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Confession of a Special Council Participant

By April 27, 2016 52 Comments

Jes Kast-Keat has asked Reverend Annie Reilly to write today. We welcome Rev. Reilly.

Yesterday, the report from the Special Council was released. For those of you who aren’t familiar, the Special Council was a group convened in Chicago, April 15-18, for the purpose of discerning a constitutional way forward for the Reformed Church in America in regards to human sexuality as it pertains to ordination and marriage. The 74 delegates who gathered represented each classis, regional synod, and (imperfectly) the full diversity of the RCA in gender, race, age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation.

This large group was split into smaller working groups, who we stayed with over the course of the weekend. It was very clear to me that these groups were very carefully formed to be diverse, not only in the ways mandated, but also in opinion about how to address this “issue” in the RCA. I went to the Special Council skeptical that we would accomplish anything. I went feeling cynical that I could even allow myself to trust the process, given that we knew so little about it beforehand.

I’ll let you make your own assessment on our success or not, given the report that has been released. I will say that it was a huge mandate, and I found the process to be hard, fair, and faithful during our time in Chicago. I felt seen and heard, and more often then not, respected and even loved.

As a participant in the Special Council, I know that the most important product of our time together should be the report. But it’s not. The report generated is flawed and could never reflect the full nuance of our work. The real success of this council is how we got such a diverse group of people, who fall all over the theological map on human sexuality and hermeneutical approach to scripture, into a room to speak to each other with civility, honesty, vulnerability, and integrity. We were shown the humanity of our denominational siblings who disagree with us. I walked away from the Special Council exhausted and sad, but also with a deep longing to confess and repent.

I have dismissed and dehumanized wide swaths of the denomination, perceiving them as being hypocrites and bigots. This is sinful. This is in direct violation of the vows I took as a minister of word and sacrament to work to preserve the unity, purity, and peace of the denomination. I have spent several hours in the “dark night of my soul” contemplating my own culpability in sustaining an “us versus them” mentality when it comes to how we approach human sexuality. The RCA is my family. My heart breaks for us, for the ugly language we have used for each other, for the hubris, vitriol, assumptions, and stereotypes we have perpetuated. I weep for my own role in this.

Most holy and triune God, who is diversity, who is dynamic, who is enduring: forgive me. I have failed acknowledge that all my siblings have been created in your image and all of us are trying to be faithful to the call that you set before us. Heal our deep wounds; those we have inflicted on others with our words and actions, and those we have inflicted on ourselves with our attitudes and opinions. Cast us not away from your presence. Remove our heart of stone and place within us a heart of flesh; that we may live more deeply into your shalom for us and your church. In the name of your precious Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.

Jes Kast

The Reverend Jes Kast is an ordained Minister of Word and Sacrament and serves West End Collegiate Church as their Associate Pastor.


  • Victoria Karssen says:

    Gratitude for each one of you.

    These past months my heart has stayed with you, the chosen band of believers, and the peak of that craggy mountain the council set upon, everyone with a different, arduous, emotional, and fearful trail. Prayers that the humility of God would warm your shoulders on the climb. Petitions for eyes and ears that truly see and hear one another with God’s wisdom and tenderness. Desperate that we would find peace with one another in that place.

    Thank you.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Proud to know you, Annie, and wonderful words.

    • ralph acerno says:

      I feel your love but must disagree with your interpretations that condone and celebrate homosexuality as a lifestyle.I am saddened when even teachers who taught us Greek can side with such faulty biblical hermeneutics more out of public persuasion than Godly conviction.

  • Cam VKL says:

    Thank you for your vulnerability and honesty here, Reilly. I’m so grateful for you and your words.

  • Fred Harrell says:

    Beautiful reflection. Thank you.

  • Dan Griswold says:

    Thank you, Annie, for such an honest, humble, and encouraging statement. I am glad you were there.

  • There is such power in your honesty. Thanks!

  • Ralph Acerno says:

    This is not an emotional issue as you people keep making it. It’s a Biblical issue stemming from both Old and New testaments. If you do your real studies into the Greek in Romans 1 and I Corinthians 6 :9 and the theology of marriage as the Old testament and words of Jesus describe in Matthew 19 then you can see how perverted this is.This is NOT about male prostitutes as some of you claim. Paul could have used the Greek word for that if he wanted to. Further lesbianism was not involved in this kind of rape or Greek or Romans culture. This is a sickness that is against nature and God’s teaching for a sexual relationship. Don’t make it an emotional issue or generalize our Lord’s inclusive love to embrace a sin he never affirms.

