Despite the postponement of the 48th General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) to next summer, the PCA’s Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality released its report in May, citing the fact that they were “commissioned to engage in this study due to pressing needs in our church and society.”1
This committee’s report is the PCA’s response to the 2018 Revoice Conference.
For those not familiar with Revoice, it is not only the name of a conference but also an active organization, whose mission is “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 the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”2
Revoice came to the attention of the PCA’s GA in connection with Greg Johnson, his session, and presbytery; Johnson is a minister in the PCA who is involved in Revoice, and identifies himself as a “gay Christian.” Those desiring more information and insight into this matter may refer to Rev. Clay Spronk’s article concerning the controversy in this rubric last year.3 Now that the committee’s report has been released, it is worth revisiting the matter.
The “pressing needs”
The PCA’s committee released the report citing “pressing needs in our church and society.” Essentially two needs were kept in view, an apologetic need and a pastoral need.
The committee was given an apologetic mandate, namely, to “suggest ways to articulate and defend a biblical understanding of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism in the context of a culture that denies that understanding.”4 This is certainly a worthy endeavor.
The culture of the day regards the biblical view of marriage and human sexuality to be restrictive and oppressive bigotry, and the world does not hesitate to vilify Christians who defend biblical views as unloving and intolerant. In the face of such a culture, the Christian’s calling is not only to stand firm in the faith that he has received, but also to be ready to give an answer (apology or defense, I Pet. 3:15). Help is always welcome for Christians facing these attacks, and the report provides a solid, biblical defense.
The other “pressing need” the PCA sought to address is the pastoral need. Recognizing the wholehearted inclination of man toward all kinds of sin, the pressing pastoral need is that Christians might be equipped to bring biblical counsel to those inclined to the particular sins of same-sex attraction in its many forms. Revoice, however, is an unbiblical attempt to minister to those struggling with same-sex attraction because the “support and encouragement” that the gospel might afford to such individuals must not include an affirmation of an LGBT identity, such as “gay Christian” or “bisexual Christian.” Rather, it must include a call to reject that identity, reckoning ourselves “dead indeed unto sin, and alive unto God through Jesus Chris our Lord” (Rom. 6:11). Revoice does not reject, but affirms and supports a Christian’s identification with these sinful desires.
The PCA recognized this error of Revoice (at least indirectly), and the committee’s report is an attempt to set forth a biblical and confessional approach for ministering to those who struggle with same-sex attraction. Also for the pastoral need, the committee gives good help.
The need for apologetic and pastoral help in the realm of human sexuality is undeniable; but the most pressing need has not been addressed to this point. I must echo the concern of Rev. Spronk that the PCA’s most pressing need is the need to exercise Christian discipline with those who maintain unbiblical doctrines and practices.5
It is disappointing, but not surprising, that the committee’s report includes no recommendations for how the PCA might address the concrete case of Revoice and the officebearers involved in that organization. It remains to be seen whether the 48th GA might receive this report and apply it concretely. Significantly, there are overtures that await the next GA calling for that kind of action.
From a certain point of view, the committee should not be faulted for the absence of any recommendations, since the committee was not mandated to bring any. No doubt there is wisdom in staying within the bounds of the mandate. To the committee’s credit, the report gives evidence that they took their mandate seriously and carried it out thoroughly and thoughtfully.
In the report, however, the committee gives a different, somewhat surprising explanation for the lack of recommendations:
Knowing that some have anticipated that our report will divide and polarize our church with recommendations that will try to press certain perspectives on others, we have made no recommendations. The PCA asked the members of this Committee to study these issues, and to express our understanding, and we have…. Still, we believe that our best service to the church will not be given by trying to leverage actions with recommendations, but asking that our church’s leaders experience what we have on this Committee by listening with respect to what the Lord may intend to teach from those who have sought to honor his Word and each other in this Report.6
In light of the mandate, the committee’s approach is understandable. The committee’s desire, that the truth speak for itself, is honorable. But is it practical? Will a report alone remedy or avoid this anticipated division and polarization? And, provided that the “certain perspectives” in the report are biblical and confessional perspectives, why is there any hesitancy to try to “press” them upon the denomination through recommendations to the GA? Overall, the report is solidly grounded in Scripture and the confessions, which makes it even more disappointing that such a perspective likely will not be pressed upon the PCA as a whole.
