Recently a group of CRC pastors has called for a Third Way in the CRC under the banner of “Better Together.” This is a serious call that is worthy of serious reflection. This post is the sixth in a series of reflections on that call (read the first post, second post, third post, fourth post, and the fifth post).
In this installment, I will offer a series of short and varied additional observations.
LGBTQ+ ≠ SSM
Throughout their webpage, the proponents of a Third Way reduce the issues of the Human Sexuality Report (HSR) to the concept of Same Sex Marriage (SSM). But this is unhelpfully reductive. We don’t simply disagree on same sex marriage, and the HSR covers much more than same sex marriage. It is unhelpful for us to gloss over the other matters at play here.
For instance, can a man become a woman by sheer matter of will? Can bisexual persons truly live out their identity in monogamy? Is God’s design for us normative? Should the CRC require gender neutrality in publications? Should we introduce and use preferred pronouns in broader assemblies? Is it allowable and wise for CRC pastors to counsel breast removal, puberty blockers, and genital removal or mutilation for distressed youth?
These questions and more are not neatly covered under the umbrella of SSM but are all directly or indirectly implicated by LGBTQ+ ideology. Any Third Way must find a way to either answer these questions (and more) or again treat them as negotiable.
The Call to Diversity
In his latest Banner article, General Secretary Dr. Zach King says “The diversity of the church is a window into God’s soul.” Dr. King calls the CRC to celebrate her growing diversity and recognize this continued goal as “God’s call for our denomination.” In his article, Dr. King references that “almost 10 percent of our denomination is Korean, and Latin Americans are joining apace.” As the wooden shoes continue to smolder, we rightly rejoice alongside brothers and sisters of varying cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, and backgrounds as we seek to mirror the heavenly throng in Revelation 7:9.
We have seen the Korean Council and Consejo Latino groups both strongly support the HSR and the conclusions of Synod 2022. The church in Africa is striving diligently to hold worldwide associations like the United Methodists and the Anglicans to a faithful and historically orthodox understanding of human sexuality. What will happen to our attempts to continue to welcome these brothers and sisters with open arms if we adopt a Third Way? All indications are that we will stop and even dramatically reverse the trend in the CRC toward diversity of culture, ethnicity, and nation of origin. Does the call to a Third Way center or marginalize the voices of these brothers and sisters?
Is the Third Way Really a Middle Path?
Those in the CRC working toward a different understanding of human sexuality have mainly worked to allow what we might call a local option. The goal of many revisionists (used descriptively, not pejoratively) has largely been to allow room for different interpretation and practice as it relates to homosexual practice in particular, but also as it relates to gender identity and broader gender theory.
The Third Way is also a proposal to essentially allow a local option by categorizing matters of human sexuality as non-salvific and allowing for “diversity and disagreement.” In practice, it is difficult to see how this call is distinguishable from the main thrust of revisionist argument (exemplified by Classis Grand Rapids East in their 2016 Study Report) in the CRC that has been to allow for diversity and disagreement.
To be sure, there is a portion of the CRC that would militate for a complete overturning of current doctrine, but such has not been the dominant strain of revisionism in the CRC. The dominant poles have been those calling for confessional fidelity versus those calling for “unity without uniformity.” The Third Way call seems to be a rebranding of the dominant revisionist argument in the CRC rather than a true third way.
Rev. Aaron Vriesman has been contending in various ways and places that a middle ground is not tenable because our fundamental convictions cannot allow for such oppositional stances; the stakes are too high if we are consistent in belief and honest about the implications of these beliefs.
We are not simply talking about disagreement on peripheral matters with little consequence. One side believes that our current theology is responsible for self-loathing, misery, and death. How can people with this belief allow this to continue in good conscience?
The other side believes that rejection of our current theology leads to false teaching, unchecked immorality, and spiritual death. How can people with this belief allow this to happen? What kind of Christians would we be if we so quickly discarded deeply held convictions of harm for the sake of the organizational unity of our preferred and historical ministry grounds? Would that not actually be very self-serving?
In a seventh and final installment I hope to offer a few concluding thoughts.