I want to encourage you to read at least part of a denominational ad interim committee report on human sexuality. That may sound rather drab and difficult, but I am convinced you will find it both helpful and rewarding. It won’t even be particularly difficult. So let me set the context and then tell you why you should read it.
In June 2019 the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America adopted a recommendation from its Overtures Committee which directed the moderator to establish a study committee on sexuality. The committee was charged with researching and addressing a number of key contemporary issues related to sex and sexuality:
- the nature of temptation, sin, and repentance, and the difference between Roman Catholic and Reformed views of concupiscence as regards same sex- attraction;
- the propriety of using terms like gay Christian when referring to a believer struggling with same-sex attraction;
- the status of “orientation” as a valid anthropological category;
- and the practice of spiritual friendship among same sex attracted Christians.
Further, the committee was to build an annotated bibliography of recommended resources for further study; to provide exegesis of the Greek terms malakoi and arsenokoitai as found in 1 Corinthians and rendered in the ESV as “men who practice homosexuality” (but which refer specifically to the active and passive partners in a homosexual relationship); and to provide ways to articulate and defend a Biblical understanding of homosexuality, same sex-attraction, and transgenderism in the context of a culture that denies that understanding.
This report was to be consistent with the Scriptures and with the denomination’s confessional standard, the Westminster Confession of Faith. The committee was duly formed and included, among others, Bryan Chapell (as Chair), Kevin DeYoung, and Tim Keller. The committee members met many times and, though the 2020 General Assembly was postponed until the following year, they decided to release the report nonetheless and did so in May of this year. It is now available right here.
The part every Christian would do well to read is the Twelve Statements. Each of these is a brief statement about an aspect of human sexuality followed by a “nevertheless.” The first part of each statement is meant to address the truth of the matter while the second is meant to address pastoral concerns. In that way each statement balances truth and grace. The committee says “The paired truths help the pastor avoid the opposite errors of either speaking the truth without love or trying to love someone without speaking the truth.” The statements concern:
- Image of God
- Original Sin
- Repentance and Hope
These twelve statements provide compelling, biblical answers to a number of key contemporary issues (some of which have been raised by society in general and some of which have been raised specifically within the church). Are same-sex desires sinful, or is it only sinful to act on those desires? Since Jesus was tempted, could he have been tempted by homosexual desires? Is it good or helpful to refer to same-sex attraction an identity or orientation? Should we use the term “gay Christian?” If not, should we separate from those who do? Are exclusive, covenantal, same-sex friendships wise or helpful? Here, for example, is the section on language.
We affirm that those in our churches would be wise to avoid the term gay Christian. Although the term gay may refer to more than being attracted to persons of the same sex, the term does not communicate less than that. For many people in our culture, to self-identify as gay suggests that one is engaged in homosexual practice. At the very least, the term normally communicates the presence and approval of same-sex sexual attraction as morally neutral or morally praiseworthy. Even if gay, for some Christians, simply means same-sex attraction, it is still inappropriate to juxtapose this sinful desire, or any other sinful desire, as 10 an identity marker alongside our identity as new creations in Christ.
Nevertheless, we recognize that some Christians may use the term gay in an effort to be more readily understood by non-Christians. The word gay is common in our culture, and we do not think it wise for churches to police every use of the term. Our burden is that we do not justify our sin struggles by affixing them to our identity as Christians. 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.
Together the twelve statements for a helpful primer on contemporary sexual issues. The rest of the document has many highlights as well, and bears reading, but the heart of it, at least in my view, is the statements. I’d encourage you to give them a read.
(You may also benefit from listening to a recent episode of The Mortification of Spin in which Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt interview Kevin DeYoung about this report.)