By now much has been written and read about the PCA’s vote to affirm the Nashville Statement on Sexuality https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement/
at our 2019 General Assembly held in Dallas TX.
The genesis for both proposing and eventually affirming this statement was the Revoice https://revoice.us/ conference held at a PCA church in 2018. Those who promoted and argued to affirm the statement believed it was vital the PCA to ‘take a stand’ for God’s truth regarding the sin of homosexuality. As one presbyter remarked in his speech endorsing its affirmation, the NS would enable him to make it clear to a Christian school to which his church had been invited to serve that the PCA had not ‘gone liberal’ on this issue.
But was it critically necessary for us to take this stand at this time? Who exactly did we want to know that we’ve taken such a stand? And if it seemed so clear that this is the direction in which we must go, why did so many including myself vote against it? Finally, will it really enable us to faithfully minister to those who struggle with same-sex attraction?
Allow me to explain why I believe affirming the statement was not only unnecessary but in the end, may have done more damage than good.
First off, it was in no way critically necessary for us to ‘take a stand’ on the issue of homosexuality at this time. It wasn’t needed since we already have. As a condition of our ordination, every PCA elder must subscribe to the word of God along with the Westminster Confession of Faith along with the Shorter and Longer Catechism as they conform to the Scriptures. The WCF found on the PCA website https://pcanet.org/about-the-pca-2-2-2/
reads “Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time.” WCF 24.1. It further states “Marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden by the Word. Nor can such incestuous marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man or consent of parties, so as those persons may live together as man and wife.” WCF 24.4.
The answer to question 139 of the Larger Catechism provides further clarification on the topic. Q. 139. “What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment? A. The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts;...”
Upon taking our ordination vows each and every PCA pastor and ruling elder must embrace and affirm these statements. We cannot take an exception to them. If at anytime during our ministry our views on this issue change such that we can no longer in good conscience affirm them, we must immediately inform our church or presbytery. If it is found that we’re out of accord with what the Confession states (and thus from our viewpoint what Scripture teaches) we must then accept the revocation of our ordination vows. Period. That’s where we stand.
However, some seem to find it helpful to have ‘up to date statements’ for our ongoing battles in the culture wars. Consequently, relying on our affirmation of historic biblical teaching and subscribed confessions just aren’t enough. Hence the need for a strong statement to signal (actually I’m still not sure to whom we’re signaling) that we the PCA have in fact not ‘gone liberal’. The thing is though, we’ve already made such a statement at a previous General Assembly.
At our fifth General Assembly held in 1977, the PCA voted to affirm the following resolution.
“That the Fifth General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America affirm the Biblical position for our denomination which states that:
1. The act of homosexuality is a sin according to God's Word;
2. Churches should actively seek to lead the homosexual person to confession and repentance that he might find justification and sanctification in Jesus Christ, according to I Corinthians 6:11; and
3. In light of the Biblical view of its sinfulness, a practicing homosexual continuing in this sin would not be a fit candidate for ordination or membership in the Presbyterian Church in America.”
This statement is clear, direct and firm. It’s a wonder that my fellow elder who felt he needed the NS to assure the Christian school of the PCA’s position on this didn’t immediately refer them to it. Now some might argue that was over thirty years ago. And what was then a few cracks in our cultural armor against homosexuality have breached into gaping holes to the extent where this society has all but caved on the issue.
Once again, however, there was no need to affirm the NS. The fact is, 1977 wasn’t the only time the PCA addressed homosexuality. Moreover, those concerned with Revoice and not satisfied with their statement of biblical faith or their Statement on Sexual Ethics and Christian Obedience https://revoice.us/about/our-beliefs/statements-of-conviction/statement-on-sexual-ethics-and-christian-obedience/ could have simply put forward an overture stating our continued affirmation of the action of the fifth GA on this issue. This would have been especially wise and compassionate since we all knew there was an overture to have GA form an ad interim study committee on the topic of human sexuality.
For me, there was one more significant reason to vote against affirming the NS. During the floor arguments, two of my fellow brothers and elders stood to speak against voting for NS. They did so with passion, courage, and grief. (The fact that one of these brothers was recently the target of a facebook live session publicly calling for the PCA to bring charges against him in my view highlights his courage).
These brothers pleaded with us to vote against affirming the NS as they were among those of us who struggle with same-sex attraction and seek to serve among the same-sex attracted community on a consistent basis. These dear brothers stood up and bared their souls to us. They entreated us as brothers and begged for us to refrain from doing something that we based on our biblical convictions, confessional stance and previous denominational actions had absolutely no need to do.
Frankly, I do not understand. I cannot comprehend why we still felt it worthwhile to affirm a statement that was so flawed that even some of those who voted to affirm it then turned around and argued that we needed something else since it was in fact flawed!
And I regret it. I regret and grieve that we chose to ‘take a stand’ out of fear of what other evangelicals might think of us and in so doing deeply wounded our brothers. The vote to affirm the NS was an opportunity for us not to ‘take a stand’, but to listen, mourn and sit with our brothers.
And we failed them.
TE Lance Lewis
Northern California Presbytery