Marriage as Covenant

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Churches ought to do all they can to promote healthy marriages.

“I don’t see why we need to get married if we’re committed to each other. Marriage is just a piece of paper.”

“Marriage is a right that shouldn’t be denied to any couple, whether homosexual or heterosexual.”

You’ve almost certainly heard these sentiments today. Whether in Canada (where same sex marriage has been legal nationwide for nearly 10 years) or in the United States (where the Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage earlier this year), marriage is increasingly viewed as a civil right that should be extended to all couples, regardless of sexual orientation. At the same time, the number of couples living together without seeking the traditional marriage commitment continues to rise on both sides of the border. The church seems caught in the middle.

So should the church adapt her positions and her interpretation of Scripture in order to be more accepting? Dig in her heels and fight the cultural trends that threaten the church’s historical position? There is no shortage of voices on either side of this issue.

Sadly, our conversations can sound more like we are playground bullies than followers of Jesus. Those on both sides of the issue spend more energy stating what they oppose rather than what they are for. What remains to be heard is a positive argument for the historic view of marriage. Here are two reasons why the traditional biblical view of marriage portrays something of great value—not only to married people but to society at large.

Marriage Is a Covenant That Reflects God’s Character

Marriage was not created merely as a romantic relationship, nor even as an institution aimed at self-fulfillment. Marriage is God’s way of modeling his covenant-keeping nature. In Ephesians 5:32, Paul concludes his instructions on marriage by stating, “This is a great mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.” Paul has been giving instruction on marriage, when suddenly he is describing Christ’s relationship with his church. Is Paul talking about marriage or the church? The answer is yes; marriage is patterned after God’s relationship to his church.  Thus, in marriage (our own or others’) we begin to know God more intimately.

How? In a godly marriage we begin to discover what it means to be deeply known and steadfastly loved. From beginning to end, God’s preferred way of relating to his people is by covenant. By making a covenant, God joins himself to his people, pledging to remain steadfastly committed and loving his imperfect people even at the cost of death. In other words, by making a covenant, God makes an unwavering promise that he will continue to love and care for his people—even though they may fail God, even though they may be unfaithful to him, and even though they may grow cold in their love for him. In the fullness of time, God kept this promise with his people, even though it meant laying down his life for them in death. As a covenant, marriage is, ideally, meant to model this steadfast, promise-made/promise-kept relationship. In a marriage, two people publicly bind themselves together, committing themselves to one another, promising to be faithful, exclusive, and sacrificially loving, until death.

Keeping this commitment is no small effort. Feelings and affections can cool for a season. Circumstances like illness, job loss, or family conflict can create strain that tears at the fabric of a marriage. And of course, we stare at our own personal sins and failures—pride, a critical spirit, and selfishness, to name a few—in the mirror of relationship. The covenant of marriage is meant to hold husband and wife together through these purifying fires, leading us to growth and maturity.
Seasoned spouses will often acknowledge times in marriage when it was the covenant vows alone that kept them together. But when the vows are kept and the covenant upheld, those around begin to glimpse (though admittedly through a dark glass) what God’s commitment to us actually looks like: a promise made to us, and a promise kept, even at infinite cost to himself. Faithfulness to his bride, through sickness and health, good times and bad. Marriage, then, becomes a beautiful portrayal of the gospel itself.

So why withhold this covenant from same sex couples? This is a fair question that requires a careful and pastoral response. In part, the answer lies in how marriage reflects not only God’s relationship to the church, but also his nature. Genesis 1:27 emphasizes that when God created human beings, he “created them in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

Masculinity and femininity are not artificial social constructs, nor are they traits to be either idolized or ignored. They are a piece of what it means to reflect God’s image. In a marriage between man and woman, the image of God is reflected in a way that is unique. This does not diminish single people, who also beautifully reflect the image of God. Rather, it suggests that when two people become one flesh, God’s intent is to illustrate something of his image that cannot be communicated in homosexual relationships. The joining together of male and female as one gives us a more complete picture of God’s character.

So how ought the church live in the midst of these changing times? First of all, churches ought to do all they can to promote healthy marriages that reflect God’s covenantal relationship. This means preaching and teaching about marriage, it means promoting premarital ministry, as well as ministry to married couples. Some churches have invited couples who have been married for a decade or longer to serve as mentors to newlywed couples. Church leaders would be unwise to take an indifferent approach to couples living together. Each situation is unique, of course, so there are no one-size-fits-all answers. But churches should take care to disciple couples to pursue the covenant commitment of marriage, even though that may be culturally unpopular. Such care for those living together should always be offered with the truth and grace that Jesus himself so marvelously demonstrated.

The Church Must Call People to Holy Living

That brings us to the second reason why the church must become known for upholding the traditional biblical view of marriage, particularly as it relates to those experiencing same-sex attraction. As a church, we must learn to love deeply those with whom we disagree. Jesus showed on many occasions the transformative ability to love a person while simultaneously calling them out of sin and into holiness. Too often we are known for one or the other: we call people to holiness, but we do it without love. Or we love people unconditionally, but we dismiss the destructive presence of sin. Neither fits the fullness of the biblical approach. The church must be a place that embraces those struggling with sexual sin—loving them, encouraging them, and joining them in pursuing the gift of holiness. 

A couple I once counseled listened intently as I shared this biblical pattern for sex and marriage. In their past, all they had learned from the church were the cold and unfeeling rules about sex and marriage. Those who kept the rules were accepted; those who did not were judged. Hearing this message on marriage, they said this was a message they had wanted to hear their whole lives.

As a church, we have a glorious message to bring to the world! Let us be faithful to speak it and live it well, before the eyes of a watching world.

 

 

Related:

The Christian Reformed Church’s statement on marriage

About the Author

Rev. Rob Toornstra is pastor of Sunnyslope CRC, Salem, Oregon.

See comments (50)

Comments

Thanks Rob for a thought provoking article.  I liked it, for the most part.  Of course, we all have our opinions and they don’t necessarily coincide at every point.  Let me say what I appreciated first.  I liked the idea of covenant and the solidarity of such a relationship.  More is involved in a relationship of marriage than romantic love, it involves a deep commitment on many (or all) levels which contributes to its permanence and depth.  This is the kind of glue that holds a couple together through all of life’s twists and turns.  It is this kind of love that is the glue of the Trinity, bonding three into One in total commitment.  I’m not sure that a piece of paper is necessary to emulate God’s love in a human relationship.  I don’t know if such a written contract was always necessary to the binding love demonstrated in Bible times.  I guess that could up for debate.  I’m also pretty sure that such love is possible between two married people of the same sex and is not exclusive to heterosexual married couples.

I also like what you suggest about human kind being created in God’s image, but I don’t know what you are implying by the statement, “male and female he created them.”  I don’t think that you are saying that God is both male and female.  And I don’t think your comments suggest that the two sexes joined together is reflective of God in some unique way (although that seems to be what you are saying).  What makes people stand apart from the animal kingdom and resemble God is our ability to think logically and to use reason in all kinds of situations.  Animals are driven mostly by “instinct” and a “survival of the fittest” mentality.  Not so for humans.  We have the capability to reason and think logically in all of our choices, as well as being able to consider the well being of others, even before ourselves.  In that we are unique (from animals) and like God in character.  So the benefit of marriage, whether heterosexual or same sex, is that there is more than one person to reason together for the well being of the marriage or the community (not unlike God).  Two heads (or in the case of God, three heads) are better than one in forming solidarity and strength in a relationship.  It is in this way that we are like God or his image bearers.  And this also true for relationships of the same sex or the opposite sex.  You confuse the significance of being created male and female.

