A day after recommending a report that advises officebearers in the Christian Reformed Church not to participate in same-sex weddings, Synod 2016 appointed a committee to study human sexuality.
The committee, which has been given five years to do its work, is mandated to “articulate a foundation-laying biblical theology of human sexuality that pays particular attention to biblical conceptions of gender and sexuality.”
Members of the committee are to be required to “adhere to the CRC’s biblical view on marriage and same-sex relationships.” Asked about the meaning of “adhere,” delegate Peter Hoytema, the reporter for the committee presenting the proposal, said it means “stick to it with openness to other options.”
Joel Zuidema, Classis Illiana, pressed the point, “How will this [adherence] be found out? How will it go?”
Hoytema said that when members of the committee are appointed they will be asked about it.
Delegate Joe Kamphuis, Classis Red Mesa, said the denomination is not ready to have this discussion. “We don’t listen to each other’s stories. We don’t hear what’s going on in the various classes [regional groups of churches].”
Kamphuis said that five to 10 years from now the denomination may be more ready. Better, he said, to pay attention to the discussions that are already happening, referring to material produced by Classis Grand Rapids East and by a group calling itself the Returning Church.
“It doesn’t matter if we are ready,” said Khary Bridgewater, a delegate from Classis Grand Rapids East. “our members are. We must have this conversation, and we must have it now.”
Ed Gerber from Classis British Columbia South-east suggested that such a study is needed because there are profound differences among members of the CRC. He used the metaphor of a tree with two different trunks coming up and said, ”Let’s take a look at the roots. We keep talking about the symptoms and not the cause.”
Jennie Hengeveld-Misner from Classis Northern Illinois told of a member in her congregation who was in the process of changing gender. Members of the church council wanted to discipline the member, she said, but she asked, “What’s the sin?”
She said in this case the Bible is much talked about but not actually studied and suggested that a study committee could provide churches like hers with advice on how to act.
The new committee is “to provide concise yet clear ethical guidance for what constitutes a holy and healthy Christian sexual life” in the hope that the eventual report will provide “guidance that explains how the gospel provides redemptive affirmation and hope for those experiencing sexual questioning, temptation, and sin.”
The study committee was also asked to decide “whether or not, with respect to same-sex behavior and other issues identified in the study, it will be advisable for future synods to consider declaring a status confessionis. Such a declaration would make one’s view of sexuality a creedal matter. As such, all persons ordained in the church would be required to assent to the official church teaching.
There were dissenting voices. Emily Ulmer, a women adviser, spoke of people who are “post-Christian,” who no longer care what is happening in synods. She said that any report should not be limited “to sexuality this body considers disordered,” but to the whole topic.
Cornelius Hutt from Classis Atlantic Northeast spoke of his fraught relationship with a same-sex-oriented daughter whom, he said, “has been led astray by creative readings of Scripture.”
Synod said the committee will include at least three ethnic minority pastors and/or theologians, at least three faculty members from Calvin Theological Seminary, a same-sex attracted person, a gender dysphoric person, two pastors, a chaplain, a philosopher, and a scientist.
The committee will also include a promotor fidei. More popularly known as the “devil’s advocate,” that person would be assigned to “raise difficulties and doubts regarding the biblical, scientific, and Reformed validity of all arguments presented during the study committee’s work. This person will suggest other explanations and alternative perspectives to those being presented by the study committee.”
Ashley Bootsma, a young adult representative, lamented the lack of young adult representation on the committee. She said of the 13 slots, only two could conceivably be available to people under 25.
The committee is scheduled to submit an interim report to Synod 2019 and its final report to Synod 2021.
For continuous coverage of Synod 2016 including the live webcast, news, video recordings, photos, liveblog, social media links, and more visit www.crcna.org/synod.