Missouri Presbytery Revoice Report: a close reading (10)
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 (19) will soon be held, once again 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 tenth in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here. Report text is indented. Unless otherwise indicated, footnotes are from Missouri Presbytery’s Report. We pick up where we left off last time.
C. Commentary on Timeline
The committee notes four things about the timeline that we believe observers should bear in mind.
1. The nascent development of Revoice.
Technically, Memorial did not give permission to an organization called Revoice to hold a conference. At the time of their giving permission, Revoice was but an idea, not a reality.
So they didn’t give permission. Seriously? Pharisaical gerrymandering of the vote.
Memorial gave permission to only Mr. Moss, and to an organization called FirstLight Ministries, that was not actually involved but of which Mr. Moss was an employee, to use their church building in order to put on a conference about homosexuality.
Mr. Moss was an MDiv graduate of their Covenant Theological Seminary as well as a member of their own congregation.
No one at Memorial knew Dr. Collins or his involvement with the conference, as they had given permission only to Mr. Moss
They “had given permission?” Had or hadn’t—which is it?
“No one at Memorial?” Again, Mr. Moss was a member of their church.
who they mistakenly assumed was working in his capacity as a FirstLight employee.
Again, Mr. Moss was a member of their own congregation. Are we wearying readers with this reminder?
It would not be until months later that Revoice would be a formal organization with its own board, and almost a year later until it was a recognized non-profit.
So what? They had already given permission. Formally. By email. Memorial Presbyterian Church’s Session whose moderator was Pastor Greg Johnson. Members of their presbytery.
Memorial gave permission based on their trust in Mr. Moss, who told them of only one confirmed speaker, Dr. Wes Hill.
They here imply their trust in their member, Mr. Moss, was misplaced.
No one at Memorial at the time knew Dr. Collins, nor had they read any of his writings before Revoice was given permission to use the church to put on a conference.
But Mr. Moss knew Dr. Collins and had read his writings. And Mr. Moss was a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary and a member of their own congregation.
Revoice had no reputation, board, or referrals from anyone that Memorial could have used to judge the teachings, goals, or vision of Revoice at the time of their giving permission.
“Anyone at Memorial?” What about their member, Mr. Stephen Moss? Could Memorial’s Session and Pastor Johnson not have used Mr. Moss “to judge the teachings, goals, [and] vision?”
2. The changing relationship between Revoice and Memorial
The relationship between Revoice and Memorial developed and deepened through the controversy. Once it was learned that not FirstLight but Revoice was the conference organizer, Memorial viewed Revoice as an outside organization that wanted to use their church space. Since Memorial has historically been generous with giving space to outside church groups, and even to other faith groups, this request was received by the Session as not an unusual request, nor was it suggestive to them that they were endorsing Revoice (just as allowing an outside, non-Calvinist Christian group to use their fellowship hall was not endorsement of Arminian theology). However, as the controversy progressed, TE Johnson emerged (with his Session’s support) as a defender of Revoice. This is evident by TE Johnson’s articles which defend Revoice specifically, not just the appropriateness of sharing church space with other groups with whom there is doctrinal disagreement. By the time of the conference itself, Memorial was doing more than allowing Revoice to use their building. They were actively involved with Revoice by encouraging church members to volunteer to help with the event.
3. By the time TE Johnson wrote his articles defending Revoice, he had become aware of the historical context and the unique approach of Revoice to questions about how the church ought to be caring for homosexually-inclined believers.
Many people were confused, unsure of what Revoice was trying to do. Before Revoice there had historically been only two types of gatherings of Christians around the issue of homosexuality. In the evangelical world, most were aware of conferences that were like those under Exodus International—conferences based on the teaching that homoerotic attractions are a form of sexual brokenness. At the other end were progressive groups who came together united by their belief that embracing and living out homosexual desire is not sinful. Revoice was neither of these things. Revoice was drawing together Christians who had in common the experience of feeling lonely and isolated on account of their sexuality, but who also wanted very much to identify with churches that have maintained the historic Christian view of sex and marriage.
We must be clear here. Revoice has never “maintained the historic Christian view of sex and marriage.” This may have been the desire of some involved, but they were naive in their expectations; and if they were church officers, they are culpable for their naivete.
There’s a reason nothing like Revoice has ever appeared among Biblical churches across two millennia of church history. The Church has always recognized the duties required and sins prohibited by the Seventh Commandment. Read here in our confessional standards the Westminster Larger Catechism’s exposition of this commandment (emphases added):
Q137: Which is the seventh commandment?
