The Synod Listening Session

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In 2013, synod appointed a study committee to provide guidance and clarification on questions arising from the recognition of civil same-sex marriage, which has existed in Canada since 2005 and may well occur nationwide in the U.S. later this year.

The committee, on which I serve, was asked to do this in light of the biblical and theological teachings on homosexuality approved by synod in 1973 and 2002. Wisely, the committee’s mandate also encouraged us to shepherd a conversation in the denomination, recognizing that many in the church are asking deep and wide-ranging questions raised by the advent of civil same-sex marriage.

This is a task my colleagues and I accepted with a sober acknowledgment of its difficulties. It is a thorny—some might say, impossible—assignment. And yet, over the past 18 months our dialogue has challenged, blessed, at times frustrated, but ultimately strengthened us in faith and love.

This is the work of the Spirit.

We have listened to one another, read survey responses from clergy and laypeople, young and old, and we have facilitated dialogues with leaders of classes across Canada and the U.S. We give thanks that the vast majority of participants have engaged these conversations with grace, courage, gentleness, honesty, and love.

Again, the Spirit’s work.

Our final report, giving guidance and clarification on a number of matters, will go to Synod in 2016. But it may well be that the most salient gifts to come from this whole process are the permission to have a conversation, and to recognize God’s work amongst us as we do.

Some will want to claim the Spirit’s work in terms of obedience to church teaching; others in terms of openness to change. These two impulses play out all around us in the often unseemly skirmishes of a culture war with which we are all familiar. But God’s most fundamental work among us is to conform us—little by agonizing little, through the sufferings of our corporate life and the challenges of our times—to the likeness of his dear Son.

So what does this have to do with Synod 2015?

Delegates to this year’s synod will have the opportunity to model deep engagement and humble thoughtfulness through listening to one another. For one hour these leaders from all regions and sectors of the CRCNA will gather in small groups, not to vote, approve, or determine, but just to discuss a few of the complex questions God has given us to address.

Questions of appropriate pastoral responses to specific situations—like the request to officiate a same-sex wedding for the child of a church elder, perhaps, or the request to baptize the children of a believing same-sex couple. These are examples of situations that some pastors have already faced, and that will undoubtedly become more common in the years ahead. We may also ask delegates to reflect in their small groups on how the church relates to the civil authority, guided by questions that invite us to think well together from a Reformed perspective.

I hope this preview helps you catch the tenor of a conversation that promises to reveal more of the Holy Spirit’s work—not necessarily in unanimity or particular outcomes, but in the very stuff of the interaction. God calls us to no less than this.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:17-18)

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