By Zachary Groff | January 19, 2022 (updated February 26, 2022)
Following the 48th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) – ably hosted by Missouri Presbytery in June, 2021 – the 88 constituent presbyteries of the Church have received eight proposed amendments to the denomination’s Book of Church Order (BCO). Of the eight proposals, only two have generated intense debate, as recently reported by Larry Hoop for the PCA’s electronic media outlet byFaith online.
Not surprisingly these two proposals concern a hot button issue present both in and around the Church: homosexuality and the application of biblical sexual ethics in the examination (and potential qualifications) of candidates for church office. These proposals for amending the BCO come before the PCA’s presbyteries as ‘Item 2’ (concerning Overture 23 to the 48th Assembly) and ‘Item 4’ (concerning Overture 37 to the 48th Assembly).
In addition to byFaith’s official update on behalf of the Administrative Committee, Pastor Scott Edburg of First Presbyterian Church in Tuscumbia, AL has diligently maintained a spreadsheet tracking the outcomes. Click here to access the spreadsheet. The first tab in Pastor Edburg’s spreadsheet records the outcomes, and the second tab conveniently presents the details of the proposed changes.
A wide variety of ecclesiastical commentators (Teaching Elders, Ruling Elders, church members) in and beyond the PCA have weighed in on a running online debate about these two ‘Items’ of Church business. While much discussion has taken place on social media (i.e., Twitter, Facebook, and the aptly named Discord) and closed discussion boards, a growing corpus of long-form blog contributions on either side of the debate is developing.
In what follows, I have put together what I hope is a comprehensive annotated list of the relevant public contributions to the debate, organized by position (Pro or Con) and date (from earliest to latest). My desire is for this list to be a helpful resource to those presbyters who will be deliberating and voting on Items 2 and 4 in the coming months.
“Two BCO Amendments Related to Homosexuality Now Before Presbyteries” by TE Larry Hoop, byFaith Online, 08/25/2021 – This is a very helpful journalistic overview of the recent history that has led to Items 2 and 4 before the 88 presbyteries of the PCA during this cycle.
“Should We Stay or Should We Go?” by TE Jon D. Payne, Gospel Reformation Network, 11/16/2021 – In the context of a call to conservative pastors, elders, and congregations to remain in the PCA in the face of disappointments, TE Payne mentions the uncertain fate of the proposed BCO amendments.
“A Minute with the Minutes on Overtures 23 & 37” by RE Brad Isbell, The Aquila Report, 12/30/2021 – This is an interesting analysis of the Minutes of the 48th General Assembly of the PCA and the distribution of Teaching Elders and Ruling Elders in the vote counts.
“5 Presbyterian Predictions for 2022” by RE Brad Isbell, reformation21, 01/14/2022 – This predictive post mentions the relative likelihood of Items 2 and 4 passing.
“Update on Presbytery Votes on BCO Amendments” by TE Larry Hoop, byFaith Online, 01/18/2022 – This is an official update on the voting results of those presbyteries which have reported to the Administrative Committee by January 18, 2022.
“A Word on Narratives” by RE Brad Isbell, reformation21, 02/04/2022 – This reflective post gives a “wide-angle” perspective on the Presbyterian Church in America’s continuing debate over unity, progress, and Side B Gay Christianity. As such, the post mentions “Overtures 23 and 37.”
“A Needless Battle” by Steve Marusich, SemperRef, 02/14/2022 – TE Marusich attempts to cast a vision for a more peaceful future after the apparent failure of the proposed BCO amendments to pass the presbyteries.
“Reality Check & the Future of the PCA” by TE Jon D. Payne, Gospel Reformation Network, 02/24/2022 – This sobering piece reflects on and responds to the evident failure of the proposed BCO amendments to garner support from at least 2/3 of the 88 presbyteries of the PCA. It is remarkable that a strong – though not sufficient – majority of the presbyteries voted in favor of the proposals. However, as the article states, “the failure of the overtures reveals that a significant number of ordained elders in the PCA are either in support of, comfortable with, or indifferent to having self-identified gay celibate pastors in the denomination. Can this point really be disputed anymore? The numerous personal interactions that I’ve had with PCA elders and denominational leaders since the inauguration of Revoice only underscore this point in my own mind. There is a subtle normalization and quiet acceptance of Side B Gay Christianity taking place in the PCA right now.”