    By promoting and celebrating this sin those of you who are pastors will be especially accountable for leading the sheep of God astray. Amazing how you can all be so myopic and yield to this.Room for all should have been expelled from the RCA long ago for its unrepentant and glaring agenda that perverts the Bible and grieves the Holy Spirit. We’re all sinner. But we don’t have to celebrate our sins.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Ralph, I can certainly sense the passion you have around human sexuality and the church’s response to it. Perhaps you and Annie don’t walk away from scripture after careful study with the same understanding of what scripture says, but I think Annie was attempting to not make this post about particular sides of the conversation though; rather, the ability of people to actually hear one another. We truly aren’t very good at hearing one another these days. We tend to speak (or type) and when people don’t seem convinced by our words, we speak louder (or type more). Annie seemed to be 1) celebrating the group’s ability to treat one another like actual human beings in the face of deep difference and 2) confessing her own role in the separation/disunity that has occurred. It’s a courageous thing to confess a wrong before a group of nameless, faceless people on the internet. What a wonderful example . . . may we all be able to acknowledge the ways in which our role in the conversation has wounded, hurt and separated.

  • Ann Clark Carda says:

    A beautiful, brave confession and an inspiration to live and breath the Gospel by refusing to participate in the endless cycle of scapegoating. The very cycle which killed our Lord. Thank you for showing me the cross.

  • Ralph, I like what your saying. Powerful words. Not often said with such clarity AND honesty. Why are we even fighting this issue. The Bible is clear.

    • Frank Ralbovsky ovsky says:

      If the Bible is always literally so very “clear” then read Timothy again and conclude ? You, as a woman, should have no voice. I believe you should and I believe God makes a place at the table for all. Peace and God bless.

      • Ralph Acerno says:

        Obviously you know little so I will say little.

      • Ralph Acerno says:

        That is a very stupid thing to say. The Greek wording is authority over a man in the sense of holding a sword over him. It infers woman are not to have total authority over men in the sense that they are able in church to run things themselves vs in unity with men.. There is a vast difference between over a man and with a man.

    • Ralph Acerno says:

      Thank you. I can send you my daily devotionals I write if you want. Have you given thought to leaving and going to a more Biblical reformed denomination?

  • Gayle Basten says:

    The Bible is also clear about unconditional love. Thank you for your reflection and prayer.

  • Ralph Acerno says:

    Christians opposed to gay marriage and lifestyles stand in the company of the world’s greatest scholars including John Stott, DA Carson, Leon Morris, FF Bruce and a host of others not to mention Calvin, Barth, Augustine and CS Lewis! Even my former Greek teacher has been taken in by this false teaching

  • Annie, thank you for your participation in the special council. I appreciate your willingness to share a part of your soul with us in these words.

  • Jeff Chu says:

    Reilly, I am so grateful for your faithful witness and for your passion for the Good News of Jesus. Thank you for sharing your heart, your godly conviction, your love.

  • Aleta says:

    I too feel the love. And isn’t this the way to read Scripture? We can read the sacred text in three different ways. In Hebrew they are termed Hach’na’ah, Havdala, and Hamtaka. Translated, they mean Submission, Separation, and Sweetness . We can see them most clearly in action through the metaphor of marriage:
    Falling in love
    The power struggle and individuation
    Falling in love all over again as a free-functioning union.

    In the first level of submission, God sees and we are blind. We bow before the text, in awe of its beauty.

    In the second level, the text is reviewed primarily through the prism of historical forces.

    Only through transcending and including level one as a function of level two can the reader experience the third level, sweetness. We are in love with the text. We bow in devotion, but it does not blind us. Quite the opposite. We evolve by entering the text from the inside. All boundaries between us and the text disappear. New revelation is born in us, as us.

    This is a great mystery. Often when a relationship or readership reaches level two, one party abandons the relationship looking for level one bliss with a new partner. Inevitably, they wind up again at level two. Thus the cycle repeats itself indefinitely. We must do the work to transcend to level three. Thank you for doing the work, Annie! This is sweet indeed.

  • Annie, Grateful for this extraordinary piece. Thank you. And thanks to Jes for asking you to write!

  • David Vandervelde says:

    Thanks for sharing. Appreciated.

  • pastrjo says:

    Hey Annie – Superb reflection of the experience. It seems to fall in line w/this week’s Psalm – Psalm 67 and the reflection of the us/them mentality that is so easy to fall into. I too must confess my own tendency to make that distinction at times…even if it is a result of my passion concerning certain issues. I will be suggesting that the congregation i serve take a look at not just the report but the reflections coming out of the time spent together. Peace and blessings.

  • Ann Clark Carda says:

    What a brave and beautiful confession. You give life and breathe to the Gospel by refusing to engage in the endless cycle of scapegoating. The very thing that killed our Lord. Thank you for showing me the cross.

