Talking About Human Sexuality With Love
March 8, 2022
Updated June 2, 2022
75 comments 3220 views
At a recent meeting of Congregational Ministries Directors, we decided that we wanted to speak into the denominational conversation on human sexuality: Amanda Benckhuysen, Joyce Borger, Tim Rietkerk, Chris Schoon, Reggie Smith, Mark Stephenson, Lis Van Harten, Lindsay Wieland Capel. The following was written by Mark Stephenson, and reviewed and approved by all of us.
In North America, we Christians have not faced religious persecution like Guido de Brès, the primary author of our Belgic Confession, who died as a Christian martyr in 1567. A few years before his death, he and others said they would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,” rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession.
I wonder for what we would be willing to offer our backs, tongues, mouths, and bodies. I wonder too if faced with such extreme opposition, what we would cling to as fellow Christians and what differences would become secondary. Thinking specifically about the Human Sexuality Report that the CRC has been talking about for the last several years, would any of us be willing to offer our backs, tongues, mouths, and bodies for a specific definition of marriage?
Some beliefs are heretical and must be condemned. Some practices are unjust and cruel, and must be stood against. The ways in which some people have been treated for their sexual orientation or gender identity needs to be lamented and repented of. Sometimes whole communities engage in behaviors that harm other communities of people. None of this is new to us who believe in total depravity. We confess that not only are individual thoughts, words, and actions tainted by sin, but also our collective behaviors in politics, economics, business, and church are tainted by sin.
Unity does not mean acquiescing to false beliefs or tolerating cruel or unjust behaviors, practices, or policies, nor does unity result from agreement about a narrow set of beliefs. As Rebekah Taussig wrote, “I’ve found this impulse to flatten a massive, complicated problem into one small thing I can yell about doesn’t actually solve anything or even make me feel better.”
Taussig wrote this about her own frustration with some people’s pandemic behaviors. The same could be said about the report on human sexuality, and especially what it says about marriage and same sex attraction. We must not flatten a massive, complicated mystery like human sexuality, though we are tempted to reduce people with whom we disagree to caricatures: “They don’t believe the Bible,” or “They don’t love people who are LGBTQ.”
With something as complex as human sexuality, we must begin with a humble admission that no matter how much we think we accurately judge the true meaning of Scripture, we only scratch the surface of understanding. We can be convinced of the righteousness of our own cause, but when Christians strive to win, rather than to follow Christ, they abandon not only Christ’s call for unity, but also the way of Christ.
Instead, we need to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow our self-sacrificing Lord Jesus Christ. In seeking to understand human sexuality, our attitude needs to be the same as our Lord,
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! (Phil 2:6-8)
In that same spirit of self-denial, he calls his followers to turn the other cheek, to walk the second mile, to love our enemies. Jesus’ primary call to his followers is not to defend his word nor to fight for what we believe is right, but to follow his “new” commandment. The “old” commandment was to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The new commandment takes love to an entirely different level of commitment and self-sacrifice: to love others as Christ loved us (John 13:34).
I don’t remember if I heard this story in a book or a podcast, but a pastor described a conversation with a young man who wanted to talk with her about the guilt he felt as he awakened to his attraction to men. He believed that he was violating the truth as taught in Scripture. The pastor asked him, “But what is the first truth about God?” Then she answered her own question, “The first truth about God is this: God is love. And God loves you as you are.”
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)
As we discuss the Human Sexuality report, we need to begin with the truth, that God is love. This is the foundational truth about human sexuality.
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I'm saddened to disagree with so many denominational leaders.
While I agree that some doctrinal concepts are so foundational to our faith that to deny them is to hold to a different religion and some other concepts are merely error and sinful, I do not agree that we cannot or should not stand firm when God's Word speaks clearly to an issue.
Instead, we should indeed hold to God's Word with the faithfulness of de Bres! The truth is important, even when it's not about the "biggest issues". "Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another" (Eph. 4:25). We aren't called to an individualism that expects our Christian brothers and sisters to deal with their own sins in their own way, but to encourage each other and as Jesus commands "If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him" and also "exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13).
We are called as a communal body to encourage each other to godliness and good works. Even when those sins aren't concerning "salvation issues".
Although 1 Corinthians 6:10 might create a problem for this entire argument.
I also notice the false equivalency that 1. Human Sexuality is complex and messy. 2. Therefore the Bible's teaching on Sexuality is complex and messy.
But the Bible's teaching is actually simple, clear, and consistent from beginning to end.
As I/Reformed Christians believe in the perspicuity of Scripture, and as Scripture outlines God's design and desire for marriage, yes I would and will continue to speak for that truth, no matter what persecutions I may be subjected too (which if one has been paying much attention to the culture, it would be clear that those increasingly include digital removal of ones tongue, as well as cancellation, and soon very well may escalate to physical violence or imprisonment in North America).
Pastor Lloyd Hemstreet
Hi Mark, I am grateful for you and the work you and the other team members noted have done for the CRC. I have appreciated working with you as God has given us opportunity. I have learned a lot from you! At the same time, I say with love that I am quite disturbed by this article. I echo the comments made by the other commenters Trevor and Lloyd.
Additionally, I want to comment on this paragraph - "I don’t remember if I heard this story in a book or a podcast, but a pastor described a conversation with a young man who wanted to talk with her about the guilt he felt as he awakened to his attraction to men. He believed that he was violating the truth as taught in Scripture. The pastor asked him, “But what is the first truth about God?” Then she answered her own question, “The first truth about God is this: God is love. And God loves you as you are.”
