Missouri Presbytery Revoice Report: a close reading (3)
NOTE: Missouri Presbytery (PCA) is the ecclesiastical authority over Pastor Greg Johnson and the elders of Memorial Presbyterian Church. Pastor Johnson and Memorial hosted the first Revoice 18 conference one year ago in St. Louis. The second Revoice will soon be held again (Revoice 19) in St. Louis.
Responding to national pressure from inside and outside their denomination, Missouri Presbytery put together an investigatory committee and just issued their Report. This is third in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here. Report text is indented. We pick up where we left off last time.
NOTE: Unless otherwise indicated, all footnotes are from Missouri Presbytery’s Report.
A Word to Memorial, Revoice, and their Defenders
We also understand how the defenders of Revoice want to protect the Revoice project as something that is meeting an important need. We affirm that the church has failed in many respects in its care for SSA Christians in the past and the present. Far too many Christians who experience same-sex attraction as they grow up in churches in our denomination feel isolated and alone. While the wider culture capitulates to the sexual revolution, we have too often remained silent or spoken callously to SSA persons. Like many para-church ministries, Revoice exists to fill a need that’s there because of the failure of churches to address the spiritual and pastoral issues connected to homosexuality.
If the “Revoice project” is “meeting an important need,” precisely what is that need?
The need is that “the church has failed in many respects in its care for SSA Christians.” The need is that when Revoicers “grow up in churches in our denomination [they] feel isolated and alone.” The need is that Missouri Presbytery pastors and elders have “remained silent or spoken callously to” the same-sex attracted. And so on.
Revoice is needed because Missouri Presbytery’s pastors and churches have failed “to address the spiritual and pastoral issues connected to homosexuality.” Note here the presbytery’s consistent use of the pronoun “we.”
These are stunning admissions, but are these men truly confessing their own sins?
We think not.
If we were to ask Pastor Ron Lutjens (this committee’s “chair”) directly whether he himself and his longtime officers and flock of Old Orchard Presbyterian Church there in St. Louis “failed to care for SSA Christians”; if we were to ask him whether he, his fellow pastors, and elders left same-sex attracted Christians in their congregations “feel(ing) isolated and alone”; if we asked whether he and the members of Old Orchard “remained silent and spoke callously to same-sex attracted Christians”; whether he failed “to address same-sex attracted Christians’ spiritual and pastoral issues,” there’s little question Pastor Lutjens would answer “no” to each of these questions.
In fact, we have listened to the personal loving testimony of same-sex attracted given in phone calls and emails explaining to us that Pastor Lutjens and his fellow officers have been at the forefront of ministry to same-sex tempted Christians for decades.
So how are we to understand all these confessions of sin in the first-person, using the pronoun “we”?
Social justice warriors have a habit of confessing the sins of others using the pronoun “we.” In social justice warfare, “we” is a notoriously manipulative word now, and long has been.
Take for instance the white northern social justice warriors back in the sixties who came down to the south, declared their solidarity with negroes, and assumed they could speak for them saying “we.” It resulted in the well-known interjection African Americans responded with: “What’s this ‘we,’ white man?!”
But maybe it isn’t Pastor Lutjens himself, but the other members of Missouri Presbytery who are making these confessions?
Rather, we guess Pastor Lutjens and his Committee’s members are using “we” to soften their rebuke of all the other men in their presbytery and denomination. Whether these men they are condemning are guilty of these sins is another question. What must be acknowledged here is that those they are confessing sins in behalf of likely would respond, “What’s this ‘we,’ white man?!”
Missouri Presbytery moves on to declare some of their foundational principles:
We believe that it is crucial for SSA Christians to have a home in our churches. SSA Christians need to be dearly loved, discipled, to hear the Good News preached, to receive the sacraments, to be given opportunities to use their gifts in the service of others, and to share in the life of the body of Christ. Ultimately it is our hope that the raison d’être for ministries like Revoice might fade away because the church would so fulfill its calling to support and shepherd SSA persons, that it was no longer needed.
