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Note: This is a two-part article. Part I can be found here.  

  There is a concerning trend occurring within our denomination, which is our inability to have what Joseph Grenny calls “Crucial Conversations.” A Crucial Conversation is defined as any moment in which there are at least one of three factors at play: 

1. Strong opposing opinions, 
2. High stakes, and/or 
3. Strong emotions. 

Our denomination has been struggling with how to engage the topic of human sexuality in a way that is reflective of us walking in the way of Jesus, “…filled with grace and truth.” (John 1:14) In that way, human sexuality can be described as a topic with: strong opposing opinions, incredibly high stakes, and very strong emotions! [Can I get an “Amen!”?] 

Consider how the argument is typically framed:

  • Members who hold an affirming position are concerned with adopting a posture of Christ-like love to men and women who are made in the image and likeness of God. 
  • Members who hold to the traditional/historical position are concerned with affirming the whole truth of God. 

Both sense that the stakes are incredibly high, and that getting this wrong would create a chain of perilous events that would adversely affect the church that we love, and the people we care about. Thus, failure is not an option. 

As a result, there is a strong desire to fight for what we believe in. After all, the stakes are just so high! We’re not talking about some hypothetical topic like, ‘How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?’ We are talking about people who are made in God’s image: people with same sex attraction (or have family members with SSA), people who are affirming, people who hold traditional/historical views, single people, married people, divorced people, re-married people, people who identify as trans, people with addictions to pornography, people who are eager to talk about this topic, people who’d rather run and hide (or get a root canal) than talk about this topic. But all of us, people. And I have yet to meet a Christian in our denomination who disagrees with this statement: 

How we respond is important—not just in what we profess to believe, but how we live that out—because how we respond reflects the heart of God. 

…or, at least, it should, right?

Thus, I can understand why all members of the CRCNA are joined together in one central idea – Failure is not an option. We must get this right! 

Why, then, does it seem like the more we talk about this issue, the further divided we become?

My goal in writing this article is not to address what we believe on the topic of human sexuality, or even why (though, I think it only fair for you to know my theological view on the topic of Human Sexuality. I preached a 9-week series on this topic to my congregation in 2023. You can find that series HERE). My goal is to propose two ideas that would help us in how to move forward to have more robust, and profitable, crucial conversations for the health and vibrancy of the church we love. They are as follows:

1. A Movement Toward Micro Conversations on Worldviews over Macro Arguments on Moral Issues (which can be found HERE), and

2. When Macro Arguments is the only option, applying best practices to achieve a more robust ecclesiology (which we will review in this post)

In this post, lets talk about When Macro Arguments are the only option…

Sometimes we must have macro conversations on moral issues. Synod is no exception. The work of Synod is vital to the proper functioning of our denomination. So, when our hand is forced into a macro conversation, how can we still apply best practices? I would like to present my top three suggestions:

1. Greater understanding of the mandate of Synod
Perhaps you’ve heard it been said that “Every disappointment is a failure to meet/set expectations.” In my observation, there is a significant misunderstanding about the function of Synod. Allow me to give an example: 

In your body there are both red and white blood cells. Red blood cells pick up oxygen as blood passes through the lungs and release it to the cells in the body. They are the “networking” cells. Comparatively, white blood cells fight off bacteria and viruses. They are “defending” cells. The body needs both. Well, so do churches and denominations. 

That said, the purpose of Synod is to function almost exclusively in a “white blood cell” fashion, which is to define, in writing, the tenets of the Christian faith, which are then applied in local “networking” congregations. In that way, Synod seeks to function much like how the law, or a sports rulebook, functions. 

  • The law (of scripture, and of the land) says, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ 
  • The NBA rulebook says, ‘Thou shalt not kick opposing players where the sun doesn’t shine.’ 
  • Likewise, as a confessional church, the purpose of Synod is to help define the boundaries, or legal limits, to what is permissible in Christian life, within which we commit to hold one another accountable.

In my view, there is a very strong expectation for Synod to function as a “red blood cell” environment which creates a lot of confusion and, like expressed above, an inherent temptation to apply negative motives with people with which we disagree, which is slander.

Regardless of your theological view on the topic of human sexuality, the misunderstanding in these particular moments is that Synod is seeking to have a conversation about biblical interpretation (white blood cells) when, very clearly, many are seeking to have a “red blood cell” conversation about a perceived application of said biblical interpretation within a local context. Please hear me: I am not seeking to be dismissive of how certain policies (or "articles") might adversely affect human beings made in God’s image and likeness. We absolutely should! We are fallible human beings who sometimes get things wrong. But Synod has procedures to address such a concern. A process that is more akin to the goals of Synod would be: 

  1. To vote your conscience at Synod, and then 
  2. To either individually, or with a group of likeminded members of the CRCNA, to write an overture to Synod the following year with an alternate perspective on biblical interpretation, for Synod to (again) review, always seeking to keep scripture as the ultimate authority of our lives. 

Perhaps you like the idea of having Synod function more in a “red blood cell” fashion. I have colleagues and friends who have advocated as such. Then, the denomination would be held together by certain shared core values and initiatives, but each congregation can opt “in” our “out” as they please. The driving focus would move from our current model of “shared accountability” (i.e. holding one another accountable to our shared theological convictions) to one of “networking” (i.e. low levels of accountability, with a focus on shared core values that hold us together). There are denominations/networks that function like that. My point in saying all that is: that is not our current practice

In our denomination, our practice is more in view with Dietrich Bonhoeffer who writes, "Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin." (Life Together, P.107) This is the goal of mutual accountability. While we do also network together, our role at Synod is to help clarify and define, in writing, what we believe and why, and to hold one another accountable as such. 

