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Grand Rapids Event Advocates Full Participation of Practicing Gay Church Members


Dr. Amy Plantinga Pauw was the speaker at a recent event to discuss allowing gay, lesbian, transgender, and bisexual individuals, including those living in same-sex relationships, full participation in the Christian Reformed Church. Pauw, a professor at Louisville Seminary who graduated from Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., received her M.Div. from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

The event, held September 17 at Calvin Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, drew an overflow crowd of about 170 people. It was organized by All One Body-A1B, an organization that promotes full participation in church life “by all persons who confess Christ as their Savior and Lord, whether they are single or faithful partners in a committed, monogamous union, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).”

Synod 2011 (the annual leadership meeting of the CRC) chose not to reexamine the denomination’s stance on homosexuality, adopted in the 1970s. Dissatisfaction with that decision led some members of Christian Reformed churches in Grand Rapids to form All One Body.

Pauw argued that the church was “traditionally inclusive” and did not take into account the fact that marriage, in addition to being a traditional Christian commitment was also an earthly commitment. She specifically noted that originally celibacy was considered a gift to those who chose a life of ministry. Now pastors enjoy the commitment of marriage in addition to following their call into ministry. The title of her speech, “A Yes to God’s Earth,” summarized her opinion that the church was forgetting the broader experience of earthly relationships.

Pauw referenced Romans 1:24-27, where Paul wrote about homosexual acts as contrary to nature, and challenged her audience to also remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:14: “Does not the very nature of things teach you that if a man has long hair, it is a disgrace to him.” She cited it as an example that context is important to the interpretation of Scripture, and that ideas written then do not necessarily equate to the human experience now.

“The vast majority of marriages are going to be heterosexual,” Pauw noted. But she also stated that the role of marriage in life, for both heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, achieved the same goal—a faithful commitment that produces “creaturely flourishing.”

The evening included a panel discussion with three men, including those who identified themselves as heterosexual and LGBT.

One panelist, identifying himself as a traditionalist, questioned Pauw’s idea of context and interpreting certain Scriptures differently. Agreeing that some things, like hairstyles, did not hold the same meaning for today’s Christians, he noted that sexuality was not necessarily a hairstyle equivalent and less likely to change over time.

Another panelist, self-identified as gay, noted that he grew up in the church. He participated as a music director and offered to commit himself to celibacy before being asked to leave his church. It was after that that he met his partner. He expressed a desire to include individuals like him within the church.

Audience members were encouraged to write comments or questions on cards and pass them forward.

“[Does this] open the door to polygamy?” asked one audience member. A panelist responded  that that would need another, separate discussion.

Another asked, “Will the church provide resources to those who desire to remain celibate?” The panelist who identified himself as a traditionalist said, “We can work to provide more textual materials, and possibly, if that member talks to a pastor or member of the church, emotional support.”

After the panelists spoke, one pastor extended an apology for a sermon he had preached many years ago that would have been hurtful to the LGTB community. “I am sorry,” he told those present.

Audience members’ questions included skepticism of contextual interpretation mentioned by Pauw in addition to questions about celibacy and creating support groups for LGBT individuals. The evening ended with refreshments and individual discussions.

The event at Calvin CRC is the first in a series planned for the Grand Rapids area by All One Body. The group also hosts monthly meetings at Eastern Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids.

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