SSA Identification is Not Above Reproach

<rdp> As the Presbyterian Church in America draws closer to this year’s General Assembly, we’re beginning to focus a bit more on the core issues around the question of same-sex-attracted (SSA) men and ordination to sacred office. While there are lots of variables and permutations in front of us, the focus is rightly placed upon the one instantiation (the concrete example) of a teaching elder’s identification as a SSA (homosexual, gay) – (hyphenated) Christian (professing believer in Jesus Christ).

In a previous post I provided a simple summary of why I believe that men so identifying themselves are not above reproach. Accordingly, following the Bible’s rationale here, such men are NOT qualified for sacred office. More, in saying that they are not qualified, this is not a mere declaration that they don’t check off the boxes in a biblical qualifications checklist. No, reading these qualifications via the Bible’s idea of evidence of the Spirit’s work, what I am more fully concluding is that such a man’s lack of the biblical qualifications demonstrates that God has not called him to sacred office. Hence, in submission to the Head of the Body, the Church, we cannot place hands on him in ordination to sacred office.

Of course, these opinions generate some questions, most quite understandable and reasonable. I don’t propose I am the person to answer all these questions. I am not equipped to answer some of them, nor do I have the time to answer all of them. Suffice to say, I strongly recommend reliance on resources from others. Among those, let me highlight a few that presently are drawing my attention (in hopes that you may find them useful too):

Following my previous behavior, this past week I’ve sought to carefully listen to those interacting with my blog post, especially those who’ve disagreed with me. As of today, I am even more persuaded that an SSA-Christian man is not qualified for/not called to sacred office. He is not above reproach. Such a man has established as part of his identity a sin that is against nature (Jude 1:7; Rom 1:26). This identification may be nothing more than a confusion of a worldly-informed identity matrix (complex of principles). Yet at the very least such an identification marks him as one who has not (yet) secured the blessing of living in the language of 1Co 6:11:

“And such were some of you.” (e.g., formerly identifying with your SSA, rdp). “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1Co 6:11 ESV)

reed depace

No SSA Clergy in the PCA

<rdp> So for me, this has been a bit of a difficult decision to arrive at. Others I respect got here a lot sooner. Some I respect still decline to even travel in this direction. But, as the headline says above, I am convicted that same-sex-attracted men are not qualified to serve as ministers (teaching elders, pastors) in any denomination that seeks biblical fidelity in their ordination practices. As this is one of the biggie issues in our circles, allow me a few words to explain, support, and defend my conviction.

Background

Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, is the Sr. pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. He has publicly identified as a man who is both a Christian and gay. That is, he affirms that both labels are essential in describing his core identity. He affirms all of the PCA’s doctrinal standards, including that same sex attraction (SSA) is sinful, both in desire and practice.

Sounds like, “what’s the problem?” at this point, I know. Indeed, when this first came to my attention (as best I recollect, sometime in 2018), after the first few months’ flurry of interaction and discussion I was inclined to think that, while there may be some minor problems, nothing rose to the level of reaching the conclusion I am affirming in this post. I made a connection with Greg (via Facebook). He graciously accepted my friendship request. He engaged in a number of private messages with me, even when he was being bombarded with people wanting a slice of his attention. (Out of care for him, I decided to not take advantage of our social media “friendship”. At best, we’re acquaintances, showing respect and kindness toward one another via social media’s limits.) Greg has treated me with nothing but the best of Christian kindness. I’m grateful to count him among my brothers in Christ, whom I will see around the throne of Christ in glory. Writing this blog post, then, grieves me.

The Nutshell

God requires men to be ordained as ministers in his church (1Ti 2:12). Further, he requires such men to be above reproach:

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you–if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” (Tit 1:5-6 ESV)

I recognize others will have different opinions as to what this means. For me, as God has grown me in the wonders of his perfect grace and mercy in Jesus, his comforting kindness and secure love has led me to a deepening desire to not lean on my own understanding, but align my beliefs and practices as closely as possible to what his Bible says, without variation (Pro 3:5-6). I’ve learned to take quite seriously God’s warnings to neither add to or subtract from his Bible (Dt 4:2; 12:32; Pro 30:6; Rv 22:18-19). I’ve become increasingly cautious that I neither get off-track to the right or to the left in any matter the BIble addresses (Dt 5:32; 28:14; Jos 1:7; Pro 4:27).