2. Turn off the camera (enter into Executive Session) any moment we enter into a “Crucial Conversation”
Many may hate this idea. In an age of authenticity and transparency, this might feel like an argument against such values. But what I am proposing is not that. It is more consistent with the applied principles we find in scripture. Consider, for example, Acts 15. Many of the challenges of the 1st Century were tied to Soteriology (theology of salvation). This challenge was no exception to that. Luke writes:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved…The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the Law of Moses.” (Acts 15:1, 5)

You think the topic of human sexuality in the 21st Century is hard? This “issue” makes our current debate look like child’s play. Regardless of the decision they make, they’re going to offend half of the people present. This debate is split down the middle, 50/50, Jew vs Gentile, establishment vs new converts. And, at least for Jewish Christians, this was perceived as a salvation issue - "...unless you are cannot be saved." Can you feel the tension of the story? 

What is of particular interest to me was the fact that the apostles and elders met privately to discuss this important question. We know this is the case because the next verse says, “After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed [the crowd],” meaning the crowd was not privy to their conversation, and they had to wait until their deliberation was over to hear their decision(s). 

This is the repeated pattern throughout scripture. The apostles would meet privately to discern, grapple, deliberate, and pray. Much like a basketball team at halftime, they would close the door behind them in order to have open, frank conversations about how to approach the second half. They do this for many reasons: 

First, to ensure there is a spirit of unity and vulnerability-based trust among the team. They do it so they can speak in a loving spirit of mutual censure without the concern of airing the dirty laundry of their peers to an open world. Thinking again of the basketball team, sometimes a teammate (let's call him "Bob") needs to be able to say, ‘Jimmy, your defense in the first half was lazy. You need to cover your man!’ But to do so in an open forum is a risk to besmirch the good name of your teammate whom you are seeking to lovingly rebuke, and not to make a fool of. Healthy teams need to be able to speak critically in a way that is constructive and not counter-productive. Think about this: For Bob to make exactly the same comment about Jimmy to the media after the game would be both dehumanizing and wildly inappropriate. Context is king. This is the same reason why parents should argue in their room and not in front of the kids; why counselors meet patients in private rather than in public; why elders should have mutual censure behind closed doors. 

Additionally, executive session seeks to limit the impact of external forces, and the internal temptation to for the apostles to function as “representatives of a particular constituency” rather than “shepherds of Christ’s church.” The challenge with livestreaming Synod is that it inherently moves delegates away from functioning as a “deliberative” body (like the apostles in Acts 15 and elsewhere) and toward a “representative” body, much like parliament or congress. Each delegate takes the stand to plead their just cause on behalf of their constituents back home. In this situation the likelihood for grandstanding, posturing and pontificating increases exponentially. Frankly, the last two years of Synod (in particular) have had a lot more in common with congress than the Acts 15 model of church leadership, but I am not seeking to pin blame on delegates since much of that simply comes down to our mode of operation. Here’s the crux of the matter: Delegates are forced into an extremely difficult position where they need to have 'locker room conversation in front of the press.'

I recognize that turning off a camera will not “fix” everything, either. After all, there will still be 196 people in a room, which is an extremely difficult number to manage. If you have ever heard of the “Brooks Law” effect, it reveals how communication in large environments are more likely to fail than to succeed when having "Crucial Conversations" based on the number of lines of communication. Consider: 

- with two people, there is just 1 line of communication; 
- with three people, there are 3 lines of communication; 
- with four people, there are 6; 
- with five people, there are 10; 
- with ten people, there are 45. And so on. 

Do you know how many lines of communication there are at Synod with 196 people? A whopping 19,110 different lines of communication! So, wrapping everything together: 

  1. Take the Brooks Law effect of 19,110 lines of communication, and 
  2. Multiply that by our standard practice to have conversations livestreamed (thus increasing the “locker room conversation in front of the press” effect), 
  3. Multiplied by an extremely difficult “Crucial Conversation” where there are strong emotions, with opposing views, and high stakes, equals…

…a recipe for an encounter that practically impossible for it NOT to end in tragedy. Here’s a way of thinking about this:

Communication systems don’t create conflict. People do. 
But bad (or overly complex) systems can facilitate our worst tendencies.

That, right there, is the human sexuality discussion at Synod. If anything, this reality should invite us to stop, take a breath, and appreciate just how difficult this really is. I hope that in some small way, it makes us far more gracious and compassionate with those with whom we disagree. I also hope it makes us more compassionate toward Synodical delegates who grapple to find exactly the right words to express their theological convictions in a way that carries the proper nuance, winsomeness, clarity, and compassion to a watching world, while also not “hedging” their deep theological convictions. Consider: These are not easy conversations to have one-on-one in a coffee shop, let alone at Synod. 

Thus, I believe we should have a stronger instinct to enter into “executive session” any moment in which we enter into a “Crucial Conversation” where there are strong opposing opinions, strong emotions, and/or high stakes.

3. Setting an extremely high bar for delegates to display the Fruit of the Spirit
If it is true that we are more likely to be tempted to dehumanize people with whom we disagree in macro environments, that means we need to be especially alert and cautious to that temptation in these settings, and to repeatedly remind ourselves of our shared motives to be a denomination that is committed to loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves.

That means when (not if) someone from your own tribe tries to apply false motives to someone with an opposing view, it is your responsibility to quickly and lovingly rebuke them, and to defend the integrity of the men and women with whom you disagree. Go back and read that again. If you land on the “historic/traditional” side, you should be a prophetic voice against any members of your tribe whose comments are either false to the truth (i.e. lack the fruit of the Spirit), or who dehumanize someone with whom you both disagree, or who try to apply ulterior motives to someone with whom they disagree, which is slander. If you land on the “affirming” side, same message.  