The Pro Position
“Two Amendments to the BCO That Should Be Approved” by TE Fred Greco, hosted online by byFaith Online, 08/25/2021 – TE Greco gives an inside account of the development of the proposals in the Overtures Committee of the 48th General Assembly , their overwhelming passage on the floor of the General Assembly, and the rationale for their presentation to the presbyteries for consideration. He endorses them “because they are helpful to the Church, bring clarity in a time of confusion in our culture, and reflect the Biblical process of electing and ordaining officers.” TE Greco serves on the Standing Judicial Commission of the denomination and spoke on behalf of the majority of the Overtures Committee in support of Overture 37, which then became Item 4 before the presbyteries (there was no minority report for Overture 23, and thus no need for a special presentation by the majority in favor of Overture 23, which then became Item 2 before the presbyteries).
“Vote Yes on Amendments 23 & 37: Dominic Aquila & Fred Greco Explain Why” Video by TE Fred Greco & TE Dominic Aquila, MORE in the PCA vimeo, 09/2021 – In this 30-minute video, TEs Greco and Aquila explain the background to the proposed amendments, answer questions posed about the proposed changes, and clarify why they believe Items 2 and 4 need to be passed.
“The Three “U”s and PCA Overtures 23 and 37: Part 1” by TE Stephen Spinnenweber, The Aquila Report, 09/27/2021 – This is the first half of TE Spinnenweber’s response to the claim that the language of the proposed changes is unclear.
“The Three “U”s and PCA Overtures 23 and 37: Part 1 Continued” by TE Stephen Spinnenweber, The Aquila Report, 09/30/2021 – This is the second half of TE Spinnenweber’s response to the claim that the language of the proposed changes is unclear.
“Five Reasons Why I’m Voting for Overture 37” by TE Richard D. Phillips, Gospel Reformation Network, 09/30/2021 – As suggested by the title, TE Richard D. Phillips is voting for Overture 37 (Item 4) because he believes that the proposed changes to the BCO will bring unity and peace to the PCA; align with the Bible’s emphasis on character qualifications for officers; protect the church from problems arising from character deficiencies; give clear, appropriate, and helpful categories; and express accurately and truly our conception of Christianity through the proper defense of biblical officer qualifications. Under the heading of Reason #4, TE Phillips responds to three objections to Overture 37 (Item 4). TE Phillips is a member of The Gospel Coalition Council, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals Board of Trustees, and the Gospel Reformation Network Council.
“The Three “U”s and PCA Overtures 23 and 37: Part 2” by TE Stephen Spinnenweber, The Aquila Report, 10/08/2021 – This is TE Spinnenweber’s response to the claim that the proposed changes are unnecessary.
“The Three “U”s and PCA Overtures 23 and 37: Part 3” by TE Stephen Spinnenweber, The Aquila Report, 10/18/2021 – This is TE Spinnenweber’s response to the claim that the proposed changes are unloving.
“Overtures 23 and 37, and the Book of Church Order” by TEs Todd Pruitt & Fred Greco, Mortification of Spin Podcast, 10/27/2021 – TE Fred Greco joins TE Todd Pruitt on the Mortification of Spin podcast to discuss and endorse Items 2 and 4 as they stand before the presbyteries.
“PCA 23 & 37 Vote (1st of 3): Bad Men, Not Bad Words” by TE Benjamin Inman, Knots Better, updated 11/14/2021 – TE Inman launches into a three-part series articulating – in eccentric but enjoyable prose – support for the changes proposed in Items 2 and 4. In this post, he argues that most of the Con arguments, which he characterizes as “doom-cry” and “hand-wringing,” is expressive of distrust of the ordained men who will be tasked with implementing and executing the directives contained in the proposed changes.