Missouri Presbytery here claims the church doesn’t provide a “home” for SSA Christians. The church doesn’t “dearly love” them. The church doesn’t “disciple” them. The church denies them the opportunity to be “discipled,” to “hear the Good News preached,” to “receive the sacraments,” to give them “opportunities to use their gifts in service to others,” and to “share in the life of the body of Christ.”
Not until the church begins to do these things will Revoice’s reason to exist “fade away” so that, finally, Revoice is “no longer needed.”
Once again, we wonder if the presbytery is confessing these sins in behalf of her own member churches? Wouldn’t “our churches” simply correspond to the “we” they used in the immediately preceding paragraph? If so, the presbyters ought to have said so, explicitly. That would have been more forthright, more manly.
But once again we doubt Missouri Presbytery is confessing her own sins. Likely it is other churches who refuse to love and embrace and welcome SSA Christians. After all, Missouri Presbytery itself is quite evolved on the issue as they demonstrate by their very sensitive, very nuanced, very judicious, very affirming report.
Note how Missouri Presbytery claims the work Revoice is doing is the work the church should have been doing and must take up again, going on to refer to this work as the “calling to support and shepherd SSA persons.”
The work Revoice is doing and the church must take up is a “calling?” From whom? From man or God?
This is one of those violations of the Third Commandment all of us should be on guard against. Used in this way in this document, what Missouri Presbytery here implies is that Revoice is a movement fulfilling a “calling” from God. When pastors and elders speak of a “calling,” they are speaking of God’s calling.
What is assumed is Revoice and the church have the same “calling” of “supporting and shepherding same-sex attracted persons,” that both Revoice and the church share a “calling” from God to provide a “home” for SSA Christians.
Again, if this is what Missouri Presbytery believes, let them say it directly rather than implying it by the spiritual language of “calling.” Let them man up and declare it publicly:
God has called Revoice to dearly love and disciple same-sex attracted Christians. God has called Revoice to provide a way for same-sex attracted persons to hear the Good News preached, to receive the sacraments, to have opportunities to use their gifts in service to others, and to share in the life of the body of Christ.
But sadly, Missouri Presbytery isn’t up to stating this directly.
Is it true that Revoice is fulfilling a “calling” from God, or has Missouri Presbytery’s employment of the language of “calling” in connection with this mess been something tantamount to taking God’s Name in vain?
Here is the Westminster Larger Catechism opening up what constitutes sins against the Third Commandment:
Q113: What are the sins forbidden in the third commandment?
A113: The sins forbidden in the third commandment are misapplying of God’s providences, …maintaining of false doctrines [and] making profession of religion in hypocrisy, or for sinister ends.
Missouri Presbytery’s implication that the work of Revoice is a calling from God is “misapplying God’s providences.”
Those scandalized by Revoice’s outré or grotesque celebration of sexual sin will have a hard time avoiding the conclusion that Missouri Presbytery’s use of “calling” violates the Third Commandment by misapplying God’s providences in the maintenance of false doctrines. That to speak of this work the presbytery states is Revoice’s reason to exist which the church must take up alongside them as a “calling” is for the presbytery to make a profession of religion for sinister ends.
The truth is the opposite of what Missouri Presbytery is constantly claiming. Pastors and churches don’t need Revoice to love and disciple and commune same-sex tempted Christians, providing them opportunities to use their gifts in ministry. We already do so and have for decades. Same-sex tempted persons are not alienated from us. They do not sit angst-ridden in our midst. They are not pining for their brothers and sisters in Christ to affirm or celebrate their specialness as Revoice does so bodaciously.
Quite simply, because they confess their same-sex desires and effeminacy to be sins. Like all of us, they are ashamed of their sins. That’s what unites us in the body of Christ: we confess our sins and shame, and live together in love under God’s grace and mercy.
This is the third in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here.