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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.
Thank you Duane, for taking the courage to share your testimony at Neland. It was beautifully done.
With every action there are always intended and unintended consequences. Did Synod truly consider how this might play out practically in the church? I disagree heartily with the actions of Synod 2022 and have disagreed with past actions but still remain a member of the body of Christ at a CRC church. For these are my brothers and sisters in Christ whom I love. What choices does Synod leave us with?
Thank you for your courage in making this testimony. I have been an ally of Gay folks for a long time taking such a stand always leads to some resistance.
May God bless your courage.
Mark, so glad to see your involvement in the Church and this forum. It’s been many years since our paths crossed at Hope College.
Thank you Duane for the work you are doing!
Duane – Thank you.
Wonderful. Well worth watching the whole video. Patient, candid, generous, thorough, humble, convicted, compelling. Doesn’t answer every question, one can’t, doesn’t condemn the traditional position. You can skip the questions at the end without missing much.
Your appreciation of my testimony means a lot. I remember our connections back in the ?? 90’s? when you were at Central Reformed and I was at Neland? Thanks, Daniel.
Yes, and through John and Ruth Hoekwater. As you were speaking there in the Neland pulpit, I remembered Ty Hofman, in his robe, and he would have been supporting you. And I remember the Kromminga brothers, and the warm and generous NT interpretation of Holwerda and Andy Bandstra, and the OT teaching of Clarence Vos, and all of them, from what I can tell, looking back, would have been there with you, if not in agreement, then at least in maintained fellowship. Yes, the CRC has changed.
I hear your anguish and your pastoral heart for our queer siblings, for pastors and church leaders, for parents and for the entire denomination. This essay and your testimony accomplish a brace of goals. You illuminate scripture and make clear the need to undo the harm of Synod 2022.
Kudos to you, and thanks be to God, who loves us all.
Your testimony did for my wife and me exactly what you hoped it would. You shined a light on a truth about the scriptural basis for same-sex commitment that we have held dear. Thank you. We will be sharing your video testimony far and wide.
I too am welcoming, affirming, and fully accepting of same sex marriage and our LGBTQ+ siblings, so I offer this with my own life alongside your situation, except I’m still an active clergyperson in the RCA. I believe staying and continuing in the conversation is important, vital even, but at some point, I wonder if we are called to live with the consequences of our beliefs, and when those who make decisions say we are no longer welcome; we are part of the reprobate; we are outside of the grace and love of Christ for our confession does not fit within its community, must we leave. I’m not sure. The RCA hasn’t quite reached this confessional status, not sure we could given how we make our confession, but I have wrestled with how we know its time to leave or how we know we’re meant to stay in the conversation. I’m not sure, but I wonder if Neland Ave. would thrive outside of the CRC. I bet it would, because I believe it has responded to the work of the Spirit in its midst.
A friend wrestling alongside you
Thanks, Rodney. You’ve written so sensitively and helpfully. And you’ve named the tensions that churches like Neland and pastors like me face. We trust the Holy Spirit will lead us all! Pray for Synod 2023!
Thank you, Duane.
Thank you, Rev. Kelderman. Before responding, my wife and I viewed your testimony. I’ll simply say “ditto” to Daniel Meeter’s response above and add another word of appreciation and support from a sister and brother in Christ in the RCA.
Thank you Duane. I watched the video and now read this entry. Nothing you shared is new to me as I have done a lot of reading on the subject, but, knowing I have company such as you to share my affirmation and conviction with, gives me great solace . Shalom Duane.
Six months after my mother died,
I sat across from my father
in their living room
To say out loud
that I was amiably
divorcing my long-time husband
to live with my long-time
My father said
Your mother would never
and you’re going to hell
I said—this is how I think about it, Dad
If you get to heaven
before I do—
and I never show up—
it will be okay
it will be heaven
And if I get to heaven
before you do—
I promise you
when you show up
I will not say
I told you so
And I wouldn’t anyway
it will be heaven
© Emily Jane VandenBos Style, 2000/2020
—previously published in Paterson Literary Review
Thank you Emily Jane VandenBos. I wish I could buy your a cup of coffee somewhere within 50 miles of 49506! Short of that, God bless you!
Duane, it would be a joy to converse over coffee with you, I’m sure. Thank you for giving voice to the truth/s of your journeying with ongoing learning—involving both your head & your heart. Blessings on all those of us who keep on journeying. In the old days, I knew it to be called “the path of sanctification.”
Thank you for your testimony.
Thank you for listening.
I confess that being on the outside enables me not to understand. The more I read many an entry the more I wonder who or what’s worshipped, worried about, held in the love of Jesus. At the end of language there is either love or . . .
