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Synod Upholds ‘Confessional Status’ on Interpretation of Unchastity

Delegate Katelyn Van Hove (Classis B.C. South-East) comforts committee reporter Steve Zwart (Classis Lake Superior) as he struggles to reply to Rita Klein-Geltink’s tearful question about belonging.
Steven Herppich

Synod 2023 upheld Synod 2022’s interpretation that “unchastity” in the Heidelberg Catechism includes “homosexual sex” and upheld the “confessional status” of that interpretation. Synod was responding to overtures (formal requests) from six classes and five congregations to change the definition of “unchastity,” and change the decision around its “confessional status.”

The committee members presented recommendations in two separate reports, with a minority opinion proposing a change from “confessional status” to a “settled and binding” decision of synod. Despite two requests from the floor during discussion to take up that minority report, only the majority report—upholding the confessional stance—was debated. And while there were two reports, Willem Delleman, Classis B.C. North-West, chair for the minority report and chair of the full committee, told delegates, “The Holy Spirit brought unity in the room (during the advisory meetings) and allowed us to listen to each other.” He said the experience of working with this group of brothers and sisters was one of the best in his life. 

Erik DeLange, Classis B.C. South-East, was against the recommendations of the majority report. Noting that the church has been divided before, “We can debate this all day long, and for years to come, but I believe we’re at a pivotal moment in history.” He said, “Last year we declared the truth, and this year we need to declare the spirit of unity.” 

“I’m not asking synod to reject the biblical teaching and pastoral guidance of the human sexuality report” or to “turn a blind eye,” said Thomas VanderPloeg, Classis Grandville who was also against the majority report. “We have people with questions and confusions, and the HSR (human sexuality report) tried to bring clarity, but confessional status brought more confusion.”

John Klompien, Classis Heartland, was a member of the committee that put forth the majority view. “Our confessions help us to have a clear and abbreviated understanding of Scripture,” he said. He reminded, “we aren’t battling each other but the devil himself.” Klompien said, “Homosexual sex is a sin, just as any other sin, and can be repented (of), and there is great hope in it.” He continued, “For the person who needs to repent just like me, we need the gospel, we need the Scripture, and we need the confessions.”

“This motion (to include what the committee saw as a loving preamble in the Acts of Synod) is an attempt to create a lasting record of the wrongs of our church and of our commitment to do better,” said Timothy Turner, Classis Illiana, who was also a member committee.

Ethnic adviser Hyung-Jun Kim said that though he cannot speak on behalf of the complete Korean CRC community, he felt like he could speak for “most of the Korean contingents.” He said he supports the decisions made in 2022 and that, “we are surprised that this issue is such a debated topic in the CRC because we believe the teaching of the Bible is very clear, and we are glad that most people in this room uphold that traditional view of marriage and human sexuality.”

Myiah Klinger, a young adult representative who was on the committee, said she “endorses the (majority) report.” She said, “Our officebearers are held to a higher standard than the people in our congregation.” She emphasized the need to ensure that officebearers “are not (simply) abiding to these things, but they believe it.”

Samantha Brinkman, young adult representative, said young adults are “searching for a posture that represents Christ.” Though young adult representatives do not have voting privilege, she said, “If confessional status is building more walls, drawing harsher lines, and breaking more relationships, then I don’t stand for this motion.” 

Rita Klein-Geltink, Classis Quinte, who was reporter for the committee that authored the minority report, asked, “If this (upholding confessional status) passes, can someone who is unsure of what God expects of LGBTQ+ people become a member (or remain a member) of the CRC?” She said, with a weary voice, “If my four sons and their wives fall into this category of ‘unsure,’ can the CRC still be their home?”

Steven Zwart, Classis Lake Superior, and reporter for the majority committee responded to Klein-Geltink with tears and hesitated to give a clear “yes” or “no” answer. He said, “What grieves me is that we make decisions here and then we leave, and some decide to be ogres and jerks about it.”

He turned to the delegates, saying, “If you’re going to vote for this majority report, please don’t leave here and be a jerk about it. Not all of us hate LGBTQ+ people.” Someone called out from the floor, “none of us do!” Zwart apologized and returned to answering Klein-Geltink’s question, saying, “Yes, I want to believe, if we’re not jerks about it, we can find a place to converse.” Unsatisfied, Klein-Geltink answered firmly back, “That’s a no!”

Joshua Dykstra, Classis Illiana spoke in favor of maintaining confessional status, saying, “Yes it’s hard, yes it’s difficult, yes there are pains behind it, but I feel this is necessary for us as a church, and necessary for the sake of the gospel.” Aaron Vriesman, Classis Zeeland and chair of the majority report, voiced a similar sentiment, saying “This really sucks—this whole thing—I’m here because I believe I must, out of duty to principle.” He said that Synod 2022 “responded to a crisis we’re having in the denomination because of the world that we’re living in” and that this is why “synod drew a hard line” and chose the “strongest possible language.” 

Heidi Sytsema, Classis Muskegon, noted Christians have misinterpreted Scripture in the past. She asked, “how are we so certain that our interpretation of the truth now is really what God intended?” She said, “I might be totally wrong, but the truth of love and belonging, and the whole arc of God’s beautiful creation story has led to the flourishing of good fruit.” 

David Struyk, Classis Grand Rapids South, who later would leave the assembly in protest, expressed concern that this decision could be “the start of decisions that are really going to cripple the denomination.” Bill Wybenga, Classis Quinte, expressed concern for the “danger of legal action based on discrimination” especially in Canada. 

Synod made several related decisions. Synod declined one church’s request to define “chastity,” saying the human sexuality report already adequately describes it (see p. 442 of the Agenda for Synod 2022). Synod also declined to reverse Synod 2022’s definition of unchastity, as requested by four churches and Classis Eastern Canada. In response to overtures from eight individual churches, synod declined to remove “‘homosexual sex’ from the list of practices cited to contravene the definition of unchastity.” Synod declined to revise the definition of homosexuality—to recognize both the desires and actions as sinful—as requested by Classis Southeast U.S., saying there weren’t sufficient grounds for the request. Synod declined an overture from Classis Eastern Canada that would in effect create a local option, allowing churches to decide whether or not to allow same-sex marriage. Synod also declined an individual’s request to make the CRC’s doctrine of marriage confessional because the “doctrine of marriage is already clearly articulated.”

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