Is This the Most Important Section in the Human Sexuality Report?

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Last month I had coffee with Jason, a former university student of mine in his early 30s. He works for a Christian parachurch ministry, and is a thoughtful and mature Christ-follower who is wise beyond his years. Being with Jason reminds me why spending 35 years of my life teaching was such a tremendous privilege.

Jason is gay and he is a conservative Christian. When he first told me he was gay eight years ago, he mentioned that he had told no one else and probably never would. And he said that he had made a commitment to the Lord to remain celibate his entire life. 

When we chatted last month, he shared that a few others were now aware of his orientation, but his parents did not know. Though he has a good relationship with them, he was not certain how they would handle this news. 

And then he said this: “Would you continue to pray for me? Last week when I was driving home from work, I felt I could not bear this burden anymore, and I wanted to drive full speed into the concrete wall of an overpass on the freeway and just end it all. Please pray on my behalf for the Lord to grant me stamina and perseverance.”

Of course I promised him I would continue to pray. But what I really wanted to do was weep (and I did). 

I wonder how many Jasons and Jills are part of your congregation? I regularly preach in Jason’s church (in a neighboring classis), and when I see Jason in the sanctuary, I know that no one would ever guess his story. And I know that that’s the way he wants it to be. He doesn’t trust the congregation with his story. 

How much has Jason’s experience changed in the last 50 years? The 1973 Acts of Synod state (using the language of that time), “The homosexual may not on the sole grounds of his sexual disorder be denied community acceptance and if he is a Christian he is to be whole heartedly received by the church as a person for whom Christ died.” (p. 632) 

The 1999 Acts of Synod revisit this theme, declaring, “Synod calls the churches to repentance for their failures to minister to those who experience same sex attractions.” (p. 603) 

The 2020 Human Sexuality Report that will be discussed at synod this June addresses this theme yet again, devoting all of section 13 to this matter. Here’s a relevant paragraph from this section: 

The church’s response to homosexuality must begin with confession and lament. Despite repeated and strong exhortations of past study committee reports to love and care for brothers and sisters who are attracted to the same sex as equal members of the body of Christ, the church has all-too-often ostracized, shunned, or ignored such Jesus-followers. Congregations need to honestly examine their attitudes and actions toward people who are attracted to the same sex and need to repent when such attitudes and actions are sinful: treating homosexuals as if they are worse sinners than those who are caught up in pornography, premarital, or extramarital sex; overlooking them for positions of leadership, including those of pastor, elder, and deacon instead of considering whether they are, like all officebearers need to be, living holy and godly lives; keeping them physically and emotionally at a distance because they make some feel uncomfortable; failing to stand in solidarity with them as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. (p. 114, from Section 13 - Homosexuality: Pastoral Care)

I asked one of the authors of the Human Sexuality Report how many CRC congregations are serving as role models for the rest of us in cultivating best practices for such hospitality and thereby following the call of synods 1973, 1999, and the current report. Without a second’s delay, this author replied, “I’m not aware of any.”

There are overtures requesting synod to adopt the entire report without any revisions. I trust that classes spent time with section 13 when they voted on these overtures. I trust that we are very aware of the sins of inhospitality named by synods in 1973, 1999 and that, if synod endorses section 13, it will do so with a deep commitment to cultivating profound hospitality. 

I wonder how many classes will be sending overtures to synod with themes like, “We acknowledge our failures in welcoming and enfolding our gay members, and we request the denomination to give us practical, actionable resources for becoming congregations of true belonging.”

I know such desires live among us. It’s not clear to me how these desires are leading to action. 

I pray that synod spends considerable time discussing section 13. Are we ready to put our hands and hearts into the words of this section? If we are not, I wonder if we are called to table the report until we make a denomination-wide covenant to repent and obey. 

For the sake of my dear brother Jason, I pray that hundreds of congregations will heed the gospel call of section 13 through very intentional steps that invite belonging within the family of God.

