Talking Biblically About Homosexuality

| |

I was proud of our congregation. For four consecutive Sundays about a year and a half ago we looked at the issue of sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. And it didn’t blow up the church. In fact, I think it made us healthier.

We planned for it carefully. For our general consideration of the subject, I preached in the morning on sex as a gift, sex as an idol, and sex and the life of discipleship. In the evening we examined first the biblical underpinnings of the Christian Reformed Church’s position on homosexual orientation and practice, then the scientific evidence regarding sexual identity, and then finally heard a panel discussion regarding the experience of homosexual Christians in the church. After each presentation we held facilitated discussions in small groups. As a result of those meetings, our elders felt led to add a final session to evaluate the series as a whole and to talk about next steps.

Nearly 100 people attended each evening. Even though they held diverse convictions, especially regarding homosexuality, they learned together and listened to one another with respect and without nastiness. As a pastor, that made me proud.

To be honest, I had dreaded the conversation. Civil discussion has become almost a lost art in a culture that loves to rant. Homosexuality is certainly one of those “hot-button” issues in the church and society that can encourage such ranting. And unlike other controversial matters—taxes, for example—sexuality lies very close to our personal identity. It is inevitably an intimate subject. The potential for someone to be deeply, personally hurt in such a discussion is enormous. I had always considered an open conversation on homosexuality in the church too dangerous.

Our church learned, however, that not talking about the issue carries its own set of risks and that silence on the subject also inflicts pain. When at a council meeting we became aware that the denomination’s stance regarding homosexual orientation and practice was not well understood by many of our elders and deacons, we resolved to do something about the ignorance that our silence had produced. As a council we resolved to read the 1973 and 2002 study reports on the issue. We also formed a task force to come up with a plan to help our congregation consider the subject. Our four-week series was the result of their planning.

Our Discovery

In their evaluation afterward, the elders judged the series a success. Some good learning happened. People were challenged to think deeply and Christianly about sexuality. They discovered that we can and should talk together in the church about such matters.

The elders noted something else, however, about our conversation—particularly in the small group sessions but also in our questions and comments after the presentations: we were weakest in speaking about homosexuality biblically.

To some extent we could appreciate the scientific complexities surrounding sexual orientation. And we were certainly able to tell stories, many extremely sad and heartbreaking, of the experiences of homosexual men and women in the church and in families. But when we turned to what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, we were all over the map.

It wasn’t so much that participants were ill-informed, although in some cases that may have been true. It was more that they had heard all sorts of biblical interpretations across the whole theological and ideological spectrum. Also, as a group we lacked the Reformed interpretive skills necessary to evaluate those interpretations critically and confessionally.

Familiarity with more recent interpretations also led some to regard the CRC’s “middle-aged” position as automatically obsolete or superceded by the newer models. Even middle-aged study reports, however, deserve to be evaluated according to their merits rather than dismissed primarily because they are old.

Do we even want to bother with interpreting Scripture? I sometimes detect hints of a kind of postmodern cynicism that says people can make the Bible say pretty much what they want it to say—making biblical interpretation largely irrelevant. I certainly believe that our long, painful consideration of women in church office has made us extremely skittish about entering into such biblical conversations about controversial matters.

While understandable, that fear is also lamentable because central to the work and calling of church is to speak biblically to the issues of our times.

After our experience in considering one of those issues, our church council decided that our congregation as well as the wider church needs help in interpreting what the Bible has to say in regard to homosexuality. We noted that our denomination’s most recent biblical work on the issue stems from 1973’s report. Since that time a multitude of books and articles and study reports have commented on the subject, and other churches have been discussing it at great length. How can we expect our 38-year-old report to respond adequately to all the biblical and theological discussions of nearly four decades?

In addition, our cultural landscape is vastly different today. Although the 1973 report uncannily anticipates committed homosexual unions (p. 600), we now live in an age in which Canadian law and the laws of a growing number of U.S.   states regard it a right for homosexual persons to marry. In 1973 commercial TV regarded homosexuality largely as a taboo subject for its viewers; it’s now a major theme in many sitcoms. Since 1973 the American Psychiatric Association has removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), now regarding it as a sexual variant. Regardless of how we view these changes, no one can doubt they represent an enormous cultural shift. The point is simply this: if there was ever a time for up-to-date biblical teaching on the subject, it is now.

This need was already recognized about a decade ago. A CRC study committee on Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members suggested in its report to Synod 2002 that the church could benefit from more current biblical and theological work on this matter.

Even though the committee judged it outside of its mandate “to re-examine Scriptural texts that deal explicitly or implicitly with homosexuality,” the committee did say “there may be wisdom, both pastorally and theologically, for the church to address these concerns at some time in the future” (Agenda for Synod 2002, p. 315). Synod 2002 agreed, saying that “there may be wisdom in developing a current response to the many recent treatments of the biblical passages pertaining to this issue” (Acts of Synod 2002, p.483). That was basically an open invitation for an overture from some church or classis (regional group of churches),─an invitation that has sat on the church’s desk for nearly a decade.

Our Request

After our series, the elders asked what God was calling us to do in light of what we’d learned, observed, and experienced. We solicited feedback from the congregation. We found great consensus that we need to promote better biblical understanding of this issue. We also decided that this is an area of concern for all the churches, not simply our congregation. So we did something that seems so stereotypically Christian Reformed: we wrote an overture. In it, we asked our classis to request synod “to appoint a study committee to review the biblical teachings regarding homosexual orientation and practice in light of current biblical and theological study of these issues.”

