The early returns seem to indicate that another controversy is brewing, and once again, it involves the PCA, St. Louis and Covenant Seminary. That said, the controversy appears to be functioning on a smaller but fruitier scale than the Revoice controversy did. What they have lost in quantity they are making up for in quality.
Here’s what we know so far. An activist lesbian musician/educator, in an open lesbian relationship, has been invited by South City Church (PCA) to instruct them on how to “mourn the tragic deaths of trans folx,” and this is being done on the Lord’s Day, in conjunction with the church’s MLK commemoration. The speaker concerned is Jay-Marie Hill. Her website says, “Jay-Marie is originally from Oakland, CA. but now works out of St. Louis, MO building a very Black, very Queer life with their incredible partner, Kayla.” You should watch the pronouns there, which might lead you to conclude that there is more than one of her, which could conceivably play havoc with the honorarium and the 1099. But perhaps, like Whitman, she contains multitudes.
The event is being sponsored by a group called Faith for Justice, which had as one of its founders the pastor’s daughter, a woman named Michelle Higgins. Her father, the pastor, serves on the board of the group. The pastor in question is named Mike Higgins, and he is also an adjunct professor at Covenant. So then, we start with this baseline—the optics are just terrible.
But I do want to issue a cautionary note from the other direction. I have read one comment online that reports back to us that the initial response by the session to this news has been along the lines of “we didn’t know the nature of the event” and “yikes” and “furthermore.” So it is conceivable (to me, barely) that the church will respond appropriately, which is to say, cancel the event, sack all those who were responsible for it in the first place, have them flogged in the church parking lot first, and seek forgiveness from the world for giving the unbelievers occasion to blaspheme. And also for thinking that what the PCA needed right now was a few more lessons from an active lesbian on how to treat trannies.
Anything less than such drastic measures (2 Cor. 7:11) will just be damage control and not real repentance. Anything less will provide us with a grotesque juxtaposition of aggressive perverts and passive- aggressive Presbyterians. As the sexually perverted continue to make their inroads into our circles, uncovering their butts, the Book of Church Order Presbyterians will be equally busy covering theirs.
For more on details as they unfold, you can follow Michael Foster on Facebook.
Due Process and Public Controversy:
Not surprisingly, this mess creates certain questions about process. Should this create a moment for yellow-vest Presbyterians? Close, but not exactly.
Those who have followed this blog for any length of time know that one of my major emphases is the need for strict justice, biblically defined, and this means strict justice for everybody.
This is particularly necessary when the word justice has been coopted by those whose economic theories would make the world into a hellhole. Socialism is an industrial-scale manufacturer of injustices, and so naturally their cause is always advanced in the name of social justice. Christians have to learn how to both define and defend actual justice, and if this is to mean anything, it has to apply to our adversaries as much as anybody. And this means justice must be rendered to those who have no idea what justice is.
The basic principles for all of this have been laid down in A Justice Primer, see below.
So the principles of justice involved apply to everyone, including Pastor Mike Higgins. If charges are brought against him for this, then he should absolutely enjoy all the protections that Scripture gives to anyone accused of anything. Is the charge independently confirmed (2 and 3 witnesses)? Does he have a full and free opportunity to mount a full defense (Prov. 18:17)? Were the processes that all parties agreed to beforehand strictly followed (BCO)? Was he convicted on the basis of the evidence presented, and not on the basis of political pressure applied? All of this is most important—crucial in fact.
Mobs outside the courts are rarely a help, and this would include a right-wing mob demanding that we purge Covenant of all the commies on the faculty.
So Why Then . . .?
That being the case, someone might wonder, why are you blogging about this? Why are you being a participant in a public controversy over it? Is that not inconsistent?
No. There is a vast difference between public pressure to deal with something that obviously needs to be dealt with, urging all appropriate channels to deal with something they would rather not deal with, on the one hand, and public pressure to secure a particular result, appropriate channels be damned. The latter scenario is obviously too much like the “crucify Him!” approach that was brought against Jesus.
But here is an example of a legitimate use of pressure. The issue of whether Gentiles could become Christians without becoming Jews first was an issue that was settled by the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). That council met, deliberated, debated, and settled it—and they did so correctly. But the reason they had the opportunity to do this is because Paul had raised a stink at Antioch. Peter had been willing to eat together with Gentiles until certain men from James arrived. When they arrived, Peter withdrew from them. At that point, Paul stood up against Peter “to his face” (Gal. 2:11). He didn’t do it in executive session either. He said what he said to Peter “in front of them all” Gal. 2:14).
