The answer for the church is not to allow its property to be used to celebrate and encourage such a destructive social phenomenon but to persist in telling the truth that God has ordained a definite order for human life, and that all things which run counter to that ensnare people in destructive falsehood and reduce their victims to earthly and eternal misery of body, mind, and spirit. It was no more loving for Memorial to allow its property to be used to promote such things than it was for Israel’s kings to allow the high places to be used for the worship of idols.
Tim Lecroy would have us put on mourning because of the recent departure of Memorial Presbyterian (St. Louis) from the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). And to be sure, it is a sad affair when any individual or church leaves our communion. Yet there are different reasons for being sad, and it is one of the tragedies of the moment that the same event has saddened different people for different reasons. Lecroy is displeased because he believes that what he regards as a faithful church and ministers “have been bullied out of the denomination.” There are others, including the present author, who are saddened because a body of professing believers has fallen into error and willfully separated itself from the church rather than heed rebuke and repent of its waywardness. Let me state this plainly: I take no pleasure in Memorial’s departure and am grieved that affairs came to such a point. The scriptural witness (Prov. 24:17; comp. Obad. 12) compels me to regard this as a grim occasion for sobriety and self-appraisal (1 Cor. 10:12; Gal. 6:1; Phil. 3:18). But the tragedy of the moment would be increased if we were to misunderstand the true nature of the situation.
One, it is reported that 42 churches left our communion between 2012 and 2020. The casual observer might think it rather amiss that we are to lament Memorial’s departure when we have not been urged to lament the departure of these other 42 churches. Were such churches less worthy of our lament than Memorial? No indeed, and yet unless there is something of which I am unaware, there has been rather little public expression of sorrow at these things.
It so happens that I am not a casual observer in this matter. I have a fair bit of correspondence from people who have left the PCA, or whose churches have done so, and it portrays a situation in which the departed felt compelled to do so because they believed the PCA had serious issues and was not interested in resolving them. Lecroy asserts that we handled the Memorial matter poorly by allowing its leaders to be subjected to largely unjustified opposition and is saddened on that account; my more numerous correspondents assert the opposite, and believe that the PCA was feckless in opposing grievous wrong and that we should be ashamed and repent accordingly. Such absolute difference in opinion raises an important question: whose understanding of the matter – and by extension, whose reasons for grief – is just and in accord with the truth? Whose sadness is what Paul calls a “godly grief” that “produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Cor. 7:10), and whose is a merely earthly grief that things have not gone as we wished?
In answer consider a few facts. Memorial allowed its property to be used for a series of plays celebrating transsexuality (“Transluminate”). Lecroy regards this as “unwise and unhelpful, but not worthy of censure or excommunication.” Scripture has a different view. When God’s people use their property that he has given them to worship him in order to promote debauchery that is heinous in his sight, he, being a jealous God, does not gloss over the matter. He testifies to the wrong by his Word, and then in due time punishes the faithless with temporal punishments that are meant to bring them to repentance and that are meant to serve as a testimony to others as to the depravity of the offense (e.g., Ezekiel 5:1-11:13, esp. 5:11, 7:2-4, 8:16-18). When people who should call the wayward and confused to repentance instead give them practical support in committing their sin, thus making repentance less likely, God says that those who have done so have done a great evil by their dereliction (Lk. 17:2; Eze. 3:18; 33:6,8; comp. Lk. 17:2).
And when men who purport to be ministers of a God whose eyes are too pure to behold evil (Hab. 1:13) yet talk about the “human propensity to [expletive] things up,” and in so doing use an obvious heretic’s alternative to the orthodox doctrine of sin, Scripture condemns their speech: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless” (Jas 1:26). “But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’” (Jude. 1:9). Also, “let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths” (Eph. 4:29); “now you must put . . . away . . . obscene talk from your mouth” (Col. 3:8); and “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34; comp. 7:15-20); as well as sundry other passages that teach foul language is unholy (Isa. 6:5; Jas. 3:9-10; Ps. 10:7; 59:12).
Now one might fancy from my vehemence that I am a fundamentalist prude with little experience of how many people speak. Actually, I work in a field in which foul language is the norm – many of my coworkers struggle to express frustration without cursing – and it is a sin with which I am constantly tempted and to which, alas, I rather frequently succumb. It is a sin of which I am guilty, yes, but also one which I am trying to overcome. Now consider: am I more likely to mortify this sin in a church in which it is censured, or in one whose ministers believe it an example of culturally-sensitive, ‘nuanced’ ministry? One in which it is recognized as evil and forbidden; for this thing is common where it is acceptable, whereas it is rare or unheard where it is disapproved. My grandmother would promptly rebuke me on the spot for saying something like ‘darn’ – and I feel no inclination to curse in her presence. I have had coworkers who used certain four letter words as naturally and frequently as if they were conjunctions – and behold, I felt a strong urge to do the same. Funny how that works.
