“Surprising Errors” in Greg Johnson’s Assessment of the RPCES 1980 Homosexuality Report

A response to a faulty assessment of the 1980 RPCES on the “Pastoral Care for the Repentant Homosexual” report.

The bland wording on the synod agenda was: “Report of the Study Committee on Homosexuality.”  When it came time to deal with the study, the synod did not want such a nondescript label, so it supplied its own: “Pastoral Care for the Repentant Homosexual.” That was the official title approved back in 1980. In saying “Homosexual Christian,” Rev. Johnson has supplied for us a different title supremely suited for his reading of the synod’s handling of this subject.

 

Rev. Greg Johnson wrote a bold assessment of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod’s (RPCES) “Report of the Study Committee on Homosexuality” considered at its 1980 meeting in Seattle. This is a response by a minister who was there. In Johnson’s “10 Surprising Facts About the 1980 RPCES Report on Homosexual Christians” it is difficult to find a place in his article where he fully understands what the synod agreed to in 1980. His paper purports to explain the meaning of the Report and what the Seattle Synod considered; however, his review of this Report has many errors.

The Synod had commissioned, at the request of Rev. Egon Middlemann, a study on homosexuality. Then in 1980 the study paper was brought before the Synod by my old friend, Egon. The bland wording on the synod agenda was: “Report of the Study Committee on Homosexuality.”  When it came time to deal with the study, the synod did not want such a nondescript label, so it supplied its own: “Pastoral Care for the Repentant Homosexual.” That was the official title approved back in 1980. In saying “Homosexual Christian,” Rev. Johnson has supplied for us a different title supremely suited for his reading of the synod’s handling of this subject, though the Synod said:

ACTION:     After several motions to refer or table the report, the recommendation was adopted, as amended, to read “that the synod commend the above study, entitled ‘Pastoral Care for the Repentant Homosexual’ with the deletion of Section III, to our sessions and congregations as an aid for their ministry to those struggling with homosexuality.”  (emphasis added)

Rev. Johnson’s fabricated title is one he prefers, even though the synod was careful to speak of repentant homosexuals, he titles our report as one about “Homosexual Christians” a term which never appears in the RPCES report!

In the rest of his article revisionist reading of an historical document continues to take over his mind. But he not only chose his own title for us, he missed that the original report was amended. Note: “with the deletion of Section III.” Johnson either did not read that or ignored it. He simply plows on oblivious to the amendments. When he gives “10 Surprising Facts,” two of the ten are from the deleted Section III. Since he so manifestly parted from the synod’s decision to delete something, there is no need to respond to his Surprising Errors 9 & 10, which does not give the sense of Seattle Synod 1980.

If you don’t mind since we began at the end of the 10 “facts,” let us now take Surprising Fact #8 which precedes it. It reads, “The church’s job was to protect “the homosexual brother and sister from indignity back in 1980.”  This time Johnson does represent something in the RPCES report. But it is a sloppy paragraph he delights in; I mean sloppy on our part.  The synod report refers to WCF XIII.3, which chapter, I am sorry to say, lack the words ascribed to it. Rev Middlemann had XXIII.3 in mind. He wrote, “We have to … protect those struggling with homosexuality …” (emphasis added). XXIII.3 is a long paragraph – printed, it came out as 13 lines, and the RPCES report quotes a mere two. The chapter titled is titled The Civil Magistrate. Here is the last sentence in WCF  XXIII.3 with the quoted portion underlined:

It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.

This was a skimpy quotation on our part. Note that Rev. Johnson speaks of WCF XXIII as setting out “the church’s job.” However, the Confession is most clearly speaking of the duty of the civil magistrate. I am sorry we were careless to let the wrong reference through, and we allowed the melding of the duty of the church and the state as one. We should have scrutinized the report more carefully. There were motions to table the report or refer it, which is rather unusual of a study paper. Christians believe in keeping peace within the nation so that religious groups are not harassed. It is good that the Confession saw that as a duty of the government. With that we concur. But our gay minister, Rev. Johnson, applied that duty not to the state but to the church. It is agreed that we should not harass, mock or heap abuse on Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. (It is a shame that that does happen, for we want to win them lovingly to Christ.) But Rev. Johnson wears gay glasses; he elaborated that the RPCES Synod meant for the church to be a “haven for sexual minorities.” The Confession meant that civil authorities should keep the peace.  The idea of the church as a haven for sexual minorities is simply not in the RPCES report. Somebody added it to Rev. Johnson’s article; maybe he did. Now more surprising errors.

