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 eleventh 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.
III. SUMMARY OF ALLEGATIONS AND JUDGMENTS
A. Judicial Allegation and Judgment
Judicial Judgment: On the Conduct of TE Johnson and the Memorial Session
Allegation: It is alleged TE Johnson and Memorial’s Session erred by hosting the Revoice 18 conference without sufficiently vetting its speakers and content, failing to respond adequately to the concerns expressed by critics in the lead up to the conference, and failing after the conference to debrief their congregation adequately on those points of Revoice’s teaching and emphases that had been and continued to be contested.
Judgment: Though hindsight brings greater clarity, and the circumstances around the development of both the conference and the criticisms of it were fraught with difficulty, we judge that Memorial erred in failing to do all they might have and ought to have done to help protect the peace and purity of the church.
Well said, and with a proper degree of kindness and restraint.
We wholeheartedly commend TE Johnson for the many hours spent seeking to clarify aspects of the conference and engage constructively and patiently with those who expressed concern about the teaching at Revoice 18, or strongly objected to it. At the same time, we believe that both TE Johnson and Memorial ought to have vetted more carefully the speakers and content of the Revoice conference with a view to learning in advance what the conference, as proposed, might mean for its responsibility to shepherd its people well.
Again, well said.
In addition, by not making public statements after the conference explaining the process by and context in which the decision to host Revoice was made, and by not providing a gracious, clear critique of the conference, especially at those points where it was alleged that there was difference with our doctrinal standards, the Session of Memorial and TE Johnson erred by failing to see the opportunity being provided them to clarify important matters of faith and morals for their congregation and to assure the wider church that the doctrinal concerns that had been raised were being seriously addressed.
Sadly, this indicates where the men of Missouri Presbytery are headed and where they are not headed. Where they are headed is faulting Pastor Johnson and Memorial’s Session for failures of process rather than failures of substance. Where they are not headed is any admission that our confessional Westminster Standards are a fulsome and perfectly on-target condemnation of most everything about Revoice. Note their language, “it was alleged that there was a difference with our doctrinal standards.”
Only “alleged?” Well yes, these men had to deny these concerns were legitimate because they refuse to even quote the Westminster Standards on the Seventh Commandment.
Revoice’s many serious sins against the Westminster Standards were pointed out very clearly to them, but as we pointed out before, the fix was in and Missouri Presbytery had to stop short of finding any smallest fault with Pastor Johnson, Memorial’s Session, and the Covenant grads and prof (and their own majority of Committee members) who support Revoice. Otherwise, formal discipline seeking repentance would have had to have been pursued.
More than anything else, they could not, they must not allow that to happen.
B. Theological Allegations and Judgments
Allegation #1: On the Question of the Origins and Moral Status of Homoerotic Desire
Allegation: It is alleged that Revoice taught or defended the view—and that TE Johnson and the Memorial Session tacitly concurred—that sexual desire toward someone of the same sex is something that derives from God’s original Creation and, in principle then, would be affirmed by God as good, the way Genesis teaches that sexual desire toward someone of the opposite sex is from Creation and is affirmed by God as good. Additionally, it is alleged that Revoice propagates the view that homoerotic desires are morally neutral as opposed to being fallen and therefore, sinful.
Again, let your fellow PCA presbyters—both pastors and elders—frame their charges themselves, in their own words. When these men put this allegation in these terms—”sexual desire toward someone of the same sex is something that derives from God’s original Creation”—they have positioned themselves to say, “oh no, no one believes that!”
Well of course not. To men in love with nuance, they ought to understand no one’s going to put it like that, so it’s easy for Missouri Presbytery to say, “Oh no, no one believes that!”
This matter isn’t said, but implied.
Judgment: Our finding is that neither Revoice nor the Memorial Presbyterian Church Session ground homoerotic desire and actions in Creation rather than in the Fall. We believe that Revoice itself does not teach that sexual desire for someone of the same sex is morally neutral and not sinful. In fact, they affirm that it is sinful. While we are aware that a few of the conference (and pre-conference) speakers hold the Roman Catholic view that homoerotic desire is not sin proper but is, nevertheless, “of sin,” and “inclines toward sin,” nowhere in any of the conference or preconference talks did we find this view of the matter taught or propagated.