At the church I serve, every year the pastors and staff all make the following commitments to one another: 

  1. When there is a gap between what I expect and what I experience, I will believe the best of you.
  2. When other people assume (and/or talk about) the worst about you, I will come to your defense, and…
  3. If what I experience begins to erode my trust, I will come directly to you about it.

Could you imagine what Synod would be like if all 196 delegates made these commitments (and lived into them) together, both at Synod, and when they return to their congregations? Could you imagine the beautifully challenging, but encouraging conversations that would take place if Synod delegates felt more like teammates in a locker room at halftime than representatives at congress, and carried that home to their congregations? It would make a HUGE difference! 

Regardless of whether any of my ideas are applied in the future, one thing we can do is to assume the best of one another, and to avoid applying false motives to people with whom we disagree. And, if a member of our tribe tries to do exactly that, you come to the defense of our neighbor. If a neighbor speaks in such a way that it is not filled with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, or self-control, you gently remind them: 

If you say the right thing the wrong way you’re dead wrong. 
If you apply ulterior motives to those with whom you disagree, you're dead wrong. 

While it is vital to get our theology right in a way that has legs and leads to light and light for all who listen, we also need to consider our methods. What’s the definition of insanity? “Do the same things the same way and expecting a different result.”


Interesting thoughts Justin. Personally, I oppose executive sessions, as much as possible, because I think transparency and having the courage of one’s convictions are high values to pursue.

Yet, while I believe it generally should be avoided, I recognize there are reasons and places where confidentiality and sensitivity are more important, and thus some Executive sessions are just unavoidable.

So, would it help if Synod 2024 had all of its big discussions behind closed doors? Synod 2022 used a halfway measure of expelling the gallery for part of their deliberations, and I’m not sure it was much better than Synod 2023? So, I guess I would be willing to consider it, but with 196 delegates already involved, I’m unsure it would change much of anything?

Another thought on this, when were you a delegate to Synod last Justin? Serving last year, I personally did not feel that the gallery or the live stream impacted anything I said or did at Synod. I was only focused on those that were speaking and voting, and discerning together.

Chatting about this with a another pastor friend, he confessed that his first time at Synod, the fact that it was being Live Streamed did increase his nervousness a little, as a first time delegate. However, that was prior 2020. That was before all pastors became "TV Evangelists" due to Covid. That was before we all started live streaming every single service. I wonder if it being live streamed is effecting the delegates as much post 2020 as it did for those who it was their first time being broadcast digitally? (And, to be fair, even if all of the pastors are used to it, that original pre-2020 level of anxiousness could be present for our Elder and Deacon delegates, as most of them still aren't participating in live streams regularly???)

Aside from the references to Synod and executive sessions and congregations, it sounded very much like a discussion about effective communication in a corporate board room or shareholders meeting.

You're talking about the importance of Crucial Conversations. How about having a number of crucial conversations with God prior to and during these difficult topics. I didn't detect any references in your piece about the importance and power of prayer; how God gives us wisdom to make the right decisions; how God gives us the ability to tame our tongues and to say the right things.

There is a problem when 196 delegates have 'horizontal conversations' about their own convictions and their own perspectives at the expense of engaging in 'vertical conversations' to seek God's direction through it all. Having said that, I do realize that Synod is bathed in prayer and that there are prayer groups that meet onsite (as well as at the congregational level).

Your solution, Justin, is focused on human-level communication tools ... such as likening delegates to "teammates in a locker room at half time". Synod is neither a sport nor is it a corporate board room.

I firmly believe that each of the 196 delegates came to Synod 2023, and will come to Synod 2024, with humble hearts and with a posture of prayer. May Synod 2024 be seen and known as a Synod of Prayer where humble servants of the Lord wrestle with this issue of human sexuality. We will pray that God's will be done and God's Kingdom come ... whatever that looks like.

I, for one, don't expect miraculous unanimity around the issue. And that's okay. We didn't experience that either around the issue of women in ministry. If God leads the delegates to a posture of consensus, that would indeed be a miracle. But if our respective perspectives differ, I suspect that God's Kingdom can accommodate one more denomination.

Hi Keith,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I have two notes I'd like to impress upon your heart:

First, I would propose to you that the practices I am suggesting are not rooted in "corporate board room or shareholders meeting" environments but, as I suggested in the article, in the acts of the apostles in the early church (i.e. Acts 15). These are good and God glorifying practices in all times and places - in homes and coffee shops, at church, at Synod, and, yes, even in locker rooms, board rooms, and shareholders meetings. 

Second, I don't disagree with you in the least about the vital importance of prayer and seeking God's wisdom as a deliberative body. I think you would agree with me that suggesting one practice does not come to the exclusion of others. My goal was not to cast a comprehensive vision for what Synod should look like across the board (how to meet, when to pray, how often, how committees are formed, etc.), but how these three small practices might be of help as a whole. So, all I can say is I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment that prayer is of vital importance, and that doesn't diminish these small suggestions in terms of best practices when it comes to edifying communication. 

You also referenced my suggestions as my "solutions." I certainly would not put that sort of emphasis on these ideas. I am convinced of their validity in effective communication rooted in biblical principles, but they are certainly not, in themselves, wholesale solutions. 

Thanks again for sharing. 

Hi Justin,

I appreciate you thinking out loud and sharing your thoughts with others.  I think there are some valuable principles in what you are saying and wisdom to heed.

You did lose me a bit with the red blood cell/white blood cell distinction and your assertion that the purpose of Synod is being missed.  I'm not sure I concur on that, at least as broadly as you assert it.

