Revoice Reviewed: PCA Pastor Greg Johnson
Below is a full transcript of PCA Pastor Greg Johnson’s message at Revoice. Johnson’s talk is long, and we will not be commenting on all of it. Most of what we’ve written is near the beginning and, although that’s the worst part of his talk, there’s much that could be said about other problems later on, including his attacks on pastor Toby Sumpter and Stephen Black. There are a number of things Pastor Johnson says, especially in the latter part of his talk, that are true. But far from reassuring us, it is our assessment the truth he speaks is being intentionally used to further the false message at the center of Revoice.
The entire LivingOut.org, spiritual friendship, gay Christian, Revoice movement is built on the premise that neither repentance unto life nor sanctification unto holiness involve turning one’s back on the LGBTQ identities and that each of these sexual perversions should be liberated from the shame God attached to them.
The new sweet spot among celebrity church leaders in our post-Obergefell world is coddling LGBTQ identities in order to present a kinder, gentler face to our wicked world. Then they have the gall to call their compromise a graceful Gospel witness. Their compromise and opposition to shame are directly contrary to the Apostolic witness of the New Testament preached to a world very much like our own, but this fact is no deterrent to these men. They have fixed their hope on finding a middle ground that will appease the sexual anarchists while presenting themselves to their sheep as faithful to the Gospel, and this they have masterfully accomplished.
Pastor Johnson does an exquisite job showing the parameters of this compromise here in his message. Watch him carefully. Without the hard work of discernment you will be hard put to see where he betrays the Apostolic witness, but betray it he does.
It starts with the words he uses in these first two paragraphs—and the words he doesn’t use. Keep the Apostle’s words: “indecent,” “effeminate,” “their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,” “degrading passions,” and “burned in their desire” in your mind as you listen to Pastor Johnson. Especially the Apostle’s words to the Corinthians, “such were some of you.”
Smooth errors are worse than bald faced lies. Chesterton pointed out that “to be wrong, and to be carefully wrong; that is the definition of decadence.” So watch as Pastor Johnson weaves his web, mesmerizing Revoice’s LGBTQ sexual minorities while confirming them in their bondage.
I’m going to talk about two categories of things. First, I’m going to talk about the biggest issue for creating a church or ministry culture that is conducive and supportive for sexual minorities thriving, and by that, we mean people whose experience of sexuality is different from most people, non-straight we might say.
I’m not using that term in any kind of loaded, neo-Marxist way; it’s just a way for describing people whose experience is different. We’re going to talk about that, but what is the biggest issue in terms of creating a church culture where they feel safe and they can flourish and thrive and grow in Christ and use their gifts and develop into leaders in the kingdom of God and within our culture as well as within the church.
In Johnson’s opening paragraph, notice how he speaks to his “non-straight sexual minorities” about their LGBTQ identities. He tells them they have not chosen these identities, but merely “experienced” them. “Experienced” seems innocuous, but with this word Pastor Johnson undercuts the moral agency of those under his preaching.
Implicit in Pastor Johnson’s call for “sexual minorities” to be helped to “thrive” in the church is that they will continue to identify in the church as “sexual minorities.” Which leads us to re-ask the perennial question these men refuse to answer: were there none of Revoice’s “sexual minorities” among those the Apostle Paul listed in the Corinthian congregation, saying about them “of such were some of you” (1Corinthians 6:9-11)? Did the Apostle Paul assume the permanence of effeminate and homosexual identities in his congregations—the permanence of “sexual minorities”—as Pastor Johnson assumes it?
No, the Apostle Paul specifically listed both “effeminate” and “homosexuals” among those for whom their sinful acts and identity were past tense—done and gone. Neither murderers nor homosexuals nor the effeminate continued to identify as murderers, homosexuals, or the effeminate in the New Testament church. The very idea of the Apostle Paul giving Pastor Johnson’s message—say, to the church in Corinth—is ludicrous.
Why does Pastor Johnson assume the permanence of the very sins the Apostle Paul declared to be done and gone among the Corinthians? Why is he so devoid of grace and hope in the power of the Holy Spirit?
We are pastors who know and have long ministered to men and women who weren’t at Revoice and would never subject themselves or anyone they love to this sort of betrayal of souls. These godly men and women do not identify themselves by sins they have repented of. They were effeminate, butch, and homosexual—but now they are not.
What’s so special about Revoicers that they get to avoid repentance and sanctification? Or, as they would put it, that they get to hold onto their sinful identities calling themselves “sexual minorities” and demanding the church accept them just the way they are?
When Pastor Johnson says his terms “sexual minorities” and “non-straight” are not “loaded” or “neo-Marxist,” we should note it is these very terms that are used across the Western world to attack and destroy God’s sexual order. Truth is that from beginning to end, Pastor Johnson’s language is “loaded.”
Johnson claims to believe in the inspiration of every word of Scripture, but then he explains his phrase “sexual minorities” by telling us it is “just a way of describing those whose experience is different.”
We can imagine Revoicers talking to each other expressing their disappointment with the Apostle Paul’s words to the Romans:
“What was the Paul thinking when he spoke of ‘degrading passions’? He should take a lesson from Pastor Johnson. It would have been such a better presentation of the Gospel if he had spoken of ‘sexual minorities’ whose ‘experience is different.’
“Was Paul so oblivious? Did he not see all the sexual minorities surrounding him? Did he not know the Roman emperors themselves were ‘sexual minorities’ whose ‘experience of sexuality’ was ‘non-straight?’ I mean Gibbons himself tells us all but one of the first fifteen Roman emperors were sexual minorities. Did Paul not know this? This was the world Paul was addressing, but look at him shaming the Romans by speaking of ‘indecent acts’ and ‘degrading passions’!”
So who’s right—Pastor Johnson or the Apostle Paul? Both are speaking to cultures awash in effeminacy, sodomy, lesbianism, incest, and every other sexual perversion, yet their language and the intent behind it is opposite.
We remind readers sympathetic to Pastor Johnson’s circumlocutions and euphemisms that it was the Holy Spirit Who inspired the words used by the Apostle Paul.
No, Pastor Johnson, your “non-straight” “sexual minority” language is not “just a way for describing people whose experience is different.” It is well-worn political rhetoric meant to elicit sympathy, leaving shame and the Biblical language reinforcing it far, far behind.
Pastor Johnson goes on to state the purpose of Revoice. Revoice’s “sexual minorities” are “creating a church culture where they feel safe and they can flourish and thrive and grow in Christ and use their gifts and develop into leaders in the church.”
Pastor Johnson is a leader in the church. Thus he assures his fellow Revoicers that each of them can be leaders in the church, also. If they break down the walls of prejudice, they may finally feel safe and flourish in the church, growing and using their gifts to become Titus 2 women, deacons, elders, and pastors. Seminary professors, also. Youth workers and children’s ministers.
Pastor Johnson continues:
So I’m going to talk about the biggest thing, and that’s half of what I want to say, and if you only get one thing, get that half if you can because it’s the thing that if you don’t get then, if the coin doesn’t drop, you’re going to do more damage than good realistically. And then the last half, I’m going to talk about everything else.
And so I’ll start with a story. A friend of mine named Sean, and all my stories I’ve changed enough so you won’t know who I’m talking about. A friend of mine, Sean, professed faith at a young age, grew up in a Christian home, conservative Christian home, went to a conservative Christian Bible college where in his last semester he was expelled.
He was expelled because he was having sexual hook-ups with other men, and it was frequent. He hadn’t told how frequent it was, it was actually a lot more frequent than he told.
Pastor Johnson minces and prances around the specifics of Sean’s sin, implying that Sean’s lies about the details were justified since the school couldn’t handle having a sinner among them.
We don’t want to reduce things to numbers, but in this case it’s important to quantify things. How many men did Sean sodomize?
Pastor Johnson reports Sean’s “sexual hook-ups” were “actually a lot more frequent” than he admitted to the Christian school leaders, so maybe we’re talking five times? Ten? Twenty or thirty?
No. Rather, many hundreds of times. Pastor Johnson reports Sean “hadn’t gone three days without having sex with another man since he was a kid” and it didn’t end until he was expelled from his Bible college in his senior year, moved to a new city, and joined a new church.
Thus we’re talking about somewhere between five and ten years, depending on how you interpret “kid” and assuming he was twenty-two or so in his senior year of college. Five years of sex every three days is over six-hundred times. Ten years is twelve-hundred times. These are minimums, and potentially severely underestimated since the numbers above assume he always went three days before engaging in sodomy once again. This assumption is likely incorrect.
Now we know what Pastor Johnson meant by saying Sean had sex “a lot more times” than he told the authorities at his Bible college. Maybe Sean had told them he’d only had sex with another man once or twice? Maybe ten or twenty times? Maybe fifty or a hundred times? Maybe two or four hundred times? But no, it was “a lot more times” than that.
To this point in his story, Pastor Johnson has not mentioned any church. Only Sean’s “conservative Christian home” and “conservative Christian Bible college.” Having been expelled from the Bible college, we pick up Sean’s story with this description of the ways his church responded to Sean’s countless sodomies.
