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The Finer Points: 2019 PCA General Assembly

The 47th annual General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America was held this year from June 23 – June 27 in Dallas, TX. More than 1,000 voting commissioners (ruling and teaching elders from across the denomination) and hundreds more families and visitors gathered to do the business of the denomination. If you attend a PCA church, you should care about what was discussed and voted on over the course of this week. This article is an attempt at positively identifying the finer points of that week.

The PCA functions somewhat differently from other denominations. Each church belongs to a group of local churches called a Presbytery. Each Presbytery belongs to the national GA. Commissioners are designated by Presbyteries to serve on committees as well as to vote in business meetings. Much of the business accomplished at GA happens in committees of commissioners, who deal with both the mundane and exciting issues involved with Covenant College, Covenant Theological Seminary, Interchurch Relations, Mission to the World, Mission to North America, PCA Foundation, Ridge Haven camp, Reformed University Ministries, PCA Retirement & Benefits, the Committee on Discipleship Ministries, and the Administrative Committee. None of these primarily budget and vision-casting conversations produced much controversy this year, but the Word of God will continue to move forward through ministries and missionaries around our country and the world through the labors of these groups.

“This year, the main discussion points receiving action were based upon domestic and sexual abuse and human sexuality.”

The more discussed matters of GA come out of the Overtures Committee, which reads and hears arguments from individual presbyteries concerning constitutional items (items referring to the Westminster Standards or the PCA Book of Church Order) or cultural items that are not clearly covered in those places. This year, the main discussion points receiving action were based upon 1) domestic and sexual abuse and 2) human sexuality.

The staggering prevalence of domestic abuse and sexual assault, especially in church culture, is well documented. In an overwhelming vote, the GA voted to create a study committee to equip churches with resources on topics related to child abuse and sexual assault, domestic abuse and sexual assault, and domestic oppression in order to help care for both those who sin in these areas and especially those who are sinned against. Additionally, we will look to this committee to provide information regarding best practices and guidelines that could be helpful for elders, Sessions, Presbyteries, and agencies for protecting against and responding to these sins.
Regarding human sexuality, two overtures were discussed and passed. One of these overtures affirmatively answered the “Nashville Statement” on Biblical Sexuality as a “biblically faithful declaration.” While the vote earned a roughly 60/40 split, those negative votes were not necessarily denying the biblical faithfulness of the document. On the positive side, the overture was widely considered necessary as the overture “sends a strong word that the PCA loves people who are struggling with same-sex attraction so much that we are willing to tell them careful, faithful, biblical teaching on sexuality.” Many also affirm the internal use of the document to those who need assistance pedagogically, those who work in these areas, and those who fear that culture is influencing the Church, rather than Church influencing culture.

On the heels of that discussion, it was also affirmed that the PCA needs to do its own work on engaging the current cultural conversation surrounding human sexuality. In another overwhelming vote, the GA passed an overture to create a study committee with particular attention to the issues of homosexuality, same-sex attraction, and transgenderism. The result of this committee will be resources on sexuality to help pastors and sessions shepherd congregants who are dealing with same-sex attraction. It will also address the nature of temptation, sin, and repentance. It will consider the use of terms like “gay Christian” when referring to a believer struggling with same-sex attraction. It will consider the status of “orientation” as a valid anthropological category while considering the practice of “spiritual friendship” among same-sex attracted Christians. This committee will also include an analysis of Westminster Larger Catechism questions 138 and 139 regarding same-sex attraction, with careful attention given to the compatibility of the 7th commandment and same-sex attraction and the pursuit of celibacy by those who are attracted to the same sex. It will also consider the original language of 1 Cor. 6:9 and consider if a denominational statement beyond these prior items is necessary.

Needless to say, the seven members of these committees can use much prayer as they seek to assist our denomination on delicate yet serious issues. If you need clarification on any of these issues or any others that you have heard about, please come and seek out a pastor or an elder for conversation. We would love to hear from you!