Synod 2022, the general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church, decided it wanted a year for member churches to review a Code of Conduct before adopting it, so it will come back to Synod 2023.
The Code of Conduct, which had been recommended to Synod 2022 by the Council of Delegates, is a list of behavior guidelines for ministry leaders, developed by the denomination as part of its effort to prevent abuse of power. Amanda Benckhuysen, the CRC’s director of Safe Church Ministry said, “The goal is this begins to change the culture of the CRC so we set higher expectations for ourselves. … It's a way to educate ourselves again in what we’re called to be as ministry leaders.”
Robert Toornstra, Classis Columbia, said, “We recognize the gravity out of which this code of conduct arose. The cases of abuse are real, and churches deal with this and need to take appropriate steps to respond and mitigate abuse.”
The committee that looked at the code beforehand was united on the need for a code of conduct, he said, but they were “differing on the best means to get a document that all churches can stand behind and buy into.”
Anthony Elenbaas, Classis Hamilton, said he was at Synod 2018 when the conversation began. Elenbaas was concerned that the extra year would delay implementation even longer. “Synod 2023 could always bump it down the road further,” Elenbaas said.
The implementation of the conduct is a “pressing, urgent matter,” said Willem Delleman, Classis B.C. North-West, adding, “we’ve already had a full year to think about this and bring suggestions.” Richard Admiraal, Classis Central Plains said, “I just don’t think we can afford to wait another year.”
Stephen Terpstra, Classis Zeeland, said the extra year doesn’t mean that abuse of power shouldn’t be taken seriously. “We’re saying, let’s think deeply and long enough to be effective.”
Benjamin Gandy, Classis Grand Rapids North, believes churches need to take time to walk through the code. “Putting this off for a year does not mean that churches in which we serve cannot adopt the whole code of conduct.”
Chad Werkhoven, Classis Minnkota, was entirely against the need for a code of conduct because there are already legal requirements and the Covenant for Officebearers, a commitment that all officebearers and Calvin University and seminary professors are required to sign to signal their agreement to the official creeds. Werkhoven said there should be more emphasis on the importance of the covenant that officebearers sign.
Synod delegates decided they wanted to be careful with what it asked of all ministry leaders. “Some language wasn’t always clear,” Toornstra said, in proposing a year for the churches and classes to discuss this to give input on it.
Eric Van Dyken, Classis Minnkota, said the language of the code makes him nervous. “When I make an oath, I need to know what I’m swearing to. When I see a phrase like ‘creating a safe environment,’ the word safety is pretty vague.” Van Dyken felt that more time was needed to understand the language.
Synod added a sentence under the “Spiritual” heading of the code of conduct: “I will teach, admonish, or discipline in ways that are biblical, Christlike, and seek other people’s well-being. (Matt. 18, Col. 1:28; 3:16).”
Synod voted 122-52 to delay for a year. Toornstra said, “In the meantime, by all means, churches can implement this now. In fact, you should have standards in place outlined at the local church level.”
Synod 2022 is meeting at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-16. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod, download the Banner app on your mobile device, or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook. 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.