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At a recent meeting of Congregational Ministries Directors, we decided that we wanted to speak into the denominational conversation on human sexuality: Amanda Benckhuysen, Joyce Borger, Tim Rietkerk, Chris Schoon, Reggie Smith, Mark Stephenson, Lis Van Harten, Lindsay Wieland Capel. The following was written by Mark Stephenson, and reviewed and approved by all of us. 

In North America, we Christians have not faced religious persecution like Guido de Brès, the primary author of our Belgic Confession, who died as a Christian martyr in 1567. A few years before his death, he and others said they would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,” rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession. 

I wonder for what we would be willing to offer our backs, tongues, mouths, and bodies. I wonder too if faced with such extreme opposition, what we would cling to as fellow Christians and what differences would become secondary. Thinking specifically about the Human Sexuality Report that the CRC has been talking about for the last several years, would any of us be willing to offer our backs, tongues, mouths, and bodies for a specific definition of marriage? 

Some beliefs are heretical and must be condemned. Some practices are unjust and cruel, and must be stood against. The ways in which some people have been treated for their sexual orientation or gender identity needs to be lamented and repented of. Sometimes whole communities engage in behaviors that harm other communities of people. None of this is new to us who believe in total depravity. We confess that not only are individual thoughts, words, and actions tainted by sin, but also our collective behaviors in politics, economics, business, and church are tainted by sin. 

Unity does not mean acquiescing to false beliefs or tolerating cruel or unjust behaviors, practices, or policies, nor does unity result from agreement about a narrow set of beliefs. As Rebekah Taussig wrote, “I’ve found this impulse to flatten a massive, complicated problem into one small thing I can yell about doesn’t actually solve anything or even make me feel better.”

Taussig wrote this about her own frustration with some people’s pandemic behaviors. The same could be said about the report on human sexuality, and especially what it says about marriage and same sex attraction. We must not flatten a massive, complicated mystery like human sexuality, though we are tempted to reduce people with whom we disagree to caricatures: “They don’t believe the Bible,” or “They don’t love people who are LGBTQ.” 

With something as complex as human sexuality, we must begin with a humble admission that no matter how much we think we accurately judge the true meaning of Scripture, we only scratch the surface of understanding. We can be convinced of the righteousness of our own cause, but when Christians strive to win, rather than to follow Christ, they abandon not only Christ’s call for unity, but also the way of Christ. 

Instead, we need to deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow our self-sacrificing Lord Jesus Christ. In seeking to understand human sexuality, our attitude needs to be the same as our Lord,  

   Who, being in very nature God,
   did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
   rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
   And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross! (Phil 2:6-8)

In that same spirit of self-denial, he calls his followers to turn the other cheek, to walk the second mile, to love our enemies. Jesus’ primary call to his followers is not to defend his word nor to fight for what we believe is right, but to follow his “new” commandment. The “old” commandment was to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The new commandment takes love to an entirely different level of commitment and self-sacrifice: to love others as Christ loved us (John 13:34). 

I don’t remember if I heard this story in a book or a podcast, but a pastor described a conversation with a young man who wanted to talk with her about the guilt he felt as he awakened to his attraction to men. He believed that he was violating the truth as taught in Scripture. The pastor asked him, “But what is the first truth about God?” Then she answered her own question, “The first truth about God is this: God is love. And God loves you as you are.” 

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. (1 John 3:16)

As we discuss the Human Sexuality report, we need to begin with the truth, that God is love. This is the foundational truth about human sexuality. 


Steven, you've made some assumptions that are completely wrong. But I love you as my neighbor anyway.

My question for you is this: If your views on sexual immorality have changed and no longer line up with the teachings of the CRC, why not graciously join another denomination that already DOES line up with your new viewpoint?

If you point out what I was completely wrong about please, as a neighbor, show me where I've gotten it wrong and I promise you I will recognize that and offer the appropriate response.  As to being asked why I don't just graciously sign up with another denomination, I've answered this in response to someone else and I will answer you here in the same way.  Many of us stay because there are kids who grow up hating themselves based on how our denomination treats the LGBTQIA community.  If this is new information, I urge you to look into this before too long. If you refuse to look into this and take it seriously then we're at an impasse.  As many times as I've brought up the other issues in the HSR, every last response from the Traditionalist camp retorts, "that's bad too but let's not worry too much and get back to assuming the progressives have forsaken the Holy Spirit. 

Why would you even ask someone to graciously leave the denomination?  Are we not a deliberative body who has gone toe to toe with each other for our entire existence.  What's your angle here?

