Michigan Group Responds to Synod’s Decision on Homosexuality

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A group of members and pastors from several West Michigan Christian Reformed churches have organized to provide educational opportunities for congregations about the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered individuals in their churches.

Complete Covenant members Sheryl Mulder, Arlene Beukema, Cara Oosterhouse, and David LaGrand at a recent meeting of the group.

The action was prompted by the decision of Synod 2011, the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church, not to appoint a study committee to review the biblical teachings regarding homosexual orientation and practice.

“Initially I was surprised at the synod decision, and angry,” said Sheryl Mulder, 51, an elder at Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids. She felt she had to do something, so Mulder began to network with representatives from other churches around the region. They have been meeting monthly since last September.

They call themselves All One Body to emphasize that God’s covenant of love expressed in baptism is not broken by one’s sexual orientation, nor should the commitments made by a congregation at baptism be compromised.

All One Body has already provided presentations at adult Sunday school classes in the region. Presentations have included both personal testimony and scriptural analysis. The group also plans to develop resources for pastors on providing pastoral care for individuals with a same-sex orientation as well as for congregation members who may express opposition.

Art Jongsma, 68, a member of Calvin CRC in Grand Rapids, has made presentations on alternative interpretations of key scriptural references. Reflecting on the large turnout at such events, he noted, “People want to talk about this. It is maybe not just controversial, but it touches a lot of people’s lives too.”

About the Author

Noah Kruis is the Banner's regional news correspondent for classes Grand Rapids East and Grand Rapids North.

See comments (33)

Comments

@Bryan

I want to respond with "ah, come on" and a groan. Pedophiles, a much more oppressed people group than gays, agree with MLK as well.

Quotes of poetic phrases from famous people just don't help the discussion much, especially when the redirection is hyperbolic. If you want a church denomination that declares what the CRCNA does about homosexuality, you need to present your case by discussing Scripture, not by quoting a Martin Luther King call to action statement. If you are just intending to "call to action" and not discuss or persuade, that's fine and you can ignore my comment, but if you want the CRCNA -- or CRC'ers -- to change its/their position, you need to deal with that which would (should) cause them them to change its/their position. MLK isn't that.

I have read the 1973 report too. Sadly, it is nothing but a lengthy psychoanalysis on homosexuality. The Bible says that God has exalted above all things His name and His word. So this subject is not about science, interpretation, someones feelings, or personal beliefs. It's about what God has said, and whether or not we believe what He said.

The Bible is crystal clear on this matter. It couldn't be more plain than if Jesus himself were to stand in front of us, and tell us so. We don't need another study or report. What we need is the faith to believe what God has declared to be true. When God says, "Do not be deceived... neither homosexuals will inherit the kingdom of God. But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality among you, or of any kind of impurity...For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person- such a man is an idolator- has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient." (1 Cor. 6:9, Eph. 5:2-7)

And who cannot shudder at Jude vs 6,7 and Rom. 1:1,27 "...In a similar way. Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie...Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men... The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness."

These verses should make us terrified and also humble us, that we might fall down on our face and cry out to God for forgiveness, and for mercy and grace. It would be a dereliction of duty for the church not to call us to repent and put our faith in the cross to deliver us.

Do we even realize the insanity of sexual sin? Forgive us Lord, we need our hearts to be made clean from our filthy ways. O' Lord our church is on the verge of compromise, listening to the world rather than you're Holy Word. May we not be afraid to declare the truth and reach out in love with help and hope to all who will listen. In Jesus name, Amen.

How did the denomination of Louis Berkhof and R.B. Kuiper get to this point? My suspicion is that our seminary has spent too much time teaching "social justice" and "seeker sensitive worship". That said, none of the people in this article are CTS grads. I do believe, however, that if more of our pastors had the ability to comfortably preach Christ-centered expositional sermons instead of topical sermons we would see less of this. Unfortunately it is an ingrained issue in denominations like our's as too many of us belong to the CRCNA based not on her doctrine, but common ethnic heritage.

Kirk, The CRC is making progress and growing toward a more mature and Christ centered faith. Synod's 1973 Report and the CRC's treatment of its LGBT members is a sin. The CRC is being blessed with an increasingly keen awareness of this sin. A growing number in the CRC are repenting of this sin and responding in gratitude to God for his grace and forgiveness. This is all good news for the CRC.

