the PCA as well as the wider orthodox church. If overture 4 is to be adopted, it should only have been done after such a period of discernment. In adopting overture 4, the PCA has chosen to walk before it has appreciated the parts of its body needed for walking, as well as appreciating the counsel of the Head, namely Jesus. I pray that this premature decision will not trample on those most vulnerable in the church and that the body will be aligned to the Head as the PCA waits for the Lord to reveal more fully His life and truth in this matter.