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I’ve been thinking about the coup that the Christian Reformed chapter of the Theobros pulled off at the CRC Synod last month, and the musings have piled up so high that I figured why not use Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell’s random thoughts genre and let ‘er rip? Steve’s offerings in this vein tend to be more gentle and genuinely interrogatory than what follows, so be forewarned…

Abraham Kuyper

1. A word from Kuyperian experience on executing coups like this. Abraham Kuyper was nothing if not a great organizer, and early in the 1880s he plotted a strategic purging of the Netherlands Reformed Church (NHK), starting from the consistory of Amsterdam and working out over the whole land. Like our own Coup Boyz, he established a network of like-minded pastors, caucused with them before crucial meetings, and formed a bloc vote. Well disciplined, they took over the Amsterdam church, marginalized its Modernist ministers, asserted control over church properties, and moved to ordain graduates of Kuyper’s recently founded Free University of Amsterdam in receptive pulpits, church order to the contrary notwithstanding.

That move would only be the start, Kuyper thought, of a great reformation that would cleanse the denomination of its heretics and dead wood—not just Modernists but also (especially) the denominational boards and bureaucrats that protected them and that, with all their routines and regulations, kept the church from mounting the vital witness it needed to make amid the profound challenges of modern times. Liberation would flash across the land, he promised, strengthening those who believed, attracting many who did not (yet), and working a moral and spiritual revitalization of the entire nation.

To date, the CRC’s Coup Boyz seem more focused on washing away the impure and tending the walls of Zion to keep them out — just like Jesus did with the ‘lepers’ of his time — than on shaping a Christian witness that might attract new people in. Not to worry: CRC membership has been soaring so high of late that we needn’t bother about numbers. There is considerable resonance between the Coup Boyz’ initiatives and Trumpian yearnings to make America great again — that is, whiter than snow, with men on top, women in service, children obedient and very, very straight. So if that’s national cultural renewal, there you have it.

2. How did all this work out for Kuyper? Not so well. Not nearly up to his hopes, anyway. When it was all over, Kuyper’s breakaway movement, the Doleantie (from those ‘mourning’ the loss of the real church—the language of victimization wasn’t foreign to Kuyper’s ranks), attracted just eleven percent of all the country’s churches and only a third of those who identified as orthodox Reformed. Kuyper lost the church property battle in the courts and wound up fighting the moderates and a fair number of conservatives in the NHK much more than its Modernists or outright unbelievers. Overall church membership in the Netherlands fell, and within a few years the Doleantie merged with the churches of the earlier (1834) Secession from the NHK to form a new denomination, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN), comprising some 8% of the Dutch population. They held strong for three generations until the cultural revolution of the 1960s blew open the highly segmented Dutch society — and opened the doors to a huge exit from organized religion. In 2004 most of the GKN merged with most of the NHK and the country’s Lutherans into the PKN, the Protestant Church in the Netherlands.

J. Gresham Machen, founder of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church

3. How has secession worked for similar churches? The Orthodox Presbyterian Church, in its 87th year, has barely 32,000 members. The Protestant Reformed Churches, in their 98th, only 8,000. In their thirty years the United Reformed Churches have managed to draw some 25,000 members out of the CRC. A colleague of mine attributes schisms in the Dutch Reformed lineage to an edifice complex: once a critical mass of males have finished building churches, Christian schools, and parsonages, they need to find a theological grievance that justifies hiving off to build new churches, schools, and parsonages. Funny: once the walls are up and the orthodox secure, inquirers do not beat down the doors to get in.

4. As for coup-mongers, the national champion is undoubtedly the Southern Baptist Convention which was taken over by a fundamentalist insurrection in the 1980s. It gloated at the numerical growth that supposedly rewarded this faithfulness, but after that first generation one can’t help noting a shift in the other direction. Since 2005 the SBC has lost nearly 20% of its members. Certainly, not all of the shrinkage is due to its recent exposé as being the Protestant leader in the cover-up of clerical sexual abuse. Which fits well with their cultural witness of Trumpism.

5. Staying with Trump for a moment, the Supreme Court’s remanding of abortion policy to the states is to be followed — per its purest voice and the thousands of laity who quiver at the sound — by a nationwide criminalization of the process, then by a revocation of other laws based on the right to privacy: first of all same-sex marriage, then the right to birth control. On the CRC side, we can expect to see the banning of same-sex marriage to be followed by efforts to bar women from ecclesiastical office and then by the reversal of what the plaintiffs have always seen as the devil in the brew, Report 44 on “The Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority, adopted by the Synod of 1972.

6. The interpretation of Scripture is instead to be no interpretation at all, just a plain and literal (except when inconvenient) reading of an inerrant text. Which is the core principle of classic Protestant Fundamentalism. Its spirit, according to its master analyst, George Marsden, is militant anti-Modernism. Its cultural initiatives always circle around to a war upon a single symbolic issue: alcohol, abortion, same-sex affiliation. Leading me to conclude that the synodical Coup Boyz of 2022 were more Fundamentalist than Reformed.

Jerry Falwell, Sr. testifying to America

7. To spy out Protestant Fundamentalism today, we have to grasp that it has taken over and colonized the label Evangelical. Ironic, because Evangelical re-emerged as a term after World War II with a “neo-” in front and in hopes of bringing its more conservative orientation into a respectful dialogue with the Protestant mainline, gaining respect in the process. To this the likes of Jerry Falwell responded with a great No! Falwell boldly proclaimed himself to be an unreconstructed and unrepentant Fundamentalist with no interest in dialogue or respectability — at least none with or from the cultural establishment. From presidents like Ronald Reagan, yes indeed. Neo-Evangelicalism was promoted by such Reformed Journal stalwarts as Marsden and Richard Mouw. Which spirit was evident at CRC Synod 2022—M&M’s or Jerry Falwell’s?