But his church tried everything possible externally to make him holy with his sexuality. They tried the disciplinary routes; they tried the accountability; they put GPS on his phone so they could track him and if he was at an unknown location, they would go find him to make sure he wasn’t having gay sex. They did everything, threats, intimidation, cornered by a couple elders and spoken down to…
Pastor Johnson expects us to sympathize with poor Sean. First, his mean Bible college expelled him. Then his clueless pastor and elders tried dealing with him “externally” which is a sure sign of Pharisaical moralism. Worse, they tried “to make him holy.” Then they tried “disciplinary routes.” So what was the elders’ discipline? Did they privately admonish and instruct him? Did they meet with him an evening each week, leaving their families back at home without Daddy because Daddy was out seeking to rescue one lost sheep? After a time of ongoing sin, did the elders suspend Sean from the Lord’s Table for a month?
We don’t know. Pastor Johnson simply dismisses his fellow church officers’ long and hard work loving Sean with the reductionistic statement, “they tried the disciplinary routes.” Pastor Johnson reports his fellow church officers also “tried accountability.” He adds the pastors and elders of Sean’s former church “put GPS on his phone so they could track him.”
Of course, there’s no way to “put GPS” on anyone’s phone. Out of the box, phones have or don’t have GPS. All the pastors and elders of Sean’s former church did was to turn on the “share location with friends” setting. But nevermind.
Pastor Johnson recounts these things in a certain way with a certain tone that shows his certain disapproval and readers know where Pastor Johnson is heading. The church’s efforts to control Sean aren’t going to work, but something else will and that something else will be Gospel and grace and glory and light and heaven and freedom and peace. All those neat things will be what works and Sean finally will stop having sex with other men every couple of days.
Look back with embarrassment and disgust at Sean’s former pastors, and elders. Poor pathetic men dealing in externals, using church discipline, holding sinners accountable, threatening and intimidating and cornering and talking down to them.
Keep in mind that Pastor Johnson has Sean’s word for all these failings of his former pastors and elders. Which means you and I know third-hand that Pastor Johnson’s second-hand knowledge of Sean’s first-hand account of what these moralistic meanies did to him is true—it’s all gospel truth, of course.
Pastor Johnson’s story continues:
…and nothing he wanted to change, he hated himself, he could not change. So he ended up moving to a different town and got plugged into a different church. And it was a church that had a different spirit about it.
Yes, yes. Of course. The trumpet fanfare announces that help has arrived! And it’s the sort of help, the sort of church that has Pastor Johnson’s approval. In what way?
Well, this new wonderfully Biblical church has “a different spirit about it.”
It is a “healing” spirit. A spirit of “help.” A spirit of “freedom.”
And what happened over a space of six to eight months is something began to change inside of him, where he would be seated during communion, and he would find that he was just weeping during communion, and they were tears of joy because for the first time in his life he was feeling like he had a father who actually loves him, a father in heaven. What changed? We’re going to talk about that, and we’re going to talk about how to develop a church culture in which that kind of healing and help and sanctification can happen. I remember when he hit his three month mark, how proud he was; he hadn’t gone three days without having sex with another man since he was a kid. And when he hit his three month mark of sexual sobriety, how amazed he was, it was a freedom he never thought he could have, a freedom from his own internal compulsion to seek approval from father figures.
Pay attention to that mention of Sean’s “internal compulsion to seek approval from father figures.” Pastor Johnson presents Sean’s freedom from seeking “approval from father figures” as the catharsis needed to stop engaging in sodomy. It almost seems as if Pastor Johnson is using this “compulsion” as a placeholder for Sean’s sexual bondage.
Incidentally, isn’t it interesting how similar Pastor Johnson’s description of Sean’s central problem is to the way reparative therapy’s Dr. Joseph Nicolosi would describe the normal manifestation and etiology of male homosexual identity? In fact, Pastor Johnson now goes on simply to describe the success of Sean’s reparative therapy, making it clear that this therapy actually works.
Pastor Johnson claims a certain type of ministry can free men from their own internal compulsions to seek their father’s approval which is the source of those men’s compulsion to have sex with men rather than women. Remember this when, later in his talk, Pastor Johnson is throwing shade on anybody who claims this sort of godly healing of identity and sexual conversion is possible.
Also note Pastor Johnson saying “I remember when he hit his three month mark.” Now it becomes clear this wonderful church with a wonderful spirit has a wonderful pastor named Greg Johnson.
So that’s Sean’s story. What happened?
Well, before we can answer that question, we need to know whether Sean was a believer? Was Sean regenerate when he was having sex with other men every couple of days? Is it mean or too doctrinal to ask that question?
You see what’s being shouted down by all Pastor Johnson’s poo-pooing of accountability and church discipline here, followed by his hurrahing and hooraying over Sean finally entering a church where everything is about the “Gospel” and he finally grasps his “freedom?” Keep reading, but as you read ask yourself whether what the man in the Corinthian church who was committing incest needed was simply a new church in a new town where he could have heard the Gospel and realized his freedom? And Ananias and Sapphira? Maybe what they needed in order to stop lying was a different church where the Apostle Peter would stop with the talking down and accountability stuff, and begin preaching the Gospel of God’s grace to them?
We could go on at some length with this discussion. There’s a world of theology being preached here in this redemption story being told by Pastor Johnson. Questions such as the nature of regeneration, the difference between regeneration and sanctification, the purpose of church discipline in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the place of the sacraments in the toolbox of the elders as they admonish, warn, and censure the souls in their sanctuary—all these things are being ridden over roughshod.
Pastor Johnson continues:
What was different about the church he landed in was it had gospel culture, a culture in which it is a safe place to be a sinner loved by Jesus, in which the gospel is the main dish, the main course of every sermon, of every counseling session, of every community group, of every pastoral visit, of every Sunday school class, everything that happens is about the gospel, not about what we do for God but about what He has done for us in Christ. Now I’m approaching this from a reformed, Protestant perspective, an Augustinian perspective, a radical grace theology, so you may be coming from a different place but I hope there is something in what I say that’s going to trigger some aha moment where you’re going to go back and realize the beauty of the message of the Bible.
Before Sean showed up at Pastor Johnson’s church there in St. Louis, he was stuck under a bunch of Pharisees who were trying everything possible “externally,” who wanted to “make him holy,” who abused him with “disciplinary routes,” “accountability,” and the GPS they tried to “track him” by; with their attempts to “go find him,” with “threats” and “intimidation” when they “cornered” him and he was “spoken down to.”
Now though, Sean is blessed by a church and pastor of a “different spirit,” of a “gospel culture,” a church that is a “safe place to be a sinner,” a church where the “gospel is the main dish” of “every sermon” (preached by Pastor Johnson), “every counseling session,” “every community group,” “every pastoral visit,” “every Sunday school class.”
What an amazing church. “Everything that happens is about the Gospel.” Everything that happens is “not about what we do for God but what He has done for us in Christ.” A church of “radical grace.” A church where the “beauty of the message of the Bible” is reclaimed.
All Sean needed to be freed from his “internal compulsion to seek the approval of father figures” was a new pastor and his wonderful church doing everything right.
We all want to go there and join, don’t we? If only every sexual minority and every sexual majority could claim this church of “radical grace” as his home! Think of the joy we’d all share if we were able to be a part of this amazing fellowship of believers in which Pastor Johnson reclaims for us each week the “beauty of the message of the Bible.”
Speaking of Pastor Johnson’s church:
If you look in our bulletin on Sunday morning, the flap inside says “Glad you’re here. We hope you find this to be a safe place to be a sinner loved by Jesus.” That’s getting the gospel.
Pastor Johnson says so, himself.
When the experience that I’ve had, that many of us have had, where we were very conservative, had our theology down, but there’s this moment where if you can imagine going up to a soda machine and put your, gosh what is it now, four quarters, five or six quarters in, used to be a couple quarters, if you ever remember putting your quarter in and it goes in but you don’t hear it drop and so you don’t get your soda and yet it’s in there and so you kind of look around and you make sure nobody is around, no small children nearby, and then you just start shaking this thing until the coin drops, and that’s when you get your soda.
Right. You can be “very conservative” and have your “theology down.”
“But” then you have a choice, and that choice is whether you really, really want the coin to drop. Those are your choices—conservative theology or soda pop. One or the other. Not both.
But actually, getting the coin to drop gives “the gospel of the grace of Jesus.” So the adversative “but” is the pivot point taking us from from “conservative” “theology” to “the grace of Jesus.” And finally arriving there, we will join with Sean in his tears of joy.
A lot of us in our churches, the gospel of the grace of Jesus is in there somewhere, but it hasn’t dropped.
What is this “dropped” business? Does regeneration depend upon us “getting it,” or is it the work of the Holy Spirit? This is the sort of patter endemic across the Presbyterian Church in America today, but we’re not sure whether what’s being talked about is regeneration or sanctification. It really matters. Which is it Pastor Johnson is talking about?