With Lloyd above, I'm also of the mind that you overstate when you say "Each delegate takes the stand to plead their just cause on behalf of their constituents back home."  I think you are exercising a bit of unhealthy psychologizing, just plain unflattering guessing, or perhaps unhelpful projection.  It seems likely that some people may be tempted to "play to the camera" to a degree and perhaps consider who back home is listening.  But I think you state things in much more (derogatively) absolute terms and dismiss the wisdom and maturity of many seasoned church members who do come in good conscience and rise to speak in deliberative fashion out of that conscience.  That was my experience in 2022 as a delegate and my observation in the gallery in 2023.  I think you are wrong to conclude that "Frankly, the last two years of Synod (in particular) have had a lot more in common with congress than the Acts 15 model of church leadership."  I think this is an unhelpfully totalizing and dismissive assessment that does not seem to follow your later godly advice to "assume the best of one another".  

My purpose here is not to dismiss your valid points but to work together to sharpen our collective thinking, as also seems to be your goal.

Thanks for your reply, Eric. 

I don't know you personally, so I don't want to apply any negative motives in my reply. So, I will do my best to lay out a response that is both candid and kind, and communicates the goal of my article. To do so, I will share with you a little bit of what I shared with Lloyd because your assessments are quite similar. As I noted in the article:

"Delegates are forced into an extremely difficult position where they need to have locker room conversation in front of the press."

Lloyd noted: "I personally did not feel that the gallery or the live stream impacted anything I said or did at Synod." Similarly, the heart of your concern, I believe, is that people are able to speak their conscience with the camera on and a gallery present, and that it shouldn't change anything, and any suggestion otherwise is a guess, or a projection. 

But what I shared with him and will share with you is, "I think that is my point, not yours. I am seeking to suggest to you that, in instances of Crucial Conversations (high stakes, emotions, disagreements) it should."

Thinking again of the basketball team analogy (put yourself in "Bob's" position), sometimes as a teammate you need to be able to say, ‘Jimmy, your defense in the first half was lazy. You need to cover your man!’ But to do so in an open forum is a risk to besmirch the good name of your teammate whom you are seeking to lovingly rebuke, and not to make a fool of. The more serious the issue, the more paramount it is to do so in a way they can receive it.

You might have no qualms about doing so publicly but the fact that you have no concern about that is exactly the point I am seeking to make.

I don't know you personally, but let me try to give an example: If you had a serious concern about someone you deeply love (like your spouse or child or very close personal friend) and sought to bring about loving rebuke and correction in a way that brought them back and restored the marriage/relationship, I would argue you would NOT use the tools applied at Synod. Come hell or high water, you'd seek for it to be as private as possible so that they might be willing to receive it with joy. You would make every effort available to you to ensure your motives were not applied negatively and that their reputation was protected. In this way, your actions would be consistent with your motives to bring them back into the fold.

What I grapple with personally is how so many in our system know this to be true in their own lives, but they still insist on all dirty laundry to be aired publicly (transparency is the word), and then we are SHOCKED when things boil over, people leave the floor, ulterior motives are applied, and we are in a worse space than when we begun.

So, my point is not to engaging in "psychologizing and guessing" about how a camera or seating room might affect delegates, as you suggest. My point is that we should feel that, 'for Bob to make exactly the same comment about Jimmy to the media after the game would be both dehumanizing and wildly inappropriate,' and we don't.

I am not seeking to be dismissive and would be happy to chat more (shoot me a personal email if you'd like to keep chatting), but I sort of feel like your and Lloyd's points are making my point.

Here are my questions to you:

1) Is the goal to prune out members you disagree with, or to lovingly rebuke them and bring them back into the fold?

2) In light of that, if they were you and you were them, how would you want to be treated? What sort of methods or tools would you want them to use in order to achieve that goal so that you might be restored? What would you be most receptive to in terms of methods used to seek restoration?

3) Are we applying all of those methods at Synod?

Be blessed.

Hi Justin,

Thanks for continuing the conversation.  For some reason I see no reply from you to Lloyd, so I don't have the benefit of reading and understanding that reply.  I think you are making a bit of leap in your comparisons.  Synod is not akin to a basketball team or a private family matter.  All private confidential matters handled at Synod are in fact done in strict executive session.  Everything else concerns our common life together.  I disagree that our deliberations at Synod are akin to my serious concern about my spouse or a close personal friend.  Those are apples and oranges.  So I disagree with you that I should feel bad for speaking openly at Synod on matters that concern the corporate body.   You seem to be implying that at Synod we mainly speak about persons.  But we don't - in fact it is dissuaded and in some cases we are instructed to approach the President of Synod before ever mentioning a name.  

I will stand behind my critique of your quotes, including how you characterized the business or atmosphere of Synod. I think it was wrong and unhelpful of you to accuse the Synod delegates of universally ("each") pleading the cause to their constituents back home instead of being deliberative.  I think it was wrong and unhelpful for you to say that the last two years of Synod have borne more similarity to congress than to biblical leadership.  I disagree with those assessments and find them unhelpful and distracting to your points where I do find common cause.  

As to your concluding questions:

1) I'll assume by "goal" you mean the goal of synodical deliberations.  But here I reject your framing.  Nothing has to do with who I do or do not "disagree with".  That makes things personal to me, and my opinions are not the point. The doctrine of the Word as agreed upon by the church is the point.  Also, you present a false choice.  Discipline (which unfortunately we are having to speak of regularly at Synod these days) is about both correcting and (when necessary) pruning (C.O. Article 78).  The pruning depends on whether or not the correction is heeded.  Currently we are seeing a significant lack of heeding correction, which is not encouraging.

