Members of the Christian Reformed church have been busy organizing events and sharing on websites in anticipation of Synod 2022’s discussion of the human sexuality report.
Most see the report as the weightiest item on the agenda of this year’s synod, the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church, scheduled for June 9 to 16. Synod 2016 commissioned the report and the committee that wrote it.
“In the early days of our committee, we sometimes wondered if anyone knew we existed, or cared,” said Jeff Weima, co-chair of the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality. “Things have definitely changed. I don’t know of any other topic other than maybe women in (ecclesiastical) office that has garnered close to this level of interest.”
Published in November 2020, the human sexuality report reiterates the biblical basis for traditional church teaching on sexual matters and recommends that synod declare such teaching to already have confessional status—meaning that pastors, elders, and deacons who disagree are at odds with the confessions. It would solidify the CRC's current position on homosexual sex, established by Synod 1973.
Synod’s response to the report has been delayed a year because Synod 2021 was canceled. That has given CRC churches plenty of extra time to discuss and react to the report, holding discussion groups and hosting learning events. For example, in April, Waterloo (Ontario) CRC hosted a four-week series of “stories and perspectives on the HSR,” with titles including “Growing up Gay in the CRC” and “One Church’s Story.”
Classis Toronto, Classis Atlantic Northeast, Classis Alberta North, and Classis Ontario Southwest—and probably more—also have hosted events. Weima has been asked to speak about the report to about eight classes. Mary Lee Bouma, another committee member, recalls speaking to at least 15 churches and five classes and consulting with about 20 pastors and council leaders. In fact, according to the CRC’s Pastor-Church Resources ministry, there have been about 300 “listening circles” within churches to discuss the human sexuality report.
Canadian churches have hosted many more such events than American churches have, according to ministry consultant Sean Baker. Baker helped develop the Challenging Conversations Toolkit. Released at the same time as the human sexuality report, the toolkit was designed by Pastor-Church Resources to help churches work through and wrestle with the controversial report.
“Sexuality is a topic that people tend to shy away from,” said Baker. “The toolkit helps people to start conversations, although some were frustrated that it didn’t resolve their differences.”
“I define good process as one in which we continue to love one another as brothers and sisters in Christ as we continue to have difficult conversations and make difficult decisions,” Baker added. He is currently helping to develop a second version of the toolkit to help churches address the aftermath of whatever synod decides to do with the report.
In the past year, two new larger networking groups have coalesced in response to the human sexuality report, representing opposing views within the denomination. The Abide Project published its website, which advocates for the report, in August 2021. “We’re promoting—and defending—the position of the denomination,” said Chad Steenwyk, co-chair of the Abide Project. Then in March 2022, the Hesed Project published its website, which calls the human sexuality report into question and includes many stories of LGBTQ+ experiences in the CRC. The Hesed Project includes links to the website of All One Body, a Grand Rapids-based organization that “promotes unrestricted participation in all areas of church life … without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The Abide Project now has about 600 people on its mailing list, many of them pastors, according to Lloyd Hemstreet, who manages the list. The group has published articles, hosted weekly Zoom prayer meetings, and hosted eight Zoom lectures on the topic of sexuality. With an about $10,000 budget, donated by about a dozen churches, the group has paid for the lectures, which are posted on YouTube. Three of the four people elected to Synod 2022’s leadership team are actively involved in the Abide Project. The group plans to provide a free lunch just before Synod 2022 so that delegates who have been following their work can meet face to face, Hemstreet said.
During Synod 2022, The Abide Project will be posting occasional reports and analysis of synod proceedings on its website without advocating, according to Hemstreet. After the opening session via Zoom on May 25, the Abide Project’s 13-minute video report received 1,100 views, he said: “People are interested.”
The Hesed Project operates much more informally, since some of those involved worry they could lose their jobs if their names were made public, said Kathy Vandergrift, former CRC Board of Trustees president, who heads up the group.
“Our focus is to keep the door open to further discussion,” said Vandergrift. “There are different ways of looking at these issues within the CRC.”
“Supporters of Hesed have been part of organizing forums involving various approaches to the issues—welcoming different ways of thinking about how Scripture applies to these issues, struggling with what God is teaching us through science, and supporting persons in our churches who struggle with these issues in a very direct and personal way,” Vandergrift added.
The Hesed Project recently published an analysis of the numerous overtures (requests) from classes and churches to synod in response to the human sexuality report. The analysis is intended to be a resource to delegates and points out that “multiple overtures identify significant concerns and gaps” with the report.
“Synod delegates have a mandate to take the perspective of the whole church,” said Vandergrift. “The overtures represent a lot of diversity within the CRC. This is not a case of one dominant view and a minority.”
Synod 2022 is meeting June 10-16 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod, download the Banner app on your mobile device, follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook, or subscribe to the daily synod news digest. On Twitter follow #crcsynod or twitter.com/crcna. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church (it did not gather in 2020 or 2021). Connect to the meeting’s livestream, read advisory committee reports, and find other resources at crcna.org/synod.