Listen To Article
by Kate Kooyman
The Christian Reformed Church has appointed a committee of people to spend five years studying how to think more faithfully about human sexuality. I understand that this committee will mostly focus on how to think with more theological precision about the denomination’s forty-year old position on same sex attraction.
I am not gay. I also don’t have it all worked out when it comes to sex. But this committee doesn’t seem to intend to address questions that relate to someone like me. I wish a CRC human sexuality study committee would have the intention of impacting the sexual ethic and health of all its members (not just the gay ones). ‘Cause Lord knows we need it.
Here’s what I wish they would talk about.
I wish they’d talk about porn. Turns out, people who go to church love porn. Porn is changing our brains, conditioning us to be incapable of a sexual connection with another person that is mutual and life-giving. Teens report they’re incapable of sexual response to real-life partners. Girls report they are looking to porn to answer their questions about the mechanics of sex, and they’re also forming their ideas about what’s expected of them, what makes them desirable, what is normal. Married people are unsure what is acceptable or how to recover when their partner discloses porn use. Porn is creating a crisis in human sexuality. I wish my church would study it.
I wish they’d talk about rape culture. I have two sons. They’re growing up in a church that tells them “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” but somehow does not adequately explain to them that this does not mean thine own wife is thy possession. (So much of the biblical language about sex reflects ancient and patriarchal cultures, and so little of our time is spent identifying the outgrowths of unquestioned interpretation of those texts.) As parents, we’re working hard to teach our sons to understand consent — so when we tickle and they say, “Stop!”, we stop. No means no, every time. (On today’s college campuses, one in four women is raped. By someone’s son. Who maybe grew up in a church.) We’re trying to teach them that their body is theirs — so when Grandma says goodbye, they can choose to high-five or to wave or to give a hug. (Physical touch isn’t something people owe to one another, ever.) But I’ll be honest — these feel like raindrops in a hurricane. My boys are growing up in a culture that teaches that sex is a weapon. And churches aren’t combatting that — in fact, Christian organizations often strike me as the worst perpetrators of sexual harassment and victim-blaming. I wish my church would study that.
I wish they’d talk about shame. All our talk of abstinence and purity has produced some very poorly-educated and remarkably repressed churchgoers. I don’t think the kids in youth group are less sexually curious or even less sexually active, but they’re definitely more ashamed. With every duct-tape demonstration, we’re producing more silence and stigma and danger, but not more faithful behavior. We have fully failed to articulate a sexual ethic that is interesting, inviting, healthy, and faithful — focusing instead on frightening our children away from their desires. Because somehow we believe that worked for us. Our therapists beg to differ with that. I wish my church would study that.
I wish they’d study masculinity. I wish they’d study ethics related to fertility and technology. I wish they’d study sex trafficking. I wish they’d study singleness. I wish the church could be the place where our many questions could be explored in earnest — questions about what makes us human, what connects us to one another, what teaches us about the sacred and the spiritual.
I wish a conversation about human sexuality in the church could resist the impulse to hyper-focus on “them” when it is glaringly obvious that we’ve failed to talk about “us” — we have let pressing questions go unaddressed in our congregations, and in our bedrooms, on our computer screens, for our kids. I wish we weren’t tacitly telling people they should look elsewhere for these answers. ‘Cause elsewhere is exactly where everybody’s looking.
Yes..Yes..Thank you Kate!!
This should be in the Banner. So good. So, so, good.
Well said. I think this needs to be passed onto the committee. Just remember that these committee members had to commit to the current denominational position (s) to even be on the committee. So make clear that you in no way intend to question or shake their unwavering certitude about the uprightness of our current denominational position (s) on sex. The last thing we would want to impose on this committee is the expectation that they might discern new ways of thinking about these things.
Thank you for calling this out Duane. As a thirty something who was disengaged with the church for years until discovering Reformed theology via the CRC, I have to say this past Synod’s posture and approach to the topic seems to be the opposite of how I thought we’d approach this (then again, I’m coming to learn that perhaps I should have known better). I’m thankful for voices like Kate’s and hope the committee does in fact take a more holistic look at sex. However, I’m worried that the lines have been drawn and this closed approach is the one that has won the day in the CRC.
In other words, there was intention to be certain that the committee would not threaten the current standards?
As someone raised for the first 30 years of my life within every aspect of the system (including seminary), a more serious question then arrises: What is the place of general revelation and the depth of study that is required by reformed scholars?
Honestly, it feels like the leaders of the denomination are being unfaithful to the reformed tradition and looking only to previous decisions. The less the boat rocks, the better they are? This avoids the goodness of all of Kate’s questions.
