This year’s synod (the denomination’s leadership convention, held annually in June) was a joy to behold. Not that the agenda was filled with so much interesting stuff, although we did witness the adoption of an updated Contemporary Testimony.
Most of what really mattered—a revision of the Form of Subscription, a renewal of our relationship to a sister church in the Netherlands, and rewritten guidelines on dealing with abuse—got referred back to committees for further refinement or to give more time for churches to offer input. (For details read on in this issue.)
But as synod president Rev. Joel Boot put it: “One of the biggest challenges this year was on the floor and not in the agenda.” That challenge was to deal with a new chapter in our church’s 30-year debate over women’s ordination.
This was the first year that women delegates were seated at synod. For many that brought great happiness. But for those who believe Scripture teaches differentiated (though equal) roles for women and men, this was an unwelcome and painful reality.
Let’s not kid ourselves. Just because women have entered the room, the elephant has not yet left it.
So with that tension still palpable, why was synod such a joy? Because the delegates of both genders and opinions treated each other with grace, respect, cooperation, and kindness, regardless of their personal views on this volatile issue. Though we still have the same old problems in figuring out how to apply Scripture on this, we’ve learned a lot in 30 years, we really have.
Pain, especially the pain of having been denied a seat at the table for so long, could have made the women delegates lash out. That happens sometimes when we get really frustrated, and that would have been more than understandable. And the fresh pain experienced by those men who found themselves in a new, awkward, and distressing situation could have made them cold and uncooperative.
But none of that happened. Delegates welcomed each other, worked shirt-sleeve to blouse-sleeve for six long days, and did not allow interpretative differences to impede their collaboration in doing the Lord’s work together.
I wish you could have been there to watch it with me. I wish we could tear a page out of synod’s way of dealing with that non-agenda item and deal with each other, and our differences, in similar ways on the local level.
This synod didn’t have much opportunity to show real leadership. But in this one highly significant way the delegates surely did. They reconciled the irreconcilable by demonstrating Christ’s love for one another, for the unity of the church, and for God’s mission in the world. They followed “the most excellent way” (1 Cor. 12:31):
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres (1 Cor. 13:4-7).
Love found a way. Praise God. May it ever and everywhere be so.