The question you ask might be honest, but it's also a little patronizing.  I was born into the CRC and have subscribed to Reformed theology my entire life. I have as much reason and wherewithall as the next Image Bearer to fight for what's right within the confines of a denomination to which I've vowed and devoted my life. But, if you all get rid of the progressives at least you can share the pulpit with the URC again. Just compel the progressives to graciously leave and you'll have so much theological purity and conformity it would make 1 Corinthians 1 blush.

Yes, I've changed my views on gay marriage because I've studied the Bible as hard as I can and I no longer see the Word condemning those of us who advocate for full inclusion. 

You say you love me as a neighbor so allow me one last question of you, why don't you pick up the wounded person our church leaders have left to die on the side of the road, bring them to an inn at risk of being mobbed by people who think Samaratins are bad people, pay the inkeeper for the wounded one's stay, come back and check on them, and try not to obsess about sex and who is doing what to whom anymore.  I mean, it's like a compulsion for our denom at this point.

I don't mind if you want to call it here. You can win the argument if you'd like. But in the end the CRC won't be winning hearts, it'll just be winning arguments. At that point, we may as well gaze at our navels and go back to the blue hymnal.


Hi Steven, you were incorrect in assuming that I don't know any LGBTQ people who are heartbroken and struggle every day with their temptations. You were incorrect in assuming that because I still agree with the Scriptural guidelines on human sexuality, marriage, and gender, that I would be unwilling to help an injured person by the side of the road (I have literally and figuratively helped the injured person). I don't want to belabor this point, as I truly do love you as my neighbor.

I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you were "born in the CRC and have just as much right" as anyone else to stay here and demand the church change its teachings. In truth, we must be willing to admit when it is WE who have changed (not God's Word), and then have the courage to find others who believe the same way we do now. That's what I did when I joined the CRC 10 years ago.

Sorry for incorrect assumptions Dan. You've mischaracterize a couple of the things I said with regards to neighbors and staying in the denomination.  That's okay though, we're at an impasse and your position will be the one that remains law in the CRC.  I don't think anyone is kidding themselves that it will somehow end up differently.  I'll be watching to see if there's grace in your victory.  I imagine some will be gracious and some will not.    

Question: How do you reckon we should actually approach our LGBTQ members? It's not a sin to be gay according to our church and in 1973 we were told we had to do everything in our power to not shame and exclude gay people but to enfold and love them as siblings, friends, and ministry partners (not a direct quote).  Where are the reports of our good fruit in this area?  Why do we not talk more and more seriously about how we can best love those who are celibate in accordance with our synodical decisions?  Why isn't there full on preaching against homophobia and violence against trans people?  What will be different this go around?  If the answer is nothing, there's your fruit.

That's probably all rhetorical so I don't want to obligate you to answer.  This thread is getting redundant on both sides of the issue.

I appreciate those questions. I know it's conventional wisdom to think we should treat people according to whatever label they have (gay, straight, white, black, left, right).

But my life experience has been that it's best to simply treat everyone as a distinct, unique individual. Love every individual, no matter what. Encourage every individual to submit, in obedience, to God's Word. Treat every individual with enough respect to speak honestly to them, not pandering or pulling punches because they might get "offended."

When you treat everyone as an individual, rather than as a member of some collectivist sub-group, then you're treating them the way God treats them.

And when we do that, the fruit will follow.

Ezekiel mentions that inhospitality was a sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. If the Bible says it, then it's true! But that's not all it says, and skipping Jude's contribution has hugely deceptive implications for this conversation.

The simple truth is that nobody credible holds to "the conclusions we (revisionists) hold to", only agenda-driven scholarship. The HSR points that out adeptly.

The fact is that God's Word is a double-edged sword, and it's the only knife we need in this fight.

Perhaps you betray the foundations of your moral compass with your last two sentences? There is no left or right in God's Word. And your assumption is wrong anyway. I'm not a Republican. I never voted for Trump. This has nothing to do with politics.

Worst of all, though, is the "practical athiesm" inherent in your final line, which shows that you think standing firm on God's Word would do MORE harm than would dismissing God's Word in a therapeutic attempt to make people more comfortable. 

I typed out a whole thing Trevor and I accidentally deleted it. I was responding to Dan with my last comment. My comment about Trump and the Rightist agenda is parody of what the Returning Church group would say, at least before it was made private.  I'll leave it there because I think you've asserted atheism in my thought process and that crosses a major line.


My entire reply is a reply to the comment that you accidentally deleted. I must have started my comment while it was still up, so I was looking at your reply whole time. 

