The Elephant in the Room

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.

About the Author

Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

See comments (4)


The "Synodical Report on Same-Sex Marraige" to be presented to Synod this June is not not clear and concise. Standing on Scripture alone. No! It is just another extreme, "I mean extreme" lenghty, psychoanalysis on homsexuality. Just like the 73 report! Gathering and stating people's opinions (including governments) as if these are equal to God's opinion.

God said, ..."do not be decieved:...neither the sexually immoral, adulterer (Jesus equated lust to be adultery)... nor men who practice homosexuality,... will inherit the kingdom of God."

Now, what is the CRCNA going to do about God's opinion? Throw it under the bus, because we are afraid of what people and governments will say or do, rather than declare what God has already said

If God's opinion is right ("Let God be true and every man a liar." Romans 3:4), then what is our responsiblity, or mandate as a church to those who find themselves in homosexuality, or any other form of sin for that matter?

"If I say to the wicked, "You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand." (Ezekiel 3:18)

Thanks Len for this editorial.  I think your suggestion of being open to discussion is a wise move for our denomination.  All sides should be heard and considered.  I think a lesson could be learned from the “women in office” issue.  That issue took some time for our denomination to resolve.  And still there are churches on different sides of the issue. Some (few) still do not allow women to hold office in the church.  But all churches are allowed that option if they see it as permissible and beneficial.  I believe that it was our culture that helped the church to see that women could serve in leadership positions with great success, even as the leaders of nations. But up until recent history there has been a holding back in using the leadership talents of women where the influence of Christianity and other religions has been felt in society.  Now we face a new challenge.  And we might ask whether our culture tells us anything here.

From early on, Old Testament, New Testament, and through the course of history, homosexual orientation and activity was seen as a perversion of morality. Then in just the recent few decades has homosexual orientation been seen as having a genetic or natural cause rather than simply a sinful choice of the fallen nature.  Step one.

One question I have is, did the apostle Paul have a complete understanding of homosexual reality or was he commenting only on the reality that he had knowledge of in his culture.  Up until forty or fifty years ago, homosexual orientation and activity was considered an aberration of Christian morality.  With Christianity’s influence on Western society, this was also our culture’s perspective.  An admission of homosexual orientation or activity was sure to garner a person a  reputation as an outcast of respectable society.  Those who engaged in such activity had to go to exclusive venues such as gay bars that the rest of society looked at as cesspools of filth.  That has always been the case up until recently, even in the apostle Paul’s day (an in O.T. times), where he observed the homosexual activities at the heathen temples.  So to gain an understanding of the gay world, people would look at such venues where homosexual activity took place.  If there was such a thing as a monogamous homosexual relationship it was guarded and protected in a deep cloak of secrecy. No one could know about it.  That has been true of our society, as well, until recently.  And now with the diminishing influence of Christianity on our culture, our society is no longer quick to judge homosexual orientation and activity as the sin that our church is ready to accuse it of.

In our churches and denomination we view the Bible as being infallible, rather than inerrant. To me, that leaves room for the human authors of Scripture to be subject to human error and even cultural error.  A good example is the Old Testament accounting of the sun revolving around the earth. With time and research, we have come to realize that these human Bible authors were in error.  Isn’t it likely that the apostle Paul was not an expert in the homosexual experience and his perspective was taken from what he saw in his culture, and not from what was hidden in secrecy?  When we claim the infallibility of Scripture, we claim that the Bible is unfailing in accomplishing God’s purpose to equip the person of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16).  But we treat the apostle Paul as being the inerrant spokesman for God.  Paul cannot make mistakes or errors.  Infallibility does not hold such a position.  Maybe we need to take a lesson, once again, from our culture and recognize practicing homosexuals as being as much the objects of God’s love and acceptance as anyone else.  And perhaps they should also be the objects of our love and acceptance as well.  Thanks Len, for the suggestion to continue the dialogue on this

I did read the editorial 'Elephant in the Room'. There is no room for discussion and for all those that grow weary, as I do of this, it's time to leave the CRC. Many will say, "Good riddance", but I say it's time to leave!!
I am not open to any discussion, period! There is no need to discuss issues that are contrary to the teachings of the Bible. Every time a new sexual deviant behavior comes around a new letter is added to their alphabet description. It is then endorsed by our liberal media, and discussions are called for. It gets around to synod in a few years and those wanting to stick with the bibles moral teachings or called bigots and close minded. When Will the discussion of which bathroom to use start? It never ends.