It is quite unsettling. Would we have such a conversation with someone who admitted that he had a desire to steal? Once he reached a breakthrough to feel some guilt about his desire to steal, which could lead to true repentance and therefore trust in Christ for salvation and forgiveness, that instead of that, we would quickly try to smooth away that guilt by saying that God loves him just as he is? I think we would not. I surely hope not. So why would we do this with same-sex attraction? The reality is that God loved us while we were his enemies, and Christ was willing to die for us even though we were his enemies. But that doesn't mean God loves "how" we are, or that he loves the "way" that we are. It means he loves us "despite" who we are. Yet in the paragraph above, it seems to imply that God loves people just the way that they are and God doesn't expect people to repent, or to change, or to feel guilt for their sin.
The proper response to someone recognizing their sinful nature is to affirm that yes, they are sinful before God, but God is incredibly merciful and gracious and he loves them anyway, even though they are so sinful! And if they repent and trust in Christ, they can be adopted to be one of God's children, and they can be born again and experience new life in Christ. Telling someone that "God loves you as you are" is either at best misleading/confusing, or at worst, a false gospel.
Let me offer some better clarity on my comment about guilt. I do believe that people do not simply choose their attractions, they just have them, however they developed, whether they want them or not. And I do think there is a big difference between desiring to steal/desiring the same-sex, and acting on those desires (see the distinctions made in the 1973 report). But even if readers do not believe that a person should feel guilt for their evil desires that they don't act on, we should all be able to agree that we should recognize what is of our sinful nature, we should feel bad about it and desire a change, we should recognize that God does not love our sinful nature, but wants us to be transformed, even if that process of transformation (sanctification) is a long process that is not complete until Jesus returns.
I'm grateful for the denominational ministry of each one of you. The call to love in your statement is central to your respective ministries. You are the hands and feet of Jesus in what you do day in and day out. And your respective ministries have born good fruit. Thank you for publicly, humbly reminding us that Jesus' call to love "the other" includes unconditionally loving LGBTQ people. In these contentious times, it takes real courage for you to do this. But you are doing exactly what the reports of 1973, 2002, 2016 and 2022 have done. We'll always have disagreements about what love looks like in particular situations, which is why we need to "bear with one another in love" (Eph. 4:2), but no disagreements about Jesus' call to love.
What I do not understand is why folks who think like you do not leave the CRC and join churches that have already solved this problem. They are crying (dying) for members. Way back in the 1970/80's we had people that said Love is the "be all and end all". But not in all places or situations.
"Sola scriptura, meaning by scripture alone, is a Christian theological doctrine held by some Protestant Christian denominations, in particular the Lutheran and Reformed traditions of Protestantism, that posits the Bible as the sole infallible source of authority for Christian faith and practice."
Notice the word "some". Hence my first comment. At least up to some point the CRC was clearly in the Reformed tradition.
I think the reason a lot of people don't leave is so that they can advocate for the marginalized in our congregations. With the suicide rate being what it is for LGBTQIA youth, some would like to stay and look out for them.
Thank God for those who stay and speak truth to the beloved, of a Holy God that loves us all despite our sins. Thank you Jesus for the reminder that we who are without sin can pick up the first stone. All stones should stay on the ground. Judgement is a terrible evangelism strategy.
Props to the leaders taking a bold stand.
What if we focussed as intensely on the other issues the HSR discusses? The report alleges that those who have a porn addiction are, maybe just maybe, in danger of losing their salvation. According the HSR this is already confessional. Seeing that there are way more people with the "porn addiction disorder" in the CRCNA than there are LGBTQIA people, isn't it a bit irresponsible of us to keep focussing almost solely on the LGBTQIA community?
We've been talking in front of gay people's backs since 1973 and have been pledging to love them so well that they would just be delighted to never experience romance, sex, marriage...you know, all the stuff that us straights take for granted every time we cry at a wedding.
Since we've got such a good track record over the past 50 years of tough loving people out of their sexual orientation I do believe we should focus the next 50 years on the "disorders" in the HSR that don't let the grand lot of us off scot free. Wouldn't it be a good thing to put a solid 50 years into loving people so well that they never feel the desire to look at porn?
All of the comparisons to other "sins" that don't have anything to do with sexuality are cliche and perfunctory at best. I think all of us sem grads know that at this point in the story. And I know I am being tongue in cheek and snarky to the point of being priggish, but consider how freely we bandy about judgment and proscriptions for an entire community of Image bearers who have the audacity to seek Christ and not always obsess over their sexuality. Boy do we ever obsess over sexuality.
It'll be interesting to see what the we decide to eradicate from our midst next because it sure as sugar is gonna be pride, am I right?. (My own pride, priggishness, and problems noted.)
The failure of churches to hold Christians accountable for their sins of pornography usage is a problem for our churches. Yes, it's difficult because people work hard to hide their pornography use. No one walks around with a "Pornography Pride" flag. Yet it's prevalence is so profound that our denomination would do well to begin a monumental campaign, working together as churches to emphasize repentance or discipline, and providing support as people work to kill that sin in their life!
But I don't think that a failure to adequately eradicate one sin should give us permission to allow space for another sin.
What kept you from leaving off the last sentence?
Thank you for a reminder to have the same attitude as Christ as we interact with each other. How we are together matters, not just what we discuss together.
