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PCA church explains why it allowed transgender performance on its property

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Hundreds gather for the Revoice Conference at Memorial Presbyterian Church of St. Louis, Missouri on July 26-28, 2018. |

After drawing severe criticism, Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, Missouri, seeks to explain why a theatre production, called Transluminate and which highlighted the work of several transgender playwrights, was held at a venue space owned and operated by it.

The church “does not believe in transitioning to a different gender,” Memorial Presbyterian Church said in a statement. “However, we want to affirm the human dignity of people with gender dysphoria.”

Transluminate is a short-play festival and celebration of transgender, agender, non-binary, genderqueer, and genderfluid artists,” read the public invite to the event, held Feb. 29 and March 1 at The Chapel arts venue that Memorial owns.

Criticizing the church, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood noted, “Details from the Transluminate event announcement describe performances that include themes of gay marriage, transgenderism, and even trans-speciesism. The announcement also included the following content warning: ‘Plays may contain adult language and frank sexual situations.’”

The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood pointed out that the “celebration would seem to be at odds with the confessional standards of the PCA,” referring to the Westminster Larger Catechism. “How can a PCA church host an event that contradicts its own confessional standards? How can this church allow a celebration of the very sin that scripture binds them to oppose?” it asked.

Zach Groff, lecturer in Old Testament Hebrew at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, highlighted in an article published on the website of Reformation21 what Memorial Presbyterian Church says about its arts venue: “We host The Chapel, a volunteer-led not-for-profit arts venue. The Chapel provides all services including drinks free of charge to artists, theatre companies and their guests. This is a practical, real-life way that we can support local artists and manifest the Welcome of Jesus through our hospitality and through our service.”

“Setting aside the issue of whether God mandates His church to facilitate art installations and live musical/theatrical performances, what do we make of the relationship between Memorial PCA and Transluminate insofar as the festival is hosted and sponsored by The Chapel, which is in turn partnered with (i.e. subsidized and served by) Memorial PCA and its church members?” Groff asked.

Memorial argued that the art venue is a separate entity. One of the buildings the church owns became a secular arts venue named The Chapel, Memorial Presbyterian Church said. “Modeled after the Harrison Center for the Arts in Indianapolis, The Chapel has a separate, subsidiary board, a separate public identity, a separate building and a separate street address.”

Memorial also said: “Our ministry to our local arts community has flown under the radar for a long time and allowed us to love people different from ourselves — and do so without worrying our friends at a distance. We realize we at Memorial are now under a scrutiny we were not under 13 years ago when we began this ministry.”

The church added that it “does not endorse art at The Chapel.”

Responding to this, Groff wrote, “Taken at face value, the language of ‘our ministry’ clarifies that The Chapel is at least a part — and unavoidably an integral part — of Memorial PCA’s outreach to artists, musicians, and thespians in St. Louis.”

Groff also pointed out that Memorial Presbyterian Church hosted the first Revoice Conference, a gathering of LGBT Christians who seek to adhere to biblical standards of sexual ethics, not as a “safe guide” on issues of gender and sex.

Memorial Presbyterian Church pastor Greg Johnson spoke at Revoice in 2019 and is slated to speak again in 2020, The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood wrote.

In its statement, Memorial Presbyterian Church sought to explain: “Christian freedom is not getting as close to sin as you can without crossing a line. Rather, Christian freedom is getting as close to sinners as you can by crossing a different set of lines. We will be looking into how the decision was made to host this theatre production and will be seeking to assess whether the right lines or wrong lines were crossed.

“…We understand it is strange for a church to own a secular arts venue. We know of only two in the PCA. But for us, it has opened the door for conversations with people who often are hostile to Christianity. That is why we gave up use of one of our buildings and handed it over to use by artists. That’s why we have served them these past thirteen years.”

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