As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.
Usually I enjoy being a delegate to synod. Not this year. Most of the time synod is a time to see old friends and meet new friends. It’s about worshiping with the whole CRC from all corners of the continent. It’s about doing the important work that keeps us going as a denomination, facing the future together.
Synod 2023 was difficult. Certainly there were enjoyable moments reminiscent of synods past, but this was the most brutal of the four synods I have yet attended, head and shoulders above Synod 2022.
My advisory committee dealt with all of the overtures asking to change last year’s synod decision that “unchastity” in Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 108 “encompasses adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory, pornography and homosexual sex,” which violate the Seventh Commandment, and “this interpretation has confessional status.” In other words, this understanding is expected especially of all CRC ministers, elders, and deacons who sign the Covenant for Officebearers.
The advisory committee reached an incredible amount of consensus with the 34 overtures and four communications assigned to us. We only differed on one matter: Whether or not to remove last year’s synod “unchastity” interpretation as having “confessional status.” Even in disagreement, we were friends by the last meeting. It was already past 9 p.m., but we decided to finish by praying together. Hugs and handshakes all around at the end. More than a few of us said it was one of the most meaningful experiences of our lives.
Then the majority and minority reports came to the floor, and a cloud descended. Those I had come to consider friends had downcast faces, some weeping. Eye contact was avoided. An offer of a hug was refused. Being chair of the majority report, I took the podium after the reporter asked me to take over. The pain in the room was most visible from the front. Sitting as a delegate at one of the tables, you can focus on your laptop screen. At the podium, you have a view of everyone. You can see faces buried in hands, tears streaming down faces, lips pursed together, and hands wringing under tables. The future of the CRC was at stake: Will sexuality be a firm stance of the CRC or a flexible stance?
Seeing this, anger began to rise within. How did we get here? Why must we have this bitter battle?
I’ve been delegated to synod four times now, and each time increasingly feels like war. The CRC’s existential crisis has been building for some time. Each synod is a battle of opposing visions for the CRC, with diametrically opposing values. While synodical sermons trumpet Christian unity and the worship times lead us to rejoice together in one circle, the reality among the delegates and throughout the CRC is a battle for the soul of the denomination. The battle rises to the surface most visibly over LGBTQ inclusion. Two factions each hold a version of the gospel that is unrecognizable to the other. Christian love is the most fundamental commandment to faithful living, but when two groups have entirely different ideas about what it means to love people in the LGBTQ community, the result always will be bitter conflict. When Jesus would both call someone in a same-sex relationship to repentance and also affirm the same person for living out their LGBTQ identity, we have Christ divided against himself. As Overture 23 (Agenda for Synod 2023, p.433ff) shows by its interaction with the Human Sexuality Report, there is disagreement about the gospel itself.
We in the CRC have been on this collision course for some time as the messages of unity continuously pour. Perhaps the CRC’s steep numerical decline has raised the anxiety about facing major conflicts and the possible schisms that might result.
Unfortunately, the result of avoiding conflict is fiercer conflict. Glossing over differences with a veneer of unity only serves to prolong an inevitable war and cost many more casualties.
This is how synod will have glorious moments of singing and delegates holding hands in worship together—then mere moments later delegates insinuate each other as either hateful or disregarding Scripture.
The sparks flying in the CRC are not from lack of humility or lack of focus on Christ. Each faction firmly believes they are doing what Christ would do. The sparks fly because there are divergent views that on principle cannot tolerate one another.
I’m tired of these emotional bloodbaths. I feel angry about the messages that we can stay together and work together if we only focus on Jesus or stay on mission or have humility. It’s time to lay down our arms and accept the reality of irreconcilable differences. It’s time to pray about how to part ways without the bitterness that comes from the world and the flesh.
If I could have things my way, I would convene a special synod where we only have one item on the agenda: Deciding where we stand and finding an avenue of amicable separation for those who cannot follow. No more verbal battles or shredding of one another’s hearts. Let’s give our attention to training ourselves for evangelism in a post-Christian society. Let’s share existing resources and methods that have proved effective in discipling people in various contexts.
The sooner we can move forward from this fight, the better for all of us.