Last month I had coffee with Jason, a former university student of mine in his early 30s. He works for a Christian parachurch ministry, and is a thoughtful and mature Christ-follower who is wise beyond his years. Being with Jason reminds me why spending 35 years of my life teaching was such a tremendous privilege.
Jason is gay and he is a conservative Christian. When he first told me he was gay eight years ago, he mentioned that he had told no one else and probably never would. And he said that he had made a commitment to the Lord to remain celibate his entire life.
When we chatted last month, he shared that a few others were now aware of his orientation, but his parents did not know. Though he has a good relationship with them, he was not certain how they would handle this news.
And then he said this: “Would you continue to pray for me? Last week when I was driving home from work, I felt I could not bear this burden anymore, and I wanted to drive full speed into the concrete wall of an overpass on the freeway and just end it all. Please pray on my behalf for the Lord to grant me stamina and perseverance.”
Of course I promised him I would continue to pray. But what I really wanted to do was weep (and I did).
I wonder how many Jasons and Jills are part of your congregation? I regularly preach in Jason’s church (in a neighboring classis), and when I see Jason in the sanctuary, I know that no one would ever guess his story. And I know that that’s the way he wants it to be. He doesn’t trust the congregation with his story.
How much has Jason’s experience changed in the last 50 years? The 1973 Acts of Synod state (using the language of that time), “The homosexual may not on the sole grounds of his sexual disorder be denied community acceptance and if he is a Christian he is to be whole heartedly received by the church as a person for whom Christ died.” (p. 632)
The 1999 Acts of Synod revisit this theme, declaring, “Synod calls the churches to repentance for their failures to minister to those who experience same sex attractions.” (p. 603)
The 2020 Human Sexuality Report that will be discussed at synod this June addresses this theme yet again, devoting all of section 13 to this matter. Here’s a relevant paragraph from this section:
The church’s response to homosexuality must begin with confession and lament. Despite repeated and strong exhortations of past study committee reports to love and care for brothers and sisters who are attracted to the same sex as equal members of the body of Christ, the church has all-too-often ostracized, shunned, or ignored such Jesus-followers. Congregations need to honestly examine their attitudes and actions toward people who are attracted to the same sex and need to repent when such attitudes and actions are sinful: treating homosexuals as if they are worse sinners than those who are caught up in pornography, premarital, or extramarital sex; overlooking them for positions of leadership, including those of pastor, elder, and deacon instead of considering whether they are, like all officebearers need to be, living holy and godly lives; keeping them physically and emotionally at a distance because they make some feel uncomfortable; failing to stand in solidarity with them as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. (p. 114, from Section 13 - Homosexuality: Pastoral Care)
I asked one of the authors of the Human Sexuality Report how many CRC congregations are serving as role models for the rest of us in cultivating best practices for such hospitality and thereby following the call of synods 1973, 1999, and the current report. Without a second’s delay, this author replied, “I’m not aware of any.”
There are overtures requesting synod to adopt the entire report without any revisions. I trust that classes spent time with section 13 when they voted on these overtures. I trust that we are very aware of the sins of inhospitality named by synods in 1973, 1999 and that, if synod endorses section 13, it will do so with a deep commitment to cultivating profound hospitality.
I wonder how many classes will be sending overtures to synod with themes like, “We acknowledge our failures in welcoming and enfolding our gay members, and we request the denomination to give us practical, actionable resources for becoming congregations of true belonging.”
I know such desires live among us. It’s not clear to me how these desires are leading to action.
I pray that synod spends considerable time discussing section 13. Are we ready to put our hands and hearts into the words of this section? If we are not, I wonder if we are called to table the report until we make a denomination-wide covenant to repent and obey.
For the sake of my dear brother Jason, I pray that hundreds of congregations will heed the gospel call of section 13 through very intentional steps that invite belonging within the family of God.