As to your comments in regard to same sex relationships.  It is as possible for two people of the same sex to have the same covenant commitment to each other as two people of the opposite sex.  And it is also a definite reality that two people of the same sex do emulate the character or image of God, as any other couple.  All of humanity has been created in God’s image, according to the Scriptures.  And it is also just as possible and likely that a homosexual couple will have a deep commitment to God in Christ, as with a heterosexual couple.  When Paul criticizes homosexual couples in Romans 1, he obviously is not referencing those who love the Lord but those heathen, along with other sinners, who are haters of God and of whom God has abandoned to their sins.

Having a homosexual relationship may not be the normal pattern for marriage.  Certainly the numbers for heterosexual marriages far outweigh the numbers for homosexual marriages, and always will.  When talking about marriage (as the apostle Paul did), it would be natural to talk about what is normal.  But don’t confuse “normal” with what is “natural.”  The relationship within a gay marriage is just as “natural” as the relationship of a heterosexual couple.  The genetic or natural wiring of a gay couple gives them a natural inclination toward the same sex, in the same way that most people are drawn to the opposite sex.  So to ask gay people to change their orientation is to ask them to do something unnatural as to their character and being, and this will not change, even with conversion.  So what a homosexual couple does behind closed doors is no more sinful than what a heterosexual couple does behind closed doors.  Both couples do what comes naturally and praise God for such intimacy.

Thanks again, Rob, for this article.  What you suggest about the commitment and depth of the marriage relationships has much to offer to our readers.

For the most part, very well said. But the arguments against same-sex marriage are rather far-fetched.  Similar creation-ordnance reasoning was used to argue against women's ordination.

Nice article Rob! I especially resonated with the following: 

"As a church, we must learn to love deeply those with whom we disagree. Jesus showed on many occasions the transformative ability to love a person while simultaneously calling them out of sin and into holiness. Too often we are known for one or the other: we call people to holiness, but we do it without love. Or we love people unconditionally, but we dismiss the destructive presence of sin."

I agree completely. Keep up the good work!
 

Thanks so much, Rob and the editors of The Banner! I'd love to see more thoughtful, pastoral and biblical articles such as this one in our denominational publication.

 

The recent SCOTUS decision regarding same sex marriage should challenge the church to enter a lively discussion about the nature and purpose of marriage.  A case can be made that through both cohabitation and divorce, we have forgotten the nature and purpose of that institution.  The Protestant church does not consider marriage a sacrament, our Catholic friends do. Why is that significant?

 

I know a number of people in same sex marriages. Those marriages reflect the purposes that you state. They reflect covenantal relationship and holy living. They have raised children (even though the legal recognition of marriage is recent). Your argument against gay marriage stands only if you subscribe to the complementarian understanding of Genesis 2.

 

I cringed when you state that each situation is “unique” for cohabiting (heterosexual) couples, while you must call “same sex attracted…. Out of their sin”. That simply is an offensive double standard.  Thereby opportunity to call the church to revisit its understanding and appreciation of the covenant of marriage is lost, along with the opportunity to share God’s love with LGBT couples.

 

Thank you Rob for a theologically nuanced article. I see that you caused Mr. Tyrson and Mr. Houck some consternation. I find it ironic that they advocate for the legitimacy of same-sex unions, but the Scripture that is used as an illustration clearly says "A man [I think that the gender is clear] will leave his father and mother [I think their genders are clear] and will be joined to his wife [I think her gender is clear.]

   I cannot help but wonder if both of their pushbacks nothing other than the perennial "Did God say?" question.?

Perhaps a new Scripture has to be written that reads, "A person however they define their gender, will leave their caregivers however they define their genders, and be joined to a new partner however they define their gender and the two will become one____________?"

God help us.

Shalom

 

Salaam, I think both Stephen Tryon and Doug Houck raise valid concerns. I also think that your use of scripture in this complex issue is so simplistic it borders on the childish. There must be more involved than simply saying 'this word here says, and that word there says, and thus we can close the discussion'. There are now theologians arguing with integrity on both sides of this issue. If you cannot accept that, then our discussions are not going to go very far.

Greetings Don:

    It is a wonderful compliment to be accused of being "childlike" and simple. I think Jesus advocated such within the orbit of his disciples.

    Permit me to highlight a situation where "conversation" is supposed to be happening, but in effect it is a venture in "dialogue to death"--that is to the death of a clear reading of scriptue. The mandate of the referred to "discussion" or conversation is to move the agenda towards the person's said agenda. Here is the link to the article  "Does the New Directions Ministry" actually represent all views?

It is here: http://network.crcna.org/pastors/does-new-directions-ministry-actually-represent-all-views

As to the position of covenant advocated by Rev Rob above, I think his line of reasoning is clear:

1. Jesus instituted a covenant of marriage with His Bride the church. The book of Revelation makes it clear that she is described as a woman. You may argue that this is all metaphor, but that would be rather convenient.

2. This marriage is based on the self-giving love of Jesus for the church for whom He is supremely jealous for her exclusive, pure and holy  love. This marriage is a fruitful marriage with the offspring of "sons and daugters" in union with Christ.

3. The article above shows that all marriage is derivative of the above. In fact all marriages which are bona fide ones, Biblically speaking, are a reflection of that of Christ and His Church and in its covenant basis.

4. When Israel strayed and when the Church strays from its first love, it is assigned the word "spiriutally adulterous." That is to say, neither Israel nor the Church defines the terms of the "marriage covenant" but it is the groom Jesus who does so.  It is thus impossible to describe a marriage as "holy and faithful" which clearly has set the terms of the marriage on its own.

 

Shalom

Salaam 

 

 

Thank you, Rob! While my concerns about same sex marriage are rooted more in NT passages regarding same sex attraction, I appreciate your approaching this issue from a biblical rather than sociological or political standpoint, something too few our of clergy seem willing to do, imo.

Others have commented more ably than I could about the distorted theology behind the idea that God is male and marriage is solely an "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" proposition.  But speaking as perhaps the only gay person in the room for the discussion, I would suggest giving some thought to how you sound to the outside world.  Referring to gay people as "those experiencing same-sex attraction" won't win you many friends in that community.  You make it sound as if we are suffering from constipation or migraines or something.  (Maybe it’s wording that is dictated by the Official CRC Style Guide?)

Illness happens to humans, making them humans with illnesses. By contrast, sexual orientation is something you ARE, not something you suffer from.  We are gay PEOPLE, not straight people who are somehow suffering from an illness.  We were created this way.

Where I grew up in Roseland, the elders in my church and family also felt they were standing on firm Biblical ground when they spoke darkly (so to speak) of the “Descendants of Ham” that were moving into our neighborhood. I was told, “Why do you think the story of the Tower of Babel is in the Bible?  What do you think the Bible means when it asks, ‘What fellowship hath light with darkness?’ We’re not supposed to be living together.“

 

We grew out of that, to some extent. Not that we’ve conquered racism, but at least we don’t talk about it as God’s Plan anymore.  At least not openly.  Some of us even got over God’s Plan for requiring specific genders in the pulpit.  There’s still some ways to go as regards how you talk about the people God chose to bless with differing sexual orientations. 

Greetings Paul.

     Have just been listening to a talk given by Rosaria Butterfield where she makes a distinction between her real identity and her true identity. This was a very good nuancing as she recounted how her homo-erotic tendencies were certainly part of her real identity as she perceived it, but that in Christ she has another true identity.  The link is here and might I encourage you to give it a listen? No quick fixes, no zap the gay story, but truly the power of the Biblical Chrisitan worldview over what she saw as a narcissitic, pride-filled one.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgDAEPRXWgU

 

Curious how you would read the pronouns "his" and "her" in the following Scripture?

"...the husband should fulfill his marital duty to his
wife, and likewise the wife to her husband." I Cor 7:3

 

Thanks, Paul, for your insights into a difficult situation.  I think most traditional Christians are just so ingrained, so rooted, or implanted in a particular way of Christian thinking that they are simply unable to see any kind of alternative to what they have always thought.  And of course, the simple response for them is that this is what the Bible obviously teaches.  And the Bible can never be wrong.

