Throughout the years, the church has faced various trials and has had to make her stand, often due to theological or ecclesiastical issues. This year, the 47th General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) met in Dallas, Texas and debated long and hard over how to deal with the cultural issues of homosexuality and gender identity.
One of the GA’s decisions was to affirm the Nashville Statement as a biblically faithful statement on sexuality. Historically speaking, the denomination has its origins in the south-eastern United States but has grown to become a truly national denomination with over 1572 churches and 88 presbyteries.
By God’s grace, this national expansion over the years has helped the PCA become a very diverse denomination, ministering to a wide range of people of different races, backgrounds, and ethnicities. With that diversity certainly comes debate as the year’s Assembly showed.
In 2018, several individuals associated with the PCA at Covenant Seminary and Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri were involved in a conference called Revoice. The conference’s goal was ‘supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality’.
For months after Revoice’s inaugural conference, the PCA has been in a deadlock of debate over how to engage with the statements espoused by Revoice’s speakers. One of the major debates revolves around Revoice’s statement of being ‘gay and Christian’.
Tim Challies summed up the conference’s goals thus, ‘The conference is advocating the position that sexual orientation is a core part of human identity so that we can speak of “gay Christians”—Christians who profess faith in Jesus Christ while maintaining a homosexual orientation or identity (but also a commitment to celibacy)’.
As you might have guessed, this caused a huge stir in the PCA, especially among those who are very conservative theologically and politically. The Missouri Presbytery did their due diligence in investigating Memorial Presbyterian Church’s involvement and acquitted the pastor after publishing a rather lengthy but well-written paper on the issue.
In the months following last year’s Revoice conference, many other Presbyteries did their own due diligence and wrote statements on what the Scripture says about homosexuality.
The Nashville Statement
In August 2017, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood published a statement focused on gender identity with 14 affirmations of what the Bible teaches on the subject. The statement was endorsed by many evangelical leaders, many of whom are pastors in the PCA, and it takes a much more conservative approach to gender identity and homosexuality.
Article 7 states, ‘WE AFFIRM that self-conception as male or female should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture. WE DENY that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption’.
Debate on the Overture
The General Assembly met late on a Thursday night and continued debate into the early hours of the Friday discussing whether or not to adopt the Nashville Statement. Five different overtures dealt in unique ways with the subject of gender identity, some of which either endorsed the Nashville Statement or proposed a different approach.
Prior to the Assembly convening, the Overtures Committee had already done their own hard work in debating on whether to affirm the Nashville Statement and presented both a majority report and a minority report to the GA floor.
Then debate began. Many of those who would be considered more progressive argued against affirming the Nashville Statement because they feared Article 7 would alienate those who struggled with same sex attraction. Others stated it lacked a pastoral approach, lacked a gracious response to those struggling with sin, or did not clearly list Scriptures that backed its affirmations and denials.
Many thought it would be best to shelve this overture and continue with creating a study committee. However, due to our polity, that would mean that a statement original to the PCA would not be published for another year.
Greg Johnson, a teaching elder at Memorial Presbyterian Church gave his testimony and explained his difficult struggle with same sex attraction and argued that the Nashville Statement would not be helpful at all due to its failure to describe gay self-conception.
Proponents of the Nashville Statement, including signatory Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, stated that the document would indeed be a very helpful pastoral document and that it clearly upheld what the Bible teaches about sexuality. Others mentioned that the statement does indeed offer a grace-filled approach to a very difficult issue (articles 12-14).
Kevin DeYoung gave perhaps one of the most succinct speeches in favour of the Nashville Statement: ‘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’.
In the end, Overture 4 was voted in the affirmative 803 – 541. The Assembly also decided to create a study committee on this issue. Their report will be presented next year.
Please continue to pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ who are seeking to stand firm in the gospel and to win the lost for Christ in the midst of a culture that celebrates sex.
Ben Wilkerson served with Sheffield Presbyterian Church, UK, and is a Christian writer residing in the USA.