Understanding the “Greg Johnson Case” Majority Decision and Dissenting Opinion

by Zachary Groff | December 28, 2021

Since the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) decided Judicial Case 2020-12 (Speck v. Missouri Presbytery) – a.k.a. the “Greg Johnson Case” – in October of this year, several official documents and unofficial commentaries relating to the decision have circulated the Internet.

While ByFaith Online has published an official announcement and detailed examination of the majority Decision on Complaint in the case, the minority Dissenting Opinion has enjoyed circulation in unofficial channels only (i.e., The Aquila Report and social media outlets). In what follows, I seek to bring these various resources together to help interested readers (i.e., you!) to understand both the majority Decision and the minority Dissenting Opinion in the “Greg Johnson Case.”

ByFaith Online published the SJC’s decision itself (available here) as an official denominational press release (available here) on October 22, 2021, one day after “the SJC voted to deny the Complaint.”[1] The release summarized the super-majority ruling “that Missouri Presbytery did not violate the investigation requirements of the Book of Church Order and did not err when it declined to process allegations against TE Greg Johnson.”

The SJC’s decision concluded, “Based on the Record, there was no reversible error in the decisions reached by Missouri Presbytery regarding the four allegations. It was not unreasonable for Presbytery to judge that TE Johnson’s ‘explanations’ on the four allegations were ‘satisfactory.’ (BCO 31-2).”[2] Of the 24 men currently serving on the SJC, 16 concurred with the decision (TE Cannata, RE Carrell, TE Chapell, TE Coffin, RE Donahoe, TE Ellis, TE Kooistra, TE Lee, TE McGowan, RE Neikirk, RE Nusbaum, RE Pickering, TE Ross, RE Terrell, TE Waters, and RE Wilson), 7 dissented (TE Bankson, RE Bise, RE Dowling, RE M. Duncan, RE S. Duncan, TE Greco, and RE White), and 1 was absent due to a personal matter (TE Lucas).

Because there was one vote less than a 1/3 minority dissent against the ruling, the majority decision reflects the PCA General Assembly’s final action on Judicial Case 2020-12.[3] In other words, the polity of the PCA as expressed in the Book of Church Order (BCO) does not allow for any further appeal, consideration, or review of this decision in the courts of the Church.  

Earlier this month, regular ByFaith contributor TE Larry Hoop published an article entitled A Look Behind the SJC’s Johnson Decision and What It Means for the PCA in which he ably explains the background of Case 2020-12 (Speck v. Missouri Presbytery), helpfully outlines how the SJC processes cases, neatly lays out the timeline of the SJC ruling in this case, and briefly describes two related cases upon which the SJC has yet to rule. Anyone interested in learning more about how the SJC works (and how it decided the “Greg Johnson Case”) must read TE Hoop’s article. However, it is – by no fault of either the author or the publisher – missing one very important part of the picture.

Just one day before ByFaith Online released TE Hoop’s article mentioned above, The Aquila Report published a piece entitled Dissenting Opinion On the SJC Decision In the Missouri Presbytery-Greg Johnson Case[4] by RE Steve Dowling. Joining RE Dowling in this formal dissenting opinion were TE Paul Bankson, RE John Bise, RE Mel Duncan, RE Sam Duncan, TE Fred Greco, and RE John White. Though this dissenting opinion went up on The Aquila Report on December 13, it is dated October 31. It is unlikely that TE Hoop would have been aware of the Dissenting Opinion before he wrote – and ByFaith Online published – his piece dated December 14.

To understand the dissenters’ three-fold argument against the SJC’s ruling, readers should first review the majority decision (again, available here). In summary, the Dissenting Opinion proceeds on the following three grounds, two of which are based on procedure and the third of which is based on the merits of the case:

  1. That Presbytery did not exercise the “due diligence” required by BCO 31-2 in its investigation and that it therefore committed “clear error” [BCO 39-3] in making its determinations.
  2. That the SJC was not bound by the “great deference” requirement of BCO 39-3 because this is a case centering on Constitutional interpretation; and
  3. That the substantive conclusions reached by Presbytery and confirmed by the SJC do not follow from the facts in the Record of the case.