But, you see, the Bible can and often does reflect a different culture (first century) and looks at life through culturally shaded lens.  There will come a time when a homosexual lifestyle will be seen as a viable life style, even within the church.  It will not be the abomination that many Christians see it as today.  There are so many issues that Christians have flip-flopped from with the changing of time and culture.   There was a time in which nothing was considered wrong with smoking among Christians, especially Dutch Christians.  Because of the input of science and medicine today, many less people (Christians and otherwise) smoke today.  Whereas in the past, dancing was seen as worldly, today nearly every Christian school and college has dances.  It is seen as good clean fun.  In the past, CRC members would sit at home in their Sunday go to meeting clothes and abstain from any activity throughout the Christian Sabbath (Sunday).   In the past, marital divorce was not allowed in the church (with one exception), but today the divorce rate is the same inside or outside the church.  In the past, women were not allowed roles of leadership in the church.  In the past, women always wore hats or bonnets in church, as a sign of respect to men.  In the past, slavery was most strongly promoted among Christians.  In the past, inter-racial marriage among Christians was strongly forbidden.

These are just a few of the things that has caused Christians to interpret a so-called Christian lifestyle through the lens of a first century culturally informed Christianity and Bible.  We still somehow think that a gay person is so entrenched in sin that he/she cannot possibly love and serve the Lord to the same degree as the heterosexual Christian and know God’s love and acceptance in return.  The Bible may be true, but the culture of Bible times (which informed Bible authors) is no more true than the culture of any time.  Such a culture was perhaps only true for that particular time that the authors did their writing, but was not timeless.

Given what you say, Roger, will polyamory also eventually become acceptable in the church?  Should it?  

What you say suggests you would answer 'yes' to both questions.

So Doug, is polygamy the straw man that also necessitates  the fall of homosexual acceptance?  Of course, polygamy is an entirely different topic.  As to polygamy, our culture doesn’t accept or approve the practice, and practically speaking such practice doesn’t seem to have much merit either.  It doesn’t seem to have merit in the church or in our culture.  So what is your point?  Why would I say “yes” to both of your questions?

Roger: Polyamory, not polygamy.  Polyamory refers to a relationship among potentially multiple males and females, and a growing phenoma (in the US at least -- it is hardly a straw man but rather a real one).  Indeed, some polyamorists are already complaining that gay marriage continues discrimination against them.

Why do I suggest you might think polyamory will "also ... eventually become acceptable in the church?"  Because your reasoning (ie. 'once we thought XYZ but now we've changed') suggests that your analysis is that if society accepts it, the church eventually will too.  Which is why I also asked if you thought the church SHOULD as well as would.

So you do or don't think polyamory will eventually become acceptable in the church?  Certainly, it will become acceptable in general society -- and that is fast coming.  Some would argue we are already there, and not without good cause.

And assuming it does become acceptable in general society, do you think the church SHOULD accept it, just as it now is starting to accept gay marriage?  In order words, are there exceptions to your seeming rule of historical progression for both general society and then the church?

Thanks Doug for the correction.  I honestly didn’t notice or recognize the difference in wording.  I really thought you were talking about polygamy.  I think my mistake was in part because polyamory, although a growing phenomena in the U.S. (as you have suggested), it’s growth is nothing in comparison to homosexuality.  You could mention the word “polyamory” and most people would not even know what you are talking about.  In fact my spell checker doesn’t even recognize the word “polyamory” as a proper word.  So I really doubt that polyamory will likely be the problem that you suggest.  And so in that regard, it still seems like a straw man to me and likely to most people, whether in our society or in the church.

Can the church have moral standards different from the society that it finds itself in?  Of course it can.  But perhaps the church should be careful in trying to impose its own religious morality on society, which it has frequently done in the past, and still tries to do in the present.  Homosexuality is a present case in point.  The church, past and present, has been the strongest opposition to homosexual behavior and legal homosexual marriage.  Rather than policing society, the church would do well to police its own members.

The problem with the church having a moral standard for itself, is that the church can’t agree, even with itself, as to what that standard should be.  Just consider marital divorce.  Is there agreement among Christians?  Of course not.  But the church is quite willing to impose its own religious teachings on society if they can get away with it (such as with homosexuality, abortion, euthanasia, etc.)  The church (some churches) want laws to forcefully impose its religious standard on society, but can’t even legitimately govern its members own behavior.

And the reality is that it has been society or culture that has often given direction in changing the church’s moral standards for the good (such as with dancing or slavery).  And I suggest that our culture will likely cause us (the church) to reexamine what we have always thought about homosexuality and homosexual marriage.  Does that mean that the church will or should change its view toward polyamory?  I doubt that it will or even should, especially at the present time.

Roger: Good to know you will oppose the church aquiescing in the goodness of polyamory.  You think otherwise but I predict polyamorous relationships will be as culturally accepted as gay relationships in 10-15 years (in the US at least) -- the logic for it, which is that sex is merely a thing to be enjoyed by consenting adults and nothing more -- is quite firmly put into place (consider the change in secular college and university campuses on this).  The question is whether US churches will follow the lead.  Certainly, some will.

Your suggestion that culture led the church on the issues of slavery and dance is intriguing.  I'm not sure how you get to that conclusion.  As to slavery in the US (and England), it is simply historical fact that the church, Christians, were the tip of the spear, if not the entire spear, on that issue.  Oh sure, Southerners quoted Scripture in their defense, but Hitler appealed to Christianity too to gain power, even if he didn't believe a word of it.

As to dance, it was recent culture in the US that turned dance into a predominantly sexual interaction activity -- and many Christian  traditions reacted to that by separating from it.  Many Christian groups, for centuries and millenia, have danced.  Consider OT accounts.  You should broaden your historic view to come to more accurate historical conclusions.  You seem eager to attribute good things to culture and bad things to the church.  That's OK if it is factual, but not when it's not.

Doug, you suggest that you don’t know how culture, rather than the church, could lead in the abolition of slavery.  This is a big topic.  So let me help you to see that is was in fact the Christian church that led the front in establishing slavery in the U.S. and England.  By today’s Christian standard you might wonder how the church could possibly lead the front in establishing and maintaining slavery.  But today’s Christian standard is not the same as in the culture of the 18th and 19th centuries when American slavery flourished.

What was at the heart of the slave institution was that slaves were seen as subhuman and simply the property of slave owners.  The Bible teaches that humans are the image bearers of God.  This is a distinctly Christian teaching.  But black slaves (and blacks in general) were seen as subhuman, not fully bearing the image of God and therefor could legitimately be mistreated, even as a Christian farmer might mistreat his farm animals.  After all animals are not human and don’t bear the image of God, and beside that, mankind is to have dominion over the animal kingdom.  There is nothing (in the past’s thinking) that necessitated the humane treatment of animals.  And slaves, even in Christian thought, were considered more animal than human.  Why else would Christian slave owners treat their slaves so inhumanely?

Beyond this, it has been and continues to be a Christian teaching that animals do not have an eternal soul.  It was also thought among many Christians of the 17th and 18th centuries that black slaves, like animals did not have eternal souls therefor they did not warrant humane treatment. A Ku Klux Klanman of good standing in his Christian church (perhaps an elder) could join the Klan and burn black people at the stake in good conscience, because blacks were considered  sub human.  They should not be considered as fully human image bearers of God, or didn’t have eternal souls, so they should not be allowed to attempt the status of the fully human whites.  Such blacks were certainly deserving of death.

That the institution and maintenance of slavery was predominantly among professing Christians is obvious from the fact that early American (as well as 16th-19th century British) culture was predominantly Christian.  At that stage in time, the U.S. was considered a Christian nation and most of American society professed Christian beliefs.  So most slave owners (and abusers) considered themselves Bible believing Christians, and could justify slavery on Biblical grounds.