8. I devoted more of my career than I can believe to help recover and nurture the better part of the CRC tradition in the hope that it might occupy some space between both the mainline and Evangelical sides of American Protestantism. Color that gone—bad choice.

9. So much of the tone and behavior of the allegedly born-again in America over the past generation has made me ponder Mark Twain’s classic advice: Take heaven for the climate and hell for the company. But then I usually retreat to Reinhold Niebuhr’s core principle, at least as I always distilled it for my students: Beware of sinners, for they shall try to deceive you; but beware especially the saints, for they deceive themselves. Need to remember that’s for me too…


Header Photo by Timur Saglambilek on Pexels

James Bratt

James Bratt is professor of history emeritus at Calvin College, specializing in American religious history and especially the connections between religion and politics. Starting in Fall 2016 he took a break from blogging on The Twelve to teach in China and on the Semester at Sea, which venues afforded him some welcome distance from the USA’s descent into its current mortal illness. But now he’s back in the States, looking for hope. His most recent book (which he edited and completed for the late John Woolverton) is  “A Christian and a Democrat”: Religion in the Life and Leadership of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

95 Comments

  • Ron Calsbeek says:

    Thanks for your courage and your insight, Jim. Let me be the first to say BRAVO.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Makes me think about the dashing of hopes in Germany and Hungary in 1848. Makes me think of the ARP, the anti-revolutionary spirit in the Dutch Reformed world, the CRC especially, which led Hendrikus Berkhof to suggest that for all of Bavinck’s brilliance, and despite all the atheistic violence of the Jacobins, he picked the wrong side of the French Revolution. In any case, there’s no mistake, that what happened in Grand Rapids is inseparable from what happened in the Supreme Court.

    • Trevor Mouw says:

      “[Bavinck] picked the wrong side of the French Revolution.”

      Wow. If this doesn’t show clearly how it’s actually the Bratt/Meeter ilk who never understood the ethos of the CRC in the first place, who were the ones actually hoping for the “coup”.

      All of this because our Synod, over the course of decades, stuck with the same belief that Jesus has always taught in His Bible and which 2000 years of Christians have always believed.

      Y’all may not like it, but this “CRC Theobro” theology is what the CRC is and always has been.
      Viva la orthodoxy.🌷

      • Connie Kuiper VanDyke says:

        I’m sorry–where did Jesus teach about same sex marriages? Where did he say to follow the Old Testament law no matter what he was doing himself and teaching his disciples to do?

        • Trevor Mouw says:

          Hi Connie,
          I’ll answer your first question. Your second question is nonsensical.
          Jesus speaks specifically about one-man one-woman marriage in Matthew 19 and Mark 10.
          But also… I believe that the Holy Spirit speaks the very words of Christ to us through the entire Christian Bible. Jesus Himself promised that the Holy Spirit would do so. Therefore when Paul affirms the sinfulness of homosexuality, those are the Words of Jesus and the Triune God through Paul.
          I’d encourage you to read the Human Sexuality Report that the CRC put out. It gives a great summary of the Bible’s teachings on this issue, and it lays out the CRCNA’s current teachings about homosexuality.

          • Scott Hoezee says:

            Donald Trump once said his favorite Bible verse is “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” And sure enough, that’s in the Old Testament. Trump didn’t know Jesus had a rather different take on it. So the second question you call nonsensical is actually quite sensical when we read Jesus’s definitive interpretation of the OT.

          • Trevor Mouw says:

            I don’t know why I can’t reply to Scott directly, but this is to him:

            Jesus never said “to follow the Old Testament law no matter what he was doing himself and teaching his disciples to do?”

            Such a question from Connie: #1. shows how little she estimates my own knowledge of Jesus and the NT’s statements on the Law. and #2. tells me how inaccurate is her (and now yours, Scott?) understanding of what Jesus taught regarding the law.

            Jesus explicitly taught one-man, one-woman marriage in Matt. 19. In fact, he intensifies it to make sure everyone understands that the 7th Commandment also includes lust.

            In addition, Reformed Theology has always taught the continuation of God’s Moral Law and the 3 Uses of that Law.

            “Nonsensical” might not have been the best word choice, but the question revealed so much misunderstanding that I didn’t know what word to use exactly.

            Donald Trump could use a couple hundred lessons in Reformed Theology.

      • Sheryl L Mulder says:

        Trevor, You say Matthew 19 explicitly says a marriage is between one man and one woman. From the wonderful CRC pastors I have had the privilege of learning under, it is critical before making any claim about what a passage is trying to teach, is to know and understand the full cultural context and the point that Jesus is making in this passage. I am sure Rev. Hoezee and other wonderful pastors could expound a bit more on this passage but suffice it to say, I ask myself, which is going on and why is Jesus saying what he is saying here? Is it about men taking on too many wives and not sticking with one? Is it about the fact that it was incredibly easy for a man to get rid of his wife but once a woman had no husband, she was left impoverished with few resources? Or was it about his thoughts about the place of marriage versus celibacy for those who were to be his disciples of the Gospel and carry out His work without the additional responsibilities of marriage? Was it the debate between Stoicism and Cynicism regarding marriage? Lot of food for thought. What I have a hard time with is when you give a quick “It is all clear. It can’t be interpreted any other way.. And finally, my way is the correct one, and the rest of you are rejecting Christianity if you do not think like me.” Can’t we extend a bit more grace to each other and also humility that there is much to be studied, wrestled with, etc. when it comes to Scripture? I think that is what has been so incredibly disheartening for many of us you claim are just “liberals” and “following the world”.

