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Synod 2023 ‘Urges’ Churches to Show Love, Inclusion

Family is an idol in our churches.
—Nathan Groenewald, Classis Lake Erie
Steven Herppich

In a mood of sadness over divisions in the room, Synod 2023 took several steps intended to increase inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the church.

Synod urged congregations to “be places of belonging for LGBTQ+ members seeking to follow Christ” and instructed churches “to show love to all people groups including our LGBTQ+ members and neighbors by condemning hateful or demeaning speech and violent or demeaning actions.”

“Somebody asked … how do we do this?” said Clair VanderNeut, Classis Yellowstone. “My wife’s and my answer is (to) ask somebody over to your house for a meal. Nothing tells a person more that you’re interested and you care. It’s not hard, folks.”

“I don’t know more than a handful of churches that have even tried to do those things well,” said Brandon Haan, Classis Grandville. “It costs me nothing to uphold the position of 1973. It costs many of us nothing to uphold the biblical position. But it should cost us. To open our homes and our lives and our families and our relationships to people with whom we differ. Do not go home and just stay at home. Do not think we can embody the posture of 1973 (the CRC’s first report on pastoral care to homosexual people) simply by having a list of resources. We have to actually do what we said. It’s been half a century. The time is now.”

Synod also affirmed “our commitments (as local congregations) to manage disagreements … with love, charity, and grace, and to ensure … a respectful place to honestly (share views and listen).” While synod accepted this statement, some delegates questioned whether after what synod had already decided, disagreements are even allowed.

“This statement is lovely and I can completely get behind it,” said Michelle Rooker, Classis Alberta North. “But we’ve been told we are not allowed to have disagreements. … If we’re going to be able to manage disagreements, we have to be able to have them.”

In making these statements, synod was responding to overtures (formal requests) from Classis Grand Rapids East, Classis Huron, and Jubilee Fellowship CRC (Saint Catherines, Ont.). Classis Huron asked synod to “commit to love, charity, and grace in disagreement” and “equip congregations to minister pastorally with LGBTQ+ people.” The other two overtures asked synod to “address” or “prevent and reduce” harm to LGBTQ+ people.

“How do we show love to all peoples?” asked Stanley Jim, Classis Red Mesa. “We should love by condemning hateful or demeaning speech and violent or demeaning actions. We’ve been living with broken treaties for many years, and I hope this is not a broken treaty as well.”

“Family is an idol in our churches,” said Nathan Groenewald, Classis Lake Erie. “We are inviting our LGBTQ friends, brothers, colleagues into churches that are so oriented toward family that we don’t actually have space to receive them.”

Several delegates referred to the CRC’s Challenging Conversations Toolkit as a quality resource for working through disagreements. But they also mentioned the potential impossibility of those conversations given synod’s recommitment to the decisions of Synod 2022

“Challenging Conversations was for us a very helpful tool to begin the process of managing disagreements,” said Bernie DeJong, Classis Huron. “We were well on the way to developing something meaningful for our congregation. Now … we have to manage a live grenade or hot potato that synod is tossing into our lap.”

Synod 2023 is meeting June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at Visit for the synod schedule, webcast, recordings, photos, committee reports, and liveblog. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.

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