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The Closet of Compassion

As the author of “The Closet of Compassion” (August 2007) says, it is risky to care about homosexual people within the church. Too often we do not insist that they be spoken of with respect or honor.

But when a human face is before us, we do much better. When our oldest son was ready to share his orientation with our church family, we first spoke to some trusted friends and council members. Next the whole council was informed. On the Sunday the congregation was told, it was the chair of council who shared the information and led the prayer time. Charles preached on acceptance and respect for all believers, based on Romans 15:7.

Since our congregation has welcomed people who have traveled difficult paths, we were pretty sure our son would be shown the same care and consideration. Still, it felt great to get hugs and encouragement for us and our son after the service. We were very proud of our congregation that day. Many in the church shared that they had family members or friends who were homosexual. In that, we are not an unusual congregation.

Our sons and daughters of homosexual orientation are image-bearers of God and need communities of faith they can belong to. It’s our prayer that our son, or any other homosexual person, can enter any of our church doors in full confidence that they will be accepted and valued for who they are in Christ.

—Rev. Charles and Marcia Kooger Regina, Saskatchewan

Thank you for printing this well-written, thought-provoking article. I too am friends with people who are gay. I have family members who are gay. I have experienced firsthand the rejection by our Christian community of a group of people who are brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, co-workers, and friends. Why in the world would these people turn to our God, when those they see associated with Christianity are hateful, fearful, and judgmental? I’m proud of this minister’s efforts to befriend and be an advocate for this group.

—Kate Scheltema Caledonia, Mich.

Why develop ministries mindful of homosexual members only? Should we not show the same love of Christ to people who struggle with adultery, pornography, gambling, alcoholism, anger? The list could go on and on. Isn’t it all sin? Compassion is a wonderful thing, but if we’re afraid to call sin, sin and flee from it, the devil already has a foot in the door.

I am a sinner saved by grace and struggle every day to be more Christlike. I certainly am not saying we should cast stones, but should we also not point out sin and try to change it in ourselves first and then others? To do this in love is the challenge. That’s what Christ would do.

—Barb Habers Holland, Mich.

I am writing with deep gratitude in response to the author of “The Closet of Compassion” (August 2007). I finally feel some relief and understanding that our family is not alone in the Christian Reformed Church, dealing with a family member who has a homosexual orientation. I would like to think that our pastor could have written this compassion-filled article, and maybe someday I will have the courage to talk to him about this subject.

The author showed his understanding when he wrote, “If this is the kind of isolation I feel, I cannot even begin to imagine how it feels to be in hiding as a Christian who is gay.” Just imagine how a teenager growing up in a small town and attending Christian schools his whole life feels when he realizes he is what everyone he knows speaks against. It’s heartbreaking for a parent to see his or her child suffer with such pressure and to see the mask he has felt necessary to wear most of the time.

Our son’s goal is to live a celibate and chaste life, but I am concerned that he will be able to do so with true happiness in our denomination and in our society in general. It will be very difficult, and he needs the support and compassion of his church. But I am afraid that he will not be accepted for the kind, humorous, talented, social man that he is. Like every one of us, he also does not want to be defined by just one part of who he is. Through our situation, God has taught us to look beyond the labels people are given, to take the time to really know each person without judging him or her. I hope the CRC can do the same.

—Name withheld

Thank you for this article. I was so excited to read it. My husband and I have recently found ourselves on the outside of the institutional church because of our desire to remain with those who are excluded from it. Along with the author, we too have felt similarly convicted, called, and painfully isolated.

—Franceen Neufeld Sydenham, Ontario

I agree the church doesn’t reach out with love and compassion to people who are homosexual. However, the author seems to fall a little short on Christ’s redeeming power of setting people free from sin and giving them a new identity (2 Cor. 5:17). We do need to love and accept people where they’re at, but let’s also be vehicles of God’s grace and mercy to help lead people into abundant life in Christ—where people who are set free no longer call themselves homosexuals or alcoholics or adulterers but Christians.

—Dan Vander Kodde Grand Rapids, Mich.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for this article! I, too, am in the closet of compassion. For those of us who love a gay person, this article finally articulated some of our concerns.