Classis Grand Rapids East approved the overture in its meeting last May. Because it was too late for Synod 2010’s printed agenda, it’s included in the business for this year’s synod.

As overtures go, it’s extremely modest. It does not ask for a re-examination of the denomination’s position on homosexual orientation and practice, although some may suspect that is its goal.
What the overture asks for is a review of our biblical teachings with an eye to the biblical and theological work that has been done on this issue in the past 38 years. We didn’t even want to use the word “reexamine” because we thought it sounded prejudicial, assuming in advance that there’s something wrong with the denomination’s biblical teachings on homosexuality. Some may of course think so, but that was certainly not the consensus of our council or classis.

Our goal is to begin talking again about the issue biblically. For that purpose, we ask for this review.

Talking biblically is not necessarily easy or safe. It can be painful and unsettling. To be honest, I’m still scared of the conversation. It will hurt. But talking biblically is the work of the church, and not doing that work is even more dangerous—perhaps deadly.

Doing that work, on the other hand, is ultimately life-giving and life-changing for the church. After all, it is by listening to God’s Word and following God’s Spirit that we are reformed.

In Official Language

The council of Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church overtures Classis Grand Rapids East to overture Synod [2011] to appoint a study committee to review the biblical teachings regarding homosexual orientation and practice in light of current biblical and theological study of these issues.

Grounds:

1. Our latest official statement regarding biblical teachings on this issue is [38] years old.
2. There has been significant biblical and theological consideration of these issues since then, both in the Reformed tradition and in the wider Christian church.
3. Both the 2002 Study Committee report on Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members and the advisory committee assigned the report at Synod 2002 recognized the possible usefulness of such a review:
a)    After discussing the responses of churches and individuals to the 1973 report, the 2002 Study Committee stated that “ . . . given the thoughtful challenges posed by individuals and churches within the denomination, there may be wisdom, both pastorally and theologically, for the church to address these concerns at some time in the future” (Agenda for Synod 2002, p. 315).
b)    Noting this statement from the report, the advisory committee observed “ . . . there may be wisdom in developing a current response to the many recent treatments of the biblical passages pertaining to this issue” (Acts of Synod 2002, p.483)
4.    In this time of social, legal, and cultural change in regard to homosexuality, our congregations need such a study in order to address pastorally and theologically individuals and the wider culture in a biblically informed manner.

About the Author

Rev. David Kromminga is pastor of Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

See comments (50)

Comments

Why review the biblical teachings on homosexuality that the denomination(for the most part) has subscribed to since day one? Synod has reviewed this a dozen times since 1973 and has not been absent as accused. One can only conclude that your aim is to change policy-drastically. What other benefit would suffice? It's disingenuous to say otherwise. Also, Rev. Kromminga's argument is a non sequitur. As he makes the case for revisiting this issue, he appeals to "biblically" understanding the issue on several occasions, yet cites modern psychiatry and "an enormous cultural shift" as the basis for an "up-to-date biblical teaching." Where are the new biblical passages to shed a different light on this? And what "enormous cultural shift" has taken place in the last 5 years since Synod 2006, when Synod took Toronto First CRC to task regarding their homosexual policies? Rev. Kromminga may be proud of his congregation, but I am sure there are many who are not.

And finally, why would the Banner find it necessary to print this overture when I can find no evidence, online, that the Banner has ever printed an overture before? What makes this overture so important versus the countless other types of overtures throughout the years? Here is evidence again, that the Banner has been less than fair on this issue; which, by the way, is deeply connected with the Belhar issue. One only needs to Google "Allan Boesak", the principle mover of the Belhar, and "homosexuality" to find where his allegiance is on this issue. Its time to put this issue to bed. Nighty, night.

I disagree, Brian. I cannot claim to personally know Rev. Kromminga and I have no basis for taking him at other than his word.

The fact is, there is continuing pressure on the church to change its stance. Rev. Kromminga expressly states that it was *NOT* the consensus of either his council or the classis that there was a problem with that stance. What they are asking for is, well, refresher training, if you will.

The biblical and theological discussion of a particular topic is a perishable skill. How many, for instance, would still be able to recount all the different passages, interpretations, and arguments for women in ecclesiastical office, now that the issue is largely quiescent in our denomination? And those arguments were re-stated by Synod as recently as 2000.

As firm as we might be in our beliefs, if we are to give a steady, compelling, grace-filled account of those beliefs as we ought always be ready to do, periodically reviewing them - and the reasons for them - makes sense.

Dear PNR,
Evidently, you are not reading Rev. Krominnga's article discerningly. The overture asks for Synod to "review biblical teachings..." Refresher training would be to look at all the past and present synodical literature. Again, where does he appeal to biblical principles("we were all over the map")? The show "Glee", Dr. Ruth, and California ethics are not the barometer whereby we should measure the movement of the church on this issue. Also, he is dismissive of the scientific evidence, "To some extent we could appreciate the scientific complexities surrounding sexual orientation." Can't be anymore ambiguous than that. And finally the grounds for their appeal, not once but twice, is the report from 2002 stating, "...there may be wisdom..." It never crossed their mind that there may NOT be wisdom in developing a [new]current response.

Continuing pressure on this issue is not coming from within the CRC, its coming from the outside. Belhar is the external force.

Brian -

I am not inclined to view this overture conspiratorially.

