In June last year, PCA agency presidents and permanent committee coordinators published an unsigned letter “in light of the heinous killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the systemic mistreatment of so many other people of color.” And just in the last couple of weeks much of the talk about the PCA’s 48th General Assembly is centered on the “Open Letter” signed by close to 700 teaching and ruling elders and the “moderators letter” signed by 15 former GA moderators.
For much of time I had been in the PCA, our General Assembly, permanent committees, and denominational agencies had been doing what had caused me to leave the Episcopal Church–allowing the pressure of the culture around us to undermine faithful exegesis, preaching, and application of God’s Word.
In 2019, the reinforcement of the “progressive” element in the PCA took the form of the PCA protesting against Pastor Steven Warhurst’ General Assembly floor speech–calling it intemperate–because he espoused the belief that the gay community’s self-identification as sexual minorities is an attempt to deceive Christians about the sinfulness of homosexuality. There were 450 elders at GA that supported the parliamentary maneuvering to do this and 203 elders who actually signed the protest against Warhurst’s speech.
Then, over the last year or so, semi-anonymous public letters posted to websites have served this same purpose. In June last year, PCA agency presidents and permanent committee coordinators published an unsigned letter “in light of the heinous killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and the systemic mistreatment of so many other people of color.” And just in the last couple of weeks much of the talk about the PCA’s 48th General Assembly is centered on the “Open Letter” signed by close to 700 teaching and ruling elders and the “moderators letter” signed by 15 former GA moderators.
From Support to Silence
One unfortunate aspect of the letters and the 2019 protest is that they are not only being used to support those who agree with the authors but also as an attempt to silence those who disagree with them. That is obvious in the case of Pastor Warhurst; a number of commenters have written on this aspect of the recent letters as well.
For instance, in his “Response to the ‘Open Letter,’” Pastor Jon Payne wrote:
Church history is chalked full of controversy because doctrinal error and seductive heresies are like weeds in a garden. They’re always popping up in one form or another. In the age of blogs and social media the weeds of doctrinal error grow and spread faster than ever. Indeed, an online article, post, or tweet disseminating error, confusion, or falsehood can potentially be on hundreds or even thousands of screens in a short period of time. In many cases this makes public response prudent and imperative. It would appear from the Open Letter that the authors and signatories might disagree with me on this point, except for the fact that the letter is, well, public. They entered their letter into the fray of controversy. I’m not bothered by their desire to do so, just that they don’t want others to have the same privilege.
Similarly, Pastor Stephen Spinnenweber points out the use of a “straw man” in the Open Letter (OL) to accuse those who disagree with them of being extreme:
One of the leading concerns of the OL appears to be the use of “extreme examples” by the opposite side that “ignite alarm and enflame passions among brothers.” This desire to avoid “extremes” is a recurring theme throughout the letter. … However, despite the repeated calls to avoid setting up straw men and to avoid extremes, the OL’s focus on homosexual practice exclusively and failure to address the matter of same-sex attraction at all, functionally set up a straw man.
It is fascinating–though distressing–to see the progressive element’s rhetoric heating up over the one issue we thought we could all agree on–homosexuality. Though there will be a number of important issues dealt with in this year’s General Assembly in St. Louis, the elephant in the room is whether the PCA should continue to allow an openly gay man to be an ordained minister of God’s Word.