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.  

See comments (13)


This seems a faux challenge to me.  If, as this article's author admits, Synod merely cautioned against office bearers from participating in same sex weddings (which it did), and Rick's decision analysis was as this article describes, I would think Rick would be seen as having heeded the caution, and as having contradicted no Synodically imposed rules.

I suppose Synod could have detailed the thousands (or more) of ways an office bearer could exercise "caution" but yet still participate in some way in a same sex marriage, and conclude as to each scenario whether it did or did not pass the "caution test" but that would have been beyond legalistic in a pharisaiacal way and the author of this article might then be penning an article condemning Synod's rank legalism and suggesting it should instead have merely issued a non-binding caution  (as it did).

I'm a bit confused as to how exhorting brothers and sisters to exercise caution is tantamount to overruling their conscience.  If you urge your brother or sister in Christ to exercise caution or care without prescribing discipline, aren't you actually appealing to them to use/heed their biblically-informed conscience? The linked article states that as to officebearer involvement in same-sex union ceremonies, synod "conveys a tone that is more cautionary than rigid".  And the author compares that caution to the Pharisees binding rule upon rule onto their people?  The author might do well to avoid such hyperbolic comparisons, lest he be accused of being a Pharisee for twisting the truth (they did that too).  (I think there needs to be a religious corollary to Godwin's law where Naziism is replaced with Phariseeism.)

It is also helpful to remind ourselves what synod cautioned against in plain language: participation in a ceremony that celebrates immorality and that is not God-honoring.  Since when would it be innapropriate or a violation of my conscience for the broader church assembly to urge me to exercise caution regarding participation in such a ceremony?  On the contrary, if we are not able to "teach and admonish one another with all wisdom" (Col. 3:16) without accusations of Phariseeism, it seems that we will have a hard time being the body of Christ together.

If the author is really concerned about the institutional church "overrulling" the consceinces of its members, he may want to turn his attention to the ongoing leftist political activism and lobbying of the Office of Social Justice. 

In this scenario, Rick says that by standing up at Gary’s wedding, others may see that his Christian love for his brother is stronger than his disapproval of his brother's sexual practice. However, what  it tells me is that Rick considers blood ties more important than Scripture. To take part is to support the practice.   

As I read this article I was struck by the double standard that I hear and see in our denomination’s new position.  We have binding policy for ministers, recommended guidelines for office bearers, and no recommendation for professing members.  Ministers may not participate in any way in a gay marriage but confessing members are free to participate in any way they might wish.  Seems like a double standard to me.  The old phrase, “What’s good for the goose is also good for the gander” does not apply here.  As I listen to the conversation surrounding our denomination’s latest decision (in regard to homosexual activity and marriage), I guess the old notion that the minister and elders are to be role models for the congregation no longer holds true.

With ths sliding scale of involvement in gay marriages, it seems the real winner is the gay baptized member (Gary) because he/she is not subject to the CRC’s interpretation on homosexuality, but rather can opt for an interpretation of the Bible that supports gay marriage.  He/she is still welcome to participate in the life of the church but is not subject to the authority of the elders of the church and does not have to fear any form of church discipline.  If this person were a confessing member the scenario would be different.  As a baptized member or a regular worshiper in a CRC church he/she has the freedom to gather with his/her friends and family in worship and not fear reprisal for his position on homosexuality or gay marriage.  He/she may even see this involvement within a CRC church as a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate his/her deep rooted love for Christ and his body, the church, and thus have an impact on dismantling the prejudice that the church is so entrenched in.  I’d say the gay baptized member or regular attendee is the real winner (not the minister or the elders).

There's no "double standard" here Roger, but rather just Sesame Street:  "One of these things is not like the other."

And despite your distaste for pharisaiacal legalism, you're pitching for it here.

I was just making an observation, Doug, not advocating for anything.  I still have a distaste for pharisaical legalism, whether in the New Testament or in our denomination.

This is a really helpful and important post. I know many fellow pastors who've already or expect in the not to distant future to encounter the above senario. Pastors should be able to participate in these events without living in fear of potential backlash. 

Thank you for speaking out against the overreach inherant in the synodical statement. I hope you can dispel the sense of fear that many people in the church felt when they first read the document.

I am all for hypothetical situations – they help us understand the potential outcomes of our decisions and actions. I’m wondering, though, if this hypothetical accurately represents what “attendance” means to those participating in a same-sex marriage today. It is still, relatively, new. It is still a milestone for ssa people and those who support them in their attraction, both secularly and religiously.

Here’s some comparative hypotheticals: Would it be acceptable for a CRC member – but not a pastor – to go with a friend or family member to Planned Parenthood for the abortion of their pregnancy? What about “attending” a batchelor party at a “gentleman’s club?” Would a CRC member’s attendance at a family member’s Medium Reading to contact a deceased child be interpreted as ‘only’ support for the family member? What if an Elder or Pastor attended the same Reading?

If I look at Jesus’ ministry, he ate and drank with “sinners”, but he was not a silent attender for their support – he represented his Father and His Kingdom and the Gospel He was fulfilling. Jesus used these less than holy situations to call sinners to repentance. So, it seems the answer to the hypothetical is really the “how” and the “why.” If you go to represent your family, you may remain silent and let people’s assumptions fall where they may. But, I would argue that as Christians, we do not represent our earthy family as much as we represent Christ. If our “why” of attending is to represent Christ to people engaging in – hoping for fulfillment in – less than holy activities, then “how” we attend may be less silent and more deliberately vocal of the Gospel than is comfortable for us and our family members.

Bad examples of hypotheticals, Michael.  You are picking examples of behavior that in your mind are obviously sinful and therefor should be sinful for everyone else.  You are asking if it would be right for you to violate your own conscience to support someone else in what you consider to be sinful.  The issue of homosexuality is not cut and dried for many, so the issue seems to be which is worse, to turn my back on my family or to participate in an act that may or may not be sinful, or an act that may only be questionable, like eating meat sacrificed to idols.  Perhaps we should be gracious enough to allow others, including pastors, to make up their own mind without passing judgement.

Roger.  Of course Michael would assume what you fault him for assuming.  That has to be the working assumption in this conversation because the CRC assumes exactly what Michael's post assumes  (that gay sex is sinful).  Indeed, if the denomination thought as you do, the subject of this article wouldn't exist and the author of the article would have nothing to write about.

It's fine to argue that both Michael and the CRC start with the wrong premise, but that is another discussion that has nothing to do with the core point made in this article.

Doug, I think the author of this article, Kent VanTil, is questioning the reasonableness of the denomination’s position in pressuring elders and deacons from participating in gay marriage ceremonies.  He says the denomination seems to be applying it’s judgement of gay marriage nonparticipation too widely and in so doing overrules the consciences of many of its members.  Michael disagrees and suggests that Rick (the elder) should in no way participate, for by doing so he violates his allegiance to Christ.  That goes for any Christian considering participation in a gay marriage ceremony, according to Michael’s comment.  So it would seem that Kent VanTil is questioning (or doubting) both the denomination’s position as well as Michael’s (as I do, as well).  Michael, like myself, offers a perspective different from that of the author.  I think that by offering the opportunity to comment, the Banner is welcoming comments of differing viewpoints.  My comment seems germane to the issue raised by this article.  But thanks Doug for your viewpoint.

How many more articles are we going to have in the Banner with all these examples? Let's call a time out! Keep the discussion in this medium but leave it out of the Banner.