Clarifying Synod 2016’s Decisions on Pastoral Advice Regarding Same-Sex Marriage

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It’s been several months since Synod 2016 made decisions about the reports from the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance Regarding Same-Sex Marriage. (Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.)

In that time, there has been considerable confusion regarding what synod did when it recommended the more restrictive advice from the minority of the committee. Did synod make binding decisions or were the decisions simply recommendations?

What follows is an interview with Rev. Peter Hoytema, pastor of Westmount CRC in Strathroy, Ont., who was the reporter for the synod committee that dealt with the report.

The Banner (TB): Why is there such confusion about what Synod 2016 decided?

Hoytema: Synod received both the majority and minority reports from the study committee. It’s the phrase “recommend to the churches the pastoral guidance of the minority report” that has led some to wonder whether synod adopted official policy that churches must follow, or if it simply recommended guidance that is pastoral and non-regulatory in nature. (See Agenda for Synod 2016, pp. 436-43.)

TB: So is what Synod 2016 decided binding or not?

Hoytema: In fact, it is both. It decided that officebearers in the CRC are prohibited from solemnizing same-sex marriages, based on the minority report’s determination that such marriages are in conflict with the Word of God. To reinforce the binding nature of what it adopted, synod placed a reference to this decision in the Supplement to Article 69-c of the Church Order.

However, it should be remembered that while a pastor who solemnizes a same sex marriage may be disciplined for doing so, this new Supplement to Article 69-c indicates that a same-sex marriage is one example of how synod has determined that a marriage is considered to be in conflict with the Word of God. Discipline ought not to be given to that pastor any more eagerly or severely than it is given to one who solemnizes a marriage that is contrary to the Word of God for completely different reasons, examples of which are numerous.

TB: What parts of Synod 2016’s decision are not binding?

Hoytema: The advice recommended by synod indicates that “participating” in a same-sex wedding ceremony is something officebearers should avoid. It does not specify exactly what such participation entails, nor does it prohibit it outright. It conveys a tone that is more cautionary than rigid. Nothing about the prospect of officebearers being disciplined for even participating at a same-sex wedding ceremony was ever recommended or adopted.

TB: What does this decision say to churches regarding enfolding those who are same-sex attracted?

Hoytema: This was not the focus of synod’s work. The focus of this synod’s work was on determining the legitimacy of same-sex marriage and on providing pastoral guidance in that specific context.
The question you raise is something previous synods have considered. It is also something the newly appointed Committee to Articulate a Foundation-Laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality will address.

TB: What are your hopes for the report from that committee?

Hoytema: It is my personal hope that the subject of homosexuality will actually occupy a small place in that committee’s report.

It has become clear to me that committee reports and the adoption of denominational code are not the most effective strategies in dealing with this issue. What’s more, there are other aspects of human sexuality that are deeply pastoral in nature (e.g. pornography), which I believe we have ignored for too long and therefore require more urgent attention.

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

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