If we’re reading him correctly, it seems in Pastor Johnson’s view that some intellectual assent to God’s grace qualifies a man for baptism, church membership, and the table of our Lord, and this despite that man still not “getting it.” In other words, regeneration is intellectual assent while sanctification is something beyond or above, by which intellectual assent to Christ blossoms into the freedom in Christ through the endless repetition of the “grace” mantra. Then it is that this second work of grace finally “drops.”
One of two things is true: either Pastor Johnson believes Sean was finally saved in his church, and he hadn’t been saved before; or Pastor Johnson believes a man may be saved while having sodomitic intercourse with other men every three days, and all he needs to break into freedom so he can stop that self-destructive behavior is a second level of sanctification in which the elders and pastors stop with the admonishment and discipline thing, instead turning on the grace fire hydrant. Then, finally, the grasp that father-hunger has on Sean may be shattered and Sean will break on through to the other side.
Either Sean finally got saved under Pastor Johnson’s preaching and ministry or Sean finally got second-work-of-grace sanctified under Pastor Johnson. Which is it?
Say Sean was a believer while having sex with other men every three days: then this patter about the culture of grace Pastor Johnson has created in his church is describing a second higher tier of spiritual life where people move from slavery to the flesh up into freedom in Christ. This brings a whole different perspective to the accounts of Ananias and Sapphira, the Corinthian man committing incest, and the believers in Corinth who were sick and dying because they ate and drank at the Lord’s table without discerning the body of Christ.
It seems crystal clear that Pastor Johnson is speaking of the second higher tier in which one is finally freed from being a “carnal Christian” and moves up to “spiritual Christian.” Here we have the recrudescence of that well-worn Wesleyan/charismatic/Keswickian/CampusCrusadean second work of grace.
And I would say that’s the vast majority of evangelical culture is people where the gospel was in there, and they can tell you that Jesus is their personal Savior or however they want to phrase it, but it hasn’t dropped yet.
Again, Pastor Johnson teaches that it’s possible to be a Christian without living faith. The church is a two-tier system in which there are those who do and those who don’t “get” God’s grace.
And when it drops, it changes everything
“Changes everything” language makes you think Pastor Johnson is speaking of conversion and regeneration, yet clearly all these people telling you Jesus is their “personal Savior” have been baptized and commune together at the Lord’s table. Sean was communing at the Lord’s table when he “got it.”
In fact, not to put too fine a point on it, but Sean was being communed at the Lord’s table by Pastor Johnson himself when he “got it.”
Got the Gospel. Got the Gospel of God’s grace.
As we’ve been writing and editing this piece, another pastor informed me (Tim) that all this soda pop and quarters dropping language comes from Tim Keller. I didn’t know it, but it makes sense. Why?
Because Tim Keller never does church discipline. Never ever. A longtime member and pastor on Redeemer’s staff in NYC told me this with great emphasis. He knows Redeemer inside and out.
Why bring this up?
Well, if this sort of muddled view of the interrelationship of regeneration and sanctification, as well as pastoral care, church discipline, and the place of the sacraments in each of these things, is the fruit of Tim Keller and pervasive among Kellerites and Redeemerites, and if it’s the product of Missouri Presbytery and Covenant Theological Seminary there in St. Louis, what is the point of being reformed, and presbyterian—let alone subscribing to the Westminster Standards?
The particular case is a bit extreme, clearly, but it’s the case that the host pastor himself brought forward in his preaching to the Revoicers, so we work with what he tells us.
Getting expelled by his Christian college didn’t get the coin to drop.
Getting exhorted, admonished, and disciplined by his church didn’t get the coin to drop.
Going to a church where everything was about the Gospel did get the coin to drop.
What was the actual content of the coin dropping? What was it Sean suddenly realized that led to him breaking on through to the other side?
because suddenly you realize I’m the biggest sinner in the room right now, and once I say that I am so evil that Jesus Christ the Son of God had to die for me,
The coin dropping was Sean realizing “that I am so evil that Jesus Christ the Son of God had to die for me.”
And when was it that this coin dropped?
It was while he was eating and drinking the supper of our Lord.
I tell you truly: what conclusion are we to draw other than that men who commit adultery and women who abort their children and those who are greedy as well as men sleeping with their father’s wife and men having sexual hook-ups every three days are never barred from the Lord’s table by Tim Keller or Revoice host pastor Greg Johnson?
They do not believe in church discipline. They do not believe in the Biblical doctrine of the sacraments because they don’t bar compulsive sinners from the sacraments. Have they any slightest fear of anyone eating or drinking without discerning the Lord’s body, and this despite the Apostle Paul’s declaration and warning given the Corinthians?
Other than cheap grace, there is hardly anything at all in Dr. Greg Johnson’s pastoral toolbox. His “radical grace” is radical alright. It trumps admonition. It trumps rebuke. It trumps exhortation. It trumps accountability. It trumps church discipline. It trumps fencing and barring souls from the sacraments, particularly the Lord’s table.
Grace trumps all. Watch now as Pastor Johnson gracesplains it:
then I have already ceded my moral high ground from which I judge anybody else. I can pastor them, I can shepherd them, I can help them understand what the Bible says and I point them to Jesus; I cannot control them, I cannot fix them, I cannot fix myself, and it’s the freedom to take that monkey off my back as a pastor that I don’t have to make you whole; that’s God’s job and ultimately not going to happen until we stand before him in glory and you will see Jesus face to face, and seeing him, the Bible says, will transform you and make you like him. That’s our hope.
We note that the “monkey” is off Pastor Johnson’s “back.”
We note that we ourselves wish we felt similar freedom with the incestuous, homosexuals, effeminate, and lesbians in our congregations. What a relief it would be! We’ve spent our decades of shepherding God’s flock wishing for a similar unbearable lightness of being which our fellow shepherd Greg Johnson seems to have attained:
And so, in terms of the ministry toolbox that I as a pastor have, and we all our toolbox of tools we use to help people obey the Bible in whatever area. And you got your toolbox, and you open up your toolbox, and and in your toolbox, you’ve got a hammer. Hammer is guilt manipulation. You can get people to comply short-term, externally with your hammer. You just hammer them with guilt, and they will comply. You will get short term results, their heart will grow hard and cold toward God because they will not feel loved by God. But Jesus reaches into the pastoral toolbox and says, “Greg, you gotta give up the hammer” and he takes it from me.
And so then I grab the screwdriver, that’s shame. We do things with shame we could never do with a hammer. You can screw things in, you can pull them out, you can do all sorts of stuff, and shame, you can get an outward compliance. And yet, Jesus takes away the screwdriver and says, “I don’t want you to use shame any more. You can’t use guilt because this brother or sister in Christ, their sin has been atoned for and I, Jesus, have taken away their guilt, and I have borne it, and they bear it no more. You bear it no more. And so you can’t use guilt, you can’t use shame because I have clothed them with the righteousness of Christ and that is an unremovable suit of worth and honor. Hebrews 2 says that Jesus is not ashamed to call you brothers.”
Every one of us has a family member that we don’t want to come over at Thanksgiving or Easter because we’re all ashamed of them, and everybody is ashamed of them, and they walk in the door, and everybody gets hushed, and Jesus is saying, “That is not you; I don’t care if you’re intersex; I don’t care if you deal with gender dysphoria.” It’s not that he doesn’t care but that’s not an issue. “I am not ashamed of you. You are my friend.” And so he takes away the screwdriver.
To us it is clear that, in his doctrine and practice, Pastor Johnson is neither reformed nor presbyterian—let alone Westminster confessional. We have no duty nor any desire to defend the reputation of the Presbyterian Church of America which Covenant Seminary’s Revoicers and Missouri Presbytery’s Pastor Greg Johnson have done such terrible disservice to by their owns word and actions surrounding Revoice. Tim Keller and Covenant Theological Seminary have been given free reign to make the bed, and now the entire PCA will have to lie in it.
Some will take interest in watching this or that spurt of righteous indignation in this or that presbytery. Important men will make a motion that Covenant Theological Seminary no longer be recognized as the official seminary of the PCA. It will all be pro forma, not to accomplish anything, but to be able to reassure one’s members and elders “back home” that their pastor “did something.”
A presbytery or two will send an overture or two to the next General Assembly calling for the assembly to express its disapproval of Revoice’s proceedings. Maybe one of these overtures will pass, but it doesn’t matter because what you have read above is the doctrine and practice of Redeemerites, and some of them have learned it well while getting their MDiv at Covenant.
The only thing that could save the PCA is for specific men to be brought up on charges for specific violations of the Word of God, the Book of Church Order, their ordination vows, and the Westminster Standards. The errors are many and obvious. Shut your ears to anyone who tries to tell you otherwise.
And then, you’ve got the wrench; that’s people-pleasing. And he takes that away because the only set of eyes whose approval you need is your father in heaven, and he is delighting in you if you are clothed in the righteousness of His Son.