A valuable resource
There is reason to be encouraged by the content of this committee’s report on human sexuality.
The report as a whole is quite lengthy (60 pages), but the sum and substance of it is contained in the first 13 pages, which consists of a preamble and twelve clear and concise statements. The “Twelve Statements” state the committee’s conclusions and are aimed at an audience of lay members, while the rest of the report gives a more comprehensive explanation. The full report also includes an instructive and detailed essay that sets forth the biblical perspective of human sexuality over against the sexual ethic of the world, as well as an annotated bibliography of resources for further study on topics related to human sexuality and samesex attraction.
The form of the Twelve Statements is deliberately pastoral: “Each statement is dual, an associating of one truth with a concomitant truth or teaching…. The paired truths help the pastor to avoid the opposite errors of either speaking the truth without love, or trying to love someone without speaking the truth.”7 The topics range from broad concepts applied to the issue of same-sex attraction (such as marriage, the image of God, and original sin) to more specific topics (such as identity, that is, “gay Christians” and language, that is, “gay”).
Consider Statement #4, for example, on the subject of desire:
We affirm not only that our inclination toward sin is a result of the Fall, but that our fallen desires are in themselves sinful (Rom 6:11-12; I Pet. 1:14; 2:11). The desire for an illicit end—whether in sexual desire for a person of the same sex or in sexual desire disconnected from the context of biblical marriage—is itself an illicit desire. Therefore, the experience of same-sex attraction is not morally neutral; the attraction is an expression of original or indwelling sin that must be repented of and put to death (Rom. 8:13).
Nevertheless, we must celebrate that, despite the continuing presence of sinful desires (and even, at times, egregious sinful behavior), repentant, justified, and adopted believers are free from condemnation through the imputed righteousness of Christ (Rom. 8:1; 2 Cor. 5:21) and are able to please God by walking in the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-6).8
This is sound biblical counsel in form and content. The form is pastoral: Affirm the truth, and declare the gospel that is always in harmony with that truth. The content is biblical: Illicit desires and illicit actions are both sin. Thus, the experience of same-sex attraction is not morally neutral but sinful. Nevertheless there is good news for believers that must be celebrated. Despite the continuing presence of sinful desires, believers are forgiven in Christ and able to please God in the Spirit! Surely, there are weary souls that might be granted rest and refreshment through a word like this.
The report, and especially the Twelve Statements, can be a valuable resource for pastors, elders, and Reformed/ Presbyterian believers. The value is in the careful, clear, well researched statements and the pastoral applications of the truth of God’s Word. Pastors and elders who face the daunting task of bringing biblical counsel to those struggling with same-sex attraction or related issues of human sexuality would do well to read and make use of this report in their work. Likewise, all believers would profit from reading the careful and clear explanations of these difficult issues, regardless of whether or not they or their loved ones face the issues personally.
We who confess man’s total depravity should not be surprised when the biblical doctrine of human sexuality comes under attack from without, nor when the corruption of human sexuality manifests itself in our hearts and the hearts for children. So let us not be caught off guard, but prepare ourselves to minister to our neighbors and defend the truth of God’s Word. The clear articulation and application of the truth in this report can serve God’s people well in that regard.
1 Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality, p. 1. The full text is available online: https://pcaga.org/wp-content/ uploads/2020/05/AIC-Report-to-48th-GA-5-28-20-1.pdf.
3 Rev. Clay Spronk, “The Messenger Matters; Another Irrelevant Debate and Decision in the PCA,” Standard Bearer (September 15, 2019): 490-492. Rev. Spronk gives some background into the broader controversy in the PCA on these issues (that is, ‘Side A” and “Side B”). In addition, the references in his article provide a good introduction to both sides of the controversy.
4 Report, p. 1.
5 Rev. Spronk points out that the appointment of this committee signals another failure of the PCA to exercise Christian discipline with those who will not repent of unbiblical doctrines and practices.
6 Report, p. 54.
7 Report, p. 5.
8 Report, p. 8.