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“I don’t want to see anyone leave, but as Abraham was asked to offer up Isaac in obedience to faith, I see this as an act of obedience to faith.”

Comment by a delegate to the 2024 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in North America, speaking in favor of the ruling that churches unwilling to endorse its condemnation of gay marriage must “disaffiliate” from the denomination; quoted in The Banner.

Of course there were conflicts and disagreements in Isaac’s high school years. He stayed out too late, said his parents, Abe and Sarah VanHollandsma.  He hung out with the wrong crowd, and he didn’t focus enough on academics. But their relationship was warm and loving all the same. They all went on long bike rides together. Father and son loved camping in the north woods, and they were active in the life of their congregation. When Isaac was admitted to a Christian college – one rooted in their Reformed tradition – Mom and Dad were delighted.*

The move to a college campus brought new opportunities and new challenges. Isaac wasn’t sure what subject to study: computer science, like most of the guys on his floor, or philosophy, for the prestige and the assurance of high-salary future jobs?  And he was challenged to understand himself more clearly, intellectually and spiritually and emotionally. His roommate Francis McTaggart, raised in a close-knit Roman Catholic family on the other side of the state, helped him think things through.

It was not until April of their freshman year that Isaac and Francis disclosed to each other that they both identified as gay.** Their stories of arriving at this realization were similar, while Isaac attended a Protestant high school, Francis attended a Catholic one. Neither was a gay-friendly environment, but the boys found teachers and staff who were attentive and perceptive listeners. Each had a circle of close friends of both genders, with whom they could be as open as they wanted to be, but no special or romantic relationships had emerged. 

As their reading and their experience broadened, in summer jobs and family travels and especially at college, each came to the conviction that, if the right person for a life-long commitment should come into his life, that person would be a man, not a woman. But they kept this knowledge mostly to themselves, discussing it with a few close friends but not with family or friends from home. They had lingering questions, after all — and lingering worries about others’ reactions. It seemed wiser to keep a low profile.

Isaac and Francis went their separate ways — grad school for one, into the family business for the other. But they stayed in touch and got together when they could. Gradually each realized that they had already met the person with whom they could build a life together, and a longstanding friendship turned into a loving romantic bond. They began making plans to marry, knowing that their wedding could not take place in either of the churches in which they were raised, yet hoping that family and friends would share their joy in setting out on a new life together.  

One summer weekend when they would both be with their families, they agreed that the time had come to seek the understanding and support of their parents. For Francis, this turned out to be easier than he had feared. 

“This isn’t entirely a surprise,” said Francis’s mother Mary Catharine.  “We are glad you found each other and we wish you well.”  “It’s true, this isn’t the future life we had in mind for you,” added Michael, his father, “but, to quote your namesake the Holy Father, ‘who am I to judge?’”

The VanHollandsmas were ready to listen too, and they too said that Isaac’s sexual orientation was something they had wondered about. Talk about marriage, however, was deeply disturbing to them. “That’s not the way God wants you to live,” said Abe. “But I love you. I want to listen to whatever you want to tell me. I don’t want to pass judgment too quickly. How about if we two take an overnight camping trip to a quiet park for a couple nights where we can talk and reflect?”

So Abe and Isaac loaded tent and sleeping bags onto their donkey – or rather into Abe’s SUV – and set out for Moriah State Park. They opened their hearts to each other along the way, and over the campfire while they cooked dinner, and afterward over the embers. 

“This is the way God made me,” said Isaac, “and this relationship is one in which Francis and I will learn to follow Jesus more closely.” 

“The Bible is clear that marriage is for a man and a woman,” his father responded.  “I can accept your decision to identify as gay – it’s hard, but I can understand it. I can’t, however, give my approval to a romantic or sexual relationship with another man. That’s contrary to God’s law and to our Reformed confessions.”

While they slept that night, each of them felt a loving presence enter their dreams. 

“Do not be so harsh with your son,” said the visitor to Abe: “I do not want you to push him away. There is a lot you don’t know about how fearfully and wonderfully you are made, bearing God’s image in so many different ways.  Reach out, admit you don’t have all the answers, and be reconciled.” 

The visitor said to Isaac, “Try to win your father’s understanding – you know you have his love. Give him some time. You and Francis can wait a year or two before the wedding. But if you do not win him over and he just can’t bring himself to accept your relationship, you will have to accept it. Even if sends you away, you and Francis will still be wrapped in God’s love, and you will find a church family where you will be welcomed.”  

Over breakfast, Abe and Isaac both mentioned their dreams. Both found them moving but also puzzling. 

“I’ve been thinking since I woke up about how we can come to a better understanding,” said Abe, “and I have figured out the only way we can do that. If you break up with Francis and commit yourself to a single life, with no intimate relationships with other men, then you can still be a member of the family. You don’t need to do it today or tomorrow – just show me that you are taking steps toward a complete break and that you intend to follow through. Then you can still call me your father and come over for meals whenever you like. But if you persist in your sinful lifestyle, then – because I love you so much – I can’t let you be part of our life, because you will have disaffiliated yourself from our family.  Go ahead and get married, if you can call it that, to Francis. But then I never want to see either of you again.”

Isaac stared at his dad and couldn’t think of anything to say. He returned home weighed down by sorrow. He said a tearful goodbye to his mother, not sure when he would see her again. But he knew there would be a ram in the thicket somewhere up ahead, a sign that God’s grace is far more powerful than humans’ limited and often misguided judgments.

And as Isaac drove away, Abe turned to Sarah and said, “I don’t want to see our son leave, never to be part of our family again. But I really have no choice – neither did that other Abraham. This is an act of obedience and faith.” 