        • Trevor Mouw says:

          Sheryl,
          All of those questions are great questions and worthy of research! And here’s the great thing… the church has had 2000 years of rich reflection on Scripture.
          The CRC specifically comes from a grand tradition of digging incredibly deeply into the text of Scripture. There are certainly plenty of difficult passages in the Bible. Yet I have a hard time believing anyone trying to make such a claim about the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality.
          You can choose to pretend I’m some evangelical Biblicist, but you’re the one with the uphill battle going against Calvin, a Brakel, Bavinck, Vos, Berkhof, et al. Reformed Theology is solidly grounded in it’s anthropology and ethics. There’s a reason why the CRC has been studying this issue for over 50 years and never changed it’s conclusions.
          There are other denominations with different views of the Bible and it’s authority who are open to revisionist interpretations in this area. It’s OK for different specific denominations to hold to their own specific beliefs.
          It’s actually the opposite of humility to claim “unclarity” where God has spoken clearly on an issue. True humility is submitting oneself to God’s Word, especially when one doesn’t subjectively like what it says.
          Would you say it’s OK for the CRCNA to allow multiple claims about what the Bible says about kinism and racism? I wouldn’t! God’s Word is clear.

          • Paul Graansma says:

            By your logic the whole denomination is living in a state of prideful arrogance by acknowledging there are two biblically sound understandings of the role of women in leadership.

            John Calvin himself believed that heliocentrism was a “clear” reality laid out in the Bible. He declared those who argued against it to be heretics because it is so “clear.”

            Just because something has been declared biblical for a long time by the church does not make it true. Just because something seems “clear” to some, does not mean they are correct.

        • Nenke Jongkind says:

          Thank you Sheryl!

    • Johannes Witte says:

      It is too obvious to miss if you have eyes that see and ears that hear.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    I wholeheartedly second the BRAVO! Thank you for calling it what it was: a well-planned and executed coup, which shames our denomination as well as the perpetrators.

  • Tom says:

    So, there’s truth here, and it is lamentable that denominational decision making functions not much differently than politics (although, it being a human endeavor, that’s inevitable). I am curious, though, why it’s a ‘coup’ only when things don’t come out according to your preference? Setting aside whether synod’s decision was right or wrong, the decision kept in place a long standing position; a decision the other way would have been a significant change in denominational policy, a change that would have been accomplished in much the same way that you decry: like-minded people banding together, putting forth their arguments to convince others that they were right, and strategizing on how to accomplish the change they believe should happen. Had that side of the argument ‘won’, would that have been a ‘coup’? I think not; likewise, the outcome we saw was not a coup, just the process working itself out.

    • Valerie Terpstra Van Kooten says:

      Coups come in many shapes and forms. The committee was stacked from the beginning. By placing members on the committee who were required to have a pre-determined mindset and outcome, what, exactly was the point? Other than to throw a bone to the denomination and say, “Yes, we studied it, but nothing’s changing.”

      The coup is the infiltration of this ilk into the denomination as a whole. It will not be a one-day bloody coup such as those we’ve seen lately in politics. It will slowly drown the denomination in legalistic mumbo-jumbo and always needing to be the “purest of the pure” (the tagline of the church that broke off my CRC home denomination.

    • Connie Kuiper VanDyke says:

      I view it as a coup because of quizzing delegates ahead of time and taking only those would vote for the HSR, and because the officers of Synod were chosen ahead of time and just happened to all be in favor of the HSR, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY because it made this decision “confessional” which none of the many numbers debates of synod even considered doing. What if back in the 1920’s not going to movies had been made “confessional”? I’m glad the HSR didn’t suggest adding a phrase to the Apostles Creed too. The coup was not only setting up an overwhelmingly positive response but insisting that anyone who wants to be a member of the CRC now has to say same-sex marriages are evil. Will they test each current member and excommunicate those who refuse to affirm the HSR? If so, the CRC will lose over 50% of its members, including many who are providing much of the CRC funding.

      • Chad Steenwyk says:

        It was asked in my Classis whether or not we could discuss a person’s position on the HSR prior to electing them as delegates and it was resoundingly ruled out of order. Yet still, four delegates who voted in favor of the HSR were delegated.

        In terms of confessionality, many times in the past Synod has been asked to make such affirmations (in a plethora of forms and on a wide range of topics), but wisely, it decided not to – not with the purpose of keeping things open ended, but rather, because the understanding was clear. At previous Synods, it was already understood clearly that “unchastity” included what was spelled out in this Synod. It is no longer the case today. That cloudiness doesn’t mean that the meaning had changed, only that it needed clarity.

        • Jim Bratt says:

          It’s the back challenging before the meeting that counts. Really, nobody knew the delegatees’ positions before voting? Musta been a Holy Spirit thing then, yes?

          • Chad Steenwyk says:

            I can speak for my own classis. Frankly, one minister is selected by rotation based on seniority. That’s set. We only had one nominee for elder and deacon – common. The fourth delegate was an election from among all the pastors available. The one selected was not a Returning Church or Abide type of guy – at least how those are often described. He is pastor at what is considered one of the more progressive churches in our classis. However, he had spoken in support of the HSR at a previous meeting so if delegates were there, they would have known what his thinking was. Yet, he was still duly elected.

        • Emily Helder says:

          Classis Illiana did require public statement by potential delegates before electing. Other classes did as well, just because yours did not doesn’t mean others did not.