A137: The seventh commandment is, Thou shalt not commit adultery.
1. Exod. 20:14
Q138: What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?
A138: The duties required in the seventh commandment are, chastity in body, mind, affections, words, and behavior; and the preservation of it in ourselves and others; watchfulness over the eyes and all the senses; temperance, keeping of chaste company, modesty in apparel; marriage by those that have not the gift of continency, conjugal love, and cohabitation; diligent labor in our callings; shunning all occasions of uncleanness, and resisting temptations thereunto.
Q139: What are the sins forbidden in the seventh commandment?
A139: The sins forbidden in the seventh commandment, besides the neglect of the duties required, are, adultery, fornication, rape, incest, sodomy, and all unnatural lusts; all unclean imaginations, thoughts, purposes, and affections; all corrupt or filthy communications, or listening thereunto; wanton looks, impudent or light behavior, immodest apparel; prohibiting of lawful, and dispensing with unlawful marriages; allowing, tolerating, keeping of stews, and resorting to them; entangling vows of single life, undue delay of marriage; having more wives or husbands than one at the same time; unjust divorce, or desertion; idleness, gluttony, drunkenness, unchaste company; lascivious songs, books, pictures, dancings, stage plays; and all other provocations to, or acts of uncleanness, either in ourselves or others.
It’s difficult to imagine a conference more directly contrary to what our confessional standards reveal concerning the duties required and sins forbidden by this Seventh Commandment of God’s Moral Law.
The Report continues:
TE Johnson appears to have understood this [see above, on Revoicer’s loneliness] by the time he wrote a piece trying to correct what he believed were misrepresentations of Revoice. There he said:
This one [a claim that “Revoice presents a bad way to tackle sexual sin”] is actually only half off because it’s basically a failure to comprehend the purpose of Revoice. Even though the conference is intended for the sexually broken, Revoice is not actually a conference about sexual sin. Revoice is addressing a much broader question. How can we help believers with same-sex attraction spiritually thrive in our churches?
Here Missouri Presbytery approvingly quotes Pastor Johnson’s claim that “Revoice is not actually a conference about sexual sin.” But what is sexual sin?
Our confessional standards make clear most every aspect of Revoice involved violations of the Seventh Commandment.
The Report continues:
Realize that a same-sex attracted believer’s biggest struggle may not be with lustful thoughts. Her biggest struggle might be learning how to give or receive love.1
From May through October of 2018, TE Johnson spent approximately 20 hours per week reading and responding to questions concerning Revoice and sexuality by voicemail and email and in the PCA Pastors & Elders Facebook group in order to help those who were concerned about Memorial’s involvement with Revoice, understand better the latter’s aims and teaching.
Missouri Presbytery continues to claim lack of good information was the cause of controversy. Pastor Greg Johnson bore the heavy load of helping the uninformed “understand better.”
The Report continues:
4. Summaries of Pieces that TE Johnson wrote in response to Revoice
“Reply to ‘Queer Culture in the PCA?’” (May 28, 2018)
In this piece Rev. Johnson offers an apologetic for the Revoice project. He reiterates the need to affirm that sex is between a man and a woman, but the emphasis is on helping same-sex-attracted Christians navigate their experiences in the world. He is clearly aware of Revoice workshops at this time. He defends the use of “gay language” and cites the Missouri Presbytery report in defense of not making language a divisive issue.
“Sex is between a man and a woman, but…” This and the necessity of marriage being heterosexual are the only two Biblical teachings these men affirm, over and over again. They admit not any slightest place for those sins against the Seventh Commandment declared by our confessional standards. They don’t even quote the Westminster Standards on the Seventh Commandment.
“Concerning Reports about Revoice” (July 19, 2018)
At this time, TE Johnson believes that Revoice speakers also believe that homosexual desires must be mortified.
Any Biblical definition of the mortification of homosexual desires would preclude every bit of Revoice.
His main concern in this piece is to respond to “false allegations and misinformation online about the conference.”
Again, no specification of what these allegations are, who made them, and where they may be read.
He repeats much of his argument from his earlier essay that there are four main misunderstandings about Revoice. It is alleged that: 1.) Revoice believes same-sex sexual attraction is morally neutral. 2). Spiritual Friendship promotes romantic quasi-marriages for gays.
Who was it who said these things, and where?
3.) Revoice is promoting gay identity instead of identity in Christ.