2)   Leading up to Synod 2022 many churches and classes pleaded passionately with GRE and Neland Ave to turn from their error.  I would want this personal and heartfelt pleading. Synod 2022 formed a committee to walk alongside Neland and GRE and guide them.  I would want this personal and wise counsel. Synod 2023 took up (but failed to pass) a recommendation for further guidance for Neland and GRE.  I would want this further guidance.  In fact, when I testified about the HSR on the floor of synod in 2022 my approach and appeal was that the HSR was written for me, that it first speaks to my sin and my temptations, and that I need a church that is willing to hold me to account, to correct me when I am straying.  This was my plea and it was an honest plea.  I can't imagine feeling loved by a church that would withhold correction from me.  

3) We have applied some of the above in (and outside of) Synod, but as noted Synod 2023 failed to faithfully continue in the oversight and correction started in 2022.  I think that was not to Synod 2023's credit, and that needs to be remedied.  When I was at Synod as a delegate and observer in 2022 and 2023 what I saw was a body agonizing over hard decisions.  I saw no callousness, no cruelty, not harshness.  I saw gentleness and continued expressions of love.  Perfect love?  No, that we have yet to exhibit or observe on this side of eternity.  

Thanks again for the conversation.  These are matters that are worth discussing. 


Thanks for sharing, Eric. 

My perspective comes down to one vital question, "Would you rather succeed, or be right?" 

If the goal is to succeed (meaning, for Synod delegations to result in good fruit across our denomination), then we need to reconsider our methods to achieve said goals. I think the apostles in Acts 15, in closing the door and deliberating together in private, got it right. Our methods do a disservice to what all of us want to achieve. 

At the heart of our disagreement is what you say here:

I disagree that our deliberations at Synod are akin to my serious concern about my spouse or a close personal friend.  Those are apples and oranges...You seem to be implying that at Synod we mainly speak about persons.

Yes, yes I do. Because these synodical decisions have a deep, deep impact on the men and women that the church wants to disciple in this. I want our denomination to succeed in discipling people, not just to get our theology right. I am not suggesting you disagree with that, but my contention is that our methods do a disservice to this goal.

While I won't carry on in this medium after this post, I hear your perspective and would be happy to chat further via email or even video conference. Like my "part 1" suggests, I think these conversations often bear more fruit when embodied. So, if you are interested, you have a participant in me. 

Be blessed.

Hi Justin,

Once again, I don't accept the framing of your question.  First, I note that you again pose a false choice.  Second, the phraseology of "be right" is unhelpful.  I would offer that what I am much of the church are striving for is faithfulness, not a sense or idea of being right.  And faithfulness need not be pitted against success as you do in your question.  If we are faithful we will achieve exactly as much success as God desires for us, and that "success" may not look like what we desire or envision.

Certainly all of our decisions impact people, that is unavoidable.  But that does not mean that in our deliberations we are talking about (specific, individual) people, except on very rare occasions.  I think perhaps you overvalue the "step up" from a body of nearly 200 people to that same body with a gallery and cameras.  For most elders and deacons, unpracticed as many of us are at public speaking, 200 people could just as well be 2000 people.  The gallery and cameras don't up the ante that much.  It's not as if 200 people is an intimate group where one feels the safety of privacy.  To that degree I don't think privatizing Synod would have much of an effect.

As for further communication, I would counter-propose a both/and.  I think a purpose of the Network is to hear each other and discuss publicly for the benefit of the broader group.  I am perhaps more reluctant to pull back from public conversation.  Having said that I would be only too glad to make your acquaintance more personally if you would find that helpful.  I can be reached at [email protected].  Thanks for the conversation thus far.  


I hesitate to respond,, but here goes:  This posting is all about procedure.  It seems to me the CRC's biggest concern is to protect the institution.  The 2022 decision was motivated more by a desire to reduce the anxiety in the church than to more effectively minister to members of the LBGTQ community (the original reason for the HSR report).  This posting continues that concern for the institution.  Maintaining the institution is certainly important, but I would suggest that Synod has avoided the "macro conversations" in  an attempt to avoid controversy and protect the institution.  Let me suggest three "macro conversations" we need to have:
1. If I understand correctly, the mandate that resulted in the HSR specifically said that the committee was not to re examine Scripture on the issue of homosexuality.  When committee members spoke out publicly against the traditional view, they were censured (correctly, in my view).  But Synod clearly is avoiding re-examining Biblical teaching.  But isn't understanding Biblical teaching the most significant "macro conversation" Synod needs to have?  Is this conversation ever over, or do we need to be humble enough to admit that we see through a glass dimly?  I am not at all convinced, for example, that we in the CRC have understood Romans 1 correctly.  Paul's point is not to provide a lesson on sexual ethics.  His makes his point in Romans 2:1-- when we judge others, we are judging ourselves because we do the same thing!   Any expectations we might have about  the "unchastity" of homosexuals needs to be applied to the unchastity of hetrosexuals who use pornography.  "All have sinned and come short of the glory of God," which I always understood was the main point of Romans 1-3 (and the first part of the Heidelberg Catechism).  Is my understanding wrong?

2. We have not had the "macro conversation" about the changing culture we are facing in North America, and how we can effectively live out the Christian message in this culture.  We North American  Christians have to do the same hard work as our World Missionaries do-- figure out how to present the gospel to people within a specific culture.  The 1973 report was published in a time when homosexuals were deep in the closet.  No one talked about it.  The 1973 decision was radical!  These people can be members of the church!  Things have changed.  We now have same sex legal unions in most places in North America.  Many are adamant that such unions are not to be called "marriage."  So what is marriage?  Is its whole purpose to produce children?  Or are there other blessings of the marital state that are just as important, even when there is no chance of producing children?   Are those who are faithful in same sex legal unions "unchaste" and in violation of the Heidelberg Catechism?  Or, should they be held to the same standards as those in legal hetrosexual unions?   Why are we asking homosexuals to practice celibacy (a spiritual gift, according to the Scripture, one which not every one has) while never asking the same sacrifice of hetrosexual members?  