Even if readers reach different conclusions than the dissenting minority of the SJC, their reasoning merits careful examination for at least three reasons. First, RE Dowling’s formal Dissenting Opinion expresses the perspective of the seven men on the SJC who vigorously opposed the majority ruling in the case. Second, due to the provisions set down in BCO 15-5.c, the argumentation expressed in the Dissenting Opinion will not reach the floor of the 49th General Assembly to be discussed or otherwise considered in relation to Judicial Case 2020-12 in 2022. Third, the Dissenting Opinion makes the provocative claim that “each error has significant consequences for the denomination.”

At this point, it is fair to ask something along the lines of, what “significant consequences” might our brothers in the dissenting minority have in mind? Consider the following three statements from the Dissenting Opinion, corresponding to the three grounds outlined above.

  1. The SJC’s actions bear testimony to the fact that Presbytery’s investigation was inadequate, and since it was inadequate the subsequent determinations made on that inadequate investigation were “clear error.” Moreover, the SJC distorted the record – however unintentionally – by soliciting the “present” views of TE Johnson.
  2. By not meeting its obligation to interpret the constitution of the church under BCO 39-3.4, the SJC has affirmed Presbytery’s authority to make Constitutional and theological declarations on behalf of the denomination. Since the decision made by Presbytery in declining to indict has been affirmed, the SJC not only has reinforced the idea that this authority lies with individual Presbyteries, it has also formalized a dubious Constitutional interpretation of SSA (i.e., same-sex attraction) and how it applies to ordination.
  3. While the ROC (i.e., record of the case) and his public utterances demonstrate great facility with language and theological nuance and sometimes serve to obfuscate clear issues, TE Johnson’s fundamental argument for serving as an ordained minister of the gospel is that he is now – and has always been – chaste, making him immune to disciplinary action for sexual misconduct. By this standard no sexual predilection is disqualifying as long as it doesn’t materialize in an act. Therefore, the pedophile who suffers in the way TE Johnson does – that is, one who had no hope of change or no resistance to a single look at child pornography such that he ‘…wouldn’t come up for air for hours…’ is eligible for ordination. The same would also clearly be true of someone who struggled with illicit heterosexual attractions under the same conditions, but it is unimaginable that a man would be called as a minister of the gospel who said, ‘I struggle with lust for women to the point that I don’t expect change, and I’m also an addict who is one look away from complete immersion in pornography – but don’t worry, I only think about it. I’m not currently doing it.’ Despite the many excellent points made by TE Johnson about the difficulties faced by Christians who experience SSA or sexual dysphoria, and despite much good advice on how to minister to ‘sexual minorities,’ these arguments cannot be applied without distinction to ordained service.

There is much more to the Dissenting Opinion than what is reproduced above by way of summary statements and quotations. If you are interested in understanding the substance and significance of the SJC’s decision in the so-called “Greg Johnson Case,” be sure to read the ruling itself as well as the Dissenting Opinion of the minority.

Reference Note:

The SJC currently includes the following members, arranged alphabetically with eldership designation and presbytery membership indicated:

Teaching Elders

Paul Bankson (Central Georgia)
Raymond D. Cannata (Southern Louisiana)
Bryan Chapell (Northern Illinois)
David F. Coffin, Jr. (Potomac)
Carl F. Ellis, Jr. (Tennessee Valley)
Fred Greco (Houston Metro)
Paul D. Kooistra (Warrior)
Hoochan Paul Lee (Korean Northeast)
Sean Michael Lucas (Covenant)
Charles E. McGowan (Nashville)
Michael F. Ross (Columbus Metro)
Guy Prentiss Waters (Mississippi Valley)

Ruling Elders

John R. Bise (Providence)
Daniel A. Carrell (James River)
Howie Donahoe (Pacific Northwest)
Steve Dowling (Southeast Alabama)
Melton Ledford Duncan (Calvary)
Samuel J. Duncan (Grace)
Frederick “Jay” Neikirk (Ascension)
EJ Nusbaum (Rocky Mountain)
John Pickering (Evangel)
Bruce W. Terrell (Metro New York)
John B. White (Metro Atlanta)
Robert Jackson Wilson (Georgia Foothills)

[1] Complaint of TE Ryan Speck v. Missouri Presbytery, Judicial Case 2020-12 (SJC 2021) at 2.

[2] Ibid. at 28.

[3] See Book of Church Order (BCO) 15-5.c.(1).

[4] For a description of a Dissenting Opinion, see BCO 15-5 and SJC Manual 18.12 on Concurring and Dissenting Opinions.

Zachary Groff is a PCA Teaching Elder serving as Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church in Woodruff, SC.

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