This was a controversy out in the middle of things. In order to have that kind of set-to, it was not necessary to go through the Matthew 18 process. It was not necessary to find all the dots in the BCO and connect them. It was not necessary to appoint a study committee. All that was necessary was for someone with a well-trafficked blog to say, “Hey guys. Get a load of this.” This kind of controversy should lead to the courts of the church, but a great deal of good can be done before any adjudicating body deals with any aspect of it. If this is not done, then there are any number of rotting situations that the church courts will never hear about.
In the conduct of such a controversy, it is of course necessary to fight fair. Hitting hard is one thing, and hitting hard below the belt another. It is most needful to tell the truth, and not lies. Slander is not permitted simply because there is a controversy on. It is also necessary for the controversialist to remain clear-eyed. A controversialist who just “sees red” is one who would not be able even to hear a reasonable explanation even if there were one.
What sort of thing could make us all say “never mind”? Well, it was like this, they said . . .
“The people holding this conference asked the session if we would host it, and we said, ‘No, of course not. Don’t be silly.’ They got angry and hacked the church web site, announcing the conference anyway, simply to embarrass us. Here are the session minutes, confirming every element of this. In addition to all this, not that it proves anything in particular, but simply noting that it is suggestive, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that Mike Higgins is also the co-chair of Missouri’s committee to re-elect Donald Trump. In short, we believe that you think something is going on here which is not going on here.”
When Israel was about to go to war with Reuben and Gad, they did so because what Reuben and Gad had done—they had built a big altar—looked really bad. All Israel mustered for war on the basis of what this thing looked like.
“And the children of Israel heard say, Behold, the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh have built an altar over against the land of Canaan, in the borders of Jordan, at the passage of the children of Israel. And when the children of Israel heard of it, the whole congregation of the children of Israel gathered themselves together at Shiloh, to go up to war against them” (Josh. 22:11–12).
They were ready to go to war over this. But they were also quite ready to hear a reasonable explanation. If there was one.
It turns out there was.
“And when Phinehas the priest, and the princes of the congregation and heads of the thousands of Israel which were with him, heard the words that the children of Reuben and the children of Gad and the children of Manasseh spake, it pleased them” (Josh. 22:30).
So there really needs to be a commotion in the Reformed world over this St. Louis business. There needs to be preparation for war. And the consternation we feel over it should not be a mild consternation. No. Until this is resolved, whenever someone says “PCA” and “St. Louis” in the same sentence, we should feel like something hot and sticky, something that weighs about five pounds, is climbing up our backbone.
On Not Being Gullible:
But it should be said that an eagerness to hear a reasonable explanation does not mean that we should simply accept the assurances of the leaders that they “have it under control,” and that “this will all be taken care of.” I see. How much of the Revoice controversy has been resolved? What has been done? Is that one still under control? Or under the carpet?
Why engage in controversy at all? Wouldn’t it be better if we just let the appointed officials handle the whole thing? Yes, but if we take that approach, they won’t have anything to handle. And keep in mind that the natural carnal desire of denominational leaders is to not have a hot controversy come boiling up the ranks at them. If it blows over—as Revoice apparently did—they can go back to normal, prepared to reassure all of us of their conservative bona fides as needed.
The courts of the church are there to handle and process the controversies. The controversies are not to replace the courts, obviously not. That would be mob justice. But there is a problem in the other direction as well. If it goes the other way, as it has in the PCA, and the courts replace the controversies, what you wind up with is a good old boys network, where everybody knows everybody, where everything is cozy and snug, and where nothing gets dealt with.
Why don’t we let the courts of the church police everything? Yeah, but they don’t. They aren’t equipped to.
The courts of the church are more like riot police than they are like janitors. The janitors come through every night and empty the waste baskets. The janitors pick everything up. The janitors make sure your work space looks exactly the same every morning. The thing is routine and a certain calm serenity attends all of it.
But clashes, disputes, and controversies are a different matter. And Christians who do not want the PCA to go liberal—which it is in the process of doing—need to be a lot more noisy in the meantime. As in, right now. There should be an ongoing ruckus.
“Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Luke 18:2–5).
So we do need some yellow vest Presbyterians, after a fashion. But by saying this, I don’t mean setting fires and turning over cars. It is a metaphor. I mean that rank and file Presbyterians need to turn over the cars of their session’s complacency. Congregations should make clear to their sessions that they want their representatives to go to presbytery and raise holy hell over it.
It is not enough for your representatives to be “against it.” It is insufficient to “vote no.” There needs to be a controversy that the courts of the church cannot bury under the determinations of a semi-somnolent study commission.