I could no longer be CRC; so perhaps I should not care, but I do. As a former high school coach, too many of the young students who I knew, are now becoming open about their sexuality in adulthood, and there are few places for them to be completely real within the denomination.
This is not faithfulness as it should be.
Randy, feel free to read the advisory committee recommendations here:
Although asked to stay within orthodox bounds, they are to review all human sexuality and new views pertaining to it. So let’s not call it what it is not.
Duane & Friends. I’ve thought about your reply since you posted it. HOW can a committee members who agreed to uphold the outdated theology of the CRCA imagine looking at the evidence with fresh eyes while maintaining an exclusive commitment?
What an absurd idea from a denomination that once prided itself on being thoughtful. While I still have much respect for Calvin College, the influence of the seminary professors who have lost touch with pastoring and have lost their deep sense of mission is mind blowing… see the Calvin Forum from the Fall of 2015…
I’m saddened that the denomination in which I grew up has lost the contextual ability to speak good news to a broken and hurting world. The ‘lost sheep’ seem to matter little to those who keep the herd huddled together…
May God show grace & mercy.
Thank you! Wise words.
Your concerns and wishes are shared by many in the CRC. You’ve articulated them for us. Thank you so much, Kate.
May it be so.
Wise words. What the committee can’t or won’t do can be done in classrooms and church groups. It won’t be a committee that changes the church.
Claudia, I agree with you! This also needs to be taught in our homes from early on. Our denomination has a Safe Church Committee and hopefully every CRC is asked to have it’s own Safe church committee. I am a part or that in my church and we keep trying to make other people become more aware that these issues are a part of our church families and not just outside the in the “world”. I believe a safe church begins in a safe home.
Yes, Claudia! “It won’t be a committee that changes the church.” Truth!
Kate, thanks for this thought provoking article. I was at Synod for the first time in my life for this discussion of this report and I couldn’t have been more disappointed. What a pity to pass a small portion of the report without the history and results of the many small groups and questionnaires. Fear does strange things
Congratulations on pointing a much greater need. I couldn’t agree more. I think these issues will need to be addressed through other means. It used to be the role of Christian colleges but I think that avenue has been curtailed. I’m sure you smart young leaders will find a way.
Thanks for all you do for our Church.
Great post, Kate. Thanks for writing this. Wise words of advice for the committee.
Yes, yes, yes!
Thanks for this, Kate. Well said, as always.
The sheer number of replies you have gotten so far, Kate (we usually get close to zero per post) tells you how good a job you did here. And you did. It reminds me of Rich Mouw’s pushing back years ago on the neat distinctions of “straight” and “gay,” noting he’s never met anyone who is really “straight” on sex–we all bear our own sexual crookedness in one way or another. Not me, you understand, but Rich was right about others . . . Nice work here.
You nailed it!
Yes, yes and yes! Thanks for this insightful piece. I have done a bit of preaching in my last church on sexuality–but makes me realize it’s about time I do it again.
Well said. Looking forward to more discussion.
Very wise words……time to think and act on these things!!!
I’d give a hearty “AMEN!” as well. It does seem that the mandate for the study committee definitely broader than same-sex attraction/relationships/marriage – and should cover much of what you’re hoping for here – or at least give a biblical foundation for all of human sexuality. Here’s what was reported on the new committee’s mandate: “The committee, which has been given five years to do its work, is mandated to ‘articulate a foundation-laying biblical theology of human sexuality that pays particular attention to biblical conceptions of gender and sexuality.'” Once we find out who’s on that committee, you should certainly be in communication with these questions – they fit right in. I’m thankful our Synod has taken this important step forward.
Thank you for articulating my thoughts, too!
Typical. Women providing leadership and showing the way again. Thank you.
I think we might have skipped over the mandate for this new committee which should be doing precisely some of the things that we’re all thinking and you’re saying. The mandate of the committee states the central aim as follows:
“The central aim of this theological task will be to provide concise yet clear ethical
guidance for what constitutes a holy and healthy Christian sexual life, and in light of this to serve the church with pastoral, ecclesial, and missional guidance that explains how the gospel provides redemptive affirmation and hope for those experiencing sexual questioning, temptation, and sin.”
Not only this, but the committee has been tasked to consider and wrestle with new ideas in social, scientific, and religious contexts, and Synod added the role of the Promotor Fidei to be the “devil’s advocate” to push the bounds of the committee, even if they are asked to stay within the orthodox Reformed standpoint.