These are questions that I don't have the answers to.  So, when it comes to the LGBTQ issue, I have to say,  "I don't know."  But I'm now required to "know."  If I don't agree, I can file a gravaman, but some have suggested that after two years those who file a gravaman will have to conform or leave.   

3. Which brings me to the third macro conversation:  what should the requirements for membership and holding a leadership position in the CRC?  Is a commitment to following Jesus enough?  Or do we have to conform doctrinally?  If so, which doctrines?  Do we have to believe in all five points of TULIP as articulated in the Canons of Dordt, or can we be CRC and not agree with, for example, limited atonement?  Can I be a member and a leader in the CRC and not be quite sure the church and confessions have a particular doctrine right?  Similarly, what is the moral bar that needs to be met?  Can someone addicted to pornography be a member of the CRC?  What does it mean to be saved by grace?  How far does grace extend?

We have some important macro conversations that need to be held.  Whether or not Synod is live-streamed is, in my opinion, a minor (micro) issue.


Hi Doug,

You can count me as one who is glad that you offered your thoughts despite hesitation.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I think that the church we are a part of does have answers to a lot of your questions below. I would challenge your framing assertion that the decision of Synod 2022 “was motivated more by a desire to reduce the anxiety in the church than to more effectively minister to members of the LBGTQ community.”  As a delegate to Synod 2022 I can confirm that there was a level of anxiety involved in the decision making, but the anxiety was precisely because of the significant ramifications for effective ministry.  It was a decision bathed in prayer and motivated by love for God and neighbor.  

As to your 3 main points, I would offer a few thoughts.

1.  I think you do have a misunderstanding of the mandate that resulted in the HSR. The committee was not told not to re-examine Scripture on the issue of homosexuality.  On the contrary, the committee was to prepare a report with “Discussion outlining how a Reformed hermeneutic does or does not comport with readings of Scripture being employed to endorse what are, for the historic church, ground-breaking conclusions regarding human sexual behavior and identification.” Beyond examining Scripture to evaluate our teaching in light of new readings of Scripture the committee was also told to interact with “arguments about a new movement of the Spirit (e.g., Acts 15), as well as conclusions arising from scientific and social scientific studies.”  I don’t believe one can accurately characterize that as clearly avoiding re-examining Biblical teaching.  We had that macro conversation, it just concluded in a manner or with a conclusion that is not to the liking of some. Seeing through a glass dimly does not mean we cannot know truth – if that was the case we would have nothing upon which to base our faith.  

“Any expectations we might have about the "unchastity" of homosexuals needs to be applied to the unchastity of heterosexuals who use pornography.”  Yes, and amen, and so concluded the HSR and Synod.  You can be entirely sure that when churches know of commitment to and engagement with pornography, they are addressing it as a matter of unchastity. You can be entirely sure that if a movement arose to codify the acceptance and normalization of pornography, the CRC would react by reiterating the teaching of Scripture and emphasizing our understanding of all unchastity being prohibited in the seventh commandment as explained in the catechism.  Indeed all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but Paul explains further in I Corinthians that “such were some of you” and our lives are not to be defined by those patterns of sin any longer.  Yes, total depravity is real and affects us all, but thanks be to God he does not leave us in slavery to sin.  The homosexual sinner is no worse than the heterosexual sinner, but the remedy for both is repentance, reconciliation, and a life of sanctified growth.  I don’t know of any reading of Romans 1 wherein one could conclude that Paul was not condemning sexual immorality.  The passage (and its broader context) can (and does) carry more meaning than that, but it inescapably includes that.

2.  If you look again at the HSR you will see that each section (pornography, homosexuality, etc.) contains a whole introduction dedicated to examining the topic in light of the cultural context.  The HSR is actually soaked in the sort of cultural conversation that you say we have not had.  All of the questions you ask following under your second point have been discussed and answered in the HSR and the concluding discussions/decisions of Synod 2022 and 2023.  

“Why are we asking homosexuals to practice celibacy (a spiritual gift, according to the Scripture, one which not every one has) while never asking the same sacrifice of hetrosexual members?” First, “we” aren’t asking anything, God is.  It is God’s Word that instructs and we follow.  Second, it is the teaching of the church based on God’s Word that heterosexual members are called to the same celibacy when living outside of marriage. We teach that, we preach that, we disciple to that, and we attempt to practice that.  The ask is the same, though there is no doubt that the challenges are not parallel.  

3. As a confessional church we have for our history been quite explicit about what beliefs are necessary for leadership in the CRC.  We have always been a church requiring confessional subscription for office bearers. That is not new or in question.  A “commitment to Jesus” demands to know just who this Jesus is and what he has done for us.  These questions and many more naturally follow, and are worked out in our creeds and confessions.  One does not (should not) end up an office bearer in the CRC without knowledge of and accedence to these statements of belief, including the entirety of the Canons. If someone is an office bearer in the CRC without this knowledge or fealty then they have borne false witness in signing the Covenant for Officebearers. 

The moral standards that we seek to live by and hold each other accountable to are the standards of God’s moral law.  We are not left to flounder or wonder in this area.  God in his grace has established for us what a holy and upright life looks like. Like the great apostle Paul we confess our inability to live to this standard perfectly.  So, the person addicted to pornography cannot go on sinning with impunity, but must strive to bring their desires and habits in line with God’s holy will.  So long as they strive in this way they can be members in good standing.  Should they insist that they need not strive, they ought to be corrected by their brothers and sisters.  This is the Biblical pattern and the moral imperative of our life together in the church.  It’s the only kind of church that I want to be a member of: a church that loves me enough to hold me accountable and correct me when I need correction.  

