Eleven presbyteries have presented overtures related to human sexuality to the 47th General Assembly. They have all been referred to the Overtures Committee (OC), though several have been sent to other committees as noted below.
Seven of these overtures call for the Assembly to commend or adopt statements concerning the subject. In Overture 4, Calvary Presbytery calls for the Assembly to endorse “The Nashville Statement,” a 2017 declaration of 14 articles of affirmations and denials set forth by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Calvary calls for the GA to commend it as a biblically faithful declaration and refer it to the Committee on Discipleship Ministries for promotion among its teaching materials. Philadelphia Metro West Presbytery has added its endorsement of the “Nashville Statement” and urges adoption of Overture 4 in their Overture 22.
Ruling elder Mel Duncan, Calvary’s clerk and a member of the session that proposed the overture, says, “The Nashville Statement has been declared a biblically faithful declaration by Calvary Presbytery. We are asking the GA to do the same.” Duncan points out that the Assembly has twice endorsed and disseminated statements on matters related to sexuality: a 1985 resolution on pornography and a 1993 declaration of conscience concerning homosexuality. “We love the PCA’s unshakeable commitment to biblical views of sexuality,” Duncan says. “The Nashville Statement promotes a better understanding of this truth in love.”
Overture 11, from Fellowship Presbytery, also calls for the commendation and distribution of a report originating outside the PCA, “Contemporary Perspectives on Sexual Orientation,” prepared by a study committee of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America and presented to their Synod in 2011. The overture’s author, Michael Dixon, believes the report adds a pastoral tone to the current conversation. “Our belief is that the RPCNA report is both biblical and pastoral, and would be a great blessing to the denomination,” he says. “Further, the action items coupled with it are designed to promote biblical, pastoral care at the denominational level.” Because the overture calls for widespread distribution of the study it has been referred not only to the OC, but to the Administrative Committee, Committee on Discipleship Ministries, Covenant College, and Reformed University Fellowship. (For their recommendations, click here).
All these overtures will be taken up by the OC when it meets at the Assembly on Tuesday, June 25.
Overture 28 calls for the GA to adopt to Westminster Presbytery’s statement on homosexuality and gender. The statement consists of 12 articles of affirmations and denials which Westminster says, “clarify and affirm the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality and gender.” The statement was developed from the report of a study committee Westminster established to research the 2018 Revoice Conference. The result of the study was a 28 page paper critiquing the conference; the statement was written to identify and refute what Westminster understands to be false teachings espoused at the Revoice Conference. Overture author Steven Warhurst, associate pastor of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Kingsport, Tennessee, says, “We hope the overture’s 12 articles will expose and refute the Revoice Conference’s subtle and destructive errors, which threaten to corrupt the church and lead astray those who struggle with homosexual attraction.”
Savannah River Presbytery has adopted Overture 35, which, in the words of its author, Pastor Jim Shaw of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Brunswick, Georgia, concerns “The Sanctity of Human Sexual Relationships.” The overture calls for the GA to reaffirm actions and declarations of the 5th, 21st, and 24th General Assemblies concerning homosexuality, and also calls the GA to remind PCA officers and churches of five principles the overture identifies based on its rationale. Shaw says the overture seeks to deny the view that same-sex attraction and identity are not necessarily sins in need of repentance. He argues from Matthew 5:28 that “it is wrong to instruct a Christian that his or her same sex attractions, even when not acted upon, are not a grievous offense to God,” and, appealing to 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Ephesians 4:22-24, that “it is wrong to instruct a Christian that he or she may continue to identify with a sinful behavior or condition.”
Overture 37 from James River Presbytery proposes 12 affirmations regarding our views of same sex attraction. The overture originated with the session of Hope in Christ Presbyterian Church in Stafford, Virgina. Rich Leino, a member of the session, says that Rob Wootten, interim pastor at West Hopewell Presbyterian Church, and several others in the presbytery played a key role in refining some of the affirmations so that most of James River could get behind the overture. Leino says the overture grew out of a concern that the Church speak clearly to the issue of sexual orientation and attraction in light of Revoice 18. “We think Revoice has a noble goal in mind,” says Leino, “trying to encourage those whom the culture would tell otherwise, that Christ is a Savior for all kinds of sinners and that the Church needs to consider how it ministers to them.” Leino does not believe Overture 37 will provide a “last word” on the topic, but hopes its biblical and pastoral affirmations will prove useful.
