Thinking About a ‘Third Way’ – Various and Sundry
April 7, 2023
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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 sixth in a series of reflections on that call (read the first post, second post, third post, fourth post, and the fifth post).
In this installment, I will offer a series of short and varied additional observations.
LGBTQ+ ≠ SSM
Throughout their webpage, the proponents of a Third Way reduce the issues of the Human Sexuality Report (HSR) to the concept of Same Sex Marriage (SSM). But this is unhelpfully reductive. We don’t simply disagree on same sex marriage, and the HSR covers much more than same sex marriage. It is unhelpful for us to gloss over the other matters at play here.
For instance, can a man become a woman by sheer matter of will? Can bisexual persons truly live out their identity in monogamy? Is God’s design for us normative? Should the CRC require gender neutrality in publications? Should we introduce and use preferred pronouns in broader assemblies? Is it allowable and wise for CRC pastors to counsel breast removal, puberty blockers, and genital removal or mutilation for distressed youth?
These questions and more are not neatly covered under the umbrella of SSM but are all directly or indirectly implicated by LGBTQ+ ideology. Any Third Way must find a way to either answer these questions (and more) or again treat them as negotiable.
The Call to Diversity
In his latest Banner article, General Secretary Dr. Zach King says “The diversity of the church is a window into God’s soul.” Dr. King calls the CRC to celebrate her growing diversity and recognize this continued goal as “God’s call for our denomination.” In his article, Dr. King references that “almost 10 percent of our denomination is Korean, and Latin Americans are joining apace.” As the wooden shoes continue to smolder, we rightly rejoice alongside brothers and sisters of varying cultures, ethnicities, nationalities, and backgrounds as we seek to mirror the heavenly throng in Revelation 7:9.
We have seen the Korean Council and Consejo Latino groups both strongly support the HSR and the conclusions of Synod 2022. The church in Africa is striving diligently to hold worldwide associations like the United Methodists and the Anglicans to a faithful and historically orthodox understanding of human sexuality. What will happen to our attempts to continue to welcome these brothers and sisters with open arms if we adopt a Third Way? All indications are that we will stop and even dramatically reverse the trend in the CRC toward diversity of culture, ethnicity, and nation of origin. Does the call to a Third Way center or marginalize the voices of these brothers and sisters?
Is the Third Way Really a Middle Path?
Those in the CRC working toward a different understanding of human sexuality have mainly worked to allow what we might call a local option. The goal of many revisionists (used descriptively, not pejoratively) has largely been to allow room for different interpretation and practice as it relates to homosexual practice in particular, but also as it relates to gender identity and broader gender theory.
The Third Way is also a proposal to essentially allow a local option by categorizing matters of human sexuality as non-salvific and allowing for “diversity and disagreement.” In practice, it is difficult to see how this call is distinguishable from the main thrust of revisionist argument (exemplified by Classis Grand Rapids East in their 2016 Study Report) in the CRC that has been to allow for diversity and disagreement.
To be sure, there is a portion of the CRC that would militate for a complete overturning of current doctrine, but such has not been the dominant strain of revisionism in the CRC. The dominant poles have been those calling for confessional fidelity versus those calling for “unity without uniformity.” The Third Way call seems to be a rebranding of the dominant revisionist argument in the CRC rather than a true third way.
Rev. Aaron Vriesman has been contending in various ways and places that a middle ground is not tenable because our fundamental convictions cannot allow for such oppositional stances; the stakes are too high if we are consistent in belief and honest about the implications of these beliefs.
We are not simply talking about disagreement on peripheral matters with little consequence. One side believes that our current theology is responsible for self-loathing, misery, and death. How can people with this belief allow this to continue in good conscience?
The other side believes that rejection of our current theology leads to false teaching, unchecked immorality, and spiritual death. How can people with this belief allow this to happen? What kind of Christians would we be if we so quickly discarded deeply held convictions of harm for the sake of the organizational unity of our preferred and historical ministry grounds? Would that not actually be very self-serving?
In a seventh and final installment I hope to offer a few concluding thoughts.
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I have questions about what you mean by "LGBTQ+ ideology." Is this referring to a specific line of thought held by some persons regarding LGBTQ+ issues? Or do you believe that everyone who claims the label of lesbian, gay, bisexual, etc., must inherently hold to an ideology that supports all the same things and is consistent across the group?
Perhaps to your intended audience, your meaning is more clear, but I think that without further explanation in a fairly public forum it is confusing at best. Thank you for your time and for being willing to wrestle difficult issues.
Thanks so much for engaging. You are quite right to point out that the term "LGBTQ+ ideology" is somewhat amorphous. I do not intend to state or insinuate that "everyone who claims the label of lesbian, gay, bisexual, etc., must inherently hold to an ideology that supports all the same things and is consistent across the group." People can and do believe and assent to what they chose, and I will not place people in boxes.
But there is a broad, if not entirely consistent or uniform, ideology associated with the modern LGBTQ+ movement, specifically the "rights" or "affirmation" movement. I use ideology here under this definition: "a manner or the content of thinking characteristic of an individual, group, or culture". To be sure, not all members of the LGBTQ+ grouping share in the dominant cultural patterns or manners of thinking, but that does not negate the presence of a dominant ideology. I would say that the dominant ideology includes the ideas of radical autonomy and self-expression as supreme cultural values. The ideology I think can also accurately be said to employ a sexual ethic centered on consent. The ideology is also typified by viewing religious restrictions on sexual behavior and sexual (or gender) expression as inherently oppressive and hateful.
That's admittedly a brief, rough, and rudimentary sketch, but it hopefully sheds a bit more light on what I was intending with that shorthand reference. Thanks again for joining in the conversation - I value your contribution.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I do agree with you that there is a prominent attitude like the one you describe which holds a lot of influence in society and popular culture. I don't deny that it exists, but I feel uneasy when I see Christians using overarching labels for it (another example I have seen is "the LGBTQ religion"), as it either leaves out or incorrectly labels those who may understand themselves to be gay or lesbian but don't fit into that broader narrative. Those individuals may get discouraged and feel that the church will not accept them no matter how they behave. But these are just my feelings and my speculation, and I do understand your point.
I wonder a lot of the same things you do, and resonated with your last two paragraphs as you considered the divide from both perspectives. I wonder too if they can truly ever work together. But I do believe it cannot happen if we misunderstand each other, and that it is important to be curious and generous as we engage with our fellow believers. Blessings to you.
You are blessing me with your thoughtful engagement. I share your pain/discomfort with labels and I recognize that there are hazards in labelling or short-handing for brevity. I did try to avoid labelling as much as possible throughout the series. In this instance I was trying to capture that there is a "school of thought" that is apparent both in and out of the church that has implications for the church that reach far beyond SSM. Hopefully this exchange, spurred by your desire to tease that out, has provided some further clarity and less opportunity for offense for anyone reading.
I also agree that seeking to understand each other is pivotal. That is my main purpose in drafting and posting this series. I want to us be open in interacting with each other's ideas and plainly stating our own. May God bless you also.
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