So what proponents of the “Side B” position in the PCA are demanding is that either that we join them in burning the pinch of incense and saying, “Side B is Good” or that we silently submit to the de facto position. They have in essence declared that for someone to respond publicly to TE Johnson in a positive “Pro,” affirmative way is wonderful, but to respond publicly to TE Johnson in a negative, non-affirming way is sinful and unacceptable.
When Dr. Greg Johnson, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, wrote an article in Christianity Today that began with his provocative confession, “Bill, I’m Gay!” and then explained his “Side B Gay Christian” testimony at length, he publicly created a situation in which the entire PCA would have to respond. [Note: “Side B Gay Christianity” refers to professing Christians who identify as homosexuals, but who say they will remain celibate, whereas “Side A Gay Christianity” refers to professing Christians who identify as homosexuals and who are sexually active.]
Had Pastor Johnson written that article in ’73, ’83, ’93, and perhaps even ’03, I have no doubt that the response would have been a flurry of public calls (“demands” might be a more accurate word) for charges to be filed. However, it’s an indication of how far we’ve come as a culture and a denomination that not only was that not the response circa 2019, it is the presbyters who are in favor of charges who are now considered the extremists and outliers. But regardless, Greg Johnson’s public statements demanded, and indeed, still demand a public response.
If as a denomination we choose not to bring charges against TE Johnson in our church courts, the PCA will have indicated that it approves of and endorses the case for “Side B Gay Christianity” that he set out in his article, which he implicitly argued for by hosting and supporting the Revoice conference, and via his statements on the floor of the General Assembly.
In my case, and in the case of several of the other pastors I’ve spoken to, our congregations are now asking how we will respond. Members of my own congregation have told me that they do not wish to be part of a “Side B” denomination for reasons of conscience. They and others have indicated that if the PCA allows by means of a failure to discipline (whether it is in the case of Greg Johnson or any of the other “Side B” teaching tlders who are in or will soon be in in the PCA) to end up as a de facto “Side B” denomination then they will be forced to leave our congregation. For pastors of large churches or urban churches that are much more tolerant of the LGBTQ+ agenda because of the general culture they exist in a few families leaving may not seem like a big deal, but for small church pastors, or pastors who for reasons of conscience also could not stay in a “Side B” denomination, it is a very, very big deal.
Therefore, we are in a situation where we have a choice between answering with silent or public assent or by public reproof and calls for censure. At present, however, only a response of public approval and affirmation is being tolerated by progressives in the PCA. As in the larger culture, in the minds of many Presbyters, and particularly those who align with the National Partnership, it is simply intolerable and frankly bigoted for anyone NOT to celebrate TE Johnson’s decision and public declarations regardless of their broader consequences for the denomination and its theology. The fact that no denomination or congregation has been able to maintain “Side B Gay Christianity” for more than a decade without eventually sliding into “Side A Gay Christianity” seems to be completely disregarded. We are expected to act as though that will not, indeed cannot, happen to the PCA. When it does happen, we will no doubt be expected to tolerate that change as well or again face public disapproval and disapprobation.
Ironically, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in a situation like this. In the 1990s when I was still working as a Computer Systems Administrator, the company I worked for (BNA) held a lunchtime discussion of homosexuality and gay marriage. It was billed as a “discussion” but what it was clearly intended to be was an opportunity to openly support the gay agenda. I understood that and chose not to attend. However, when a dear older Christian coworker by the name of Maria went along and read Scripture in the meeting, she was vociferously attacked, and another Christian coworker came to me in tears begging me to “Come help Maria!” I instantly realized I couldn’t remain silent, so I went to the meeting and managed to shift the hate fest that was falling on her to myself.
Later that day, the Vice President of human resources, a self-avowed homosexual, having received a report attempted to fire me for my viewpoint and my own boss was preparing to do exactly that when the head of our section, who was also a Christian, intervened, putting his own job on the line in to support me. The company backed down, but from that point on I was labeled as a bigot by the non-Christians in the company. I understood this was a part of what Jesus told us would happen to his followers in passages like John 16:33, and I didn’t back down, especially because the evangelicals in the company instinctively supported me as I had supported Maria.
What I didn’t foresee at the time was that a day would come when my own denomination, seeking to affirm the Side B compromise, or what is really the gradual transition to full acceptance of Gay Christianity, would someday be equally unwilling to listen to arguments from Scripture and historic Christian doctrine; and further to describe my viewpoint on homosexuality as bigoted and unacceptable and make either celebration or at the very least silence part of the requirement for remaining in my current position.
So what proponents of the “Side B” position in the PCA are demanding is that either that we join them in burning the pinch of incense and saying, “Side B is Good” or that we silently submit to the de facto position. They have in essence declared that for someone to respond publicly to TE Johnson in a positive “Pro,” affirmative way is wonderful, but to respond publicly to TE Johnson in a negative, non-affirming way is sinful and unacceptable. What we saw at the General Assembly and in the discussion on the internet is that “Side B advocates” are by definition intolerant of public declarations of a “Con” position, and won’t listen to them even if they are temperate and based on Scripture and our Standards.
Andy Webb is Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Pastor of Providence PCA in Fayetteville, N.C.