Pride and contempt of each other and our interpretations of God’s Word does not honour God. As you have all mentioned, God is love. And Paul has taught us that love is patient, and kind. It does not envy or boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
Paul also tells us that where there is knowledge, it will pass away. We know in part, but someday completeness will arrive and the partial will pass away. I look forward to that day. But in the meantime, I hope that we can speak with each other out of humility and in love, so we don’t end up as clanging cymbals, or nothing.
Thank you so much for this thoughtful and kind post. I hope these words will be used to guide our discussions moving forward.
Mark you wrote "Sometimes whole communities engage in behaviors that harm other communities of people." LGBQT2S+ individuals all come with unique stories, and are already a part of our communities. Sometimes known and sometimes hiding.
We are not talking abstractly as a denomination about "others" these are our children our sisters and brothers, biologically, spiritually or both. Family members who have been imperfectly received, sometimes rejected, and reduced in many ways.
II Corinthians chapter 5- talks about Christ's love compelling us and states in verse 18 "All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." Let us look at our own role to reconciliation, through a love that compels us to know one another, to know God and be known.
Mark Stephenson et al.: Thank you for sticking your necks out in the name of unity - notably, a unity that would make room precisely *for* many of the comments that are now being made against you.
Indeed, I don't see anything in what is written here that says someone couldn't speak out about what they consider clear from Scripture, or even couldn't 'rebuke' an LGBTQ person in their congregation, if they felt called to; it just says that, as in so many things, they can't count on the unanimous agreement of the CRC members or office-bearers (which, even if the HSR is accepted, they won't have), and that they can't safely assume the position of 'rebuker' without opening themselves to being 'rebuked' back (and I, for one, cannot look at the history of LGBTQ people within the CRC and not think I myself would deserve it). Accepting these realities patiently and lovingly is what unity looks like in a human community dedicated to following Christ. If Reformed Christians like me (and I assume some of Mark Stephenson and his co-signers) who affirm, say, gay marriages wanted to 'silence' or 'cancel' those who disagreed with us in the CRC, then we would be pushing *for* a confessional status, not against.
If Mark Stephenson and his co-signers are anything like me, they must have been tempted to go on the 'offensive': not only call for unity across positions on human sexuality, give the reasons they have for *their* positions - e.g., that Scripture teaches the value of marriage, particularly for those struggling with lust, while discussing polygamy, concubinage, marrying widowed in-laws, and marrying outside God's people without comment or with outright endorsement; or that we might take our cues on 'clearly defined' institutions from Jesus' dialogue with the Pharisees on the Sabbath, which was after all a commandment in itself, a whole day of creation, and a sin that the LORD had Moses kill someone for violating; but I don't claim to have Mark and his co-signers' expertise or to speak for them - that would be the obvious counter to the claims of clarity that I am seeing in these comments. But it would also be to distract from their point - regardless of how clearly scriptural I might think something is, or even of how many of my fellow Reformed Christians agree with me, that shouldn't in itself make agreeing on it a criterion for my communion with others, and that our default as followers of Jesus should be to *embrace* brothers and sisters we disagree, and not draw lines in the sand unless we have to.
Certainly I am guilty of not doing this; to be honest I have been feeling angry and disappointed with many of my brothers and sisters for a while now and, on occasion, wanted to distance myself from them. But the only solutions *I* have would be to worship in each other's churches, listen to each other's pastoral advice, and pray for and with each other. And these leaders are standing up for our ability to do just that. To those who are arguing against it, I hope to do it with you all the same, God helping me.
Thank you for reminding us about the importance of the new commandment, as Jesus also modeled for us. That means giving priority to the impacts of the HSR report for those most affected by it. We know, for example, that labelling intersex children "disordered" does harm - unnecessary harm - Jesus would not do it. Neither should we.
Kathy Vandergrift, I agree. Jesus would accept intersex children just as they are. I don't believe he would want to heal them of a "disorder." Nor would he ask them to repent of their sin of being intersex. In fact, I believe it's possible that God creates them just as they are. Do we know for sure that he does not? These issues are not black and white for thoughtful Christians.
Why does it do harm? It doesn't do harm when people say they have depression, or obsessive compulsive disorder, or deafness in their right ear, or blindness. These are realities, and they are disorders, and it helps to tell the truth about our physical realities, it doesn't need to do harm. Intersexual conditions, if you talk to people with these conditions, are conditions of profound brokenness. Their bodies are not working the way that God intended and in many cases this causes great dysfunction for them, or pain. We need to be really careful not to use people with intersex conditions for our political agendas. They are real people with real lives, and the vast majority of them do not appreciate having the broken physical conditions that they have.
Some of the harms result from surgeries done to make intersex children fit certain "types" for girls or boys, including sexual dysfunctions and, in some cases, infertility. Evidence also shows higher rates of harms that are related to being treated as "less than," from bullying, low self-esteem, and mental health issues to suicides. Our focus should be changing the conditions that create harms rather than changing the children to fit "types" we impose on them.
The HSR itself is internally inconsistent; for gender dysphoria is suggests the body is determinative, but for inter-sex children it promotes changing the body to fit with pre-conceived "types" that have their roots in Greek philosophy.
I agree with not using people; that is why I advocate for respecting the rights of children as persons created in the image of God rather than imposing certain "types" on them. It is less than helpful to lump all types of disabilities and illnesses together as "disordered;" fortunately we have changed the way we treat persons with many of the other realities named. I hope we will remain open to also learning more about these aspects of human development and relationships as well.
