An evening session with the Committee for Pastoral Guidance on Same-Sex Marriage drew more than 140 people from churches in Hamilton, Ontario, and showed that Christian Reformed church members hold a variety of views on how to carry out appropriate ministry involving people in same-sex relationships.
Held as part of the fall meeting of Classis Hamilton (a regional group of churches), the event was one of six Canadian stops on a listening tour as part of the committee’s mandate from Synod 2013 (the annual leadership meeting of the CRC). The committee also plans to visit seven U.S. classes.
The committee is not reexamining the church’s position on homosexuality. Its mandate is to give pastoral guidance to churches, pastors, leaders, and church members on doing ministry in a cultural setting where same-sex marriage is legal. The CRC’s position, established in 1973 and reaffirmed in 2002, is that homosexual orientation is not a sin but that homosexual practice is.
Committee member Wendy Gritter, along with Peter Noteboom, facilitated the session. Gritter noted that their mandate from synod was to follow a shepherding model, listening to the churches and reporting back to synod as it does its work.
The evening included individual reflection, prayer, and small group discussion. Responses from those in attendance showed that while everyone wants to show love and hospitality to those who are living in a same-sex relationship, there isn’t as much agreement about how that should look, especially when it comes to church membership and participation.
Many attendees said that as they navigate questions that arise in response to same-sex marriage, they need more resources and education on the biblical teachings and the church’s stance. Others want help to balance cultural tensions with church convictions and tensions between created reality and scriptural reality.
One person asked the denomination to reexamine the report from 1973. This was met with applause as attendees expressed the view that the language contained in the report is outdated and offensive. One woman shared a personal experience of how she found the church’s treatment of those who are gay and lesbian to be harmful. She stressed the importance of following Jesus’ example of love rather than seeing them as projects to be fixed. Others stated that individuals who practice homosexuality should not be welcome in the church.
A survey conducted by the committee early this year drew 5,000 responses that reflect the diverse perspectives held in the denomination. In discussion about the implication of that for the church, some suggested looking at other denominational structures that allow for a more inclusive and broader idea of belonging to the body of Christ. Others stated that the church should place God above all in this discussion, not personal needs or the pressures of society.
Reflecting on the evening, some expressed their fear of division in the denomination because of differing views. They worry that scriptural study will not necessarily unify these differences. Others said that it is in recognizing all brokenness that the church can move away from judgement to a space of hospitality.
“Our hope as followers of Jesus is that our faith will have transformational power on the people who enter our circles. But we must be careful not to equate belongingness with specific kinds of behavior,” commented Shawn Groen, a member of First CRC in Hamilton. “If we can begin to separate belongingness and behaving, we will be more comfortable journeying and suffering with people wrestling with deep questions about love and acceptance.”
The challenges that face the committee and the church were evident in the discussion. Yet as Gritter pointed out, although there will be pain in the process, there is also the possibility of growth.
In addition to listening sessions at classis meetings over the next year, the committee is also attending Christian Reformed campus ministry and chaplains' conferences. The committee will be giving an interim report at Synod 2015 and hopes to hold a listening session there as well. The final report is scheduled for presentation at Synod 2016.