Evangelical Presbyterians Take on Debate Over Celibate Gay Pastors

As it brings in churches from mainline and conservative Presbyterian denominations, the EPC feels the tension in compromise.

A Presbyterian denomination that prides itself on unity in nonessentials has found its cooperative ministry model strained by the latest discussion of human sexuality.

Presbyterian historian Donald Fortson has been a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) since its inception in 1981, and he says he has never seen a more “raucous” General Assembly than this year’s gathering, held last month in Memphis.

Among the topics of debate was whether to admit a congregation whose pastor identifies as homosexual but also says he is celibate and supports a traditional Christian sexual ethic, which falls under what some have called “Side B” Christianity.

Greg Johnson, pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, led his congregation to leave the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) two years ago after that denomination voted narrowly to disqualify from ministerial office “men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct.”

Johnson has described himself that way, advocating Side B Christianity both at the controversial Revoice conference and in his book Still Time to Care: What We Can Learn from the Church’s Failed Attempt to Cure Homosexuality.

Now his church has inquired about joining the EPC.

“That has stirred up all kinds of controversy,” said Fortson, professor of church history and pastoral theology emeritus at Reformed Theological Seminary, “because we’ve got some in the EPC that appear to be very open to bringing him into the EPC, and we’ve got other groups that are absolutely opposed to him coming into the EPC.”

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