Is a Split Over LGBTQ+ Issues Inevitable for the CRCNA?

Is it inevitable that the Christian Reformed family of God in North America will split over the LGBTQ+ issue when it comes up at Synod 2021?

But for the grace of God … yes. However, the grace of God is enormously powerful. A church denomination that understands that all have sinned and that everyone’s sexuality is in need of cleansing but is also intent on family unity in spite of cultural and theological diversity has a chance of finding a way to remain united. 

Focusing on unity rather than accepting schism as inevitable can make an enormous difference. No family, not even such a large family as the CRCNA, has to break up. If we bathe every conflict, every painful truth, every heartfelt passion in fervent communal and individual prayers, the Holy Spirit will lead us toward resolutions.

To stay together, we will have to make room for various theological interpretations of key passages in our Scriptures. Bible scholars Sylvia Keesmaat and her husband, Brian Walsh, have taken a historical approach to the Scriptures in their freshly minted book Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire/Demanding Justice. Justin Lee’s book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate also takes a fresh approach to the topic.

Seeking to decide who is “right” and who is “wrong” will not keep us together. How the truths revealed in God’s word will guide us to a united confession of faith is an enormous challenge. We can accept that challenge in humility, acknowledging that none of us can know the ways of God fully, all of us have our own lived experiences that inform our interpretation of the Scriptures, and all of us have our blind spots. Accepting our brokenness and differences as children of God—as well as the counsel of the Holy Spirit—creates the hope that Synod 2021 will result in a new creation: a family of God united in its need for a Savior and unwilling to be torn apart.

About the Author

Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.

See comments (5)


I'm struggling to see the editorial wisdom in posing and seeking to answer this question in light of the ongoing work of the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality.  How is this entirely subjective and conjectural Q/A beneficial while we await their report?  

"Seeking to decide who is “right” and who is “wrong” will not keep us together."  This is a loaded and misguided statement.  The clear insinuation is that seeking truth in this matter is secondary to some form of organizational unity.  It's not a question of who is right or wrong.  But the day that we cease to care what God has declared in his word about right and wrong for the sake of some sort of external unity is the day that we cease to be a church that honors God.  

This article is puzzling at minimum.  Was not a dominant purpose of the church's historic creeds and confessional (including those confessed by the CRC as a denomination and its churches) created for the very reason, "decid[ing] who is 'right' and who is 'wrong') this article suggests ought not be the goal of examining LGBTQ+ issues?

In matters of adiaphora, unity should be sought. This is a broad category which generally may include worship styles, approaches to ministry, etc. In all other matters, unity is unhealthy, and the church is called to humbly pursue the biblical path, to follow Jesus even when it's challenging. The pattern here is set by such biblical texts as 1 Corinthians.

The issues of sexuality bears on how we understand the authority of scripture and is not adiaphora. This comes from a careful reading of the passages in question. A wonderful resource on this question is D. A. Carson's article "On Disputable Matters" in Themelios.

That unity is not the highest goal in matters like this is basic, and the editors really need to think these things through before publishing articles like this one. Any compromise for the sake of unity will be a compromise of conscience and ultimately of belief. Sometimes it truly is better for a denomination to split, peaceably, allowing both groups to pursue ministry. We have a chance here to model something the world rarely sees: a loving separation for the sake of conscience. 

      Thanks, Judy, for expressing a nice sentiment or perhaps a hope for our denomination.  Wishing/hoping as you may, even praying as you may, will not make your sentiment come true.  How many other denominations or churches have prayed that good and right decisions would be made in regard to an issue but didn’t seem to work out so well.  Do you remember how divisive the women’s issue was back in the 80's in the CRC.  After Synod made a decision (similar to what you are suggesting) where unity was the end goal, still many churches left the CRC, and many members and councils were not happy with the decision.
      Obviously, you’re suggesting that gays be admitted to membership and that everyone be happy with such a decision, knowing that we are all sinners.  You say, “A church denomination that understands that all have sinned and that everyone’s sexuality is in need of cleansing...”  I hope you’re not suggesting that the gay person’s sexuality that needs cleansing is their homosexuality.  Sounds like your statement pushes in that direction.  That might not go over with the gays.  It sounds like you are saying to the homosexual, “Even though you are gay, we will still accept you because we are all sinners.”  
      For most in our denomination it is not a matter of who is “right” and who is “wrong,” but what does the Bible teach.  Are you suggesting that we make concessions or compromises as to the Bible’s teachings for the sake of unity?  In other words let reason or common sense rule the day.  It seems to me that unity in religion is based on like mindedness.  It sounds like you may be suggesting unity in spite of agreement.  I guess we can hope.

As far as being right is concerned, discussions have often become heated arguments in the church. Is it important that we are right on this matter? If we would assume for a moment that same-sex marriage is acceptable to God, then for Christians to refuse someone to get married would be to deprive them of something that could well be necessary for them, if they did not have the gift of celibacy. On the other hand, if same-sex marriage is wrong for everyone, as the church understood it for thousands of years, then for a church to marry two members of the same sex would be for that church to both encourage and participate in sin. Either way is very serious. The stakes are high.

Therefore, isn’t it important for the church to determine what is right? Isn’t this another opportunity for the church to be a light for the world? Can we be faithful to our Lord and Savior if we do not determine from God’s Word what is right?