Are We Fully Equipped?

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This year at Synod, Classis Zeeland wants us to “Appoint a study committee to expand on the 1973 report and conclusions on homosexuality.”  And Classis Pacific Northwest wants us to “provide pastoral advice on the issue of gay marriage.”

Now, people of God,

I know you think I’ve just invited you to write paragraph upon paragraph outlining your theological rejection of “the gay agenda.”  I have not. 

I know you think I’ve just invited you to write heart-wrenching stories about people you love who want to love and be committed to people of the same gender.  I have not. 

There is place for both of those things.  In advance of our Synodical discussion, there’s only one question I want to ask you.  You can answer with “yes” or “no.”  You certainly won’t need more than a paragraph to justify your response.  A simple question in two parts. Are you ready? (wait, that wasn’t it.) 

Okay, here goes:

Has our denomination fully equipped you to live in right relationship with the gay, lesbian, transgendered and bi-sexual people in your life/family/congregation?

Has our denomination fully equipped you with a robust theology of embodiment and sexuality that calls all people – starting with ourselves – to live lives of integrity, wholeness and holiness?

That’s all I want to know.  If the overwhelming answer is “Yup. We’re good.  Got it covered,” then we can advise Synod to vote one way.  If the overwhelming answer is “The questions today are different and more immediate than they were 40 years ago and I’m not always sure what I’m supposed to say or do or how I’m supposed to live as a result,” then we can advise Synod to vote another way.

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Participant

The questions may or may not be super-different, but the issues are certainly more immediate. There are several families within our little congregation alone who wrestle with some of these issues. As a pastor, I do my best, but it would sure be good to have more updated denominational resources help us.

Good questions.  I'd say "no"... let's revisit the questions.

Community Builder

I'd say no. I think a study committee could offer us what we need to address these issues in the church.

The Apostle Paul needed neither a Synodical Study Committee nor a "robust theology of embodiment and sexuality" (???) to identify certain lifestyles as sinful and neither should we.

People who struggle with these temptations need what all of us sinners need- to die away to our old selves and come to new life in Christ.

No matter what a synodical committee came up with, this is a difficult issue to deal with, and their report will not make it any easier.   It is always difficult to find a balance between grace and sanctified living, which means how do you love the sinner without making the sin itself seem acceptable?   Nor is it easy for people to live sexually pure lives.   It often takes a lot of hard work, especially when we remember what Jesus said about adultery, for example, that if you even look on someone with lust you have already committed adultery.  (or presumably fornication).   I'm not sure what is implied by "robust theology";  why not concentrate on a biblical theology?   and it seems to me we already have that.... just how eager are we to live by it?   

For those who don't feel equipped; is there something lacking in the official CRC postion on homosexuality or the report on Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members (PDF) that is lacking?

Is there more needed than what these documents provide?

 

Participant

I think, Jonathan, that there are two things "missing" from the '73 report. The first is that the issue was not as immediate, or prevalent, or out-in-the-open as it is today, and so the pastoral end of things, while a good start, does not get into as much of the nitty-gritty as we might like. As John was saying (I think this may be one of the first times I've agreed with him ;-) ), the question of how to "love the sinner, without making the sin seem acceptable" is a very deep and difficult one.

The second thing that is missing is on the theological/scientific end of things. There has been significant scientific research since '73 that, obviously, could not have been addressed by that committee. Some of it tends towards supporting gender attraction as a genetic predisposition, whereas other research tends towards supporting gender attraction as a nurture/choice issue. A thorough look at those things in the background of a newly updated study may be helpful for those who are dealing with "informed" folks who believe it to be incontrivertably proven that homosexual tendencies are a choice or that it is something you're born with. In addition, there has been significant theological movement on this issue since '73 as well. Some prominent theologians stress the belief that homosexuality prohibitions in the bible are either more about social hospitality laws, than they are about monogomous, committed, 2-person homosexual relationships (for example the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah had more to do with raping guests than it had to do with the homosexuality). Other theologians stress that the bible is clear that homosexual behaviour is clearly, biblically, classified as "unnatural", and therefore contrary to God's intended design for us, and that, therefore, engaging in homosexual activity is sinful. Regardless of which side of that theological debate you're on, having those theologies looked at and addressed can help us all be more equipped for the situations we face within the church, and outside of it.