Thank you for a gracious, thoughtful reminder that we need to approach complex topics with humility and love. The witness of the church is compromised when we allow our individual certainty to keep us from acting with the mindset of Christ, and I think this post models that mindset beautifully.
Agree, Steve. I believe that humility is the greatest of all virtues. And it is significantly lacking in our society today. (1 finger pointed back at me). It strikes me that the HSR often has a tone of absolute certainty. "It is clear that..." The words "clear" and "clearly" are used more than 70 times in the document. I would wish for a more humble tone. An acknowledgement that not all that is stated as "clear" in the document is so clear to all thoughtful, sincere, Bible-believing Christians. That does not mean those Christians are wrong.
Thank you for your comments Steve and Kathy. The unchecked assumption of "it is clear" is a major flaw in the HSR, and our very need for this study committee in the first place brings this into question as well as our denominational struggle around loving LGBTQ+ folks well since 1973+. Oversimplifying a very complex topic is dangerous. Humility and love, indeed, need to be our starting point in the example of Jesus.
The need for the study committee didn't come from the unclarity of the issue but came from the American culture's growing divergence from Biblical moral values and thus the need for a final and clearly articulated statement that could withstand these growing waves of assault and serve as a final flag in the ground for the CRCNA's position on the topic. Hence the name "Foundation-Laying Biblical Theology".
Again, in your comment, we find a false equivalence that because human sexuality is complex, therefore the Bible's teaching on the topic must be complex, but it isn't. It's beautifully simple! All sexual activity outside of a one-man, one-woman lifelong marraige is forbidden.
It's frustrating that you call for us to follow the example of Jesus while ignoring Jesus' own teaching on this topic!
A few observations, if I may:
At a point a while back, I was a CRCNA denominational employee. There were certain issues that I strongly disagreed with as to the direction of a certain ministry. I was told that on no uncertain terms, I must not voice them publicly, but rather work through 'proper' channels to address them.
I find that the post above, suggests that a group of denominational ministry leaders have found it both necessary and possible to use the vehicle of the CRCNA Network to make a public disagreement with a report commissioned by Synod. Is it possible that they are using their positions to do an 'end-run'? If I understand correctly, all of these ministries exist to serve the local CRCNA churches.
So what is the larger problem here? Am I just trying to split hairs? No, the post comes down, in my opinion to a theologically skewed presentation of the doctrine of God. Whenever we stack one of God's attributes in contrast to His others, we are in effect creating a God in our own image. Yes, God is love. Yet, if any one of God's attributes is the center through which all of his attributes intersect, it is His holiness. Think of the following quote by J.I. Packer:
"“When Scripture calls God, or individual persons of the Godhead, “holy”, the word signifes
everything about God that sets Him apart from us and makes Him an object of awe, adoraton,
and dread to us. It covers all aspects of His transcendent greatness and moral perfecton and
thus is an atribute of all His atributes, pointng to the “Godness” of God at every point. Every
facet of God’s nature and every aspect of His character may properly be spoken of as holy, just
because it is His. The core of the concept, however, is God’s purity, which cannot tolerate any
form of sin (Hab.1:13) and thus calls sinners to constant self-abasement in His presence (Isa.
6:5)” [Packer, Concise Theology, p. 43-44].
By shifting the focus, in the above piece, Mark Stephenson and company (MS+), have effectively displaced God's holiness by his love. It all has a warm, fuzzy, appeal to it, yet there is something deceptive about it. Whereas the HSR report honors the fact that God's holiness moral code is what makes prohibitions against homosexual behavior timeless, both in the Old Testament and the New in a way of treating the whole counsel of God, the MS+ writeup appeals to an anecdotal phrase,"....“The first truth about God is this: God is love. And God loves you as you are” and then buttresses it up with I John 3:16. It must be noted, the anecdote is bad theology. Since when does God "love us as we are?." If He does anything, He shows His love to sinners in spite of who they are. The anecdote serves to say, God loves anyone in any state of rebellion, no matter what they do. This is theological nonsense and is actually the antithesis of love, as it will give false comfort to many to whom Jesus must say, "I never knew you." Rather, Jesus said "if you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15).
If we must address 1 John 3:16, then we might want to ask a few hard questions of that text, as any good exegete should do?
a. If Jesus did the ultimate "laying down of his life"---i.e. his substitutionary death, then what should our proper role be?
b. Should we assume that anyone who says that they are in the covenant community is necessarily our "brother and sister?" Recall that among the children of Israel, there were covenant keepers and covenant breakers. Might we consider the reality that even in the CRCNA there are those, who by the actions they advocate, are covenant breakers?
c. If there are covenant breakers, what does "laying our life down" look like? Could it be that it actually means that we must risk the potential rejection and scoffing of such, in order, as Jude 1:23 said in the context of false teachers, "to rescue them from the fire?"
It seems that there is a great need at this juncture of the CRCNA for those who will think theologically. Persons in the pew are looking for this in their denominational leadership. May it be so.