So I hope we’re not crucifying the advisory committee or Synod, because this definitely is within their scope. They’re going to respond to these exact points, Lord willing.
Steve: so this begs the question: How can the committee do this (play “devil’s advocate,” wrestling with new ideas in social, scientific, and religious contexts) while PUSHING the bounds when directed TO STAY WITHIN and maintain the orthodox Reformed standpoint articulated in 1973? The conclusions are prefigured from the outset.
Steve – that is a good questions, but frankly, it’s what we do all the time. There are boundaries. I would think that any study committee we’d form would have to stay within the boundaries of a trinitarian understandstanding of the Godhead, the divinity of Christ, etc. We’re always doing theology (and life!) within boundaries. Where those boundaries are drawn is the wrestle.
@ Other Steve 🙂
I think Chad has said it– We’re always operating within whatever contexts that we’re given and we decide to work in. This committee is within the bounds of the doctrine of the church to explore the doctrine in and out of the church. It’s perfectly feasible that they come back and recommend that after study, a particular direction is suitable for the direction of the church.
I am confident that these individuals will operate within the bounds of “Ecclesia semper reformanda est.” It’s hard to find God working when we’ve already made up our mind that something is or is not too narrow or too broad to fit a desired outcome. When the majority of the church heads in a direction, it’ll head in that direction.
During discussion on the floor of synod, the reporter for the Advisory Committee clarified that though all members of the new study committee had to currently adhere to the CRC’s current ‘boundaries’, they are not precluded from changing their minds during this process.
I wholeheartedly agree. Thank you for stepping out and writing.
This is a terrific essay – thank you, Kate. The RCA is desparately in need of these reminders as well.
Yes and amen.
This is a reasonable statement that human sexuality is Bing defined too narrowly. We should look at these larger challenges in a world where our youth (and we) are taking our morality from the Internet rather than the church.
Thanks, Kate. Praying for leaders of the church and for those they are representing. This needs to be talked about: all of it. Thanks to all the commenters as well who have addressed Kate and this debate in a respectful manner on all levels. We need more of that going on.
Thank you, Kate, for articulating your thoughts on this topic. Amen
Excellent, Kate. Thank you for giving voice! May we all learn to be courageous.
I agree with much of what you say here, but the way you say it comes across as somewhat condescending–as if this was an under taking by morons incapable of seeing a bigger picture. That may prove to be true or it may not. But presenting your argument this way doesn’t encourage dialogue it shuts it down. Your tone suggests that the issues you raised are not cared about at the denominational level which I think is unfair–of course they are. There are more issues in this world than can possibly be given fair time for consideration–so yes, we need to advocate for these issues but it can be done with less patronizing.
While the sentiment behind this piece is spot on, I honestly find it a bit unhelpful. If one calms down for just a second and reads a bit closer, one would notice that the study we commissioned is…well…exactly what she’s asking for. We intentionally made it far broader than mere homosexuality. That wide scope the reason we’re giving it 5 years rather than the usual 3. The intention is to start a bigger, broader conversation about the entire sphere of broken sexuality inside and outside of our church for a lot of the same reasons she’s talking about here.
Thank you for speaking up Dave!!
I agree that all of these things need to be discussed when the study committee organizes and I trust the committee will write about what God’s word says about porn, sex inside and outside of marriage, the rape culture, masculinity, feminism, etc. I would ask for a wait and see approach here. Please don’t make assumptions. People have already referenced the mandate. It looks to be holistic rather than narrowly focused on condemnation of anything.
I would warn people not to accuse the delegates at Synod 2016 of looking through their own set of preconceived lenses and then turn around and not realize you are looking through your own set of preconceived lenses. Read the mandate before making assumptions and throwing stones. Please, wait and see what God will do with this.
Well stated Kate. As usual, you show a lot of wisdom!
Such a good article. Thanks for articulating my and many others thoughts so well.
Thanks for this Kate.
I do concur with what Leanne Van Dyk has said. I also realize that it takes courage to address these matters concerning sex and sexuality. The CRC committee’s remit is a very difficult one.
Hey, look at it this way. At least the CRC didn’t embark on the goofy RCA path of calling a 3 or 4 day “council” to discuss “human sexuality” with a mandate to “describe a constitutional pathway forward….” And then, have that “council” come up with some recommendations that got significantly emended between the council and the General Synod. And have the “council” construe “describe” as “prescribe”. And then have GS delegates fighting about the whole big batch of whatever-it-was that they were given to discuss. I commend the CRC for deciding to take its time and talk about more than just same-sex marriage and ordination. But actually about, well, you know . . . . . human sexuality.