So to answer your question, the CRC got to this point because God has led it to this point.

@John

I want to make sure I'm understanding you correctly and I don't want to put words in your mouth.

Is it your position that the CRCNA is specifically sinning by concluding homosexual acts are sinful? And is it your your position that individuals who conclude the same are also specifically sinning by so concluding?

Doug,

Synod's 1973 includes representations about gay people and sexuality that are false. Bearing false witness against a neighbor is sin.

The CRC's current policy is to exclude gay members from full participation in the church. According to scripture, the sin of Sodom was inhospitality. The CRC's inhospitality to its gay members is sin.

Christ commanded "Love God above all and your neighbor as yourself." Refusal to appoint a new study committee and/or otherwise engage in meaningful dialogue with your gay neighbor is sin.

Refusing so welcome your gay neighbor into full fellowship with you because you disagree with him about interpretations of seven passages in scripture is sin.

John et al:
Two questions:
1. Is there any sexual arrangement that you would proscribe? (e.g. bigamy/polygamy between consenting adults in "committed relationships" to name just the situation that pops most immediately to mind ) If so, based on what?
2. If the CRCNA has been "sinning" then what about the entire historic, orthodox Christian faith for two thousand years, presumably led by the Holy Spirit into truth?
On the other hand if it is the homosexual activity that is considered sinful (as the historic Christian church led by the Holy Spirit for two thousand years has concluded) then aren't you in danger of "grieving the Spirit?"

"precherkid",
Throughout history the christian church has repeatedly changed its position on long held traditional views. At one time, it was a sin to believe the earth is round. Now, no-one holds that view. At one time, scholars were executed for teaching that the earth revolves around the sun. Now, it is common knowledge. At one time, christians believed that scripture justifies slavery. Now, no-one holds that view. At one time, the christian church believed that scripture precludes women from holding office in the church. Now, few hold that view. The list goes on and on. Clearly, there is precedent for rethinking traditional views.

@ John

Again to be clear, exactly how do you believe "The CRC's current policy is to exclude gay members from full participation in the church"?

I think the CRCNA 1973 report was quite clear in distingushing between "the state of being gay" (which is not sin) and engaging in homosexual sin (which is sin, just as heterosexual sin outside marriage is sin).

Do we disagree on this point about the 1973 report?

@ John

Again to be clear, exactly how do you believe "The CRC's current policy is to exclude gay members from full participation in the church"?

I think the CRCNA 1973 report was quite clear in distingushing between "the state of being gay" (which is not sin) and engaging in homosexual sex (which is sin, just as heterosexual sin outside marriage is sin).

Do we disagree on this point about the 1973 report?

Doug,
As you probably know, human beings desire to live in relationship with another. To deny this basic and natural human need is to inflict immeasurable pain. In my opinion, the CRC's current policy draws a distinction between being and behavior that is not valid. Saying to someone that you are welcome in my church but you must leave your spouse and live a life of excruciating loneliness is in effect the same as saying you are not welcome.
David Meyers is a scholar at Hope College who has done a great deal of writing about this topic. I encourage you to read his writings if you really want to understand the point I am trying to make. Cara Oosterhouse provided some helpful links in her comments of January 26, 2012 below.

John: I think I understand your position, and I especially appreciate your candor, even though I disagree with you in key ways. I have read some of David Meyers writings. I disagree with him in key ways as well.

What I less appreciate in all of this is the veiled communication, like that in this article. I'm not trying to criticize the author of the article, but a reader of this article (or many other, include prior Banner articles) is really mislead about what those who are advocating for your position are actually advocating for. Your responses make that clear--and that in itself is good because it is honest, regardless of our disagreement in other ways.

I would suggest that you/others advocating this position begin a discussion forum thread on The Network (a discussion facility of the CRCNA). It is a better place to discuss, in part because posts are not length limited. Sometimes (including as to this topic), thoughts cannot be adequately shared if you can only say so many words at a time. I would certainly engage in that discussion.

