Written by Benjamin T. Inman |
Tuesday, November 29, 2022
I disagree with his assertions about Overture 15. I leave argument aside. I disagree that concerns expressed in terms of the reform of the church deserve to be greeted as malicious. I leave argument aside. I disagree that mendacity has been the substance of the controversy around Johnson, et. al. I leave argument aside. I disagree that the PCA should construe coming advocacy around officers, race, and worship as a time to discern who is honest rather than how to honor Christ. I leave argument aside. I disagree with TE LeCroy’s admonition for the PCA. I do not think he is lying.
Teaching Elder Tim LeCroy has published a heart-felt and scathing admonition for the PCA. He is grieved. He speaks of many liars, many unrepentant liars, particular organizations which have been undeterred by his rebukes. He warns the PCA– not just about deception, but real degeneracy.
I write to express my disagreement and to invite others to disagree. I think that TE LeCroy is mistaken. He will think that I am mistaken. We disagree. I do not accuse him of prevarication. If he follows my lead here, he may change his mind– then, we would no longer disagree. I would be shocked if he revealed himself to have lied. I don’t think he lied. I think he disagreed.
Disagreements are not surprising, and they are not un-Christian. No, they are not even un-Presbyterian. The scathing admonition might be faulted by some, as “intemperate.” Yes, that is un-Presbyterian, though the very word is perhaps one of our pets. Presbyterians may have single-handedly kept the word from obselescence. We don’t do intemperate speech, but we mention it when necessary. You know that we are serious about “intemperate.” We vote on it.
“Memorial and Pastor Johnson tried to get people to listen to explanations of their ministries and their theology.” And, apparently, some people agreed with their representations; specifically he cites the Standing Judicial Commission. Others, LeCroy laments, stopped their ears and refused to listen. I do not have a particularly wide knowledge of the PCA, but I can substantially confirm the point, if not the opprobrium attached to it.
I have encountered numerous men over the last couple of months with a similar narrative:
In 2018 I started listening to Johnson, et. al., sympathetically, and then in 2022 the cumulative weight of my attention and patience brought me to a slow but definite position. I stopped listening to understand and interact; instead, I started listening to counter these developments in the church.
I think this sounds like the reasonable people who ended up, well, disagreeing with Johnson’s claims. At some point they stopped simply listening, but that is not to be faulted.
“That is not to say that there weren’t many people of good will with honest concerns and questions. Some of these folks pursued their concerns and questions in the right way: by engaging in honest dialog, following Presbyterian process, and seeking to understand and believe the best about Johnson and Memorial. Some of these folks were persuaded of the overall orthodoxy of Johnson while holding some valid concerns. Others, while not persuaded, continued to engage in an honest and charitable way.”
So, there was a disagreement. In the midst of honesty, dialog and process– some people concluded Johnson, et. al., are orthodox and others concluded they are heterodox. That is disagreement about a serious matter. Somehow, the ugly conclusion was still charitable and honest.
What is a charitable and honest (both) demeanor for concluding a minister is unwholesome? Might one disagree at this point? Must one consent silently to those who think otherwise? Might one express– temperately– a dour and unhappy and honest side of a dialog?
There is one matter about which there is no disagreement. Disagreement does not give license for lies. Disagreements are serious matters. Lies are wicked.
Not JUST A Disagreement
TE LeCroy has not given a heart-felt vindication for his side of the disagreement. Nor has he published a scathing analysis and criticism of the contrary view. This is not just a disagreement. He has assailed “a vast majority,” “many of them pastors and elders.” He has put his finger on names: “The Aquila Report, The Gospel Reformation Network, and Reformation 21, . . . Presbycast.”
More than differing with others, rather he has accused:
“. . . communicating an array of false information . . spreading false information . . . refused to acknowledge their error . . . continued to repeat the lies . . . doubled down on the lies . . . They stopped their ears against any just defense.” Disagreements are serious matters. Lies are wicked.
