Faced with more proposals addressing LGBT issues than any other topic, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) last night approved measures to affirm the Nashville Statement and launch its own study committee on sexuality.
The voting extended past midnight as pastors debated how their denomination could best clarify its positions, provide clergy helpful resources, and offer pastoral care for those raising questions around LGBT issues and same-sex attraction.
The decisions at this year’s PCA general assembly in Dallas follow months of controversy surrounding Presbyterian leaders’ involvement in Revoice, a conference featuring the voices of same-sex attracted Christians who affirm traditional beliefs around marriage and sexuality. The inaugural conference was hosted at a PCA church in St. Louis last July. Its second gathering was held earlier this month at another venue.
The Nashville Statement, a 14-point document released by the complementarian Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood in 2017, conflicts in part with Revoice’s approach, particularly article 7, which denies that “adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.” Some participants continue to self-identify as gay or same-sex attracted.
“Most of the Christians I know who describe themselves as ‘gay’ use the word in a similar way that Paul did when he called himself a sinner. They use the word not as a banner or as an identity, but as an honest recognition of their broken state as those affected by original sin,” wrote Christ Presbyterian pastor Scott Sauls, in a 4,700-word blog post urging his denomination against “unnecessary division.”
Many of the 10 PCA overtures addressing sexuality were collapsed into votes on declaring the Nashville Statement “biblically faithful” (passed 803-541) and establishing a study committee on sexuality.
A minority proposal that specifically critiqued Revoice was not approved, and some in attendance tried to rule its scope out of order, since the ministry is not officially affiliated with the PCA and the local presbytery had already investigated and approved the involvement of the host church and its pastor, Greg Johnson.
The representatives went back and forth over whether the Nashville Statement was an adequate or pastoral enough response.
Johnson recently wrote for CT about how “Jesus hasn’t made me straight. But he covers over my shame. Jesus really loves gay people” and favors granting Christians freedom to chose how they describe their struggle with homosexuality.
Some fear that endorsing language around gay identity for celibate Christians is tacit approval of sinful desires, or might even lead toward progressive positions that endorse homosexuality and same-sex marriage. At last night’s session, Johnson argued against backing the Nashville Statement, contrasting the requirement against gay self-conception with other instances where Christians regularly name brokenness or sinfulness, such as in cases of infertility, disability, or addiction.
Those in favor saw it as a helpful starting point that outlined commonly held beliefs, such as marriage between one man and one woman, disapproval of “homosexual immorality” and transgenderism, and God’s power to forgive and enable people to overcome sexual sin.
As one of its original signatories, Ligon Duncan, the chancellor and CEO of Reformed Theological Seminary, spoke in defense of the Nashville Statement, as did Kevin DeYoung, pastor and Gospel Coalition blogger.
“It is possible to speak in a way that is clear and theological and robust without denying that there are very personal stories and issues that we all want to deal with graciously and winsomely,” he said.
A pastor and committee member on the dissenting side, Jim Wert, had said, “We would like to produce our own statement rather than second someone else’s.”
Because the general assembly also approved the study committee, they will get to do both.
Afterward, North Carolina pastor Derek Radney called support for the Nashville Statement a “huge mistake” due to the potential fallout in ministry settings. “The PCA took a stand 2 appease unsettled church members rather than the vulnerable,” he tweeted.
The vice president of Revoice, lifelong PCA member Stephen Moss, spoke out against the statement as “alienating and isolating.” The conference’s founder, Nate Collins, told CT he was encouraged by the pastors who spoke against the Nashville Statement during debate, but disappointed their advice was not heeded by a majority of the assembly.
“We are hopeful that the study committee approved by General Assembly will produce a report that is both biblically faithful and pastorally helpful—adequate to the missiological task of the church in our culture today,” he said.
The Southern Baptist Convention, at its annual meeting two weeks ago, addressed similar aspects of the LGBT debate as it officially criticized the use of the “gay Christian” label and other forms of LGBT identity by believers.
The SBC resolution, approved by its 2019 messengers, recommends Christians “refrain from describing themselves or embracing a self-identity in ways that suggest affirmation of sinful desires or unbiblical social constructs” and “forsake any self-conception or personal identity that is contrary to God’s good and holy purposes in creation and redemption.”
While Revoice was not mentioned by name in the measure, the approved position “addresses the central matter of the controversy,” the resolutions committee stated.
“Sad to see this from #SBC19. It will drive some of the most faithful Christians I know deeper into hiding — or else away from the SBC altogether,” tweeted Wesley Hill, an Episcopalian, blogger for Spiritual Friendship, and speaker at Revoice.
Meanwhile, the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC), a denomination that was involved with the Revoice conference, faces a controversy of its own. At its annual meeting today, ECC is poised to vote on whether to remove a church found to be “out of harmony … regarding human sexuality and pastoral credentialing.”
First Covenant Church Minneapolis, led by pastor Dan Collison, includes a small but growing LGBT population, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, and the congregation no longer agrees with the ECC’s position against same-sex marriage. This case would be the first time a congregation has been voted out of the ECC, which numbers 770 member churches and 130,000 attendees.
Last year, a campus pastor at the ECC’s North Park University in Chicago lost her credentials and was put on sabbatical for officiating a same-sex wedding.
Ahead of the vote, Chris Gehrz described the denominational dynamics for Patheos. “For Covenanters on both sides of the debate, what’s at stake is the very identity of an increasingly diverse denomination that describes itself as ‘Evangelical, but not exclusive; Biblical, but not doctrinaire; Traditional, but not rigid; and Congregational, but not independent,’” he said.