  • Kirk Vanhouten says:

    First, I have to question whether Mr. Bratt would consider it a “coup” had Synod ruled the other way? Generally a coup involves forcibly changing rather than preserving the status quo. Second, do any of the authors in this forum support Synod and/or the traditional view of marriage? As a forum populated by so many CRC related academics and other thought leaders for none of them to have sympathies with a decision approved by 70% of Synod says more about the ideology of the Reformed Journal than anything else. His invoking Donald Trump and Clarence Thomas underscores this- there may be valid arguments for reconsidering the traditional view of marriage but the fact that it bothers the faction of U.S. politics Bratt aligns himself with isn’t one of them.

    • Harry Cook says:

      There was a third way: simply not raising the decision to Confessional Status.

      • Kirk Vanhouten says:

        Perhaps. Yet would Synod have necessarily done that had Neland Avenue refrained from installing a deacon in a same sex relationship? It was no longer a hypothetical discussion.

      • Richard Vanderkloet says:

        Amen to that

      • Michelle Krul says:

        No one “raised it” to anything. It has been implicit for years, Synod only made it explicit. Please read the transcripts. This has always been a confessional issue. This would not even be an issue if the secular courts/governments of Canada and the US approved this. Since when does the church follow the teachings of secular courts? What about the Navajo, Korean, African responses to the HSR? Why do white North Americans think they know best?

    • Matt Jeltema says:

      Synod is not a senate. Well, not supposed to be, anyway. The coup is that this deliberative body, which is intended to listen, discern, and wrestle, was pre-selected as a whipped bloc. No listening. Not even a gallery of real, loving, Christian people. The Spirit was not invited.

      • Paul Graansma says:

        Well said Matt. I’d add the “coup” element was framing those opposed to the HSR as ignoring the Bible. The HSR’s summary of “revisionist” interpretations is a pathetic straw man which, let’s be honest, very few members have even take the time to read.

    • Barbara Bierma says:

      You clearly never took one of Professor Bratt’s courses at Calvin as your post clearly demonstrates you don’t know what a couple is. There was an intentionally implemented strategy with an engineered outcome all along. It has nothing to do with Professor Bratt’s personal politics but everything to do with the fact that CRC governance is at the core, also political.

  • Bruce Frens says:

    Thank for this refreshing yet disturbing piece…..

  • James C Dekker says:

    Yup. Thanks, Jim. One day I was a kinda faithful member and semi retired pastor in the CRC and the next afternoon I was, according to one of da Boyz, “rot.”Overnight thr CRC became a club of which I hardly any longer wish to be a member, especially if they would accept me.

  • Andrea Robinson says:

    You’re my favorite historian, Jim. Keep shining your light on our ever more dismal path. Keeping us from falling in chasms and allowing us to see the precious gems along the way is your special gift, and I am grateful!

  • Duane Kelderman says:

    Thanks, Jim. People ask me whether I think Synod 2023 could reverse this ecclesiastical violence. Of course they recite the many reversals of synod in the 90’s on women in office. But there are two differences between our current situation in the 90’s. First, his violent decision is part of a larger culture war that is not reversing anytime soon. Second, we still haven’t truly opened the Bible anew. In the 90’s we were going back and forth with our Bibles wide open. In this case, we closed the Bible in 1973, and feigned opening the Bible in 2016 again, but we did not open the Bible at all. We appointed a committee whose conclusions were not just predictable but guaranteed. I laugh when I hear people say, We’ve been struggling with Scripture on this for 49 years now. No we have not truly opened the Bible and opened ourselves to the Spirit’s leading since 1973.

  • Don Tamminga says:

    thanks! And yea, it was a coup.

  • Joel Carpenter says:

    Like Jim, I saw the CRC as a sane and principled third way among American Protestants. The latest coup seems to have ruined that. As a purported expert on the rise of the neo- evangelical movement, I confirm Jim’s judgment that the fundamentalists won. A telling moment was when CT editors denounced Trump and the MAGA evangelical leaders shrugged and called it irrelevant. Evangelical now means fundamentalist.

  • Cal says:

    Thanks for saying the things most do not want to hear or acknowledge

  • The coup boyz have identified patriarchal fundamentalism with Reformed orthodoxy, and that is the death knell for the CRCNA. I chose the CRC as an ALTERNATIVE to generic, shallow American Evangelicalism, but the CRC has always been drawn to this kind of cultural Christianity. What made the CRC unique has been trashed by these fundamentalist power mongers. I worry for Calvin University.

  • Sheryl L Mulder says:

    Thanks, Jim. Your thoughts mirror many of mine. It is why I am having a very hard time wanting much of a connection to my CRC
    denomination and college alma mater. This Synod did a grave disservice to the church universal. Alas it falls on deaf ears.

  • I liked the retrospective on Kuyper. I’ve got a number of yet unexpressed thoughts on the CRC confessionals and what they should be thinking about.

    The whining is ridiculous, however. The CRC (moderately) progressive Kuyperians have had supremacy since the 1970s. They’ve had victory after victory. Now they might not have gotten everything they wanted, might not have gotten it as quickly as they wanted, but for the most part they have dominated the CRC institutions at nearly every level. Yes, CTS after a few quiet purges was a bit more conservative than the college but the Reformed Journal crowd has been the elites and held the high ground decade after decade.

    The dominant assimilation pull in the CRC has long been evangelicalism vs mainline. It’s not like this should be a surprise. It’s only been the narrative since the end of the American Civil War and has been the warm bath of the CRC since it began dismantling its walls after WWII.

    Where is the compelling vision on sexuality from the CRC elites that distinguishes them BOTH from the Evangelicals AND the mainline? I don’t see it. The CRC affirming tribe must do confessional work. The non-affirming have done confessional work. Catechism on Marriage and Sexuality – BRANSON PARLER First link from Google is from Kuyper College. (Oh the dualities of Kuyper just keep giving doing they.) Where is the A1B confession?

