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“The Bible and Same Sex Marriage: How and Why I Changed from a Traditional to an Affirming Position” — that’s what I called the testimony I shared on February 26, 2023, in a Sunday evening event at Neland Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I am a current member and former pastor.
A large group of people from across West Michigan attended and over 3000 people viewed the YouTube video in the first week after the event.
Several people have asked me why I wrote this testimony and shared it so widely given the 2022 Christian Reformed Synod’s new restrictions on what a CRC office bearer may now believe and teach regarding same sex marriage. These are fair questions.
My first reasons for writing and sharing this testimony have to do with the Bible. It troubles me when people say that same sex marriage advocates only care about feelings or culture, not the Bible. That’s not true.
At the same time, I agree that a concise and accessible statement regarding the Bible and same sex marriage is needed today. Very few people are going to read an entire book or the 142 page Classis Grand Rapids East report on same sex marriage. I think it worked for me to frame a fairly thorough but concise Scriptural overview inside of a testimony of my journey of change. Even my 15 and 17 year old grandkids, not regularly exposed to huge doses of biblical exegesis, stuck with me through 43 minutes of Bible!
My Inbox the week after this event confirms how much affirming people care about the Bible. Parent after parent recalled how much they want both to unconditionally love their queer kids as they are and submit wholly and fully to Scripture. Most parents who reached out to me never believed God was calling them to not love their queer kids as they are. Still, they didn’t know how to square that unconditional love with the interpretations of Scripture they’ve had to endure that harshly condemned their queer child.
Some emails made me physically flinch as people talked about the harm the church has done to them and their queer children. People are starving to be reassured that the Bible means what it says, that “love does no harm” (Romans 13:10). And yes, they welcome a straightforward and unforced interpretation of the five condemnation passages that suggests those passages do not have in view same sex attraction and same sex marriage as we know it today.
My second reason for sharing this testimony has to do with the church. When CRC Synod 2022 not only declared that “homosexual sex” is sinful but gave that declaration “confessional status” — something Synod has never done before — Synod knowingly threw a significant portion of CRC members into deep conflict.
It appears that Synod was comfortable giving those who disagree with its decision two choices: (1) renounce what they believe about LGBTQ inclusion and same sex marriage or (2) be subject to discipline, and, assuming no repentance for their views, voluntarily or involuntarily leave the Christian Reformed Church.
To give life-long, conscientious members of the CRC that ultimatum feels heavy-handed, even violent. I shared my testimony widely to shine a light upon the profound conflict that Synod 2022 cast me and thousands of CRC members who respectfully disagree with Synod’s “confessional status” declaration, who feel like they no longer recognize their church.
Beyond just expressing my deep dismay at the painful consequences of Synod 2022, I also view my testimony as an occasion to ask some hard questions about how the Holy Spirit works through our denominational structures when Synod invokes “confessional status” — this new thing in the Christian Reformed Church.
Do we really believe that everyone in the CRC whose convictions are at odds with synod’s “confessional status” decision must now automatically drop all of their own convictions, even though they also testify to the Spirit’s leading? Is that the nature of Synod’s new found authority when it gives a declaration “confessional status?”
Why does “confessional status” feel more like a power play to me than a statement of core Christian identity? Didn’t we Reformers break away from Rome because we didn’t believe in the absolutist control of the magisterium?
Ponder a bit how this “confessional status” strategy would have worked in the 1990s in the CRC when Synod went back and forth six times on whether women can serve as office bearers. Synod 2022 showed us that confessional status can be invoked by a simple majority vote and without the customary one-year delay for ratification. Would we really have wanted to claim the Holy Spirit guided all six of those self-contradicting synods? And that all six of those synods were equally authoritative upon the church? With confessional status attached to each of those decisions, would we have claimed that people who did not change their minds at all during those years were therefore automatically and a priori out of step with the Spirit half of the time simply because they disagreed with half of Synod’s contradictory pronouncements during those years? At one point or another, every member of the church would have been required to file a gravamen!
This new strategy called “confessional status” raises all kinds of new questions about church authority, the work of the Holy Spirit in the assemblies and protecting the conscience of the individual believer.
Synod 2022 has cast the CRC into chaos. At least four times at Synod 2022 the reporter for the Advisory Committee that recommended elevating our denominational position on “homosexual sex” from “pastoral advice” to “confessional status” assured Synod that the proposed change in status “is not a hammer; it’s just the beginning of a conversation.”
The reality is that wherever you look in the CRC today you see hammers: overtures to shut down the gravamen process which is a gracious church order mechanism to give people who disagree with the confessions some breathing room while they find their way; an overture that lists the eleven churches that need to comply with Synod 2022 within six months or pack their bags; calls to cleanse denominational offices and educational institutions of anyone who doesn’t fit in the CRC as Synod 2022, in one fell swoop, has now redefined it. Pastors who aren’t even necessarily affirming are afraid to try to introduce even a little nuance into this discussion for fear of being labeled as liberal and run out of town. Pastors and congregations are leaving the CRC because they find this toxicity intolerable. Is this what we want for the Christian Reformed Church?
I hope my testimony will offer people a concise example of how one can take Scripture seriously and support same sex marriage. I also hope my testimony will help the church realize there are thousands of CRC members like me who support same sex marriage, cannot possibly renounce views they regard as Spirit-led, and hope they’ll be able to continue to call the CRC their home.