Synod 2023 upheld last year’s decision to declare confessional status to the interpretation of homosexual sex as unchaste, requiring agreement on this from all Christian Reformed churches, officebearers, and members. Synod also urged churches to “be places of belonging for LGBTQ+ members seeking to follow Christ” and instructed churches “to show love to all people groups including our LGBTQ+ members and neighbors.”
On that score, I was reminded of what the synodical report on “Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members” said over 20 years ago on compassionate ministry (excerpted from Agenda for Synod 2002, pp. 326-7):
First, the church must remember that gospel, not law, has the power to redeem our lives and make us whole. Saying no is not enough. The church must reach out with love and compassion, creating a fellowship of mutual honesty, caring, and support.
Christian ministry begins with compassion. Just as Jesus was moved by the cry of the blind man on the way to Jericho, by the widow following the body of her son, … so too we must first be moved in our deepest feelings by those who struggle with same-sex attractions.
Compassion is what we feel when we are in touch with the pain of others even though their situation may be very different from anything we have experienced. Compassion is born of imagination, the ability to put ourselves into their situation and know what it is really like. Only when we know our own brokenness, our own pain, and our own temptations can we begin to identify with others and feel compassion. That compassion is the motivational power for ministry. It moves us to reach out and do what we can. It also helps overcome their shame, the shame they do not deserve.
Compassionate ministry seeks to incorporate those with same-sex attractions fully into the body and life of the church, satisfying (the) need for community, for intimacy, for oneness with others, and (the) need to serve (the) Lord. … (What we all need is) to love and to be loved, to know and to be known, to feel worthwhile about (ourselves).
Compassionate ministry begins with lifting the taboo. Love and compassion will help us overcome our apprehension about same-sex attractions or about those persons who experience sexuality this way. We need not stop our ears or avert our eyes. We must break down the conspiracy of silence and the walls of separation, which convey judgment, alienation, exclusion, and loss of hope to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to those outside of Christ who have been shut out of the church.
We must pray for all who struggle with sexual temptations, some with attraction to persons of the same sex, others to persons who are not their spouses, and still others with deep, dark secrets about their sexuality and their sexual behaviors. We must speak of who we are in Christ and how little being male or female, black or white, Cuban or American, homosexual or heterosexual says about who we are. We must bear one another’s burden, support one another in the Christian life, strive to live in holy obedience, hold out hope to one another, and seek healing from all our impairments.
When we do these things, we will meet our Lord, for he has said, whatever you do to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you do to me.
May this posture of compassionate ministry also help bridge the divisions among us. May all sides of the same-sex marriage debate have such compassion for each other.