And then you’ve got fear of Hell, fear of eternal judgment, that’s the pliers and Jesus says, “No, I’ve borne that for my children, for those I love, for my family. Jesus, when he became incarnate in the womb of Mary, when he became flesh, then took on the responsibility as an elder brother to carry the debts of his brother and to forgive them, and so if you’re in his family, then he has taken that responsibility.
And so ultimately what you end up with in your ministry toolbox is the gospel, which the grace of God teaches us to say no to ungodliness, to sin because the gospel has a motivational power, it has the ability to empower people to do things they didn’t think they could do. There are things you will do for someone, if you know they love you, that they’ve got your back, you will sacrifice for their sake because you know they love you. The Bible says that the righteousness of Christ has been credited to our account. St. Paul in Romans to him who does not work but trusts God, his faith is reckoned to him as righteousness. He talks about wanting to know a righteousness not of his own, but the righteousness of Christ. And when you understand that, you understand that you have something much deeper than forgiveness.
And the reason I’m telling all of this to you is so that you will get this first because if the coin is not dropping, if you do not believe that you are cherished by your Father in heaven, that your best friend Jesus had to die and gladly died to forgive your sins as a pastor or ministry leader, to forgive your failings, to get you off your ministry treadmill of needing to perform, needing to get results, needing to be successful, needing to have a successful ministry, a successful church, needing to look at all the people I’ve changed. If you are on that treadmill, you are going to do damage to your friends, to your family, to your church, to your sheep because you’re using them to justify yourself. And as soon as they’re a liability to you, and somebody’s getting ready to walk out the door because you’ve got this person with this sin, and you’re not treating them harshly enough, then if you’re doing your ministry for your sake, you’re going to kick that person to the curb in order to make your ministry successful. So the righteousness of Christ, it’s so much more than forgiveness. And a lot of us, I think, get stuck knowing we’re forgiven but nothing more.
The difference is if I were to go into Bank of America, and I have defaulted on my mortgage and all my credit cards with them are maxed out, and I’ve defaulted on three other loans, I’m in debt up to my eyeballs, and I have nothing in my bank account, it’s a negative balance and no savings, negative balance, no nothing, and then I’ve got all these fees on top of that. And I go in Bank of America, and I go up to the teller, and the teller points me over to this desk in the corner, kind of dark, cubicalized, and I go and I sit there, and the lady says, “OK, Mr. Johnson. Mr. Johnson, we’re just going to forgive all of these debts and cancel it all out and just go ahead and pay off your mortgage and zero you out.” Now, that’s really good service for Bank of America. Valued customer. And yet as I am walking out the door back to my car, there are two things that are true about me. One, I am absolutely bankrupt, and Bank of America doesn’t ever want to see my face again.
That’s forgiveness, but righteousness is something different to be clothed with that. Righteousness is when you see the CEO of Bank of America who happened to be in that branch that week, waving his arms and rushing up to you and grabbing me and pulling me back in, saying “I’m so, so sorry, Pastor Johnson. She’s new here, she didn’t understand, she made a terrible mistake, and he ushers you into the back corner office with the windows and the big plush couch, facing the big walnut desk and he takes you around and sits you behind the desk in his chair, and he says, “I’m so sorry, it was a mistake, we’re just going to sign over the bank and all of its assets to you, and we’ve got a guy out in the lobby who is waiting with some oil paints and some canvas, he needs to paint your picture for the lobby.” Now, that’s righteousness. Forgiveness says, “You can go now.” Righteousness says “You can come now.”
How many sexual minorities in our church, how many sinners in our church, how many of us feel like you can come now? God is saying, “I want you to come to me. You are worthy, You are righteous.” It’s what Martin Luther experienced in his insanity in his run up to his own conversion experience, his [?] experience, he said if ever a monk could be justified or saved by his monkery, it was I because he was very aware of his own sin. He was aware that the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength, and so he would go into the confessional every single day, and he would confess for twenty minutes or an hour or two hours. And on one occasion, Martin Luther spent six hours confessing his sins, just from the previous day. And you wonder how much trouble can a monk get into in a monastery? Coveting somebody’s potato salad? I don’t know. Six hours. But what he understood is that if the greatest commandment is to love God with sixteen sixteenths of your heart, 100.0 percent of your strength, every last corner of your being, in absolute devotion to the glory of God, grounded in love, affection and a sense of his holiness. If that, moment by moment by moment, is the greatest commandment, then that means we are all continually committing the greatest sin 24/7. I have not obeyed the greatest commandment for five minutes my entire life. I’m sitting here committing the greatest sin as I speak because I am not loving God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength. And if we understand that we are that damaged, that’s what drove Luther to the cross. And it was as he was reading Augustine’s commentary on Romans 1 about the righteousness of God revealed that Augustine just annotated in passing that this is not the righteousness whereby God himself is righteous, it’s the righteousness he provides sinners who have no righteousness of their own. And he said it was a light bulb that went off, he didn’t have light bulbs, he said it was like he had entered the gates into paradise. The blinders fell off and he could see Jesus as the one who bore his guilt and clothes him with an alien righteousness.
A diagnostic that Ray Cortese down at Seven Rivers Pres in Lecanto, Florida, uses just to help people understand this is he uses the diagnostic of telling the story of Jeffrey Dahmer. Anybody remember Jeffrey Dahmer? Back in early 1990s, a serial killer, cannibal, no small children in the room. Jeffrey Dahmer, was certainly diagnosed borderline personality disorder, probably had a lot of other stuff going on, terribly lonely man, he was desperately afraid of being abandoned and being alone. And so one of the things he would do is he would lure young, gay man into his home, he may have had sex with them, and then at some point he would sedate them, unbeknownst to them, and then he would often drill a hole through their skull and pour boric acid into their brain and attempt to do a lobotomy because he wanted to render them in a vegetative state so they would never leave him and they would be at his side forever. And then they would invariably die and then he wouldn’t want to let go of them. So he would cut them up and eat them. This is really depths of human depravity. When he was convicted, sentenced to life in prison, he went to prison, a baptist pastor started meeting with him regularly, gave him a Bible, Dahmer actually started reading it and it became the most interesting thing in the world to him. His countenance began to change. He began to realize how broken and sinful he was, and yet he began to see God is one who could forgive even his sins, even murder, even torture, even his sexual sins as well. And he professed faith after a good long time of really being discipled in what the bible teaches. He professed faith and became a Christian and was baptized and six months later he was beat to death in the prison shower and entered into the presence of God our Father as a son much loved, delighted and welcomed. The degree to which you’re uncomfortable with that is the degree to which you do not believe the gospel of Jesus Christ because you think your sin is different.
If the church isn’t a safe place to be really messed up, broken, damaged, and yet washed and forgiven, and experiencing the change of the Holy Spirit, the comfort of the Spirit of God, that’s a problem because the biggest thing is Jesus argued with the Pharisees, the religious leaders and pastors of his day, was he was continually trying to help them to let go of their righteousness. When he told the story of the two sons, you know, there’s the prodigal son who goes off and it’s because he’s a friend of sinners, and he tells the story of the prodigal son, younger son who goes off and commits sexual sins, dishonors his father, really ceases to be a son, and yet, he becomes convicted by God, comes back, trying to bargain a place to become a slave, but the father embraces him as a son. And then there’s the other brother because the story is really about the other brother because that’s who Jesus is speaking to, he’s criticizing him, And the other brother hears the party happening, the fatted calf has been slain, signet ring on the sinner’s finger, cloak on the back, huge celebration, and he refuses to go to the celebration. He will not enter the kingdom and the rejoicing of Heaven. And what is keeping him out, he says it very explicitly, he cannot go into the Kingdom he says because all these years I’ve slaved for you. It’s his righteousness. You can be damned for your sin or you can be damned for your righteousness, holding onto that. And Jesus is continually helping us to try to let go of that. He contrasts the story of the man who goes before God and says, “Lord look at all these things I’ve done for you. I’ve cast out demons for you. I’ve taught. I’ve sacrificed” And he says, “Away from me, I never knew you.” And yet the person that thinks the shameful sinner Jesus is praising, saying, “You gave me a cup of cold water, and you did all this stuff.” And he says “Lord I never did anything for you.” And the point of the story is not primarily the moral thing of be good to people and give them cups of water, that’s secondary application. Primary application is you’ve got to give up your righteousness.
I was on a podcast recently, it was a pretty abusive experience, maybe you saw it, but it was interesting. So I was talking about the gospel toward the end, and one of the pastors who was hosting this thing kind of went off on me, and he said, “The Bible talks about good people and bad people and there are good people and there are bad people, and the righteousness, yeah it’s imputed but it’s real righteousness.” And I just sat there thinking, he is talking to ten thousand people insisting that he is one of the good people. And how different is that from St. Paul who had visions of heaven and yet would only say that he was the chief of all sinners because it’s the gospel that’s the difference. The gospel humbles us because it’s beautiful. The realities as religious leaders, when you die and you go to heaven, and you get assigned to your Bible study group, I don’t know if there are Bible study groups in heaven because God’s there, you get assigned to your group and you get in there and Jeffrey Dahmer is going to be assigned as your group leader and his eyes are going to get really, really big, jaw’s going to drop, and he’s going to audibly gasp, and he’s going to point at you and say, “I never thought I’d see you here.”