It’s natural for people to fear "the other" or anyone not exactly like ourselves. Historically, in the 1800s, many people used various Bible verses to justify slavery. Clearly we know now that slavery is wrong. More recently, our fear of "otherness" has extended to those not of Dutch descent, women, and homosexuals. With the emphasis on increased racial diversity and recent dialogue on women in office, homosexuality appears to be the last example of "otherness" that it is acceptable to discriminate against within the church.

God created a wonderfully diverse universe of different races, sexes, and orientation. How incredibly boring it would be if everyone were exactly the same. The church should be a shining example of love and acceptance, not exclusion.

Jesus interacted with prostitutes, tax collectors, and other social outcasts. When asked what the most important commandment was, Jesus responded, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these" (Matt. 12:30-31).

We have all heard sermons on "Who is your neighbor?" I would like to pose this question, “Could your neighbor possibly be the homosexual sitting beside you in church?”

Lets all make an effort to help everyone feel loved and accepted as fellow children of God.

—A member of a suburban Chicago Christian Reformed church

I blame no one other than myself, having served the church as elder, for the lack of dialogue the article points out that the church has failed to have since our 1973 report first appeared on pastoral care for homosexual members. I feel for this pastor who is conflicted, and from his closing line I question if he is fully appreciative of the power of transformation that comes from being a new creature through Christ's death on the cross and the sanctifying work of the Spirit in each of our lives.

He uses a few carefully selected paragraphs from the 1973 report, thereby not giving a fair assessment of it, in my opinion. The report also states: "The church should speak the Word of God prophetically to a society and culture which glorifies sexuality and sexual gratification. It should foster a wholesome appreciation of sex and expose and condemn the idolatrous sexualism and the current celebration of homosexualism promoted in literature, the theater, television, advertisements, and the like."

Let's proclaim the whole council of God's Word so we don't end up deceiving ourselves. Let's be honest as to the impact of sin in the world and how all of nature is corrupted as a result of the fall, including our own sexuality.

I've seen two young men in my church die tragically at a young age from HIV, and the church was unprepared to even warn them or work with them toward repentance. I'm not willing to see another young man die because the church is unprepared or fails to dialogue or speak the truth of God's Word.

—Lewis J. Dekker Hawthorne, N.J.

"The Closet of Compassion" is a clear and vigorous reminder that now, even five years after Synod 2002’s report outlining a program of compassion for relating to gay and lesbian persons, we continue to fall short. We are much more accepting of our sin of intolerance than we are of those who live a homosexual lifestyle. Indeed, we are more tolerant of almost all other sins, including those, like greed, that are lumped together with homosexuality in some of the Bible verses often cited by critics of gay and lesbian unions (Rom. 1:29 and Eph. 5:3, for example).

We live in the world's richest nation and are more disturbed by two people of the same sex who want to make a lifelong and loving commitment to each other than we are by our willingness to allow 6 million children to die each year due to lack of access to good water or adequate food.

I struggle with my own greed and covetousness, yet I continue to accumulate material things. By this measure I am an unrepentant sinner. However, I and other CRC members like me who own big-screen TVs, new cars, houses bigger than we need, and other symbols of material success are not the subject of major synodical studies about our brokenness. We are not offered special pastoral care to change this lifestyle, nor are we denied full participation in all aspects of church life.

The world could be made a much better place if we were as willing to practice Christ-like charity in stewardship of our wealth as we are willing to condemn gay and lesbian relationships.

—Frank Barefield Holland, Mich.

As Christian parents of a Christian young adult who has recently told us that he/she is gay, we are stuck in the closet of secrecy.

Our child’s sexual orientation did not come as a surprise to us. It’s something we had suspected and feared since he/she was 3 years old. I know that our child was born a homosexual; it is not something that he/she chose or wanted. In the past our child has suffered from severe depression and made a mild attempt at suicide. It was a cry for help. It was a cry for everyone to accept our child for who he/she is. It breaks our hearts when we try to imagine all the years of suffering he/she has gone through. We too have struggled and had many dark days. Even though we had been waiting for him/her to tell us, there was always the hope that maybe, just maybe, we were wrong—maybe we had read too much into all “the signs.”

