A peer group of pastors and a hospital chaplain have been meeting regularly to discuss the topic of human sexuality. They are supported by a peer learning grant from Pastor Church Relations.
As the peer group meets, they are using the 2016 book Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church.
“The book has four authors, who present different perspectives, and I find it helpful to see how they interpret the Bible when it comes to this,” said Hitomi Kornilov, a chaplain at the Chesapeake Regional Medical Center in Norfolk, Va.
Being part of the peer group, she said, has been a valuable experience. She finds comfort and safety in learning about this issue from her peers.
“I get to hear stories from different churches, especially of how to minister to people with a homosexual orientation. It makes the issue more real,” she said.
Seeking to provide more pastoral guidance on this topic to the Christian Reformed Church in North America, Synod 2016 set up a committee to study what Scripture has to say about human sexuality. The committee was given until Synod 2021 to “articulate a foundation-laying biblical theology of human sexuality that pays particular attention to biblical conceptions of gender and sexuality” (Acts of Synod 2016, pp. 919-20). An interim report is due to be presented to Synod 2019, which meets in June.
Kornilov’s peer group chose to address this topic because it is one that the denomination is discussing and it is one that they, other churches, and the culture at large, are seeking to better understand.
Doug Bratt is a pastor at Silver Spring (Md.) CRC. Like Kornilov, he appreciates the chance to discuss this issue among peers. “I am very grateful for the safe space my colleagues are making for discussion and exploration of this very sensitive but important issue," he said.
Three of the members of the current peer group have been meeting to address other topics for about 10 years with the help of Sustaining Pastoral Excellence grants. They have appreciated the opportunities these grants have given them to talk about various issues and to learn from each other. Meeting previously also has helped prepare the way for what they are currently sorting through.
“The really significant value of our discussions together on this topic is the level of trust we have built up in our group,” said Rev. Gary Roest, pastor emeritus of Ocean View CRC of Norfolk, Va.
“This gives us the freedom to think out loud and dare to challenge our own traditional opinions among peers who are part of the same tradition of faith.”
As they meet, the group especially focuses, he said, on how best to respond pastorally to those who identify as homosexual and yet face struggles as members of the Reformed tradition.
Peer group members, he added, have been able to gain “appreciation for the complexity of this topic and the need for much grace in remaining both faithful to the Scriptures and having compassion for people who struggle with this issue through no choice of their own.”
Questions raised during the discussions include some like these: Is it possible that committed, monogamous, covenanted same-sex marriage could be a faithful expression of Christian discipleship? Does the Bible leave room for same-sex attracted people to be intimate with each other? How could the church respond to the needs of same-sex attracted people?
Petr Kornilov, Hinomi’s husband and the current pastor of Ocean View CRC in Norfolk, said the purpose of the group is not to come up with any statements on the topic. Rather, they have gathered to examine the varying views on the topic.
“Our Scripture presents a complex range of human sexuality, and history and culture factor into biblical interpretation on this matter,” he said. “We have learned that Christians who hold affirming views use Scripture to support their stance. We have learned that it is crucial to ask specific questions and to speak with precision.”
In the book they are reading, two scholars defend the traditional view, and two others defend an affirming view on same-sex relationships. All of the authors also address biblical and theological questions and reflect on pastoral questions for the church.
Petr Kornilov, who is new to his church, said that he is not aware of any homosexual members in his congregation. Nor is it a topic he has, until now, thought seriously about, he said
However, joining the peer group has helped him to better see the nuances of the topic. “This is something our denomination is struggling to come to terms with, sometimes with strong words,” he said. “It’s nice to have a conversation that is scaled down in a circle of friends.”
So far in her few months as a hospital chaplain, Hitomi Kornilov said that she has has not worked with a person who has openly talked about being homosexual. Before being part of the group, she said, she may have had a hard time understanding the issue and how she could best minister to such a person.
But now, she said, she has a better idea of how to respond. Her mind and heart have been opened up, she said, and, “Even if someone else’s view is different, I think can understand them better.”