The most salient reason for the Dissent was that basically the SJC created a new Record of the Case (ROC). Generally, the ROC consists only of the documents generated by the both parties in a case during the time of the original investigation and proceedings. In this case, an additional investigation was commenced by the SJC long after the original case was documented. This appeared to be for the purpose of identifying any changes in Mr. Johnson’s present views as compared to his previous views. This may be a laudable goal, but it is irrelevant to this case.
The Dissenting Opinion on the Case that was before the PCA Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) regarding the Missouri Presbytery and Greg Johnson has been published (The Aquila Report, 12/13/21). I want to publicly thank this group of men for making known the reasons for their Dissent. Actually, even though many of us consider the decision of the SJC to be a loss, yet this public statement representing the minority vote is an encouragement for countless numbers in the PCA. I personally appreciate the position these men took in opposition to the majority of the Commission. A few remarks may be in order.
First, I hold a minority position in the PCA. I believe that anyone who identifies himself publicly as a homosexual is automatically disqualified from holding office in the PCA. I therefore have my qualms about part of the process in the Case.
The Dissent asserts that there is good reason to believe that Mr. Johnson’s self-identity as a homosexual “compromises and dishonors” his identity in Christ. This demonstrates my problem with the proposed changes to the Book of Church Order. Rather than having a clear line of demarcation regarding the ordination of homosexuals, it creates a purity of thought test where no one can score 100, but no one can define what a passing score is. The Dissent argues that Mr. Johnson’s score is not high enough to pass. The majority of the SJC concluded that he did pass. This is highly subjective. It will be highly subjective if the BOCO changes are adopted.
Secondly, the most salient reason for the Dissent was that basically the SJC created a new Record of the Case (ROC). Generally, the ROC consists only of the documents generated by the both parties in a case during the time of the original investigation and proceedings. In this case, an additional investigation was commenced by the SJC long after the original case was documented. This appeared to be for the purpose of identifying any changes in Mr. Johnson’s present views as compared to his previous views. This may be a laudable goal, but it is irrelevant to this case. If there have been changes in his views, then there are other ways to handle it. According to the Dissent, “The SJC supplemental work produced 67% of the citations used by it in support of Presbytery’s conclusions…” The SJC in essence created a new ROC, and thus, in a real sense, became the court of original jurisdiction.
By creating a new ROC, the SJC allowed Mr. Johnson to nuance his previous statements which happen to reflect the PCA Study Committee on Human Sexuality. This was unfair to the Complainant. He was not challenging the discovery statements that resulted from the later investigation of the SJC; he was challenging the original decision of Missouri Presbytery based on the statements made by Mr. Johnson nearly two years ago. (The Complainant’s framing of the original Statement of the Issue: “Did Missouri Presbytery err when it failed to find a strong presumption of guilt and institute process against TE Johnson regarding his stated views on human sexuality that appear to be significantly out of accord with and not in conformity with the Scriptures and the Westminster Standards?”)
Thirdly, the final vote on the SJC shows how important it is to know in more detail about the nominees for the Standing Judicial Commission at each General Assembly. A difference in one single vote would have changed the outcome of this decision.
The PCA has a Standing Theological Examinations Committee which approves the orthodoxy of the nominees for positions at the General Assembly level, and declares them eligible to hold office. The election of men to hold this important office has become rather perfunctory. No doubt, the National Partnership (NP) has had a major influence on who gets elected.
Maybe it’s time to make public for the GA Commissioners a more thorough examination of these men, as is done with candidates for the United States Supreme Court. In some way we need to know the particular theological camp they represent in the PCA. Judgment of the law is not always neutral. Commissioners at the General Assembly need to be better informed about nominees.
Lastly, if the proposed BCO changes do not pass, then this will make two proximate losses for the conservative confessionalists in the PCA. We might expect that some leaders in the PCA will begin to contemplate an exit plan in order to create a new denomination.
Some will plead for a continual fight, pointing out the victories at the previous General Assembly, and believing that they have the grassroots numbers to eventually gain back control of the PCA. Others will not be so optimistic. It is sad that it has all come down to this.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tenn.