Surprising Fact #1: Orientation change was not assumed back in 1980.

“Orientation” can be a euphemism for sexual desires routinely present throughout life. The excuse is that “that is the way I am; surely you do not expect me to be not me!” The specific kind of change Johnson refers to in his fact #1 is “to heterosexual attraction”. Of course, such a lovely change may not come, and is not required. What God does command in us is only the mortification of passions contrary to his creation, law, and salvation (Titus 3:3) such as same sex passions. This high view of sanctification pulls the rug from under every evil desire. It does not matter in Matthew 19 if a Christian man has no desire for a woman. The needed change in all of us is from every in innate ungodly impulse. We are not required to be hetero-sexual in our feelings, but we are forbidden to cuddle, protect, and defend homosexual passions as well as all the other forbidden ones.

Surprising Fact #2: Calling oneself a Homosexual was not idolatrous back in 1980.

“Homosexual” appears in the 1980 report, both as a noun and an adjective. Our synod did not want its report released without a clarification, so by their action they modified the noun by declaring that the study must be labelled as “Pastoral Care for the Repentant Homosexual.”  That blanket title covers other appearances of the word homosexual in the report. The RPCES also said that “sinful man can learn to define himself again in terms of his Creator.” Why? The Creator did not make anyone to be homosexual. This hints at a high view of sanctification.

Surprising Fact #3:  It wasn’t a slippery slope to acknowledge non-normative experiences of sexuality back in 1980.

“Acknowledge” is not the best word.  I acknowledge, without approval, that there are white supremacists who have inflicted horror on people we in New Mexico love, namely our Hispanic neighbors. Acknowledge is distinct from approval.  Here in full is Johnson’s Surprising Fact #3:

Scripture sees in the polarity and correspondence of male and female, the original image of God. Jesus can also speak of other forms of human existence, ‘for some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by man; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven’ (19:12). In the report they approved, our RPCES fathers perceived non-straight believers as being included in Christ’s category of eunuch.

The dead just turned over upon hearing what they approved! Matthew 19 addresses divorce and marriage. Since God made them male and female in the beginning, a man should cleave to his female partner. The proscription against divorce was so strongly stated the disciples wondered out loud if it was better not to marry! This raises the possibility and from some angles the advisability of singleness. The polarity of male and female remains. By being single, a person does not become a new “form of human existence.”  Some should not seek a partner but remain single. Eunuchs do not marry; it’s not for them. This is an option, in our Christian liberty. Singleness for some is commanded. Not all can receive the idea of not marrying, but to some singleness is a gift. There are eunuchs who arrive at their “eunuch-hood” in different ways:

  • Some are born that way – “those who have been so from birth” They never want marriage at all, never have, never will. We respect that and them! Not a hard decision. It is evil to push people into marriage when they are not suited for it. Some are so contented with a single life that marriage for them would be miserable.
  • Some are made that way – “eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men.” I have heard that some Italians thought they could be better tenors if castrated. Oriental kings with harems had eunuchs to take care of them. Maybe they were made eunuchs by men. I have never had a course on how to make a eunuch, but I know the math. If x = one testicle, then the formula is -2x.
  • Lastly, “there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom.” This is making a decision to forego a marriage they could have enjoyed so that they can serve the Lord without distraction. That is a lovely love for God.

Not all should marry. No such commandment exists. But in the last example of singleness, the Lord commands, “Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (The Greek has a mild imperative often translated with “let us” or “let him”, but it is still divine direction.)

Johnson capitalizes on what is to him a delightful gift in the RPCES report when he says, “In the report they approved, our RPCES fathers perceived non-straight believers [Oh did we?] as being included in Christ’s category of eunuch.” Well it is our fault; Greg did not invent the words there in a vague form. I cannot say how that got by us, because something is there. The RPCES report said “other forms of human existence.” Other than males or females? No, other than married! Johnson interprets the other forms of human existence as gays! Our RPCES report opened the door to unintended conclusions.