I mean, it’s religious leaders Jesus targets the most because we gotta get the gospel because if we don’t, we’re going to damage. We’re going to damage. If you look at the Pharisees, they were really good evangelical church members. They tithed their mint and cumin, they witnessed to their faith, they prayed, they read their Bibles diligently. Jesus said, “You search the scriptures thinking that by them you get eternal life, but these are the scriptures that testify to me. You’re missing the gospel.” He said, “You travel over land and sea to win a single convert and then make him twice the child of hell you are yourself.” He talked about two people praying before the temple wall and one of them saying “Lord I thank you that I’m not like other men, I give, I sacrifice, I serve, I tithe.” And the other one just would not even look up, he would look down and beat his chest and said, “Lord have mercy on me, I’m a sinful man.” And Jesus says it was the latter who went home justified, that is righteous before God because he got the gospel. It was a safe place to be a sinner loved by God.
One of the things we experienced in this church a number of years ago, when I got the gospel and started preaching it, is at first pushback but then very quickly, within a year I think, 98 percent of the complaining in the church went away, because people were getting the gospel. We had long-standing members talking about how they don’t know if they were even Christians beforehand because, and they were, but the gospel has become something that is so much more precious, so much more treasured. It’s why if you notice, if you listen to Tim Keller, and you’re trying to figure out what is he doing, he usually has the same sermon outline, it’s three points, if he’s talking about hospitality, what does hospitality look like, and then why can we not do that, because we’re fallen, we’re idolaters, everything inside of us is broken and damaged, but here’s one who did offer hospitality, his name’s Jesus and he invites you into his home and all that because he’s always ending with the gospel. Application first point, that way you’re not waiting for the shoe to drop. And then why that’s difficult. And then the last point is always the gospel because he always wants to leave you with the grace of God. And it’s in every passage in the text or in the context because it’s the story of the narrative of God’s love affair with his unfaithful people that he nevertheless clothes and prepares for glory.
When your church develops a gospel culture, and that’s not just from the pulpit or the lectern or the bible study leader, it’s when other people, they’re getting it, and the coin is dropping, and you see their countenance change, you see the joy that didn’t use to be there, you see the delight that didn’t use to be there, the anger that is suddenly becoming less and less and less, and a love growing, is the church doesn’t just become a safe place for people with same-sex attraction. The church becomes a safe place for people with infertility. How hard is that in an evangelical context that’s all about family? I had a person I knew who, she and her husband had struggled with infertility for years and years and years, and I remember her pointing out that there were only a couple people that she felt really understood and empathized with her. And she listed them off, and they were both celibate, same-sex attracted men because they know what it’s like to have a body that’s defective, to have a soul that can’t do everything that God intended, that can’t live by the experience to know that there’s not going to be, when I grow old, there aren’t going to be all these photos on the mantle, and I can’t get cremated because who’s going to want my ashes? That’s the situation we have. That’s what it’s like when you’re single. But it’s also what it’s like when you’re infertile. The church becomes a safe place for people with addictions, for people with mental illnesses, because it’s a safe place to be a sinner loved by Jesus because the highlight [not sure what word he says here??] is on God’s grace and his mercy.
I share about once a year from the pulpit that I’m a porn addict. I haven’t actually looked at pornography for 15 years, but when I did, I was all in and that pull is still as strong as it was. I’ve mortified this for 15 years and it still, you know, I see a computer terminal unmonitored and immediately my mind thinks, I want to look at porn. Fifteen years of strangling this thing, and it doesn’t die, it doesn’t go away. I remember, one of the things I share in the pulpit just because I want to get real, I’m not a theoretical sinner, it’s not a doctrinal statement, it’s an experiential statement, I’ve known pastors who tell people in the pulpit, I’m such a sinful man and people are like he’s so humble, I tell people I’m a sinful man, “Yes, Greg, you are.” No doubt about it! It is not a doctrinal statement. It’s an experiential one. Also a doctrinal statement, but when I first got my first internet connection, I think it was 1998/1999, friend Colin came over with a floppy disk, loaded something on, and I’m like “what is that?” and he’s like “That’s net nanny.” And I’m like, “What’s net nanny do?” Net nanny shuts your computer down every time you want to look at porn. I spent the next year figuring out how to get around net nanny. And you say, “Oh Greg, you’re not really that kind of guy.” Oh yes, I am. I am absolutely that kind of guy. Jesus says out of the overflow of our heart the actions come. If I did, I’m that kind of guy. And that’s why I need Jesus. So 15 years, I’ve been meeting with Joe Thompson every Thursday morning at Caldey’s Coffee for coffee, and he gets my Covenant Eyes report, and he asks questions, and that’s the cost of discipleship. And yet it’s a safe place, though. Jesus was called a glutton, a drunkard, a friend of sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes. If you’re not being called that, then are you really preaching the gospel because you should be the biggest advocate a sinner has. When somebody comes to me and spills this big shameful thing, I like them 50 times more when they leave my office than when they first walked in. Because one, they’re just like me, and two, I’m seeing them with the eyes of Christ. Because the Gospel, you know I remember hearing the story of two coal miners who were trapped, there was a cave-in, a collapse, and they both had respirators, and as the air started to get thin, they were waiting, hoping they would be rescued, and they put on their respirators, and it became evident that one of them was not working. And so as the one began to go unconscious, passed out, the other one was thinking about his friend, and how his friend had a life and a new baby boy, and he was single. And what happened is he took off his own respirator and put it on his friend, and his friend was taken out alive, but he died for his friend. And that’s the gospel. Only the gospel is a little more than that because imagine that wasn’t his best friend. Imagine that was the guy who stole his wife. That’s what Jesus did for you when he died in your place, in my place, to highlight the beauty of the gospel. Because if you’re not fostering that, that’s not the culture you’re forming, then really nothing else matters, because you’re just going to hurt people because you’re using them in order to justify yourself because you have an internal need to be successful in ministry, instead of acting out of the overflow of the love of Christ for sinners of which we are the chief ones.
So that’s the big thing. If you just take that home, get the gospel yourself and then unleash that in your church, tell stories of the gospel, so I’ll just run through everything else, and then we’ll do some Q&A because you all have more collective wisdom on this than I do.
One thing you can do in everything else in addition to helping form a gospel culture in your church and ministry is to highlight the stories of single people and highlight the stories of sexual minorities in Christ. Single people, you can talk about Joseph in the Old Testament. You can talk about Jeremiah. You can talk about John the Baptist. You can talk about Anna who was widowed immediately at her wedding and never remarried. You can talk about Martha. You can talk about Paul, or if you want to name drop, you can talk about Jesus. You can talk about 1 Corinthians 7. Read the last verse of 1 Corinthians 7, “The one who marries the virgin does well, the one who does not marry does better.” Now that’s in tension with everything else the Bible says, but the reality is, in this era, what is normative is marriage, it’s not good that the man be alone, so he’s created with this helpmate, complementary view of male and female making one another more than the sum of the parts. And yet in the coming age, Jesus says there will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage, we will all be like the angels. And I have comforted plenty of miserable married people, saying “Don’t worry, the Bible says you’re going to be single someday, too. You only have to be faithful til death.”
And highlight the stories of single people as well, not just biblical ones. If you’re Reformed or Presbyterian, you can talk about J. Gresham Machen. Fundamentalist, modernist debate in early 20th century, he was the father of fundamentalism, he was the one who tried to reform old Princeton Seminary and then helped found Westminster Seminary. Among conservative Presbyterians, it’s like Jesus the Second. Talk about John Stott, who there was a time when he was young that he really wanted to marry, and a relationship got serious and yet he prayed and never had peace with it, and so he gave it up. And he never made a commitment or a vow of celibacy, but he felt God was calling him to singleness. And late in life he looked back, and he could say “That was difficult, but I could have never written all the things I’ve written, I couldn’t have done the conferences I’ve done, God did so much more through me,” because he was single.
Highlight the stories of sexual minorities. You say, “Greg, sexual minorities are not in the Bible, that’s a marxist term founded 60 years ago. Shut up!” No, it is in the Bible. Jesus said there are three kind of eunuchs. Three kinds. There are those that are born that way. Sexual minority, different from everyone else. There are those that are made that way by men. And there are those who choose that for the sake of the kingdom.
Nobody claims that sexual minorities aren’t in the Bible, and Pastor Johnson knows this. The problem he faces is simply that the sexual minorities are not addressed remotely like he wants us to today. Homosexuals. The effeminate. How does the Bible talk about them? That wouldn’t do at all! So instead of talking about LGBTQ men and women that the Bible condemns, together with their sinful desires, Pastor Johnson throws dust in the air by talking about eunuchs. Equating immorality and sinful desires with physical defects is a great way to muddy the waters and sadly it does so at the expense of the very eunuchs that Jesus ennobled with His statement that Greg is quoting. How cynical to use eunuchs as a tool to force us feel sorry for those who are definitely not eunuchs.