    Now I’m not going to throw stones because it’s VERY HARD to do this work but pointing fingers and yelling “fundamentalists” really doesn’t cut it. So, you’ve been trying to chart a “third way”. Wonderful. Let’s see it!

    The difficulty is that when you’ve got the cultural wind at your back (elites, Hollywood) trying NOT to sail simply powered by their winds is hard.

    The challenge to the CRC affirming camp is to find a vision that isn’t reactive to the confessionals who have it easier because they can be reactive to the prevailing cultural winds.

    Whining about fundamentalism in what’s left of the RJ really isn’t going to cut it. They’re going to have to lead in a way that gives the CRC moderates a sense of a better path. pvk

    • Jim Bratt says:

      Progressive hegemony…. Let’s see: Belhar Confession, sidelined. Amway owners flying any interested CRC minister out to the Crystal Cathedral to get instruction from that pillar of Reformed orthodoxy, Robert Schuller. Was the RJ behind the brilliance of ‘400,000 by 2000’? When I served on a task force about the future of the Banner a quarter of a century ago, the magazine’s polling of its readers revealed that their #1 theological authority was Charles Colson and #1 ethical guide James Dobson. (Confessional integrity? As a member of the Church of the Nazarene, Dobson is a rank Arminian.) A confessional conversation–when Synod 2022 was not interested in any conversation at all but the imposition of a pre-set elevation of a 1973 document to confessional status when intervening synods had said no such thing? I didn’t have to feel the Hollywood wind at my back to come to an affirming position. (In fact, I resist might and main the Hollywood cult of fake messiahs called super-heroes and its continuing passion for violence and militarism.) I didn’t consult Hollywood–I listened to friends and fellow church members talk about their gay and trans children. I remembered covenant promises made at baptism. I hear Synod 2022 saying, if you’re LGBTQ+ you are either committed to a life of celibacy or you’re going to hell. No intimate partnerships for you. And I try to reconcile that with the gospel of God’s grace….

      • Johannes Witte says:

        Amen!

      • Keith Vander Pol says:

        Amen!

      • Kirk Vanhouten says:

        Most Confessionalists would have probably preferred seminars with RC Sproul instead of Robert Schuller. Still, heavy following from evangelicals like Colson and Dobson only underscores Paul’s point and leaves me questioning how anyone is surprised by the outcome or honestly consider it a “coup”?

      • Jack VanderPlate says:

        Thank you for all this, Jim. With you, I hear Synod 2022 saying, “If you’re LGBTQ+ you are either committed to a life of celibacy or you’re going to hell.”

        That is just so far from the Christian gospel as to be ludicrous. My wife and I are retired, but were I still active in ministry I would be forced to resign. We recall very often how well the congregations we served welcomed, appreciated and partnered with their gay members. That church no longer exists, and we mourn the loss.

  • Darren says:

    Would you say the that the efforts of All One Body to bring about a different outcome was a failed coup?

    • Sheryl L Mulder says:

      No one at All One Body tried to create a structure to make sure as many Classis that they could only sent delegates that supported it’s position. Providing education for delegates to think critically from another viewpoint is not the same. Additionally All One Body would NEVER advocate anyone’s position on the HSR as CONFESSIONAL nor tried to discipline a church or person for their position.

  • Michael Saville says:

    Interesting. I had no idea I was part of a “coup” when I voted for the HSR and related motions at Synod 2022. I thought I was simply voting to uphold the teaching of the Bible and of our Reformed confessions.

    • CHARLES W VANNETTE says:

      Now you do.

    • Paul Graansma says:

      You did however, vote to end conversion on this issue and exile a large portion of your denomination though. As much as the fundamentalist element of the CRC likes to talk about this being a chance to now “start the conversation,” you knew damn well you were ending it.

      The coup is the exile/discipline/coming-to-heel or whatever you like to call it .

      • Michael Saville says:

        I did not vote to end a conversation but to affirm our confessional teaching and clarify the boundaries for any conversation that is to take place. But you are right, I am not looking to have a conversation about the CRC becoming an “affirming” church or allowing the “affirming” position.

        • Paul Graansma says:

          In this we have the crux of the problem. You are unwilling to have challenging conversations outside the bounds of your understanding of scripture. You are not willing to engage or respect the convictions of a large (now exiled) portion of your denomination.

          • Michael Saville says:

            I am willing to have challenging conversations about many things but not this. I have read or listened to a number of the affirming people such as Brownson. and Vines In my view, their interpretations reflect a herculean effort to get around the plain meaning of scripture. They’re simply not credible to my mind.

            So no, I am not willing to have a conversation about the CRC allowing the affirming position, and I am glad that Synod acted to uphold the biblical and confessional position. This provides a proper framework for any conversations that are to follow and for the ministry of our denomination.

          • Paul Graansma says:

            Michael, I guess we have very different ways of approaching scripture. For me, the real “herculean effort” is to defend a reading that we know has brought grave harm to many people. We know that a culture of exclusion has led to isolation, shame, and high rates of suicide for LGBTQ+ people.

            I feel Synod and the CRC as a whole made little attempt to grapple with this reality. Instead Synod favored closed doors and the silencing of stories. That’s not a denomination I, and many others, want nothing to do with.

  • Steve Van't Hof says:

    Well now, yet another negative connotation coined to describe those who may take issue with the underlying themes so prevalent in the Reformed Journal. Really, are there no Reformed authors out there that might be allowed to put forth a more conservative view? Add some objectivity? (See Kirk Vanhouten’s posts above.) In all the years I’ve followed this blog I’ve seen myself labeled as a homophobe, Islamophobe, racist, gun nut, etc. I guess now, being a partial adherent to the HSR findings, I can add the “Coup Boyz” label. Though I did appreciate the irony (?) of your very last sentence…

    • Connie Kuiper VanDyke says:

      Do you realize that you can’t be a “partial adherent to the HSR findings”? They are now confessional!

