Homosexuality and the True Division in the PCA

By George Sayour | August 31, 2022

Editor’s Note: While this post is informative and touches on Overture 15, it is not a direct argument in favor of the proposed BCO Amendment resulting from the passage of Overture 15 at PCAGA49. For resources that more directly argue in favor of the proposal, please refer to the list of resources at the end of this article.

It has been over four years since a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) hosted the inaugural Revoice Conference which promoted “Side B Gay Christianity.”  The PCA has been debating the issues regarding Side B ever since.  After last year’s proposed amendments to the Book of Church Order (BCO) failed to meet the 2/3 threshold of Presbyteries required to pass them, a slurry of new Overtures seeking to amend the BCO to address the Side B issue came before the 49th General Assembly held earlier this year.  Three results of the Assembly’s deliberations this year is that Overtures 15, 29, and 31 passed and are on their way (as Items 1, 4, and 5) to deliberations and votes in the PCA’s 88 Presbyteries.

Since the close of the 49th General Assembly, Stated Clerk Bryan Chapell has shared his summary of the State of the PCA in various ways.  In a document entitled “Stated Clerk’s Summary and Reflections on the 49th General Assembly,” Dr. Chapell writes:

“Still, we have struggled to apply our standards to ordination requirements if a man pledges and practices sexual obedience but honestly acknowledges some degree of same sex attraction. Despite statements in the Study Report that attempted to clarify our stance on this, we have subsequently differed among ourselves about whether the same sex attraction itself should disqualify from church office.[1]

In a recent Sunday School presentation at Southwood Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Huntsville, AL, Dr. Chapell explains:

“Here’s where we’re struggling, how do we deal with a minister who says ‘I believe that homosexuality is a sin,  I will not practice it,  I will remain celibate but I confess I struggle with this desire?’ Can the desire itself be allowed? And that is the present division, that is what we are presently arguing about: is the desire itself disqualifying?[2]

I strongly disagree with Dr. Chapell’s assessment of the current debate. While I cannot say that no one holds the strict position which Dr. Chapell describes, I am very familiar with the debates. I have had countless conversations with men on both sides of the issue for the last three years. I do not know anyone that believes that “the desire itself is disqualifying,” and yet there is a very real and sharp disagreement in the PCA over Side B.

Dr. Chapell graciously spoke with me about his characterization of the issue. He was prompt to get back to me within a day of my contacting him, and we spoke for a half hour. Dr. Chapell was patient as always, and he listened well.  While I think we disagree as to what the debate’s central issue is, Dr. Chapell apologized for not representing my position (in favor of PCAGA49’s Overture 15) as I would.  He also said it was never his intent to give his opinion on the matter, but rather he believed he was accurately representing the debate.  We exchanged subsequent emails and he knows I am writing this article.

I also want to say unequivocally that Dr. Chapell affirmed his commitment to the biblical gender and sexual ethic, the sinfulness of both homosexual activity and desire, and everything he wrote in the AIC Report on Human Sexuality. Those things are not at issue here.

Dr. Chapell’s statements above show that he understood us to be discussing the question, “is the desire itself disqualifying?”  However, as I stated, I do not know anyone in the PCA having that discussion.  It is my contention that the debate in the PCA is about whether or not an officer in the Church can identify – or describe himself as – a homosexual. Involved in this debate is the question of whether or not an officer in the PCA can claim a gay identity as a category of personhood.

Tim Keller, another author of the AIC Report on Human Sexuality, defines Side B in our denominational publication byFaith as follows:

“People attracted to the same sex, though remaining celibate in obedience to the Bible, still can call themselves ‘gay Christians’ and see their attraction as a part of their identity which should be acknowledged like one’s race or nationality…the PCA Ad-Interim Committee on Human Sexuality considered this Side B view and clearly rejected it.”[3]

It is my contention that this is where the point of contention lies.  Many of us see the heart of what is being described here as going on in our denomination today. Revoice 2022, which promotes this view,  is being celebrated by pastors in the PCA. In fact multiple PCA officers are involved in this event, including as speakers. According to Keller, this Side B view is rejected by the AIC Report on Human Sexuality. The Report of course has no constitutional authority.  So, those of us arguing in favor of the change proposed by PCAGA49’s Overture 15 are seeking to codify that view of Side B as out of bounds for ordained office in our BCO.