With sexual orientation, I don’t know what the percentage is of nature vs. nurture, but when you’ve got an experience that’s fundamentally different, those who were born that way, Jesus talks about intersex people, people who, I’ve got one friend I’ve met, lives out west, who is in a very conservative baptist church, can’t tell the church what’s going on, but he developed cancer, he’d always struggled with same-sex attraction, he’d gotten married young. He and his wife then conceived, had a child, and the child was elementary school age, and he got testicular cancer, and had to have his testes removed. And after that, there was something suspicious going on autoimmune involved with the cancer, so they then began to do a lot of tests. And they found out that he is mosaic or [?] intersex, that he has 46 xx chromosomes and 46 xy chromosomes. And that actually he was one of two fraternal twins that very early in gestation, one of them was absorbed, and found out he’s like 90 percent female, 10 percent male, he’s closer to being a straight woman than a same-sex attracted man, but he had his childhood medical records opened up, which is evidently difficult, and found that he was born with ambiguous genitalia, and the doctor decided to sew up the vagina and to make him male. And now, without testes, his body, he’s got ovaries, surprise, his body is feminizing. What do you do? How do you pastor that? They’re married. They’re now no longer sleeping together.
The Bible says there are some that are born this way. John Stott put those struggling with same-sex attraction in that category. I’m not ready to sign on the dotted line. I think the research is still being done to figure out what all goes in with twin studies. It’s like if one twin is homosexual orientation and the other twin has a 31 percent chance of being the same, which if it were genetic, it would be 100 percent, but if it were all psychology, it would be more like 3-10 percent. At 31 percent it’s a lot higher than with fraternal twins or with other siblings, so there’s something we don’t know. And I don’t have to know, and I’m not making any commitments on that question, but Jesus does talk about those whose experience of sexuality is different because they were made that way by men or they were born that way.
The first Gentile, the first true 100 percent Gentile convert in the Bible, we should talk about him all the time, he’s the father of the Gentile church. He was an African guy, who, probably one of the queens of Nubia, was treasurer, very wealthy man, and he wanted to go to Jerusalem to inquire of the God of the Jews, to worship the God of the Jews. And what we know is that he was a eunuch, and the way eunuchs were made at that time typically in Africa, is that they would take 10 boys, prepubescent, they would cut the genitalia, all of the genitalia off. He could not become Jewish; there was nothing to circumcise. They would bury them up to their neck in sand and come back a month later, and typically 9 of the 10 would be dead. But the one that survived would then become a eunuch and be trained in that. It’s really barbaric and evil what men do for financial reasons. If you’re a woman and you’ve ever been in a job interview and they start trying to find out about your personal life and if you’re going to have children, that’s the same thing because people who have no other commitments are more useful in a financial system. And so that same question was what was driving eunuchs. And so he goes to Jerusalem, and he’s on his way back from Jerusalem. And any Jewish reader would have known what had happened because as an African, he would not have been welcome in the temple, even the court of the Gentiles, the one outer court where Gentiles were allowed to go had been converted into a market, that’s what Jesus was trying to clear out, in the [?] market. And also as a eunuch, they would have likely known that, he had his entourage, he was a wealthy man, an official. As a eunuch, the Old Testament law had said that no one who has been castrated can enter the temple into the presence of God. And so he has probably gone, as he’s approached by Philip the deacon, he’s actually reading Isaiah in the 50s, he’s reading Isaiah 53 and Isaiah 56 that has the promise to the eunuch, to the foreigner and to the eunuch, “Let no eunuch say I am a dry tree for the eunuch who keeps my Sabbaths, the eunuch who loves me, I will give a memorial […?] and a name in my house, in the temple, that will be worth more than many, many descendants.” And he’s probably read this, going back and reading through the 50s of Isaiah again trying to figure out what he did wrong, what he missed. And it’s incredible how supernatural his conversion is because Jesus speaks to Philip and says, “I want you to go out on this road in the middle of nowhere and stand there and when this guy comes by, I want you to keep up with him, stay with him.” And so here’s the eunuch in his chariot going along, and Philip is jogging along next to him, trying to keep up, and he’s inside reading the scroll of Isaiah trying to figure out what went wrong, and Jesus so supernaturally intervened, and then he becomes a Christian. It’s interesting, as a sexual minority, he had to ask to be baptized. He should have had to ask, he said, “Here’s some water, why don’t you baptize me?” And Philip’s like, “OK we can do that.” Philip should have been initiating that conversation. And then after he’s baptized, Philip miraculously disappears and is transported to some other location, only time in the Bible in the New Testament we see something like this, and I have think it’s Jesus with a very first Gentile convert being an African and a sexual minority, a eunuch, Jesus is going out of his way to make it very, very clear, I am setting this up, this is not random, you’re not just happening across this guy, I put you there, I’m going to give you step by step instructions and then I’m going to transport you away because otherwise the church would come together and say, “Can we actually accept Gentiles and eunuchs into the church? Let’s set up a study committee.”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were likely eunuchs. They were young men who were chosen and given treatments in order to serve in the imperial court. They were probably eunuchs.
Henri Nouwen, how many of you have quoted Henri Nouwen in a sermon or in a message? He struggled with same-sex attraction his entire life; why don’t you tell his story as a Christian leader from which we have gained so much. Tell stories. Don’t let your stories about sexual minorities all be negative or all be about the sin. You tell stories about straight people and they’re not always about their sin.
This awful piece of “wisdom” tells us to include stories that portray sodomy-attracted people in a positive light. Well, what? How will people know we’re talking about “non-straight” people? We have to mention it. There you are just telling a story that illustrates your sermon point and you for some reason need to call everyone’s attention to the fact that the character in the story is gay? What other sins get treated with such honor in our sermons? I can’t remember ever doing this in any other situation–carefully explaining in my illustration which set of sins the main character was tempted to commit. On the one hand Revoicers want us to treat SSA just like any other temptation; on the other hand we are supposed to privilege them above others, making conspicuous reference to their twisted sexuality before showing how wonderful they are. I mean, seriously, people! How would that look?
Try this for the ending to a riveting redemption story: “and the man who rescued that little, trapped orphan baby from the coal mine was also harboring a near constant desire to wear a white hood and murder black people. So you see, not all homicidal white supremacists are awful–some can contribute in very positive ways to the church! After all, a homicidal white supremacist isn’t only a homicidal white supremacist.”
Kinda revolting, isn’t it? And that’s why we don’t ever do it. We never put a kinder, gentler face on any sin, if we’re faithful. Pastor Johnson, by demanding that we tell our stories with an affirmative action bias toward sodomites, is telling us to make peace with this sin. He would make us stop regarding an evil with horror. But the point of rejecting horror is to begin to harbor it.
Johnson actually does for us what he’s recommending and I’ll let his example speak for itself:
I remember sharing a story of one, I was working on my PhD in historical theology at St. Louis University and I was driving a Volkswagen Beetle back then. And there was this huge snow drift in St. Louis that just, and my parking lot was off an alley, it was a brick alley where it was probably dates to 1900, and the ruts are already deep on both sides, but my beetle could do it, but where there was this much snow, I remember I was trying to plow through, and I got stuck in the alley, right where it opened up onto Union Blvd. I was trying everything I could, but my little beetle was stuck on top of a drift of snow, and the wheels could not reach the ground. And I was just like, I didn’t know what to do. I was stuck. And after about 10 minutes of me trying to dig it out and giving up, this 1938 Rolls Royce Silver Shadow pulls up next to me, it was the most bizarre experience of my life. And out pops the Monopoly man, complete with white mustache, very effeminate, and two other gay men, and he asks, “Could you use some help?” And I’m like, “Yeah.” And they start, well he talks with me while his two employees or whatever are digging me out, and evidently he just goes out, I guess his vehicle weighs like 15 tons, and so he goes out in the snow in order to rescue people. And it was interesting because he was talking to me and he asks me, “Are you a student?” And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah.” “And what are you doing in college?” “Yeah I’m working on my doctorate at St. Louis University.” “What in?” “Historical theology.” And one of the guys says, “Historical geology? I guess all geology is historical.” And Monopoly says, “He said theology, you fag.” And I was like, “OK.” But the reality is, who was the Christ figure in this story? Who was the fallen one, bleeding at the side of the road, as the priests and the pastors went by, and who was the enemy, the good Samaritan, who came and dug me out and took care of me? Tell stories where sexual minorities are the Christ figure because that is the story of the Good Samaritan. When Dan Doriani at Covenant Seminary tells it, he says, “You should say that a gay man came along to your conservative, evangelical church because that is what Jesus is saying. Tell stories; don’t let your stories about people with same-sex attraction all be negative. I’ve got more I could do there, but I’ll move on.
