In this article, I'll argue that there is an enduringly progressive mindset in the CRC. This mindset was operative in the women in office debate and it still operates in the LGBTQ debate. Though the individuals have changed, the mindset is the same. It is crucial for ministers of the CRC to identify this enduring way of thinking if they are to lead the Lord’s church effectively. We must do our best to abolish "third way" thinking. Though it's part of our DNA, it may rear its ugly head and tear us all apart.
The Three Minds
John Bolt identifies “three minds” in the history of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). From most conservative to least, they are the “confessional reformed,” the “separatist Calvinists,” and the “American Calvinists.” 
Generally speaking, the confessional reformed desired to restrict the majority of the implications of theological dialogue to the church. Famously, separatist Calvinists shouted, in response with Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” 
American Calvinists enthusiastically cheered this thought, carrying it forward to a robustly ecumenical degree. This ecumenicism is most prominently seen in the parent denomination of the CRC, the Reformed Church in America (RCA), such that, “Many RCA congregations have taken in members from nearly every Christian tradition.” 
This American Calvinist “mind” is obviously the most progressive and is not limited to the RCA. Bratt says, “In the case of what I am calling the ‘progressive Americanizing tendency’ there is a strong version of it in the RCA and a weak or lite version in the CRC.” 
In what follows, I want to trace the thought of this third progressive mindset as it manifests itself in recent CRC discussions. Specifically, I want to examine the tendency in the CRC to embrace “third way” reasoning which is most easily (though not exclusively) aligned with the latter, more progressive type of thinking. This “third way” thinking takes the shape of entertaining third options in originally binary situations.
Famously (or for some, infamously) the CRC exercised this option in the women in office debate. Though all agree that Scripture must either condemn or condone women in office, most people in the CRC are comfortable allowing individual churches making that decision.  In other words, rather than deciding yay or nay, the CRC has opted for a “local option.” Those in the CRC who rejected women in office, folks who tend to live on the more conservative side of the CRC spectrum, “were deeply saddened and troubled,” but those on the other side “were jubilant.” 
Like the dialogue of yesteryear, interlocuters in the LGBTQ debate find themselves in essentially two camps—one that holds to a historic view, and another that wants to make space for a progressive one. However, many if not most of those who used to be in the “progressive” camp now find themselves in the more “traditional” one.  Many have called the decades long women in office debate “the ping pong years.” Though the players have moved to the other side of the table, it seems the game must go on.
The Third Way
Today, there is a group within the CRC that opts for another local option akin to that of women in office. This group is called Better Together: A Third Way. Their vision statement says that Better Together “allows for disagreement on ethical issues that do not determine our salvation, such as same-sex marriage and more (e.g. divorce), for the purpose of unity and mission together within the Christian Reformed Church.” 
There was some recent controversy over The Banner accepting an advertisement from this group. Proponents of LGBTQ inclusion (e.g. All One Body) and those of historical sexuality (e.g. The Abide Project) were rejected since including their ads would violate Synod 1998’s guidance to The Banner stating that: “Advocacy advertisements that take a position on issues being debated in the church will not be accepted.” 
However, at least initially, the “third way” reasoning was accepted as permissible for The Banner advertising. Better Together was granted a full page ad on the back cover of the most recent print edition (May 2023). The Banner did decide to not publish their advertisements in the future, but not because they are in violation of Synod’s guidance. Rather, the reason was stated this way: “based on the negative reactions we received for the May ad, it seems that we might have misconstrued the public’s perception of the group. Given these perceptions and out of courtesy to our readers, we feel it is prudent at this time to pull Better Together’s second ad that we had originally accepted in conjunction with the May ad.” 
Note that Better Together’s “local option” stance (which is analogous to the women in office stance of the CRC) is seen by The Banner as permissible.
While the quotation above is merely from the editor in chief of The Banner and it cannot be attributed to the CRC in general (what individual statement could be?) it is indicative of a certain type of thinking at least shared among The Banner staff, and others (see below). Namely, to allow for two opposing positions is not a position. The editor does not say that The Banner pulled the ad because Better Together sought an advertisement “that take[s] a position on issues being debated.” Rather, the ad was pulled out of courtesy to public opinion.
In a similar way, Neland Avenue stated in its response to the in loco committee tasked with shepherding its response to Synod 2022, “It is important to realize that Neland does not have a ‘position’ as a church on same-sex relationships. We have disagreement, but we have worked for 10 years on creating ‘Generous Spaciousness’ as it applies to our LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ.” 