That people are created in God’s image and have eternal souls (unlike animals) has been and continues to be a distinctly Christian religious teaching.  There is no empirical or scientific evidence for such teaching.  It comes from the faith knowledge or religious teachings of Christianity.  And it’s based on such Christian teaching that slavery in the U.S. and England was seen as justifiable among Christians.  Some authors have referred to American slavery as the American holocaust and others see it as a Christian holocaust. 

Also realize that it was the liberal north (a Christian perception) that led our nation out of slavery.  The so-called Christian south fought to maintain slavery in the U.S., in fact brought about the bloodiest war fighting to maintain their Christian right to own slaves.

Doug, you may think I’m misrepresenting Christian thought.  If so, just consider the much more recent South African Apartheid.  It was the Dutch Reformed Church that were the strongest in supporting and leading the apartheid movement there.  In South African apartheid thought (and legalized legislation) whites were at the top of the totem pole with Blacks at the bottom with no or very few legal rights.  Just by skin color, blacks did not hold the value of whites and could be treated as animals or worse.  And Christians (even Reformed Christians) were at the forefront of leading this movement.

So you see Doug, Christianity (or even Christian theology) has not been at the forefront in leading our society toward the good.  In fact the church has been at the forefront in leading much of civilization toward evil.  We could also bring the Christian Crusades into this picture as well.  In that Christian culture the Christian church felt justified destroying the enemies of God, the descendants of Ishmael and not Isaac, the chosen of God.  It was also true that Hitler thought he could use Christian theology to destroy the Jewish race.   After all it was the Jews that crucified Christ.  So with David of the Old Testament, Hitler felt justified saying to God, “Your enemies, O Lord, are also my enemies.”

So down the road what will be said of the church’s treatment of homosexuals?  Will it be said that the Christian church was the impetus in our culture for discrimination against gays, not only in the church but also in society? “Do not give them legal rights to marriage.” And they did this based on their distinct religious teaching that gays stand out of favor with God.   Sounds familiar to me.    Sorry for the length.

You are correct Roger, in anticipating that I think you are misrepresenting Christian thought.  While I'm sure some southern slave owners would attend or create local churches that, under their leadership, taught black people had no souls, I would challenge you to find examples of where the church, as represented in a broader assembly not merely representative of a slave owner group, taught or declared such a doctrine.  Certainly the weight of doctrinal teaching in the Christian church, through the millenia, was very much otherwise.

You may have caught me, Doug, pushing the limit on the teaching that black slaves were thought of as not having eternal souls.  As you suggested that was not widespread and may have been a local option in particular churches. Although not formally declared as official teaching, such a view was probably more widespread in popular Christian thought.  As to slaves not being full image bearers of God, that was more widespread, especially in the common thinking amongst Christian slave owners.   Today when Christians cry out against the abortion of even greatly deformed babies or abhor the euthanasia of terminally ill adults who are in great pain and who want nothing more than to leave this hopelessness behind, the thinking during the slave era didn’t come anywhere close to this in considering the value of a slave’s life. The value of a slave’s life was only the monetary value of paying for such merchandise.   Considering today’s Christian belief in the exaltation and valuation of human life because human life is sacred and should be preserved at all costs, it is obvious that no such view was held toward the slaves of Christian slave owners. And the majority of slave owners were professing Christians.  They likely held an exalted view of human life when applied to their own family members or members of the white community.  But because blacks and slaves were considered subhuman, their lives were not valued.  That blacks were not considered image bearers of God is born out not only in American slavery, but also in South African apartheid,, also propagated especially by professing Christians (even of Reformed persuasion). 

I would respectfully suggest, Roger, that you are not only wrong on the question of whether the church has ever taught that American blacks didn't have souls, but you are also wrong about South African apartheid.  Apartheid was devised (yes, by the Dutch, many of which were Reformed) as a means to accommodate a first world culture/society and a third world culture/society in their living together, without the former running over and crushing the latter.  It was the running over and crushing option that, for the most part, prevailed in the US as to the indigenous populations here.

But the church, dutch reformed or otherwise, did not declare blacks subhuman.  Indeed, the original point of apartheid was to respect their humanity, their culture, even if non-Christian.  The other approach would have been to run over and crush.

As certainly, over the decades, apartheid proved to be a defective approach.  On the other hand, I'm not sure what approach would not have been defective.  Note should also be taken that when the defects became beyond obvious, white Christians, dutch reformed christians, were already trying to remedy the defect.  The white government was in the process of eliminating apartheid before Mandela was elected.  It was the white government that permitted the election of Mandela after all.

I don't want to declare the church to have been pure.  It has certainly been far from that.  On the other hand I have little use for the proposition that the non-church culture has persistently led or forced the church to understand what is truly good and righteous, which is I believe a position you have taken in this thread.  

Well Doug, I think you are the first that I have heard of coming out in defense of South African apartheid.  I don’t know how you can possibly think of apartheid as anything other than evil.  Apartheid was a system of racial segregation that began with the Dutch Christians in South Africa in the 1700's but was formalized in 1948.  “From 1960 to 1983, 3.5 million non-white South Africans were removed from their homes, and forced into segregated neighborhoods, in one of the largest mass removals in modern history.” (Wikipedia)  Apartheid was a system of segregation imposed on blacks to ensure white domination.  There was no respect for the humanity of blacks, as you suggest.  You suggest that when defects in apartheid became apparent (there were always defects) white Christians and Dutch Reformed Christians were already trying to remedy the situation.  That’s plainly not the case.  It wasn’t until the UN condemned the system and international sanctions were imposed on South Africa that a change was even considered.  And it was the Dutch Reformed Church that was central in upholding this unjust system.  The dismantling of apartheid and the election of Mandela came from outside pressure exerted against the white government of South Africa.  And, of course, reform, when it came, was from the white government because that was the only official government.  They were pressured to make changes.  Was South African Apartheid, led predominantly by the Dutch Reformed Church and government, to the praise of Christianity?

Whether the church officially taught that blacks didn’t have souls is not the point.  It’s what Christians, at this time, popularly thought and acted on.  Officially, I doubt that the church doctrinally made any statements as to blacks.  But it is obvious that Christian slave owners didn’t think black slaves were the image bearers of God that they themselves were.  In the Civil war over 600,000 thousand soldiers died from both sides.  The biggest issue in the Civil war was the ownership of slaves.  Slave owners were predominantly professing Christians who were willing to allow for and cause this huge sacrifice of human life to protect their right to own slaves.  Is this to the praise of Christianity?

I like you, Doug, do not declare the church to be pure, and in fact far from it.  And I would also suggest that cultures and societies of the world have done more than the Christian church in promoting good.  As we are already beginning to see, homosexuals are increasingly making good and meaningful contributions to our societies and culture as their acceptance grows.  They are increasingly taking their place in our culture as solid citizens of our society.  It will not be long before our society will look back on the prejudice that was inflicted on the gay community.  And society will see that it was the Christian church (including the Reformed church) who were at the forefront of this prejudice, based on their Christian beliefs.  Will this also be to the praise of Christianity?

Actually, Roger, my response can't be simplistically characterized as "defending apartheid," but to the extent I did, so did CBS in a 60 Minutes segment in the 1990s.

Like pretty much everything in life, the beginnings and progression of apartheid in South Africa is a complex story.  Should it be gone? Absolutely.  Did it start as an intended evil?  No.  But it became one, as the "white goverment" also came to fully realize, as documented too by 60 Minutes a couple of decades ago.

As to your claims that homosexuals are solid citizens, I would heartily agree.  Indeed one of my favorite clients is gay.  You are going to be really hard pressed to find folks in the church, CRC at least, who would say otherwise.

I find that all sorts of people with whom I disagree about many things can be and are solid citizens.  Mormons, for example, are often really great people to work with.  They are almost always very solid citizens.  Atheists can and are as well.  I could keep going.

