In light of recent decisions by some denominations to approve ordaining openly homosexual individuals to the ministry, to allow ministers to officiate and bless same-sex marriages, and because of the public debate on legalizing same-sex marriages, it is appropriate to note that not all denominations have taken these actions. And since one of these denominations in the news recently is “Presbyterian,” it is important to note that there are a number of Presbyterian denominations and that not all of them have taken the above actions. One of these churches is the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Here is a brief overview of actions on sexuality of past PCA General Assemblies.
The Fifth General Assembly (1977) of the Presbyterian Church in America affirmed its understanding of the biblical position on homosexulaity which stated that:
1. The act of homosexuality is a sin according to God’s Word;
2. Churches should actively seek to lead the homosexual person to confession and repentance that he might find justification and sanctification in Jesus Christ, according to I Corinthians 6:11; and
3. In light of the biblical view of its sinfulness, a practicing homosexual continuing in this sin would not be a fit candidate for ordination or membership in the Presbyterian Church in America.
The 21st General Assembly (1993) adopted a Declaration of Conscience that was sent to the President of the United States of America (with copies to the leadership of the United States House of Representatives and Senate and to the governors of the several states and any other interested parties), and read in part (the entire Declaration is printed below):
“Mr. President, in this Declaration the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America humbly declares its conscience concerning the moral legitimacy of homosexuality. God has spoken without equivocation through his Word declaring homosexuality to be a perversion of his created order, his moral law, and the foundations of society…
Please note: in condemning homosexual practice we claim no self-righteousness. The Bible we cite also teaches that all particular sins flow from one rebellious disposition of heart….The Apostle reminds the Corinthian believers, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (read the entire letter here).
In an action titled: “In Opposition to Disney’s Promotion of Homosexual Lifestyle,” the 1996 General Assembly said, “We abhor what Disney and other corporations do to promote the homosexual lifestyle.”
In 1997 the PCA General Assembly took the following action with regard to the boycott of Disney:
In response to the boycott of Disney enterprises by Christian groups including the Southern Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church in America reiterated its position on homosexual issues adopted in 1996.
We affirm the Bible’s teaching that promotion of homosexual conduct and relationships by any society, including action by the governments to sanction and legitimize homosexual relationships by the legalization of homosexual marriages, is an abominable sin calling for God’s judgment upon any such society (Leviticus 18:22 and Romans 1:18-32).
We also affirm our belief in the transforming power of God’s grace and our commitment to “speaking the truth in love” to those in the homosexual community.
The 1999 General Assembly declared that homosexual activity is sin and not an acceptable alternative lifestyle. Moreover, PCA churches were warned about the aggressive homosexual agenda.
The following is found in a PCA publication “Twenty Questions and Answers about the Presbyterian Church in America:”
Position on Homosexuality?
It is sin. But just as with any other sin, the PCA deals with these people in a pastoral way, seeking to transform their lifestyle through the power of the gospel as applied by the Holy Spirit.
The Westminster Larger Catechism, one of the PCA doctrinal documents, states the following:
Q. 139. What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A. The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections, all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews (old English word meaning houses of prostitution), and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage, having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.
In 1980, the Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES), which joined the PCA in 1982, adopted a “Report of the Study Committee on Homosexuality” Read this report here.
Here is a summary statement reflecting the actions of past General Assemblies of the PCA that was sent to the media when requesting the PCA’s position on homosexuality:
Homosexual practice is sin. The Bible teaches that all particular sins flow from our rebellious disposition of heart. Just as with any other sin, the PCA deals with people in a pastoral way, seeking to transform their lifestyle through the power of the gospel as applied by the Holy Spirit. Hence, in condemning homosexual practice we claim no self-righteousness, but recognize that any and all sin is equally heinous in the sight of a holy God.
The PCA is committed to the sanctity of human sexual relationships. We believe God’s intent in creation was that male and female would be complementary, that the privilege of sexual expression would be between male and female only, and this expression would be only in the context of marriage. Both heterosexual and homosexual sexual behavior outside of marriage violates the human spirit and distorts God’s intent for men and women.
At its 21st General Assembly (1993) the Presbyterian Church in America adopted “A Declaration of Conscience on Homosexuals and the Military” that was sent to the President of the United States of America (with copies to the leadership of the United States House of Representatives and Senate and to the governors of the several states and any other interested parties). This Declaration expressed the position of the PCA General Assembly on homosexuality.
Mr. President, in this Declaration the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America humbly declares its conscience concerning the moral legitimacy of homosexuality. God has spoken without equivocation through His Word declaring homosexuality to be a perversion of His created order, His moral law, and the foundations of society.
This General Assembly is the highest governmental unit of the Presbyterian Church in America, a denomination representing 242,560 members and 2,239 ministers. Though founded by 250 congregations in 1973, the PCA traces its ancestry to the first American Presbyterians who organized themselves on these shores in 1789, and it now has some 1,086 congregations throughout the United States and Canada. It is not the regular practice of the General Assembly to address matters before the civil government. Our silence is not for lack of concern; on the contrary, we instruct and support our members in the God-given duties of civic responsibility. Nevertheless, we do not believe that the Church, as the Church, ought to engage in essentially political activity. Our Church constitution states, in accordance with Holy Scripture, that “Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical; and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary . . . (Confession of Faith, PCA, 31.4). And yet we now find before us what we take to be a case extraordinary.