When Jesus spoke of eunuchs, was he suggesting these were non-straight believers? And we know what that means; he said elsewhere, “For the RPCES report, ‘homosexual’ was the term for the non-straight Christian.” The Lord was saying some from birth are so constituted that they never marry, that does not mean they were non-straight. The castrators removed the option of marriage for some. And some chose to be eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom. This does not mean that these eunuchs are “another form of human existence” as the RPCES synod so unwisely said, and on which the Rev. Johnson has built a doctrine.

Assuming the eunuchs are males, it simply means they do not marry for some or any reason. It does NOT mean they took on an unnatural attraction to persons of their own gender. How could one turn himself into a non-straight gay person in order to serve better in the kingdom of heaven? Johnson has embraced an argument of desperation, because he has no real evidence in Scripture of Jesus speaking of other forms of human existence. The homosexual element has been inserted into text. Shame on him for seizing this poor handling of Matthew 19, and shame on us for the carelessness that let this one get through.

These eunuchs did not have any “non-normative experience of sexuality” as Johnson suggests; they simply had none at all. And our Lord Jesus acknowledged a difference in sexual capacity and choice. He did not acknowledge anything different from male and female – and what God hath made distinct, let no man join together.

Christian Homosexuality is a myth, a deceit in cunning minds, while the hunt goes on to find support for it in God’s Word.

Surprising Fact #4:  It was good to affirm the beauty of same-sex relationships back in 1980. 

The Apostle Paul was very close to a number in the Roman church (Romans 16). There we have a log expressing affection and friendship. Affection spreads to all in all directions. Friendship is different; it is for a few who work together or share lives. Romance climaxing in intimacy (marriage) is toward one person.  C. S. Lewis helped me when he showed that affection is indiscriminate. We can have genuine affection for a dog. He then presented friendship as side by side where friends share a common interest, like growing grapes or hiking. But romance is face to face, as one is absorbed with the other person.

The author of the RPCES study back in 1980 and Greg Johnson both get themselves absorbed in how beautiful (3x), affectionate (1), loving (1), intimate (1), and sexually pure (1) this same sex (4x) relationship (6x) is or can be. (Many descriptions in one paragraph by Johnson.) the whole thing turns into an effeminate litany of absorbing interest in the other person. Too bad Johnson does not sense how healthy brotherly relations can be when simply side by side without such a deeply personal interest becoming face to face.

Surprising Fact #7: You could have celibate homosexual pastors back in 1980.

Oh we could? We did not know of any and would not have ordained any. This rewriting of history is preposterous. The RPCES study said:

If he who once was involved in homosexuality is growing in grace to such an extent that he can ‘walk with exemplary piety before the flock’ there ought not be any reason for a generalized exclusion from church office. Judgment must be made in individual cases by the session and/or presbytery, keeping in mind those aggravations that make some sins more heinous then others. (II C.6, emphasis added)

Side B homosexual pastors though professedly celibate still speak of themselves as homosexuals. That is NOT the same situation for a brother to confess that at one time he was once involved in homosexuality. I know a prominent denominational leader who told a group of us that his first sexual experience was homosexual. He had turned his back on it and was delivered from it, but there it was in his personal history. He made no claim that it was his current passion.

In the RPCES we could, and I think would, allow a person involved in this sin in the past to be accepted as a pastor if forgiven and cleansed, provided other features of that man’s life were in order. But we would never have allowed one admitting an existing homosexuality to be a minister. The RPCES Synod insisted on repentant homosexuals.

Wes Hill openly refers to himself as “a gay Christian,” so do others, along with Greg Johnson. In the RPCES we would never have ordained or installed such a man as a pastor. Greg’s surprising Fact #7 is not a fact. If a man claimed to be homosexual by nature but not practice, we could only accept him if the grip of this sin was previously broken and his life showed exemplary piety. In our minds that would be the opposite of maintaining homosexual passions. To be an elder one must have a good reputation. Recent repentance could not resolve that quickly. If a man must be the husband of one wife because of God’s creation order, the desires and attractions of his heart must also conform to God’s creation as well.