But I'm not sure what your point is in saying what you say, unless it is to try to define the position of those you disagree with for them.

Doug, as I understand apartheid in South Africa, it began in the 19th century with Dutch immigration into a new land (South Africa) that was not previously their own.  Early attempts at segregation were not primarily made to better the life of the indigenous people, but rather an attempt to make better the influence and dominance of the Dutch in a land that was not previously theirs.  It was to take over the governance of a country, primarily for Dutch prosperity.

This apartheid could be compared to the early Christian settlement of the U.S. by which Christians settlers first killed native Americans in order to take over their lands, and then to relegate them to much smaller and less productive portions of their own land, and to take away the right to govern their own lands and even their own lives.  You may remember from history that the early settlement of the U.S. was an attempt to establish a Christian worship and churches free from European control.  Glory be to the Christians settlers.

While I’m at it, let me suggest that it was Christianity that has been at the heart of suppressing women’s leadership in Western Society.  As we both know, it has been Christianity that has historically been the greatest influence in Western society.  That influence is still felt, but today to a much lesser extent, with a growth toward multiculturalism. But in the past, and up till recently it was the Christian church that strongly discourage women’s leadership in the church and in society, as well.  That view still holds prominence in several of our sister Reformed denominations.  What has ever happened to the headship principle in our churches.  I haven’t heard a sermon on this in some time, but it has been part our church’s history and has impacted our society until recently.  Another credit to Christianity’s influence on our society.

Did I mention the Salem witch hunts conducted by the Puritan church?

My point Doug is that Christianity has often been a movement that has been at the forefront in leading society in unhealthy directions (evil, if you will).  And I’m afraid that the same has and is happening in regard to homosexuals.  As you suggested, increasingly homosexuals are seen as solid citizens.  This view hasn’t always been so, and hasn’t been so until rather recently.  It has been Christians that have led the front in a prejudiced view of gays.  And this prejudiced view has come from the Bible’s teaching that homosexuals are abhorrent to God because of their homosexual practices and are especially deserving of death (Romans 1).  Based on such a view, Christians have fought against lawful homosexual marriage and are refusing practicing gays full membership in the church.  Many Christians are also pushing to legally refuse homosexuals service in public businesses.  As increasingly, our society is recognizing gays as honorable members of our society, the church is calling them immoral.  To the church they are not just immoral like everyone else, but immoral to the point that they are refused full membership in the church, in other words, not worthy of membership.  So once again Doug, Christianity is left with mud on its face, and the whole while are denying the mud.  The church wants to think of itself as always leading for good, but history has proven otherwise.

Let's just say, Roger, that your and my sense for history is remarkably different.  I don't think the church has been a pure angel by any means, but I don't subscribe to your theory, nor account of history, that suggests the culture outside of the church is always the good guy, and the church the bad guy.

I do wonder why you are posting on a site like this, having so little if anything good to say about the church.  Why do you?

Hi Doug.  I think perhaps we do have a different perspective on history from each other.  In that the Bible teaches the fall of the human race it would be naive to think that the church has escaped the effects of the fall.  I never suggested that culture is always the good guy and church the bad guy.  Nor did you say the church is always good, in fact has some serious mud on its face.  I don’t imagine we are so terribly far from each other, but we do seem to be a ways apart.

Our Reformed heritage talks about the Christian’s growth in sanctification (with Biblical warrant).  But does the Bible speak about the church’s growth in holiness?  Looking at some of Paul’s correspondence and John’s letter to the seven churches in Revelation, I’d say the church has a pretty pathetic record.  I know that professing Christians (and perhaps the church) tend to be pretty slow in that growth process of sanctification (Christian growth).  When I hear that the statistics for use of pornography or the frequency of divorce in the church are no better than for those outside of the church, and realize the need for a formal Safe Church Ministry to protect our own members from our own members, then I realize we have a long way to go as individuals and as a church.  Throw into the mix some of the church’s historic atrocities and you realize that the church isn’t so pearly white, in fact far from it.

Then also realize that there are also a huge mix of religions worldwide, other than Christianity, that have done as much good as the church in promoting good, then the church doesn’t necessarily stand out as the bastion for good that you make it out to be.  Also realize that many governments and cultures have promoted much good, as well, through the course of history. Call it common grace if you want.  When you look at the historical and cultural record, it is very difficult to see that the church is standing head and shoulders above everyone else as the defenders and promoters of good.  Is the church responsible for all the bad in the world?  Of course not.  But it should bear some responsibility and stop giving the impression that no one can keep up with the church in doing good.  Historically that has proven to be false.  A little realism might be helpful for the church.

And now the church, our denomination, has the opportunity, once again, to show its colors with the issue of homosexuality.  Will we be seen, once again, as the supporters of prejudice, barring gays from membership in our churches and defaming them on our societal front?   I sure would like to see our churches do something at this more common level of human interaction to say, God loves you and so do we.  Come on in and enjoy the fellowship.  I think, Doug, you and I both know that isn’t going to happen for some time.

The end of your post rather directly and clearly says this denomination bars gays from membership.  Do you really think that is the case?

What you say simply is not true, and never has been.  It is this tendency or overstate that I disagree with.

Doug, our denomination absolutely does bar practicing gays from membership.  They will admit to membership a person who has a gay orientation but does not live as a gay person.  But should a member with a homosexual orientation start living as a gay person he/she is subject to church discipline.  If, as you say, gay people were allowed membership in our churches there wouldn’t be nearly the problem over this issue for our denomination.  As it is, this is probably the next biggest issue to face our denomination in a long time.  Check your sources, Doug.

Why do you think there is so much turmoil and polarization in our denomination over this issue?  It is because views and opinions are changing in regard to gays.  Whereas in the past there were few in the church who were willing to fight for the rights of gays, but that is quickly changing. 

As you agreed that homosexuals are solid citizens, yet that was not, at all, the opinion in the recent past.  Homosexuals were looked upon as low life people, lost in sin.  They were hindered or prevented from holding jobs working with children, as well as with Christian organizations, and in much of the working world.  They were mistreated in schools by students as well as staff.  There was hardly a setting in which gays could declare their orientation openly.  There was a definite stigma against gays.  But this is rapidly changing.  Even you, Doug, see them as solid citizens.  Would you have said that 15 or 20 years ago?  For most, the answer would be “no.”  In the past, our Western culture had been influenced by the church’s view toward gays, but that is rapidly changing.  Society and culture are increasingly recognizing that gays are indeed solid citizens and should be accepted as such.  Unlike murderers, rapists, and robbers – homosexuals make good citizens and make good contributions to our society.  They work in almost every field of labor with no discredit to their character.  But yet the church (the CRC) will not recognize the civil marriage of a gay couple as sanctioned by the church.  Christians, were the strongest opposition to legalized gay marriage.  Even though married they may not live as a married couple and be professing members of one of our churches.  Although most people (and many in the church) are ready to remove this stigma against gays, our denomination is not.

This stigma against homosexuals was evident in the Old Testament and was carried forward by Paul (a card carrying Jew) in the New Testament.  The Old Testament, as well as Paul, looked at homosexuals as abhorrent.  Because of this stigma (Biblical and societal), homosexuals have had to live in hiding or live on the dark fringes of society where they could find acceptance only amongst their own.  That was true in Paul’s day, as well as up to the recent past in our culture and till present in much of the church.  It is the church that is still attempting to keep this stigma alive and will continue to do so in our denomination until we change our official position.

This gay issue has some strong parallels with the women’s issue in our denomination.  Western society was ready to accept and acknowledge women’s leadership in society long before the church was.  The church strongly opposed a woman’s right to vote or have a voice because the Bible strongly taught that women were not to have authority over men.  Back in the 1950's there were still many of our churches that didn’t allow women to vote in congregational elections and certainly were not allowed to hold office.  But as society increasingly saw no harm, in fact saw the strength in having women leaders, the church was left looking uninformed and backward within our culture.  In fact the church has been seen as a resistence to the progress of women, but finally the church is getting on board with society’s perspective.  In fact the church was the last to see the value of women in leadership, even if the Bible taught that women were not to have authority over men.   And the same is being said in regard to the homosexual issue.

