When all one has is a sinful condition, in the St. Louis doctrine there is no actual sinning when one has same-sex attraction, because it is only a potential to sin. So fervent sexual desire sits there passively causing no sin. Some of us have never heard of a passive passion. It would be like a horse with feathers. I nominate passive passion as the theological oxymoron of the year, unless one chooses unfelt feelings.
A church with every blemish removed is the certain goal of Christ. Same-sex desire is but one of the blemishes he is healing, because he will settle for nothing less than the sanctification of the whole person. He cleanses from actual sin and all the expressions of our sinful nature, but he does not stop there. Our Lord Jesus transforms whatever generates the sins of his people, namely the heart where our sinful nature resides.
These days in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) we are in danger of settling for a form of reduced salvation. One specific sin God supposedly leaves alone or rarely challenges is same-sex attraction. If we accept such a view we are preserving blemishes, while the Lord does the opposite.
This doctrine has considerable advocacy by the Rev. Greg Johnson who argues for an important difference between homoerotic inclination and homoerotic lust.  With his presbytery’s exoneration he calls this “a proper distinction.” It is a large support for his homosexual views.
- The homoerotic inclination, though sinful, is merely an attraction whether acted on or not. This attraction he does not label as lust, in spite of the fact that it is sexual desire for the forbidden. Johnson thinks it can be as simple a matter as “noticing passively” an attractive person. If at the point of noticing, the inclination does not kick in, the latent desire has failed to engender real lust; no actual sin occurs even though the inclination is wicked. On the other hand, when noticing becomes volitional it is then active sin. For a homosexual, the inclination to sin is just his nature, not really a decision to sin. And those who are teaching us this insist that one cannot repent of an inclination (instead, they constantly kill it, though it remains alive and well). Therefore inclination, sinful though it is, is only temptation to sin; actual sin is a later stage, that of yielding to it. Johnson says, “The potential within my heart to notice a good-looking man and feel myself sexually attracted to him” is not actual sin. (Read that sentence again.) He says that that potential is what our Confession calls “original corruption.” Thus, to TE Johnson our corruption does not include real lust. The apostles, prophets, Reformers, Puritans, and a host of living Christians would be surprised to hear this. In this error the Missouri Presbytery sees “a truth” which escapes much of the PCA.
- Homoerotic lust is different. The sexual tilt is an internal temptation to sin. Yet it appears as actual sin only when one crosses the line, as Pastor Johnson explains, into “actually lusting, coveting or pining after someone, or storing their image in our minds for later retrieval.” Much is made of the difference of “noticing passively” versus looking with lustful intent. Real lust, to those holding the St. Louis doctrine, is quite different from mere inclination. It shows up when the pining inclination of an active sort occurs. We are not told how something passive stirs to action. Nevertheless, they tell us that only then does the coveting condemned in the tenth commandment kick in. And more, supposedly that is all Jesus had in mind in Matthew 5:28 when he spoke of looking “with lustful intent.” Thus lust is distinguished from the homoerotic inclination of original sin. Prior to an inner temptation to lust, real lust was not present. So now some are duped to think it is not so bad after all to have homosexuals in PCA pulpits! Any active desire they may have comes from an attraction which is passive only, and which can be stopped before it blooms into real lust. In this way a blemish is preserved.
The confusion of active sins coming out of passive corruption
When all one has is a sinful condition, in the St. Louis doctrine there is no actual sinning when one has same-sex attraction, because it is only a potential to sin. So fervent sexual desire sits there passively causing no sin. Some of us have never heard of a passive passion. It would be like a horse with feathers. I nominate passive passion as the theological oxymoron of the year, unless one chooses unfelt feelings. But so goes the indoctrination for this growing error in ostensibly Reformed circles.
Even though sanctification is by definition a renovation of the inner man, the Side B homosexuals in the PCA point to no change there. The work of saving grace is helpful when an actual sin emerges. The same-sex desire stays intact, and according to the Missouri Presbytery it endures quite undiminished in our gay members, certainly it does in Rev. Johnson. One can only hope the Holy Spirit does not take a vacation concerning all the other moral dangers resident in our hearts. Sexual desires that emerge as real sin are confessed quickly, and restrained diligently. Therefore as “model Christians” these homosexuals should not be disqualified from serving as leaders in the church.