      • Trevor Mouw says:

        That is not correct, Connie. The declaration that “unchastity” also includes pornography and homosexual sex is what was declared confessional.

      • James Dekker says:

        Exactly. Thank you, Connie. synod 2022 said “ALL IN” or OTHERS OUT.” I kind of understand what happened at synod 2022, but am still reeling at the process that turned 130+ mostly otherwise kind, loving men into a group that produced the meanest spirited synod I have ever seen.

        • Trevor Mouw says:

          Please describe to me what you found to be the most mean spirited examples from Synod 2022. Because I was there, and it was respectful. Certainly tense, but there was still kindness, respect, cordiality… indeed NOT mean spirited.

    • Chad Steenwyk says:

      Pejorative labels are attached when the argument fails. Yes, those come from all sides. But when those labels are attached, it’s an indication that the name-caller doesn’t really want conversation, dialogue, or understanding. We all have to be careful of this.

  • Timothy Douma says:

    I never dreamt I’d have to consider The Benedictine Option within the CRCNA..

  • Jonathan Spronk says:

    Nearly 30 years ago, I attended 9th grade catechism class with Mrs. DK. When it came time to teach us about the 7th commandment one of us ignorant children asked what “unchastity” meant and Mrs. DK gave us a definition that would have been remarkably similar to what Synod 2022 affirmed.

    Little did we know that Mrs. DK teaching us this radical, nouveau theology that was evidently unheard of in the rest of the CRC. She set us boys and girls toward a lifetime of what later denominational historians would characterize as being Coup Boyz, patriarchs, theobros, confessional warrior children and insurrectionists.

    As Mrs. DK now approaches 90 years-old, the next time I see her at church, I will compliment her thusly: “Comrade, the seeds of revolution you planted in us have resulted in a violent coup d’état of the whole denomination. Come enjoy the forbidden spoils from the presidential palace.”

    Or.

    Mrs. DK could have been teaching us to be biblically and confessionally faithful.
    (I guess either scenario is plausible).

  • Perhaps the most constant plea from the affirming group was “get to know us before you judge us!” Has Bratt done this with the so-called “Coup Boyz?”

    Who are we reading? Who are we most likely to quote in a sermon? Are our churches healthy and producing spiritual fruit? Would a typical sermon tend toward the law or God’s glory and amazing grace? What kind of people are joining our churches? Are we ministering to the poor? Do we care about racism? Do we love Trump?

    James Bratt is far more intelligent than me and would probably tie me in knots if we were to talk, but I would at least welcome a chance to chat and provide a fuller view of those who support the HSR and are glad it was adopted.

  • Jeff Brower says:

    Remember the statement that correlation does not imply causation. Just because the Abide Project, etc, came into being around the same time that the CRC was debating this issue doesn’t mean that they had any significant effect on the process. The vast majority of delegates simply made their own choice after discerning together and reflecting on which position , in their consideration, was more theologically substantive and biblically faithful. Any talk of a coup is simply trying to avoid this painful reality. Besides which, framing it as a “stolen election”, if you will, just makes you sound like…no, I won’t say his name. It’s sad to read how polarizing the language has become here in just the last few weeks. I hope the Twelve can regain its equilibrium and continue to make its unique contribution without going down rabbit holes like this.

    • Paul Graansma says:

      Polarizing indeed. A large portion of the denomination was just told to shut up and get out.

      Can’t get much more polarizing than that can it?

  • James Bratt is a longtime member of the CRC’s institutional and professorial elite, which he humbly regards as “the better part of the CRC tradition.” This “better part” has been eager to save the CRC from itself, to help it progress beyond its rather regrettable past.

    Bratt derides as “Coup Boyz” the 70 percent of delegates from the broader denomination whose stance on sexuality echoes Calvin, Ursinus, Kuyper, Bavinck, Louis Berkhof, and previous synods, not to mention the Bible and nearly all branches of the church for two millennia. Bratt and the Reformed Journal may humbly regard themselves as “the better part,” but they are not the bigger part. Those who lose a landslide vote 70 percent to 30 percent are not victims of a coup.

    • Jim Bratt says:

      Yeah, old elitist me who gave up tenure at a Research 1 university to teach at a small church-related liberal arts college. At a considerable sacrifice of salary and guild prestige, I might add. And, no, I don’t think that the progressive side has a monopoly on the best of the tradition. If you read my book, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America, I show in detail the up and down sides of all the various streams in said tradition. (Hurrah for Herman Hoeksema barring the American flag from the church sanctuary!) The better moments and the worse moments. By tone, substance, and procedure, Synod 2022 belongs in the latter company

      • David Feddes says:

        I have read your book, Jim. indeed, Calvin Seminary required me to read it. When you are required reading for your denomination’s future preachers, you are part of the institutional elite. Your book is subtitled “A History of a CONSERVATIVE Subculture.” It’s not a coup when grassroots delegates of a denomination with CONSERVATIVE roots overwhelmingly reject the sexual revisionism advocated by their progressive “betters.”

        Your evaluation of Synod 2022 is more heat than light: venting like a disgruntled advocate, not assessing like a seasoned historian.

        • Jim Bratt says:

          Well, sorry that tome was inflicted on you. At least you got to cultivate the hermeneutics of suspicion early, right, and without having to plow through Nietzsche.
          An extra-credit assignment for that CRC history course: please compose an essay in which you differentiate between ‘conservative,’ ‘reactionary,’ and ‘populist.’ (i.e., anti-‘elites’). Note along the way how today’s notion of ‘conservative’ has pieces of the classic liberalism which Kuyper, Bavinck, et al. so opposed. And please explain how ‘conservative,’ hold steadfast to the truth in word and deed folks could vote by an overwhelming majority for the most profane pagan ever to occupy the White House.