I should hope that our goal would always be to review, clarify, and present biblical teaching. I'm not exactly sure why it would be better to review synodical teaching, although - to repeat - I should hope that would be in concert with biblical teaching. And there is much in the Bible that would suggest reviewing biblical teaching is a good thing - pretty much the entire book of Deuteronomy, for instance, as well as Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus.

Whether it crossed their minds as to whether there might not be wisdom in this course, I cannot say. The article implies that it has, but so what? Wouldn't be the first time people disagreed about the wisdom of a proposed course of action.

Indeed the pressure *is* coming from outside the CRC. We should be prepared to answer it, rather than simply saying we don't want to talk about it.

Nothing in this article, or in the overture, suggests that we should change our bottom-line position. It does strongly suggest we should help one another be prepared to give an account of our faith. I'm all for that.

I'll grant you, though, that there's no telling what Synod or a study committee would do with this, but then, there never is. I will also say that if the CRC ever were to officially approve of homosexual behavior, it would finish us as a denomination and deservedly so. We've lost 60,000 members since 1992 according to denominational membership statistics. We could easily lose more than twice that many in 1/4 the time were we to take such a step.

PRN,
I commend you for your pastoral attitude towards Sherman Street CRC, but as you can sense I don't share your sentiments. In fact I will go as far to say that the overture and the Banner's publication of it is conspiratorial. Here is how. SSCRC is a member of Classis Grand Rapids East. CGRE has had a continuing battle with Synod over this issue. In 1995 CGRE was scolded by Calvin Seminary faculty for rejecting the majority report and not affirming key elements of the minority report. In 1996 CGRE was forced to stand down on its pro-homosexual positions. There is a history here. Meanwhile, throughout the years, the church has been pretty insistent on its position, reaffirming in 2002 and disciplining Toronto CRC in 2006. And now in lieu of the Belhar's likely adoption and its declaration of sympathies to the homosexual cause, SSCRC has now decided to make an overture. There is no doubt in my mind that this a calculated move. This is evidenced by the Banner's heavy handed treatment of the Belhar over the years with opponents getting piddly IMHO essays and proponents getting full articles. And now, why did the Banner decide to publish this overture? Unavoidably, the Belhar will be the vehicle by which this issue moves forward. Just suppose--a study committee this year, 2012 Belhar is adopted as a confession, and in 2013 the committee comes back with a recommendation to change policy; so as to be in harmony with the newly adopted confession. Is this unbelievable?

All I can say, Brian, is that I hope you're wrong.

I feel your aversion to the Belhar, and the public discussion has been more than a little lopsided. So far, the only reason put forward in favor of it is "we're racists if we don't", coupled with a colonialist condescension ("if we don't, the natives will feel bad"). These are not sufficient reasons to my mind.

But then, I never saw the point to the Contemporary Testimony, either.

It is strange to me that the CRC keeps seeking out new confessional statements even as it ignores the ones we have.

PNR and Brian:

your discussion much appreciated.

each makes excellent points.

"Continuing pressure on this issue is not coming from within the CRC, its coming from the outside. Belhar is the external force."

Actually, the pressure IS within the CRC. Whether you believe it or not, there are homosexual CRC members! Family members and congregations are realizing homosexuals aren't any more evil than any other sinner out there, so THEY are demanding change, not some writer of a confession written in 1986 (that's 25 years ago). The RCA has reaffirmed their stand against homosexuality, even after adopting the Belhar. So, your correlation between the CRC's possible change in position on homosexuality because of a new confession is GROSSLY arrogant and incorrect. Fear-mongering is not allowed!

Something Vander -

Given the official position of the CRC from 1973 and 2002 - an eminently reasonable and biblical position - what would you have us change? That you think our position needs to be changed suggests that you are not pressuring the denomination to extend the same grace and pastoral sensitivity to those who sin via homosexual acts that we extend to those who sin via lies, heterosexual affairs, or other sins. It is instead pressure to stop calling homosexual behavior sinful.

Yet, however painful it might be to homosexuals and however uncomfortable it might make their supporters, we cannot give in to that pressure. We are bound to the Word of God and the Word is quite clear on this point. Homosexual behavior is sinful behavior.

As for the Belhar, it really depends on how one understands that amorphous phrase "natural diversity" and at least one of its South African authors has asserted that it should include "homosexuals". So, while it is not a necessary consequence of adopting the Belhar, it is also not an idle fear, either. It is incorrect for the moment, but it is not grossly arrogant or without foundation to be concerned.

i never made a call for anyone to do anything. i was responding to the arrogant and ignorant assumptions made by brian.

And I am saying that, given the public statements by at least one of the Belhar's authors, Brian is being neither arrogant nor ignorant.

He may be - and I hope is - in error, but that is something only time will tell. It is hard to tell right now whether the CRC is retreating from the 40+ year trend towards being indistinguishable from the dying main-line protestant denominations or accelerating along that path to dissolution. The different pressures on the denomination are very finely balanced at this moment and I am not at all certain that the CRC will even exist in 30 years. If we move towards liberalism on homosexual behavior, we will not. We have lost over 60,000 members since 1992. We cannot afford to lose another 60-70 thousand over the next 20 years.

Something Vander:

I agree with PNR's observations regarding "arrogant and ignorant." Brian's comments do not deserve that.

Some impressions that I had from reading Kromminga's article.

