I trust that you are men driven by Christian character who will not countenance watching a sound church of Jesus Christ – your church – be torn asunder, especially by a small minority. If this is true, then give no support, encouragement or succor to any man who would refuse now to submit wholeheartedly to the will of the brethren.
Pondering the dangerous and seemingly unquenchable division in our nation right now the thought has occurred to me that sometimes men just have to “slug it out.” Boxers, pre-fight, stare at each other with absolute malice in their eyes and the visceral desire to kill or seriously wound the other. Honestly, there is no way that this aggression is going to be defused without a fight. However, after the match the combatants usually hug and congratulate each other as reconciled enemies. The hostilities have abated, and the two stand with a unique and very strong bond as brothers in arms.
Around 160 years ago our nation was torn apart by a bloody civil war. Young men chomped at the bit to move onto the field of battle and unleash lethal force upon their neighbor.
However, after four years of bloodshed men on both sides had had enough and were ready to be at peace. General Robert E. Lee did much to help bring about that peace.
It is reported that President Jefferson Davis desired to continue to fight a guerrilla war against the U.S. However, knowing the costs of dividing a nation and the price of war, Lee said, “No.” Instead, he went on an extensive campaign throughout the South to help heal the rift that had formed. He encouraged Southerners to forget the past, to lay aside revenge and not to engage in continued warfare against the Union. Did Lee suddenly think that his reasons for fighting were wrong? No, however, what he saw was the greater good of peace and unity that stood before a nation torn apart by a four-year war.
Interestingly, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), our denomination, has been at civil war for the same number of years. It was in 2018 that a member church of your presbytery stunned the denomination by hosting Revoice, a Side-B gay affirming conference. Letters and articles were written addressing genuine concerns. Greg Johnson went on a speaking campaign via podcasts, magazines, twitter and finally a book.
The Heart of the People
Brothers, the rollout of Side-B was orchestrated in your presbytery. I am not going to get into all of the evidence of this in this letter, but suffice it to say, the evidence is clear. Now, I do not think that you all planned to “take down” the PCA. I simply believe that you misread the heart and mind of the denomination; a heart and mind that has been clearly demonstrated over the past two General Assemblies.
At GA 2021, the GA voted to pass overture 23 by well over 2/3 of the body. The overture clearly expressed the will of the denomination that a man not be allowed to serve as a church officer who professes to be a “gay Christian,” “same-sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms. Many in the PCA wanted their feelings expressed and did so.
Those on the other side were successful in scuttling the overture by seeing that it did not reach the high threshold for ratification by 2/3 of presbyteries. Nonetheless, the vote was very close to the two-thirds of presbyteries needed.
So, the elders of the denomination came back together in 2022 and passed yet two more overtures dealing with the matter. Overture 29 only had 200 votes against it. Overture 15, with specific language referring to those claiming to be homosexuals, and despite arguments that it wouldn’t be able to pass the 2/3 threshold, still passed GA by nearly 55% of the body. The point in all of this is that the denomination has spoken. It does not agree with Side -B-gay-but-celibate ideology. The sentiment is overwhelming. The war is over.
Back in the early ‘70s Dolly Parton sang a song about a woman who came from a position of admitted weakness, begging her antagonist, who was beautiful and seductive, to have a heart and not take away her only love, just because she could.
Our denomination finds itself coming to you in a position of weakness. Those who support Side B could wage a guerilla war within our denomination. 1) They could work to scuttle the overtures again, frustrating the will of the members, and we could debate them again at GA after GA. Or 2), they could allow the overtures to pass, but simply not obey their spirit while hiding within sympathetic presbyteries and an effete Standing Judicial Commission. Certainly, PCA members would be very frustrated. Or 3), they could even engage in a tactical retreat in order to hide out and replan, only to spring another surprise on the Church in a few years. In short, those supporting Side B ideology could do much to sow discord and in so doing destroy the peace and health of the PCA, something they swore not to do in their ordination vows.
The reality is it is time for those who support Side B-gay-but-celibate ideology to submit to the will of their brethren, also a part of their ordination vows and bring an end to the lost-cause campaign.
This is where you step in to be the Robert E. Lee of our age. The denomination needs you to say, “Enough. It is time for peace and submission.” Many of those who support the other side of this issue look up to you all – particularly certain members of your court who perhaps have served them at the seminary.
Fool Me Thrice
There is an old proverb: “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Even though I have had my trust abused on numerous occasions by fellow PCA presbyters and ought to know better, I am just a sucker. I trust that you are men driven by Christian character who will not countenance watching a sound church of Jesus Christ – your church – be torn asunder, especially by a small minority. If this is true, then give no support, encouragement or succor to any man who would refuse now to submit wholeheartedly to the will of the brethren. Make every effort to root out rebellion, and counsel men of the need to uphold their vows.
It is understood that some will conscientiously be unable to submit to the will of the brethren in this matter. They must be encouraged to exit the denomination for one that suits them better.
The fight has been long, tiresome and costly. We have slugged it out, so to speak. It is time to shake hands, come together and be one church with the same heart and mind. It is incumbent upon you to rally together to restore peace and unity in the PCA, to strengthen the PCA for the good of Christ’s Church.
Sincerely in Christ,
Jim Shaw is a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America serving Redeemer Presbyterian in Brunswick, GA.