FYI, "practical atheism" is a specific Theological term, which in this context means claiming to believe God's Word while not behaving like it... aka acting as if modern identity affirmation must be more effective for helping make LGBT individuals feel better than would encouraging and assisting them in Godliness and righteousness.

I do not think you are an Atheist. Though I'm sure this explanation won't be of any consolation...

I am heartbroken to see the idea repeated in this thread that someone holding a different perspective on the HSR can "go find another denomination." There are people with different interpretations of the relevant scripture who love their congregations, who serve as elders or deacons, who pour into their church communities as Gems leaders and catechism teachers and worship leaders. Why should one side or the other be forced to leave?

Staci, Network moderator here. Please keep comments related to the topic of the original blog. May our gentleness indeed be evident to all. 

Many thanks to you all for this post! I agree that the way we approach conflict matters, and is a part of our witness just as the content of our beliefs matters. Indeed, our approach to conflict, whether intentionally or not, tells the rest of the world a lot about our personal beliefs!

Furthermore, though there are points of contention in the comments, I find much here we can (hopefully) agree on:

The doctrine of total depravity reminds us that we are all sinners, and so our systems, our institutions, and our very selves are imperfect, in need of Christ's redemptive work.

Christ calls us to act like him and follow his example, so we must approach conflict with humility and grace. We unworthy creatures, lifted up only by God's grace and Christ's sacrifice must endeavor to be servants to each other, striving to hold that attitude in everything we do, though we cannot do it perfectly. 

We are commanded by our Lord to love those whom we are in conflict with, something that must have sounded just as difficult to the first ears that heard it as it feels today. Nonetheless, we are called to love, and even given an example of what it looks like: Jesus laid down his life for us.

Thank you again for this message. I pray that in our disagreements, we may also remember the things we all hold to be true, and that Christ holds all things together.

 Some posts have caused me to reflect more on the role of our ministry leaders, as well as the substance of this report. That leads to questions about the Cof D directive.  Ministry leaders are significant stakeholders in the future of the CRCNA and its ministries, as well as members of local churches.  Their ministries include experiences that provide valuable insights that might not be accessible for other members; and, on the other hand,  reports like this can have signficant impacts for their ministries.  If they only contribute through their local churches, that leaves those of us not close to CRCNA offices without the benefit of their insights.  In their churches they engage as members; if they engage there as ministry leaders rather than CRC members, that could be inappropriate influence in that context. I understand the concern about inappropriate influence, but that should not silence them or cancel out appropriate input as significant stakeholders in the outcomes. 

 Some synodical studies include relevant staff, such as the Abuse of Power report I co-chaired; some do not. This one had seminary professors but not ministry leaders. Those are different roles and perspectives. 

There should be an established way for ministry leaders to have their own input as uniquely positioned stakeholders, in a way that members could also know their contributions and together we respect their roles as significant actors in our mutual goal of effective ministry in the current context.  I would suggest the C of D review and consider revising its directive to provide an appropriate channel for their input.  We will all be better for it. 

Kathy raises a significant point. The members that make up a Synod can vote with their conscience. The problem is that they have often not made their own church council aware of that conscience. Here is where democracy can play havoc.   To send people to Synod who, when they can vote which ever way they "feel" at the time, leaves the rest of us in a quandary. So how a process "to have their own input as uniquely positioned stake holders..... respected" is an interesting way of putting this.  I am (a concerned outsider) trying to figure out how this will affect the denomination. Will a Pastor (Elders can at least not be fired) who comes back from Synod having voted a way that was not what the local Elders felt was appropriate be fired? What happens then to their "uniquely positioned shareholder stake"?

Like the RCA there are no easy answers. But they, at least, gave at least some "no win"  options. Sadly I can only posit the problems but not solutions. Scripture can but many can not fundamentally agree there either. I urge all those going to Synod to let their own congregations know where they stand and eliminate any surprises. Surely 10 years is enough to make up one's mind?

In the CRC, congregations send delegates to larger assemblies, we do not send representatives. Delegates are not instructed how to vote. They are expected to listen to and participate in the discussion. CRC assemblies are deliberative. We trust that deliberation in a larger body will more nearly reflect God's will than every single local unit acting alone. That is how the body is build. The church is not a political body, particularly not to be modeled on US political structures which are largely devoid of deliberation. The result is a endless power struggle. Pray the church will be kept from going that route.

If delegates to larger assemblies are expected to be representatives, unable to deliberate and vote according to what they hear at teh assembly, then why have assemblies at all? They could all stay home and simply register their pre-arranged vote. If we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, we should insist that every delegate to Synod will go there with an open mind.

