Churches Talk About Sexuality
Christian Reformed congregations across North America have been taking on challenging conversations about the biblical theology of human sexuality over the past few months.
In Canada and the U.S. many of these churches are doing this by using the Challenging Conversations Toolkit created by Pastor Church Resources in consultation with the Human Sexuality Study Committee.
This resource featuring 5-7 sessions is meant to help small groups in churches listen deeply to one another as they engage with the Study Report of the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-Laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality.
“The toolkit provides an opportunity to articulate not just what you as a Christian believe about these significant issues but to articulate why you believe as you do,” said Sean Baker, a ministry resource specialist with PCR.
“The toolkit was put together by pastors who recognize as pastors and leaders that we need more tools to structure these hard conversations.”
PCR has worked over the past forty years encouraging CRC congregations to engage in hard conversations — and not to ignore them.
In a letter that goes along with the toolkit, PCR says: “We believe that challenging conversations among Christians, while sometimes scary, can become an opportunity to deepen our faith and strengthen our churches. . . .
“In fact, challenging conversations, when attempted in Christ’s name and for his glory, can be one of the most effective means by which God demonstrates his power and sanctifies his people.”
Baker said he doesn’t know how many minds, if any, might be changed on the issues by using this resource. “But we are likely to be a healthier church and be more Christlike disciples by making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The toolkit is one way to make an effort.
Providing a biblical foundation for the CRCNA’s stance on such issues as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, gender identity, and pornography, the report on human sexuality was scheduled to go to Synod 2021. But because synod has been canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the report will be referred to Synod 2022.
This means churches will have more time to consider this report — and, hopefully, to do so with help from the new toolkit, said Baker.
Bernard Bakker, a retired CRC pastor and the stated clerk of Classis Eastern Canada, took the training offered by PCR in order to be able to train others to use the toolkit.
“The format of the toolkit is to show respect for one another,” said Bakker, who is also a specialized transitional minister who helps congregations sort through challenges they are facing.
After being trained to use the toolkit, Bakker led a handful of members of his own church, Kanata Community CRC in Ottawa, Ont., through the process, which focuses more on listening to others than expressing your opinion on the issue of sexuality, he said.
Bakker has also met with a small group of other pastors for seven, two-hour training sessions.
“The idea, as we go through the toolkit, is to listen and respect others and what they have to say,” said Bakker.
Anthony Jansen, chair of the council at Mission Hills Community CRC in Mission, B.C., said the toolkit follows a process based on restorative practices.
This approach aims to give everyone involved in an issue an opportunity to have their say. But, most important, it sets the groundwork for careful listening to others discuss what they think and feel about a subject. The idea isn’t to always come to a conclusion. Instead, it is about having tough conversations in a safe setting, said Jansen.
In the end, it is about mutual understanding and, where needed, about renewal and restoration of relationships.
“Sexuality is a topic that can make people nervous. There is apprehension — people don’t want to stir the pot,” said Jansen, who is also a member of the Restorative Task Force established by Classis B.C. South-East.
After being trained by PCR to serve as a leader, Jansen has held a few sessions with members of his congregation. Among the first things he explains, he said, is to let people know that the toolkit is about much more than same-sex marriage.
Then, he added, he tells people that the toolkit eases people into addressing the issue of human sexuality. “I let them know we aren’t there to debate but to listen.”
Even though he doesn’t think many people changed their stance on same-sex marriage and other issues by using the toolkit, it was a helpful process to go through, said Jansen. “Just listening to each other is worthwhile,” he said. “It creates a better sense of community.”
Adam Rodeheaver-Van Gelder is a pastor at First CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich., where three small groups have already worked through the toolkit.
“The toolkit is helpful in the sense of taking anxiety out of the room,” he said. “The toolkit is neutral. It helps walk you through the sexuality report.”
Conversations about the human sexuality report are already taking place around the denomination, “so why not do that through a calm, nonjudgmental process?” he asked.
“The toolkit provides a way for people to think through how they view Scripture” and helps them to more fully articulate why they believe as they do, he said.
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