There is a growing trend in the CRC to think it is not a position to pursue “spaciousness,” or allowing for two opposing views. The “third way” is not so much a position as the refusal to choose, and to allow choice on an individual level (whether classis, council, or individual Christian). In the eyes of some, this is a movement a pace with that of American culture which often rejects authority in exchange for personal expression. Commenting on this trend in other areas of the church, Schaap says, “In our world, as in our churches, personal choice reigns supreme, even in Saviors. We have become the ultimate authority for our decision-making, and that kind of major cultural shift jeopardizes all denominational life, not just that of the CRC.” 
If the decision to allow for women in office was a concession for a “third way,” is this third thinking functional in the LGBTQ discussion? In his white paper entitled, A Cause for Division? Women in Office and the Unity of the Church, John Cooper demonstrated that both the affirming and opposing views on women in office are demonstrable from an orthodox view of Scripture (as infallible/inerrant) and a reformed hermeneutic. 
According to Cooper and the CRC, either view is allowable since both see Scripture as inerrant and both use reformed hermeneutics to arrive at their conclusions. Champions of women in office—and even most detractors—agree that a high view of Scripture and a reformed hermeneutic can lead one reasonably to either conclusion. For example, the review of the decision regarding women in office makes multiple concessions to the women in office proponents within the sections that argue for the opposing view. When exegeting 1 Corinthians 11:3 (“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God”) the authors—who reject the women in office view—admit that a definitive interpretation is difficult to come by: “Paul uses the term for the male (anêr) that can mean either ‘man’ or ‘husband’ and the term for the female (gynê) than can mean either ‘woman’ or ‘wife.’ In what sense are they intended here?”  Both sides note that the text is difficult to understand in regards to the question of women in office.
The committee that produced the Human Sexuality Report (HSR), however, has come to a different conclusion regarding the issue of human sexuality. The HSR repeatedly makes the claim that the affirming view is unscriptural. For example, the HSR says: This survey of relevant biblical texts has shown that Scripture teaches in a clear, consistent, and compelling way that homosexual acts of any kind are sinful and not in agreement with God’s will for his covenant people. The debate about same-sex sex, therefore, is not a situation in which there are two equal and opposing interpretations of the biblical evidence. 
The point that the HSR makes repeatedly is that the LGBTQ affirming exegesis is poor. In the words of Cooper, “there are biblical texts affirming female leadership, and ordaining women can be defended from Scripture using the standard Reformed hermeneutics...but there are no texts supporting same-sex relations, and none of the dozens of recent new interpretations is consistent with our approach to Scripture.”  Though this is the majority and synodically-approved stance right now, many CRC members like those in Better Together and All One Body want to change that.
The importance of this observation is the parallel it has with the women in office debate. That is, there is a precedent to make the argument that the CRC should allow for LGBTQ affirmation as a local option. Though Synod 2022 and the HSR reject this option, the argument is still being made post-Synod 2022 by groups like All One Body: “All One Body continues to advocate for Christian leaders who desire the full participation of confessing LGBTQ+ Christians within God’s Church.” 
In addition, multiple faculty at Calvin University have publicly expressed their disagreement with Synod 2022’s decision.  Though they agree to refrain from teaching their personal views, it is clear that their ability to teach at the University while disagreeing with the CRC’s stance is a modified version of “the third way.” That is, one may disagree with the official stance and/or confessions, so long as one does not propagate his or her views. 
In the conclusion, we will see that this “third way” thinking may be gaining steam.
The Third Point—Conclusion
It remains to be seen whether LGBTQ affirming groups will prosper in the CRC. For the time being, the fact is that they are active members in the denomination. At least three things indicate that these groups will not only stay in the denomination, but have the chance to prosper.
First, the “third way,” or “local option” style of thinking is well rooted in CRC culture. The CRC is very accustomed to “agreeing to disagree.” To be sure, Synod 2022 declared that LGBTQ affirmation was unbiblical. But many Synods did the same thing regarding women in office from the 1970s to the 1990s. One synod or committee declaring a certain position to be “unbiblical” does not—as history has shown us—guarantee that following synods and committees will agree. It is not outlandish to imagine that Synod 2030, for example, will entertain reports of new committees with new information that point in the opposite direction of the HSR. We might be experiencing the initial serve of a new era of “ping pong years.”
Second, the denominational magazine, The Banner, seems to think that the conversation is still occurring. The editor and staff seem to think that LGBTQ affirmation—so long as it is the “unifying but not uniform” position—is not only something that the CRC may discuss, but proponents can advertise. So long as one does not argue for LGBTQ exclusion or inclusion alone, one may theoretically advertise their “non-position.” For now, The Banner will not advertise such positions. However, this is not due to a fault in the position or the fact that the issue is settled, but it is based on “negative reactions” and out of “courtesy.” What is “prudent at this time” might not be so desirable in the future.