However, Revoice leaders and speakers do use terms that historically were synonymous with “homoerotic desire” in a way that expands them to include morally good features that are claimed to be underneath or behind the illicit sexual desires. These terms include “homosexual,” “same-sex attraction,” “gay,” and “homosexual orientation.” This leads them to say that not everything about “being gay” or “same-sex-attracted” has to do with sinful sexual desires. We treat this as a separate question under allegation #3.
So there, Missouri Presbytery has dispensed with the ridiculous charge that Revoice, Memorial Presbyterian Church, or Pastor Johnson teach or believe God has created sodomitic lusts and they are good.
Of course, it’s not hard to dispense with charges one formulates oneself with no accountability for how one formulates them. This is the reason straw-man arguments are insidious. Men are fooled by them.
But is it really true that Revoice, Memorial, and Pastor Johnson don’t teach or believe God is responsible for sodomitic lusts? Watch their language throughout their advertising and talks and one quickly sees constant accusations against “nature,” and thus nature’s God.
From our book The Grace of Shame: 7 Ways the Church Has Failed To Love Homosexuals, we quote John Calvin on this impious attack on God so common among sinful men including Revoice and their LivingOUT/Spiritual Friendship partners.
From The Grace of Shame:
To conclude this chapter, we must point to an important tenet of the homosexual-orientation argument. This is the claim that homosexuals have no choice. Instead, people allegedly “experience a same-sex attraction” or “discover it within themselves.” It arrives “in early adolescence” and “is not something that is, in itself, freely chosen.”
Such arguments serve to minimize, if not deny, the moral agency of those with the “homosexual orientation.” Examine the claim that homosexual orientation comes at a very early age, noting the accompanying denial that homosexual orientation is freely chosen, and we see the project more clearly. In the end, claiming that it is homosexual orientation that leads to homosexual sin comes down to blaming nature, and thus nature’s God.
In his Institutes, John Calvin warns against our constant attempts to transfer the blame for our sin to God:
We must guard against singling out only those natural evils of man, lest we seem to attribute them to the Author of nature. For in this excuse, impiety thinks it has sufficient defense, if it is able to claim that whatever defects it possesses have in some way proceeded from God. It does not hesitate, if it is reproved, to contend with God Himself, and to impute to Him the fault of which it is deservedly accused. And those who wish to seem to speak more reverently of the Godhead still willingly blame their depravity on nature, not realizing that they also, although more obscurely, insult God. For if any defect were proved to inhere in nature, this would bring reproach upon Him.
Claiming that “homosexual orientation” is “experienced” rather than chosen amounts to blaming it on God. It’s the difference between saying, “This is the way I am,” and, “This is one of the ways I’m tempted.” More than that, it insults God for, as Calvin puts it, “if any defect were proved to inhere in nature, this would bring reproach upon Him.”
How should the faithful shepherd respond to men who claim the moral neutrality of homosexual orientation?
Calvin gives this counsel:
Since, then, we see the flesh panting for every subterfuge by which it thinks that the blame for its own evils may in any way be diverted from itself to another, we must diligently oppose this evil intent. Therefore we must so deal with the calamity of mankind that we may cut off every shift, and may vindicate God’s justice from every accusation.
If readers will not consider us harsh, it is our judgment Missouri Presbytery’s approach to Revoice and those who support it is never to “cut off every shift,” but to encourage these shifts by acting, speaking, and writing as if they don’t see them. But then, are the men of Missouri Presbytery really so naive?
Of course Pastor Johnson himself, his Memorial Presbyterian Church Session, and Revoicers don’t say anything so kludgy as “sexual desire toward someone of the same sex is something that derives from God’s original Creation.” The whole gay Christian, Spiritual Friendship, Revoice, heterosexuality-is-not-godliness, LivingOUT decadence is exquisitely wrong.
(This is eleventh in a series of close readings. For all Warhorn articles on Missouri Presbytery’s Revoice Report, see here.)