A Hot Iron

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What should Rick do?

I believe that synod had the right to rule that homosexual marriage is morally impermissible, and that such marriages may not be performed in Christian Reformed churches or by Christian Reformed clergy. In so doing it shows that the Christian Reformed Church does not sanction gay marriage.

But when it cautions against the “involvement of officebearers” in a gay marriage ceremony, I believe that it applies this judgment too widely. And in so doing it overrules the conscience of many of its members.

Consider this scenario.

Rick is an elder in the CRC. His brother Gary is gay. Gary’s family, church, and friends have known this for decades. Gary plans to marry his partner and has asked Rick to be the best man at his wedding. Following the advice of the recent synodical decision, Rick may feel he shouldn’t even consider this request. 

But Rick reasons as follows: Gary knows that I don’t believe he is doing the right thing, and everyone understands that. My role in his wedding will not signify my, or the church’s, approval of gay marriage, but will express my deep love for my brother. In fact, by standing up at Gary’s wedding, others may see that my Christian love for my brother is stronger than my disapproval of his sexual practice. 

You may not agree with Rick, and that is fine. But by recommending to the churches the pastoral guidance of the minority report of the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance re Same-Sex Marriage, synod seems to overrule the possibility that Rick should even engage in conscientious reasoning of this sort.

So what should Rick do? Resign as an elder? Leave the CRC? Stand up for Gary and see himself as a heretic?

Jesus condemned religious leaders of his time for this kind of over-reach. Jesus well understood that the Sabbath must be kept holy.  But he rejected the right of the Pharisees to specify how this command should be applied. The Pharisees bound the consciences of the people of God by applying their laws to the number of steps, which meals, what kind of labors, and so on, were permissible under God’s Sabbath command.

Scripture speaks of those whose consciences have been “seared as with a hot iron” (1 Tim. 4:2). It goes on to condemn not the resulting licentiousness, but the strictness of the religious leaders who “forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods . . .” (v. 3).

Those whose conscience demands that they cannot participate in a gay marriage ceremony should refrain. Just as those who do participate should do so in the light of their own conscience.

Editor's note: Synod 2016 adopted binding policy with regard to pastors solemnizing same-sex marriages but only recommended pastoral guidelines in regards to office bearers participating in same-sex weddings. See "Clarifying Synod 2016's Decisions on Pastoral Advice Regarding Same-Sex Marriage" and Acts of Synod 2016, pp. 914ff.

About the Author

Kent VanTil is a minister in the CRC who has served as a missionary in Central America and currently teaches at Hope College in Holland, Mich.  

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