And yet that understanding of the nature of human speech and its morality – one which all of my school teachers and most of my other employers understood – is apparently not known by one of Memorial’s pastors. Imagine that: a thing which would have gotten soap in the mouth at home, detention in school, and a pink slip in many jobs, and yet it is put forth as Christian ministry to comfort the tempted! It seems to be forgotten that one cannot urge to holiness with unclean vulgarity, nor motivate resistance to temptation with actual sin.
It is my own failures regarding cursing, and my own efforts to overcome it which motivate my opposition to it here, for I recognize that a church in which such evil is allowed to pass unrebuked is a church in which I will never be sanctified on this point. And the tendency of the leaven of sin being to further leaven everything it touches, I doubt that such a church will be free of failure on many other points.
As for sadness here, it is a grief that ministers would ever get to a point where they thought it acceptable to write in such a manner; and it is a further sadness that such a slip was either unnoticed or unrestrained. That is the proper ground of sadness here. It is not that the one who published such things left our denomination formally, but that long before his morals in speech had already done so, and that the fault was not meaningfully corrected.
And so it is with the other matter to which I alluded. Where it is unthinkable to publicly present oneself as having a sex that differs from one’s actual anatomy (sans surgical alteration), the phenomenon of sexual confusion is extremely rare. There are still very few who suffer it, and they deserve our pity and aid, for such an experience must surely be miserable. But they deserve our aid, not our indulgence; and the habit of affirming those with such afflictions has caused the frequency of that phenomenon to explode, particularly among the young and impressionable. When saying ‘I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body’ receives society’s disapproval, almost no one does it. When it is met with approval and all manner of practical, medical, legal, and political favor, it suddenly becomes in vogue.
The answer for the church is not to allow its property to be used to celebrate and encourage such a destructive social phenomenon but to persist in telling the truth that God has ordained a definite order for human life, and that all things which run counter to that ensnare people in destructive falsehood and reduce their victims to earthly and eternal misery of body, mind, and spirit. It was no more loving for Memorial to allow its property to be used to promote such things than it was for Israel’s kings to allow the high places to be used for the worship of idols. It was not reaching the lost; it was giving practical aid for them to commit a type of sin which is especially ensnaring and destructive of its victims. The sadness is not that Memorial has left, but that they ever got to a point of being so confused about what is right and wrong, as well as that they did not heed rebuke but attempted to justify their sin. There is still time for them to repent, and everyone in the PCA ought to pray that they do so, but our grief ought to be felt for the right reason.
And in conclusion let me state that there is one other point on which we all ought to be engaged in frequent, tearful prayer. Memorial is gone, yes, but there are many in our midst who still feel it was guiltless of serious wrongdoing and that its deeds were only “unwise” (as Lecroy put it). And the fact stands against the PCA that it failed to punish wrongdoing effectively. There is a great difference between a wrongdoer being named as a sinner and cast by the church from her offices and such a person leaving of his own volition. In the first case the church exercises its spiritual power to declare to the sinner and others his true nature and need to repent. In the latter he leaves unrebuked because he believes he has been wronged.
We should not allow wrongdoers to depart imagining themselves as victims rather than perpetrators. The whole point of discipline is to appraise and declare someone’s true nature on the basis of his deeds. We did not do that in any meaningful sense of the term, and the accused even seized that as an opportunity to publicly present himself as “exonerated” of wrong and thus imply his opponents are slanderers. Those responsible for this failure to administer discipline are still in office among us, and there is reason to think they persist in their original thinking. For the failure to do our duty and the probability that we will continue to fail in future there is much occasion for sadness, dear reader, and it is on that account that you should be grieved. Pray for discernment and mercy, for God observes our deeds and it may be that it is with us now as it was with Peter’s audience, and that it “is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet. 4:17).
Tom Hervey is a member, Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church, Simpsonville, SC. The statements made in this article are the personal opinions of the author alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of his church or its leadership or other members.
 To be sure, Scripture uses some vivid terms, yet they are not unclean. There is a popular notion that the Gk. skubala in Phil. 3:8 is really a curse word for dung. Without getting into a detailed discussion, suffice it to say that such a claim betrays the eagerness of many for a pretext to justify their carnal speech, but that such evidence as is claimed for it is far from convincing and is rather heavy on assumptions and mere appeals to authority.