1. The use of emotive language. (essentially as a marketing tool?) He is "proud of our congregation." Also, the apparent "fear" that Kromminga felt in the run-up to the discussion of which he is "proud."

2. The expressed uncertainty as to his own congregation's understanding on the issue of homosexuality and homosexual practice. One would have hoped that as the person perhaps most responsible in his congregation for the "means of grace" in the form of preaching, that he did not have such doubt. Can one seriously imagine a preacher of an earlier generation having that uncertainty on an issue of relatively unanimous consensus for over two thousand years of Christian history?

3. Did I miss something, or was the point of view was held by Christians for thousands of years, not stated in the essay: that homosexual practice is a sin. (one assumes that some in the congregation did hold that position but as far as I can tell that is not stated clearly) If that is true Brian's concerns would seem to me to be neither arrogant nor ignorant.

4. It also was my impression that the essay conflated two matters that 1973 seemed to deal with in a more nuanced fashion: the distinction between orientation and practice.

5. It also seems a bit culturally myopic to state that an ecclesiastical decision becomes dated when it has reached the age of 38.

No assumptions, Something, just facts. As to your understanding of what is happening in the Reformed Church of America: Belhar was adopted by RCA in 2010; so the gears are just beginning to turn. Pastor Kevin DeYoung, in Perspectives, outlines in detail as to the challenges facing the RCA on this issue. He points out that Rev. Kaper-Dale of the Reformed Church of Highland Park in New Jersey wrote, "There are clauses and stances now in our life together as a Reformed Church in America that sometimes explicitly, and often implicitly, imply that human and social factors are to be a consideration in determining membership of the church. If we don't address in our polity, statements that limit some humans based on gender, sexual orientation or any other human or societal factor, I don't know if we're ready for the Belhar Confession."

Again in his essay, DeYoung lays out the connections between the RCA Belhar Study Guide and pro-gay marriage websites. Official RCA documents point to the link between the two, not me.

And finally, Allen Boesak, at a RCA conference "dramatically insisted that the church's Belhar Confession demands the defense of the full rights of gay members. When the synod rejected this, he announced his intention to resign from all church offices and left the synod floor with his wife" (The Banner, January 16, 2009). If the Belhar's main author subscribes to this, then what am I to think? This is not fear mongering, just facts. I hope you can appreciate them.

It’s scary to see how grown up men of God get twisted and turned when it comes to cultural shifts and changes.
It’s truly worrying to see where this is heading.
If the true significance of the Belhar was brought to light we would not be arguing about homosexuality. Yet it has become a subject for discussion, not because it has stopped being a sin, but because the fact that it is inconveniences a few.
I am sorry to say, by the love of God; the day the Bible stop being the inerrant and sufficient word of God, that day a denomination becomes heretic.
We do not need new decisions regarding what the Bible says. Or are we accumulating treasures for this earth instead of the Kingdom of God.
Good riddance.

The continued self-righteousness of those who are Christian Reformed is the most troubling aspect of this "issue"...and emotion has nothing to do with my stance, believe me, the rampant and unchecked homophobia that exists in the CRC certainly does not bend or waver for a moment in the face of the church's gay young people who are left no choice but to leave their home denomination in the face of their commnity's ignorance and fear, which of course masks itself as stalwart "truthiness"...thankfully some of us manage to escape the self-hatred we are raised with, the loneliness and the complete lack of empathy or concern from family and friends. The CRC does not want to hear any voices that say "shame on you" for your unChristlike lack of reaching out to your gay sons and daughters, but quite frankly, this is exactly what the church needs to hear. On a much broader level, some of us have chosen to address difficult questions such as how we are to live in the midst of people who hold to different belief systems...the CRC's abhorrent attitude still maintains "our way or the highway"...this is neither Christlike nor scripturally sound.

Johnny B.-

Where, pray tell, is the homophobia in either the article or the comments? I don't see anybody *afraid* of homosexuals. I do see people insisting that we are bound to the biblical teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful behavior, an affirmation of the 1973 and 2002 reports which not only say this but also say we must reach out to sinners with the love of God, mindful of the grace each of us has received.

I would even go so far as to say that we have not lived up to the challenge, though I would also say that the homosexual community's insistence that anything less than full acceptance and approval of the behavior constitutes "homophobia" adds to the difficulty. Still, one failure does not absolve another.

That we, as all human beings, fail to live up to the call of the Gospel is incontrovertible, and your post indicates that I am not the only one who needs practice at living out that biblical grace and Christlike forbearance.

Dear PNR: thanks very much for your response, because a truly open discussion on the subject of homosexuality needs to start somewhere, and if this acts as a place for that, I think that's great...this is one of the very few articles or discussions I've seen recently that even deals with the topic of homosexuality in a CRC context, so forgive me if I used it as a launching pad to point out that gay people are treated with an enormous amount of disrespect in the CRC community...But back to our usage of this word "homophobia"...
To equate the word "homophobia" with "hatred" as though only open violence is a sign of such behavior shows a complete incomprehension of what the word is striving to express. Fear and ignorance are symptoms of such behavior too, and as members of the CRC you can't BUT be ignorant of gay people because people from the CRC have never made an openly concerted effort to engage gay people in dialogue.Regardless of your church's views on homosexuality, I would imagine a Christ-centred church would want to encourage those who are openly approaching them and telling them of their pain, their loneliness, their dificulties...not that their sin is right, not that they may join the church, not that they may take over and censor any conversations on this or that subject...but simply to act as the still small voice of comfort in the face of overwhelming abuse and prejudice. As an openly gay man who was raised in the CRC, I am telling you that I have had many extremely hateful things said to my face by people I considered friends, and by family members I expected far more from. As an openly gay man, I am telling you that CRC people have completely cut me off from their lives, ignored me, left me alone when I most needed to ask questions and find reassurance that whatever the complex answers to the muddled questions of our existence may be, that I am still loved as a child of God.I am not asking for your pity, and I have no reason to lie about such hurtful memories.

