Synod 2016 Recommends Pastoral Advice for Same-Sex Marriage

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After a long-anticipated debate on a report from a committee that had for three years studied how to respond pastorally to the legalization of same-sex marriage, Synod 2016, the general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church, recommended very little of the advice that came from the majority of the committee.

Instead it recommended advice from two dissenting members of the committee, advice that was much more restrictive. Jessica Driesenga, representing the minority position, noted that their disagreement with the main report focused in three areas: whether clergy may in any circumstances officiate at same-sex weddings, whether officebearers, including ministers, elders, deacons, and commissioned pastors may participate in any other way in same-sex weddings, and whether the members of same-sex couples can be members in good standing of a church. To each of these situations, the majority report did not give a categorical no, whereas the minority’s advice, adopted by synod, drew the lines strictly.

Synod 2013 appointed the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance re Same-Sex Marriage with the mandate to give guidance to members and clergy about how to respond to same-sex marriage. The committee was explicitly instructed to stay within the guidelines of a Synod 1973 decision that distinguished between desire for someone of the same sex, which was held not to be sinful, and acting on the desire, which was held to be sinful.

It was apparent early on that many delegates were drawn to the stricter guidelines. Brady Mulder, Classis Lake Superior, said that the minority report offers clarity to biblical foundations. “That minority report follows God’s Word as highest authority.” Andrew Zomerman, Classis Hamilton, said it gives a loving way forward by pointing people back to Scripture.

Chris Kwak, Classis Pacific Hanmi, speaking through an interpreter, said that the minority report offered advice that he could share with Korean friends and family. But, he said, they would find the majority report confusing.

For others, the guidelines from the minority are too restrictive. Jenny Hengeveld, Classis Northern Illinois, talked about how she had “been blessed by so many same-sex attracted people.” She said of a same-sex couple, “They had been the hands and feet of God to me. Recently they visited me and asked if it would be okay to come to my church. I didn’t know if I could say yes. . . .”

Jack Roeda, Classis Grand Rapids East, brought synod back to Synod 1980, at which it was decided that divorced people could be admitted to the church. He spoke of belonging, a theme of Synod 2016, and accommodation. Belonging requires accommodation, Roeda said. “We know people who are constitutionally created so that they feel and experience same-sex attraction. Perhaps we should accommodate such people.” The minority report, he said, doesn’t struggle with that.

For some, it is time to revisit the 1973 decision. Bud Ipema, Classis Northern Illinois, said, “I’ve watched the committee do great work within a dysfunctional mandate. To stick us with ’73 and say that we cannot look beyond or before ’73 is to give a dysfunctional mandate. We’ve had 43 years in the Christian community of some of the best biblical and theological study on issues of same-sex attraction. I would hope that synod would see the need to give a really good biblical study.” He added, “I cannot figure out in my 50 years of practice how it’s possible to give love and see it received in the presence of exclusion. I don’t know how that’s done. We must learn to love with inclusion.”

Rolf Bouma, the chair of the study committee, expressed the fear that in recommending the minority report, the synod was setting policy. He said, “The minority report doesn’t caution; it prohibits.” But what does “participating” mean? he asked. Does it mean dancing at the reception? He asked the synod to “give some freedom, some trust.”

The question arose of whether the minority report could stand by itself since it differed from the main report in only three areas. Bouma said no. He said, “[I’m] hearing people treat the minority report as a stand-alone report.” By not recommending any part of the larger report, Bouma added, “this does a disservice to the church, a violence to the work of the committee.”

Matt Ackerman, Classis Lake Erie, who said that 20 of the students in his campus ministry were watching the video feed because they care so much, praised the report for offering “pages and pages of information to promote informed discussion of how we can engage our culture with truth and grace.”

By the end of the debate, it became clear that few minds were being changed by speeches on either side of the issue. After more than two hours, delegates voted 110-71 in favor of the more restrictive advice. Synod added quickly a motion to add a reference to that advice in a supplement to Article 69-c of the Church Order, which specifies that “ministers shall not solemnize marriages which would be in conflict with the Word of God,” offering same-sex marriage as an example of such marriages.

In a final act for the evening, the synod, having not recommended much of its advice or recommended most its material to the churches, thanked the study committee.

About the Author

Clayton Libolt was the long time pastor of River Terrace Church in East Lansing, Mich. Since his retirement, he has served in a variety of interim positions. He is presently serving as the interim senior pastor of Sonlight Community CRC in Lynden, Wash.

See comments (4)


This was disturbing to watch. It was ungracious to the committee and unhelpful to the denomination.


Once again the CRC has used a literal interpretation of scripture to violate the central message of God’s love.   The CRC's position is twisted.  Being gay is not a sin but falling in love with someone is.  Calling love evil.  This is a recipe for discrimination.  Which leads to hate and violence.  Churches like the CRC are complicit in the violence done to gay folks.  Denying love is to dehumanize gay folks.  When will the CRC end the cycle of hate it is complicit in. After 40 years of discussion and 20 years after I was fired from a 30 year career at Kalamazoo Christiana HS for trying to stop the harassment of gay kids and left the church under threat of excommunication I was really hoping that this time the CRC would get it right.  But no, all Synod could say about the violence against gay folks is "Pray, mourn and God works all for good."  What a twisted message to say to gay folks.  God will work the violence against you for good!  The continued rejection fosters discrimination, hate and violence.

I too, was saddened to hear the outcome at Synod this year on the issue of same sex marriage.  I would have, at least, expected our denomination (our churches) to take a moderating position.  But no, they took an extreme position which sees no merit in those who see Biblical warrant for same sex marriage in the church and our society.  I can only imagine that this position will disenfranchise our churches from our culture and hinder our evangelical efforts, not only with the LGBT community but with our culture in general.  As one person has already asked me, “does the CRC hate homosexuals?”  It is difficult to explain anything different when our denomination has taken the position it has now taken.  I realize this is a sensitive and difficult issue for Christians to deal with, but taking the extreme position that we have, we will only make the issue that more difficult and harmful.  It is very hard to ask God’s blessing on the decision that Synod has made.

26Then God said, “Let us make manh in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”



27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1:26-28 NASB

From this passage it can be seen that God made man in His image and part of that image bearing is the fact that man was created as a gender based duality and not a gender based singularity. It is not possible for man to undo his image bearing nature and become a single gender.

We also see that in verse 28 of this passage that God gives man, as expressed in the gender duality of male and female, the same task to reproduce and fill the earth as was given to the non-human creatures in vs. 22. This command to be fruitful and fill the earth can only be fulfuilled in a union that is made of of people from two different genders.

This is a reality that is non-negotiable. Just as God changes not so we must also not change His word.

Jesus himself affirms the historicity and the finality of man's duality in this Genesis passage:

“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5and said, ‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH’? 6 “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Genesis 19: 4-6


Matthew 19:4-5 Jesus restates the above story about the creation of man and in doing so reaffirms gender duality in marriage and the unity of their one flesh.

In Genesis 5:2 we see that God blessed man in his duality:

...In the day when God created man, He made him in the likeness of God. 2 He created them male and female, and He blessed them and named them Man in the day when they were created.

And then Ephesians 5:22-33 clearly links the role of the role of Christ as the head of His church with the male gender role of the Husband as the head of his wife. And the female gender is tied to the woman in her marriage role as repsentative of the church. Therefore marriage can only be an image of Christ and His church if the marriage partners reflect the gender duality of male and female as God created man.

 22Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

      25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26 so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. 33 Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.