Photo: Karen Huttenga
Michael Winnowski, Classis Wisconsin: “The denomination needs to tell the truth to ourselves, to our children, and to the world God loves.”
Photo by Karen Huttenga

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.


The parameters placed on the committee pre-determine its outcome, dooming the committee's ability to speak for and to the CRC as a whole. In 5 years fewer people will care or believe what the committee says. At least then these inadequacies will be harder to ignore.

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I have mixed emotions about this committee. On one hand, this is an important topic and the source of so much confusion in our culture and throughout the CRC. I hope this leads to greater clarity and unity.
On the other hand, if you were to judge our denominational priorities by what we spend our time talking about you'd say we care most about finances, institutions (college, seminary, World Renew, Synod itself, etc.), human sexuality and diversity. Then we wonder why we're shrinking. How about a study committee on preaching in CR churches? or the prayer/devotional lives of our members? or what evangelism looks like in a CR church in the 21st century? We're letting overly politicized culture warriors (on both sides of these issues) determine our agenda, and we need to get refocused on the basics of biblical Christian ministry: evangelism, justification, sanctification\discipleship.

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"Devil's advocate?" You mean a lawyer. :-)

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But of course. :-)

Good lawyers are always in the role of promotor fidei / devil’s advocate, It's the ones who only advocate for themselves or the rich that I worry about.

We all need skeptics to keep us honest and on our toes.


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Yesterday was my 66th birthday; in five years I will be 71. Five years is a long time. This committee is too little, too late.

I find it ironic that synod could piously lament the evil events of Orlando then continue to fuel the hatred with our unending wrangling and finely-nuanced distinctions. The same-sex-marriage committee report, especially with the minority clarifications, flowed directly out of the previous synodical decisions. In accepting the clarifications while rejecting the body of the report, synod has turned its back on openness and welcoming that even the previous reports had.

The Bible is an extremely messy book. Such is its beauty and power. We don't like that. We like things tidy, even when it means turning our back on our neighbors.

The HC correctly recognizes "love God above all and your neighbor as yourself." It is past time for us to put our hesitations aside and get ourselves on the side of God's love.

Steve, who up to this point has been a life-long member of the CRCNA.

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Well said Mark V! These are all symptoms not the problem. Stop treating symptoms. There is so little focus in our world. The church needs to re-focus on what matters. We are saved by faith through grace and that not of ourselves but a gift from God......... How then shall we live?

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Why did Synod vote down the majority report on SSM and select the minority report if the only people speaking on the floor of Synod were those in support of the majority report? At least that's how this article seems to read as well as the comments above. Was there no verbal arguments made for the minority report? What were they? I'd like to know what the discussion was that caused Synod to support the minority report.

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What a waste of time. For thousands of years we have had an understanding of what a man was and what a woman was. Now in the last few years there's all this confusion about what my sex is.People are not born homosexuals or lesbians. It is a lifestyle choice with a number of contributing factors. Homosexuality up until the 70s was defined as a psychological disorder. It was only under political pressure that it was changed. Now it's an everyday event that you hear about sexuality and people not doing who they are. I cannot keep up with all the letters that define what sex the person is. To tell you the truth I'm tired of hearing about this. The church does not need to enter this fray.

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It is encouraging that many delegates expressed the need to re-think 1973 and the impossibility of loving persons of same-sex attraction while also shunning and excluding them. Because those voices are still in a minority the actions of Synod do not give an accurate picture.

I just hope the committee will represent not just the traditional voices. Unless the committee is balanced it will not be legitimate and do more harm than good.

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Merl, Our sexual orientation is NOT a choice. The CRC has already decided that reality. Only prejudicial folks still believe it is a choice.

For thousands of years we have had gay, lesbians and transgender individuals. Some societies simply refused to acknowledge them. Many Native American cultures, as an example, accepted and had a place for them.

Rejecting same sex marriage continues to have the CRC declare the ennobling supportive love between 2 same sex orientated people as evil. Love = evil. How twisted.

The CRC is loosing members and as a % of the population wise losing faster yet. By clinging to a literal interpretation of scripture and thereby opposing reason and science the CRC will continue its slide into irrelevance.

And all the good the church does helping others in need at home and abroad will become more difficult to continue.

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Don, i don't know how holding to scripture leads to irrelevance and loss of members. In my community the ELC congregation's leadership promoted acceptance of practicing homosexual membership and lost a good share of its membership. i think the same think would happen to the CRC . Marriage is used as an analogy of God's relation ship to his people .I do not see how "gay marriage" could ever do that.

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Harold, you need to get to know Christians in committed, same-sex unions. You would discover they are not like the men of Sodom, they do not fit the Romans 1 profile and their love for each other is in not inferior to that of heterosexuals. Adam and Eve were called to be companions. Are those who are constitutionally predetermined to have same-sex attraction to be denied a companion? Read Isaiah 56, even the eunuch is acceptable to God. We don't all fit the same mold, but all are image-bearers of God, worthy of respect. You owe it to those people to walk with them for a while, get to know them before concluding that God's love for his people cannot be mirrored by those whose sexuality is different from yours.

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God made man and woman. That's it. I believe that all other "identities" and genders, etc. are the result of the fallen world and are sinful. Yes, we want to be inclusive and loving. AND we need to truly surrender our lives to God and His definition of our sexes, appropriate sexual desires, etc. It's God's way or the world's way. We are in the world but not to be of the world. If we are not willing to acknowledge the existence of sin, are we not just opening the door to more sin. We say it is OK to be homosexual but not practice it. That opens the door to all sorts of confusion, disagreement and divide which will likely never be resolved. Man and woman in holy matrimony or celibacy. That is God's way.

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Currently we are not CRC members. Why? It is beyond our limited abilities to believe that the CRC is now actually spending so much time, energy and prayer on the biblical validity of same sex behavior, transgenderism and marriage. Seriously? Come on CRC leaders, put your foot down! Shut the door, apply three dead bolts and screw it to the door frame. Quit trying to please the world. Go back to reading the form prior to distributing communion and explain it. Do you have unconfessed sin? Are you involved in an inappropriate relationship of any kind? What do your business deals look like? Do you have other gods other than God in your life? Lead people to confession and repentance! Like our society you are quickly getting to where you will no longer label homosexuality a sin. I encourage you to put the brakes on now. God will bless you for it!

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I would like to see a committee that studies how to better find our identity in Christ. Sexuality is a very important part of our human identity, but it (as with any part of our identity) can never be pure or holy without Christ. If we want to know what is righteous, we must die ourselves and be made alive in Christ (Galatians 2:20 ).
So I want to explore: how do we really allow God to start working in our hearts? How do we shift our identity from our own ideas and beliefs to His Truth and His Truth alone? What does it mean to pick up our cross and follow Him?
I pray that we are able to love one another without conforming to potentially ungodly things, and that we may ALL be transformed by the power and love of Jesus Christ. We should not look for the solution we want, but rather for the Kingdom that God is bringing about. If Christ is truly at work in our hearts, then (and only then) will our positions be righteous.

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