John Span, Commissioned Pastor
I appreciate your concern, but please understand that noone I know wants to compromise God's holiness or wants less reverence or thoughtfulness in the Church. Hopefully we all agree that there are no parts of God that can be balanced or weighed against each other - He is holy Love and the loving Holy One. And so while I am very unsure of your claim that God's holiness might uniquely be 'the center through which all of His attributes intersect', you are certainly right that God is a love we must dread and self-abase ourselves before. That makes it all the more dangerous to appropriate the Holy One's power to judge us, to compromise that His declaration that to He is Love, or to equivocate His Holiness with a 1st-century Hellenistic Jewish definition of marriage. Quite apart from the particular position on human sexuality as a moral issue, I find it very hard to look at the situation of churches in North America and not conclude that there is a real threat of making false gods of capitalism, 'family values', and self-help. On top of which I can't think of any Christians who have endured more abasement than LGBTQ Christians themselves - would that it were before God.
To Kevin, Mark, Reggie, and all the others who support changing the definition of marriage and changing the teachings of the CRC regarding sexual immorality, please consider this question...
Why not join one of the other Christian denominations that ALREADY teach your new-found beliefs?
I ask that question in love and grace. If your ideas change and no longer line up with your church's teachings, isn't it better to leave that church, and join another one that lines up with your new beliefs? Why do you need to force the original denomination to change her teachings to match your new ones?
Thanks Dan, I have a few answers, again speaking only for myself. As a point of information before I do, though, I'd like to reiterate that the discussion here is not for changing the definition of anything, it is for *not* making a particular definition explicitly *confessional* - and that *would* be a change, even if you think it was implicit already. I stand by my own reasons for supporting same-sex marriages in the Church, I think more CRCers will come to support same-sex marriages in time, and I do think we're failing LGBTQ Christians and certainly don't blame anyone for leaving, but I haven't seen anyone actually ask for a confessional status or any formal changes in that 'direction'.
The most basic reason I don't want to leave would be that responding to disagreements by cutting ties is not what Jesus had in mind when He founded the church - the New Testament teaches against factions and encourages unity in any number of places, everyone knows that polarization is already enough of a problem in North American culture, and I suspect we can all look back at the history of Reformed churches and of Christianity more broadly and find a few partings of ways that we regret. On top of which, I think we are actively called *to* engage with each other on difficult topics. That's what we are doing right now, after all, isn't it? Would this conversation between you and me even be happening if we continually self-selected into increasingly narrow doctrinal and cultural fragments?
By the same token, I think some of the things Jesus *did* have in mind are fellowship, supporting (including correcting) each other in His ways, dwelling in peace with one another, and worshiping Him with a unison befitting His one kingdom. And all that comes with relationships that develop over time and, by the work of the Holy Spirit, constitute the Church as His body. Christians within a church who disagree with each other are still very much connected with each other, which is part of the idea - perhaps you have been experiencing these arguments differently, but for me this feels less like an abstract deliberation and more like a bitter fight between family and friends, with all the associated bitterness and grief. So I think parting ways would do an awful lot of harm to everyone.
And then lastly I think this is by any account a live and fluid issue. If the beliefs of many on this matter are, like my own, 'new-found', then it is fair to expect that those who have them now are not the last that will find them, and if as some have said this is just a surrender to 'worldliness' and 'cultural pressure', in that case I hope you persuade me. The CRC as a group of people is not of one mind now: supporting same-sex marriages is definitely a minority position, but I'm not even sure it is *that* small a minority, especially when we think about the non-members who come and go and become members, and lots of the most thoughtful Christians I know have positions that are a fair bit more complicated, ambiguous, or cautious than either of ours. In some congregations, the minority position *is* the majority. And, ultimately, I don't think that either leaving the CRC or the adoption of a confessional status would change any of these fundamentals: there might be a formal consensus, but it wouldn't be a consensus everyone had consented to, people would still change their minds and doubt their own positions, people would certainly still fight, and neither faithfulness to Scripture nor the plight of LGBTQ Christians would be in any way better for any individual.
Sorry, this went even longer than I wanted to go. And I regret that the nature of my argument is mostly about what *I* would be comfortable with as a CRCer whose relationship is generally recognized as valid, not to mention having always felt accepted by his church and never having had to deal with feelings of suicidality related to that, God forbid - like I said I don't think there is an excuse for some of that stuff, regardless of belief, and maybe there will come or has come a time when Christians like me need to do something about it we're not comfortable with. But as far as how I feel, you have my answer. I see that a conversation has broken out further down about Jude and Sodom, and I have been thinking a bit about that, but I don't think I can justify spending more time talking about this today. Peace.
Thanks, Kevin. You covered a lot, but seemed to assume I meant an official split of the CRC. I didn't mean that. There are plenty of other churches and denominations that already exist, who line up with your views on sexual immorality. I was asking why you don't join one of those?
About 10 years ago I joined the CRC because I personally hold to the teachings of the CRC. If, for some reason, I found new views (say, for example, I came to believe in universal salvation), then I would join a different church that already teaches that. I would not demand that the CRC start teaching universal salvation.
It's like someone who hates baseball, who becomes a little league coach, and then demands that the kids stop playing baseball.
Dan, your question assumes that I and all whose names are in the introductory paragraph to this blog disagree with the CRC's current position on same sex sexual activity. Your assumption might or might not be correct. As some commenters on those post point out, the purpose of my blog is not to address the "what" of the denominational report on human sexuality, but the "how", specifically how we address not only the issues raised by the report but how we talk about God's fellow image bearers. In fact, as is stated in the COD Governance Handbook, we denominational staff are forbidden from attempting to influence decisions of synod: "Denominational staff have power and influence by title alone and should refrain from influencing deliberation meant for the church; and avoid entering into the matters on synod's agenda in public forums (e.g., The Network). We should reserve responses for the churches and classes." That means it would be inappropriate for me to speak publically either in favor of or in opposition to the human sexuality report. My hope and prayer as the church engages in this important conversation, and will continue to do so for years to come, that we do so in a spirit of humility and with Christ-like love, always aware of the plank in our own eyes as we talk about the speck of sawdust in our neighbor's eye.
