Love is speaking truth in order to prevent sin. As Side B homosexuality ordination has been active now for several years, it is becoming normalized. Unless we take drastic action quickly, it will become the accepted theological view for the next generation.
Those who personally know me think that I’m one of the nicest guys in the world. Maybe it’s just that I am shy and backward, and they take that for being nice! To get the truth about me you will probably have to talk to my wife and my children. The dictionary defines the word nice in terms of being pleasant and agreeable. Nice people tend to avoid conflict and any direct confrontation. They move through the back entrance to get to where they are going. Being nice is not always a bad thing. To survive in the pastoral ministry today, you probably need to be nice.
As I was reading the proposed overtures to the 49th Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) General Assembly (GA) on the issue of homosexual officers, the first thought that came to my mind was the word ‘nice.’
After a few years, the definition of Side B homosexuality has finally become clearer. It is now rather apparent that Side B is considered a state of being wherein there is basically no hope of change. Orientation is fixed. Thus, in the minds of most conservative elders in the PCA, Side B homosexual officers are now unacceptable. Each one of the overtures seek to restrict Side B homosexuals from serving as officers in the PCA. With the exception of one Overture 15, I would classify them all as being rather indirect and nice.
These overtures can basically be boiled down to four separate overtures. 1) Overture 12 from Hills and Plains Presbytery denigrates “juxtapose[d] identities,” but begins the Overture by using language that officers “are well served (italics mine) when they can be honest about their present fallen realities and their hope for sanctification.” 2) Overture 20 and Overture 23 from North Georgia Presbytery and Southeast Alabama Presbytery are almost identical to each other. The proposed change would disqualify “those who identify or describe themselves according to their specific sins.” They also speak about those men who need to “demonstrate maturity (italics mine) of faith and growing conformity to Jesus Christ.” 3) Overture 29 from Pittsburgh Presbytery does call for a change to the BCO that would disqualify men who “deny the sinfulness of fallen desires, or who deny the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or who fail to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions.” However, they go on to say in Overture 31 that “the officers of the church must exercise great care (italics mine) to not normalize those sins in the eyes of the congregation.” Here, they are being really nice.
4) Overture 15 is not considered to be so nice. It plainly seeks to add to BCO 7-4 the following words. “Men who identify as homosexual, even those who identify as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy in that self-identification, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.” It’s very candid and to the point. This proposed change is not considered nice because it is deemed by some as being too direct by using the word “homosexual.” I have been told that homosexuals should not alone be targeted because there are many other sinful conditions that need to be addressed. They tell me that it’s unfair to corner homosexuals.
Overture 15 is a duplicate of a one sent by Westminster Presbytery to the 48th General Assembly. It disappeared in the parliamentary process last year. I suspect it will do the same again this year.
I believe the time for being nice is over. We are in an emergency, and in crisis periods, it is time to be direct and to the point. Consider the following:
- Love is speaking truth in order to prevent sin. As Side B homosexuality ordination has been active now for several years, it is becoming normalized. Unless we take drastic action quickly, it will become the accepted theological view for the next generation.
- Being loving and direct is what most people in the pews are expecting out of their leaders. Rather than dissecting words that are Jeopardy clues or insinuations, why not just be direct and get to the point.
- In addition, it should be noted that Overture 15 is not dealing with church members, but only with church officers who must be above reproach in their public recognition as clergymen.
- Conservatives in the PCA don’t want to be viewed as being political. Politics is a dirty word in their circles. There is no such group working behind closed doors to move the Church in their direction. This disassociation with politics may be considered a kind of badge of honor. Their attitude is that ‘if we have the numbers, we will win. If we don’t, it’s God’s providence and we are called to acknowledge God’s providence.’
- Some say that the BCO is not the place to speak to this issue. I would tend to agree, but we live in extraordinary times and in such times, we must do extraordinary things. Changing the Westminster Confession of Faith is nearly impossible and would be almost sacrilegious to most Presbyterians. It appears to me that changing the BCO is our only option.
- Conservatives have lost their case in the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC). The Ad-Interim Committee Report on Human Sexuality did not help their cause at all. The two overtures this year asking the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction will just be sent to the SJC.
- Some say that such bold language as used in Overture 15 will not be well-received in the presbyteries. The PCA as a whole seems to be saturated with the characteristic of niceness. They say that it is better to be cautious and come through the backdoor – and have something – rather than being direct about it and have nothing. This may be true.
- Sometimes, it’s good to hit hard and fast. Rather than being nice over time, it is best to be loving and direct in the present. It’s better to remove the imminent danger today than to wait and let and let it fester into something ugly later. A controlled explosion that detonates a ticking time-bomb is better than a delayed explosion by the bomb itself that will do much more damage.
I suspect some version of what I call the four nice overtures will be adopted this year by the General Assembly. Ruling elders will be out in force again at the Assembly. A new proposed change to the BCO will go back to the presbyteries for another vote. This time it may get the needed vote by presbyteries. It may pass the final test next year at the 50th General Assembly. Conservatives will consider this a victory. However, in my opinion these overtures are so nice that they fall short of the wisdom of being transparent and direct. Those who are homosexual officers will tweak their language to pass the new standards. The new BCO words (and new language created by homosexual officers) will be debated and debated. More SJC cases may follow.
In conclusion, maybe being nice and indirect is better than just saying plainly that homosexuals are not eligible to hold office in the PCA. In God’s providence, we shall see.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tenn.