Bizarre, as Johnson himself admits. The rich man, who by the way happens to be gay, patrolling the snowy St. Louis city streets looking for people in need of help. He’s the good guy, the Christ figure. That was kind of weird. Now I’m no longer listening to Johnson. I’m struggling to stop thinking about the disturbing scene he’s just shared with me. Wait, let’s start this paragraph over, this time making some common sense changes. Let’s try to use our flabby discernment muscles:
Johnson says this is the most bizarre experience of his life and it may well be. But it is not inexplicable and any discerning listener could hear between the lines what was going on. A flagrantly gay rich man accompanied by two young men, prowling the snowy St. Louis city streets looking for young single men stranded and in need of help. He’s the good guy? The Christ figure? This is either a bizarre and distracting sermon illustration or… a bizarre and distracting and blasphemous sermon illustration. Such is every attempt to conspicuously paint sin in a morally neutral light.
Johnson made a decision while writing this sermon to use this illustration and to recommend that you do likewise whenever you want to portray a Jesus-like character.
Jesus’ Samaritan, by the way, was not known by his immorality but by his race. It is a wicked sleight of hand common in LGBTQ circles to equate race with sexual perversion. Hence the affinity for the term “sexual minorities.” When we take off our blinders we see that what “sexual minorities” really communicates, insofar as it is accurate, is that God hates homosexuality and most people are not turned on by it, either. So we need a civil rights-styled campaign to make people stop agreeing with God. Remember that heaven is described as a diverse place where, demonstrating a hard limit to the acceptable definition of diversity, the immoral remain outside, weeping and gnashing teeth.
Now then, on to the rest of Pastor Johnson’s sermon:
And don’t speak about anybody as if they’re not present, whether that’s a racial minority whether that’s a sexual minority, whether it’s a gendered, anything; don’t talk about anybody as if they’re not present. Don’t talk about Palestinians if you’re not assuming there are three of them in your congregation that you’re trying to reach with Jesus. And realize, OK so everything else, first highlight the stories of single Christians and Christians with same-sex attraction or other sexual differences. Second, realize the biggest struggle of your same-sex attracted or LGBT member may not be sexual sin. Their biggest struggle may be to give and receive love or to believe the gospel. Don’t assume that because they have same-sex attraction that they are a sex addict. It’s possible; it’s possible not. And don’t flatten them out into their sexual sin. If you want, Missouri Presbytery of the PCA last year did a report, it’s a report on homosexuality. It’s really pretty good. I was not on the committee that did it, but it’s really good. It’s 354 pages, so it’s not a light read, and it’s got footnotes. But there is about a 15 page section at the end that just lays out 8 or 10 guidelines for pastoral care, particularly for Christians who experience same-sex attraction or are gay. If you google Missouri Presbytery PCA, it should probably be your first or second thing that comes up, Missouri Presbytery which is the PCA’s, the Presbyterian Church in America’s presbytery in the eastern two-thirds of Missouri. You can download it from there, Missouri Presbytery PCA website. And I’ll just read eight of the points or so.
There’s a section that’s specifically on pastoral care with same-sex attracted believers. “Our overarching goal is to draw believers into a greater confidence in the grace and power of the gospel to this end, that they might know and enjoy the love and forgiveness of God, rest in the righteousness of Christ and their union with him, and find this precious status, their deepest identity, and their prime motive in enjoying and obeying God.” That’s true for anybody. It’s part of the trip up with the whole reparative therapy movement was it assumed that sanctification and spiritual growth for same-sex attracted people is not covered in the 66 books of the Bible. You’ve got to have some special system. It’s one of the flaws. One subgoal is to help those in our care understand repentance the beginning part of faith which we appropriate all that Christ has won for us. Another goal is to help people understand the ways they might have been sinned against at the hands of others. When you’re dealing with any marginalized group, there’s probably a lot of hurt, a lot of wounds, that you will need to walk with them through. A third goal is to aid same-sex attracted believers in a true and proper formation of their identity in Christ, and that should not be weaponized against them in order to force them to use a certain terminology, that’s not the point. You want them to grow in their identity in Christ. A fourth goal in giving pastoral care that contributes to our overarching goal is to help individuals accept their fallen condition with all its personal particulars as a sexually broken human being. You’ve got to be able to own that. We’ve need to own our brokenness, and not just wallow in the shame of it but also not fake it ‘til we make it and pretend it’s not there. Fifth goal is to aid believers in knowing how to deal with themselves if they fall back into sexual sin after having determined to live for the Lord by the Lord’s commands and having found some success in remaining faithful to him. We expect that sinners do fall. A sixth goal is to aid same-sex attracted believers in growing in the trust of mature fellow believers and taking up their place in Christ’s church. Seventh, helping promote safe churches, a safe place to be broken. And eighth, to seek their ideas on the matter of orientation change, see what they think about that and then give accurate and careful information, encouraging guidance in regard to it. And I’ll talk some about that more from my own research in a second. If you want to download that, it’s just got some helpful big picture stuff and some practical advice.
Why are we even having these discussions now? The reason historically we’re having these discussions now is in the 1980s, there was this ex-gay movement, that we had a very optimistic, confident thought that orientation change was very real and very possible and not all that difficult. If you, you know, go through the right kind of therapy, there was a particular model of having not bonded with your same-sex parent that if you could just repair that, you could actually change orientation. And there were a lot of testimonies of people who had experienced that, and I don’t doubt whether many of those were valid, praise the Lord. And yet what happened then over the last 15 years is the ex-gay movement has pretty much collapsed and died. There are a few angry warriors still out there on […?] radio network and elsewhere, but the reality is it’s collapsed. The leaders of it have gone into the gay lifestyle themselves and are now Side A or lost their faith altogether. There are a few people still doing it, but what we’ve learned is that the success rates were greatly inflated for orientation change. And with the collapse of Exodus International and with the Gay Christian Network really shifting much more heavily toward a Side A, affirming theology in terms of just the numbers, Christians who are committed to the biblical sexual ethic and yet experience same-sex attraction or other sexual challenges or differences, they don’t have as many places to go. And so we’re having this conversation now about celibacy because that realistically is what God is going to call a whole lot of people to, and that’s why we’re doing this conference, we’re hosting it at least, I’m not doing it, I’m just hosting.
So in terms of accurate info, if somebody comes to me and they want to explore orientation change, I am not against that. And if they choose that route, I will support them in that as their pastor. But I will also want them to have accurate information in terms of some of the statistics. Stephen Black of First Stone Ministries, anybody familiar with him? He is still very much reparative or conversion therapist. He says that of 1200 clients he had between 1990 and 2015, he had a 73 percent success rate. That’s what he still says. Kathy Baldock has a review on Canyonwalker Connections, her website, in which she actually looks at his numbers and his survey. Of the 1200, he picked the 500 to interview that he wanted so there’s bias already in a sample; what about the other 700, why aren’t you including them? Of those 500, 315 refused to have anything to do with it. 185 agreed. Of the 185 that were surveyed and agreed to it, 84 percent of those who had more than a year of reparative therapy with him, 84 percent say, in his own research, “I have same-sex attraction but do not consider myself gay or homosexual.” He counts that as a successful orientation change. I have same-sex attraction but don’t consider myself gay. Now that’s a failure by any rate if the goal is orientation change, which is what he advertises. Eighty-four percent failure, right there. Thirty-four percent say, “I have expressed freedom from my sexual addiction. That’s 34 percent of the 185, which is 44 people who claim to have broken a sexual addiction, but that’s still not asking orientation change. Why doesn’t ask if he advertises orientation change, why does he not ask about that? But out of the 1200, that’s actually 3.5 percent who say, who he has identified, as having experienced freedom from sexual addiction. That’s a lot less than 73 percent. That’s 44 people over 25 years. And for them, praise the Lord. Fourty-four people free from a sexual addiction. But having realistic understanding that it’s hard and it’s difficult and it may not get you what you want, and if you want to focus on that result, I will support you in that, but understand biblically, the Bible’s focus is much more on faithfulness, not on results. Faithfulness here and now with my words, my thoughts, my deeds.
Scientific data, RL Schidlow and Michael Schroder, changing sexual orientation, a consumer’s report, Journal of Professional Psychology Research and Practice Vol. 33, 2002, American Psychological Association studied 202 people who had gone through reparative therapy, and of those 202, they found eight people who claimed an orientation shift, or four percent. But there was a flag on that data because of those eight people who had orientation change, seven of them had a possible conflict of interest because they were ex-gay counselors and four of them had paid positions with ex-gay reparative therapy ministries. And so they may actually be telling the truth, but there’s just a conflict there. We’ve got one definite person who was gay who turned straight out of 202. But three to four percent, that’s awesome, but realistically that’s also a 96 percent failure rate in terms of orientation change. And when you tell people, “Well you just have to keep trying. You have to keep trying to change your orientation. You need to call yourself an ex-gay now and keep trying.” That sounds like a fake it til you make it vision of sanctification that I don’t know is really healthy. Why not just be the big shameful sinner loved by Jesus? Why not bring the gospel into this? Why not be a big shameful…and if I’m a pornography addict, you can be anything.
