For men equipped with the keys to some of the most sacredly precious positions in the Kingdom of Christ, O15 simplifies the decision-making on our version of the broader homosexual clergy question. Is the man describing himself (present tense) as a homosexual, all equivocations aside? If so, as this means he is NOT above reproach, we can be sure that the Spirit has not called him to sacred office in the Church.
A fellow PCA elder, a brother in Christ whom I am indeed grateful for, asked for my reaction to some arguments he was going to make before his session, urging them at their upcoming presbytery meeting to vote against Overture 15. In keeping with the best of biblical (i.e., presbyterian) practice, he asked for the reactions of someone he knows would most likely be opposed to his reasoning. (Well done, brother, well done.)
PCA presbyteries are now taking up this overture, with the first one to vote on it passing it (8/27/22, Central Carolina, 41-11-1). O15 is considered a long shot for receiving the two-thirds majority yes votes from our presbyteries. Accordingly, appreciating this brother’s integrity, and disagreeing with his reasoning for a “no” vote on O15, I thought I might edit my comments to him, and post them for consideration by others. My goal (as a faith-exercise of my calling as an officer in the PCA) is to see the Spirit use these admittedly imperfect arguments to persuade other PCA elders to support O15’s passage.
Here is O15, as passed by the PCA 49th GA (Birmingham Al, ’22):
“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.”
I want to offer two arguments for why this overture should be passed:
1) It avoids the identity language equivocation trap, and
2) It provides a simple and straightforward way of applying the above reproach standard.
The Equivocation Trap
Almost all the arguments I’ve seen against O15 anchor themselves on a reason for the failure of overtures 23 and 37 from the previous GA (48th, St. Louis). The main argument against them (persuasive in about forty percent of our presbyteries) was that the language of identity was problematic. Particularly, they noted that the teaching elder exemplar in view (i.e., the “poster child” prompting these overtures, no denigration intended) maintains that in his use of identity language (e.g., a homosexual pastor, a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction as much as he did the first day he was saved) is nothing more than apologetic-ordered language intended to help in ministering to those struggling with the sins of same-sex attraction. The opponents to these overtures also noted that the TE in question also affirms his agreement with the biblical doctrine of new identity in Christ. The same arguments are being raised against passage of O15: such men are not identifying as homosexuals; instead they are identifying with those struggling with same-sex attraction.
Inside and Outside Definitions
I agree that the exemplar TE’s description of himself in terms of a believer who struggles with homosexuality fits both the inside and outside the PCA. He is able to do so not because he uses the same description inside that he does outside. Instead, he is able to do so because he uses the post-modern technique of equivocation. In the most egregious examples, this brother uses the same language inside and outside, qualifying his usage with descriptions fitted to each context’s own meaning of identity. This is equivocation. Using this technique, this brother can use self-descriptive language as a same-sex attracted pastor, in two diametrically opposed contexts, and affirm that he is consistent with the doctrine of both.
The Equivocation Trap
To push this a bit more, consider the self-description this brother offers in both contexts. His inside self-description as a homosexual pastor is more or less consistent with the Bible (as summarized in the Westminster Standards). The brother maintains he is merely “identifying” himself with besetting sins that he nevertheless biblically describes and seeks to biblically deal with.