by James Norris | September 8, 2022
This year’s General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) voted to affirm an amended version of Overture 15, which is now being considered by the denomination’s presbyteries as Item 1. It seeks to add the following language to the Book of Church Order (BCO):
7-4. Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.
I would like to give three reasons why I believe presbyteries should vote yes for Item 1 (i.e., PCAGA49’s Overture 15) this cycle, and then respond to a couple objections.
1. To describe oneself as a “Homosexual Christian,” “Gay Christian,” or “Same-Sex Attracted Christian” is itself a tacit approval of a Freudian worldview. Men who affirm this Freudian foundation are not qualified for office.
Sigmund Freud taught that what defines people is their sexuality, that who you are is ultimately determined by your sexual desires. Before the spread of this Freudian philosophy, homosexuality was viewed as something a person did. Now it is considered who a person is because he feels those desires, even if that person has never been sexually active.
For many in our day, to describe oneself as a “Gay Christian” does not sound as inappropriate as does to describe oneself as a “racist Christian” or “idolatrous Christian.” but this is only a reflection of the fact that we live in a Freudian culture which has convinced society at large that men and women are defined by their sexual desires (hence society’s broad acceptance of the LGBTQ movement that roots identity in sexuality). But this is not a Biblical worldview.
Racism and homosexuality are both sins, yet if one is considered an appropriate self-description for a Christian while the other is not, this only demonstrates that one’s worldview has accepted (at least in part) the world’s Freudian presuppositions. Scripture defines men and women in creation as being made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) and then in redemption as being united to Jesus Christ. Officers in the PCA must be men who do not accept the world’s philosophies and definitions of men (Col. 2:8), but Scripture’s. A Christian who describes himself in terms of sexual desires is one who at least in part affirms a Freudian worldview that contradicts God’s Word, and is thus unqualified to hold office in Christ’s church.
2. PCA officers must embody and walk with the wisdom we teach others to live by.
The Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Human Sexuality  includes a section on language which states, “We affirm that those in our churches would be wise to avoid the term ‘gay Christian’…Churches should be gentle, patient, and intentional with believers who call themselves ‘gay Christians,’ encouraging them, as part of the process of sanctification, to leave behind identification language rooted in sinful desires, to live chaste lives, to refrain from entering into temptation, and to mortify their sinful desires” (p. 12).
As this is the wisdom that we are to teach all Christians, it ought to be the standard that officers – being above reproach – likewise pursue. To allow otherwise is to allow hypocrisy. We must walk in accordance with that wisdom we teach to others. It is a great hypocrisy to declare that we are to teach believers to leave behind this language when our officers themselves will not do the same. In such a scenario, the Report’s wisdom becomes “wisdom for thee, but not for me.” Permitting officers to continue to describe themselves with such language undermines our denomination’s exhortations to others that growth in sanctification means leaving behind identification language rooted in sinful desires. Men who will not abide by the wisdom with which we instruct others are not fit for office.
3. Scripture describes Christians in terms of union with Christ, which is the foundation of Christian ethics.
When Paul rebukes the Christians at Corinth for failing to exercise discipline, he uses the metaphor of the leaven and the lump, with the lump being the church and leaven representing sin. He writes, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened” (1 Cor. 5:7). Notice how he describes these Christians. They must cleanse out the leaven because they are unleavened. Paul grounds the church’s behavior in the church’s being, which he describes with the term unleavened. What Christians do is founded on what Christians are. This in no way means that Paul is denying the reality of the Corinthian Christians’ indwelling sin. There is still much sin left for him to rebuke, and he is faithful in calling it out! Yet when it comes to describing these Christians, he does not describe them in terms of their sins and temptations, but in terms of their identity in Christ. This identity is the foundation of ethics. Christians are to cleanse out the leaven because we are unleavened.
This same foundation can be found in Romans. In Romans 6:11, Paul writes that Christians are to “consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Notably, this is the first imperative in the book of Romans, and it concerns identity even though the topic Paul discusses is sanctification. This is because what a Christian does flows out of who he is.
Yet to describe oneself as a homosexual, gay, or same-sex attracted Christian (or in terms of any other sin) not only disobeys this clear commandment, but also sets one up for failure in sanctification. Just as a Christian cannot expect to grow in sanctification while simultaneously indulging in sin, a man who refuses to consider himself dead to his sin will always be stunted in growth in corresponding areas of holiness. Thus a man who will not disavow sinful temptations – including in how he describes himself – is not fit for office.
Responding to objections
This is perfectionism/Keswick theology.
No it is not. To suggest such is a straw man argument. The language of the Overture does not say that a man must no longer struggle with temptation or that he must be dishonest about his temptations. It states that officers may not “describe themselves as homosexual.” This is consistent with Paul’s affirmations that Christians are new creations, are to be unleavened, and are to consider themselves dead to sin. Genuine repentance does not mean perfection, but it does mean a complete break with sin, even in how Christians identify and describe themselves.
We already tell Christians who struggle with alcohol to acknowledge “I’m an alcoholic and always will be.”
Although a speech was made to this effect during the floor debate on Overture 15, no we do not tell Christians to say that they are drunks or alcoholics and always will be. That’s the practice of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), but AA is not a Christian organization. Those involved in AA are required only to acknowledge a higher power. Though it may figure prominently in some Christian testimonies, AA is a decidedly pluralistic self-help group aimed at behavioral modification, and participants are not required to acknowledge or believe in the transforming power of the gospel. Even though the Christians in Corinth continued to be tempted by drunkenness and even fell into this sin from time to time (demonstrated in Paul’s rebuke of their getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper in 1 Cor. 11:21), Paul nonetheless speaks forcefully of the application of the gospel to them by writing, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11). Christians are no longer drunks, effeminate, homosexual, etc. because we have been washed by Christ. Our doctrines of anthropology and sanctification must come from the Bible, not non-Christian self-help groups.
Being a homosexual or gay Christian is not any different from being a Christian with some other struggle (e.g. mental illness, physical handicap), and we do not prohibit them from describing themselves in terms of this expression of the Fall in their lives. Passing Overture 15 would imply that Christians cannot use those terms to be honest about illness.
This line of reasoning must be addressed because it too was presented as an argument against Overture 15 during the General Assembly’s floor debate, but this is an equivocation, a logical fallacy. It is fallacious to equate the morality of homosexual desire with the morality of mental illnesses or physical handicaps. There is nothing immoral about mental illnesses or physical handicaps. However, the same cannot be said about homosexual desire or same-sex attraction. Scripture is clear that this is sin. Although they are all products of the Fall, they are not in any way equal, and to argue that they are is an equivocation. Physical and mental handicaps and diseases are amoral, whereas same-sex attraction is immoral.
For the above reasons, I believe it is necessary for the PCA to adopt Overture 15. Officers must not be men who describe themselves in a manner that builds upon a Freudian worldview appealing to logical inconsistencies and non-Christian views of anthropology and sanctification. Rather, looking to Scripture, officers in Christ’s church must be men who embody the wisdom we uphold to the world and who define themselves in terms of union with Christ, which is the foundation of sanctification.
 For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to Overture 15 in the remainder of this article.
 Visit pcaga.org/aicreport for links both to the printed report and to the video footage of its presentation before the 48th Stated Meeting of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
James Norris is a PCA Teaching Elder serving as Pastor of New Hope Presbyterian Church in Abbeville, SC.