Doug,
Thank you for the invitation. Perhaps I will check out the discussion on The Network. However, I'm not sure how much longer I will qualify as a CRC member. We have been attending an Episcopal church lately. We are welcomed with open arms, invited to church functions as a couple and encouraged to grow in a Christ centered relationship. This is the first time in my life that I have actually felt a sense of belonging in a church. It is an amazing and wonderful experience. It occurs to me that this must be how heterosexual people get to feel all their lives. Rather than get angry about years of alienation, I am happy that I finally get to experience true christian fellowship. I would like to say to other gay readers, please do not give up on the Christian faith. The CRC may reject you but God will not.

Actually, I appreciated Bryan's quote from MLK, Jr. "Change ... comes through continuous struggle". Seems like it's the only thing that's made any sense this week.

I appreciate John's mature faith. Also, you couldn't have summed it up any better, "...a life of excruciating loneliness..." You put into words what I've been trying to process for so many months.

Perhaps Michael Swift was right, when he said back in 1987. And it still echoes in my ears. "All churches that condemn homosexuality will be closed. We shall sodomize your sons...we shall seduce them in your schools, in your dormitories, in your gymnasiums, in your sports arenas, in your seminaries, and in your youth groups..."

The Bible believing church may be persecuted. Nevertheless God is not mocked, and there is no way anyone can legitimately circumvent what God has prohibited.

Oooops, "truthmatters" left out the first sentence of Mr. Swift's writing.

"This essay is an outré, madness, a tragic, cruel fantasy, an eruption of inner rage, on how the oppressed desperately dream of being the oppressor."

"truthmatters" is quoting fantasy.

Disney next week, everyone?

For anyone interested in an in depth theological study of the Biblical passages in question, please consider purchasing and reading "A Time to Embrace: Same-Gender Relationships in Religion, Law, and Politics" by William Stacy Johnson. It was published by Eerdmans in 2006 and is excellent. William Stacy Johnson is an ordained Presbyterian minister who also holds a law degree in addition to his M.Div.

As to the claims that the A1B group is trying to be "veiled." That is not our intent. I think you are misinterpreting what our ultimate wish/goal is with our method for engaging others in the denomination on this issue. Yes, most of our group desires as the future goal for same sex monogamouse committed partners to be accepted like heterosexual monogamous committed partners are in the CRC. Our group doesn't want to achieve this by demonizing/destroying/ostracizing those who believe differently than we do. We recognize that those who think differently than us are our committed brothers and sisters in Christ. The world will know we are Christians by the way we discuss and treat each other,LOVE each other, especially on issues like this.

Safe Sin?

For anyone interested in a review of William Stacy Johnson's book referenced by Sheryl Mulder, see the available review articles at Robert Gagnon's website.

It isn't surprising that the three points of common grace would lead to the exalting of natural revelation and "science" above the special revelation of Holy Scripture. When that happens theological liberalism is just around the corner.

Sincerely,

Charlie J. Ray

Reasonable Christian blog

“… To deny that natural religion and natural theology are sufficient and have an autonomous existence of their own is not in any way to do an injustice to the fact that from the creation, from nature and history, from the human heart and conscience, there comes divine speech to every human.

No one escapes the power of general revelation. Religion belongs to the essence of a human. The idea and existence of God, the spiritual independence and eternal destiny of the world, the moral world order and its ultimate triumph—all these are problems that never cease to engage the human mind. Metaphysical need cannot be suppressed. Philosophy perennially seeks to satisfy that need. It is general revelation that keeps that need alive. It keeps human beings from degrading themselves into animals. It binds them to a supersensible world. It maintains in them the awareness that they have been created in God’s image and can only find rest in God. General revelation preserves humankind in order that it can be found and healed by Christ and until it is. To that extent natural theology used to be correctly denominated a “preamble of faith,” a divine preparation and education for Christianity. General revelation is the foundation on which special revelation builds itself up....Hence general and special revelation interact with each other. “God first sent forth nature as a teacher, intending also to send prophecy next, so that you, a disciple of nature, might more easily believe prophecy” (Tertullian). Nature precedes grace; grace perfects nature. Reason is perfected by faith, faith presupposes nature.”

—Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena (Baker Academic, 2003), 1:321—322.

@Sheryl -

I'll have a look at Johnson's book. But if it's anything like Boswell's (Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality - Univ Chicago 1980) or Rogers' (Jesus, the Bible and Homosexuality - Westminster 2009), I doubt I'll be convinced. The exegetical arguments in the above books are specious and at times absurd in the ways they grasp at any straw that might possibly lend support to their desired end.