Mark that is a very helpful clarification. I definitely see where you are coming from, and where you as a group were trying to help by encouraging good listening and love for one another. That is very good. I'm grateful for that desire for unity, careful listening, empathy, care....
But let me say respectfully, that for many of us on the traditional side, your article does seem to take a position on the HSR report. You may not have thought so truly, so let me explain what I mean. Then you can let me know if I've understood you wrongly. At the beginning of your article, you infer or indirectly say that views of sexuality and marriage should be secondary issues, not primary ones, and not something people should be willing to die for. Many of us don't see these issues as secondary issues. Many of us are ready to sacrifice deeply for them.
Further you say - "With something as complex as human sexuality, we must begin with a humble admission that no matter how much we think we accurately judge the true meaning of Scripture, we only scratch the surface of understanding." Most of us on the traditional side would strongly disagree with such a statement, and the HSR would also disagree. As one of the commenters above pointed out, the authors of the HSR use the word "clearly" a lot. They do think the issues are clear, and you and your team who authored this article seem to not think so. Therefore, it certainly looks to me like the authors of this article do not agree with the HSR, and want longer term dialogue instead, because they don't see it as a clear issue, and so it certainly looks like, to me, that you are taking a stand on the HSR publicly. Do you see what I mean? Have I understood you rightly or wrongly?
Beyond what you note there, Anthony, the authors include the anecdote that ends with this quote: “The first truth about God is this: God is love. And God loves you as you are.”
It is hard to square that quote with an assertion that they are not atttempting to impact the outcome of discussions.
Anthony, thanks for the clarifying questions. The apostle Paul makes a particularly scary statement in 1 Cor 6:9, which has parallels with other verses about people engaging in sexual sins not inheriting God’s kingdom. Some people read this passage say that it clearly teaches that people who engage in same sex sexual activity will not inherit the kingdom of God. Yet, this verse and many others also include people who are “sexually immoral.” The annual report of our local pregnancy resource center (lpcenters.com) says that 8 of 10 Christian singles in their 20’s are sexually active, and 64% of Christian men admit to viewing pornography at least monthly. Jesus included lustful looks as sexual immorality, which goes even beyond viewing pornography. Whether or not one believes that the traditional interpretation that same sex sexual activity is always sinful, when we point the finger at some, then we point three more fingers back at ourselves (as my mother used to remind me). The parts of my blog to which you refer are pleas for humility, grace, and love in the ways we talk about this “issue,” because it’s mainly about people. For example, when I was growing up, my CRC grandpa said that Scripture clearly taught that anyone who got divorced and remarried is engaging in perpetual sexual sin and will not inherit the kingdom of God. That's a lot of people in our churches today. Or to give another example, when I write that we "only scratch the surface of understanding," I'm questioning, given the rampant sexual immorality among Christians, whether we're willing to say that most Christians will not inherit the kingdom. I'm making a plea that what we believe to be clear isn't as clear as we think. The church has done tremendous damage in the ways we have talked about and treated LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to talk about human sexuality from the deep humility that we are all broken people who need grace that comes to us through our broken Savior.
Mark, thanks for that clarification, re your COD booklet etc. I am having a hard time being convinced, that there is no "influencing" going on.
For example, you make the deft switch of the "what" to the "how." You as a representative of the other ministry leaders, now are using the appeal to the "how." Mark, this is slippery stuff. In this post-modern posture, where there should be no absolutes, or absolute certainty---as some as complained about the HSR report---now the conversation is switched to the "how." Here we go: "the HSR committee was not empathetic enough", the "report was too 'clear'--with a subtext, muddy is better"; "the denomination is too rigid" etc. The problem with appeals to "how" is that they are a two-edged sword. That is to say, one can always assume the 'moral high-ground' posture of looking at those they disagree with, as having no empathy, no Christian compassion, nor as your post above, "a lack of Christian love." This makes for good virtue signalling, but the sword can strike both ways.
In the Old Testament, if a person engaged in the sin of the high hand, that is to say, their actions and words, no matter how 'compassionately and empatheticallty delivered' suggested a plan of action that outrightly defied the clear commands of YHWH, then there was no sacrifice that would atone for that sin. In this case, the "what" of the words and actions, which uncovered the "how" of a rebellious agenda, could not be atoned for. It appears to me, and correct me if I am wrong, you are making an appeal to style over substance. Sure, we need compassion, empathy, Christian love, and forbearance, but how do you think the denomination should treat those who engage in the sin of the high hand? [as I ask the question, I think of one of the forms of subscription that I as an office bearer signed, namely that the 3 forms of Unity, including the Belgic Confession with its 3 marks of the church including church discipline had to sign].
"The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be separated from it."
Secondly, in another response, you appeal to the broader categories of sexual sin. Yes, there is much brokeness in the church, and we do a great job of covering it over. Then why didn't your post cover both love and holiness? That would have been a great antidote to the swatch of sins you cover. Your addition of the quote---which I assume you quote approvingly---namely "God accepts you as you are" diminishes your argument. Then the devil's advocate could say that Mark says that God approves the pornographic addictions in the CRCNA, the adulteries in the mind, etc. You can't have it both ways.