Great stuff. Yet it can’t be stated strongly enough that—in addition to Kate’s wonderful suggestions—the committee needs to go *beyond* studying the denomination’s 40-year-old statement on same sex attraction, rather than how to “be more theologically precise” on the statement they already have—which has the unfortunate language of referring to same sex attraction as a “disorder.”
Five years is way too long to wait for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters. And after those five years what will we arrive at? A nearly 50-year-old statement that still rejects gay and transgendered individuals as “disordered” while pretending there is any human or pastoral space left to welcome them into congregations, let alone treat them with any shred of compassion.
Grateful for congregations that are bravely willing to welcome human beings, period.
Kate – as one of the LGBTQ people that these Synods keep talking *about*, I am thankful that you are asking for deeper conversations on these topics. We need to think about sexuality in a wholistic way, and it is people like you who help encourage us to do that. Thankful for this writing and for your witness.
Putting aside that Kate and many others seem not to have read the committee mandate at all, let’s have a little more honesty about a few things.
First, if the committee was studying only homosexuality in particular, it would not be particularly surprising given that synod has been inundated with this topic from both sides of the issue and has been pressed repeatedly to study the issue. Synods respond to the topics at hand.
Which leads me to my second thought: Assumedly these problems of sexuality that Kate finds very pressing are not new. If a denominational study on these issues have been so pressing, is there anything that would have stopped such a request from coming to synod by communication or by overture. I have seen no such request from any church or classis. Apparently, it wasn’t important enough. But it’s important enough now so that Kate can try to flog synod for picking on a single issue (which of course has been pushed to the forefront again and again). Unless Kate can say honestly that she has been repeatedly advocating with her church council and her classis to overture synod to set a study committee of these topics that she raises, I think her lament is a bit disingenuous.
And perhaps we can dispense with the canard that churches and families never talk about and repent of our own sins, but rather just focus on “them”. That’s quite simply out of touch with the day-to-day workings of every church I have been a member of and served on the council of. Sunday after Sunday goes by and we examine our hearts and repent of our sins individually and communally, both in the liturgy and our prayers. Sermon after sermon works through the Bible and hits us hard where we harbor our favorite sins and prejudices. How many sermons that target homosexuality have I heard in my entire lifetime in reformed churches? Exactly zero.
Has the church achieved perfect balance? No. Are all of us prone to seeing the speck before removing the log? Yes, or Christ would not have pointed it out. But acting as if the church is on some sort of witch hunt is simply at odds with reality and quite uncharitable. Currently the topic receives a lot of attention for the very simple reason that both within and without the church the topic has been placed at the fore.
Very good points, Eric. Although I have heard a few sermons on homosexuality; only one of which demonstrated any grace.
If Kate is raising “new issues” about sexuality that have not been raised before, could it be that those issues hit too close to home, and therefore have not been raised before? It could be that the voice of women in leadership is helping the church wake up to these issues: we are becoming more aware of them–the addiction to porn, for example, is prevalent in the church, as well as outside of it; a spotlight on rape culture is shining light on this age-old issue on college campuses. Our culture is beginning to take a stand against these things as never before. I applaud Kate for raising these issues, and for so many commenters affirming her perceptions. Was she at synod? Did she have a voice there or in her church to raise these questions? Was her church and classis open to receiving them from her? Would they have appointed another 5-year committee to study them before bringing them to synod? Who knows. There is nothing disingenuous about taking a “prophetic” stance now. In fact, I believe it will help the committee stay true to the wide scope of their tsk.
Well said, janepauw.
Thank you for writing this powerful response. I will be praying for the committee to wrestle with God’s special and general revelation to more clearly and pastorally articulate a “foundation-laying biblical theology….” I will also be praying for God’s wisdom as I wrestle with many of your questions on my own and with my family, church and colleagues. i agree with Claudia that a committee probably won’t change th church. But the powerful working of the Holy Spirit can certainly work in all of us, including the committee, and you have convicted me to seek that power and wisdom anew.
Thank you so much for sharing and speaking out!
As a former member of both CRC and RCA churches this post actually captured my attention more than I thought it would. I’d like to reprint this and with permission pass it along to denominational leaders in several other congregations I’ve fellow shipped with over the years. This discussion you propose should (and could) be read by every church leader in America. I suggest it is a must-read exercise. Bravo!
Oh my! This makes so much sense. So there is some sanity left in the CRC. Thank you, Lord! Now let this voice be heard!