Community Builder

The Reformed tradition offers a plethora of scholarship on a number of issues, but unfortunately, the Synod of Dort, Bavinck, and Calvin weren't in contexts anything like the context that we presently face in North America. Our robust theology and understanding that pastoral care needs to offer balanced accountability and support require more than a brief position statement and report that most pastors find insufficient (hence, the overtures). 

As someone who hopes to be ordained in the CRC soon, I have been frustrated with how the North American Church has allowed popular culture to dictate the conversation about, and define, sexuality. It is time to reclaim the conversation as the Church. Reformed theology puts us in an excellent position to show how every square inch of human hearts, minds, souls and communities belong to our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer and Restorer.

Nope.

 

For those who don't feel equipped, I suggest that you look for and purchase some  Christian literature on the subject, as there is much available.   In response to Daniel Z, while we agree that it is not always easy to love the sinner while not making the sin seem acceptable, this is something that does need to be done and worked at.  There is not always a simple formula for it. 

On the other hand, Daniel's other comments stray into the area of making the sin seem acceptable.   By simply saying that there are two points of view on this, both supposedly equally valid, and that we ought to study this all over again, the sin begins to seem acceptable.   This is an old topic now, discussed at least for forty years.   There is much literature available on understanding the scriptures that speak to this issue.   No matter what physiological conditions are attributed to certain inclinations, it does not really change the moral implications.   So putting together a new study on scripture directions for homosex will never make it better, only worse, because of our own sinful inclinations to make excuses for sin.  

We can better concentrate on how to love the sinner without excusing the sin, without making the sin seem acceptable.   This applies to a much broader area than just homosex, since it also includes dealing with premarital sex, adultery, theft, porn, vulgar language, abortion, etc.    I think we already have lots of information on that, and know what our direction should be on that, but we instinctively don't want to walk the talk.   We are naturally inclined, as our confessions and scripture indicate, to make excuses for our sin, to "turn the grace of God into a license for immorality" (Jude).   What we need to do is pray more for God to give us strength to mount up like eagles and live the life of faith.  As in Romans 1, we are "called to the obedience that comes from faith..." 

I agree. Thank you, John!

Specifically in terms of church order, what may need to be discussed is an expansion/explanation of church order article 69c, "ministers shall not solemnize marriages which would be in conflict with the word of God."

so, yes and no.

My answer is "Yes!"  Stand fast on the Word as we have tried to do in the past.  Do not let culture sway us from the Word!

Participant

We could use more pastoral guidance and help in this regard.

I find it ironic, not to mention troubling, that people here seem to speak contemptuously of study committees (it seems that disdain for such committees reflects disdain for the CRCNA) and then those same persons say the study committee from 1973 is good enough, despite the fact that it's 40 years old and uses outdated and unhelpful terms such as "homosexualism." It seems like this reflects fear that the CRCNA is going to cave into the "gay agenda" that Meg mentioned. If you really want to minister to persons, families, and churches struggling with this issue, you shouldn't be afraid to discuss it. Fear is not a Christian virtue. And a "robust" theology is not opposed to a biblical one; rather, it is a reference to the virtue of Reformed theology that it deals thoughtfully with biblical interpretation and scientific understanding. This does not imply that we must or even should change our basic position on the issue, but given our current social climate on this issue, a 40 year old study is no longer adequate to address the challenges pastors and church members face.

One resource that may serve as an example of how we could be better served with deeper reflection and practical, pastoral guidance is Dr. Heather Looy's article "Same Sex Attraction" in the volume Delight in Creation, edited by Deborah Haarsma & Scott Hoezee. You can read it online here: http://ministrytheorem.calvinseminary.edu/essays/wiwmpk/4_looy.pdf
 

Nope. We need more help on this one.

No. I would strongly support Synod's consideration of these recommendations.

I think there is room to help all of us grow in our understanding of this issue and how to respond, both personally to those in our lives, and as churches. I especially appreciate the need suggested by the first question. 

While I appreciate and respect those who have commented and and encouraged us not to bend to cultural influence, I think the current questions before the U.S. Supreme Court are likely to have an outcome that is going to necessitate that we are more prepared than we are now to respond. (My apologies to Canadians who may be following along, as I am not up to date on the social/political climate where you are.)

