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This is cowardice. This is caving to a mob mentality that only encourages more of the same. This is an outright smear of a faithful and true Christian man.” These are the words of Duke Divinity School’s Curtis Chang, a progressive Christian activist and professor, to describe recent events in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The “caving to a mob mentality” he has in mind is the decision of the Stated Clerk of the PCA to disinvite David French from the denomination’s annual General Assembly in June. French was to take part in a panel discussion on political polarization in the church, which was cancelled.

The events connected with French are significant in their own right, but this episode also highlights important challenges the PCA faces in a nation increasingly hostile to basic Christian truths. Despite those who have attempted to portray French’s disinvitation as the result of a small group of angry, overly-online keyboard warriors, the decision was in fact the result of a large number of leaders (called ruling and teaching elders in the PCA) and ordinary church members expressing their concern in the proper way, to the proper decision makers in the denomination. Many of those who expressed these concerns are not even on the “right” of the denomination. They are middle-of-the-road Christians who recognize, whatever their own political beliefs, that David French is an extremely polarizing figure, unlikely to fulfill the stated purpose of the panel to help the church avoid polarization. That said, many are also concerned with the actual positions French takes on important moral and social issues, including on so-called gay marriage, laws regarding minors and “gender reassignment” surgeries, drag queen story hour, and more.

Leading voices within progressive churches and institutions quickly denounced the decision to cancel the panel. It is incredibly difficult for confessional Christian institutions to resist such pressure. One can see what happened to people like cake-maker Jack Phillips for refusing to create cake designs celebrating homosexuality, or more recently, the pressure put on Kansas City Chiefs kicker Harrison Butker for stating basic facts about homosexuality, God’s design for men and women, and the harmful effects of DEI programs. The examples are legion. It is easy to give ground in the hope that the howling mobs will move on to other targets. It is, therefore, very encouraging to see the PCA stand firm, and much of the credit for this can be given specifically to the Administrative Committee of the General Assembly, which, along with the Stated Clerk, made the decision not to proceed with the panel. They had to know that there would be a good deal of blowback about this decision, that it was likely the mainstream media would pick up on it, and that hostile forces might use it to portray the PCA in a negative light. Many people in the denomination were watching, and were relieved to see their leaders act wisely, knowing the fortitude required to do so.

The decision to disinvite French also provides perspective on shifts within the PCA over the last several years. In that time the PCA General Assembly has seen a sizable increase in vote totals of pastors and elders committed to the Scriptures and the PCA’s confessional standards. From a successful vote requiring ministers to adhere to the Bible’s teaching on sexuality, to the decision to leave the National Association of Evangelicals because of its political lobbying, to a vote to forbid the use of biblical titles for ordained office by those not ordained, the PCA’s annual meetings have been trending in a confessionally faithful direction.

In the end, while Curtis Chang is not accurate when he claims that it was “the right-wing faction within the PCA” that was responsible for the political polarization panel being cancelled, it is likely that he is right when he says this “only encourages more of the same.” One can only say: by God’s grace, yes, may it be so. Courage to do the right thing in the face of unrelenting cultural pressure is contagious. And such contagious courage is sorely needed today.

As the PCA has reaffirmed its confessional particulars, a not insignificant number of pastors uncomfortable with the denomination’s official teaching have been leaving the PCA for denominations more closely aligned with their beliefs. And still more challenges lie ahead. I think the greatest of these will be addressing the temptation churches and leaders in the PCA face to adopt a worldly, and pastorally disastrous, understanding of trauma and abuse, alongside other harmful therapeutic concepts. No matter what gains recent years have brought, there will never be a point where ecclesiastical vigilance is unnecessary. 

Our savior said: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” But he also told his disciples to “be of good cheer” for “I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). I am of good cheer as I contemplate the future of the PCA, trusting in our victorious savior to lead us, even as I consider the inevitable tribulation that will come upon the PCA as it seeks to fulfill its calling faithfully in this evil age.

Ben C. Dunson is a minister in the PCA, Professor of New Testament at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and founding and contributing editor at American Reformer.

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Image by John Rogers Herbert via Creative Commons. Image cropped.

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