There is a term that came across my radar screen recently. It is 'plausible deniability.' As I read through your blog post, several responses and your responses, I have to wonder if this dynamic is at play? What do you think? Could it be that some leaders within the CRCNA, at the church level, at the classis level, at the denominational ministries level, have the ability to deny any involvement in adopting positions contrary to the CRCNA, because there is no clear evidence, or they have re-written set of rules to interpret the evidence, to prove involvement?
How can we have clear theological thinking AND deep Christ-like compassion simultaneously?
Hi John, thanks for your question, "How can we have clear theological thinking AND deep Christ-like compassion simultaneously?" It's always an excellent question, always relevant, especially in times of disagreement. However, what you say is a quotation from my article is not accurate. What I wrote was "And God loves you as you are." That's the heart of the gospel, expressed succinctly in John 3:16,17. And the holiness of God calls us to a lifelong project of sanctification, to which God calls all believers through the power of the Holy Spirit. I told the story in which that quote appears, because that story gives a good example of what you name in your final question as "deep Christ-like compassion." Many Christians who come to realize that their sexual desires differ from most people's struggle mightily with whether they are loved, especially loved by God. The pastor was exercising good pastoral care, and we need to do the same on an individual and collective level with fellow Christians. Our denomination called on us nearly 50 years ago to love "homosexuals" and assure them of God's love for them. Here's one example from that report, and many others can be found there too: "The church must exercise the same patient understanding of and compassion for the homosexual in his sins as for all other sinners. The gospel of God's grace in Christ is to be proclaimed to him as the basis of his forgiveness, the power of his renewal, and the source of his strength to lead a sanctified life. As all Christians in their weaknesses, the homosexual must be admonished and encouraged not to allow himself to be defeated by lapses in chastity, but rather, to repent and thereafter to
depend in fervent prayer upon the means of grace for power to withstand temptation. " (Acts of Synod 1973, p. 52) The question with which we are wrestling now is not whether God loves people with same sex attractions, but what is a "lapse in chastity" by a person who has a same sex attraction. As we discuss the HSR, yes, how can we have clear theological thinking AND deep Christ-like compassion simultaneously?
Mr. Stephenson, your emphatic claim that you are not trying to influence the outcome reminds me of the saying "Me thinks you doth protest too much."
Those (like "All One Body") who have publicly stated they want to change the CRC's teaching on human sexuality have been very open and honest that their tactic is going to be to be to push the "love, love, love" narrative. So when employees of the CRCNA use church resources to echo a very similar sentiment, it is completely reasonable for people to be concerned.
As for the statement that "God loves you the way you are," that sentiment is not found in Scripture. A more accurate paraphrase would be "God loves you despite the way you are, and loves you enough to transform you."
Would you agree?
Thank you for this post, Amanda, Joyce, Tim, Chris, Reggie, Mark, Lis, Lindsay, ... and praise Jesus for his suffering love!
Thank you! I admire everyone for signing this statement. I wish Synod would make no decision.
Pushing ahead with the Human Sexuality Report will not end well. What is the hurry? It took 300 years of conversation for the church to reach consensus on the Trinity. To this day, the church discusses whether God chooses you, or whether you choose God. It is such a central question, yet there is no human answer, the Bible holds both views. Much about God is not open to human comprehension. It took 200 years of conversation before the church found consensus that modern slavery is not in accord with God’s will. Then a hundred years of conversation about divorce and re-marriage, and the place and role of women in modern society.
The church, throughout its history, discerns its calling through conversation. Yes, conversation, reading the Bible together, observing the historical unfolding of the creation and listening to the Spirit, given to help us find truth. The Spirit did not stop working on Pentecost day. Long as time remains, the Kingdom keeps permeating people and cultures. But each time we opt out of the conversation, every time we assert that now we know God’s will and this is how it is, the Spirit is quenched, there is no growth in Christ and the church splits.
Synod 2022, please do not stop the conversation.
In our local congregation, Ladner CRC in British Columbia, the council endorsed the Report without consulting the congregation as is required by Article 37 of the Church Order. How many other local councils decided before engaging the congregation? In addition, there is widespread misunderstanding about the practical implications of giving this Report confessional status. Should we not know what it means before accepting it?
It is fitting to be humble about our ability to capture the will of God in theological statements and in a code of conduct. God judges the heart, not outward behaviour. The church, under the leading of the Spirit, is on a journey, reforming as it goes. The denomination should invite the membership to join that journey, to contribute to the conversation, not to stop it.
Nick, I'm afraid that if you wish Synod to make no decision, you asking Synod 2022 to deny the explicit calling that previous synods, such as Synod 2016, have specifically asked it to do. And you'd also be asking it to not do the very thing which synods were created for and have always done.
It is to the church's shame that it took 300 years to "reach consensus" on the Trinity, but we might give them some slack because 1. the Trinity is so completely supernatural, unexpected, and relatively novel to these Jewish and gentile converts... plus 2. the New Testament, while completely written, is being passed around as individual parchments. With finality of Holy Canon comes the clarity needed for the Holy Trinity.
And then think about how it ended... the "concensus" declared all those with diverse views as HERETICS and thus not-saved and not-Christian!
