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Toolkit Helps Churches Discuss Sexuality Report

November 4, 2020

The Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality has released its report to Synod 2021, making it available to all Christian Reformed Church in North America congregations for reading and discussion in time for upcoming classis meetings and next year’s synod.

Four years in the making, the report provides a biblical foundation for the CRCNA’s stance on such issues as homosexuality, same-sex marriage, gender identity, and pornography.

While offering wide-ranging ways to provide love, support, and pastoral care to people who struggle with sexual and identity issues, the basis of the report comes from an analysis of Scriptures that the CRCNA has turned to in addressing issues of sexuality in the past.

Given that human sexuality issues have already caused fault lines of disagreement and division across the denomination, Pastor Church Resources, in consultation with the study committee on human sexuality, has developed the Challenging Conversations Toolkit.

This resource aims to help small groups in churches listen deeply to the report and to each other as they consider how to respond.

“The report touches on issues in which there are a lot of views,” said Sean Baker, a ministry consultant for Pastor Church Resources (PCR), which is frequently invited to help congregations and classes navigate challenging conversations in conflicted settings. “We know the denomination [and local congregations] could split in some way because of this.”

Aware that the topics covered in the human sexuality report are often challenging for Christians to study and talk about well, PCR saw an opportunity to help congregations begin discussing these topics.

Baker suggests there are substantial rewards from truly listening to and sharing honestly with one another.

“Our attempt is to make every effort to maintain unity, which is a gift of the Spirit. We hope churches can use the tools as a way to practice the love of God and to show Christlike love to one another while discussing what is in the report,” said Baker, who helped write the toolkit.

The 176-page report was commissioned by synod in June 2016, which decided to “appoint a new study committee to articulate a foundation-laying biblical theology of human sexuality that pays particular attention to biblical conceptions of gender and sexuality. The central aim of this theological task will be to provide concise yet clear ethical guidance for what constitutes a holy and healthy Christian sexual life, and in light of this to serve the church with pastoral, ecclesial, and missional guidance that explains how the gospel provides redemptive affirmation and hope for those experiencing sexual questioning, temptation, and sin” (Acts of Synod 2016, pp. 919-20).

When a synod appoints a study committee like this, the committee’s report is published by November 1 before the next synod. By publishing the report early, congregations and classes are given the opportunity to read and respond to the report by means of overtures, which are due by March 15.

“The release of the Human Sexuality Report to Synod 2021 and its subsequent discussion, deliberation, and response represent an enormous challenge for Christians, local congregations, classes, and the entire Christian Reformed Church,” says a toolkit document on frequently asked questions (FAQs).

“Many wonder if our denomination and congregations have the appetite to endure the kind of struggle and pain that accompanied previous disagreements. Some wonder if we ought to just skip the conversation and jump directly to an orderly separation or realignment,” says the FAQ document.

Several stories of people dealing with struggles over gender issues and other conflicts regarding their sexuality are included in the report to help church members better understand some of the painful aspects people are dealing with.

“We believe that challenging conversations among Christians, while sometimes scary, can become an opportunity to deepen our faith and strengthen our churches, not break them down,” said Baker.

The toolkit is a five- to seven-session small-group resource based on some of the best practices recommended by Pastor Church Resources for helping to turn conflicts into opportunities for discipleship and witness.

“With the help of these tools, each group will interact with important ideas in the report and reflect openly about their response to these ideas — all while offering their experience of these issues prayerfully to God and each other,” said Baker.

“Some congregations have been attempting conversations like these for decades, with varying degrees of success,” says the FAQ document. “Others have been dealing with under-the-surface conflict around these issues for years.” But still other churches may “find the contents of the report entirely uncontroversial.”

“A lot of church leaders are aware that just because the conversation is not out in the open doesn’t mean it’s not still important or timely,” said Baker.

“There are increasing numbers of church members and members’ loved ones who are dealing with these issues. They want their church to speak into these issues, but they also want a safe space to ask questions. The toolkit is meant to facilitate both hearing the church’s voice and encouraging honest questions and concerns.”

Two other reports to Synod 2021 are also available at the CRCNA’s Synod Resources page for reading and discussion in preparation for next year’s synod. These are the reports of the Ecclesiastical Marriage Task Force and the Study of Bivocationality Task Force. Each report is also accompanied by a summary in English, Spanish, and Korean.