A Summary of Johnson’s Revisionist Review

Rev. Johnson’s paper does not represent the RPCES Synod “back in 1980.” I have analyzed enough; there could have been more.  Omitting other “surprising facts” does not constitute agreement. Johnson has written surprising errors. We believed back then and since that repentant homosexuals are welcome in the congregation with the rest of us, all having and needing our “several lusts … more and more weakened and mortified.” (WCF XIII.1).

On this, homosexuals do not get a pass, nor should they, in the ministry of the PCA. Undoubtedly, the need for a full gracious welcome to Christ and his Body is needed. On this we may need perpetual challenge. I recommend all of Rosaria Butterfield’s writings; she does not omit a gracious response to each and every sinner we meet.

An emphasis in Johnson’s paper is that the PCA has some in it now who have fallen back from the biblical and reformed orthodoxy so well accepted in the RPCES “back in 1980.” He thinks views we once espoused are currently and unfairly denounced as heresy by some in the PCA. However, what our gay minister has done is read the 1980 report as he would like it to be. His is a revisionist review of our history. I would be surprised if anyone living who was in the RPCES before joining and receiving (in 1982) could agree with Johnson’s reckless review.

To call the 1980 report one about Homosexual Christians is a clear example of viewing our report the way he wishes it were. It is an audacious and wicked rewriting of a document. The Missouri Presbytery should not have included it as part of its May 18, 2019 report.

Rev. Johnson did discover some weaknesses in the report which he treated as wonderful. There is, contrary to our report, no other form of human existence than male or female. For our pathetic gaffe I apologize. Our gay minister elaborates, but he is wrong. The Lord Jesus did not teach that eunuchs are non-straight. At one time Pastor Johnson thought it was wrong to make such a suggestion that Matthew 19 means that the eunuchs of which it speaks are non-straight. That ugly interpretation promotes the recognition of gayness as another form of human life, as if that were what the Lord meant. By injecting this toxin into Jesus’ words, Johnson offends deeply.

Rev. Johnson who serves in St. Louis, Missouri is undoubtedly aware that the chief author of the 1980 RPCES report was a homosexual. The 2017 Missouri document on homosexuality mentions that the framer of the report knew and battled same-sex desire in his own experience. The Missouri Presbytery also identifies him by name when including the full RPCES report in its appendices. Egon was a friend of mine. When I learned of him succumbing to homosexual desires, and learned of his suicide, I was depressed for about six months. The “demon” got him. “… Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14,15). Side B homosexuals walk a high wire; it is easy to succumb to desire.

Then we wonder afterwards as we read our RPCES report if its seemingly benign thoughts were a hinted justification of gayness. That may explain why he said that Scripture teaches the polarity of male and female, and then our old friend says that “Jesus can ALSO [that is going against the polarity of Scripture] speak of other forms of human existence….” Then he quoted Matthew 19:12.  Johnson, with the same demons, caught the meaning and made explicit the falsehood that we RPCES fathers “perceived non-straight believers as being included in Christ’s category of eunuch.” We did not take our Lord’s words that way.

Rev. Johnson’s words and views reveal an astounding deficiency in his doctrine of sanctification. I hope others will join in by showing how glaring his selective antinomianism really is. That should appear in other articles with some other authors. His declaration that there really are “repentant believers suffering with unrelenting non-straight orientations,” in the “10 Surprising Facts …” needs to come under careful review, because it greatly endangers our happy faith in the mercies of God to change us when the Lord speaks of the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places …” (Ephesians 1:19-20).

We do not benefit if a homosexual minister says that Jesus has not made him straight. It is a testimony of the failure of the Holy Spirit in sanctification.  God has promised us: And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

There is no need to dig up false support for homosexual Christians. There is no need to rewrite the history or reflections of the RPCES’s Report. Rev. Johnson’s essay has factual and interpretative errors, and no small amount of either. “Gay” is not a word in Holy Scripture. A repeated word is “abominable”. Part of the healing we need entails the restoration of the Lord’s choice words and the holy pursuit of God’s dependable promises.

Rev. David H. Linden is a retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America; he lives in Las Cruces, NM.