The Recent SJC Decision
and Side B2 Homosexuality
Larry E. Ball, CPA
PCA TE (Retired)
The recent Standing Judicial Commission (SJC) Decision on the appeal of the action of Missouri Presbytery of the PCA is now public. I have not seen any public reaction to it yet, but then too, I don’t surf the internet nor do I belong to any chat rooms. After reading the Decision, I have come to three conclusions which may be of value to some and of no value to others.
First, a few years ago, when the whole Side A and Side B controversy associated with the Gay Community became a public matter, I see now that I was way behind the curve in understanding my brethren’s views. I thought the definitions were fairly simple. Side A homosexuals did not hold back their sexual passions and consequently entered into physical homosexual relationships. Side B homosexuals (generally biblical Christians) stated that they practiced celibacy and refrained from sexual relations with those of the same sex.
The way I understood it, the goal of conservatives in the PCA was to oppose the PCA from becoming a Side B denomination. In my mind this meant that any man who had homosexual desires (and made it public) would not be above reproach and therefore was ineligible to hold office in the PCA, although he would be welcomed as a member in any PCA Church. I do believe the Bible clearly teaches this. I still hold this view.
According to the new views, Side B, as I now understand it, is not really Side B as I used to understand it. Side B has been divided into two parts, which I call Side B1 and Side B2. Both Side B1 and Side B2 practice celibacy. Both fight against homosexual temptation. Side B1 describes those men with homosexual desires who have concluded that it is a permanent condition. They were born this way and they do not expect God to intervene and take away this desire. They need to be accepted in the church as they are, and encouraged to flourish in their identity. They should not be prevented from holding office in the PCA. Conservative PCA elders will not tolerate this view.
Side B2 is a description of those who believe that change is possible, although it is unlikely. They constantly struggle with homosexual desires every day, but they are in a continual process of mortifying this sin. However, this sin is, at root, no different than illegitimate heterosexual desire or any other sin, be it gossip, slander, financial disorder, or whatever. It may be a little more heinous than most other sins but not much. Their identity in Christ is greater than their identity as a same-sex-attracted (SSA) person. Most conservative PCA elders (besides me and a few others) will accept this view as describing a man who is eligible to hold office in the PCA.
Side B2 reflects the PCA Study Committee on Human Sexuality. It also reflects the proposed amendments to the PCA Book of Church Order adopted at the last General Assembly, and now before the Presbyteries for a vote.
Secondly, the SJC is an appeals court, and thus I was surprised at the procedure of the SJC in allowing Greg Johnson to answer questions previously not in the original approved Record of the Case. I don’t doubt the legality of this action per the SJC Manual, but it did change the traditional nature of a court of appeals. Their justification of this action was noted in the Decision as follows. “The SJC rescinded the Officers’ previous OMSJC 11.1.e ruling that the Record in Case 2020-12 is ‘complete and sufficiently documented,’ thereby suspending the Officers’ [January 2021] ruling that the Case is ‘judicially in order.’ The SJC agreed to send a letter to Presbytery’s Respondent, adopting the procedure outlined therein for responses to questions and supplemental [addendum] briefs, per the authority of OMSJC 7.4.b and 7.4.e.(3).” Thus, Greg Johnson, late in the game, was given the opportunity to answer questions proposed by the SJC after the decision of Missouri Presbytery had been rendered. Years ago, when I was an appellee on a particular SJC Case, this would have been considered a retrial of the Case.
In other words, the SJC changed the original Record of the Case (ROC) and allowed Mr. Johnson to be a witness before the Appeals Court this year (2021) via answering questions submitted to him by the SJC. In my experience with Appeals Courts, this is highly unusual. The Appeals Court should only deal with the Record of the Case from the original action of Missouri Presbytery (from several years ago). Nothing should be added to the ROC unless there is new evidence of something that was recently discovered about events that happened during or prior to the original court decision itself. The actions of Missouri Presbytery that occurred years ago should be in question, not the answers that Mr. Johnson gave this year.
I don’t doubt the integrity of Mr. Johnson at all, but the answers he gave to the SJC were almost a perfect representation of the Side B2 position. I don’t think the answers could have been written any better to reflect the Side B2 position, even by a person on the PCA Study Committee on Human Sexuality. Anyone who supports the Side B2 position, in my opinion, should be happy with the SJC Decision. They should consider it as a victory.
Thirdly, whether the proposed BCO amendments pass or not is now irrelevant. The BCO must currently be interpreted in light of the SJC Decision. I believe this is called legal precedence. The SJC is the Supreme Court of the PCA. This decision has more authority than the BCO or any decisions of a Presbytery or a General Assembly. In any future cases it will be used as the rule book, as the authoritative interpretation of Scripture on the matter. Homosexuals can now hold office in the PCA. Sadly, The PCA is now officially a Side B2 denomination.
Larry E. Ball, CPA
Retired PCA Minister
The following is a response to Dr.Tim Keller's article, "What's Happening in the PCA". (Though appearing in the PCA denominational magazine, it should not be considered as an endorsement by the PCA.)