They should have written “along with identity in Christ.” Instead, they set up a straw man.
4.) Revoice presents a bad way to tackle sexual sin.
Quite right, our confessional standards condemn everything Revoice is and does.
TE Johnson relies heavily on Spiritual Friendship writings in his defense, mostly Ron Belgau and some from Wes Hill. He quotes the Revoice statement once. He does not engage with Dr. Nate Collins’ work at all. TE Johnson appears to believe at the time that Revoice would 1) affirm clearly the sinfulness of gay sex and homosexual desires and temptations. 2.) Revoice would be clear on denouncing gay celibate partnerships. 3.) Revoice would work from the assumption that homosexuality is a form of sexual brokenness and thus their fellowship is akin to one like that of other types of habitual sins, such as alcoholism. 4.) Revoice would be clear that its focus wasn’t the addressing of sexual sin but instead that its intention was to help gay people feel more loved by the church and equipped to remain celibate. Johnson concludes his piece with the qualification: “I don’t know whether it will work or how much I will agree with or not. I’m just glad someone is trying.”
Good. Sadly, though, this is not what Revoice was, and if he thought so, Pastor Johnson demonstrated his naivete.
D. Summary of Received Correspondence
In terms of official correspondence received from other bodies or parties within the PCA, (1) the Memorial Session received a letter from the Session of Covenant Presbyterian Church (Harrisonburg, VA), dated 7 Sep 2018. It also received (2) a letter, dated 27 Sep 2018, written by TE Andrew Dionne of Trinity Presbyterian Church (formerly PCA) (Spartanburg, SC) and cosigned by approximately 20 other TEs from various presbyteries. Subsequent to this, the Missouri Presbytery received correspondence from (3) Calvary Presbytery, dated 25 Oct 2018; (4) Southwest Florida Presbytery, dated 13 Nov 2018; (5) Savannah River Presbytery, which is without a date but was adopted at its 26 Jan 2019 stated Session meeting;
How did a presbytery statement get adopted at a “Session meeting?”
and (6) Westminster Presbytery, with its committee report that was adopted 9 Mar 2019. In addition to this, the Missouri Presbytery also received (7) a letter from TE Tyson Turner of Grace Redeemer PCA in the Gulf Coast Presbytery, dated 23 Mar 2019.
Can we please see these communications and read Missouri Presbytery’s response to them, point by point? Missouri Presbytery has 143 pages to do so.
Out of the above correspondence, two of the letters, those from the Calvary and Southwest Florida presbyteries, are essentially identical in substance to the letter sent by Covenant Presbyterian Church (Harrisonburg, VA), with a third letter (from Savannah River Presbytery) simply referencing/adopting the letter from Calvary Presbytery. That is to say, four of the letters are essentially identical in substance, whereas the remaining three are independent compositions: the fifth, from the Westminster Presbytery, is the result of an ad hoc study committee…
Again, can readers please see the content of these letters instead of having to trust Missouri Presbytery to summarize them in their own words? Missouri Presbytery has already proven it is not interested in objectivity, so why force readers to depend upon secondary rather than primary sources?
the sixth is the work of TE Dionne (formerly a member of Calvary Presbytery)…
When he sent the letter, TE Andrew Dionne was a member in good standing of Calvary Presbytery. When Missouri Presbytery’s Committee was writing this Report, Pastor Dionne was a member in good standing of Calvary Presbytery.
But Missouri Presbytery changed to the text to “formerly a member of Calvary Presbytery.”
In the days before the release of this Report, both Trinity Presbyterian Church of Calvary Presbytery and Pastor Andrew Dionne left the Presbyterian Church in America.
the seventh, that of TE Turner.
Again, why not give readers the text of Pastor Turner’s letter?
The Committee to Investigate Memorial Presbyterian Church communicated by phone with representatives from Covenant PCA (Harrisonburg, VA) and from the four presbyteries. The phone calls were largely informational in nature with a four-fold purpose: (i) to attempt to understand the “back story” and context of the correspondence they sent; (ii) to ascertain the resources consulted in generating their correspondence; and (iii) to learn of any additional formal or informal correspondence that had been made (e.g., phone calls, emails, etc.), whether prior or subsequent to the letters listed above; and (iv) to inform the party of the committee’s efforts and its proposed schedule, including the called presbytery meeting of 18 May 2019.
(This is tenth in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here.)
|↑1||TE Johnson, “Concerning Reports About Revoice” online on July 19, 2018.|