So far, the more I've seen of the argument that the Bible affirms, or at least permits the affirmation of, homosexual sex the less convincing those arguments seem. I find from what I read in the Bible that I must maintain homosexual sex to be sinful sex. I don't see a way to avoid that conclusion.

PNR,
You consistently refer to writings of well respected scholars as specious and absurd yet you provide no evidence of your own credentials. Have you published anything in any peer reviewed journals lately? What qualifies you to discount the scholarship of others and presumptuously claim to discern truth?

The traditional CRC opinion that, according to scripture, any sex that occurs between two people of the same sex is categorically sinful is based on six or seven obscure words or phrases found in unrelated texts that were written between 2,000 and 3,500 years ago. The traditional CRC opinion relies on translations of certain words in these texts that are inconsistent with how those words were used in other scripture texts and in other writings of the time. Furthermore, even if the mistranslated words are accepted as correct, the texts must be taken completely out of context if they are to support the traditional CRC opinion. In my view, the traditional CRC opinion, that these obscure phases can be used to justify the exclusion of an entire class of Christians from fellowship with the CRC, is “specious,” “absurd,” and “grasping at straws.”

Regarding: Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13
Christians today are not bound by the rules and rituals described in Leviticus. (Galatians 3:22-25) If the CRC insists on using this passage to condemn homosexuality, then they must also agree to be bound by the other rules and rituals described in Leviticus.

Among other things, the Holiness Code of Leviticus prohibits:
*Sexual intercourse during a women's menstrual cycle
*Tattoos
*Wearing certain types of jewelry
*Eating certain kinds of meat
*Wearing clothing made from blended textiles (cotton-polyester blends)
*Cross-breeding livestock
*Sowing a field with mixed seed
*Eating or touching the dead flesh of pigs, rabbits, & some forms of seafood
*Men cutting their hair or shaving their beards

The Holiness Code also endorses polygamy and requires Saturday to be reserved as the Sabbath. To use these passages to condemn homosexuality, while ignoring the rest of the rules and rituals outlined in Leviticus is "specious," "absurd," and "grasping at straws."

Regarding 1Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:1:
There are two words which appear to have been mistranslated. Malakee (effeminate) which appears in 1 Corinthians, and arsenokeeteh (abusers of themselves with mankind) which appears in both 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy.

The Greek term malakee is used elsewhere in the Bible to mean someone who lacks discipline or one who is morally weak, and never is it used in reference to sexuality or gender. It wasn't until 1946 that malakee was given a sexual connotation when it was translated to mean "sexual perverts" in the Revised Standard Version.

The second term arsenokeeteh literally means "male-active-bed". Unfortunately, arsenokeeteh has been interpreted by some to mean homosexual. The term arsenokeeteh is obscure, as evidenced by the variety of interpretations it has been assigned throughout history (including "people with infamous habits", and "child molesters"). If Paul was addressing male homosexuality why did he choose such an obscure word when there were Greek words that were more commonly used to describe homosexual behavior? Given Paul's concern with temple prostitution, wouldn't it make more sense to assume that "male-active-bed" was a reference to the male cult prostitution that was prevalent in Greco-Roman culture at that time?

Regarding Romans 1:26: Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural (physin) relations for unnatural (para physin) ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural (physin) relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.

In the preceding passage the Greek words physin and paraphysin have been translated to mean natural and unnatural respectively. Contrary to popular belief, the word paraphysin does not mean "to go against the laws of nature", but rather implies action which is uncharacteristic for that person. An example of the word paraphysin is used in Romans 11:24, where God acts in an uncharacteristic (paraphysin) way to accept the Gentiles. When the scripture is understood correctly, it seems to imply that it would be unnatural for heterosexuals to live as homosexuals, and for homosexuals to live as heterosexuals.

Applying this text to 21st Century LGBT relationships is "specious," "absurd," and "grasping at straws."