Even if I'm wrong, which I may be, and even if any study committee makes no changes to the current theology/position, we help the church by reviewing and responding to the cultural changes, scientific work and Biblical scholarship that has taken place, especially with a long time having gone by since this topic was last addressed.

Meg, thank you for your opening questions dealing with these two overtures coming before Synod. Your questions get down to the nitty gritty of what these overtures ask. Contrary to what some may think or say ,these overtures do not ask us to revisit the solid biblical exegisis of the reports of 1973 or 2002. That is why it is important that people actually read them. The oveture from Classis Zeeland affirms the reports from 1973 and 2002. It states that, "we do not wish to challenge or replace the 1973 report in any way, but ask for guidance on how to apply the report's conclusions in these new situations". The overture from Classis Pacific Northwest says that, "previous reports from synodical study committees ,while excellent in their biblical focus and pastoral care ,do not directly address the issue of the legalization of gay marriage and how churches should respond." If someone is looking to change how our denomination currently addresses homosexuality ,these reports do not ask us to do that. We need to be theologically orthodox and at the same time pastorally progresive on this very contintious issue .I agree with Randy ,we must ask questions and talk about issues like these in confidence not fear. 

At our last congregational meeting we thought it would be time to look at the issue BEFORE we have a member that wants to be part of a gay marriage. No body knows how such a look would be and nobody knew how to start such a look. A careful and thoughful study may help us.

Community Builder

1) Yup - I can read my Bible just as well as my bothers and sisters in the Denomonation or its assemblies

2) Yup - same reason

Since as Brian says, these overtures do not ask to revisit the biblical grounds, nor the pastoral advice, then that leaves only the question of legal implications for refusing to marry homosex couples.  I was under the impression that our policy was already not to marry couples under circumstances or conditions which are contrary to biblical principles, and that our facilities would not be used for that (relative to Jeff Brouwer's comment).  If all we need to be covered legally is to state that in our bylaws or minutes, then it would not seem we would need a study committee for that.   Correct me if I am missing something....  

John Zylstra. The overtures do not ask us to revisit the biblical grounds of our position on homosexuality. That is a good thing. But they do ask us to address issues that have come before us since the 73 report was written. Are we equipped to give pastoral advice on for example, attending a gay wedding ,voting for a pro gay marriage law or amendment in a local or federal election? How about churches renting out their worship space for gay weddings? How about a parent of a gay person struggeling with whether or not they should attend the wedding of their child? I would love for our denomination to wrestle with some of these questions and to provide us with some advice on how to live in a culture that is increasingly coming to accept homosexuality as right and good and anything less than affirming as bigoted and hatefull.  

NO.  But will another study really matter?  In 1973, the CRC made a fairly brave declaration about homosexuality.  In the 40 years since, we have done little to live out those initial convictions, or to follow them through to reasonable conclusions.  Ironically, that same era launched the "women in ecclesiastical office" foray.  Forty years later (forty years?!?) synod is asked to deal with requests to form a classis for congregations that want neither to live with the decisions arrived at studiously, prayerfully, and painfully nor to join with those who have "left" us to form a more perfect union.  While I appreciate the sentiments that "culture" should not dictate our interpretations of Scripture, has anybody considered that there have never been interpretations of Scripture (including the creeds and confessions) outside of "culture?"  Perhaps, more importantly, have we considered that WE ourselves may have become the "culture" we should be most cautious about allowing to influence our confrontation with the Scriptures.  In the early 1970's, I was privileged to have breakfast with William Stringfellow.  As I bumbled around explaining my little-known-mostly-Dutch denomination, he responded to the effect that immigrant congregations represented great hope for American Christianity since they were as yet untainted by the absorption of the faith into a national enterprise.  That was yesterday.  I fear that today the CRC is also "church as enterprise," absorbed in management debates, cautiously holding onto our original customers, avoiding the controversial, packaging for new consumers while "walking back" any bold Kingdom imperative that might offend.  Like most of the rest of American "conservative" christianity, we have little or nothing to say of great Scriptural mandates about wealth and power, catering to economic "success," the market as servant rather than god, creation-keeping, the stranger in our midst, war and peace, or the overwhelming prophetic call for social justice.  We are silent (and complicit) in the demonizing of gay people, the scape-goating of the world's economic and war-ravaged refugees, and the devastating devaluation of humanity that accompanies the growing global gap between the very wealthy and the rest of us.  If another study will help...well, why not?  But I'm not holding my breath...at my age, I don't have that much to hold.

