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I guess it’s our turn now.
After watching the Presbyterians and Lutherans devour themselves over welcoming LGBTQ people, you might think we in the Reformed Church in America would try to chart a different course, to find a different future. You’d be wrong.
If you are part of the Reformed Church in America (RCA) you probably know more about this than I can explain here. If you’re not up to speed on RCA intrigue, I’ll keep this synopsis short.
Last summer, the RCA’s General Synod (its annual, widest assembly) passed two amendments to the RCA’s constitution. Both are attempts to forbid same-gender weddings in RCA congregations and performed by RCA ministers. A colleague described the amendments as “churlish.” I agree. Right now they are before the local assemblies (we call it a classis) across North America. If two-thirds of these local assemblies vote in favor of the amendments, they will return to this year’s General Synod for final approval.
If these anti-gay amendments are viewed as referendums on LGBTQ people in the church, they will likely pass easily. In the Reformed Church in America of 2017, “traditional” views on human sexuality still hold a pretty significant majority.
But, if we see these amendments as about how we do church together, I like to hope neither amendment would pass.
The first and biggest casualty in this debate has been community. Trust, openness, and collegiality are tattered in the Reformed Church right now. Fear and suspicion, even intimidation, are rampant. Nuance has disappeared. As far as I can tell, no one seems to care. Or at least no one is trying to remedy this.
Last fall, I undertook an ill-fated effort to assemble what I called “courageous conservatives”—RCA ministers with traditional views on sexuality, but who would oppose the amendments because of their many flaws. I had hoped to find people who would stand up for being conciliatory, stand up for being in-between, stand up for finding better ways forward.
I didn’t find many. It’s possible that my efforts failed because people simply didn’t agree with my premise, or that I don’t have a lot of credibility with the people I was trying to talk with. But in my conversations with RCA ministers I heard over and over, “I just can’t sign on. My congregation, my classis, my colleagues just wouldn’t understand.” Or “I’m largely sympathetic, but that would get me in all sorts of trouble.”
As a pastor, I tend to give other pastors the benefit of the doubt. I don’t want to push too hard. I don’t know their context. Some were very new to their congregations. Other felt surrounded by unsupportive, maybe even hostile, colleagues.
It is never simple for a pastor to be prophetic. It takes trust. It will cost some chips. No pastor, at least no wise pastor, tells her congregation everything she thinks. A wise pastor wants to offer thorough explanations and important caveats, but he knows that many people will only hear “yes” or “no.” Sometimes taking a righteous stand feels noble, but instead only alienates and divides. I can’t criticize or shame colleagues in circumstances I don’t know.
But I also wonder when will more RCA pastors be willing to risk, to stick their neck out, to say what they really believe? Not soon enough, I suspect.
I’ve been disappointed—shocked, actually—that so few people seem willing to fight “for the church”—how we treat one another, how we do business together, the lines of demarcation, respect for local, contextual authority, what it means to be Reformed, and all sorts of other elusive but important traits of our life together.
Instead, it seems there are all sorts of people who want to fight about gays, lesbians, people bisexual, transgender, queer and otherwise. And many people, possibly even most people, who are just trying to keep their heads down and their mouths shut.