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Synod Recommends Pastoral Advice for Same-Sex Marriage

June 16, 2016
Rolf Bouma, study committee chair: “By not recommending any part of the larger report, this does a disservice to the church, a violence to the work of the committee.”

Rolf Bouma, study committee chair: “By not recommending any part of the larger report, this does a disservice to the church, a violence to the work of the committee.”

Karen Huttenga

After a long-anticipated debate on a report from a committee that spent three years studying how to respond pastorally to the legalization of same-sex marriage, Synod 2016 adopted very little of the advice that came from the majority of the committee.

Instead it recommended the advice from two dissenting members of the committee, advice that was much more restrictive.

Jessica Driesenga, representing the minority position, noted that their disagreement with the main report focused on three areas:

  • whether clergy may in any circumstances officiate at same-sex weddings,
  • whether officebearers, including ministers, elders, deacons, and commissioned pastors may participate in any other way in same-sex weddings,
  • whether members of same-sex couples can also be members in good standing of a church.

To each of these situations, the majority report did not give a categorical no, whereas the minority’s advice, adopted by synod, drew the lines strictly.

Synod 2013 appointed the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance re Same-Sex Marriage with the mandate to give guidance to members and clergy about how to respond to same-sex marriage.

The committee was explicitly instructed to stay within the guidelines of a Synod 1973 decision that distinguished between desire for someone of the same sex, which was held not to be sinful, and acting on the desire, which was held to be sinful.

It was apparent early in the discussion that many delegates were drawn to the stricter guidelines.

Brady Mulder, Classis Lake Superior, said the minority report offers clarity to biblical foundations. “That minority report follows God’s Word as highest authority.”

Andrew Zomerman, Classis Hamilton, said it gives a loving way forward by pointing people back to Scripture.

Chris Kwak, Classis Pacific Hanmi, speaking through an interpreter, said that the minority report offered advice that he could share with Korean friends and family. He said they would find the majority report confusing.

Others said they find the guidelines from the minority are too restrictive. Jenny Hengeveld, Classis Northern Illinois, talked about how she had “been blessed by so many same-sex attracted people.” She said of a same-sex couple, “They had been the hands and feet of God to me. Recently they visited me and asked if it would be okay to come to my church. I didn’t know if I could say yes. . . .”

Jack Roeda, Classis Grand Rapids East, reminded delegates about Synod 1980, which decided that divorced people could be admitted to the church. He spoke of belonging, a theme of Synod 2016, and accommodation.

Belonging requires accommodation, Roeda said. “We know people who are constitutionally created so that they feel and experience same-sex attraction. Perhaps we should accommodate such people.” He said the minority report doesn’t struggle with that.

Bud Ipema, Classis Northern Illinois, suggested it is time to revisit the 1973 decision. “I’ve watched the committee do great work within a dysfunctional mandate,” he said. “To stick us with ’73 and say that we cannot look beyond or before ’73 is to give a dysfunctional mandate.

“We’ve had 43 years in the Christian community of some of the best biblical and theological study on issues of same-sex attraction. I would hope that synod would see the need to give a really good biblical study.”

He added, “I cannot figure out in my 50 years of practice how it’s possible to give love and see it received in the presence of exclusion. I don’t know how that’s done. We must learn to love with inclusion.”

Rolf Bouma, the chair of the study committee, expressed concern that in adopting the minority report the synod is setting policy. “The minority report doesn’t caution,” he said, “it prohibits.” He also asked what “participating” in a wedding means. he asked. Does it mean dancing at the reception? He asked the synod to “give some freedom, some trust.”

A question arose whether the minority report could stand by itself, since it differed from the main report in only three areas. Bouma said no. By not recommending any part of the larger report, “this does a disservice to the church; a violence to the work of the committee.”

Matt Ackerman, Classis Lake Erie, who had told synod that 20 of the students in his campus ministry were watching the synod webcast, praised the report for offering “pages and pages of information to promote informed discussion of who we can engage our culture with truth and grace.”

After more than two hours of debate, delegates voted 110-71 in favor of the more restrictive advice. Synod quickly added a motion to add a reference to that advice in a supplement to Article 69-c of the Church Order, which specifies that “ministers shall not solemnize marriages which would be in conflict with the Word of God.”

In a final act for the evening, the synod, having not adopted much of its advice or recommended most its material to the churches, thanked the study committee.

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