This has led me to conclude that identifying as a (SSA) gay-Christian makes a man not above reproach. He may indeed have a credible profession of faith. His life may in every other way be an exemplar of Christian virtue. Yet in the one vital area of sexual ethics, such a man has declared that he is not above reproach. At best, his life is marked by an ongoing struggle with a sexual perversion that both those inside and outside the church identify as debauchery:

“TNDT Dictionary: 112
ἀσώτως aÃsoÒtos [dissolute],
ἀσωτία asoÒtiÃa [debauchery]
The original sense is “incurable”; then we have the ideas of dissipation, gluttony, voluptuousness, and indiscipline. The only OT instances are Prov. 7:11 and 28:7. The reference in Lk. 15:7 is to the prodigal’s life of dissipation, and in Eph. 5:18; Tit. 1:6; 1 Pet. 4:4 to a disorderly life (rather than voluptuousness). [W. FOERSTER, I, 506-07]”

Such debauchery is not limited to the actions of those who indulge their SSA, but it certainly includes such things:

“For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” (1Pt 4:3-4 ESV)

Let me be clear at this point: Greg declares that he has never engaged his SSA. He declares that he continually fights this temptation of his fallen flesh with the resources of Christ. And I believe him! Let no one misread me and infer that I’m suggesting Greg is guilty of SSA practice. I am most certainly not!

Instead, Greg’s own resolute self-identifying as a gay-Christian marks him as one who is ever suspect. His conviction that his SSA is an integral part of his personal identity means that both those in the church and outside the church will always wonder if Greg is free of any and all charges of debauchery. This is even the case for those who believe SSA is not condemnable. Certainly they will never think Greg is chargeable with debauchery, but that is only because they do not believe SSA desire or practice is sinful!

Thus, a Christian man who ongoingly identifies as a gay-Christian is, by that self-identification, declaring himself to be disqualified for sacred office in the church of Christ. All the debates about concupiscence, mortification, etc. (as important as they are), do not remove the disqualifying effect of the self-identification as a gay-Christian. Such a man will, as fine as he and his life may be in all other ways, always be marked this side of eternity as one who may be guilty of a debauchery attached to his SSA. Disappointing and discouraging as this conclusion may be, it is the only one that respects the integrity of Scripture, that takes it exactly at it’s word, neither turning to the left or the right, but maintaining God’s sole authority.

Notwithstandings

I recognize that the discussion on these matters has left many with frustrations. Men on both sides may feel like those on the other have not listened to them, or are guilty (even inadvertently) of equivocation. Yet, in the providence of God, we’ve not seen much progress in collapsing the gaps between us.

I also recognize that the motivations of Greg (and those agreeing with him) are dominated by concerns for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Even where I’ve been deeply and personally offended by some things found among those supporting Greg’s position, I recognize that the motives have been consistent with the desire to lift up Christ that all the lost elect might be drawn to him and be saved. Nevertheless, the gay-Christian identification is a compromise with the world’s system of thought. It is a syncretism that in time will yield a destructive harvest in the churches that adopt it. Rather than be helpful to the cause of Christ, the insistence that identifying as a gay-Christian is consistent with biblical fidelity is a pernicious error which can only bring dissoluteness.

For such considerations, as much I wish no harm to Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, I believe we cannot affirm his calling as a minister in the PCA. Rather, I think we have no choice but to take the actions necessary to make sure no man identifying as a gay-Christian is ordained to sacred office. He is not qualified because he is not above reproach.

Offered with prayers for God’s blessing in the hearts of my fellow elders in the PCA,

Rev. Dr. Reed DePace

[Postscript, 4/24/21: thank you to the brother/ministry that made a way for me to attend GA this year after all. See you in St. Louiee!]

GA Debate Squashing– a PCUS Déjà Vu?

by Reed DePace

Reflecting on how this GA went, one friend observed that in the PCA we use procedure to squash discussion. Whether that was the intention or not, from what I saw at this GA, his observation is right on the money.

I understand we need procedures to effectively function. I realize that the sheer number of commissioners at GA presents a challenge to having reasonable discussion on matters. I understand that the Rules of Assembly Operation have been compiled to make things both fair and effective for all voices. I appreciate that Roberts Rules of Order provide a means for even the strongest of opponents to disagree with one another and remain civil and committed to one another in Christian love.

Yet … it looks more and more like our polity has devolved into nothing more than crass politics. This GA had all the appearances of two parties, both with their positions mapped out ahead of time, trying to use the process to achieve their own ends. And, at least from my perspective, it didn’t look an awful lot like one side wanted to actually consider what the other side had to say. In fact, I got the distinct impression that one side came with one grand agenda item in view: squash the other side’s dissent.

As I have no first hand evidence of the plans of either side, I’ll leave my speculations at the level of appearances. Still, even at this level, things were not good at GA. I’m not imputing motives to anyone. And at the same time, I was offered little by way of explanation of motives. I’m not the most informed guy, believe it or not. And it would have helped immensely if men from the one side would have respected men like me enough to give us a clearer presentation of their reasons for proposing actions that effectively squashed the debate from the other side.