Overture 39, the seventh overture calling for the GA to endorse a statement on human sexuality, came from Southern New England Presbytery. It calls for the GA to “re-commend” previous statements of the PCA on homosexuality issued in 1977, 1996, 1999, and 2018, and particularly a report adopted by the 1980 General Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Synod (RPCES) on homosexuality entitled “Pastoral Care for the Repentant Homosexual.” The RPCES became part of the PCA through the process of joining and receiving in 1981. David Richter, author of the overture and pastor of Christ the King Somerville in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says that the RPCES study report is deeply faithful and deeply pastoral in its exposition and application of the biblical view of sexuality. “The bold and loving example that our fathers modeled for us in it,” he says, “is just as vital today as it was when it was written.”
The four remaining overtures on human sexuality call for the GA to establish an ad interim study committee on the subject. As approval of the budget for such a committee must come through the AC, all four of these overtures were referred to that committee as well as to the OC.
Overture 30, from Illiana Presbytery, calls for a committee comprised of at least four teaching and four ruling elders appointed by the moderator, to study “questions of same-sex orientation and gender identity and to develop a PCA position statement on these matters.” The overture grew out of a study committee Illiana formed to gain a better understanding of the 2018 Revoice conference. One of the recommendations of that committee became Overture 30. A spokesman from that Committee, Pastor Scott Moreland of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Vincennes, Indiana, says Illiana believes that the PCA has not yet addressed various theological and pastoral matters involved in the issue of same-sex orientation and gender identity with the care and precision they deserve.
“Illiana presbytery believes that a study report on same-sex orientation and gender identity would be instructive to local churches and would bring clarity to denomination-wide debate,” he says.
The nearly identical Overtures 42 and 44, from Chicago Metro and Ohio Valley Presbyteries respectively, call for an ad interim committee to study the topic of human sexuality with particular emphasis on homosexuality, same- sex attraction, and transgenderism. The Ohio Valley overture adds gender dysphoria. It calls for the committee to address specific matters under dispute, suggest ways to articulate and defend the biblical view in this cultural climate, and provide a list of resources to help pastors and sessions shepherd same sex attracted congregants. Proposing a statement on the topic is left to the committee’s discretion.
The overture also suggests a list of resources for the committee to include in their study. Josh Reitano, pastor of New City Presbyterian Church in Cincinnati and one of the authors of the overture, says, “In proposing a study committee, we wanted to pave the way for a resource for the PCA that is ecclesial, pastoral, and representative of the denomination. I think both the call to form the committee and the directions given to the committee in the overture do just that.”
Overture 45, the fourth overture proposing a study committee and the final overture received by the GA on this topic, came from a recommendation of the report of the Missouri Presbytery Ad Hoc Committee to Investigate Memorial Presbyterian Church for Hosting the Revoice 18 Conference in July 2018. While Overture 45 is built on the framework of the previously drafted overtures from Ohio Valley and Chicago Metro, both the rationale (the “whereas’ clauses) and the resolutions (the “therefore, be it resolved” clauses) have been altered to fit Missouri’s unique perspective.
Ron Lutjens, recently retired from the pastorate of Old Orchard Church in St. Louis and Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee, says that Missouri’s direct involvement in the controversy over Revoice has led to a keen sense of the need that any General Assembly study committee on sexuality self-consciously seek a consensus on the issue, which they specify in their overture. The overture also calls for the study committee to focus on ministry to the same-sex attracted. In Lutjens’ view, the issue of gender dysphoria and the transgender movement are highly important, but they are distinct and complex issues which need to be addressed separately.
“Some of us here in St. Louis have been working for years in the area of ministry to SSA (same sex attracted) brothers and sisters in Christ, and believe the church has a need to take a fresh and honest look at itself, assessing where and how it has too often failed to demonstrate Christian integrity with regard to its care for SSA believers, and where we can grow,” Lutjens says. “This touches both pastoral care and the communal life of the congregation-as-family.”
All these overtures will be taken up by the OC when it meets at the Assembly on Tuesday, June 25.