Perhaps the greatest sin involved in the concept of homophobia is that homophobic behavior is so often a sin of omission, not comission. It's not so much if you've ever done something horrible toward gay people that can be captured on film, perhaps the most sinful thing you've done was to deny or ignore one of your children while they were struggling and in pain. There are gay young people out there killing themselves because they feel utterly abandoned by their communities, and all you can do is shrug your shoulders and direct them to some church report which you think excuses your cold and unfeeling attitude? As someone who made it through that dark lonely place but will never forget it, and on behalf of the kids who are stuck in your church and being ignored because they make you uncomfortable, I say once again, shame on you.
As someone who finally left the CRC because I was exhausted by the cold and hostile attitude which seems to be the lot of gays in your environs, I don't care for or need your acceptance anymore. But I am suggesting that you have a responsibility to dialogue with those whom you might very well disagree with completely. How you treat strangers and outsiders is very telling, and quite honestly, how the CRC treats gay people is sad, heartbreaking and disturbing.

I didn't equate homophobia with hatred. I equated it with being afraid of homosexuals.

I also think you paint with far too broad a brush. At least *some* members of the denomination - and certainly the leadership - have made attempts to engage homosexuals in conversation. Several congregations have tried to create the very sorts of forums you describe.

But as long as we collectively insist that homosexual behavior is sinful behavior, it seems it is insufficient. We are still collectively unfeeling and "homophobic".

I notice that this does not happen on a personal level. I have conversed with and prayed with homosexuals frequently over the course of my ministry and have never shied away from this belief that it is sinful behavior. I have tried hard to avoid singling it out as somehow uniquely sinful, as if it is worse than heterosexual fornication, or deceit, or blasphemy, etc, but it is still sin. This honesty has led to fruitful discussion and mutual understanding, even if neither of us budges from our original position.

The mutual accusations on a collective level, however, have always been a barrier to overcome. So, both sides, maybe we can start by treating each other simply as sinful human beings saved by grace rather than as "homophobes" vs. "homosexuals".

Johnny does not paint with "too broad a brush". Ask a gay son of the CRC in rural Iowa if he feels the CRC has made an attempt to OPENLY and honestly discuss homosexuality. Sit through a rural-America sermon on homosexuality, have coffee with friends or family after church; the things said do not create a pretty picture. I'm not going to respond to any other items others have written because someone flagged my comment as inappropriate and it is no longer here. Some people can't handle certain truths being exposed?

The "pride" of being CRC is lessening, and the denomination is better for it. I personally feel the CRC is becoming a more accepting place for people of all persuasions. Why? Because those who remain have seen their family members go through HELL in the hands of her members, and they don't want anyone else to experience that. The decline in the denomination's membership is from those who are tired of being outcasts in their own family, and are just done with it all (perhaps Johnny [and myself]).

I must add that discussing the issue of homosexuality with other CRC members is a true blessing. Somewhere along the path of being treated like dirt.... we learned love. Thank God for homosexual CRC members and former members! What great people!

I have asked such a person.

I have preached sermons in rural congregations that touch on the issue, too.

To suggest that we lost 60,000 members between 1992 and 2011 because we have not been more welcoming of homosexuals is not supported by the data.

Sins that allow us to categorize fellow human beings as "other" tend to lead to the estrangement you describe. Adultery used to be in that category, until too many engaged in it or got divorced and it was no longer possible to label adulterers as "them". Homosexual behavior is a sin that too easily allows for the "us"/"them" distinction and, while it is certainly understandable that homosexuals who were treated so shamefully as "them" would accept the distinction and respond as you apparently have, it is also true that it exacerbates the problem.

Indeed, you use the sin of hypocrisy and maltreatment to categorize some as "other", and thus justify the same actions towards those sinners.

The "decline" I talk of is TODAY, not from 1992 onward (that's history!). We're all well-aware of a new denomination taking approximately 25,000 members way back in '92 onward. TODAY, not yesterday.

Well, then, the 6,880 or so net decline in membership from 2010 to 2011 is also not because of the way the denomination has treated homosexuals. The evidence simply will not support your claim regardless of the time period you use.

The issue of the CRC's future - and whether it has one or not - is tied to its willingness to stand firm on biblical teaching as understood and interpreted by the three historic Reformed creeds coupled with a willingness to communicate that faith firmly to a modern American populace. That will, by the way, include the compassionate, grace-filled, and loving insistence that homosexual behavior is sinful behavior.

Some will, no doubt, use that to claim a moral superiority. Ever since Adam tried to excuse his sin by telling God that Eve did it first, people have tried to hide their own sin behind that of others. The claim that homosexuals are somehow terrible sinners makes it easy to hide my lies, or porn addiction, or whatever. Accusations of hypocrisy and false witness and just plain nasty name-calling by people who make nice and talk grace in church somehow makes my homosexual behavior less sinful. This is part of the human condition, and I'll grant you, it is one of the uglier parts of it.