One of the first things my spouse and I said to each other was, “We have to be careful of what we say about homosexuality around our Christian friends, because someone may get suspicious.” It’s odd, but I don’t feel that way with our non-Christian friends. I find them to be much more accepting and nonjudgmental.

The fact that the wonderful pastor who wrote this article had to withhold his name because he is among only a handful of other clergy who feel as he does is incredibly sad and disappointing to us as lifelong CRC members. We don’t want to put blame anywhere, but it’s high time we started to love each other as Christ loves us.

After our child “came out,” he/she told us, “I am still a Christian. I love God, and I know God loves me, and I’ll never stop praying.” We love our child! And after much struggling, tears, and sleepless nights, we truly accept our child unconditionally. Because that is how God loves us.

—Name withheld

You cannot imagine my gratitude for the article “The Closet of Compassion.” It is a glimmer of hope in an atmosphere of bigotry and ignorance in the Christian Reformed Church regarding homosexuality. You see, I have a gay son. He is a Christian but is no longer in the CRC. He found his home church and the denomination at large to be toxic in terms of his understanding of himself as a child of God.

My son did not choose to be homosexual. He also did not become homosexual because of his childhood experiences. He was not sexually abused as a child, nor was he raised by an ineffectual father and an overbearing mother. He was simply born that way. He is God’s handiwork, made in the image of God. He is not God’s mistake.

If the CRC wants to be faithful to God’s Word and God’s people, it must start talking about homosexuality. The 1973 synodical report is not the final word. It is flawed, and its implementation is sorely lacking. To accuse the CRC of being homophobic is not an overstatement. Full understanding can be achieved only through dialogue that includes Christian biblical scholars and homosexual persons. Dialogue must also include the contributions of thoughtful pastors such as the one who wrote this article. I’d like to encourage this pastor to “come out of the closet” and be bold in speaking out as an advocate for gay brothers and sisters in Christ.

—A mother

If they are our brothers and sisters, then I feel homosexuals are being hindered because they are not given real hope in Christ, since a label of their old sin is pinned to them. See 1 Corinthians 6:9-11—verse 11 is the key to victory: you were but are no longer!

Help them exalt Jesus by the word of their testimony of salvation and of their sanctification by investigating prayer counseling at Cornerstone in Ontario, Dunamis Canada/U.S., Freedom in Christ Ministry – U.S., or Exodus International Ministries. I also recommend a book called I Give You Authority by Charles H. Kraft.

—K. W. Acton, Ontario

I was born a homosexual, and although I did not know its name, I knew I was different from my brothers and other boys at a very early age. I was sensitive and cared about many things, which was interpreted as being a “sissy” and a reason to be made fun of at Young Peoples and Catechism.

The god of the CRC in my life was a god who created human beings to wreak vengeance upon and who was totally preoccupied with human beings’ sins. God so loved! In print and speech only, certainly not in action. One can never measure up to his demands— “conceived in sin,” always unworthy, etc. Many CRC homes were (and I hope no longer are) homes with severe corporal discipline (today we call it child abuse), all in the name of this concept of god.

No wonder the author of this article cannot reveal himself at the risk of being perceived as “pro gay,” which is a pretty sad state of affairs in 2007. Perhaps this may be partly connected to young people leaving the church?

Space does not permit me to go into “my coming out” process, which started when I confided in my CRC minister, who suggested I enter a mental hospital and take counseling there with the hope of changing me into a heterosexual, which I did. After my first session with the psychiatrist, he suggested to me that perhaps instead of fighting the real me, I needed to learn and accept who I was and rejoice in life. That there was such as thing as being born homosexual, that it’s not a choice! This was many years ago. It took me many years to get rid of all the negativity that comes with being judgmental due to the indoctrination of Calvin’s teachings.

Today I do not need organized religion of any type, having discovered that I am a wonderful, sensitive, caring human being created by love or whatever you want to call the force of creation. I am responsible for myself, then responsible for all human beings regardless of who or what they are, which includes caring for this planet. I do not need to sit in judgment of others.