“PCA 23 & 37 Vote (2nd of 3): we aren’t on the verge of Bush, Clinton, Bushier” by TE Benjamin Inman, Knots Better, updated 11/14/2021 – TE Inman continues his three-part series by exegeting the surrounding culture and coming to the conclusion that the PCA should be responding in precisely the ways proposed in Items 2 and 4.
“BCO Amendments 23 & 37 (3 of 3): Have you ever known a dry drunk?” by TE Benjamin Inman, Knots Better, updated 11/14/2021 – TE Inman concludes his initial three-part series by drawing an admittedly sensitive analogy between same-sex attraction and drunkenness to make the point that the proposed changes in Items 2 and 4 are entirely appropriate.
“Presbyterian, The Sexual Revolution, & The Language of Their Documents – A Response to David Coffin” Video by TE Aldo Leon, Pinelands PCA YouTube Channel, 12/04/2021 – As clearly indicated by the title, TE Leon rebuts arguments made by TE David Coffin against the proposed BCO Amendments in Items 2 and 4.
“Recommending Overtures 23 and 37” by TE Jon D. Payne, byFaith Online, 12/16/2021 – TE Payne develops the rationale for ratifying the changes proposed in Overture 23 (Item 2) under the four headings of Constitutional Authority, Above Reproach and Christlike, A Biblical and Confessional View of Sanctification, and These Extraordinary Times. He develops the rationale for ratifying the changes proposed in Overture 37 (Item 4) under the two headings of Maintaining High Standards for Officers and Clear Guidance for Churches and Presbyteries. He then responds briefly to five objections. While the entire article is helpful for understanding his position, the responses to objections are the most useful material for processing the debate. TE Payne is the Executive Coordinator of the Gospel Reformation Network, and he has been outspoken in his support of Overtures 23 and 37 (i.e., Items 2 and 4).
“A Response to David Coffin Concerning Overtures 23 and 37 – Part One” by Tom Hervey, The Aquila Report, 12/27/2021 – PCA Church member Tom Hervey launches into a three-part response to TE David Coffin’s published opposition to Items 2 and 4. In this post, he responds specifically to TE Coffin’s claims that the proposed changes lack mature consideration, seek to address a local problem with an inappropriately remote solution, and express a misconception of PCA polity. He then proceeds to engage with TE Coffin’s arguments against Overture 23 (Item 2).
“A Response to David Coffin Concerning Overtures 23 and 37 – Part Two” by Tom Hervey, The Aquila Report, 12/28/2021 – In this post, Mr. Hervey questions the propriety or appropriateness of TE Coffin as a sitting member of the Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) issuing public statements opposing a pending change to the BCO.
“A Response to David Coffin Concerning Overtures 23 and 37 – Part Three” by Tom Hervey, The Aquila Report, 12/29/2021 – In this post, Mr. Hervey engages with TE Coffin’s arguments against Overture 37 (Item 4).
“A Newcomer’s Guide to PCA Overtures 23 and 37” by Alan Hager, The Aquila Report, 01/03/2022 – TE Hager presents a personal reflection on the proposed changes in Items 2 and 4, arguing that they present a real, complicated, persistent, and urgent issue. In reflecting on a meeting he had with some of the men involved in his fledgling PCA church plant, he writes, “From the looks and comments that night, I am not sure our church plant will survive if these overtures are not passed, or some definitive action is taken to make clear it is not okay to be an officer of the church and embrace the identity of a gay Christian.” He contends that now is the time to address the issue of so-called Gay Christianity and its place in the Eldership of the PCA. He concludes, “It is not the lack of clarity of an overture or the uncertainty of its imagined outcome that we should be most concerned about, but the emerging lack of clarity about who [we] are as a denomination and the uncertainty we will have in fulfilling our mission if these overtures do not pass that should most concern us.”