          • Charley says:

            For anyone here who doesn’t already know, the book is a gem and belongs on the shelf of everyone raised in the Dutch CRC community who cares about their roots.

  • Duane VanderBrug says:

    It takes a long time to make “old” friends, but that’s what you are. 53+ yrs ago you sat on Ritchie’s Koster St steps making coup history as our very young daughter (Maria – now teaching spec ed in AK) listened to you. Always glad to “hear” from you.

  • Lena says:

    The vast majority of Christian Reformed people are conservative and they voted at Synod the way you would expected conservative people to vote on the HSR. CRC people are not Fundamentalists and never have been. They voted to make the HSR confessional because progressives seem to be unclear about what unchastity means. The lay people coming to Synod needed to do what many of our denominational leaders don’t want to do,, which is defend Biblical teaching.. Also, I think it is way past due to have Reformed Journal type blog for conservative CRC folks.

  • Trevor Mouw says:

    “It’s only a deliberative body if they come to my conclusions.
    The standard of ‘real, loving Christians’ is those who agree with me.
    The Holy Spirit believes exactly what I believe.”
    – Matt Jeltema

    • Johannes Witte says:

      Trever, we can disagree and learn to accept some differences how we understand scripture. There can be room in the CRC for the diverse community of believers that make up the CRC.

    • Matt Jeltema says:

      Wrong, Trevor. My comment was simply describing why the cold, callous, and unprecedented process Synod followed can be described as a coup. The church must do better. You can help by listening before assuming and attacking.

      • Trevor Mouw says:

        Thank you for finding this comment. It was supposed to go under yours, but I obviously internetted wrong.

        I see that you’re only doubling down on your approach in this response to me.

        Synod 2022 was not cold or callous. I was there, discussing and debating. I participated in all the (talk about) unprecedented prayer sessions and listening sessions. I laughed, cried, and conversed with the great men and women at Synod 2022.

        For you to continue to make such dishonest statements and assumptions is super annoying. And I reiterate my sarcastic comment here. The only reason you make such unfounded claims is because you don’t like the outcome.

        The Holy Spirit spoke through Synod 2022… and you know what? Our unchanging God didn’t change what He taught us in Scripture 2000 years ago.

  • Johannes Witte says:

    I concur with Jim and Daniel Meeter. They remind us to learn from history. I believe what is happening nationally has had a profound impact on our denomination. I am fearful to know the percentage of my fellow CRC members who have embraced the politics of MAGA. How many of those were synod delegates? Germany was a Christian nation but slowly the church was compromised to justify Nazism. I love my gay brothers and sisters and will never deny their freedom to find love and intimacy in a committed relationship.

  • Rodney Haveman says:

    This conversation has fascinated me. I hear some on either side of this conversation say if you don’t believe the way I do you’re on the outs. The Spirit is on MY side. And then they toss along a comment later on in the thread that criticizes others for saying the same thing. It’s a little mind bending. I’d encourage you to read the thread two or three times through. It’s eye opening.
    The one thing I would add is some folks on this thread seem to treat the Bible as the end of a conversation. The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it. I suppose that’s the lean for many Protestants, but it feels rather stuffy, closed, and unimaginative.
    I prefer to think of the Bible as the start of a conversation.
    “In the beginning, God said,” And we’ve been in conversation ever since:
    Of course, God gets the last word, but I always thought that meant the last word of the eschaton. Between that first word and the last word, God invites us to wrestle with her, and it seems to me that the wrestling in the Word takes us to places we’d be uncomfortable with today (prostitutes, daughters-in-law sleeping with father-in-law, holding up the father who sacrificed his daughter as one of the heroes of the faith, murders as leaders, assassins, spies, terrorists, genocide, slighter of women, children, animals, etc.). But maybe that’s the point. We’re only transformed, really changed when we’re in tension. When we are uncomfortable.

  • Marie VanderLinde says:

    I wonder how many delegates to Synod 2022 have LGBTQ deeply loved family members or friends, clients or colleagues or parishioners, Who are deeply appreciated for their Christian wisdom and integrity and faithful friendship.

    Those of us who have come to the affirming stance are not talking about heterosexual or homosexual one night stands, though God is a forgiving and loving God to us all. We are talking about trothful, faithful, marriages of Christian, created human lovers.

    God’s word is clear, we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and there is nothing that can separate us from the grace and amazing love of God and Jesus Christ.

  • I want to understand this in simple terms. You are talking about two words, “homosexual sex” and it being part of the interpretation of “unchastity” along with other words/actions addressed in the Bible and from the Bible into the Confessions. In this case HC 108 which is given to us as an interpretation of the Bible’s teachings and is a Confession.

    We are not speaking of same sex “feelings”, or having same sex friends, or hugging a member of the same sex, or going to the movies and having dinner and wine with a member of the same sex, or heaven forbid kissing a member of the same sex. We are not even talking about two same sex people making a commitment to heartfelt love for each other, committing to take care of the same sex person in sickness and health, etc.

    NO, we are talking about performing same sex sex acts. For males that means inserting a penis into the rectum or another orifice of another male. For females that means inserting an object into a vagina of one female individually or in tandem. Both the above seeking to create the bodily function of orgasm. I believe those are the basics even though there may be more. Sorry if your sensibilities are compromised, but let us define the two-word term, Homosexual Sex, that we are talking about. The Bible in the Old and New Testaments says that Homosexual Sex as I described in this paragraph is wrong and I cannot affirm it and say, “Go ahead sister or brother, go for it. It is so cool!” I then am put in a position of guilt.