What is the difference between a disagreement and a lie? I disagree with TE LeCroy’s representation of Greg Johnson. His list of lies disseminated in this conflict is recognizable to me. I have heard all of those assertions– with nuances which are absent from LeCroy’s terse catalog:
” . . . that Johnson, doesn’t believe homosexual temptation is a sin, that he denies sanctification, that he says that homosexuals can never change, that he calls himself a gay Christian, that he identifies with his sin; that the PCA is ordaining unrepentant homosexuals, that the courts of the PCA have gone liberal and are ineffective to engage in true church discipline, that there are those in the PCA who are advocating for celibate partnerships.”
I have listened (and relistened) to a good bit from Greg Johnson and read his prose. My familiarity with Johnson’s voice makes these purported lies each quite plausible to me– if my familiarity with the dispute is allowed to remember nuances. I have heard these assertions before, though with nuances. I recognize them, although, here, they were unadorned with nuances. They were rather different, but they were not lies. I think, maybe, Mr. LeCroy and I differ on this. I disagree with him. I don’t think he is lying.
A Disagreement about Nuances
It seems Mr. LeCroy acknowledges that people may disagree about these matters:
“. . . valid concerns and frustrations . . . Yet, none of my frustrations or concerns amounted to the level of heretical belief or practice. They were at the level of things that myself and others believed were unwise and unhelpful, but not worthy of censure or excommunication.”
He suggests something of a spectrum: unwise > unhelpful > heretical practice > heretical belief > censure > excommunication.. Is the use of such a scale merely as mechanical as reading a thermometer? Might people charitably and honestly differ on this? Is the contrast really between agreeing or lying? Is that a nuance?
Mr. LeCroy specifies what he found predominantly unhelpful or unwise with Johnson, et. al:
”They . . . expected mature believers to read the nuance in the things they said and did. But understanding of nuance is not something one can expect these days. These days nuance is treated as the enemy of the truth.”
Johnson, et. al., required people to understand their nuances, but nuance attracts an adversarial attention. Nuance somehow short circuits truthfulness.
Is nuance the enemy of truth? Or does nuance fail to guarantee agreement? When people assert that a particular nuance is a distinction without a difference, or an instance of equivocation, or a fallacious appeal— are they expressing their disagreement or lying through their teeth? Disagreement is a serious matter. Lying is wicked. Nuance is not the distance between them.
A Demonization of Disagreement
Mr. LeCroy’s grief is fitting. A historic congregation has departed our communion, and it has done so with articulate recrimination. The truth of their assertions deserve sober consideration as the PCA moves forward. There is no duty to agree with such assertions, but there is a duty to take them seriously.
“I believe there will be a reckoning for all these lies. For those who have won this battle, this is not the way battles should be won in the Church of Jesus Christ.” Those are strong words. Again, only a fool would not weigh them and reweigh them. Remember how slow we can be when corrected.
I don’t have the impression that many people believe a battle was won. Partisans think that decisive conflict was avoided. The questions are not actually settled; the acrimony obviously lingers. People do lie, but people also disagree. Those who have avoided the battle must recognize that confusing prevarication and disagreement will most certainly reap more than a dust devil or two.
If deliberation is reduced to discernment of which speakers are lying– what confidence should you have in any vote? Unless you get your way. Consider the revulsion of getting your way and wondering if some in the majority were lying. Or does that matter if you’re getting your way? How horrible if a court of Christ’s church replaces disagreement and deliberation with distrust and dominant voices.
I imagine demons both agree and disagree dishonestly.
Mr. LeCroy goes on in his admonition. I disagree with his assertions about Overture 15. I leave argument aside. I disagree that concerns expressed in terms of the reform of the church deserve to be greeted as malicious. I leave argument aside. I disagree that mendacity has been the substance of the controversy around Johnson, et. al. I leave argument aside. I disagree that the PCA should construe coming advocacy around officers, race, and worship as a time to discern who is honest rather than how to honor Christ. I leave argument aside.
I disagree with TE LeCroy’s admonition for the PCA. I do not think he is lying.
I encourage others to do the same.
Benjamin T. Inman is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is member of Eastern Carolina Presbytery.