Synod 2023 turned down requests from several Christian Reformed churches and classes to delay implementation of the conclusions of the human sexuality report (HSR), which last year’s synod approved for church use.
Two regional groups of churches—Classis Alberta North and Classis Eastern Canada—sent overtures (formal requests) asking synod for a delay. Two individual congregations (Monroe Community Church, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Jubilee Fellowship CRC, St. Catherines, Ont.) also sent overtures requesting the delay, as did one individual.
The overtures argue that Synod 2022 changed the category of the CRC’s position of prohibition on homosexual sex from pastoral advice to confessional status. Because that is a dramatic change, the overtures claim, churches need three years or more (depending on the overture) to decide what actions to take and to assess the harm that LGBTQ+ people feel.
The statement adopted by Synod 2023, however, argues that the urgency of pastoral care for LGBTQ+ people is a reason not to delay implementing the recommendations in the HSR. The statement claims to be made “in a spirit of lament for failing in our pastoral care to … the LGBTQ+ community.”
Many delegates advocated for a delay.
Dave Struyk, Classis Grand Rapids South, said his own opinions have changed since his son came out as gay 12 years ago, and that he affirms his son’s baptism in the faith. “It’s important for us to take some time to be able to listen to each other, to have some conversations and discussions,” Struyk said.
Adrian DeLange, Classis Alberta South/Saskatchewan, agrees with Synod 2022’s stance but cautioned against enacting discipline without time for self-examination: “If you really want to help LGBTQ+ people, if we really want to live our theology, then what we are trying to do is remove the speck in their eyes,” he said. “If there is a log in my eye and I’m trying to remove the speck from yours, I will gouge out your eye.”
Heidi Sytsema, Classis Muskegon, told synod that the young people she interacts with are walking away from the church: “If you actually listen to so many of the kids like I have listened, you will hear that we need time and space to work this out in a gracious way.”
“What happened last year when we made this decision to help us move forward was that my church family started falling apart,” said Cara DeHaan, Classis Hamilton. “This year (at synod) I’ve been crying more than smiling. My heart for my church family in Burlington, Ont., is breaking. Yes, there’s anxiety, and some of us want to just clarify and move on as a unified denomination. So many of us want time as we continue to do all the other things that God is calling us to.”
“We need to talk about how we can make this work so that it’s acceptable to others,” said Dave Apol, Classis Hackensack. “That’s what we need to do before the hammer comes down. I believe that we can come together—that if we work together, not changing the conclusions, but changing how we go about things, how we go about pastoral care—I believe we can keep this denomination together.”
But a few delegates voiced firm opinions that a delay is unnecessary.
“Pastoral care will always be important and a part of our ministry,” said Dave Ten Clay, Classis Georgetown. “But three years’ delay will lead to confusion and disunity. A three-year delay feels like an attempt to change our minds about what God says about human sexuality. God’s Word is not going to change in three, five, 10, or 100 years.”
“We cannot use the word ‘love’ to cover up the word ‘sin,’” said Christian Sebastia, Classis Rocky Mountain. “Giving more time is not going to change God’s opinion of what he already has established.”
Eleven people registered a negative vote following the decision to not accede to the overtures requesting a delay.
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.
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.