In its Report to SEAL [Southeast Alabama Presbytery], MOP [Missouri Presbytery] summarizes our first allegation in this way: “By Self-identifying as a Same-Sex-Attracted Man TE Johnson Compromises and Dishonors His Identity in Christ.” 4 However, SEAL’s allegation was and is actually different than as interpreted by MOP. As we stated in our Report: “TE Greg Johnson conflates our confessional categories of the state of sin and the state of grace in a way that contradicts our confession by teaching that it is acceptable to identify as a “gay” or homosexual Christian.” The point is simple: We believe it is unbiblical and contrary to our confession for a believer to conceive of himself as a “gay” or homosexual Christian or as a homosexual. MOP does not dispute that TE Johnson does teach and preach that this is acceptable for believers to do. What MOP disputes is that this teaching is unbiblical and unconfessional. Therefore, in response to this allegation, MOP goes into extensive discussion about how SEAL seems to assume that “identity” must be used in an “aspirational” sense to represent the kind of person one aspires to be—and that that must be why we are against believers thinking of themselves as homosexuals.5 MOP states: “they [SEAL] see it as having only an aspirational sense (i.e., as naming what am I aiming to be and who I love most, etc.).”6 However, SEAL does not argue along these lines. Where does SEAL say that those who think of themselves as homosexuals are doing so because they aspire to be that kind of person? We do not hold that position.
Furthermore, MOP says: “we do not believe that [the aspirational sense of ‘identity’] is how the term ‘identity’ is always used in our time.”7 MOP continues: “Great care should be taken not to lay down precise rules for how the abstract English word ‘identity’ must be used and must not be used by Christians…” (emphasis original).8 However, SEAL’s argument is not based on how the term “identity” is used in our time. We do not make appeals to “abstract” notions of identity. Rather, our argument is based upon the concrete, clear teaching of Scripture about how believers are to conceive of themselves and identify themselves.
As TE Johnson himself recognizes, there is a distinction between “building one’s identity on” something and “identifying as” something. He says: “In numerous reports making their way back to us, however, we are hearing a confusion of two different (but similar sounding) concepts. Building your identity on something is different from identifying with something. Many Revoice presenters identify as same-sex-attracted. They are not building their identity on same-sex attraction.” 9 Like TE Johnson, we would make this distinction. The difference is that whereas he believes building one’s identity on homosexuality is not acceptable and the identifying as a homosexual is acceptable, SEAL’s argument is that both are unacceptable. One of TE Johnson’s recurring arguments for such a position is that people do the same with the sin of drunkenness. He says: “Even though drunkenness is a sin, a Christian who is 18 years sober may still identify as an alcoholic, but his sobriety tells you he is not building his identity on alcohol or drunkenness. Quite the opposite. Alcoholism is just a label he uses for a weakness he experiences.”10 That is not the way Scripture speaks. 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 says: “11 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 12 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (NASB). Whereas TE Johnson says the believer who has not had a sip of alcohol for 18 years is a drunkard (what secular culture calls an “alcoholic”), the Bible says the Christian who has abstained all of those years (or even the believer who has struggled and given into temptation multiple times and has repented and borne fruit of repentance) was a drunkard. “Such were some of you.” For the Christian, that is not who you are anymore. While TE Johnson may appeal to the language of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in this regard, we are appealing to the language of Scripture. And we urge him to be biblical in his theological description of those who struggle with drunkenness but also of those who struggle with homosexuality. Read more»
Open Letter of Southeast Alabama Presbytery to Missouri Presbytery, August 14, 2020, pp. 2–3. (HT: Presbycast)
4. MOP Report, 20.
5. MOP Report, 21.
6. MOP Report, 60.
7. MOP Report, 22.
8. MOP Report, 22.
9. MOP Report, 23.
10. MOP Report, 49.
11. MOP Report, 55.
12. MOP Report, 28.
I was taught that there is a distinction between a drunkard and an alcoholic. The alcoholic is addicted to the abuse of alcohol, probably has difficulty actually getting drunk on it, is enslaved by it, and can only escape by total abstinence, remaining an alcoholic in the sense that he could be enslaved again by it any time if he lets down his guard, whereas the drunkard enjoys getting drunk, whilst not necessarily being physically addicted to alcohol.
A repentant ex-homosexual may indeed need to abstain from expressions of affection towards other men that would be OK for others. I tmay be righ for him to admit this publicly sometimes, but there must be a way of doing this. For someone to dentify as gay or homosexual is clearly not the way to do it, but we do need terminology that’s suitable with which to admit the problem.
There may be such a distinction but the category “Alcoholic” is relatively new. There may be a distinction between someone who gets drunk and one who habitually abuses alcohol. The latter would seem to be a drunkard or what people today call an “alcoholic.”
Johnson et al appeal to the analogy with alcoholism on the assumption that the latter is inborn, biological—i.e., they assume the disease explanation—but that explanation and the analogy with homosexuality is to be doubted.
Both Johnson and SEAL agree that “I’m an alcoholic” and “I’m gay” are comparable. Johnson thinks they are both permissible, SEAL thinks they are both impermissible. The force of Rev. Johnson’s argument is no one in the PCA is going after ministers who support AA or churches that hold AA meetings. I think Rev. Johnson wasn’t aware that AA has been criticized on these grounds and others, but he is right to perceive that different views on AA have been allowed.
Dr. Clark, thank you for posting this. I was anxiously awaiting to hear the opinions of other church leaders after spending quite some time reading through the ruling. Will you be writing any opinions on the TE Johnson ruling?
The Missouri Presbytery is TE Johnson’s “home court.” They said what most expected they would. This is only the beginning of a very long process.
Conrad, the matter is currently before the SJC to take up original jurisdiction as a result of the inaction of Missouri Presbytery. Central Georgia and Savannah River Presbyteries have made arguments for, and presumably Missouri has made arguments against. But this is an ongoing issue that is being pursued currently.
Dr. Clark and Jeremiah, thanks for the info!