In past history, the Christian church has had a strong impact on Western society.  Nearly everyone went to church and was impacted by the Christian value system.  But increasingly the church is losing its voice in our society and losing its membership in churches.  The reason is obvious.  The church has been the most prejudicial force in our society for a long time, whether against blacks, mixed marriages, women in authority, and now against homosexuals, and the voice of the church is increasingly becoming less significant. It certainly isn’t difficult to figure out why.  The church, it seems, is the last to see the light.

And now our seminary is declaring its latest opinion (the latest issue of Calvin Seminary Forum) on the homosexual issue.  As the self proclaimed experts in understanding Scripture they are declaring agreement with the 1973 denominational report.  They may think they know the Bible and how to read it but they can’t see the obvious difference between present day and first century practice of homosexuality.  Nor are they willing to recognize the stigma that was placed against homosexuals by Paul and others within the Christian community. So while declaring themselves experts, they too are going to get it entirely wrong.  It may be that our denomination will reap what it deserves for continuing to support a quickly fading stigma against gays (fading in our society but not in the church).  Sorry for the length.

You aren't very straight forward in your exchange Roger.  First you say the CRC dissallows gays from being members in the CRC, and then you restate and change your claim to say those who engage in gay sex are disallowed, as if the two claims are the same.

So if I persistently engage in sex with several women, I suspect my CRC membership will be in jeopardy also, even if it is my nature to be polyamorous.  Would you agree ut should be?  BTW, you never did answer my question about how you think the church should regard polyamory in the church.  So I ask again, should it be allowed and declared righteous by the CRC just as you would gay sexual relationships?  How about premarital sex?  How about adult incest?  How about simple heterosexual open marriages?  These are not straw men by any means.  All exist, even in the church, right now.  At what point(s) do you become intolerant Roger?  Or do you believe the church is wrong to not tolerate all of the above?

As to your 10-15 years ago charge, I've known gays, including those who were sexually active since 30+ years ago.  Some of them were clients.  I regarded one very highly, in terms of him being a "solid citizen."  He was particularly kind and dedicated himself to a particular disabled person.  He was crowned Miss Salem 2 years in a row.

He understood I quite disagreed with him about an active gay life.  Still, I respected him and he me.  I represented him on a number of things.  He died a few years ago.  We had lost contact.  Reading the obituary, I suspect he died of AIDS.  No, I never regarded him as dirt but also never pretended to think other than I did about gay sex. That was OK by him.

You must be pretty young, Roger.  You seem to "know" things that I would consider based on historical legend.  I'm not saying gays weren't regarded by many as loathsome, including by some who claim to be Christians, but I think you overgeneralize on this as well -- again badly.  Look at what the CRC said in 1973, over 30 years ago.  It quite emphatically refused to call gays dirt, or to condemn them for being gay.  This is far longer than the 10-15 years ago you talk about.

Today some say all Muslims are terrorists.  Of course they aren't.  The great majority aren't.  But yet some will declare they are and have a great deal of evidence to point to.  I think you do with the Christian church.  It seems to me you may have the least amount of tolerance for Christians, and for the Christian church.  Or is there some other group you have less tolerance for?

Hey Doug, thanks for your response.  I appreciate the respect you have shown to gays in the past, as well in the present.  That is quite honorable.  But be aware that such respect has not been common, especially in the church.  I know, for one, from my own experience of not respecting gays in the past and also from having been involved in a number of CRC churches over the years in which I have seen the same attitude in others.   My own attitude toward gays seemed to be typical of most in our churches.  So having a denominational report from 1973 telling us to love the homosexual, didn’t really change the popular or common attitude that our members have had toward gays.  You must know that to be true, as well. You are the exception.  And btw (by the way) unless you are well into your retirement, I’m probably as old or older than you.  Thanks for accusing me of having a young attitude, though.  But I don’t really think age has anything to do with knowing the difference between legend and history.  History supports the record of Christians leading society and culture in prejudice on a number of fronts.  The evidence is clear and abundant.

As to your suggestion that I have restated or changed my claim as to classification in regard to homosexuals.  I didn’t change my statement, merely clarified it.  Just as a murderer isn’t considered a murderer until he/she actually commits murder, or a thief classified as a thief until he/she actually starts stealing, or an adulterer until he/she commits adultery, or a liar until he/she starts lying, so most people would recognize a homosexual by their behavior, not their inward  orientation.  People who are angry with people are not judged as murderers, or a person with a kleptomaniac mentality judged to be thieves by the church because of their orientation.  But our denomination makes this fuzzy distinction between orientation and gay behavior, a distinction that most do not make.  My intention was to clarify.  And it stands, that practicing gays are barred from becoming professing members in our denomination.

You ask whether the church should approve any and all sexual acts.  Your question or comment seems rather childish or silly to me.  There is no turmoil or conflict over these other issues, but there is with homosexuality.  The issue at hand is homosexuality.  That’s the issue being dealt with, in Rob Toornstra’s article.  Why would you want to broaden the issue, when no red flags are being raised, except by you?

As to my tolerance level.  I have a difficult time giving praise to a church or denomination that has consistently been at the forefront in instilling prejudice or in promoting unjustifiable stigmas against people or groups of people and continue to do so, as with the case of homosexuality. We still have a chance to change directions for the good, but it looks like that is unlikely.  Should I be happy about that?

My question about other sexual acts is neither childish nor silly, because the subject matter we are dealing with is sex, not just some sex.  Nor am I the only one raising the question.  Indeed, one only need subscribe to regular cable TV to watch documentaries about polygamy, polyamory, swinging, and the inherent fluidity of sexual orientation.  Or take note of movies/books like 50 Shades of Grey to find another related childish topic that culture is discussing.

But you again refuse to discuss sexual behavior generally.  You refuse to say where, if at any point, you would suggest the church become intolerant.  Respectfully, that refusal suggests your thinking is issue oriented only, the way political strategies are.  You refuse to explicate your principles by dismissing questions relating to those principles as silly or childish.  

Hey, the culture you so much appreciate is talking about these silly, childish questions a lot. Why shouldn't you?  I suspect you don't want to because if you do, you will have to describe where you become intolerant, or confess that you don't believe the church should ever be intolerant, about anything.  Am I wrong?

You ask, “Am I wrong?”  Yes, you are, Doug.  You note books and movies like 50 Shades of Grey to make a point that all kinds of deviant sexual behavior is finding a growing acceptance in our culture.  Doug, you must realize that 50 Shades of Grey is a fictional work that exploits a deviant form of sex.  Wikipedia says of this book, “It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism (BDSM).”  Are you suggesting that such behavior is actually finding acceptance in our culture?  This is a fictional book, not representative of real live, except among the rare deviants.  The book may be discussed, as you suggest, but the behavior is not being advocated as acceptable sexual activity in our culture.   Just as murder is not suggested as acceptable behavior, even though glorified in mystery novels, neither is the behavior characterized in 50 Shades... And I don’t suggest bringing such behavior into the church.  Nor do I advocate the other deviant behaviors that you suggest.

What sets homosexuality apart from these other behaviors, is that homosexuals have a natural genetic orientation toward same sex intimacy.  Even our 1973 synodical report acknowledges this, and it is based on this that our denomination does not condemn a homosexual orientation. So to try to put every sexual perversion into the same category as being homosexual you are simply comparing apples to oranges and way off base.

Again, what is offensive about our denomination’s position is that although recognizing homosexuality as being a natural inclination for the gay person, such members are not allowed to do what is natural for them, even within a marital situation.  This is a sad commentary on our denomination’s continuing prejudice.