“Reasons to Vote in Favor of Amendments to the PCA’s BCO 16-4, BCO 20-4, and BCO 24-1” by Staff, The Aquila Report, 01/05/2022 – In this digest-style article, the author(s) give the intent of the proposed amendments, the language of the proposed amendments as approved by the 48th General Assembly, some reasons to vote in favor of approving these amendments (i.e., to emphasize the need for officer candidates to possess and develop a Christlike character), a statement of the importance of the language of the amendments, and a positive prediction of how the amendments will guide the courts of the Church in the future.
“Is Celibacy Enough of Anything” by TE Benjamin Inman, Knots Better, 01/17/2022 – In this somewhat enigmatic reflection, TE Inman applies the logic of the proposed changes in Item 2 to examination of the character of officer candidates.
“Why the Overtures Belong in Our BCO – Overcoming Objections” by TE George Sayour, Irreverent Reverend, 01/17/2022 – In this focused piece, TE Sayour builds upon the existing material (see above in this list) defending the proposed changes to handle eight objections that have been used in various presbyteries and online debates to-date. He has also written posts entitled, “What does the PCA Believe about Homosexuality?” and “The Joy-Robbing False Hope of Side B Gay Christianity.”
“23&37: The Strongest No Argument” by TE Benjamin Inman, Knots Better, 01/18/2021 – In this short, pointed, and ironically titled post, TE Inman states that “the single strongest argument against the overtures is this: everything is fine.”
“A Response to the Rio Grande Presbytery AC’s Recommendation to Vote Against Overture 23” by TE David H. Linden, The Aquila Report, 01/20/2022 – TE Linden, who is in favor of the changes proposed in Overture 23 (Item 2) gives a line-by-line counter-response to his presbytery’s Administrative Committee’s official advice to vote against Item 2. The substance of TE Linden’s interaction with the Committee’s advice responds to standard arguments against Item 2 (see below), and he concludes with an endorsement of the changes proposed in Overture 37 (Item 4).
“23 & 37: For Good Order, Sweet Ardor” by TE Benjamin Inman, Knots Better, 01/20/2022 – Dramatically abandoning all whimsy, TE Inman offers his longest and most substantive post on Items 2 and 4. He responds to the claim that the local session alone should be tasked with examining a man’s Christian character and qualifications for ordained office. He lays out why the proposed changes are important and in what ways precisely they promote needed reform in the PCA (cast in terms of the reformation of the Church’s order and the reformation of officer candidates’ ardor).
The Con Position
“The PCA’s Report on Sexuality, Current Overtures, Revoice and How This Does Not End in a Mess” by RCA Minister Ron Citlau, Personal Blog, 06/11/2020 – In this piece predating the 48th General Assembly by over a year, Pastor Citlau writes, “I understand the rationale of urging Christians not to use gay-identity language because of the cultural baggage that comes with it, but Greg Johnson is sexually pure and celibate. For me, his character speaks volumes. I disagree with Johnson on his use of language and I think there are landmines to which he is blind; but with a world sexually insane, he is a brother. If the goal is to help each other grow, these overtures miss the mark.” He goes on to argue that the proposed BCO amendments signal and confirm to a watching world the PCA’s deep hostility to same-sex attracted men.
“An Unresolved and Perilous Ambiguity” by RE Trevor Laurence, Mere Orthodoxy, 07/12/2021 – In this post, RE Laurence summarizes the arguments he made on the floor of the 48th General Assembly when he presented the Overtures Committee Minority Report against Overture 37 (i.e., Item 4 before the presbyteries this cycle).
“Why I Plan to Vote Against BCO Homosexual Changes” by TE Larry Ball, The Aquila Report, 08/09/2021 – TE Ball opposes the proposed changes in Items 2 and 4 because he believes that they will “give clear constitutional authority for Side B Christians (gay but celibate) to be office holders in the PCA.”
