When past synods deliberated on controversial topics, protestors usually observed in silence. (Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.)
But this year, when delegates to Synod 2019 gathered in small groups to discuss an interim report on human sexuality, those protestors were unexpectedly given a voice.
It was an impromptu invitation. Paul De Vries, chair of the CRC’s Council of Delegates, noticed a group of about 25 protestors in the audience, dressed in various versions of the rainbow theme. While delegates divided into their groups to give feedback on the sexuality report, De Vries spontaneously walked to the audience group and invited them to answer the same questions the delegates were answering. He promised to pass their answers on to the authors of the report.
“What would you like to call yourselves?” De Vries asked the group of spectators. The group decided on “Advocates for the Inclusion of LGBTQ in the CRC.”
The spectators expressed their surprise that the report didn’t include alternative views to the official CRC position on homosexuality, first adopted in 1973. They thought the dissenting committee member should have been allowed to publish a dissenting report, or at least speak before synod.
“The report is written in a binary way,” said Lisa VanArragon, a lifelong member of Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich. “The rigidly complementarian gender ethic in the report is a retreat, even from [Synod’s] 1973 report, a retreat that we ought to all be concerned about. It ignores science today.”
Art Jongsma, also from Grand Rapids, objected to the tone of the report. “It gives the impression that yes, we’re all broken, but LGBTQ people are more broken.” Jongsma is president of All One Body, a CRC group that supports same-sex marriage. Jongsma recently issued a statement opposing the report.
What did the group like about the report, DeVries asked.
“I appreciate the challenge of biological families as the primary structure of the church,” said Joe Kuilema of Sherman Street CRC, Grand Rapids.
“I liked the first part of the report, the acknowledgement that all of us are sinners, broken people,” remarked Barbara Carvill of Church of the Servant. “But the second part of the report undid all the loving, understanding stuff in the first part. It was an ice-cold shower!”
As the group wrapped up its discussion, participants broke into applause for DeVries, thanking him for including them. Several shook his hand.
“I did not expect to be given a voice,” said Don Huizinga of Grand Rapids. “That is heartwarming and felt like hope.”
DeVries chaired Synod 2016, which mandated the report. He said he understands that because synod is a decision-making body, spectators are left out of the process. “I’m at least pleased that synod here is having a discussion,” he said.
A recent Reformed Journal article by Joshua Herr warns that if Synod 2021 adopts the Great Lakes Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality in the appendix of the report, the denomination will split in response. According to a 2014 survey, 21% of CRC members believe the church should allow same-sex marriage.
Synod 2019 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 14-20. For continuous coverage from our award-winning news team, download the Banner app on your mobile device or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted on The Banner’s dedicated Synod web page several times daily. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.
About the Author
Roxanne VanFarowe is a freelance writer who claims both Canadian and American citizenship and grew up in the Christian Reformed Church. She is a member of Blacknall Presbyterian Church in Durham, North Carolina.