I’m so relieved I’m not alone as I face not signing a statement of faith coming my way as an elder in the CRC. To leave in a huff would certainly damage the Church, but to resist efforts to push me out is tiring. Promoting churchs or individuals to leave the CRC in the subsequent FAQ would seem to indicate a firm desire to rid the church of many of us. Let’s hope synod 2023 rectified the mistake.
Thank you, Duane, for framing “a fairly thorough but concise Scriptural overview inside of a testimony of my journey of change.” And for suggesting the burden of proof isn’t always with those who read those five texts “progressively.” You’ve given us a gift and we appreciate your courage.
Aside: words are confusing these days. Instead of reading “progressively” one could say you are reading “faithfully” but that sounds conservative…hmmm.
Also, while I’m at it, is it good to be “woke” or not? I grew up thinking it was embarrassing to be asleep at the switch….
Ephesians 5:13-14 is enlightening:
13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Let’s wake up to the idea that bad fruit is a problem.
Let’s follow our good shepherd (like sheeple?!) into green pastures.
Thank you for having the courage to open your own mind and now to attempt to open others.
Is there a text version of this message available? Would be interested to read it.
i can email you a manuscript of my presentation if you want to give me your email address.
I would appreciate that as well, if possible. email@example.com
Thank you, Duane! I sincerely hope and pray that many who oppose same sex marriage will find and take time to watch the YouTube video of your testimony. For those who do, at the very least I hope they will be able to see and respect your hearts desire to understand and correctly interpret the meaning and messages of the passages so often used to support the condemnation of same sex relationships.
Thank you, Duane. Where can I find a copy of your testimony?
How Far Have We Wandered
How far have we wandered from the heart of God
when we scorn and shame
those who have mustered the courage
to express the deepest cry of their hearts?
They who have explored their inner landscape
–where many are afraid to go—
and found what and who can truly give them life?
They dare to name their joy
while others hurl unearned labels at them.
They claim their bodies, stake out their homesteads,
listen to the quiet authority of their worthiness.
Meanwhile, religious people have the audacity to insist
that what the brave ones know to be true
is a lie
on the basis of what somebody told them God doesn’t approve of.
Ancient words attempting faithfulness
are used to condemn
while the language of love and inclusion
Trusted leaders eat at the forbidden tree
of the knowledge of good and evil,
but they deny others a place
at the healing banquet
to which all are invited.
Lay down your forbidden fruit,
your facile judgments.
Let your fellow humans teach you
how to listen to God
through your own heart.
Copyright Deb Mechler, 2022
Dear Poet Deb, thank you for this voicing! Yes, may we let our sibling humans/ Teach us how/ To listen anew/ To how the Creator/ Keeps on speaking/ Through others/ If only we have/ The heart to hear. With gratitude for the ways that poetry invites us further into Conversation with our selves and each other. Respectfully, Emily
Thanks for saying it in your own way too, Emily.
As one who came to an affirming stance BECAUSE of my continued study of Scripture and not IN SPITE of it, thank you! It is very painful to be glibly labeled as having “given in to culture” and painted with similar hurtful taglines. I see such fear in the church and in the politics of my state (Iowa) that cause knee-jerk reactions and laws that hurt more people than they help. Instead of listening to the still, small voice, so many feel there is a need to react swiftly in order to emphasize authority. And all the time, I feel the millstone dragging behind these actions, ready to plunge us into the sea.
Thank you, Duane, for standing on the side of God’s love. I listened to your talk and very much appreciate your willingness to think hard about this issue, study the scriptures and come to a different understanding. I also am grateful that you have been willing to take the risk of speaking about as a retired CRC pastor. I see that some others have shared poems in response, so I’ll share one of mine. It was first published in my book “Singing Back to the Sirens”(Unsolicited Press, 2020):
How Calvinism Came Between Us
Yes, my mother loved me beyond measure,
never even shunned my women lovers
for fear of losing me.
Margaret’s coming home with her friend,
she told people in 1983.
Margaret bought a house with her friend,
she told people twenty-three years later.
But she couldn’t—wouldn’t—say girlfriend.
Didn’t ask much about those women either.
I never got to hear: How did you meet?
What do you like about her?
Do you think you’ll get married?
Those were the questions she saved for
my nephew, who dated the appropriate sex.
One time I traveled all the way to Florida
to cry with her when a girlfriend left me.
I just want you to be happy, my mother said.
It was the best thing I ever heard.
Decades later, finally happy, I told her
of my new love. She barely smiled.
She used to say she’d walk through fire for me.
She must not have foreseen my fire for women.
She’d been raised on Leviticus, the letters
of Paul, her church’s statement on gays.
What more did I expect?
I knew the answer the night she died,
when anger took me by surprise:
A lot more. A whole lot more.
Copyright, Margaret DeRitter, 2020