And you're conveniently forgetting Synod 50. In the book of Acts, Synod 50 in Jerusalem placed a "light" burden on churches, which did not include much... but it DID declare that churches cannot allow for sexual immorality!
The Trinity is complex. The Bible's teaching on marriage, sex, and non-heterosexual behavior has been clear for the past 2000(+) years! It actually hurts your argument to bring up contested discussions in Christianity, because this has never been one of them until cultural pressure began making Christians feel uncomfortable. Non-heterosexual behavior and lifelong same-sex unions have existed long before Christianity began.
We must not disunite from the global church of all ages! It was the African churches which stood up against the LGBT affirmation in the United Methodist Church! Minority churches look down on the Scriptural infidelity of the CRCNA already as it is!
The purpose of Synods is to deliberate and make decisions. We've had 2000 years of deliberation (including over 50 years of deliberation in the CRC alone). Synod 2022 should affirm the decision of Synod 50! The position of the HSR already has confessional status because it already has Biblical status.
PS. It is disingenuous and wrong to claim that the Bible ever promoted chattel slavery as anything other than sin. In the Torah already, the punishment for kidnapping was death. The year of Jubiliee released the "slaves" (bondservants) and granted freedom. Except for some greedy colonizers, the church through all ages and places has rid the world of slavery.
Besides... even then, what is the point you're making? Do you wish that the slavery discussions would have lasted LONGER? When something is a sin, it is then a sin to prolong discussions which allow the sin to continue!
Waiting a year or more for a final decision on a very long, weighty report that our churches haven't had much time to review, much less read in its entirely, is not "making no decision." There is precedent for this in synodical history. The laborious and long decision-making process regarding Women in Office is an example. I dare say, that if someone were to study the history of synodical decisions, more such multi-year decision-making processes and deliberations would be found. We could also find the reverse - when decisions were made too hastily, to the detriment of the unity of the church and deep hurt caused to its members. https://libguides.calvin.edu/crc/synod-acts-and-agendas.
Haven't had much time to review? The Report has been out for 2 years and was previewed 2 years before that. If anyone hasn't read the Report by now, I'm not sure they really want to have a say in the discussion.
Besides, the CRCNA has been debating this topic for over 50 years.
Even then, there is nothing new in the Report. It merely repeats what has been known for 2000 years.
It's not like the CRCNA is the only deliberating body... Biblical denominations have already stood firm on Christ's teachings about marriage and worldly churches have already declared LGBT behavior as no longer sinful. Those who end up upset at Synod 2022's decisions can find churches that will welcome their beliefs.
But as for the CRCNA, we will serve the Lord.
Your call is too late. This, like the same issue in the world, is unstoppable humanly speaking. You are probably not the only one that has not been consulted. All members in the CRC will be put into a position of having to make a decision in June, no matter what the Synod decides. I for one have made it already. I can no longer handle the trauma of these situations.
I have said it before, the method of assigning Synod reps this year will be a challenging (traumatic) one.
"Nor does unity result from agreement about a narrow set of beliefs."
Actually, it does. Let's put aside for a moment the loaded word "narrow", or perhaps exchange it with the word "specific." Does unity result from agreement about a specific set of beliefs? How about the Apostles Creed? The Heidelberg Catechism or our other confessions? Or, to another degree, our church order?
I respect the work that you all do and appreciate the loving spirit behind these words, but this statement coming from ministry leadership of a *confessional church* is a little troubling.
Amanda, Joyce, Tim, Chris, Reggie, Mark, Lis, Lindsay, I'm grateful for the work you do and for this courageous call to unity and Christ-like love. Strength and grace to each one of you.
Many experiences in the CRCNA lately have made me question my belonging-- this post is deserving of commendation in its Christlike attempt to courageously call us to examine our hearts in the "how" of this human sexuality dialogue as well as the "what." Thank you ever so much for taking the time and care to write this... Amanda, Joyce, Tim, Chris, Reggie, Mark, Lis, and Lindsay. It is well within the responsibility of your leadership roles to contribute openly to this conversation. Thank you for respecting the call of your role and your service to us and the Lord enough to engage.
It would be wonderful if our denominational shepherds spoke clearly and powerfully, condemning sin and calling us to embrace the righteousness of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Instead they seem to believe that obedience to God and love for neighbor are mutually exclusive. (Or rather, they claim the moral high ground of “love” for neighbor as an excuse to disobey God.)
Scripture is full of warnings to religious leaders who are supposed to follow God’s commands and teach them to their sheep, but instead they lead the sheep astray.
“My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains.” (Jeremiah 50:6)
“Their vine comes from the vine of Sodom and from the fields of Gomorrah. Their grapes are filled with poison, and their clusters with bitterness.” (Deuteronomy 32:32-33)
“They strengthen the hands of evildoers, so that not one of them turns from their wickedness. They are like Sodom to me; the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.” (Jeremiah 23:14)
What does the prophet Ezekiel say the sin of Sodom was?
Steven, the Scriptures I shared are not about Sodom, per se. They are about current religious leaders going along with the "wisdom" of the world, encouraging the sheep to go astray, and even celebrating sin.
It's a warning...when church leaders turn the flock away from God, God is not pleased.
Steven De Ruiter,
What does Jude say the sin of Sodom was in Jude verse 7?
The sin(s) of Sodom can be more than one thing! Ezekiel doesn't negate Jude, but they are both correct.
Sodom was destroyed for "sexual immorality and unnatural desire" (and more!)
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