  • Michael A. Weber says:

    Jes, in praying through the 21 days before the council, I too was convicted about the way I had demonized those on the other side of this issue. There was one particular pastor in our classis to whom I was very judgmental and ungracious. Through prayer, I was convicted to seek his forgiveness and seek to embrace him as a brother in Christ which is what I did at classis last night. Thank you for your honesty and repentance. May there be others who follow your example.

  • There is a delicate balance between the now and the not yet however to look upon the now without the foundational truth handed down through the very Spirit of God through the saints which authored the Bible; we stand in darkness.

    While I participated through the devotional and prayer, I was not at the council. I believe what has come forth about the make up of the participants was healthy for the discussion and comments. It seems to have represented the face of our denomination. That however does not change how the Creator calls us to live.

    For some these issues have been placed into a category of human rights and a worldview. For others these same issues are a matter of a biblical view. This in turn brings about interpretive analysis where we can all easily fall short.

    While I find my own places of repentance necessary and illuminating, the very Word of God continues to enter into my conversations with the Almighty. The Word is a light unto my path and sin has not changed for the sake of culture or individual comfort. We are a fleshy people drive to excesses in all matter of things and simple acts of contrition do not repair the void we continue to expand upon without a change in attitude and practice. A sin realized has to be cut out of our hearts which then allows for the blood of Jesus to heal each of us.

    When we collectively turn back to the Creator away from the desires of the world and our own hearts, darkness can not prevail. I believe the options given by the council to the General Synod go against the very heart of God. To be sure we will pray, study, prepare, read, listen, continue to pray, and vote, but my sense is that we will do what humans do and try to push God out of the discussion. We can not be all things to all people.

    I pray that our General Secretary will call for a Sacred Assembly the first day of the General Synod. During this time of led and quiet prayer and reflection; we the body of Christ will come and publicly confess and repent before the Lord and our assembly. When the heart of the church is put on the table of the Lord and the Spirit of God takes over then the high and the low will experience the compassion and grace of the King of Kings. Our wounds will be healed and those that chose the road to perdition will hide their faces from the Light of the World.

    Lord have mercy on your church!

  • Jessica says:

    So well said, Annie. Thank you. May the spirit of what you have said here be present in more and more conversations going forward.

  • Roger Boyd says:

    I want to thank you for your honesty about your attitudes to others who differ from you. I am not from the RCA and have not read whatever report has come from this council. I do not know what your personal position is on the issues. To me your blog was about our “heart attitudes” toward those who are not one of “us.” I have my own position about what i think is the best biblical understanding and God calls me to live by that until shown otherwise. But if I am to love the person who holds a different position, I believe I need to challenge both myself and the other, to keep searching scripture and to be willing to let God, thru his Spirit, show me and convict us of what he is saying. I need to be willing to listen to understand and to speak to be understood, not to bludgeon the other person into my position. God has throughout history, and will continue to convict people of error or sin and show them his truth. I need to make sure that my behavior and attitude does not put an unnecessary barrier in the way to keep them from truly hearing God.

  • Thank you, Annie! Thank you for sharing your emotion and vulnerability.

  • Leigh Van Kempen says:

    Thank you for a beautiful reflection on your experience and on the need for all of us to open our hearts to the “other”…however we define that.

  • Kevin Muur says:

    These comments are directed to Ralph Acerno. I pray Sir that if you are still of child bearing age that you NEVER birth a gay child. It would be disastrous to say the least. Until you have walked in the shoes of someone who is gay you have NO RIGHT to judge their relationship with our Father and our Lord Jesus. I’m grateful to God for “ROOM FOR ALL” and wish that it has been 30 years ahead of it’s time. Then maybe I wouldn’t be tormented with feelings of despair, hopelessness, and self-hatred. No thanks to the church that I grew up in and love with all my heart. I pray that you will someday develop a spirit of tolerance not that you must agree with this issue, but that you will use your knowledge of the Scriptures to minister to the patients with AIDS, or the homeless gay teens who walk our city streets, or yes Sir even the gay or lesbian parishoners that are within your gates. Yes, Mr. Acerno we are the least of these and you can’t ignore us anymore!

    • Ralph Acerno says:

      Tragedy or heartache, while terrible and painful, are not grounds to change the Bible. we all have sad stories. We live in a fallen world Kevin. As a minister I see this all the time. That doesn’t mean we have the right to go against God’s word in a number of passages which I would be happy to go over with you. Take care.

    • Ralph Acerno says:

      Sorry dood

      This is not the church of Elton John but Jesus Christ.

  • marlarotman says:

    Thank you for posting these reflections. You found a way to help us see the humanity in what is often approached as an issue.

  • Ralph Acerno says:

    Brothers and Sisters love is essential but so is God’s word and until we decide to understand this issue from the Word vs emotional love and hugs we won’t go very far.

