Posted February 27, 2017
In the February 2016 issue of The Banner, the official magazine of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), there is a preview of an extensive report coming to their Synod this summer. The report addresses the issue of so-called “same-sex marriages” in light of the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Gayla Postma, “Pastoral Guidance for Churches Regarding Same-Sex Marriage,” pp. 14-15).
This report is not a change in the official CRC position on homosexuality. That position, adopted in 1973, states that “same-sex orientation is not sinful, but homosexual activity is.” This position remains yet unchanged.
The study committee reporting to Synod 2016 was mandated to provide “pastoral guidance” to the denomination with regard to certain practical situations that might arise in connection with same-sex marriages. Some of the issues addressed in the report are:
- Whether or not it is proper to attend a same-sex wedding or provide a commercial service for such a wedding (e.g. making a cake, taking pictures).
- Whether or not it is proper for a CRC pastor to solemnize a religious same-sex wedding.
- Whether or not it is proper for a CRC pastor to solemnize a civil same-sex wedding.
- Whether or not it is proper for a member to play a part in a same-sex wedding (e.g. being an attendant).
- Whether or not it is proper to allow same-sex couples and their families to take part in the life of the church (e.g. being an usher, teaching Sunday school).
- Whether or not it is proper to allow same-sex couples to be members of a local congregation.
The report is weak.
For one thing, in many instances it gives no guidance whatsoever. Is it proper to attend a same-sex wedding? Leave it to the discretion of the individual. Is it proper to play a part in such a wedding? Again, that should be left to the discretion of each member. Is it proper to allow same-sex couples to take part in the life of the church? Let each congregation decide for herself. This gives no guidance to the churches.
More disconcerting is the underlying weakness that the report reveals on the issue of same-sex marriage as a whole. The report distinguishes between religious and civil marriages, and then says that although it is wrong for a pastor to perform the former, in some circumstances it is proper to solemnize the latter. This “guidance” seems to grant a certain legitimacy to same-sex marriages.
The committee goes on to recommend that same-sex couples be received as members in good standing, so long as they are not sexually active. “However,” Postma summarizes, “if a person or couple agree to accept the CRC’s teaching on same-sex sexual relationships and bring their lives into conformity, no obstacle prevents their acceptance as members.” The report says, “The current position does not require dissolution of a civil marriage; nor should the church be heard to require or encourage the dissolution of functioning families.”
This means that a homosexual couple can be members in good standing, so long as they assure the church that they are not engaging in homosexual activity (as if that were possible). The church may not require them to dissolve their “marriage” or their “functioning family.” Nor may the church prevent them from having their adopted child baptized and from partaking of the Lord’s Supper.
And what is more, the report indicates that there is growing dissatisfaction with the official position of the denomination. “A number of CRC churches are already navigating the challenges of integrating same-sex couples into the life of the church, and for them the logic of being denied membership is experienced as damaging rather than life-giving.” There is even an expressed desire on the part of the committee to revisit and revise the 1973 position.
This report is worth noticing because it reveals again the fatal weakness in the position of the CRC. If one’s position is that homosexual activity is the only thing that is sinful, then allowances have to be made for same-sex marriage, so long as the couples assure those around them that, though they are attracted to one another and are legally married, they are not engaging in any sexual activity whatsoever. The weakness of the CRC position has been pointed out by others before. This simply shows the bad fruit it is producing.
It will be interesting to see what the Synod of the CRC does with this report.
This post was written by Rev. Joshua Engelsma, pastor of Doon Protestant Reformed Church in Doon, Iowa.
Editor of the Banner, Bob De Moor expresses concern in this Banner article about the likelihood of conflict in the CRC over the denomination’s official position that “homosexual practice is always sinful.” He reports that the discussion about “whether or not to make declarations related to same sex relationships” revealed that “many no longer agree with the position of the Christian Reformed Church that homosexual practice is always wrong or that such practice always requires church discipline.” De Moor is concerned that this may lead to years of contentious debate in the CRC writing,
If we are unwise, we face years of conflict in which, as with the women’s ordination dispute, we oscillate between two extremes from year to year, based on who has more votes at synod. That will restart the hemorrhage of membership on both “sides.”
De Moor has a plan that he speaks of as a “local option.” This plan calls for giving each council the authority to determine what is sinful and then determine the best pastoral approach for each situation.
This plan is actually quite clever if the goal is to keep people in the CRC even though they have different beliefs (De Moor’s specious idea of unity). By its experience with the women-in-office issue, in which it allows local congregations to choose whether or not to ordain women, the CRC has learned that a “local option” plan effectively placates those who are on both sides of the issue. Many who are opposed to women’s ordination have stayed in the denomination for two decades (the CRC approved women’s ordination in 1995) and in many cases have even willingly served with women “officebearers” from other congregations at classical and synodical assemblies. If the CRC decides to allow each council to determine whether homosexual practice is sinful, which will undoubtedly lead to some councils approving of homosexual practice, some members will likely leave the denomination. But it is possible many who believe homosexual practice is sinful will stay as long as their own council’s do not approve of it.
The De Moor plan is also devilishly clever because it will settle the issue that is now in dispute immediately. De Moor wants homosexual practice to be accepted. He knows that it may take years for synod to approve of homosexual practice. But if synod takes the route of leaving it up to local councils De Moor knows that synod will have actually approved homosexuality without an explicit declaration. By approving the local option synod would declare, “homosexuality is ok, but we will let you decide as councils when you are ready to recognize this for yourselves.”
But of course the De Moor plan is foolish. It is the plan of a man who is opposed to the wisdom of God revealed in scripture. The result of De Moor’s plan, and he knows it, will be further fragmentation in the CRC where unity is in name only.
There is a wise way to deal with potential strife over homosexuality in the denomination. That way is to affirm the biblical teaching that homosexuality is a sin and discipline those who contradict the Bible’s teaching. De Moor himself ought to be disciplined. His proposal is contrary to Scripture. It also happens to be contrary to the settled and binding position of the CRC. His article promotes schism in the CRC.