The third and final point is in regards to gravamina. The HSR has demonstrated that the Heidelberg Catechism rejects LGBTQ affirmation: “To refuse to uphold Christian teaching on sexual immorality would signal that the Christian Reformed Church in North America is deviating not only from Scripture but from the shared confession of the historic and worldwide church.”  This added layer of argumentation may seem to bolster the CRC’s current position. That is, if one needs to make not only a Scriptural argument but one must also emend the confessions, the uphill battle gets steeper. But, this added difficulty is not insurmountable in the eyes of many. The words “gravamen” and “gravamina” occur in the Agenda for Synod 2023 an astounding 280 times.
For example, Maranatha CRC has submitted an overture “as a confessional-revision gravamen” that would effectively undo the decision of Synod 2022.  Without going into the appropriateness of this overture as a confessional-revision gravamen specifically, the point is that some members of the CRC are poised to seek to revise not only the decisions of Synod 2022, but the confessions of the CRC. Just as many, if not more, are ready to reject these proposals.
Though the dust has settled after the women in office debates, there are signs that a new debate is on the horizon. Though the CRC may only have a “lite” version of the progressive mindset that the RCA has in spades (as Bolt says in section one), it seems clear that this mindset endures and speaks today (and plans to speak tomorrow). Proponents of women in office argued for a “third way” or a “local option.” Proponents of LGBTQ affirmation seek the same situation. Though the exegetical arguments are distinct, the situation sought is the same.
The “ping pong” years of the women in office debates were debilitating and exhausting for many. Is the CRC gearing up for a new, perhaps decades long, round of the same old game? From what can be seen in the agenda for Synod 2023, it seems the delegates are lacing up their sneakers.
In an age of rampant pastoral burnout one can only pray that a new fight is not on the horizon.  But if God’s providence does not smile on that request, may our feet be shod with the readiness to share the gospel of Christ—the Word, the Light, and the Truth. We must do our best to abolish "third way" thinking. Though it's part of our DNA, it may rear its ugly head and tear us all apart.
 John Bolt, For Truth and Liberty: The Story of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (Calvin Theological Seminary: Unpublished Manuscript, 2015), 25.
 James Bratt, A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 488; cited in: Roger Henderson, “Kuyper’s Inch,” Pro Rege 36.3 (2008): 12.
 Reformed Church in America, “An Ecumenical Mandate for the Reformed Church in America” (RCA, n.d.), 5, http://images.rca.org/docs/aboutus/EcumenicalMandate.pdf. (accessed 5/12/23).
 Bolt, For Truth and Liberty: The Story of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 27.
 Scott Hoezee, Grace through Every Generation: The Ongoing Story of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (Grand Rapids, Mich: Faith Alive Christian Resources, 2006), 92–93.
 Hoezee, Grace through Every Generation, 89.
 This is simply the logical conclusion of Synod 2022. If the (large) majority of delegates voted to maintain the church’s historic stance on sexuality, and the majority of people in the CRC are open to women in office (see footnote 5), then it stands to reason (though not infallibly) that many or most of the people who are for the traditional view on sexuality are also for women in office. Scare quotes indicate that “progressive / traditional” are loaded terms that cannot be unpacked in this short paper.
 Agenda for Synod 2023, “In Loco Committee Report,” 328.
 James Schaap, “What about a Bicentennial? Mr. and Mrs. CRC.” In Grace Through Every Generation: Remembering, Rejoicing, Redirecting, 56.
 John W. Cooper, A Cause for Division?: Women in Office and the Unity of the Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Calvin Theological Seminary : Distributed through CRC Publications, 1991), 13–14.
 It is essential to pay attention to the fact that modern proponents of LGBTQ affirmation make the exact same claim. Though the HSR and Synod 2022 disagreed with the claim, it is being made nonetheless. The fact that some LGBTQ proponents make non-reformed claims (i.e. that Scripture is fallible) is beside the point. The question is whether Synod will continue to make the same pronouncement regarding the claim that LGBTQ affirmation can be made from a reformed hermeneutic.
 Agenda for Synod 2000, 358.
 Agenda for Synod 2021, “Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality,” 112.
 John Cooper, “Not Like Women in Office: Scripture, Hermeneutics, and Same-Sex Relations,” Calvin Seminary Forum (2015): 5.
 The US Army implemented a similar stance in “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Of course, this was short-lived as full inclusion followed shortly thereafter.
 Ibid (emphasis mine).
 Agenda for Synod 2023, 431.
 https://www.barna.com/research/pastors-well-being/ (accessed 5/15/23)