  • James Hart Brumm says:

    God’s Word is Love. Thank you, Annie, for reminding us of that.

  • Thomas Goodhart says:

    Thank you, Reilly! Well spoken, thoughtful and faithful. Grateful for you.

  • Bill Levering says:

    Annie. Fab. My confession is that in the remarks above I stopped reading at “you people.”

  • Todd Buurstra says:

    I am struck by the humility of your post, and humility is a Christ-like characteristic necessary to interpret God’s Word, and to understand “the other.” Thank you for bringing me back to humility.

  • Reilly, I see your compassion and calling throughout this post. Thank you for holding the mirror up to us all. I’m blessed to walk this journey with you.

  • Ralph Acerno says:

    The RCA needs in June to hopefully allow churches that in good conscience see this issue as clearly against Scripture to leave in peace gracefully with the property. A House divided will not stand. Why stay and constantly bicker and be unhappy? Many are totally unhappy here.

    • Kevin Muur says:

      First of all, no Ralph please don’t share these verses with me because you, just like many before you, have taken them to push your own agenda. Many of the “verses” you speak of have not been studied in the full context of the whole passage and the cultural implications of the time period in which they’re written. Secondly, your pride and arrogance are just as “sinful” as you propose homosexuality is. You and Eleanor should start your own church. It sounds like the RCA would benefit from you leaving since you’re both so “perfect” and have your acts together. Just remember PRIDE goes before a fall. I pray your skeletons in your closets don’t come back to haunt you someday like many an itinerant Preacher has in history. Finally, I’ve finally found a church where I belong! Who has enveloped me in their mission of “Loving God, Loving Others. They are fully aware of my struggle with my sexuality and my faith. Due to this his honesty I no longer have to be “fearful” of being judged. My church leaves that up to the Lord. I’m just accepted as a sinner saved by GRACE. By the way my congregation is under our sister denomination the CRC. Who at one time struggled with other social issues and chose to leave the RCA. My biggest fear about the Couuncil meeting in Chicago might come true. That being we will become a house DIVIDED instead of a UNITY of faith. We don’t need anymore churches breaking off into their their own segregated communities. We need to stand TOGETHER despite our differences and be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world today.

  • Ralph Acerno says:

    There needs also to be “room for all” who want to go to leave with their property to depart in peace.

  • Vic Karssen says:

    Annie, I’m so sorry this has evolved into such an ugly set of responses, please know we all carry a portion of this weight with you.


    Oh, Dear Ralph, a few points:

    Room for All cannot be ‘pushed out of the RCA’;

    The property you speak of belongs to the church, not to a particular voice in the church;

    No person holds God’s wisdom clearly, the Scriptures have been given to everyone for personal interpretation and inspiration. Not one of us has the right to tell another that their interpretation is “clearly opposed to Scripture”. Only God has that final Word;

    Do not fear. I wish you could see that the near presence of an individual you don’t like does not somehow threaten to diminish your faith. When someone of another faith tradition – or one who is politically or socially opposite of my own views – or one who interprets Scriptures differently than I – is worshipping next to me, I have no fear that my faith is under threat. I am encouraged and buoyed by their witness;

    When the RCA has a clear and full appreciation for all, I just want you to know that I will not ask you to leave the denomination. Just know that the door is always open for you.

    • Ralph Acerno says:

      Not a matter of fear Vic. By the way If no one has the right to tell another their interpretation is clearly wrong then you don’t understand anything of church history do you? I mean Luther, Calvin, and the very founders of the RCA were leaders who said their were many with the wrong interpretation-that was how the reformation began! Or take the debate over the trinity and the council of chalcedon or the debate over the deity of Christ in the 3rd century. There certainly is a need for teachers and preachers like myself and many others to speak out about lesbiansim and gay men trying to have a sex life with one another that Scripture speaks clearly against. These people need our help-not our congradulations. This is the Church of Jesus Christ-not Elton John.
      Does this lifestyle make any sense in light of Genesis 2 or Matthew 19? I suppose you will say who are we to judge or no one has a clear interpretation-only God. Fine. I accept what you say here. God DOES give to you and I a clear interpretation of marriage-“For this reason an man and a woman shall become one flesh”. That’s God interpretation of Marriage Vic. It’s my job as a trained pastor to interpret and teach that truth that the Lord has given us and to rebuke those who refuse it or try to dance around it. Sorry but that’s the way it is.

  • Vic Karssen says:

    Reformed and reforming. We have changed over the centuries, yet we have never been perfect. I look forward to what is to come and what will be left behind.

  • I pray God’s truth will reign over all of us. May our eyes be opened to him and him alone.

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