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Participant

I would like to agree with you that this is the "most important" section of the HSR. Unfortunately, I can't agree with you. Why? Because, when I was at Synod in 2016 exactly what you ask for here (or, rather, wish that churches and Classes would ask for), "practical, actionable resources for becoming congregations of true belonging", was presented to Synod, only to be soundly voted down, and replaced this committee. This committee which, in my opinion, negates to a significant degree what it says in section 13 by not honestly dealing with opposing viewpoints on same sex marriage and by stating things like sexual sins being a "risk" to someone's salvation. Not only are statements like that contrary to our beliefs, but they also do not convey "love", and certainly do not forward congregations being able to become "congregations of true belonging."

Lastly, I cannot agree that this is, effectively, the most important section of the HSR because the co-autthour whom you quote says that [they] know of no churches that are heeding the calling of earlier Synods regarding the acceptance and love we ought to be practicing for our LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ. This, again (and sadly) indicates that this authour's knowledge of what is and has been going on for a long time in the churches is lacking. I have to agree that there are not many churches that are doing this work succesfully, but there ARE many who are trying. Additionally, there are some--whether we agree with their theology on same sex marriage or not--who are indeed embracing and accepting and loving those who are in the LGBTQ+ community. Neeland Avenue CRC and First CRC, Toronto are two great examples. Even if someone doesn't agree with their affirming stance on same-sex marriage, one would have to agree, I think, that they are being very successful at loving their LGBTQ+ neighbours and members.

Wouldn't it be great if, instead of simply standing and condemning our sister congregations for their "liberal" and/or "heretical" stances, we could dive into what their actually doing and draw some good lessons for how we could learn from them, without comprimising what we hold to be our biblical beliefs?

Participant

It strikes me that we have different ideas of what it means to love, accept, and embrace someone who feels same sex attraction.  I don't see scripture telling me to affirm and congratulate sinful behavior; rather, I long for churches who are able to walk alongside those who feel attractions outside of God's ideal and struggle to resist those temptation.  At some point a sin must still be called sin.  Whether our sins are deemed acceptable in our worldly society or not does not change the way God views sin.  I would not want to kick anyone out of church for being a sinner, but I would want the church to call all sinners to repentance which implies that we will wrestle against our sinful patterns of behavior.  There are tremendously complex situations that will arise because of the brokenness of our world and we need to be very careful as we seek to understand God's will for those specific circumstances.  

The HSR speaks very broadly about a wide variety of sexual sins.  I doubt many of us would be prepared to take a strong affirming stance in our churches toward other sexual sins such as adultery, pornography, incest, or polyamorous relationships.  I am not prepared to say that the church is simply "behind the times" and move on to accept these sexual expressions as perfectly fine.  A local United Church has a large banner flying on their building which says simply, "Love is Love."  But that is simply not true.  God's creative design and God's word give limits to a healthy sexual expression otherwise the sexual sins earlier identified could be part of a "love is love" movement.

The main problem, and most common problem I see with so many pastors on this issue, is one of language.  Your story about Jason as a "homosexual" fails to mention what that means.  The CRC's position is that to have same sex attraction isn't the main issues.  It is the engaging in homosexual acts or relationships that include them that is problematic.  You keep conflating the 2 things and using "hospitality" as a run-around.  This is unintellectual and it is certainly NOT helpful for those that have same sex attractions and are trying to figure out what God wants from them. As an ethnic minority from the inner city, I have experienced this many times from white CRC pastors.  They'll speak to me like I'm stupid and uneducated (especially if we disagree) and it's always ok for me to fail. I don't want to feel ok failing.  I want to know the pathway towards success in God's eyes.  I have worked with trans people that were so frustrated with the cowardice of their church to face their struggles head on for the sake of coming off as loving (which for some reason is only defined as being nice).  Some of these people prefer truth to comfort.  And if you're "hospitality" isn't even trying to find some truth, we don't experience it as hospitality.  We experience it as fake.