What astonishes me is the preoccupation of the CRC with the topic of homosexuality. I doubt there are many gay people out there who care, who having come out of a religious denomination that interprets their faith as “the truth and the only way,” forgetting that in the same breath the proclamation is made that we are all created in god’s image. The author of this article needs to be commended for his courage and insight, and I hope one day he will feel comfortable enough to tell us his name.

—Neil Mudde Toronto

I get the impression the anonymous CRC pastor who wrote this article believes he’s doing the right thing to refuse to sign a petition opposing same-sex marriage, so as not to alienate gays he ministers to in his congregation. He says he deems acceptance a higher value than agreement.

Yes, the CRC’s synod (highest deliberative body) has advocated active ministry to homosexuals; and yes, those who remain celibate are to be fully accepted and eligible to serve in all offices of the church. But scripture tells us that unrepentant practicing gays within the congregation must be firmly dealt with. Writing to the Corinthian church concerning an unrepentant believer’s sexual immorality, Paul doesn’t beat around the bush. The man is to be denied church fellowship until he comes to his senses. Paul writes, “Hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Cor. 5:5).

—Joe A. Serge Oshawa, Ontario

Typically when people don’t put their name on something they’ve written, there is good cause, and certainly this is the case with “The Closet of Compassion.” The cause in this case should be shame, but I rather doubt that’s it.

The apostle Paul threw a man out of the church in Corinth on sexually related grounds no more profound that those of this pastor’s so-called Christian congregants. Paul saw it as an act of compassion to give this man up to Satan (1 Cor. 5:5). This unnamed pastor seems to be glorying in his own brand of compassion.

—Tom Bracewell Granger, Wash.

The author admits that he has several homosexual Christians in his life and shares his compassion for incorporating these people in the life of the church. Yet participation for some of them may mean involvement as counselors for young people, Cadets, or GEMS. As a parent of children involved in these activities, should I be concerned?

Also, the author mentions ministering to (as well as with) homosexual members. Does that imply that he is counseling them as to how their lifestyles may be in conflict with Scripture? Some people may be interested in membership and not interested in changing their lifestyle. It’s important to me that membership in the body of Christ means trying to live in accord with Scripture.

—Don Fass Grand Rapids, Mich.

I refer to the editorial remark at the close of this article, which said: “Could your pastor have written this? You might be surprised. The Banner withheld this author's name to keep attention focused on the message, not the messenger.” If The Banner is indeed so concerned about being focused on the message and not on the messenger, why does it come up with a snide remark that puts every pastor in the denomination under suspicion of being linked to the philosophy espoused in this article?

The Banner ought to be ashamed of this type of editorial insinuation and might wish to offer its apologies for it.

—Rev. Hans Uittenbosch Oakville, Ontario

When sharing my faith I come across churchgoers who advocate homosexuality, trivializing and rationalizing it away. I become concerned for their salvation. I lovingly try to explain that according to the Bible, this sin, like all other sins, cannot be reconciled. It is a transgression of the moral law of God and carries the death penalty of judgment and hell and needs to be taken seriously. I also explain that there is a way of escape. God himself commands all people to repent (turn from sin); Jesus Christ alone took on our punishment and paid our fine with his life’s blood on the cross so we can go free because of his compassionate love for us. What we need to do to receive eternal life is to humbly repent and put our faith in Jesus Christ to save us. When we genuinely do this, he will give us a new heart with clean desires. (See 1 Cor. 6:9; Acts 17:30; Acts 20 and 21; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rom 1:18-32, 2:15; Jude 7; Rev. 21:8.)

—Kevin Hoekman Caledonia, Mich.

The Bible has countless texts about sexual immorality, but it seems it’s not very acceptable these days to repeat in public what the Bible says. If we want to grow churches and strengthen the kingdom of God, perhaps we should heed God’s instructions in Colossians 2:8: “Don’t let anyone lead you astray with empty philosophy and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the evil powers of the world, and not from Christ” (NLT).

Are we enfolding new believers by publishing such articles? Or are they wondering if they made a mistake in joining us? The Banner has so many good articles that strengthen the body of Christ. Please do not print articles that divide us.

—Marjorie Vander Klok Bradenton, Fla.

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