What began as a conversation to discuss gravamina (formal expressions of difficulty with a part of a Christian Reformed confession) in the final hour of Synod 2023, ended in delegates walking out in protest of the truncated conversation and a decision made to push the discussion to Synod 2024.
On Thursday afternoon, with just over an hour left of Synod 2023, a majority report and minority report were presented to Synod 2023 to discuss the “concept of (a) confessional difficulty gravamen.” According to the majority report, a confessional-difficulty gravamen is intended “to allow officebearers to honestly question doctrinal matters contained in our confessions, giving them space to wrestle with the biblical accuracy of these doctrines, while also ensuring that there would be a season of pastoral care provided for the officebearer in his/her struggle and search for clarification.”
The committee presented their reports. Todd Kuperus, Classis Northern Michigan and reporter for the majority report, said, “We need to have guardrails in place, and those guardrails are already in place by the confessions.”
Brandon Haan, Classis Grandville, told delegates he had moved from what he called homophobia to an affirming stance of LGBTQ people in the church and finally to a traditional stance in a process that took about 10 years. He said the majority report, which called to clarify the “proper” use of a confessional-difficulty gravamen emphasizing that it is temporary, “greatly decreases the freedom to go through the wrestling” and “short-circuits the process.”
The majority report said the process “should be time-bound and time-sensitive and should result in a final decision whereby some terminal action takes place.” The suggested timeframe for councils to resolve such gravamina was “six months or until the next classis meeting” with additional time-bound steps, if necessary. That’s far too short, Haan said.
Kuperus said, “We aren’t trying to shut down conversation or struggle, we’re saying it can’t go on too long.”
The tone took an emotional turn when the vice president of synod, Chad Steenwyk, who was chairing this part of the meeting, called a vote to cease debate, which would end the conversation and move to a vote on the majority report.
Cara DeHaan, Classis Hamilton and chair of the minority report, told the president of synod, “What you’ve done here by ceasing debate is incredibly harmful to whatever sense of trust the minority has in this body.” She acknowledged that synod was on a timeframe, having less than an hour left in their meeting, but, she said, “Could you please give at least a few people the chance to voice their disagreement with what the body apparently has already voted on? The work of the Holy Spirit is not a democracy. I cannot believe we are going to vote on this incredibly, incredibly important motion without proper deliberation.”
Craig Buma, Classis Illinois, who was on the committee, said even they faced time constraints before bringing their recommendations to the floor. “I don’t think we do good things when we do it this way,” Buma said.
Demonstrating that others also felt things were not being done in good order, Adrian de Lange, Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan, rose to speak. “I have lost confidence in the ability of this body,” he said, removing his name tag. “I can no longer be seated as a delegate.” At this time, a handful of delegates stood up and took off their name tags and walked out, many of them not leaving a record of their departure.
Sid Ypma, Classis Eastern Canada, said “I’ve waited to talk about one thing, and it was this, and I knew I wasn’t hopeful. But what ties me to this body is so much more than the human sexuality report. I’m willing to say I will not go against the creeds and the confessions, and I will abide by this body.” He continued, “But the way we’re handling this, now, I also, under protest, am leaving,” and walked out.
Before leaving in protest, Sonya Boersma, Classis Eastern Canada, said, “I feel this denomination, of which my parents started two churches, has lost all integrity.” A few more delegates walked out.
The officers of synod had a huddled meeting to determine what to do next. Chad Steenwyk, vice-president of synod who was chairing that portion of the meeting, proposed to have Synod 2024 respond to the overtures listed in the report (Overtures 49, 50, 51, 53, 54, 55, 57, 58, 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 66, 67, 69, 73, 74, 75, 76). He said, “Now, we as the officers, are going to make that ruling, and we are going to pass that on to next year.”
This decision was initially challenged but was then supported by the delegates. Synod president Paul DeVries confirmed that if someone who served on Committee 8 is back at synod in 2024, their work on the previous committee will be considered as the past officers make committee assignments. Synod 2024 will receive the unaddressed material from the 2023 majority and minority reports as communications.
Synod 2023 is meeting June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod. Visit crcna.org/synod for the synod schedule, webcast, recordings, photos, committee reports, and liveblog. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.