Somebody's got to start the chain of forgiveness. Somebody's got to start living by grace. We cannot be always insisting that the other guy has to go first.

"The decline...is from...outcasts..."

Nowhere did I say everyone leaving was homosexual. I said outcasts. However, if 27% of the CRC gay population left, that would account for ALL of the loss you speak of, which is not an unfathomable number.

The "sin" of homosexuality is unequally singled out in churches. Homosexuals can only sit through so much hypocrisy.

Something,
What do you believe is the fathomable number? I would like to see your math on that.

Something -

I'm not going to get into an extended discussion of the numbers with you here. You are simply wrong on that point. It is not a matter of opinion.

As for the singling out of homosexual behavior, part of that is because homosexuals (not necessarily you - I mean in the culture at large) are uniquely arguing that their sin no longer be considered a sin.

Note - this is only *part* of the reason. The other part of the reason is the ease with which non-homosexual sinners are able to consider homosexuals to be "them", that is, an "other". It is always easier to condemn people for sins that don't tempt me.

Lamentable? Yes. Something we should strive against? Yes. Very, very human? Also yes.

Brian--PNR said 6880 people left last year, which were not homosexuals, "no evidence" of. I simply said it is NOT AN UNFATHOMABLE number. If you look at my reply to him, I said the decline is from "OUTCASTS" (from their [church] families). Read the entire posts.

260000 members, 10% of which are possibly (probably) homosexual=26000 homosexual members; if 27% of them left last year, it would be the rounded-up 7000 that left last year according to PNR. There's the math.

PNR--You have no idea how many homosexuals left last year; you don't even have any idea how many homosexuals there are in the CRC. So no, the number of homosexuals is not an "opinion", and I am not "simply wrong". The estimated percentage of homosexuals in society is 10%; the CRC would be no different.

Something,
That's how I thought you would arrive at your numbers. Not even experts agree as to what percentage of homosexuals are in the U.S. It ranges anywhere from 2-15%, depending on how the data is collected. So you are going to argue that the CRC, which has been hostile(for lack of a better word to describe your sentiments) for eons to the homosexual community, has a parallel 10% homosexual community. Just you saying "the CRC would be no different", proves nothing.

All your arguments are based on the amount of pain the CRC metes out to its homosexual members. While we empathize with your pain, it can't be the vehicle by which policy is delivered. That is done through theological and biblical insights in accordance with tradition. This is crucial to the future of the church, for as Chesterton writes, tradition is "the democracy of the dead". We are not to neglect the opinion of our ancestors. The church has written extensively and pastorally on this issue and shouldn't be asked every two years to abandon its heritage. I hope you can appreciate that.

All right. You want a detailed push on the numbers? Fine.

Firstly, the 10% homosexual figure has long since been discredited. It is based on a 1950s-era study of male prison populations. A more accurate number is around 3% of the general population.

Secondly, that percentage should be applied to the *whole* of the population in question. That is, to both those staying AND those leaving. So the max end of it would be 3% of 6,880, or 206.

Thirdly, approximately 1/3 of that net decline in membership between 2010 and 2011 is because they died, so the possible pool of people leaving because of sexual orientation is really only 4,000. Three percent of that would be 120.

So, your claim that it's not unfathomable that 7,000 people (including 2,000 who died) left the denomination because their gay is simply preposterous.

Now that we've got that taken care of, let me also say that this is all irrelevant to the question at hand.

The issue is not what hurts or doesn't hurt how many people. The issue is, "what is true?" The Bible binds us to the truth that homosexual behavior is sinful. I wish that did not hurt you, but I cannot change the truth simply because it does. It is also true that some Christians have been most unChristian in the way they have treated brothers and sisters who may be tempted to homosexual behavior, that they should repent of their sin, too, and that we should do what we can to stop mistreatment of any human being, but especially fellow Christians. And it is true that *ALL* of us both need, and need to practice, forgiveness towards one another as we mutually strive to be faithful to the Word of God.

I'm very curious how members of the CRC would choose to interact with gay Christians who have joined other denominations...within your own borders, you have every right to reject people and refuse to interact with them, but what of those gay Christians who have joined the United church, or the MCC? Do you welcome these people to your own table of communion when they are visitors in your midst? There ARE protestant denominations which accept gays full-stop; what is your response as an outsider in this scenario? We aren't going away, we've always been here, and it's been DECADES since the APA has even considered homosexuality a perversion or "aberration" (which I suppose is the secular term for "abomination"). Where does the church stand in regards to the realm of pscyhology in general? More important questions, which (surprise surprise) don't even hit the open air in church "discussions" of homosexuality.
And dear Brian Polet, perhpas the church SHOULD be asked every two years to abandon it's heritage if that heritage is unChristlike, meanspirited and exclusionary of an entire subculture of its people. What was that funny story Christ told at some point about leaving the other sheep to save the one that was lost? Or do you think perhaps Christ actually meant what he said? And to close with a sadder quote, I believe it was Ghandi who once said "I like your Christ very much. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ"...

We do not ask, much less require, people hold up some kind of sign indicating their sexual proclivities when serving Communion. We don't require extended surveys on compliance with the Beatitudes or such like things as a condition of receiving the sacrament, either.

We do not, by the way, reject gays. We consider homosexual behavior to be a sin, but we no more reject gays than we reject other sinners - at least in theory. Like all human beings, there is often a considerable divergence between practice and theory.