The real issue in the PCA is over what some call a "Side B Christian" (i.e. a non-practicing homosexual, which includes a minister or candidate to the Gospel ministry), and the inclusion of this secular term in its vocabulary--especially into its church courts--to describe what some consider a distinguishing human characteristic. Below are a few objections to the use of "Side B"
"Side B" is biblically untenable
"Side B" causes confusion just as the Federal Vision and Theonomy did
"Side B" debates lead to unkind words and attitudes
"Side B" debates lead to division
"Side B" debates lead to attempts to silence your opponent
"Side B" debates lead to distrust
It would appear that what Keller is proposing is something along the lines of what Elizabeth I of England advanced in her Via Media ("middle-of-the-road reform of the Church of England," Dr. David Calhoun); but history and sin nature teach us that this never works, even with all of Keller's laudable suggestions. Why? Because "Side B" is a moral issue and must be dealt with as such. Bottom line, how can there be compromise--and that's exactly what it would take--where there is no room in Scripture and in our Confessions to do so?
It also appears that Keller doesn't believe that "Side B" will divide the PCA, and he is asking us to trust his judgment and reasoning as to the future of the PCA. However, I have gone over Keller's arguments, and those of Dr. Rosaria Butterfield, who states that "Side A falsifies Scripture, and Side B falsifies Soteriology" in an interview on the Becket Cook show (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cLtJTgzSyS4). Based upon the absolute nature of Scripture Alone, and not a secular term that someone recently made up, I trust Rosaria Butterfield's understanding and wording over other writers. Further, Keller seems to use "Side B" terminology as part of a new vocabulary, while Rosaria uses the same terminology to destroy its secular meaning in favor of the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture.
"Side B" in my opinion is the PCA's Achilles' heel. I do agree with Keller that we can overcome our differences, but the following suggestions should take place first as a way forward for the PCA in dealing with a doctrinal issue.
A WAY FORWARD FOR THE PCA
⦁ Replace Secular Authority/Terminology with Biblical/Confessional Authority
⦁ Build Trust Through Biblical Authority
⦁ Hold Each Other Accountable Through Biblical Authority
⦁ Cease Divisiveness Through Biblical Authority
Years ago I wrote another criticism of an article by Keller regarding his musings and understanding of socialism (https://theaquilareport.com/a-response-to-tim-kellers-new-york-times-op-ed/). I offer it here as further proof of my concern about his wisdom, especially in the area of socialism and "Side B Theology":
(Tim Keller) I know of a man from Mississippi who was a conservative Republican and a traditional Presbyterian. He visited the Scottish Highlands and found the churches there as strict and as orthodox as he had hoped. No one so much as turned on a television on a Sunday. Everyone memorized catechisms and Scripture. But one day he discovered that the Scottish Christian friends he admired were (in his view) socialists. Their understanding of government economic policy and the state’s responsibilities was by his lights very left-wing, yet also grounded in their Christian convictions. He returned to the United States not more politically liberal but, in his words, “humbled and chastened.” He realized that thoughtful Christians, all trying to obey God’s call, could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum, with loyalties to different political strategies.
(Charlie Rodriguez) "Keller’s “man from Mississippi” was “humbled and chastened,” but by what? By someone else’s view of socialism? Can historic socialism really be softened, or should another term be used for what the man from Mississippi witnessed in the Scottish Highlands? The older definition of socialism in the purest sense (e.g., North Korea and Venezuela) is “government ownership of goods and services,” which is no longer a good working definition for socialism or socialistic tendencies in governments today. So rather than trying to argue from the vantage point of an outdated definition, or from a nuanced definition (what I believe Dr. Keller did), I think it is better to look at the examples and results of what happens when moving from capitalism to socialism, and then to radical socialism, which is the situation in Venezuela:
Socialism has turned oil-rich Venezuela into a place where there are shortages of everything from toilet paper to beer, where electricity keeps shutting down, and where there are long lines of people hoping to get food, people complaining that they cannot feed their families. –Thomas Sowell
Keller's friend came to the conclusion after his visit to Scotland, that "thoughtful Christians, all trying to obey God’s call, could reasonably appear at different places on the political spectrum, with loyalties to different political strategies." But is this true? I don’t think so. Otherwise 'thoughtful Christians' on the Left and 'thoughtful Christians' on the Right would all agree that abortion is murder; that the definition of marriage is given by God, not the state; that gender is determined by God, not the individual; that bearing false witness is very serious to God, even if our political parties don’t think so; and that the PCA can somehow reach an agreement on the biblically untenable "Side B". Such thinking is biblically and politically naïve. In the short run, it may bring about a so-called “peace in our time;” but in the long haul, it will only end in tragedy and despair."
Finally, it is worth noting that Keller writes that "as far as I know, there is not one PCA court — not one session, presbytery, or agency — that has ever endorsed Side B Christianity." Keller has done the research. I have not. However, his statement does not necessarily mean an out-and-out rejection. It means simply that they (the PCA courts) haven't endorsed it. It also may very well mean a willingness not to reject because of what Bonhoeffer called cheap grace as Keller writes in his Preface to Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas:
(Tim Keller) It is impossible to understand Bonhoeffer's Nachfolge without becoming acquainted with the shocking capitulation of the German church to Hitler in the 1930's. How could the "church of Luther," that great teacher of the gospel, have ever come to such a place? The answer is that the true gospel, summed up by Bonhoeffer as costly grace, had been lost. On the one hand, the church had become marked by formalism. That meant going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn't really matter much how you live. Bonhoeffer called this cheap grace. On the other hand, there was legalism, or salvation by law and good works. Legalism meant that God loves you because you have pulled yourself together and are trying to live a good, disciplined life.
Keller's reasoning here should also be applicable to the "Side B" debate.
Ideas about "Side B" theology and socialism will remain and be a "stumbling block to the weak" (1 Cor. 8:9) unless we "contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people" (Jude 1:3); for "since the the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Rom. 1:20).
WE DO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED IN THE PCA
PCA TE (Retired)