You largely  keep avoiding the question Roger, although it's nice to know you are at least intolerant about BDSM.  I'm surprised though that you think BDSM has not becoming acceptable to our culture.  That it has is pretty obvious, even if there may still be a divided opinion.  And so what if BDSM is rare?  So is homosexuality, depending of course on your statistical threshold for declaring something rare.  Is rareness your criteria for advising the church whether it should bless a particular sexual practice?

But back to avoidance, the repeated, relevant-to-this-discussion questions you won't respond to.  Swinging, polygamy, and polyamory have been called "natural" by experts in our culture.  Those experts say people are not naturally monogamous, or even if some people are, others are not.  That being the case, do you give those sex practices a thumbs up, or are you not yet satisfied with the weight of expert opinion from our culture yet?  And if you aren't yet satisfied with the current weight of expert opinion, will you give a thumbs up when/if you consider that weight of opinion sufficient?

So if the rare person who openly engages in BDSM practice asks you, I'm supposing you are going to tell her that is a sinful practice, right?  

Doug, I hope you will go back and read this last response of yours over again.  You’re asking the same questions over and over to which I have given an answer with my reason.  Are you badgering me, Doug?  A couple of responses previous, you asked, “BTW, you never did answer my question about how you think the church should regard polyamory in the church.  So I ask again, should it be allowed and declared righteous by the CRC just as you would gay sexual relationships?  How about premarital sex?  How about adult incest?  How about simple heterosexual open marriages?”   In my last response I said, “ Just as murder is not suggested as acceptable behavior, even though glorified in mystery novels, neither is the behavior characterized in 50 Shades... And I don’t suggest bringing such behavior into the church.  Nor do I advocate the other deviant behaviors that you suggest.”  That would include incest, swinging, polygamy, and polyamory.  The reason these behaviors should not even be considered (or as you said, “be allowed and declared righteous”), is as I suggested, there is not a natural or genetic orientation toward these behaviors as there is with homosexuality. I never said “rareness” was a criteria in judging whether a sexual practice should be blessed by the church.  There you go   again, trying to manipulate my answers.  I gave my reason.

I don’t know what experts you are referring to who are calling all these sexual perversions as natural, but I have a feeling they are far from expert.  Being “natural” though is not the same as having a genetic orientation toward being homosexual.  When the 1973 Synodical committee researched their report they were not considering a natural fallen inclination as being the same as having a genetic orientation.  The Bible teaches that all have a fallen and sinful nature by which the natural tendency of all people is to sin. So people naturally (according to their sinful nature) engage in sinful acts, including murder, stealing, adultery, and the list goes on.  That is different from being genetically or naturally orientated toward the same sex.  And having a genetic orientation is not true of incest, polyamory, polygamy or other sexual perversions.  That is why the church distinguishes between homosexuality and these other practices that you have suggested.

You seem intent on continually trying to put me on the defensive, but without much success.  Why don’t you state some of your own opinions in regard to the homosexual issue for a change, instead of badgering. You’re not coming off as very effective.

Thanks for answering, Roger, finally.  I can at least now know that you support the church being intolerant of some sexual practices.  

I think your reasoning for distinguishing monogamous, homosexual practice from other monogamous, non-heterosexual practices is unpersuasive, and that your refusal to recognize that culture is pushing hard against all sexual intolerance, not just intolerance of homosexual practice, is naive, or maybe just tactically convenient for the sake of your present advocacy of homosexual practice.  

I know you will disagree of course.  Perhaps we can pick up this conversation again in a year or two.  I predict culture's advocacy for what you now claim the church should not tolerate will become beyond clear, even to you.

Thanks for the exchange.

The push to accept gay behavior is simply one front in a much larger battle against God's righteous design for human sexuality, as Doug has pointed out. Furthermore, the battle against God's design for human sexuality is just one small battle in the war against the family, and against God's Truth itself. It still surprises me how many Christians are blind to this obvious agenda.

The people pushing the gay agenda have no valid argument. They rely completely on emotion. "I know a gay couple and they're great Christians." I'm still looking for that passage in Scripture that says, "As long as you're a nice person, whatever you do is OK."

Not only is there no Scriptural basis for accepting gay behavior, no other basis exists either. It certainly makes no sense from a biological or evolutionary standpoint. Nor philosophical or logical. The argument in favor of tossing out Scripture and jumping in bed (literally and figuratively) with secular humanist ideology boils down to base selfishness.

"Think about how I feel!" "Let me do what I want to do!" "Don't put me in an uncomfortable position with my son/daughter/relative/friend!"

The closest thing to a non-emotional argument in favor of gay behavior is the oft-repeating "gay gene" argument. But that one dissolves like cotton candy in a thunderstorm. For starters, there is no empirical genetic evidence of a "gay gene." How would it be passed on? Why do identical twins sometimes turn out as one gay and one straight? But let's pretend that wishing makes it so, and there IS a gay gene. A person would have to border on lunacy to suggest that the Church should accept any behavior that is encouraged by a genetic predisposition. Is that really your argument? "It's in my genes, so it can't be sinful!" Umm...the Bible clearly states that ALL sin is in ALL our genes...from birth. So I guess sin is not sinful? Afterall, we all have a sin gene.

Nope. Purely an emotional argument. And not a very good one at that.

Luckily, the pro-gay activists have a very powerful weapon on their side. Bullying. Intimidation. They'll ignore any and all Scripture-based, logic-based, science-based arguments, and instead shift to Plan B. They'll call you small minded. Old-fashioned. A hater. They'll say you're just like the racists who used the Bible to defend slavery (funny, because it was actually the Christians who were the abolitionists, and it was the secular humanists who preached that the "white race" was more "evolved" than blacks). They won't respond to simple questions like, "Do you then support genetic sexual attraction (i.e. incest)?" And after you've asked the question a thousand times, they'll say "You're just being confrontational...I've already answered that question!" (When, of course they haven't.) If all else fails, they'll delete your posts and say you were off topic.

8 - )

Either Scripture is our ultimate authority, or it's not.

Either gay sex is OK, or it's not.

Either God gets to set the rules, or we toss Him out and make ourselves into gods.

I don't know about you, but I would make a pretty lousy god...so I'll just stick with the real One.

Hey Dan, good to see you got it all figured out.  Congratulations.  To you, Dan, and Doug, and whoever else may be looking in on the conversation, enjoy this wonderful season of Thanksgiving. It’s been fun hashing things through with you, Doug.  The best to you and your family.

You too, Roger, can figure it out. Open the Scriptures; read the Scriptures. Are we as believers called to conform to the pattern of this world? Are we to be friends of this world? Are we to live in our former sinful ways? Are we to excuse sinful behavior in ourselves, justify it in our loved ones, and demand that our churches accept it?

On a somewhat related topic...
Anybody read the report from the committee to Synod?

Yes Dan, and the committee's poll results were interesting; looks like almost 60% of CRC members disagree with you. 

From the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance re Same-sex Marriage report;

6.2. Agreement with the Christian Reformed position
Approximately two-thirds of ministers (65%), 44% of CRC students, and
41% of respondents from this survey’s church member sample personally
hold that gay Christians are called to lifelong celibacy.

John, did you read the report? The Committee went through great pains to point out that their "survey" was not anything close to scientific, and was in no way representative of the views of the entire CRC membership. Check it out. It's in there.

For example, most good estimates of the general population of the entire United States place the percentage of gays at between 0.5% and 3% of the total population. That would obviously include mostly unchurched people. Common sense question...do you think the percentage of gay people in the CRC denomination would be MORE or LESS than the percentage of gays in the general population?

Less. Way less. Logic would say that the rate of gay membership in the CRC would be no more than a quarter what it is in the general population, right? Thus, definitely less than 1%, and probably less than 0.5%.