The APA position on aberrant behavior is not dispositive for Christians in discerning what is or is not sin. Some subcultures (say, NAMBLA?, Aryan Nation? Prostitution rings?) must be excluded. To the extent that the gay subculture in this country denies the sinfulness of the behavior, rejects the teaching of Scripture on the matter, we have no choice but to exclude it.

Saving or caring for the lost does not, and cannot, entail encouraging them to continue in the attitudes and behaviors that have rendered them lost (I seem to recall something along the lines of "go and sin no more"). Jesus did not leave the 99 to go hang out on the ledge with the one, but in order to retrieve the one and have him rejoin the 99.

Lots of people have thrown out that Ghandi quote. Often, the Christ they like is not the one in the Gospels, but the one constructed by their own picking and choosing of different elements to suit their own fancy. Thomas Jefferson did the same thing. But it is not possible to separate Christ from the people he has chosen and called according to his purpose.

Dear sir, I am telling you outright that not only DO I NOT believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, but that many other self-respecting gays have come to the same conclusion. TO say I'm denying Biblical truth because I disagree with you is enormously disrespectful, as is your harsh and completely unfounded comment that basically anyone who disagrees with you is "picking and choosing" disparate elements to "suit their fancy". Basically what you're saying is that if you personally believe someone is a sinner then that person simply is a sinner and you have absolutely no responsibility to engage them in dialogue or acknowledge them at all. Your tone of voice continues to be defensive and hostile and continues to be disheartening to many young gays like myslef who have left the CRC and are exhausted by the lack of respect given us on any level. Like I've said earlier, young gay people continue to kill themselves, as has been in the mainstream press quite a lot as of late, and people of your persuasion turn the other way and leave them in their despair because you've decided they are "sinners". If that point of view has ANYTHING to do with compassion or grace, then I fail to see it. And quite honestly, when I say "shame on you" I don't mean you personally, at least you've had the respect to think about the issue, or at the least, respond to my queries. What bothers me immensely is that nobody else on this facebook page has brought up this thread or feels any need or desire to say anything on the subject.
If there are any other young gays in the CRC who want to foster or continue a dialogue on this topic, please feel free to e-mail me personally;
jonathan.vanetten@utoronto.ca
thanks very much. have a good evening.

You are not a sinner because I choose to believe it or somehow decided it is so. You are a sinner because, well, you sin. I'm a sinner, too, by the way. The CRC has long taught this doctrine that goes by the label "Total Depravity", as you may recall (which is also taught in Scripture).

I believe homosexual behavior to be a sin because the Bible teaches that it is a sin. The only way to avoid that biblical teaching is to pick & choose what parts of the Bible you'll believe and what parts you won't. If that's harsh, so be it. Truth is not always gentle. Untruth, however, is worse.

I am engaging you in dialogue, so your accusation that by declaring my beliefs thusly I am refusing to engage in dialogue or to even acknowledge you is self-contradictory. I also respect you, I'm just certain that you're wrong on this question. And if you think the only possible way to respect you is to agree with you, well, you're wrong about that, too.

I have not turned away from you or anyone on this issue. I must, however, remain firm in the truth as God gives me light to see that truth. I cannot deviate from it just becasue the truth offends some people. Jesus is a rock that will make men stumble, a stone that will make them fall.

Accepting the truth need not lead one to despair, in particular since that truth includes - far more than definitions of what is or is not sin - the grace of God in Jesus Christ who died for sinners. If that grace is not sufficient for young gay men, or young straight men, or men and women of any age or disposition, then nothing else will be, either.

I believe the bible is clear in regards to homosexual behavior. I not sure what there is to debate about it. other then we are all sinners and homosexual behavior is a sin and as the body of christ we need all to help each come to repentance we sin.

That this is all happening should come as no surprise to those who stand by and uphold a biblical worldview and standard of living.

Paul tells Timothy as much in 2 Timothy 4, with verses 3 & 4 being the key verses (I always like to provide a little context as well):
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

PNR and Brian Polet, I just want to commend you for your discussion with Johnny Blackstar Vanetten. In many of these discussions, eventually people like Johnny become defensive and have difficulty separating truth from fiction, especially when they defend a homo lifestyle. Perhaps it is because a homo lifestyle is a fiction, a denial of how God made us to be.

Very good answers, especially on numbers leaving the CRC. It is well-known that most who have left have left because of unhappiness with their perception of the crc having ambivelent stands on remaining true to scripture, particularly on issues such a creation, homosex, WICO, and abortion. While obviously some have also left due to feeling unwelcome in their situations of homosex or adultery and such things, these are in the great minority, as you pointed out.

I want to stress that using the idea of retraining or refreshing a study of homosexuality in scripture, as an excuse for an overture, is indeed ingenuous. There is no need for an overture in order to refresh, retrain, or restudy. Overtures are designed to change a denominational stance.

This is a great overture and I applaud this church for raising the issue.

As a practicing Christian psychologist who has seen some young men honestly struggling with their sexual identity, I welcome a more informed and open debate on the subject. My experience is that this is not a black and white issue, though a black and white response certainly reduces the complexity (and all too often elicits a knee jerk and judgemental response).

I also sense some fear in some of the respondents - that if we don't "clamp down" on the rules the church will become irrelevant and dissolve. With that perspective, I completely disagree.