“The Definitive Meaning of Overture 23” by TE Brent Horan, The Aquila Report, 07/26/2021; republished on SemperRef (linked here), 08/26/2021 – In this post, TE Horan seeks to demonstrate just how ambiguous and potentially confusing the language of Overture 23 (as passed by the 48th General Assembly) may be. Though he does not outright condemn the proposed amendment, he does advise presbyters against voting for it if it they find it to be indecipherable. TE Horan served on the Overtures Committee at the 48th General Assembly.
“Arguments Against the Proposals in Overtures 23 and 37” by RE Kyle Keating, hosted online by byFaith Online, 08/25/2021 – RE Keating contends that the proposed amendments are both unnecessary and unhelpful. Overture 23 (now Item 2) is unhelpful due to the insertion of what RE Keating judges to be unclear and charged language that diverges from the PCA’s recent Ad-Interim Committee (AIC) report on human sexuality and risks being used as “a sort of shibboleth.” He continues his critique by bemoaning the alleged targeting of officer candidates who experience same-sex attraction. Finally, he argues that uncertain grammatical constructions could plausibly introduce confusion into the denomination “as different presbyteries read and apply it in different ways.” Overture 37 (now Item 4) “creates an unclear standard for candidates for ordination” through the introduction of “the ambiguous language of ‘self-profession.’” RE Keating served on the PCA’s Ad-Interim Committee on human sexuality.
“5 Reasons to Vote No On Overture 37” by TE Travis Scott, SemperRef, 10/04/2021 – TE Scott responds point-by-point to TE Richard D. Phillips five-part endorsement of Overture 37 (Item 4), arguing that Overture 37 will not bring peace and unity to the PCA; does not adequately align us with the biblical emphasis on character, does not and cannot protect the church from problems arising from character deficiencies; introduces categories which are not clear, appropriate, or helpful; and does not adequately express our conception of Christianity. On this last point, TE Scott seems to accuse TE Phillips of slander when he writes, “It has been slanderously claimed that opposition to O37 reveals a bias against holiness.” He goes on to argue that TE Phillips’s conception of holiness is too narrow and that the changes proposed in Item 4 do not meet a standard of broad-range holiness that is more befitting of gospel ministers.
“On Overtures 23 and 37” by TE David P. Cassidy, Personal Blog, 10/06/2021 – TE Cassidy briefly directs his readers to vote NO on Items 2 and 4 while asking TE Richard D. Phillips to stop making disparaging comments.
“Did I Disqualify Myself at GA?” by RE Jim Pocta, SemperRef, 10/27/2021 – RE Pocta shares a deeply personal response to the proposed changes, arguing that they are unnecessary, unwise, and “driven by fear.” He opines, “These Overtures are just one more way to let the world know that we are against them and it feels like one more kick in the gut for those of us who have SSA as part of our stories, letting us know that we are under suspicion again and always. There is concern for us with these Overtures, that any honest and open discussion of our struggles would paint us as unfit for ministry.”
“Against Overtures 23 and 37” by TE David Coffin, SemperRef, 11/3/2021; republished on byFaith Online (linked here), 12/16/2021 – TE Coffin follows a similar line of argumentation as that which was laid out by RE Keating, while developing it further and with greater specificity in his critique of the language of the proposed changes. He adds that the proposals “reflect a mistaken conception of our polity” by seeking to do more than what the BCO is intended to handle, and “lack mature consideration” due to the circumstances surrounding their formulation at the 48th General Assembly. TE Coffin’s arguments have been deployed and cited in numerous presbyteries during deliberation. TE Coffin is a veteran PCA churchman and an esteemed member of the Standing Judicial Commission.