I would suggest to you that we have had each of those macro conversations.  These questions are not new and have been wrestled with for generations.  May God grant that we demonstrate the willingness to submit ourselves to the authority, judgement, and government of the church on these and other matters as we each have committed as members and also again for those of us as office bearers.


Thanks for your thoughtful reply.  Perhaps we have had these "macro conversations," however, the issue has clearly not been resolved.  You suggest we need to "demonstrate the willingness to submit ourselves to the authority,  judgment, and government of the church on these and other matters."  Fair enough.  As military chaplains (do I recall correctly that you were also a military chaplain?) both you and I know what it means to "submit," and at this point I believe I have.  But perhaps it is not that simple.  A significant number of CRC members do not agree that all homosexual behavior is "unchaste," and therefore a violation of the 6th commandment.  It's one thing to submit to a Synodical decision about practice-- that is part of our covenant with each other.  I do not support Neland Ave's decision to install a practicing Lesbian as deacon, but I do support their continuing to raise the issue to the broader church for continued discussion.  I would suggest that the "macro conversation" was cut short, and needs to be continued (this is where, in my view, the church's anxiety played a huge role).  The decisions of Synod 2022 and 2023 making the issue confessional certainly doesn't encourage further discussion.  Current efforts to force those who have filed gravamen (is that the plural?) to commit to Synod's decision in 2 years (I believe Classis Iakota submitted an overture about this-- isn't that where you serve?) also cuts short the conversation.  My own classis, Classis Holland, has put out a document responding to Synod's mandate to ensure compliance, which says we are no longer allowed to speak publicly or write in opposition to the Synodical decisions.  So I might be in violation of the instruction of Classis by this post, which again cuts off conversation.  

Your language about "willingness to submit" has a judgmental aspect to it.  Not submitting to authority is clearly a violation of the fifth commandment.  The Catechism is relevant here:  "What is God's will for you in the fifth commandment?   That I honor, love, and be loyal to my father and mother and all those in authority over me; that I submit myself with proper obedience to all their good teaching and discipline; and also that I be patient with their failings— for through them God chooses to rule us."  (Q and A 104, italics added).   Am I sinning because I don't agree with these Synodical decisions?  Am I sinning by publicly expressing my disagreement?  Personally, I don't think so.  Paul's words are relevant here:   My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.  (I Corinthians 4:4)  

It is possible to abuse authority.  Years ago I read a book,  The Subtle Power of Spiritual Abuse by David Johnson and Jeff  Van Vonderen.  I highly recommend it.  There is a great deal of spiritual abuse within the church.  I recall years ago the PCA congregation I was a part of put a couple under discipline who disagreed with the pastor.  They were former Roman Catholics, and were now denied the sacraments because they were "being divisive."  They needed to submit to the pastor's authority. (Presbytery eventually exonerated them).       

 I would raise the issue of moral injury, which you and I are both very familiar with (and which I'm writing extensively about in a book I hope to publish eventually).  I cannot in good conscience tell a same sex couple in a committed relationship that they are being "unchaste."  To affirm Synod's decision would be a violation of my  conscience, which it at the core of moral injury.  Nor can I in good conscience bless their union.  The CRC has not authorized me to consecrate such unions. I'm more than willing to submit to the church's authority on this.  That's made easier for me becauseI simply don't know whether such a union is right or wrong.  Others, the "affirming" crowd, might have more difficulty here.  But, can't I be a member in good standing and a leader in the CRC without having the answer to this question?  The parallel of the women in office issue is relevant here.  Synod never made the ordination of women a confessional issue, and accommodated those who disagreed.  It honored the individual's conscience.  

After 40 years of faithiful service in the CRC, I feel like I'm some kind of pariah.  I am no longer allowed to preach in the first congregation I served-- Corsica, S.D., in Classis Iakota-- because Classis Iakota has ruled that anyone who doesn't subscribe to the Synod's decisions are not allowed to occupy pulpits within classis.  I was asked to be a church visitor for Classis Holland, but that can no longer happen.  The Covenant of Officebearers now insures that anyone who disagrees will not be seated at future synods.  Is the sin here not submitting to the church's authority by those who struggle with the recent decisions or the church's abuse of their authority by making the decision "confessional" and thus requiring submission?  Perhaps that is the subject of another macro-conversation.


Hi Doug,

Thanks for the response.  You may be thinking of someone else as a fellow chaplain, as I am but a layperson, an elder in season but currently out of season.  I serve in Classis Minnkota.

When you say "the issue has clearly not been resolved" it makes me wonder what signs you would look for to determine that it has been resolved.  If by "resolved" you mean something resembling unanimity, I suspect we will not arrive at that.  It seems to me that the existence of disagreement does not render a matter unresolved.  Synod did seek and find resolution of the doctrinal questions that had arisen.  Now Synod is continuing the work of seeing that our doctrinal understanding (not changed, but consistent with our entire history) means something in the life of the church.  

As to submission, it has to have meaning.  If submission can mean that you publicly disagree with, disparage, and call into question the validity of the decision of a body, then it may not have much meaning at all.  You and I both (as office bearers) vowed to promote and defend the doctrine of the church.  If you are doing so in this instance, it is not clear to me how you are doing so.  That's not judgmentalism, that's just taking words to mean things.  I'm not accusing you of sin, I'm simply speaking of the commitments that we make of our own volition.  Our oaths and vows before the Lord are heavy matters, not to be taken lightly or tossed aside easily.  Submission is easy when we agree but is tested when we disagree.  Is submission at all meaningful if it only comes into play when we agree and then is discarded when disagreement arises?  How is there honor and integrity in that approach?