In particular, we feel compelled of conscience to speak because of the slanderous way in which truth has been portrayed, as if opposition to homosexual practice is merely a matter of prejudice against a minority. Please be informed that to act on this basis is to misjudge the issue entirely. This is a question of moral principle, striking at the very root of God’s authority, man’s created nature, and the structure and preservation of human society. We do not act out of a hateful prejudice which rejects the rights of minority peoples and seeks to exclude them from our communities. On the contrary, we affirm and rejoice in the God-created differences among the peoples of the world and we condemn prejudice as contrary to the heart of the gospel by which we live: that Jesus Christ is by His grace making of various peoples one community of love and fellowship. As His disciples we are called to judge, not by appearances, but to judge righteous judgment (John 7:24). The God we serve has made it plain that with Him there is no partiality, and that in this we must be like Him (Romans 2:11, James 2:1-9). As citizens we support the recognition and protection of the civil rights of all peoples.
And yet in perfect consistency with this commitment we stand resolutely opposed to homosexual practice as incompatible with the temporal good of our nation and the eternal good of its people. As a part of the Church of Jesus Christ, the Presbyterian Church in America has a primary concern for the spiritual well-being of women and men created in the image of God. Responsibility to such a calling will thrust us into irreconcilable conflict with any government policy ostensibly approving a way of life under its sphere of responsibility which is contrary to the eternal good of its citizens. Further, such approval would be a grievous violation of the government’s own God-ordained calling (Romans 13:1-4).
Mr. President, frequent references in your speeches give evidence that you hold the Bible in high esteem as an authority to be cited in favor of your views, and as a source of wisdom in guiding our country. The Bible teaches that sexual distinction and union are created by God and are to be expressed in marriage according to His purpose and ordinance.
And God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.” . . . For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh (Genesis 1:27-28; 2:24).
Together a man and a woman, united outwardly in the institution of marriage, united inwardly in love and affection, and united physically in sexual relations, are the means of transmitting and nurturing life, and that life, growing and flourishing in families, is the necessary foundation of all society. Homosexuality is a violation of these creation ordinances: it is a perversion of human nature, the gift of sexuality and the social order.
The Bible makes this plain when in the Old Testament God’s law for the people of Israel clearly forbids this violation of His created purposes.
You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination … Do not defile yourselves by any of these things … so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it … Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you … I am the Lord your God (Lev. 18:22, 24, 28, 30; cf. Lev. 20:13).
Here nature itself, the land personified, is portrayed as revolted by homosexuality as a perversion of God’s purposes. Lest this be thought of as an outmoded and unenlightened perspective, the New Testament affirms this same truth with even greater clarity when it excludes, not merely from the land of Israel, but from the eternal Kingdom of God, those who pursue homosexual practice.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators … nor homosexuals … shall inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
Please note: in condemning homosexual practice we claim no self- righteousness. The Bible we cite also teaches that all particular sins flow from one rebellious disposition of heart, a disposition of heart that belongs to all (Ephesians 2:13). If we have been preserved from this perversion, it is only by God’s mercy. And that mercy in Jesus Christ is so broad and free that may extend even to those caught up in homosexual practice, freeing them from its bondage. In the same passage we cited above the Apostle reminds the Corinthian believers, “And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God.”
In fact, in many of our own churches we have people who have left that lifestyle behind out of loyalty to Jesus Christ. In addition, one of our presbyteries supports a very active ministry of truth and compassion to the homosexual community in Philadelphia. Our categorical rejection of homosexual behavior as wrong and destructive cannot fairly be taken to mean that we have not extended ourselves or are unable to extend ourselves in compassion and courage to men and women in our society who are homosexual.
Nevertheless, the New Testament is quite graphic in its warning that the prevalence and approval of homosexual practice in a culture is a sign of the judgment of God upon those who reject His rule.
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burning in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error (Romans 1:26-27).
In the understanding of the New Testament, moral darkness has descended over a people who, though perhaps not given to such perversions themselves, nevertheless, “give approval to those who practice them” (v. 32).
In addition, we would bring to your attention the disregard for the family implicit in any public sanction of homosexual practice. Such policy will generate confusion and contradiction as parents seek to foster and nurture the God-given sexual identity of their children. The delicacy of the formative experiences of children in relation to what is publicly approved by our national leadership is incompatible with a “value-neutral” approach which necessarily distorts the value-laden realities of sexuality as created by God. Our American civil government has historically respected the family’s primacy in such matters, and has sought to nurture it. Any policy which legitimizes homosexual practice abandons this time-honored tradition.
To conclude, while condemning homosexual practice, we affirm our duty to love and do good to all, even those who are pursuing this perversion. But for us such love includes the responsibility to speak the truth in love. The truth is that our nation will suffer grievously if accommodated to this perversion. More profoundly, however, the truth is that those given over to homosexual practice will face the judgment of God. We understand the gospel to teach that there is no hope for such persons until they see this truth, embrace it, and turn away from their perversion through the power of Jesus Christ. Thus love requires that we bear witness to their hopeless condition in order that they might find hope. Love forbids our silence in the face of the eternal consequences of believing a lie.
As citizens of the United States we share with others in our community the blessings or curses that follow from the acts of our civil government. God Himself is the Author of sexual distinctions and the complementarity that finds its fulfillment in the loving union of a man and woman in marriage, and which is designed to produce that new life which is the natural and blessed fruit of that union. You should understand that the God Who created the world and Who rules it even now is neither ignorant of nor indifferent to what the government of the United States of America will do with regard to His institutions. The people of our country and their elected leaders must give account of themselves to God. Our prayer is that you will stand against any and every pressure that would be brought to bear on your Administration by those who would legitimize homosexual practices.