One egregious example was over a recommendation from the Nominations Committee regarding what to do in the event that a Teaching Elder and a Ruling Elder from the same Presbytery were each nominated for the same committee. The rules won’t allow both to be elected to the same committee (i.e., an effort to make sure a presbytery does not have too much influence on a committee?). The practice (precedent) of previous GA’s is to take up the election of the TE first. If he gets elected, this automatically disqualifies the RE. A recommendation (purportedly) came from the Nominating Committee to swap this order, to take up the election of the RE first.

My question is why? Why change the current practice of taking up the TE election first? I’ve gone over the Nominating Committee Minutes and I cannot find anything on this recommendation (I did not see anything in the floor minutes either). It was not a motion from this Committee, for sure.

So why the recommendation? Was the recommendation from the whole committee? If so, why did they not simply present it as an actual motion? If it was just a recommendation from some on the committee, why did they propose it? What were they thinking? Understanding their reasons for the recommendation sure would have made it easier for me to make an informed conscientious decision with my vote; something I am accountable before God to do!

Was the reason because of some appearance of unfairness to Ruling Elders? If so, then why wasn’t that voiced? More importantly, if this was the motive, then TE David Coffin’s motion (a coin toss each time) would actually have positively addressed that, securing a visible fairness. I really appreciated one brother’s perfection of Coffin’s motion, adding biblical reasoning to it. If this was the reason, then why didn’t the other side support the motion? (It was obvious from the jumbotron that they did not support his motion.)

Why the numerous “points of order,” parliamentary procedural objections from those who supported the recommendation? We spent at least an hour on this subject, mostly on parliamentary maneuvering. Would that one of them, any single one of them, had spoken to why he wanted to change the precedent, I might very well have agreed with him. But, crickets chirping …

One opinion from some was that the reason for the recommendation was nothing more than a parliamentary maneuver to stop TE Dominic Aquila from being reelected to the Standing Judicial Commission. A RE from his presbytery (Rocky Mountain) was also nominated for the SJC. Others better informed than me believe that this RE’s nomination was part of an intentional process by one side to run candidates opposed to the other side. If this precedent of voting on TE nominations first was reversed (taking the RE nomination first) and this RE was elected to the SJC, that would have effectively eliminated TE Aquila from even being able to stand for election.

In others words, the appearance is that one side wanted to change the procedure here for nothing more than a political power purpose. I’m not saying that WAS the motive. I am only saying that this is the appearance, and that the lack of explanation why IS NOT encouraging. No lecturing me on assuming the best about my brothers. I am. And I’m troubled as to why they seemed unwilling to behave in a manner that was transparent, leaving no judicious reason to question him (cf., 1Ti 3:2, Tit 1:6-7, and the qualification to be above reproach; Php 2:15, 2Pe 3:14).

Don’t misunderstand me here. I’m not debating the relative merit of one side’s positions vs. the other’s. I am questioning the use of what appears to be rank political manipulation to achieve one’s ends. Any explanation as to why the desire to change the procedure would have been better than what was (not) offered. And if the appearance was reality there would have been more integrity in a frank acknowledgment that at least one reason for the change in process was to attempt to stop confessional men like TE Aquila from getting back on the SJC. At least such transparency would encourage biblically-based trust in my brothers.

As it is, I watched men push and push, for about an hour, trying all the tricks possible to secure a change in this procedure. In the end I voted for Coffin’s perfected motion, as I could see the possibility of at least the appearance of unfairness to REs (i.e., even though this was never voiced, I was willing to act on an assumption of the best). When that motion was defeated I then had no good reason to vote to change the current practice. And a majority of Commissioners saw likewise on this one. Still, an hour or so of what appeared to be nothing more than rank political maneuvering, without one offering of justification for the change, left me with the distinct impression that I was being manipulated by one side.

Two final thoughts here. First, my wife graciously joined me at this GA. She joined me for one the business sessions. She spent about an hour trying to follow what was going on with one motion. After a plethora (a mass, an overabundance, a superfluity, a whole gobbling throat-choking mouthful!) of “point of order” procedural challenges, she got hopelessly lost. To her, it looked like nothing more than political manipulation, like the worst seen in the halls of any secular governing body. I found it hard to offer a defense of my fathers and brothers for what looked like ungodly behavior.

Lastly, wasn’t one of the reasons for leaving the PCUS (UPC, PCUSA for some of us) because the other side had secured all the political (committee) power – and then used that to squash the ability of “our” side to even debate matters!? I can’t help but wonder, how was the behavior at this GA from the one side any different than that which drove our fathers all out to form the PCA in the first place? One side, rather clumsily, tried to follow the procedures to at least be heard. The other side, much more effectively (think pro-football team playing against a beer-belly team), used the same procedures to squash any reasonable discussion whatsoever.

So, given how this all went down, given the rather across the board effectiveness of one side squashing the debate from the other side, how is this any different than the political manipulation used in the PCUS? And if the rank political manipulation used there lacked any integrity, then why should we not be concerned about the sense of déjà vu now?

by Reed DePace