The chicken or the egg
In Reformed theology we say lust is present in us at the outset. Our interior sexual temptations do not turn into lust; they are lust! We hope the PCA does not think we become sinners by sinning. Good Augustinian doctrine is that we sin because we are sinners. The St. Louis doctrine is the opposite of James 1:14, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust [i.e., the lust is already present] and enticed.” The truth is that lust is the generator of sin. It drags us away. The idea we are now being encouraged to believe is that lust is a consequence of something else. They often point to the will that chooses the lust; I can accept that as long as we also see that lust is controlling the will.
So while God really could bring on a transforming change in a gay minister’s homoerotic inclination, in this life God ordinarily, for so they say, does not heal the sin-sick soul of homosexual corruption. Apparently, Dr. Johnson has convinced his presbytery. In Side B’s worldly thinking, that change is extremely rare. That is what their studies show, not the Holy Scriptures but the word of the experts. And, of course, God follows the science. Whether they have thought in terms of blemishes or not, Johnson and his presbytery teach that the Lord Jesus does not target every blemish. Yet the current labor of Christ is opposed to every spot or wrinkle or anything like it. Ephesians 5:27 makes us realize that Christ works on every defect, and sexual desire for one’s own gender is certainly a defect.
Concerning what we ought to expect from God, TE Johnson says:
“False hope is very damaging. Sanctification looks like change, but maybe not the change we want. The locus of the Christian hope is not found in this life.
A minority may see slight shifts in their attractions. We have to be honest about the extreme rarity of orientation change.
How can a promise from God be a false hope? Sanctification is whatever change God commits to in the covenant. It cannot occur after glorification; the only time sanctification happens is in this life. For those who are in Christ, death no longer reigns; instead they “reign in life” (Rom. 5:17).
What is really being said here is that a minority of Christians might see only a little change away from their sinful same-sex desire in spite of the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Side B people would have us believe that the Spirit tampers very little with the corruption with which we began life. They think it is only the emerging sinful activity which the Lord frustrates, or else they could be homosexuals no more. Greg says, “He keeps me from falling.” But in this theology the sexual desire in the heart, from which active sin emerges, remains virtually unaffected. The big change comes only when the Lord does after a life of (purportedly passive) craving for one’s own gender – hardly a joyful life. By casting the issue in terms of a developing lust rather than resident lust, Johnson builds his entire defense.
It’s not that God doesn’t change lives. He’s kept me from falling. Those who have known me for decades see huge changes in my character. But sometimes the change we want — orientation change — is not the change God plans to accomplish. In his loving providence, he may rather we learn to be faithful in our weakness, learning to depend on him and even using our sexual brokenness to keep us humble and dependent on him.
Seeking a positive spin, these advocates report a spiritual benefit from this original corruption. We are told that the Lord in his loving providence, though he could do otherwise, tends to keep his Side B children stuck in this weakness (a euphemism for corruption) so they can learn faithfulness from their continuing sexual brokenness (another euphemism) or their damaged condition (euphemism #3). The well-chosen words are all of things that happened to Greg, not what he did to become a homosexual. All this so they can learn to depend on the Lord who declines to weaken the sinful inclinations of their brokenness. True, this inclination is the result of the fall and really may be quite apart from their choice to be that way. And that should stir compassion in us all, while we insist with the gospel that the Lord graciously transforms.
By desire, do we mean actually lusting, coveting or pining after someone, or storing their image in our minds for later retrieval? In other words, is this something volitional or intentional? These are what WCF 6.6 calls “actual” sins.
… While the Christian is called to freely confess and repent of all sin, doing that can look a little different when dealing with actual sins as opposed to internal corruption and its motions” and “all … desires, inclinations, and attractions that flow out of the original corruption we still bear (WCF 42 VI. 4-6) are truly sin.”
Thus, there is something behind real lust, namely the attraction which will turn into actual lusting if there is a decision of the will allowing it to proceed. The homosexual minister is helpless in his attraction but needs to repent only if he turns his inclination into volitional desire. When that happens, then we may call lust lust. Never call it lust too early, even though this residual desire for one’s own kind is corrupt. Intentional desires need repentance, but whatever promotes lust, God changes only rarely. It never really goes away. According to his presbytery Johnson has “an enduring pattern of same-sex desire.” In other words, he is stuck in his sin. Greg testifies to much mortification but cannot rid himself of the desire always present and creeping into his mind. And there is precious little help from God, so the deep blemish remains, for so God has decided. But, of course, it is not God’s fault.
