Listen To Article
October arrived over the weekend and with the passing of September came also an end to the month in which most of the Classes in the CRCNA held their Fall meetings. Each meeting of Classis was, of course, the first since this year’s momentous Synod in June and although I by no means have a roundup of what went on in most Classes, there are a few things to note.
It appears that in the wake of Synod and its move to make a certain stance on matters related to LGBTQ+ a locked-in confessional matter, more rather than fewer congregations in the CRCNA have gone on record to say they will welcome LGBTQ+ members. In West Michigan I have heard of a couple such congregations and there appears to be some movement in this direction in some Canadian congregations as well. Whether or how many others may follow suit is impossible to say but it goes without saying that all of this will provide more drama at Synod 2023.
Then, at Synod in June—despite what some saw as an effort to slam the door shut on these matters—Synod claimed that what happened this year was not the end but just the beginning of an “ongoing conversation.” Some doubted this. The HSR itself ratcheted up its rhetoric in the final dozen or so pages to the point—as quite a few people observed—it was clear that this was meant to be the end of the discussion. There was one and only one way to think about these questions and to think otherwise was to become “a false church.” Whereas most all synodical study committee reports over the years invited ongoing conversation, the HSR seemed designed to have the last word.
Even the item that garnered the most attention—making a list of sexual sins a confessional part of Q&A 108 in the Heidelberg Catechism—was framed as actually being nothing new. That part of the Catechism and the word “unchastity” had always meant exactly this—the HSR invoked the commentary of Catechism co-author Ursinus as proof—and so by declaring this “confessional” at Synod 2022, nothing was actually changing. Indeed, the claim that this was merely a spelling out of what had always been there was one of the ways by which Synod dodged the need to have a subsequent Synod ratify this decision. Any new or major change in, additions to, or subtractions from the Confessions or Church Order require the next Synod to ratify the change(s). But since Synod 2022 was not making a change but just affirming what had always been, this was not necessary.
Not a few thought, however, that there was more going on with this confessional business than just pointing out what had always been implied. And not a few suspected it was to provide one more tool to use against anyone minded to be more open to allowing LGBTQ+ people to participate in the life of the church. This “nothing new” confessional affirmation on Q&A 108 looked like something that would soon be weaponized. And even before Synod finished in June, a few delegates in floor speeches did begin to make recourse to this brand new decision as a way to bat down contrary opinions.
Now in some September Classis meetings this matter surrounding Q&A 108 has not become merely a confessional matter but thee confessional matter. One Classis passed a motion that if anyone hesitates over or expresses doubt or concern about what this means or how this is being used, they are now barred from being delegated to the Council of Delegates or Synod.
What’s more, the option for officebearers to file a “personal difficulty” gravamen with their supervising Church Council has also received a lot of scrutiny. At least a couple of Classes have concluded that this type of gravamen is being used as a wholesale confessional dodge and that if someone files one with his or her home Council, that person should also be barred from service to Synod. In a perhaps even more dire vain are growing suggestions that Councils be forced to divulge the names of all who filed such gravamina (the matter is usually held in confidence) so that other bodies can go after these people in formal disciplinary proceedings.
There appears to be a concerted effort to “stack” future Synods in ways that undercut any suggestions from Synod 2022 that there is a desire for continued conversation. Combine this with an increase in CRCNA congregations moving to be more inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community and one can foresee only increased friction and animosity and possibly schism on the road ahead of us. There are so many viewpoints to hear from. But one wonders if there will ever be space to listen to one another. Both ends of the spectrum—and every position in between—think others are not listening, and that may be correct.
Prior to Synod in June I had conversations with people who had been deeply involved with the HSR. Since they sensed or knew I lean in the direction of having contrary ideas on this subject, they also assumed they had pegged my biblical and theological and pastoral position. But when I pointed out that I do not fit neatly into the position that the HSR consistently tilted against, they were surprised. They were surprised I did not think along certain lines but more troubling yet, they seemed a bit taken aback that there even are multiple ways to think about these issues. Despite having spent years studying the issue, it seemed that in the end they had concluded there was only one radical contrary position out there on this matter and if one was not all in on the HSR, then one was 100% all in on a more radical theological and biblical stance.
Might this indicate they had not listened to a range of ideas even as Synod likewise then gave no quarter to multiple vantage points? If so, that is the kind of thing that happens when we don’t actually listen to each other or make space for that to happen. People are shunted into one extreme camp or another and dealt with accordingly, with discipline being the only option for those who disagree for whatever the reason.
Looking ahead on this October day, I fear that the road ahead of us looks pretty difficult.