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.