Yet, the Committee's survey sample included a gay population of 5.7% (226 out of 4,000 respondents). That means they included gays at 10 times the actual rate. Hmmm...

I wonder what the survey results would be if the question were asked like this: "Are you in favor of ignoring Scripture, and changing the definition of marriage to include gays, plural marriage, incest, and other non-traditional sexual relationships?" You see, John, my friend...it's all about how you ask the question.

Biased, unscientific survey results aside, the Gospel is not survey driven or "majority rules," is it? As the Apostle Peter stated plainly, "we must obey God rather than human beings."

Dan,

Classic response: don't like the survey results, challenge the integrity of the research organization.

It is my understanding that the Calvin College Center for Social Research is a credible organization and they applied sound principles to their study.

Why would the percentage of gay people in the CRC be less than in the general population?  I think there may be a serious problem with your "logic".   Like it or not, gay people are everywhere - even in the CRC.

The CRC study shows that views in the CRC on this issue are about the same as views in other mainline protestant denominations.  The results should be no big surprise.

Denial is not a river in Egypt...!

Hey John, you have to realize there are some people that will deny any response you will make.  They will even ask for your opinion only so they can deny it.  They have no interest in honest dialogue.  An explanation even from Jesus wouldn’t satisfy them.  I think such people are the ones of whom Jesus said, “they have ears but they cannot hear.”  Thanks for your input John.

Thank you Roger.  The claim that LGBT people are mostly unchurched people is just plain false and the notion that the CRC is somehow immune from having the same percentage of its children born gay as everybody else is bewildering.

John, that's why I asked if you read the report. It's not a matter of me liking or not liking the survey results, it's that the Committee and the people who ran the survey admitted it was by no means scientific or representative of the CRC denomination.

From page 46 of the actual report:
"The committee cautions the reader to use these survey results lightly and prudently. The pastor and student samples were samples of convenience rather than random samples, and the church member sample, while selected through a random process, is not to be considered representative of all CRC members/attenders."

Seems pretty clear, right?

As for the percentage of CRC members who participate in the gay lifestyle being less than the population in general...that is simply common sense.

Of course, every time I use the phrase "common sense" I look around and realize how alien it has become.

How many people would voluntarily attend a church that held a doctrinal belief saying that an activity that's part of their very core is sinful and an abomination? Not very many. Sure, you might find one here or there. But most people in this case (if they went to church at all), would find one that accepted them despite their participation in such activities. Or even one that actually praised them and encouraged them in their activities. Again, it's just common sense.

So, bottom line...the survey is interesting but not representative. And common sense tells us there are very few gays in the CRC, compared to the general population (which also has very few gays).

Now, I know why Roger has decided that gay sex is not sinful...he knows gay people who are good, nice people. And God would never condemn any activity performed by good, nice people. (I'm poking a little fun at Roger now, because we go WAY back.) But I'm curious to know from John what Scriptures you stand on to condone gay sexual activity as acceptable? I hear a lot of emotional arguments in favor of accepting gay sex (i.e. arguments like Roger's), but I have yet to hear any backing from actual Scripture. John seems very interested in Scripture and what it has to say, so I'm genuinely curious. Thank you.

Dan,

You are correct. The survey is not authoritative. If you want to pin your hopes on your belief that a smaller percentage of CRC members disagree with the CRC position that the 60% reported in the study, fine.

Yes, your are also correct that many gay people who grow up in the CRC eventually leave the church of their birth to join another denomination.  I've never heard anyone who made this transition report that it was anything but painful. Hopefully you can understand that leaving your church comes with a profound sense of loss.  Some gay CRC members decide to stay in the denomination in spite of the CRC's official position.  Some CRC churchs and many CRC members have an affirming and welcoming attitude toward gay members - even those who are married.  The official position of the CRC has no relevance for these members.

Regarding the percentages of LGBT people; .03% are transgender - not gay - there is a difference. Estimates show that about 3-4% of Amercian men identify as gay.  Even if adult CRC members who are gay do leave the church, the fact remains that 3-4% of the children baptized into the church each year are gay. I think this amounts to between 1,800 to 2,500 new gay people each year. Multiply that number by 18 or 20 and you get an idea about how many gay young people are in the CRC at any given time.  Multiply that number by parents, siblings, friends and relatives and that will give you an idea about how many CRC people are directly affected by this issue.

Regarding scripture; the arguments for and against on this topic are well known and widely published. I have no doubt that you are already very familiar with these arguments and that you have responses to each already prepared.  Thank for the invitation but I have other things to do with my time that engage in pointless and protracted argument with you.

So, you win, I won't respond again.  If you want to post another comment, you may have the last word.

Oops, I got the baptism number wrong.  According to reports published by the CRC, there are about 3,500 children baptized each year.  So, 100 to 150 of those children are probably gay.  If you multiply by 18, you get the numbers I mistakenly posted in the preceeding comment.  Sorry.

One final thought: some studies show that about 30-40% of LGBT teenagers attempt suicide.  The messages communicated in the CRC's official position will be a contributing factor for some of these attempts among CRC teens.  

It will be interesting to find out at the final judgment what God values more; dogma or the lives of His children.

I won't presume to know the answer for sure.  Just raising the question because nobody seems to be talking about suffering and death amoung LGBT young people in the church.

I wanted to take a few moments to thank you all for your comments and your insights in response to my article. I’ve held back from entering into the conversation, in part because I’ve had my say, and I wanted to listen to the dialogue between you all. That said, I thought I’d chime in with just a few responses. I’m not going to weigh in much on the Synodical report – that would take a whole article on it’s own.

Paul Spyksma, thanks for weighing in. I certainly don’t mean to suggest that those with Same-Sex attraction are any less persons. You and I would differ on our conclusions – you suggest that acceptance of homosexual practice is a benchmark of sanctification, and I would differ from you on that view.  While I would never advocate treating gay people with anything less than the utmost love and kindness of Christ, I also can’t see making a biblical case for homosexual practice as a blessing.

One observation here – alluded to by a number of folks here – has to do with how far we can logically take the arguments used to support same-sex behavior. If the biblical passages which forbid homosexual practice are deemed outdated, then on what grounds can we say that polyamory would be unbiblical? Open marriages? Living together outside of marriage? If we use the argumentation that Jesus didn’t speak of homosexuality, therefore it must not be a serious concern to him, then on what grounds can we speak against sex trafficking or pornography? (and please note, I’m not equating homosexual practice with these things – I’m comparing a line of argumentation). I’m with Doug – we are already seeing a push to legalize polygamy (and polyamory is already not technically illegal, and I would suggest we will see an increase in this practice in coming years).

On a related note, I find it bothersome that there are a number of cases here of straw-man, and ad-hominem, and simply bad argumentation. To suggest as one poster does, that we have the chance to not “be seen as the supporters of prejudice, barring gays from membership and defaming them…” is disingenuous, in that it is a false dichotomy – and a straw-man. You set up the argument as an either/or; Either we remain the denomination that is supportive of “prejudice” and “defaming” homosexuals, or we say “God loves you and so do we” is widely inaccurate, and disparaging of those who may maintain an orthodox view of homosexuality. You can’t set up a false choice like that – and neither is it fair to cast those who may disagree with your position as prejudiced and defaming – just as it wouldn’t be fair to case those who take a progressive stance as people who are indifferent to the bible.  It’s just plainly not a good way to make your case.

There is a third (at least) option – and that is that we display and speak the love of Christ to all those who struggle with sin (including those who lust, those who struggle with sexual addiction, with sexual refusal, with those who use sex to manipulate/control, with those who struggle with pornography), and yet invite them to trust in the grace of God, the forgiveness offered through Jesus, and the sanctifying work of the Spirit. In that way, I am no different from those who are gay. My sexual desires are every bit as broken and in need of redemption.

 

With that – thank you for all your thoughtful comments. May the Lord bless you, and give you a happy 2016.

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