Thanks for your thoughts. I think you are getting at an important idea, namely that the chruch needs to do more than simply tell people what is off-limits when it comes to sex. I do believe that what is missing from the broader conversation on sexuality is a positive theology of sex — what is the meaning behind our ethic? The church has done a rather poor job of articulating and communicating this. At the risk of self-promotion, I have written a book in which I try to do this, addressing some of the issues you are looking for (shame, porn, etc.). If you are interested, you can buy the book on Amazon: “Naked and Unashamed: How the Good News of Jesus Transforms Intimacy”.
I was doing just fine until you mentioned, re shaming, the “duct tape demonstration” … what the heck is this?
the duct tape demonstration has been used in youth groups, the purpose; to show teens the pain associated with relationship break-ups. A particularly hairy leg male is chosen and a piece of duct tape is applied to the leg of said young man. The tape is ripped off to illustrate the pain of a first break-up. Then reapplied again and again to show how the heart of the individual has has and less pain. Until the duct tape no longer sticks.
The demonstration points to rhe de-sensitization of the human heart and emotional health of an individual. The more we “try on” relationships (no matter the depth), the less it hurts when they fail.
Hopefully the youth leader goes on to share how much more effective the relationships in our lives are when God is the center. When God is asked to lead us into the right relationship at the right time. Instead of following “the heart” which is according to Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
As Christians/Followers of Christ the answer is Only God Knows our hearts.
It is actually wonderful that people are beginning to look elsewhere. We have been invited since the day of Jesus’ resurrection to stop looking for the living among the dead. Many scholars are fruitfully integrating these questions into their dedicated professions of academic inquiry. As we seek to understand the mystery of erotic love, peer-reviewed scholarship is part of the general revelation “leading us to contemplate the invisible things.” For example, Julia Kristeva’s 2011 essay “Reliance, or Maternal Eroticism” is a valuable addition to this part of the “elegant book,” and, thankfully, has been translated into English in the Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 62:1 (2014).
I agreed with many of your points, but it still rubs me the wrong way when something is about gay people & a straight person says, “but what about ME?” This was magnified in the last paragraph, when you explicitly named gay people as “them” instead of a part of “us.” Gay people have been and continue to be part of the church & the pain of thinking/deciding that you can either be who you are OR be part of the church is a gigantic wound the church needs to address.
The church’s answer should be prophetic and include both/and (address questions about many kinds of sexual issues in a way that is satisfying) rather than remain an either/or with answers still somewhere on the horizon.
Most denominations seem to have taken the same route. My theory about that (as a gay man) is that it is far easier to talk about what most are NOT, i.e., sexually attracted to their own gender, than it is to talk about what everyone IS: a sexual human being. Ignorance and fear often drive these discussions. It’s great to be talking about same gender attraction issues….if for no other reason than to show that we are as boring as straight people! But the real issue is all aspects of human sexuality that have been discussed above need to be part of the conversations.
I don’t think I saw anything about sex among elders. Most, including health care professionals, seem to forget that people over 50 or 60 still engage in sexual activity. That overlooked tidbit accounts for an astounding rate of HIV and other STD’s in retirement and personal care facilities. Doctors don’t often ask if someone in the 70’s might still be sexually active. In such facilities the guys turn to sex workers when they have their pension money. When that runs out, they barter with the ladies in the facility. Anything that got picked up outside gets brought inside. And it is rarely discussed.
God gave us all our sexuality however it plays out in us from sexual orientation to gender identity and gender expression. I have yet to see this gift from God as one we should sit on a shelf and look at or put in a drawer and forget. Our ability to love and engage physically with each other is a divine gift.
In the Episcopal Church, one of our baptismal covenant vows is: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Another is: Will you respect the dignity of every human being? The response is: I will with God’s help. When I teach HIV education to teens I remind them that both of those vows apply in all relationships, including sexual relationships. How often have we ever heard our faith linked to our sexuality and how we treat each other? I’m thinking not often. So bravo and I do hope they expand the scope.
Thank you Kate. What I particularly appreciate is that while not comprehensive, Kate’s questions move from politicized gate-keeping towards the pursuit of shalom in our embodiedness.
While the mandate of the committee is inviting a broader look at human sexuality, the energy behind its creation has seemed, for many, to be about determining who is “in” and who is “out” in the CRC. I have heard deeply concerning comments that indicate a desire for those with particular views to leave the denomination. There is a very clear direction in much of the debate to strengthen a 43 year old Synodical pastoral guidance report to the level of confession to enforce discipline on those who arrive at different interpretive conclusions.
