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A mark of the health and vitality of a denomination is whether it can work out serious differences with respect and love.

The authors of the excellent Synodical Report on Same-Sex Marriage made it clear they felt hampered by Synod’s prohibition on revisiting earlier synodical decisions on homosexuality (1973, 2002). I don’t think the issue of same-sex marriage can be thoroughly evaluated without dealing with the larger issue of same-sex relationships. We still have an elephant in the room.

I suspect that this prohibition stemmed from an understandable fear that we simply cannot discuss this issue without tearing apart our denomination. After all, look at what has happened to other denominations like the Presbyterian Church (USA).

But the issue won’t go away. A surprisingly widespread discussion of same-sex relationships and marriage is going on right now all over the denomination, around kitchen tables, in the living room with family or friends, in small groups, and in church councils. Many older adults are realizing that their children and grandchildren have very different views on the subject. Pastors and councils are discovering that their congregations are not of one mind about it.

A friend compared our reticence on this issue to what sometimes happens in a marriage. Discord arises—perhaps it’s as ordinary as who does the housework or as fraught as one spouse’s wandering eye. The couple has a choice to make. Do they talk about it? Of course, it may lead to a disagreement that may explode into other areas. So, they say, “Let’s just not talk about it.”

We all know what happens. Disagreements get stifled, but they don’t go away. They grow in intensity, fostering more distrust and resentment. 

The same things can happen to denominations. As a denominational family, divisive issues are bound to boil up. They always have and always will. A mark of the health and vitality of a denomination is whether it can work out serious differences with respect and love.

As I see it, hiding from the discussion of homosexuality under the guise of maintaining unity may actually cause the fissures to widen and denominational vitality to decline. More and more people feel left out, cut off, unheeded. Like a tension-averse marriage, we could sink into a malaise of distrust, distance, and lack of passion for our common ministries.

Some claim that Synod said it all in 1973 and 2002. The Bible is clear and the confessions demand obedience to its clear teachings. What is there to discuss?

The issue of same-sex relationships and marriage is indeed rooted in serious questions of biblical exegesis and has broad social ramifications. Our answers should not be rooted in what we see in TV sitcoms or in societal shifts but in the gospel. That’s the very discussion we need to have.  

It won’t be easy. It will take respectful listening and, above all, patience on all sides. Our churches should be safe places for people to air their stories, questions, and concerns. Thankfully, it’s happening already. Classis Grand Rapids East adopted a helpful study report, written by a committee representing a spectrum of views on the issue, that fairly articulates the alternative viewpoints in order to facilitate that discussion.

I suggest that instead of closing off discussion, we should close off decisions for a time. Accept all reports for information while we continue to listen carefully to each other.

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