Fourth recommendation, focus on the family of God. Other seminars have hit on this so I won’t focus on it much. But focus on the family of God more than on the families of God so that single people, God places them in families because he loves them. When you’re single, I mean, I’m celibate, 46, I’ll be 46 years old in a couple months, I can go, if I’m not careful, I can go a week without touching another human being. And that’s not healthy. We need family. We all need family. And granted, if you’re there and you’ve got six kids and you’re being touched all the time, I won’t ask you to hug me. But I may need a hug from someone else.
Understand that anybody with same-sex attraction may need support with sexual sin, including sexual addictions. Don’t assume it, but they may need help and it may be more difficult for them to vocalize that because of the nature of their attraction.
You have to be prepared to defend sexual minorities even at the cost of budgets and programs and numbers. A friend of mine planted a church, and he’s telling me that he would have homeless people who would come in and sit with them and there would be some people who would like the homeless people to go away because they smelled bad and had hygiene problems and were weird. And he would often have a woman with an intellectual disability do the Scripture reading. It’s a little city church, and churches in the middle of cities all struggle because the good schools are in the suburbs, and so you get people, you lead them to Christ, you build them up, and then they move to the suburbs and find a church out there because they want a good school district. And so he would have these suburban families come and visit and very often they would leave, and when he’d find out what was happening, it was because of the lady with the intellectual disability reading Scripture that made them feel uncomfortable and they didn’t know what to do with the homeless guy sitting next to their children. You’ve got to be willing, he said that it assured him of slow growth. You have to be willing to step in.
You know, one of the things that I have learned from the black church is that an injustice ignored is an injustice condoned. If you don’t say anything, you are condoning it. And so when you hear the jokes about sexual minorities, when you see people bullying or excluding or just not reaching out and including your job as a ministry leader is to become their biggest, fiercest advocate and to model that as well as to teach it.
Understand with people, particularly if they have hidden their orientation, which in a conservative religious context, a lot of folks learn to hide, learn to wear a mask really well, they may have integrity issues. It may not be that they lie, it may be they hide. And part of pastoring somebody may be helping them become whole and help what’s outside and what’s inside, they don’t have to be identical, because there is privacy, and you’ve got to respect every individuals choice about how private or public they want to be about whatever is their struggle. But trying to help that inside and outside line up some. Be prepared for questions about boundaries, particularly when talking about spiritual friendship, the question comes up, ok, well how far can you go if it’s…and when Wes Hill and Ron Belgau talk about spiritual friendship, all of their examples, Ron’s examples have always been him and straight men and Wes’ have always been his with couples, but neither would rule out two same-sex attracted people developing friendship. But then the question is, Ok what if they both start finding each other really, really, really interesting? What do you do? How do you shepherd that? And I imagine there are probably 400 different perspectives in this building right now, and I want to acknowledge that. On the one hand, there’s sort of the traditional, knee-jerk reaction, which is, “Well then you’ve got to end the friendship and you can never see them again or talk to them again. And one of you has to find a new church.” Hey, that’s being real protective against sexual sin, but that’s also setting somebody up to be really lonely their whole life because every close friendship they get has the risk at some point of getting weird. And then there’s the other side of, well so long as you don’t have genital contact, it’s ok, but the problem with that is the Bible, St. Paul says there should not be even a hint of sexual immorality among you. And you don’t have to go too far to have a hint. And so where between those extremes of, well you can never talk to them again, or so long as you’re not having sex it’s ok, where do you carve out a middle space in there that’s biblical, holy, godly, encouraging, edifying, and different people will nail that down differently. The question I ask, which many people would push back on, but as a PCA pastor, gender complementarian, pretty conservative guy, the question I ask is, “Well, would you do this with your really, really, really good friend who you love and […?] who is ugly? And I just want you to think about that because that may help you to identify what’s carnal vs. what is true admiration and love. And that’s going to be culturally different. In some countries, men, you know, friends are literally pushing right up against each other as they’re talking, they’re holding hands, cuddling, all sorts of stuff. And other cultures, it’s like, oh back off, we need at least three feet between us. And so I don’t have all the answers, but I think that’s the one question that I ask between those extremes is, would you do this with your really, really best friend that you love deeply, that would take a bullet for you, you’d take a bullet for him, you enjoy being in his presence, but he’s ugly. So others will have a different perspective.
Respect variations in terminology. One of the things that our Missouri report came to is we looked at kind of Wes Hill’s language of kind of using gay as a term for non-straight, and we looked and we kind of concluded that it’s not really an issue and shouldn’t be a big issue pastorally. Our goal isn’t to make people use a certain terminology that maybe has developed as something of a shibboleth within evangelical Christianity that we identify, we feel safe when somebody says same-sex attraction because that’s a shibboleth that identifies them as one of us. But if they use this other term that the culture uses, woah. So whatever terminology they use, you know obviously you want them building their identity on Christ, but the terminology they use doesn’t give you much insight into that. And so we’ve kind of just gone agnostic. It’s not an issue for us. That’s why we have no problem hosting this conference.
And understand and respect the variation in experience that people have. One person’s experience of being same-sex attracted or gay may be that they always felt weird, they always knew they were different, and it’s almost this holistic sense of a major part of their being, and be sensitive to that. But also be sensitive that some same-sex attracted people will tell you that they feel like a straight person with a disease. Just respect the fact that the experience of sexuality three or five or seven categories or however many letters, it’s eight billion categories because everybody experiences it a little differently.
Now you’ve made it almost to the end, folks. Your reward? You have been granted “sexual minority” status. We’re all sexual minorities. Every one of us—you, me, Greg Johnson, Sean, Wes Hill, Eve Tushnet—we’re all different and broken in our own unique way. We’re all victims now. Victims of the way God made us. Alfred Kinsey wasn’t thinking nearly big enough when he claimed that most men had homosexual tendencies at some point in their life and created half a dozen categories of homosexuality. We need one category for every person alive. According to Pastor Greg Johnson, there’s no such thing as male and female, married or single, just a sexuality that “everybody experiences a little differently.” Jesus did say that there was no longer male or female, but His point was that we are all the same. Pastor Johnson’s point is that we are all different. Is it any wonder then, that he wants to add homosexual and heterosexual to Jesus’ list?
We end with this word from God’s Word:
For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption; for by what a man is overcome, by this he is enslaved. (2Peter 2:18, 19)
But it’s becoming a bigger issue…it’s not becoming a bigger issue, we’re becoming more aware of the bigness of the issue. Two years ago, for the first time, I believe it was the National Institutes of Health, was able to ask in there survey of high school students in 23 states I think, something like that, ask about their sexuality. For the first time in 2016, they were able to ask. And what they found of American high school students is eight percent identify as non-straight, which is much higher than the adult population, and that’s just those who identify. And so we’re talking about not just those of us in this room and people in our churches, we’re also talking about our kids. And we have, for decades, chased our sons and daughters into the arms of unbelievers because we haven’t shared with them stories of godly believers with same-sex attraction, godly believers with a sexual minority experience. We haven’t cast a vision for what it looks like when you have a calling from God, even just passing aside all these identity issues, identity, it’s a nice term, it’s a helpful concept, it’s not a term in the Bible, it’s a concept that’s there, but the notion of a calling, a vocation. Some people have a vocation to glorify God with a really empty marriage that is a real struggle, but their calling is to glorify God with that. Other people have a calling to glorify God with leukemia. And other people have a calling to glorify God with unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria or intersex condition. And that calling, because it’s a calling from God to suffer, is a holy calling and a holy vocation. And if we painted the beauty of a holy calling to suffer well for the glory of God because all of us are called to the same self-sacrificial call of discipleship from Jesus, and yet he gives us this radical grace. You can see why that kind of calling, outside of that radical grace context, if you don’t know you’re loved and he calls you to suffer, that’s going to crush you. But if the one who suffers for you, who bears your burdens, who covers your shame, who is delighted in you, who is overflowing with joy, who sings praise over you because you are his bride and his beloved and he is not willing to let go of you, if that kind of God, “I want you to suffer with me in my Son,” then that becomes something very, very beautiful. When the gospel is real, when you get the gospel, you don’t need to control people, you don’t need to get results, you don’t need to fix them, you can’t fix yourself, because it’s not about you, it’s about them and about Jesus. And our job as ministers of the gospel is then to come alongside, be the encouragement, be the support, wash their feet so that they can then wash other people’s feet, and to point them always to Jesus. And this is true for all people because we’re broken. Herman Melville in Moby Dick, it’s a wonderful quote, “Heaven have mercy on us all, Presbyterians and pagans alike, for we have been bashed about the head badly and are desperately in need of mending.” Praise the Lord, I can say yes for the Presbyterians.
So I’m going to pray and then we’ve got maybe ten minutes for Q&A. Let me pray. “Father, thank you for your love, the love that you have for me, broken and damaged and cherished and safe among your people, safe in your temple for Lord, I am not a dry branch, but you have given me a memorial and a name that is better than many descendants because you love the broken and the bruised and you choose the weak to shame the wise. Praise to your name, Lord, for the gospel because that’s all we’ve got. Thank you. Amen.