The following is the wording of Overture 15 approved by the General Assembly: “Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”
The Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) is divided over whether men who describe themselves as homosexuals (even though they claim to practice celibacy) should be able to hold the offices of elder or deacon in the Church. This division was evident at the 49th General Assembly (GA) in Birmingham, Alabama, where the Majority Report of the Overtures Committee recommended a motion to deny Overture 15 from Westminster Presbytery.
However, a Minority Report of the Overtures Committee that recommended a slightly edited version of Overture 15 was adopted by the Assembly. A motion to make the Minority Report the main motion was adopted by a vote of 1099-1049. This was only a 50-vote difference. If this procedural vote had failed, the Minority Report (and Overture 15) would have been dead in the water. This Minority Report has now become a proposed amendment to the Book of Church Order (BCO) which must pass a vote of 2/3 of the presbyteries. Then finally, it must pass by a majority vote at the next General Assembly in Memphis, Tennessee.
Overture 15 cuts to the chase and lays the cards on the table. It is short and concise. It basically says that men who describe themselves as homosexuals, even though they claim to practice celibacy, are disqualified from holding office in the PCA. It gets to the root of the problem that is causing the division in the PCA. Because it is so succinct and to the point, the wording itself should not be a major issue of contention.
Its brevity should circumvent typical objections to both language and parliamentary procedure, even though some will object because they don’t like the word “claim,” and others because the amendment could better be placed in another part of the BCO. I have heard other PCA elders call the language inflammatory and unloving. However, there is not much wiggle room here. Basically, a man is either for it or against it.
As Dr. Palmer Robertson alluded to in his speech on the floor of the Assembly, Overture 15 draws the line in the sand. The line has been drawn and the future of the PCA will be greatly impacted by this vote. I don’t think most people in the PCA realize how serious this is.
I expect that Overture 15 will fail to get the required number of presbytery votes needed in order to be presented to the next GA as a change to the BCO. This effort is viewed by many in the PCA as the last possible attempt to change the direction of our beloved Church. If this proposed change in the BCO fails, then the battle might very well be over. It may be said that the conservatives fought well, but they lost. The question then becomes what will happen after that. What happens in the PCA if Overture 15 fails? I see three possibilities.
First, there could be some who will try again. More overtures next year? Some may fight on. However, many of the conservatives in the PCA are tired of fighting, and I think the number of new overtures on this issue will drop dramatically, if not disappear altogether. Every option available has been pursued including judicial action, study reports, and changes to the BCO, but all these have failed to stop the direction of the PCA.
Secondly, this could lead to a split in the PCA. However, the problem with this scenario on a national level is that there is no leadership for this type of movement. Without leadership, it just will not happen. Maybe in another 5-10 years, but not now. The Gospel Reformation Network (GRN) does not appear to be making any plans for this. No one else of any stature has stepped up to the plate.
I don’t expect any split in the PCA. The tepid overtures this year on this issue, which define sanctification in generic terms, came from some of our most conservative presbyteries. Only Westminster Presbytery (Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia) had the temerity to submit a forthright overture like 15.
Unless there is a confident move on the part of some in the PCA, she will remain intact. Overture #29 will be adopted. It will be used as a tool to say that the problem has been resolved. Attendance at the GA by ruling elders will drop, and the PCA will then move more in the direction of the progressive left. History will not look kindly upon my generation.
Thirdly, I think the most likely reaction will be that more individual churches will leave the PCA, and either seek membership in the OPC or the ARP. Vanguard Presbytery is not an option because within a two-year period, that group has already experienced a division which resulted in a new denomination of only a very miniscule number of churches.
As a charter member of the first General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama in 1973, this is all heart-breaking for me. It seems providentially ironic that at the 50th General Assembly celebration of the PCA, the vision of our founding fathers will be the beginning of the end. The dream that these men had just fifty years ago will disappear.
I would plead with all the readers of this article that they contact their teaching and ruling elders and encourage them to vote for the passage of the Proposed Change to the Book of Church Order reflecting the content of Overture 15. I encourage you to send this article to all of your friends in the PCA. The PCA was founded by the grassroots, and I believe that only the grassroots can save her.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tenn.
 The following is the wording of Overture 15 approved by the General Assembly: “Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”