I sincerely hope that this new committee will consider how followers of Jesus might live and flourish as sexual beings as a witness of the transforming love of Christ. Kate’s questions locate the conversation in helpful ways. But if the energy that drives the committee is about power, control, and determining who is granted the privilege of having a voice within the CRC, Kate’s good questions will not be addressed in life-giving ways.
When I taught briefly at Western Seminary, I found no Reformed sexual ethics textbook for my class in theological ethics. There is nothing in the Reformed churches that corresponds to the “theology of body” curriculum in the Catholic Church. Maybe with this article you designated yourself for writing this textbook!
Thanks so much, Kate, for this insightful essay. I pray that there will be more voices like yours in the years to come. We worked hard in the 80’s and 90’s for women to be permitted to fully serve in the church. Now it’s your generation’s time to step up and work for the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community. Blessings!!
Thank you, Kate. Meaningfully addressing sexual identity, personhood, and faith as they actually intersect in all of our lives today is a notable, worthy cause. I too would love to see rape culture (or rape at all, actually!) addressed by the CRC. But to me, this newest 5-year undertaking is strategic avoidance at its finest, given Synod’s blatant disregard of the hard work done by the committee on LGBTQ issues and faith and corresponding disregard for its impact on the lives of LGBTQ persons of faith and their allies. We don’t need more theoretical consideration. We need change. We need a church that loves and accepts its members as Christ did. We need space to grieve the harm done to LGTBQ persons, women, people of color who’ve been told, implicitly or explicitly, that they are not full participants (and, at times, people) because of identities they don’t choose and living lives in integrity with who they are and how they were made. I’d like to see Synod commission a 5-year study committee on how to atone for these harms and reconcile with those whose hearts and lives have been broken in the name of maintaining a destructive status quo. That would be 5 years well spent.
Who sets the agenda for what the CRC decides it needs to talk about? What motivates it?
I’ll quote from James Schap
Today the new paradigms that shape us, even as a denomination, are created, for the most part, by forces much larger than we are—forces like technology, globalization, and our own ever-increasing affluence. In many ways, the world is flat—economically and socially but also religiously. Today, CRC members meditate with Sufi, a medieval Islamic poet; they spend prayerful weekends in silence at South Dakota monasteries; they practice yoga. Today, the widest read, Dutch-surnamed writer in the CRC may be Henry Nouwen.
The world is bursting with choice today, and what empowers us more and more is the increasing value we lay upon our own decision-making. Few of us are as willing as our grandparents to submit to a minute hand on a Sabbath’s eve. The church, the school, the medical professional, and the academic— all have less authority when individual choice reigns over our decision-making. Today what characterizes our lives in almost every arena is the decline of deference to virtually all forms of traditional authority, including the church—and, certainly, the denomination.
The old man who thanked me mightily might assume that the dramatic changes in the ways in which we see denominational life have been caused by a decline in orthodoxy. He’s wrong. The fact is, we live in a different world. I’ll leave it to theologians to declare whether or not we’re more “of the world” than we’ve ever been; what’s unmistakable, however, is that we are far more “in the world” than we were when we were a minute ethno-religious sub-culture in a teeming nation of nations. p. 21
Mr. and Mrs. CRC grew up in a western Michigan dominated by an auto industry that is
all but gone, a landscape overshadowed by smokestack factories that have left the region and even the nation. We’re in a new world, a post-materialist culture, where building things, creating objects—like furniture in Grand Rapids—is no longer the rule of life. Some say we’re no longer “materialists,” even if, in a biblical sense, we certainly may be, as we always have been.
Our affluence has created a generational shift toward what some call “post-materialist” values—“self-esteem, quality of life, and the search for personal fulfillment,” as Richardson puts it. “When those postmaterialist values are combined with the empowering tools of universal education, a rightsoriented political culture, and the Google search engine, we should not be surprised that more and more people today regard ex cathedra expert authority with skepticism, if not outright hostility.”
Will there be a bicentennial? The answer to the question will likely be determined by social and cultural forces outside the denomination, forces which are both more powerful and more destructive on all denominations—not just the CRC—than any problems within our own fellowship.
Oops, left off the punchline.
Today, no bit of denominational history is as acutely derided as Synod’s 1928 decision on
“worldly amusements”—“thou shalt not dance, play cards, attend movies.” For two, almost three, generations, from Paterson to Pella, those rigorous imperatives came to define us, even when they were violated.