Sarah wept. 

*The college will not be named, but it is located in western Michigan, and it’s a fine one.

**Everything in this tale is fiction except this episode. Two first-year students in my philosophy classes at one of the unnamed Michigan colleges, suite mates in their residence hall, attended a welcome dinner for a traveling group of Christian college students seeking to raise awareness of LBGTQ issues.  Seated at the same table with my wife and me, one of them told us, “I don’t say a lot about this but I’m gay.”  The other student looked at him in amazement and said, “So am I.” 

Click here to register for July’s Reformed Journal Book Club.
Telling Stories in the Dark by Jeff Munroe

David Hoekema

David A. Hoekema is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and retired Academic Dean at Calvin University, and, in the winter, a Visiting Scholar at the University of Arizona.  His most recent book, We Are the Voice of the Grass (Oxford University Press), recounts the tireless work of Christians and Muslims who came together to strive for an end to a brutal civil war in Uganda. In light of recent developments in the Christian Reformed Church, he is now a member of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, Arizona and he also participates in the worship life of St. John’s Episcopal Church of Grand Haven, Michigan. Hiking, bicycling, choral music, old-timey string bands, and conversation with Christians whose minds and hearts are open to all are among the things that gladden his heart.  


  • Mark S. Hiskes says:

    Wow. This is so powerful and so true. Thank you.

  • Karen DeVries says:

    When I heard this delegate’s comment it struck me that God in fact then *stopped* Abraham from sacrificing his own child in the name of obedience. …

    • Diane Dykgraaf says:

      When I heard this at synod, I thought, “did he just say what I think he said?” It was a moment of, WHAT??? But I also followed that with the thought that Abraham did not sacrifice Isaac -God made a way for Isaac, for Abraham, and for his people. I believe that God will make a way today, too, for all of his children (and parents) to be important in the kingdom.

  • Karl Westerhof says:

    Thank you. Just thank you. This is beautiful, funny, moving, profound, and sad.

  • Emily Jane VandenBos Style says:

    And so it is… that the Old Testament leads to the New. In other words, the creative arts are Always Re-Forming. Thank you for penning this gem!

  • Scott says:

    Thanks for sharing. Powerful for those of us who have lived or watched up close these parent-child relationship. One clarification: It reads “Francis stared as his dad….” Is it supposed to be “Isaac stared at his dad….” I want to make sure I’m tracking. Thanks again, Dr. Hoekema.

  • Jan Heerspink says:

    Thanks, David. So many formative and strange things were said in June. I appreciate your moving story based on one of them.

  • Daniel Bos says:

    The story of Abraham, Isaac, and God’s provision of an appropriate sacrifice in the thicket, is understood as a message for all Israel for all time that God abhors child sacrifice.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Thank you, David. Rings so true, which makes it all the more beautifully sad.

  • John Engelhard says:

    Thank you, David. Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger – how can we in the name of Jesus turn our back on our beloved children? As a PCUSA clergy and now a member of a UCC open and affirming congregation, I am grateful for the full embrace of all who worship and work for justice and equality and peace.

  • Jack Reiffer says:

    Brilliant! Thank you, David.

  • Henry Baron says:

    Thank you, David. This triggers sad memories of students I had who experienced same-sex attraction and parental rejection.

  • David E Stravers says:

    J. Richard Middleton in his book Abraham’s Silence, says that Abraham should have pushed back against God’s command to sacrifice his son. Abraham was wrong to obey without objecting to what he knew was in line with the religions of his day that commanded child sacrifice. What if Abraham had said, “Surely not, Lord. “?

    • J. Groen says:

      Yes! Abe showed some of this chutzpah when hearing the plans for the bomb Sodom campaign and its impact on his one and only (adopted) son Lot. Why did he have a harder time later in life sticking up for his own begottens, Ishmael and Isaac, when urged to snuff out their lives, just to pass a jealous companion’s fidelity test?

      so many lost, but also a few grasped, opportunities throughout the Bible stories for a human to step in and object in the face of a Solomon-sword-sacrifice threat produced by one potentate or other, “Far be it from you! I know you do not favor this path! Surely your potency gives you ability and will to relent from conjuring destruction and calamity! If not, let me absorb the calamity, but spare them.” Who can be found among humankind to dismantle a fidelity test in that audacious way?

  • Dave Timmer says:

    British poet Wilfred Owen re-tells the story of Abraham and Isaac in response to the carnage of the Great War. In his telling, when the angel calls on Abraham to “offer the Ram of Pride” in place of Isaac, “the old man would not so, but slew his son,–and half the seed of Europe, one by one.” Would our un-named delegate add his hearty Amen?

  • David Koene says:

    My response to the Banner article was to submit the following letter to the editor. (I don’t know if they will publish it.) :

    Dear editor,

    In your article “Synod Sets a Course of Discipline for CRC” you mention Classis Quinte delegate Greg Harnden’s remark “I don’t want to see anyone leave, but as Abraham was willing to offer up Isaac in obedience to faith, I see this as an act of obedience to faith.”

    I had the synod webcast on at home at the time he spoke, and, being from Classes Quinte, I tuned in. Harnden contextualized his Abraham analogy with saying that someone had asked him how many churches he was willing to sacrifice.

    Two things are striking to me about the Abraham analogy. First, Abraham was considered righteous because he was willing to sacrifice “his son, his only son, whom he loved.” In this way Abraham is contrasted with the priests of Moloch, who sacrificed other people’s children. Second, in the end, part of the point of the story is that God didn’t actually want human sacrifice.

    Harnden seems to be willing to sacrifice other people’s churches, but not his own. Where then is the proper place for him in his own analogy?

    David Koene

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