    The Confessions are to aid believers in interpreting scriptures. Synod has the authority to expand on those interpretations and it did regarding Homosexual Sex. Therefore it is “Confessional”. Or we could just say the Bible says Homosexual Sex is wrong and therefore “Biblical”. To simplify, the “B ” word beats the “C’ word every time.

    Before you debate, rant or whine any more know what the two-word term means. Reread the paragraph above that begins with “NO” and then carry on your debating, ranting or whining. You may find you have a better way to steward the time God has given you.

    • Paul Graansma says:

      Hi Ron,
      Thank you for the enlightening sex-ed lesson.

      As crude and oversimplified as your descriptions are, they are certainly true for some SS couples. They don’t bother me, and it would probably shock you to know they don’t bother the vast majority of affirming Christians (by vast majority I pretty much mean all of us).

      Please do know that, graphic descriptions aside, the high suicide rates and death caused by homophobic statements such as yours do very much concern me. I will continue to “whine” because I feel God called me to defend my family and friends, children of God, who are persecuted.

      If this conversation is too disturbing or graphic for you, I can suggest some Veggietale texts that may help you with being more patient and respectful of your neighbors.

      Best,
      Paul

    • June Huissen says:

      I wondered how long it would be before someone actually talked about the homosexual act itself. And it has happened. I am wondering if Ron and maybe others have no knowledge that oral and anal sex is performed by heterosexual couples as well as masturbation. And believe it or not there are heterosexual married couples that do not engage in sex at all. Maybe the emphasis should be on living in committed loving relationships and let God be the judge.

  • Keith Vander Pol says:

    Clay Libolt’s latest posting on his Peripatetic Pastor blog is an interesting companion piece to this RJ article on the recent CRC Synod’s decisions.

  • Suzi Bos says:

    I have followed this conversation closely – I’m interested on a number of levels. I’ve struggled with whether to weigh in or not. The thing that I feel like is missing from much of this back and forth (and honestly from Synod) was a serious consideration of lived experience. I know that we could talk in circles for eternity on our interpretations of Scripture and this verse and that verse and this confession and that doctrine. It’s exhausting. Doesn’t it make you tired? It makes me tired.
    In full disclosure, our family belongs to a fully affirming CRC church. I know this is very distressing to some of you. What I need you to hear is that I understand that. And yet, I am asking you to extend some trust our way. We have spent so many hours sitting with Scripture (some of it with the author of this blog), and praying with some of the most faithful people I know. We are serious about our faith and our witness to the world. We don’t have an agenda. We don’t take this lightly. We have prayed over and over for eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to understand. And we have never felt the Spirit leading us away from being an affirming church. In fact, I have witnessed an extraordinary level of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control as part of this process and, especially, in our interaction with the LGBTQ Christian community (celibate and not). Does that count for anything? Do we believe that the Spirit is at work and that if those things are present, the Spirit is there? I do.

    I never expected Synod to have unanimous agreement and become fully affirming. I understand that the Spirit works in different ways and activates different gifts in communities as the Spirit sees fit. As an affirming person, I never hoped that we would disciple churches for being not affirming enough. What I hoped for is that we could trust each other and God a bit and work together to spread grace and hope in the ways we feel called. I hoped we would seek to partner with each other, not police each other. I hoped we could show the world another way.

    So, I was disappointed. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with that. But I still love the Christian Reformed Church and I still hope we can find a way forward together. The one point I disagree with Jim on is that his work to hold this space was wasted. Not wasted, Professor Bratt. There are still lots of us hungry for a community that can hold a variety of thought and the tension that brings. Don’t give up on us yet. I firmly believe that our best witness to the world would be to find a way through this together.

    • Arlene DeKam says:

      Yes, Suzi. Thanks for this.

    • Ken Tigchelaar says:

      i agree with you Suzi,
      The decision by Synod to include homosexual sex in the list of unchastity considered only the sex act, made no allowance for the possibility of homosexual love, and was unwilling to consider hearing about that lived experience. This in spite of the fact that the Human Sexuality report waxes eloquent about love as “the great mystery”, a mystery too great for us to understand. Unless you’re gay. The unwillingness to see that hypocrisy is the reason that society around us will determine the CRC to be irrelevant. Who can blame them? There are millions of people in the world who have a meaningful relationship with God and don’t know, or care, about Kuyper, Calvin, the Canons of Dort, or the Heidelburg Catechism.

  • Lena says:

    You do not have to deny people same sex intimacy or marriage, Johannes. People are free to make their own decisions. The HSR states that the CRC denomination is not going to celebrate that decision or teach that the Bible is OK with homosexuality or other unchasity. Fundamentalists might continually denounce homosexuality from the pulpit or in written communication. But as conservatives, the CRC has “the third way” now. The denomination can focus on what the Bible actually teaches about sexuality while still accepting all people. The worry for conservatives would be that an affirming church’s teaching on sexuality would mainly consist of the “sinfulness of excluding the ‘other'”.

  • Brad Haverkamp says:

    Thanks so much. I really appreciate you.

  • Todd VanAndel says:

    Ok Boomer

    • Albert Hoffstra says:

      Yes, while not 100% homogenous there certainly is a generational divide on this issue. It seems as though the “woke baby boomers” are frustrated that the next generation does not blindly go along.

      While I likely agree with you Todd… saying “OK boomer” is not ok…. you are descending down to Bratt’s level when he called the generation “Coup Boys” or “Theo Bros.” Since when is it a “coup” for holding to traditional standards.

      If we expect elite’s like Bratt to “stew” more respectfully, we must set an example in conduct – 1 Timothy 4:12

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