Why Your Church Needs to Talk About the Human Sexuality Report (and How to Start)

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Background: The Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality Report includes a recommendation to “encourage the churches to make use of the curriculum prepared by Pastor Church Resources (PCR), in conjunction with members of the committee, to help small groups study and discuss aspects of the committee’s report which may be controversial.” 

Learn more about how your church could use this curriculum to host a group at crcna.org/pcr/conversations 

As one of the designers of the Challenging Conversations small group guide, I get questions every week from pastors and council members wondering if their church should host a small group. My answer is always “yes” and these are some of my most common reasons why. 

1. Your congregation is not on the same page. 

If you think everyone in your church agrees about Christian ethics and human sexuality, I am willing to bet that you have not had very many safe and open conversations with members about the topic. 

Traditional-leaning churches tend to project a message that “we all agree here and talking about these topics is an unnecessary invitation to trouble.” Meanwhile,  progressive-leaning churches tend to publicly laud the importance of “dialogue” and “tolerance” yet their more traditional-leaning members have long-since realized that the “tolerance” lauded up front does not include tolerance of their more traditional convictions. 

In other words, the people who disagree with you may have simply decided it’s not safe (or helpful) to share their disagreement with you. 

Though I suspect most Christian Reformed congregations generally lean in either a more traditional or a more progressive direction, I doubt there are any Christian Reformed congregations with entirely uniform convictions and commitments related to their Christian faith and the ethics of human sexuality. Even if there is wide agreement on some of the basics, the latest report contains 180 pages of Biblical, theological and ethical nuance. I am confident your church is not in full agreement on or living consistently with the whole report. 

2. Your congregation needs to wrestle with more than just “I agree” or “I disagree” with the Report. 

Synodical reports about human sexuality, including this latest report, have routinely maintained two convictions at once.

First, all Christians are called to exercise care for and love of LGBTQ+ persons in their communities.

Second, same-sex sexual relationships are contrary to God’s will. Even in churches where these two convictions would be uncontroversial, the question of “what next” still needs a lot of work. There is tension between these two convictions. Every congregation and every congregation member manages that tension in different ways at different times.

Managing the tension well is never easy. Just saying “I agree with the historic position of the CRCNA” is almost never the end of the conversation. The issues addressed in this report are too significant, hit too close to home and affect too many people we love to be sufficiently captured with a “yes” or “no” declaration.

Even in churches where there is wide agreement on the historic position, living it out well will still require great wisdom and community support. That’s why the report is so long. And why it covers so many more topics than just whether same-sex relationships are permissable. 

3. Sermons, statements and synodical decisions are insufficient

If there ever was a day when a preacher could address a topic from the pulpit or a council (or a synod) could craft a statement and expect their congregation to “fall in line,” that day is certainly not today. People in our churches and communities, especially young people, are bombarded with endless messages about human sexuality. They have sincere questions and concerns about how to live this stuff out. A hasty or dismissive sermon or statement may suggest to people that they are on their own to address their sincere questions. And even those sermons or statements which are the fruit of deep study, healthy conversation and spiritual discernment, will still be enriched when they are complimented by space for honest questions and real doubts.

Where to start

The Challenging Conversations Toolkit is a resource designed to help small groups meet over five to nine weeks to listen deeply to the report and listen deeply to each other in order to help their church discern what to do next. The toolkit will not gloss over strong disagreements. In fact, it encourages those disagreements to be named and explored. Yet, the groups are designed to bring people who may disagree back to their foundational commitments to Christ and each other and discern together how to live in light of those commitments.  

Learn More

If you or your church would like to host a small group, sign up for the three-hour facilitator training. You’ll gain access to the full toolkit and be introduced to the conversation tools that help congregations engage challenging topics more faithfully.

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As much as it might be needed I doubt I will ever see this small group happening in my congregation.
There are many important things we never talk about.

Participant

I agree wih the previous comment, there are so many more local congregational issues to deal with.  It's difficult to think globally or any other extension beyond the walls of the church when it's a struggle to keep one's own house in order

Participant

Agreed. There was a very brief discussion on a side issue that briefly touched on the existence of the report in my congregation's leadership meeting, but we are (properly) so focused on issues like keeping people safe in worship and in the community, helping those who cannot leave their homes, providing for significant needs in our community, and figuring out the role of a significantly changed congregation in a new era--not to mention our core focus on Word and Sacrament--that these issues get short shrift. This leads to only those with the loudest and most opinionated voices being heard, and ends the possibility of dealing with the issue with grace and nuance. So I applaud the effort, but worry that--especially in these unusual times--there is little opportunity for a a truly deliberative and careful process.

Community Builder

MJill H, 

I think what you'd find if you participated in the facilitator training is that the toolkit itself is fairly adaptable. Indeed, there are a lot of challenging conversations churches might want or need to have right now. The tools in the toolkit, which you are introduced to in the training, could help a church with all kinds of hard conversations: COVID protocols, worship wars, even politics. 

It's designed around the Human Sexuality Report because that's a common conversation happening across the denomination this year. And because the Report provides a Biblical/theological lens well-suited to prompt fruitful congregational discernment.

Sometimes, people don't realize there are more effective ways of navigating our differences. A group like this in your church might serve as a model of what dealing with differences well could look like. 

-Sean

 

I wonder if it would be wise in referencing and promoting the report on human sexuality to note the brokenness that is part of all areas of our sexuality.  If discussion is limited to positional "right" and "wrong" on "the issues" we're left with learning how to get along while on separate sides of a fence.  Moving towards and into the areas where we all have common weaknesses, marital struggle, infidelity, divorce, sex and dating, pornography, lust, abuse, might hopefully create a discussion where we're all on the same side of the fence, i.e. failure and a need for grace.  I know this means diving a little deeper into honest discussion.  It also ups the ante for the temptations of being "self right" to being "self righteous."  Maybe the diving could expose some of our "self righteousness" which would be a gain as a greater incentive to seek God's grace.  The little I know about the report suggests to me that it may have this capability as part of its design.  Let me know if this might be so.  

Community Builder

Don,

Synod's mandate to the committee was to flesh out a more comprehensive Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality. I think the intent was to make sure the committee considered more than just whether same-sex sex was permissible. The report tries to do that, I think, by including a significant section on pornography, and other, smaller sections on singleness, premarital sex, cohabitation, polyamory, divorce and desire. Wise churches will recognize the importance of Biblical counsel and support in all of these areas. 

 

Sean