To the 48th General Assembly,
The following Ad Interim Committee Report has been prepared for the 48th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America originally scheduled for June 2020.
As a consequence of the postponing of that Assembly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our Report will now not be officially presented to the General Assembly until its next scheduled meeting in 2021.
Nevertheless, the Committee wants to make this Report available to the church at this originally scheduled time because we were commissioned to engage in this study due to pressing needs in our church and society. Our prayer is that the Scriptural solidarity and relational unity we experienced as a Committee will be reflected in what we have written, and may also prove helpful for the unity, witness, and mission of our church and her people.
TE Dr. Bryan Chapell Northern Illinois Presbytery (Chair)
TE Dr. Kevin DeYoung Central Carolina Presbytery
TE Dr. Tim Keller Metropolitan New York Presbytery
TE Dr. Jim Weidenaar Pittsburgh Presbytery
RE Dr. Derek Halvorson Tennessee Valley Presbytery
RE Mr. Kyle Keating Missouri Presbytery
RE Mr. Jim Pocta North Texas Presbytery
This Committee has been tasked by the 2019 General Assembly to “study the topic of human sexuality with particular attention to the issues of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism and prepare a report” (Overture 42 from Chicago Metro Presbytery, as amended [M47GA, 104]). Our task was not to address the whole of human sexuality, but limited to specific concerns raised in our denomination.
The Assembly’s adopted overture lists a number of issues that it wants the Report to address, including: (1) the nature of sexual sin, temptation, and mortification, (2) the propriety (or not) of a Christian referring to himself or herself as a “gay Christian,” (3) the propriety (or not) of speaking of a homosexual “orientation,” and (4) recent practices of incorporating Christians into Christian community who have been attracted to the same sex—all while giving special attention to parts of the Scripture (e.g., 1 Corinthians 6) and the Standards (e.g., WLC 138 & 15 139) that are relevant to these topics.
Our list of assigned topics is long, and we have sought to address them most directly in this Preamble and the immediately following Twelve Statements that we pray are of a length to be most helpful for ease of distribution and common use in the church. This Preamble and Twelve Statements are a summary of our discussions and convictions, and provide a theological and pastoral framework for all the other parts of this Report. Our Committee engaged in its most lengthy and precise discussions on these two documents, as we carefully weighed the most critical issues to provide Biblical and Confessional arguments that we hope will bring clarity and unity on these sensitive subjects for our churches, families, and friends.
Our Committee also gathered explanatory essays from our members that discuss issues assigned to us by the Assembly. We have included these essays in subsequent sections of this Report because, without endorsing how every thought is expressed, we all believe they will be helpful in explaining key understandings behind our Twelve Statements. Finally, we compiled a Select Annotated Bibliography that lists materials we believe will be helpful to the various constituencies of our church who wish to become more informed about these issues. In this bibliography, we have provided materials for a variety of audiences (pastors, scholars, parents, children, etc.). Our goal is not to present an exhaustive list of all available materials (that would unbalance the elements and efficacy of this Report), but to aid the church by presenting some of the most useful materials for different constituencies and different purposes. We cannot affirm our agreement with every word or thought in such a wide variety of materials (indeed, sometimes we must make informed readers aware of resources they should be prepared to counter or receive with caution). Our goal is for our annotations to guide our readers with the Biblical discernment needed to hold to what is good and rightly sift what is unbiblical or less certain.
Amidst all these statements and essays we discern two overarching concerns—concerns which may be expressed as two important tasks for the Church in our time and two competing sets of fears.
The two tasks could be called the “pastoral task” and the “apologetic task.” On the one hand, Overture 42 asks that the Report “help pastors and sessions shepherd congregants who are dealing with same-sex attraction” (M47GA, 104). On the other hand it asks for “suggested ways to articulate and defend a Biblical understanding of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism in the context of a culture that denies that understanding” (M47GA, 105).
There is no reason why these two tasks need to be pitted against each other, although they often seem to be. One reason they seem at loggerheads is that attached to each undertaking is a set of fears. One set of fears is that we will be harsh and unfeeling toward people who have been wounded and deeply hurt—and often by the Church. A hard-sounding stance toward them at this moment may only make it easier to discredit the Church in people’s minds. As a consequence, many are afraid that the Church will speak in ways that only support the powerful cultural narrative that orthodox Christian belief is toxic for hurting and struggling people.
Another set of fears, however, is that we will compromise at the very place where the world is attacking the Church in our culture. We see many professing Christians and whole denominations surrendering to the sexual revolution. We do not want to be one of them, nor even now in subtle ways to sow the seeds for some future capitulation. As the natural family is a fundamental unit of human society and is the normal means of care and nurture, all sins which threaten, undermine, or marginalize it are both spiritually dangerous and detrimental to human flourishing.
Part of the problem with regard to addressing these issues is that many of us are far more ripped with one set of fears than the other. But because both of these tasks—the pastoral and the apologetic—are required, we should give each of them strong attention.
Sinclair Ferguson, in his book The Whole Christ (The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance―Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2016), reminds us that the two main ways that the gospel is compromised are through legalism on the one hand and antinomianism on the other. He then says that it is common to fall into “the mistake of prescribing a dose of antinomianism to heal legalism, and vice-versa, rather than the gospel antidote of our grace-union with Christ.” He goes on to argue that the Church must present to the world the whole Christ, “clothed in his gospel.” Jesus is both the Holy One and the merciful one. He cleanses the temple yet eats with sinners. He gives Martha teaching on truth (John 11:25-26) yet he gives Mary only tears (John 11:35) even though they had both said the same thing to him about their grief (John 11:21, 32). He gives each of them what they most need at the moment. On the cross Jesus fulfills both the unyielding demands of the Law yet also the most wonderful purposes of God’s love.
And so we must present “the whole Christ” when we both pastor individuals and speak to the world about sexuality and gender today. Jesus is full of grace and truth. In pastoral care we Sinclair Ferguson, must not apply the truth so harshly as to be callously alienating or so indirectly that the truth is never clearly grasped.
The very form of the following Twelve Statements seeks to capture this “grace and truth” wholeness as we address the issues. Each statement is dual, an associating of one truth with a concomitant truth or teaching. The aim is not to achieve some kind of abstract intellectual balance or “third way,” but rather to show the path of theologically rich pastoring. The paired truths help the pastor avoid the opposite errors of either speaking the truth without love or trying to love someone without speaking the truth.
The “grace and truth” path to which we point the church in this Report is not an easy one. Speaking the truth yet doing it in love is nearly always harder than separating these needed aspects of the whole gospel into two alternatives. Speaking with grace and truth, in the process of our work together this year, we on your Ad-Interim Committee have been delighted to find a greater spirit and degree of oneness amongst ourselves than we would have expected. Our prayer is that our entire church may increasingly find that same “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
Read the whole Report here.