Recently a group of CRC pastors has called for a Third Way in the CRC under the banner of “Better Together.” This is a serious call that is worthy of serious reflection. This post is the fourth in a series of reflections on that call (read the first post, second post, and the third post).
One does not need to look far to see denominational fractures caused by disagreement over matters of human sexuality. Our close church relatives in the RCA are experiencing such a fracture, as are (or have) the United Methodists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), and others.
Proponents of the Third Way respond to the question of why the CRC might succeed in finding a third way where other churches have failed by positing that the CRC is “uniquely gifted…to navigate a way forward together.” In support of this assessment, proponents offer the example of how the CRC has navigated the diversity of thought on Women in Office for over 25 years.
I think that premise is worth challenging, and I do so from the perspective of a complementarian. A foundational fact that the proponents do not mention, or seem to grapple with, is that in the wake of the decisions of synod to open up the authoritative church offices to women, the CRC lost upwards of 15 percent of its membership. The 1990s saw an exodus of around 50,000 members, many leaving directly because of the change in doctrine and practice on Women in Office.
In other words, in order to prove that the CRC can handle diversity of thought and practice on human sexuality without fracture, the prominent example given to us is a decision that caused a significant fracture. This is a rather inauspicious beginning to establishing a case for stability and unity through diversity of thought on matters of significant importance.
Beyond the reality of immediate fracture caused by the CRC’s decision hold to dual and oppositional positions on Women in Office, the subsequent years have perhaps not been as rosy as presented when viewed from the complementarian position.
It seems likely, if not certain, that all of the proponents of a Third Way are egalitarian in belief and often practice. One wonders just how much they have “centered” or even considered the perspective of complementarians. The fact that the CRC at the institutional level has become overwhelmingly egalitarian seems to have escaped them. In other words, the balance we profess is not the balance we practice. At present, the complementarian view seems to be begrudgingly tolerated, at best, and is increasingly impugned and slandered within the CRC.
Following are some of the ways that this imbalance appears in the life of the CRC:
- Ministry share dollars support the Women’s Leadership office, which “affirms and supports women in all levels of leadership.” What this means is that complementarian churches are asked to financially support teaching and advocacy that directly contradicts their convictions.
- The CRC institutionally celebrates the anniversaries of the Women in Office decisions of synod.
- Every Synod (not every other year, commensurate with our dual position) is entirely egalitarian, including:
- Women delegates
- Women Pastors leading worship
- Women Pastors serving communion
- Women in Office celebrations
- Approval of Women Pastoral Candidates
- Nearly all denominational materials are predicated on egalitarian convictions
- A national figure who is militantly and slanderously opposed to complementarianism is invited in and featured by CRC publications and CRC offices
Synod 2022 was told during a power and privilege training that “we want to ensure that we are creating space for every voice to be heard.” However, from the complementarian perspective, that does not ring very true. When Classis Minnkota delegates seek to preserve unity while assuaging their consciences in a short and respectful word of protest amidst a full week of egalitarian synod, we see a Banner article about the deep hurt Minnkota is causing. In addition, word now comes of an overture from Classis Niagara requesting to silence Classis Minnkota’s voice. Shouldn’t that make us wonder how our stated intention for balance is working out?
Complementarian convictions are violated, even provocatively, over the course of a whole week of synod, but a short explanation of our position in the agenda and a quick word of respectful protest is not greeted with understanding and recognition of its rightful place in our denomination but rather with declination and distrust. This is not the dynamic of a long-term workable balance.
This is a challenging conversation to have, and I don’t relish reflecting on these realities publicly. But I don’t see how papering over this tension is helpful. I can see how these developments and this cultural shift are very comforting, even worth celebrating for egalitarians. But what about this model or this imbalance gives us hope for walking a path of diversity of belief, teaching, and practice on matters of human sexuality? What about this picture gives us hope that one view will not be privileged at the expense of the other? No, I cannot see that Women in Office is a model or reason for us to believe that the CRC is uniquely gifted to navigate a diversity of belief, teaching, and practice on matters of human sexuality.
In a fifth installment I hope to think about how we understand unity and the call to unity.