According to the Pew Research Center, younger people are more likely to support gay marriage than older people. For example: 58% of people ages 19-29 support gay marriage while only 35% of people ages 50-64 support gay marriage. Pew data also shows that support for gay marriage among all age groups in the US has steadily increased by 1% per year for the past 10 years and the trend is expected to continue. Given these demographic realities, the Christian Reformed Church has two potential destinies. The first is that the CRC will eventually adopt more progressive views about LGBT membership as a result of attrition. The second is that progressive thinkers and younger people will become frustrated and inclined to leave the CRC and the denomination will become increasingly insignificant.

Some perspective:

In September 2011, the US Census Bureau released a report estimating that in the US in 2010 there were 131,729 same sex married couples and 514,735 same sex unmarried partner households. In other words, there are at least 1,292,938 gay men and lesbians currently living in committed relationships in the US.

The entire Christian Reformed Church in North America has fewer than 300,000 members.

The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates that about 3.8% of the US population identifies as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender (LGBT). This amounts to about 9 million people. Another way to look at this information is that if the Christian Reformed Church has 300,000 members, statistically, about 11,400 of them are LGBT. Of course, the real number of LGBT members is probably much lower because many LGBT people leave the church.

@John -
I can read. A peer review, a degree, and a publisher do not an argument make.

Boswell argues, for instance, that the Hebrew "yadah" (to know) did not mean to engage in sexual intercourse in Gen 19:5 as it does, for instance, in Gen 4:1. It merely means they wanted to get acquainted with Lot's visitors (see p. 94 of his book). Yet Lot pleads with them not to do "this wicked thing" and offers his two daughters who "have not known any man" in Gen 19:8.

So Boswell wants me to think that Lot believes the men of Sodom getting acquainted with his visitors would be a wicked thing, and that he is saying his daughters have never gotten acquainted with any man? Why would he even offer his daughters if that's all the men of Sodom wanted? Did he think they needed to practice their social skills?

Boswell's argument, in other words, is specious and absurd, and I don't need a published article in a peer reviewed journal to see that.

PNR, I am dismayed that you actually think the story of Sodom has any relevance to the current debate in the CRC. The "sins" of Sodom are made clear in Ezekiel 16:48-50. They were pride, laziness, being inhospitable, neglecting the needs of the poor, greed. Nothing about homosexuality is mentioned.

The destruction of Sodom occurred when? About 5,000 years ago? As the story goes, two angels were sent to Sodom by God, where Lot invites them to stay in his home. After the Angels ate and were preparing for bed, the people of Sodom converged on Lots home, demanding that the angels come out so that the towns people might know (rape) them. Lot refuses and offers his two virgin daughters instead.

The Hebrew word yadha (to know) has several different meanings throughout the Bible. In most cases it means to "have thorough knowledge of." In many cases it means "to check the credentials of", and in some cases may mean to "have sex with". The people of Sodom wanted to harm the strangers, and because of ancient hospitality codes, Lot felt compelled to protect his guests.

The people of Sodom wanted to perform an act of violence by raping the angels. Homosexual rape was not uncommon in the ancient world as is was the ultimate symbol of defeat and humiliation. Rape is not a sexual act - it is an act of violence. PNR, you have completely missed the point of this story. A 5,000 year old story about gang rape has absolutely nothing to do with committed, loving, lifelong (marriage) relationships in the 21st Century.

@John -
I'm aware that "yadah" has multiple meanings. Boswell argues that it means something in Gen 19:5 and 8 that the context cannot support on any fair reading of the text. I'm just responding to Boswell - an example to point out that his argument is specious and absurd. I could point to more such examples.

Rogers, for instance, citing Dale Martin, tries to argue that the compound word in 1 Cor 6:9 doesn't mean what it has been thought to mean because "understand" doesn't mean we stand under something. This is scholarship? Really?

You and I have already gone back and forth over the Lev. 18 passage, but suffice to say here that I find it hard to accept that every other sexual prohibition in that chapter still applies but this one doesn't.

I could go on with all their arguments regarding particular texts of Scripture.

The rest of their argument is, "Scripture does not sanction cruelty to homosexuals" (true - but doesn't bear on whether the act is sinful or not); "Lots of people at the time were homosexuals" (may or may not be true - the record is sketchy); and "homosexual sex was widely accepted" (probably not true if you mean everyone every where, though in certain cities, cults, and socio-economic classes, a fair statement). But these arguments also have no real bearing on whether or not Scripture teaches that it is sinful behavior.

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