In reading this one might wonder why Dr. Chapell and I have a different understanding. In my conversation with Dr. Chapell, it seems to me that he believes that the sides concerned about the issue I raise about identity got together and crafted Overture 29 together. In other words for Dr. Chapell, Overture 29 addresses my concern.  So, he understood that Overture 15 is targeted at anyone who describes himself as having homosexual desire, even a person who is mortifying it and not acting on it.

The problem with that assessment is that Ruling Elder Matt Fender who presented Overture 15 expressly discounted that view in his explanation to the assembly during minutes 29:22 – 29:45. When asked about this very thing, RE Fender gives a full answer during 37:12-39:00, in which he elaborated:

“this language if inserted in the BCO would not serve to disqualify a man who merely experiences same-sex attraction… it’s a question of how you relate to your same-sex attraction, someone who has repented of their same-sex attraction, who has denied it, is seeking to mortify it and does not claim it as a way to describe himself is the difference.”[4]

In a recent article on The Aquila Report entitled “The Story Behind Overture 15,” the Overture’s author, TE Larry Ball of Westminster Presbytery, explains:

“My original intent in what has become Overture 15 was not to disqualify from office in the PCA anyone who struggles with sin… Contrary to the PCA Stated Clerk, the mere existence of the desire of homosexuality is not the issue.”[5]

So clearly the authors and amenders of Overture 15 in the Overtures Committee do not believe that Overture 15 is doing what Dr. Chapell understood or understands it to say.

Dr. Chapell respectfully asked me why I believe Overture 29 does not address my concerns over Side B since he had the commitments of men on both sides to craft an Overture that would solve the Side B issue. My response is that I don’t know who was in those pre-GA meetings, but I did sit in the Overtures Committee room for the crafting and passing of these Overtures. I personally know many of the men on both sides who indeed worked together to produce the final text of Overture 29, and I know they disagree over the permissibility of how some PCA Pastors speak regarding Side B.  That tells me that Overture 29 does not solve the Side B issue for the PCA.

Overtures 29 and 31 are consensus overtures which clarify our position as to sanctification and the qualifications for elder but add nothing substantive to our constitutional documents.  Overture 15 however is much more specific and in fact attempts to address the disagreement we are having.

Even if Dr. Chapell is correct in his understanding of what Overture 15 means and does, it is my contention that is not what the current disagreement in the PCA is. Said another way, Overture 15 might be a ground for A debate in the PCA but it is not THE debate in the PCA. And again, I know no one that believes that same sex attraction itself should disqualify from church office.

I really appreciate Dr. Chapell’s time on the phone this week and his heart to listen and understand. He said he would modify his language for the future based on our conversation.  He asked if I believed the video should be taken down and I have made that request.

Editor’s Note: Check out the “Amendment Language” tab on the 2022 BCO Amendment Tracker here for more information on this year’s proposed BCO amendments before the Presbyteries. For an article that is similar in spirit to this one, click here: Clarity on Overture 15 by TE Ryan Biese on his Substack blog, Mid the Pines.

[1] Stated Clerk’s Summary and Reflections on the 49th General Assembly, 2022.

[2] Note that I have made a request to Dr. Chapell and Southwood Presbyterian Church to consider taking down the video for reasons explained in the following paragraphs. The Church has since taken down the video.

[3] Tim Keller, What’s Happening in the PCA?, byFaith Online, March 21, 2022.

[4] Click here to view the video recorded from the General Assembly livestream and posted to the PCA’s official Vimeo account.

[5] Larry Ball, The Story Behind Overture 15: The Original Intent of Its Author, The Aquila Report, September 2, 2022. Editor’s Note: Please note that this quotation and the paragraph that introduces it were added at TE Sayour’s request after initial publication.

George Sayour is a PCA Teaching Elder serving as Pastor of Meadowview Reformed Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lexington, NC.

Additional Resources on PCAGA49’s Overture 15