You seem to almost speak as if something was done to you by the denomination, but it is you who have changed (unless you always accepted the chastity of homosexual sex), not the denomination.  WICO is not confessional because it is not in the confessions.  Adultery and our understanding of chastity/unchastity very much is in our confession.  If the words of the confessions have no meaning, then what is the purpose of a confession?  It is not the historically orthodox in the CRC who have sought to redefine a word in the confession.  There has never been a time in the history of the CRC when homosexual sex could be defined as chaste.  Recognizing that is not an invention or something foisted unfairly on office bearers heretofore uninformed of that reality.

You appeal to abuse of authority and seem to accuse the Synods of 2022 and 2023 of abuse of power/authority.  On what standard do you base that?  What is abusive about interpreting and applying the plain language of our confessions?  Again, it is not the church that has shifted, but those who no longer agree with the longstanding doctrine of the church. The Covenant for Officebearers (or the former Form of Subscription) is a defining feature of our covenantal life together - it's not novel. It seems plain that for those who refuse to give the submission that they once vowed they are making evident that they don't desire to exist in covenant any longer.  That is a painful, if inescapable, conclusion it seems to me.  

Thanks again for interacting.



You are right, I must have been thinking of another Eric.  

You and I come from very different backgrounds.  I'm assuming, since you're from Classis Minnekota, that your background is the rural plains.  In my experience (and you can correct me if I'm wrong here), rural communities value maintaining "our way of life."  Tradition is important;  change is looked at with suspicion.

I grew up in Detroit, during the Civil Rights movement.  I wrote a book about the experience:  "The Fort:  Growing Up in Grosse Pointe During the Civil Rights Movement."  The book centers around the church (First CRC of Detroit, "the Fort,") and the Christian School it ran.  The question I wrestle with is a question I believe is relevant here:  Where do we need to tear down the walls of "the Fort," walls of tradition that inhibit our effectiveness in reaching out to others, and where must we keep and even strengthen the walls because they define who we are.  

Changing the metaphor a bit, the question I have for you, and for Synod 2024 is this:  Is the CRC a broad enough tent (Isaiah 54:2) for both of us?


Hi Doug,

I wholeheartedly agree with you when you pose this relevant and important question: “Where do we need to tear down the walls of "the Fort," walls of tradition that inhibit our effectiveness in reaching out to others, and where must we keep and even strengthen the walls because they define who we are.”  I frankly don’t think there is ever a time when this question is not relevant – we will/should have this question in the foreground in all of our work/walk.  I think this is our apostolic/Berean/Protestant mantle to carry. To this degree I think you have demonstrated that while we may have differing cultural backgrounds we indeed have much in common.

I don’t necessarily disagree with your general sketch of the culture or ethos of rural CRC-dom, and can confirm that the majority of my faith formation occurred in this milieu.    What I would push back against is any insinuation or implication that this desire to preserve tradition and skepticism of change is the defining or determining feature of how a classis such as Classis Minnkota comes to hold the positions that it does vis-à-vis sexuality and the proper response of the church to cultural and (in some cases) ecclesiastical changes.  I have been in the belly of the beast, as it were, for most of my adult life as it relates to wrestling with questions of doctrine and life in the church.  What I have observed in the rural settings where this wrestling has occurred is not some bland sentimentality, but a concerted (though imperfect) desire and attempt to “Hate what is evil; cling to what is good” (Romans 12:9).  The Bible has much to recommend regarding the base impulse to preserve the teaching (tradition) of the church and view novel doctrine with suspicion.  To be sure, this impulse can be misused or misguided, but at its core it is a fundamentally biblical impulse that I am glad to have had handed down to me. 

In the end I am blessed that God has called me to a family of believers, because by myself I am prone to unbalanced notions of what I must tear down and what I must keep and strengthen. To that extent I think the CRC has been engaging in the exact type of wrestling that you recommend and has done so under her agreed upon process and with her agreed upon authority and boundaries. 

It is not for me to define the walls of the tent.  It is interesting to me that you reference Isaiah 54 in this conversation, because this is one in the many passages in Scripture that uses the metaphor of husband and wife to depict the relationship between God and his people, as Paul explicates in no uncertain terms for us in Ephesians 5.  I think this highlights that God’s designs are not neutral or malleable for us – they have lasting and significant weight and meaning beyond the physical and into the spiritual.  

The tent metaphor in this passage is not being used by Isaiah to encourage the Israelites to somehow change the teaching/doctrine/law to draw a wider boundary, but rather to prepare themselves to experience God’s blessing.  Israel is compared to a barren woman who has experienced shame and a lack of bounty/blessing – that is why the tent is small, and it was due to their disobedience.  God is reminding Israel of his enduring promises to Abraham to make him a blessing to all nations and to make his descendants innumerable.  Ironically, it was Israel’s unauthorized “widening” of the tent to take on the practices and habits of the pagan nations around them (notably in the sexual realm) that had brought God’s judgment on them in the first place.  Rebellion against God is not the type of tent-widening being referenced in Isaiah 54, but rather God’s providential and sovereign blessing on his people.  The post-apostolic church is a dramatic realization of this tent-widening promise made by God.

Is the CRC tent big enough for both of us?  Yes! But the CRC’s tent walls are not ours to define – they have been defined by the church together in light of God’s Word. It’s not about what Eric thinks or what Doug thinks.  If we place ourselves outside of the tent walls we cannot then look back at the church and decry the church for her lack of inclusivity – it is we who have excluded ourselves.  It is my heartfelt desire to dwell with you within these walls, for these are walls of protection and blessing.

I am thankful for your willingness and desire to think and reason together.  May God bless you and keep you. 



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