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.
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.