Hi Nick. Our CRC Church Order literally states that delegates to Synod "represent" the churches in their Classis.

Someone at our Classis meeting (Classis Georgetown) a few weeks ago expressed the same opinion you did. I read, word for word, from our Church Order to show otherwise.

Church Order and Its Supplements 2020 Article 45 states: "Synod is the assembly representing the churches of all the classes. Each classis shall delegate one minister, one elder, one deacon, and one other officebearer to synod."


Article 45 states what *synod* represents. "Synod is the assembly representing the churches." Article 45 is silent with regard to whether delegates "represent" the churches in their classes. 


Article 34 states, "The major assemblies are composed of officebearers who are delegated by their constituent minor assemblies. The minor assemblies shall provide their delegates with proper credentials which authorize them to deliberate and vote on matters brought before the major assemblies..." Like Article 45, Article 34 does not state "that delegates to Synod 'represent' the churches in their [sic] Classis." Rather, it notes that properly credentialed delegates from a minor assembly will be authorized to deliberate and vote on matters brought before the major assembly, such as synod. Contrary to the concept of a delegate being required to deliver a vote on the position of his/her church or classis, Article 34 appears to require minor assemblies to grant individual delegates the license and authority to deliberate and vote, of their own accord, regarding matters brought before major assemblies, such as synod. Indeed, Article 34 helps create the deliberative body Nick describes.


Searching 2020 Church Order, I found 25 instances of the word "represent" or a variation thereof, e.g., represents, representing, etc.  I'm unable to find anything that states that delegates “represent.” It would be helpful, Dan, if you would provide the citation you "read, word for word, from our Church Order" that "literally states that delegates to Synod 'represent' the churches in their [sic] Classis."

Thank you Galen,

There is much confusion, also out on the street, about the concept of representation. It interesting that the denomination has a Council of Delegates, not a House of Representatives.

In recent years I hear much murmuring about 'those in authority' not listening to 'we the people'. Talk such as 'they are on our payroll, they are accountable to us', particularly as it relates to ecclesiastical staff at various levels.  Such views come from the corporate world, not from a Christian understanding of the place of institutions.


Article 45 "The Synod" states "Synod is the assembly representing the churches of all the classes."

Galen, you seem to be trying to split the meaning here, and argue that while Synod as a whole body represents the churches, the individual delegates do not represent anyone. If that is your assertion, so be it. Such an interpretation seems silly. It would be like saying that Congress represents the States, but individual members of Congress do not represent anyone. Or that attendees at an awards ceremony (like the Oscars) represent the collective body of work of whatever is being considered for awards (like all movies made), but that the individual attendees (like the actors and producers) don't represent any specific work.

There is a mistaken idea floating around that a representative body cannot also be deliberative, that somehow those two things are mutually-exclusive. That is obviously not correct. An assembly like Synod is both representative of the churches, and deliberative in nature.

I think the reason people put forth this false narrative is that they are hoping to sway individual delegates to "go rogue" if you will, and act far more revisionist and Progressive than their constituent churches would like them to.

 Dan, it can be and has also been the case that individual delegates support more rigid and narrow positions than most of the members of the churches who send them express  in other ways.  I have even witnessed examples where there is a more open-minded or nuanced overture and a delegate actively pursues a rigid approach  that undermines what seems the clear intent of that classis. I have not done a quantitative analysis, but my observation from many years is that this is at least as often the case as what you suspect.  I agree representative and deliberative are not opposites.   

For sure, Kathy. "Going rogue" can go either way. Personally, I would love to see the 4 delegates from Classis Grand Rapids East stand up at Synod and say "Our classis is wrong; Scripture is correct, and we need to abide by God's design for marriage and human sexuality." That would be wonderful!

Realistically, most delegates are going to be a mixture of representative of their church, and independent agent. The main thing is that they adhere closely to the Word of God and our denomination's teachings.

 At some point in the discussion here, this great question got raised, "How can we have clear theological thinking AND deep Christ-like compassion simultaneously?" (especially since a lot of the 'conversation / discussion' feels like it is either-or). 

For pastors and church leaders interested in digging deeper to address that question -- especially in light of whatever happens at Synod -- The Foundry (a ministry for strengthening church leaders) is running four Pastors Learning Cohorts entitled, "Clarity and Care." These learning communities will study, engage, work through, wrestle with, and deliberate on how to hold to a traditional/historic view on sexuality and marriage AND lovingly, thoughtfully, and charitably embrace our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters in Christ. We guarantee no easy answers. But we want to serve the church and church leaders by making space for these massively important discussions and decisions.

You can check out the description at

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