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Karen Huttenga
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.”
Photo by Karen Huttenga

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Karen Huttenga
Bud Ipema, Classis Northern Illinois: “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.”
Photo by Karen Huttenga

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Karen Huttenga
Chris Kwak, Classis Pacific Hanmi: “Minority report advice is something I can share with Korean friends and family.”
Photo by 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.

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.

Comments

This was disturbing to watch. It was ungracious to the committee and unhelpful to the denomination.

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A very unfortunate decision. It is ironic that synod thanked the committee when the vote showed the majority didn't value the work the committee had completed.

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The committee and it's work and the Synodical deliberations, have been upheld and under-girded by much supportive prayer. I believe that this outcome, is then, our answer to the fervent prayers of so many.

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The decision to stick with a Biblical view was not the easy way to go. But it was the correct one. No doors were shut to those who wish to enter by Grace under Christ's terms.

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Just because the body does not accept a committee's report does not mean it's being disrespectful. How else should they have responded besides saying "Thank you"? The committee did a lot of work, and that should be acknowledged, but that doesn't mean the committee's work should automatically be accepted.

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I too, was saddened to hear the outcome at Synod this year on the issue of same sex marriage. I would have, at least, expected our denomination (our churches) to take a moderating position. But no, they took an extreme position which sees no merit in those who see Biblical warrant for same sex marriage in the church and our society. I can only imagine that this position will disenfranchise our churches from our culture and hinder our evangelical efforts, not only with the LGBT community but with our culture in general. As one person has already asked me, “does the CRC hate homosexuals?” It is difficult to explain anything different when our denomination has taken the position it has now taken. I realize this is a sensitive and difficult issue for Christians to deal with, but taking the extreme position that we have, we will only make the issue that more difficult and harmful. It is very hard to ask God’s blessing on the decision that Synod has made.

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I find it hard to believe that this decision is extreme. I believe that this is a decision that is to God's glory.

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If the question is "does the CRC hate homosexuals" (as above suggested), the answer would be to refer the inquirer to the words of the CRC 1973 report, which make clear that the CRC neither hates nor even faults those who have a same sex orientations, but that it does consider acting upon that sexual orientation to be sinful.

Many who who support "affirming" same sex orientiation will consider the 1973 report to declare that the CRC hates homosexuals, even if the the report says otherwise. There isn't much to be done about that, other than for the persons who so consider to change their minds and read the 1973 report for what it says.

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I can appreciate the feeling that Doug expresses in the above comment. But Doug referred us to the 1973 report and not to the new 2016 report. How many are likely to read the old report when we have the latest edition hot off the presses. The new report states clearly (from my understanding) and the article above states that: 1. clergy may not in any circumstances officiate at same-sex weddings, 2. - officebearers, including ministers, elders, deacons, and commissioned pastors may not participate in any other way in same-sex weddings, and 3. - members of same-sex couples cannot be members in good standing of a CRC church. And of course, it is primarily the ministers and office bearers that model the Christian life to the congregation. How is anyone outside of the CRC, and looking in through its windows, going to suspect this is anything other than hatred toward homosexuals. From all intents and purposes to a person outside the CRC, hatred is the most likely conclusion.

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These guidelines are harsh and invasive. They prohibit all officebearers from not only officiating, which is understandable, but also from “participating” in a same sex wedding. This means, for example that an elder could be disciplined for offering a prayer at her son’s same-sex wedding, a pastor for walking his daughter down the aisle, or a deacon’s “standing up” for his sister. All these situations were mentioned, even attending a same-sex wedding. In my opinion, this is less about pastoral guidance and more more about policing. These are issues of personal conscience for our officebearers, and this kind of ecclesiastical interference has the potential for causing great pain for families, individuals, and congregations.

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These guidelines are harsh and invasive. They prohibit all officebearers from not only officiating, which is understandable, but also from “participating” in a same sex wedding. This means, for example that an elder could be disciplined for offering a prayer at her son’s same-sex wedding, a pastor for walking his daughter down the aisle, or a deacon’s “standing up” for his sister. All these situations were mentioned, even attending a same-sex wedding. In my opinion, this is less about pastoral guidance and more more about policing. These are issues of personal conscience for our officebearers, and this kind of ecclesiastical interference has the potential for causing great pain for families, individuals, and congregations.

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The sadness of this inaction is that once again the church will be 20 years behind the times. How come the Spirit is not leading the denomination rather than the legalists? Sad given that the NRA can put guns everywhere and we cannot put our LGBT friends in our pews equally with the rest of us sinners

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