The issue for most of the people I see who have left the church is that they view the mainstream church as completely irrelevant and out of touch - arguing subtleties in doctrine and legalities (who's right!) while ignoring the core principles of Christian faith, as preached by Jesus - charity, compassion, community, worship, sacrifice and love. God loves the church and He will not let it fail. We have his Word!

My only request is that they have some practicing, homosexual CRC Christians on the official panel for Synod and yes, that is not necessarily an oxymoron. They do exist.

I have lots of homosex

Another well presented article with a compassionate flavour. To have a meaningful discussion on this topic, we need to stop unilaterally declaring gay orientation and lifestyles as sin. This is the old top down approach where everyone is forced to agree to the same interpetation of scripture or you're out. There has to be room for dialogue and discussion, and acceptance of different viewpoints without condemnation. To be a Christ-like church we need to extend a hand of love and respect to those that don't fit our mould. Our love for others should be unconditional, just like Chrit's love is for us.

PeterR:

Does the CRC currently hold that same-gender sexual orientation is a "sin?"

I didn't know that.

As far as practice is concerned I thought the current CRC policy was nuanced enough to single that out to coincide with the position of the historic, orthodox Christian community, i.e. Russian Orthodox (?), Roman Catholic etc.

Given the recent Bannerland emphasis on Islam, was their position on this issue ever addressed?

In the past, the church has reached reasonable positions on slavery, divorce, sabbath observance and the role of women in the church not by studying the Bible, but by learning to ignore the objectionable parts. We can only hope the same is eventually true for homosexuality.

@Charley

Absolutely. Let's all just ignore the parts of the Bible that we find objectionable. Then we can have a truly customized, customer-friendly product for the American religious marketplace.

It won't be true, but it'll sell like hotcakes.

PNR: well stated.

I also in a sense welcome Charley's post because it underscores a comment that I made in response to Bob and Gayla's lengthy editorial on denominational government:

that one can reorganize ecclesiastical structures all one wants but if the foundation of what members use to arrive at faith and practice is "diverse" then one is expecting "two to walk together" who are not agreed.
"Sola Scriptura?"

where in the bible does it say "sola scriptura"? you sounded confused, so i was trying to clarify for you. good day!

For those who are interested. Here is a website for gay evangelical christians.

http://www.gaychristian101.com/

IMHO, as much I would love for them to, I do not think that the CRC should change their standing on homosexualism (That the act is a sin). I say this as a previously suicidal and still struggling gay youth within our denomination. Here’s why I think the position should not be changed:

Too many people left the denomination already (Over less controversial topics), and the people who are going to leave if the CRC changes its standing on homosexualism will be greater still. The amount of homosexuals who trickle out over the years will be much less. I am not saying that anyone who is homosexual and considering leaving the church is of less value. I simply think that that is the whole reason we have denominations. People have to find where they fit. There are denominations and churches that accept practicing homosexuals.

That being said, although many homosexual acts are spoken of as a sin in the bible, I am fully confident that in certain contexts and situations, scripture cannot be used to forbid the acts of affection between two homosexual orientated people. I am fully confident that God blesses the relationships and even the marriages (or equivalent) of homosexuals in the same way He would a heterosexual couple. I am also fully confident that my opinion on the matter is soundly based in scripture.

And that being said, because what I believe about it actually has an effect my life; I feel that I have no authentic place within the CRC. That breaks my heart to say, as I love this church, but I have lived my entire life behind a mask, hiding somebody whom God has made. I will either remain within and hide from this church for the rest of my life, living a lie; an act, or, breaking my heart, I will say goodbye to my church family (and in all likelihood my biological family as well) and live a life where I am able to love somebody of the gender I was designed to love. (I would probably seek fellowship in a United Church) In any case, I dread my earthly future. My hope is in Christ, and in the day when we are all with Him and earthly matters of sexuality and gender will no longer mean a thing. On that day my heart will overflow with joy. On that day there will no longer be any bickering or arguing or denominations; there will only be love; because of Him.

May God bless the CRC as they strive to live as a light in this badly broken world.

What came to the floor of Synod 2011 had a serious flaw. The Advisory Committee recommended that we "restate" our position in the light of....etc. Equally unhelpful ways to get at what GR East requested would be to ask synod to "review", "reframe", "restudy" the matter. All of these leave open the door to changing what we believe Scripture says as concluded in the earlier synodical declarations. Synod 2011 did not want to go down that path, and I believe rightly so. I'm convinced that Synod 2011 would have passed a motion to "reaffirm our present position in ways that are helpful for us to address the new writings, studies, practices, and trends in our culture that have arisen since 1973." By choosing the word "restate" instead of "reaffirm", Synod 2011 missed an opportunity to do something very useful. I was trying to make that point at Synod 2011, but the chair ruled that I could not do so unless the minority report was first brought to the floor.

You will find your place!
There are so many of us who feel like you do.
Things are changing, just look around!
Please don't dread your future!
THINGS WILL ONLY GET BETTER! BETTER!!
Give yourself time; you'll slowly accept yourself.
Open your mind.
You are not alone.
Life will be great.
There are so many of us, don't despair!
Life is hard. Take it one day at a time.
Thanks for letting me read your story.
Pass it on.

BEHIND the MASK, Please do not despair. I too struggled with being gay in the CRC. I have come to the same conclusion as you - my committed relationship with my partner is not condemned by scripture or God. God has blessed us with a new home in the Episcopal Church. It is such a joy to attend a church where we are accepted as full members with no uncomfortable looks and no judgement. Keep the faith.

X