“Considering the BCO Amendments on Sexuality” by TE Steve Cavallaro, Cavman Considers (linked here), 11/16/2021; republished on SemperRef, 11/18/2021 – In this first of a two-part response to the proposed amendments, TE Cavallaro introduces the issue with a brief primer on PCA polity as it concerns doctrinal standards and ecclesiastical documents. He then lays out the history of the development of the Items (see as well his earlier post, “Considering 2021 PCA GA Overtures, Part 1” on Cavman Considers, 05/26/2021). After describing and evaluating each of the proposed changes in Items 2 and 4, he concludes, “I do not want flagrant sinners to be officers in Christ’s church. I recognize that all officers will struggle with temptation, and will transgress. Paul’s qualifications for office in 1 Timothy 3 list the transgressions that disqualify a man. He does not list temptations. I do not want otherwise qualified men to be disqualified by their temptations unless they consider those temptations to be good.”
“Considering the BCO Amendments on Sexuality, Part 2” by TE Steve Cavallaro, Cavman Considers, 11/26/2021 – In this second of a two-part response to the proposed amendments, TE Cavallaro presents the arguments in favor of ratifying the changes and responds with some additional thoughts as to why he does not agree with those arguments. He also celebrated the tenor of the in-person conversation that led to this post while critiquing those who take a more shrill tone in engaging in the debate.
“Overture 23: A Potential Constitutional Quagmire” by TE Larry Hoop, SemperRef, 12/10/2021 – In this focused post, TE Larry Hoop argues that the parenthetical statements included in the proposed changes in Item 2 before the presbyteries make the entire proposal dangerously unclear.
“The Heart of the PCA Overtures Issue” by TE Derek Radney, Personal Blog, 01/18/2022 – In this brief post, TE Radney segments out the PCA into three groups based on responses to Overtures 23 and 37 (i.e., Items 2 and 4): those who want to take action now by setting clear boundaries around self-identification language to counter the possibility of theological drift in the PCA; those who want to maintain fidelity in the PCA without outlawing certain self-identification language; and, those who equate same-sex attraction with pedophilia and will use the changes to the BCO – if ratified – to disqualify (either proactively or retroactively) from ordained office any man who admits to experiencing same-sex attraction. He argues that the first group is hastily pushing for ratification of the proposed amendments, and thus overlooking the significant dangers posed to the denomination by the third group. In summary, he contends, “But these overtures will not accomplish what many are hoping and will instead be used by some of the most extreme corners of our denomination to exclude from ordination many qualified men while sending an unbiblical message to many in our congregations and the watching world.“
“A Remaining Chance of Unity” by TE Travis Scott, SemperRef, 02/04/2022 – While casting a vision for the future of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), TE Travis Scott offers four action items to promote unity in the PCA: 1. We need to lay O23 (i.e., Item 2) to rest…. The remaining presbyteries should vote no on O23 for the sake of broader unity. 2. We need to repent…. Some who are opposed to O23 and O37 need to repent of the sinful judgment that all their brothers who voted for them did so out of fear or lack of love towards sexual strugglers. Some who are in favor of O23 and O37 need to repent of the sinful judgment that all their brothers who voted against them did so out of a bias against holiness. 3. Some people will need to leave…. Those who aren’t able to repent and cease from stirring up division should go someplace where they can live in peace without creating unnecessary controversy or constantly questioning the orthodoxy of those they disagree with on secondary matters. 4. We should revisit the document (i.e., the Ad-Interim Study Committee on Human Sexuality Report) that has prompted the most unity so far in this contentious atmosphere.… And yet, if some still think we need amendments to strengthen our BCO, then the best proposals will be those in line with the guidance of the report.
“How the Recent SJC Decision Demonstrates Overture 23 is Unnecessary” by RE Kyle Keating, SemperRef, 02/09/2022 – RE Keating argues, “the tools proposed to be added to the BCO tool chest have already been used—and without the confusion of the added parenthetical found in Overture 23.” He cites the recent SJC ruling in Speck v. Missouri Presbytery (Judicial Case 2021-12) to make his argument.
If there is a worthy contribution which you believe to have been omitted from this list, please send a note to [email protected] and we will add it to the list with a brief annotation. Thank you!
Zachary Groff is a PCA Teaching Elder serving as Pastor of Antioch Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Woodruff, SC.