Brian, you are asking practical questions which in a way have simple solutions which are difficult to follow sometimes.  So, attending a homosex wedding?   In general, I would say don't attend.(including and especially family).  Be polite and considerate, and explain why, but don't attend.   I'm reminded of where Jesus said if you think your family is more important, then you are not following Jesus...    You have to ask the purpose for attending, and the main purpose is to celebrate the event, which seems directly contrary to any message you might have about why Christ came to die for us.  If Christ died for sin, and you deliberately participate in or celebrate it, why do you need Christ? 

Voting for laws should be obvious;  why would you vote against your own principles and beliefs? 

Unless churches are publicly funded community centers, it would seem obvious that they would not rent out facilities for activities or events  that are contrary to the beliefs and teachings of the church.  If they rent out the facilities, it will be obvious to all that they approve of homosex marriage. 

Will society say it is bigotted and hateful?   Perhaps.  Likely some will.   Will they be right?  Do they have God's spirit as you do?  Are they interested in being obedient to God our of faith in Christ?    Are you going to let them control you and your message of salvation and godly living?   Did Paul worry about the Athenians when they got upset with him?   Was he not stoned and beaten and chased many times?   Did it change his message?   Did he say that maybe the goddess Diana was not so bad, or that homosex was okay, or did he not write I Cor. 6:9 and 10 and Romans 1?   Does James 1 not say, "consider it pure joy brothers, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance/endurance."? 

Love the sinner.  Make sure you love the sinner.   But true love would not attend a homosex marriage.  We would call that "enabling", which is often more a matter of loving self rather than doing the good thing for the good of those we say we love. 

When we say we have difficulty, it is because we are looking for answers outside of scripture, and maybe outside of God's will, I think.   There is much literature on this;  I suggest read it for various perspectives, and then go back to scripture to discern the truth and the wise way.   When you think it is difficult, and you are experiencing difficulties, yes you will, we all will.   But remember difficulties are not avoidable.   And remember Paul's sufferings, and consider how yours compare.  

 

No on both counts, and it's made being a young adult who looks to CRC doctrine for guidance particularly challenging. 

Community Builder

Meg, thank you for having the courage to ask these questions. My main comment on this thread is that it generally assumes that only heterosexual people have a place at the table (and on the blog). I would like to hear the opinions of gay Christians in the CRC, and of their families, but the climate does not make it easy for them to speak or be heard. I pray that will change, as we learn to love and respect each other in the Spirit of Christ.

Whatever happens with overtures and study committees, Jesus' call to love our neighbors is for all of us (same-sex-attracted and opposite-sex-attracted) every day.

 

We all are aware that this study committee's mandate won't be to change or re-hash the 1973 document or the Pastoral Care document. But this topic needs to be discussed on an ongoing basis. I am Canadian. Gay marriage is legal here.

Our denomination is made up of three groups of people: (1) those who affirm homosexuality and gay marriage, (2) those who want to ensure LGBT people who are welcomed in our churches without necessarily affirming their relationships, and (3) those who believe that LGBT need to be healed of their attractions (i.e., "ex-gay ministries).

These three groups of people DO need to co-exist and need to be able to have civil dialogue. I hope this study committee can tackle this. I am  a delegate at Synod and I have already made it clear that I want to serve on this committee.

 

Fair disclosure: I am a 44-year-old single, celibate, chaste, yet openly gay man. With God's grace I intend to remain single, chaste, and celibate my whole life.

What  needs revisiting is  for the CRC  to advise churches in a new context of  BEING AT ODDS WITH THE LAW OF THE LAND.   Within CRC curches, especially among youth, is consensus on this issue anywhere near it was even 5 years ago - let alone 40 years ago? Major demographic shift since then, folks, -- a brand new pinball game! The bottom line is we are now an older denomination; battle-wearry and tired of conflict.  Do we have sufficient stamina to reprimand  (or heaven-forbid  sustain a court battle against)  CRC pastors , who represent faith communities that  are comfortable marying monogomous gays?   Or, to avoid such a scenario from happening,  will we allow space for a patchwork of practices where each church decides for themselves---- like we do with other contovercial issues in the CRC? 

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