Itching Ears Part 1: Greg Johnson’s explanation of Revoice
[The following was written by PCA Teaching Elders Rev. Dr. Andrew Dionne, Trinity Presbyterian (PCA) Church in Spartanburg, SC, and Rev. Andrew Halsey, First Presbyterian (PCA) Church, Charleston, MS. It is Part 1 of a series. Please see Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 as well.]
On Monday, May 28, Greg Johnson, senior pastor of Memorial Presbyterian (PCA) Church in St. Louis, MO issued a letter justifying his church hosting a conference for homosexuals and other “sexual minorities” titled the Revoice Conference to be held July 26-28, 2018. The conference has this tagline:
“Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic Christian tradition.”
The Revoice Conference is an historic moment in the life of the Presbyterian Church in America. For the first time, our denomination is faced with a full-scale revolt against the Biblical sexual ethic concerning various forms of sexual perversion, but particularly those Johnson and Revoice call the “queer” and “sexual minorities.” The revolt is being led by Johnson and a number of fellow grads of Covenant Theological Seminary with the full support and participation of the seminary’s Vice President for Academics and Professor of Old Testament, Jay Sklar.
Johnson’s letter is in response to a groundswell of criticism of the Revoice Conference. Johnson begins his response by addressing one of those criticisms—a public letter written by Al Baker, an evangelist for the Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship.
To understand Johnson’s response, it would be helpful to read Baker’s criticisms of Revoice. Johnson is smooth in his patronization of Baker so that readers who haven’t read Baker will have little idea how intense Baker’s “concerns” are, nor the directness of his condemnations.
The text of Johnson’s defense of Revoice follows (indented) with our critique interspersed:
I just read Al Baker’s opinion piece “Queer Culture in the PCA? Concerns about the Revoice Conference being held in a PCA church in St. Louis in July” (May 25, 2018). I want to thank Al for his eagerness to call us back to the Bible and for his passion for that repentance unto life through which (alone) we can enter our soul’s rest. He has shared his own history of evangelism among people living a homosexual lifestyle. I commend that example.
We start by noting Johnson’s expression of thanks for Baker’s letter as well as his commendation of Baker’s “passion” for the “repentance” of those “living a homosexual lifestyle.” Given what he goes on to say in the rest of his letter, we find it difficult to accept Johnson’s sincerity in these beginning sentences.
The entire thrust of Johnson’s Revoice Conference is the opposite of this repentance he claims to commend. The conference is eager to assure the sinners Johnson and Revoice refer to as “sexual minorities” that they need not repent in order to enjoy “Gospel flourishing” in the “historic Christian church.” They themselves state that the conference’s goal is supporting, encouraging, and empowering—not changing or repenting.
Take the conference tag-line and insert any other sin. Consider adultery. “Supporting, encouraging, and empowering adulterers so they can experience the life-giving character of the historic Christian tradition.” So the adulterer would get…what exactly? No help fighting his sin, apparently. But that should be the very first step—obliterate the sin, kill the urge. That is what truly supports, encourages, and empowers the believer fighting against indwelling sin.
As the senior pastor of the conference’s host church, I would like to explain why we are honored to host the Revoice conference this summer.
No explanation needed, actually. We can give as good an explanation ourselves.
The conference is pitch-perfect for the homosexualist culture of American elites who are head over heels in love with LGBTQ. The church is eager to get into the party. The gracious historic Memorial Presbyterian campus and architecture sitting next to the gracious historic Forest Park is the perfect venue for a fashionable coming out party for elite Presbyterians. There’s the added advantage of Memorial’s members being able to tell their friends and relatives in bondage to these sins that they themselves are kinder and gentler than Scripture—especially Moses and the Apostle Paul.
Why are we hosting this gathering? Because there are a lot of gay men and women becoming Christians—or who grew up in Christian homes—and found themselves attracted to the same sex. They aren’t always sure what that means for their sexuality or for their church life. They want to obey God, but they often feel like they don’t fit in the body of Christ. The goal of the conference is to help those who believe in the historic, biblical sexual ethic figure out how to thrive within churches that share those biblical commitments.
Johnson says, “a lot of gay men and women…found themselves attracted to the same sex.”
When the starship Enterprise’s transporter malfunctions, people end up somewhere they weren’t expecting to go. According to Johnson and his Revoice colleagues, it is like that with homosexuals. They opened their eyes one day and “found” they were attracted to members of the same sex.
So then, the conference isn’t for homosexuals who were victims of sexual predators—often members of their own families. Such people don’t “find themselves attracted.” They suffered the predations of child-corrupters and came to realize the corrupters had harmed them, sexually. They suffered abuse and neglect and rape and realized their predator’s abuse of them had deformed their sexual desires.
Then too, subtract the homosexuals who were victims of neglect by fathers. They don’t “find themselves” attracted to men, sexually. They find themselves fatherless and suffer and grieve and mourn over the mournful impact this has had on their manhood.
Now then, we are left with those homosexuals for whom this conference is actually intended: those who just found themselves attracted to the same sex for no reason other than, as they would put it, that “God (or nature) made them that way.” That explanation at times is accompanied by some minimalist tip of the hat to the fall of mankind in Adam, but it’s really not necessary because what’s wrong with being “gay”? Minorities are cool—not just racial, but also sexual.
Then Johnson goes into his patronizing mode again, justifying his Revoice Conference by explaining how many of these sexual minorities’ churches have been unprepared to handle anyone who lusts for the same sex. He explains to his readers that these churches and officers and members weren’t equipped to “support, encourage, and empower.” These churches and the souls in them didn’t know enough to name their gay brothers and sisters the way they preferred to be named. These churches didn’t allow the sexual minorities to experience that transcendental experience of gay culture—coming out of the closet.
Yes, of course there are churches incapable of handling those who are tempted to commit homosexual sins and to live the life of effeminacy. Yes, of course there are churches that avoid speaking of sin, avoid rejoicing in repentance, avoid giving the pastors and elders opportunities to know the people—good, bad, and ugly. Yes, there are many, many churches that avoid accountability, admonition, and the restorative goodness of church discipline. But these good things are not what Revoice is calling to be restored to the Body of Christ. Not at all.
Instead of men and women who come to Christ being helped to recognize their need to repent of homosexuality and effeminacy, these poor souls are led astray by Revoice’s talk of the importance of “empowering” their “LGBT identity.”
But what the gay man who comes to faith in Christ is promised in Scripture and truly needs is the true Church of Jesus Christ. That true Church will come alongside this dear brother and work to heal him body and soul through the full power of the word, sacraments, and discipline. The true Bride of Christ will ask this brother to help the souls all around him struggling with other sins so that, together, all God’s children may find faith to fight their temptations and sins. Not celebrate them.