Ironically, the CRC was probably never quite as “modern” as when it tried to stamp its individual members with a behavioral bar code for quick and easy check out. Directives such as the decision on worldly amusements demystify faith, make it a children’s game of chutes and ladders. The idea of the CRC laying down such precise decrees for holy living is unimaginable today. We’ve grown, matured, progressed; we’re in far better shape. The church wouldn’t even try to prescribe behavior.
To the extent that Schaap says that changes in denominational life are not caused by a decline in orthodoxy (“He’s wrong”), I think he presents a false choice. The world around us surely is different, but the fact that those changes lead to changes in church life does not preclude a decline in orthodoxy also having significant effect. I would argue that the two are significantly linked. There are a multitude of examples of churches abandoning orthodoxy and experiencing resultant dramatic changes in church life.
What strikes me most again here and in nearly every conversation here is the undercurrent of obedience as qualification.
“Look you cisgender males who rule the world, take out the log from your own eye before you look for LGBTQ specks!”
Ok, fair enough.
But what do we look to the church for? What do we look to the law for? What do we look to Christ for? Do we honestly believe in revelation? In a judge presiding over the living and the dead including us? If not, why bother with any of this.
If we go to the doctor and ask “what behaviors are in keeping with stewarding this temple?” we might be thrilled to hear “add more fat and sugar to your diet, and maybe gain 20 or 30 pounds if you really get the chance. A bit more tobacco, drugs and alcohol might be just the thing for that extra stress you’ve been carrying around.”
We might hear our neighbor tell us this is what their doctor said and we might ditch our doc that gives us the same old tired “lose weight, eat right, exercise, and by all means floss to avoid losing your teeth!”
I love what the Catechism does with the law right up front. “Let’s cut to the chase. The law is about love and you’ve failed it. You’ve got a natural tendency to hate God and your neighbor. This is your nature.”
As Schaap noted “does” and “don’ts” are troublesome for us. We don’t want to hear it if we disagree, and we surely won’t do it if it doesn’t feel authentic to us. OK, so now what?
My Christian behavior is what I offer to God as gratitude for his gift to me.
2 Cor 5 says
9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
The New International Version. (2011). (2 Co 5:9–10). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Our motivation is gratitude. His evaluation of us is expected. How shall we live?
We live in a world where we can find someone to tell us what we want to hear. Pervasive pluralism seems at least as troublesome as traditional predictability. What do we really want? What do we really need? pvk
What a breath of fresh air. Thank you, Kate.
Thanks Kate, for putting the challenge out there for all of us to do a better job of educating ourselves and others in the area of human sexuality. I am convinced this is also near and dear to the heart of God, as God has established and made holy the expression of our sexuality and connects monogamous marriage to God’s own self with the picture of the church as bride of Christ. As a counselor I am confronted with these very issues on a weekly basis. I grieve over the fallout regarding the mess we have made in our society today. Even though the pathology feels epidemic, I am so thankful that we have weapons not of this world, and can also be assured that God still redeems and heals all our brokenness. I am glad that we still have hope to give. Without it, I could not do what I do. There would be no purpose or meaning to it. May God help us give out his grace as we look to God for help in our time of need.
I think that the lack of clarification, education and open-discussion in the church regarding sex is in fact a great failing, especially, as you pointed out, when the media is bombarding us with porn, cases of rape and sexual assault and false images of what “good” or “right” sex is.
I think that it would be amazing if the church talked more about this and had a committee concerning sexual wellbeing and education. And fostering discussions to promote healthier communities in regards to sex.
But I am frustrated by the opening of this article for a few reasons. I think that there is an important distinction between sexual orientation and sexuality. LGBTQIA+ people deal with all of the things that you have described too, and that’s human sexuality. Sexual orientation is a different type of issue. I think the fact that we call it “sexual orientation” is misleading. It’s not about sex, it’s about attraction. It’s about being able to be with someone who you love in marriage, in meeting your parents, in raising children – and yes sex too, but that’s not the point of attraction. I think that it’s the sex part that the church is caught up on with LGBTQIA+ people and that’s dehumanizing. Which is hopefully what this committee will discuss.
That being said I really do think that these are both important issues, but they are separate and should be treated as such.
I was just introduced to this blog by Andy Kadzban, via his reposting in his monthly newsletter to the Wyckoff Reformed Church congregation a post regarding Orlando massacre. And, now a day later a woman I respect so much who is very progressive posted this on her facebook page. Bravo!!!!!! to you, to Andy and to my old friend Nancy Ball. I’ve left the Reformed Church in America most recently because of the denomination’s unloving and unchristian view of LGBT and for their recent questions even about women leadership in the church. Basically, for their lack of openess to all. It is so encouraging to hear from a new leader in this denomination of old, to question the direction, the decision-making and to point out the lack of insight into how they are approaching critical issues in our culture. Let me say this again. Bravo Kate for pointing out the “plank in our eyes.” I can only pray that your words of wisdom reach the mouths of preachers in the pulpit. Thank you.