In real sanctification, God claims to be our sanctifier in Ezekiel 20:12. Jesus is our sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30); he loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (see Ephesians 5:25-27).
Real sanctification is the ministry of Christ by his Spirit now, but we find a notion in the PCA that there is one blemish he tends to leave alone. Only a small minority with same-sex desires see even a slight shift in their attractions, or so we are told. This strange doctrine of selective sanctification flies in the face of what Christ is doing, because Scripture makes the scope of sanctification wide: “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). No area of our makeup is excluded. The Side B effort to preserve a special blemish for a lifetime is a false and ungodly doctrine, now taught in St. Louis.
Johnson and his presbytery do not use my choice of this word, but they do believe that Christ tackles blemishes which flow from same-sex attraction, yet they do not spell out how lust is created. TE Johnson says that he may “… feel [his] heart melting because someone good-looking [a male] just walked by—even though no lustful thought has surfaced.” This is preposterous, and a sad example of a man believing his own fiction. Jeremiah was right; the heart is deceitful, yet some believe there is a gap between same-sex attraction and genuine lust. It was not an unguarded admission; Johnson means what he says. Thus, he spoke elsewhere of “the potential within my heart to notice a good-looking man and feel myself sexually attracted to him.” The Westminster Confession does not mean that original corruption is merely the potential to sin. If we think our corruption does not inevitably produce sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. The blemish of same-sex lust is being preserved.
A very convenient error
To admit that one has an homoerotic inclination but lacks the bad homoerotic lust makes it quite easy to proclaim one’s homosexuality, as Greg Johnson does loudly. Then, too, he can preserve his blemish, for that is the way he is, and God has done nothing in his case to change it. Then to claim his detestation for lust, which somehow does not dwell in him and is unrelated to his kind of homosexuality, means he is qualified to be a minister of the gospel (a gospel which I say is truncated) and he is supremely qualified as a model and example of living faithfully. We have his word for it.
If Rev. Johnson belongs to Christ at all, the Holy Spirit is out to change his heart from melting when a male walks by. “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23). “Dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). Some of us have prayed for his conversion to Christ.
How PCA homosexuals react to their opponents, frankly imagined (from their arguments) or what we are being asked to believe:
You’ve got your corruption and we’ve got ours. We cannot repent of our original corruption, and neither can you. We only repent of our sins. We accept the science that homosexual feelings are life-long. We mortify our sexual corruption while we proclaim it.
The Holy Spirit does not change our nature, and neither can we. He could if he chose, for God can do anything. Therefore accept us, for how we deal with our sins when they emerge. What the Spirit ministers to is lust after it has conceived. Lust is not lust until it blooms. This is just good Side B gay theology, and we agree with the Westminster Confession with all our heart. After all, it teaches our view, once we define what lust really is.
Jesus took away my shame, but left my corruption in place, but only for this life. (I, Greg, am grateful for these insights I learned at Covenant Seminary.) A Christian’s hope for deliverance from homosexual sin is not in this life, for that is a false hope, which is a very damaging thing.
The new covenant needs to be clarified. We will help with that. Permeating lust as the generator of sin is old hat, part of your doctrine of total depravity! Lust kicks in from our unchanging corruption only when we agree to it, and we do not. It will be changed when Jesus comes; hang on for now. Our homosexual preferences and attractions remain, but we do a great job of stopping their fulfillment. The Holy Spirit is the monitor of our behavior, not the transformer of our sexual desires. He catches our sins when they become actual, and we repent promptly, thus our lives are quite virtuous.
David Linden is a retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is living in Delaware.
*All quotations of and allusions to the teaching of TE Johnson are drawn from: Missouri Presbytery Ad Hoc Committee to Respond to Memorial Presbyterian Church Report of its BCO 31-2 Investigation of TE Greg Johnson. This (Parts 1 & 2, pp. 1-90) was presented to and received by the Missouri Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America, July 21, 2020. The presbytery declared that “TE Johnson has been and remains an honorable member in good standing of Missouri Presbytery.” All the added emphasis is mine. Microsoft Word – Committee to Respond to Memorial FINAL 2020.docx (1ar.s3.amazonaws.com)