Yes, Kate! Blinders off! Let’s move ahead with grace!
Well said. Thank you.
I’m sorry but I can’t agree with Kate’s assessment on the sexual beliefs of the church. Her article presents a view of Christian sexuality that seems at odds with basic biblical teaching and I hope this is important to us all. Why should the church echo the world around it? Why should that be our standard? Especially on sex? One could hardly say that’s what Jesus did in his time-especially on sex. After all, we are to be a light in the darkness, not a mirror of the darkness. The way of the church should not be the way of the world. If it is the same, then there’s no point to being a church. We just become a moral redundancy.
Basic “Bible teaching ” on sex is based on a woman being a man’s property. The father transfers his property to her husband when she gets married. It’s also based on sex being essentially only for procreation which leaves lots of folks “out in the cold” who get beyond a certain age or were sterile all along. Jesus did not mention sex at all. He only discussed marriage in two contexts: one in a discussion about adultery and the other in a discussion about divorce. Not ringing endorsements!
Paul was a mess when it came to sex. His preference was that no one engaged in it. Glad he was ignored or many of us would not be here and the church would have died out.
The model in the Bible was polygamy in both the Old and New Testaments. The only difference is that in the New Testament, more than one wife is forbidden for bishops and deacons.
If there is to be a model about sex, the best would be “love your neighbor as yourself.” What Jesus taught was right relationships and that applies to sexual relationships. Jesus always condemned relationships that were exploitive, coercive or manipulative. They were wrong, no matter what the context, including marriage.
This is a clear case of the church having refused to lead on an issue and now we are trying to follow and catch up…..we didn’t do our job, the work God gave us to do up front, so now it’s time to get with the program. No where does it say that the church cannot learn from the world.
Well said, Bruce.
It’s interesting how quickly we get into our heads. The treatment of LGBT persons by our culture has been heinous. The church of Jesus Christ has largely been in silent collusion with that heinous treatment. In the 1st century Jesus made a point of honoring the LGBT equivalents – women, Romans, Samaritans. If our theology supports heinous we should consider that something is wrong with us and we need to choose a better Way – perhaps like Kate suggests.
The original meeting was about homosexuality because it is a divisive matter and has a big impact on gay people.
People who are LGBT will know they are not welcome at the CRC unless they remain celibate forever (alone without spousel love) or they will leave like I did.
It’s tough telling a teenager their choice is: marry someone they don’t fully love, “make it work” or be alone forever.
People who are homosexual are everywhere. We are married to the opposite sex, we are your single neighbor, etc. We just want love like anyone. Most of us want a committed loving relationship between two consenting adults.
Like the comment above, it is about attraction not some perverted sex thing. I think some people are still thinking the same as 40yrs ago when homosexuality was not understood. Hello! In 1973 Homosexuality was still a mental illness. Now we can get married.
Overall, in any decision, are we loving God above all else and our neighbor as ourselves?
I find it heartbreaking that so many voices are arguing for more sexual openness in the beliefs of our church. We already live in a sexually charged world that bombards us continuously with explicit acts of sexuality, often used to sell things as innocuous as bubble gum or mouth wash. As Christians, we are supposed to be the light in the darkness not the mirror of the darkness. We are supposed to be “Holy as God is holy”. It is living in this holiness that we are to find our spiritual freedom. Gal.5 In this world we are supposed to make a difference not mimic the latest trends, especially in areas of sexuality. And, by the way, speaking of trends, homosexuality and sexual openness was all pervasive in the Greek world of the 1st century. That’s what 1 Cor.6 is all about. It was so pervasive that it was practiced as part of their religion. So, in many ways, things haven’t really changed culturally between that world and ours. And, as a direct consequence, the Apostle Paul addresses homosexuality in his epistles because of its prevalence in his time among his Greek churches. God’s grace always leads to holiness, not as an excuse to sin. Rom.6 So, when we talk about compassion and grace it should be a conversation that leads to true spiritual freedom which comes through our pursuit of holiness especially when it comes to matters of sexuality. I fear any other conversation will render our beliefs morally void and empty. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of bondage.” Gal.5:1
Right on, Kate. Thank you for posting this.