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Religious Tolerance logo

Beliefs about homosexuality by various Christian denominations.

Part 1: The Christian Reformed Church

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bullet "I wish I had someone who would look into my tear-filled eyes and simply say 'God loves you for who you are!' " Anonymous gay youth, a member of "AWARE." 1 

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The denomination:

The Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC) is a conservative Christian denomination founded in 1857. It is an evangelical "Protestant church in the Calvinist tradition." 2 They sponsor the Back to God Hour which is heard on many Christian radio stations. They had about 300,000 members in 1995, mostly from the U.S. Northeast, Midwest, and Western coast as well as Canada. Total membership had dropped to about 275,000 by 1999. Their membership in 2012 was about 252,000. For historical reasons. Many of its members are of Dutch ancestry. 

The CRC did not allow women to hold positions of power until 1995. They encourage the building of private Christian schools. They condemn divorce except in cases of adultery. They condemn abortions except in the very rare cases when they are necessary to save the life of the woman.

A "classis" (plural "classes") is a local level of church organization that has authority over multiple congregations in a defined geographical area.

The CRC holds annual synods each June.

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CRC discussions on homosexuality:

bullet 1973-JUN: Their 1973 synod stated the denomination's official position on homosexuality. They called for compassion towards gays and lesbians, saying that:
bullet  "the church must exercise the same patient understanding of and compassion for the homosexual in his sins as for all other sinners."

 The synod also declared that:

"homosexualism -- as explicit homosexual practice -- must be condemned as incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture."

There appears to have been little discussion about homosexuality over the next two decades. One reason might have been the distraction caused by the denomination's growing debate over female ordination.

bullet 1995-OCT: Classis Grand Rapids East: A chronic state of tension appears to have existed between the local classis and some professors in the nearby Calvin Seminary -- the official ministerial training institution for the CRC. During the early 1990s, some seminary professors had taken individual actions to pressure the classis into taking conservative views towards homosexual behavior. During 1994-OCT, the classis debated a majority and minority report on homosexuality that had been submitted to it. They rejected the minority report that called homosexual behavior a distortion of God's plan for sexuality and stated that sexual activity outside of marriage is disobedience. They adopted an ambiguous statement instead. This was seen by many in the CRC as an action which water down the 1973 statement. In an unprecedented move, at least in recent times, 14 Calvin Seminary professors sent a a joint letter to the classis, criticizing its decision. They felt that classis had been reluctant to affirm the moral stance, and the theological reasoning behind, the 1973 report. 3


1996-JUN: Synod 1996: Delegates approved the creation of a committee to restudy the issue of homosexuality, and:

"... to give direction about and for pastoral care of homosexual members in a manner consistent with the decisions of Synod 1973 (Acts of Synod 1973, Report 42)." 4

Delegates were concerned about the makeup of the committee; they wanted assurance that the committee membership would not represent the full range of beliefs within the denomination concerning homosexuality. They insisted that all members must support the 1973 statement. That is, there would be no LGBT or LGBT-positive voice on the committee. This guaranteed no change in the Church's position. A roll-call vote defeated a motion to add Rev. Jim Lucas, a celibate, openly gay minister, to the committee. A second vote rejected the the entire proposed membership of the committee. The responsibility to appoint committee members was assigned to to the denominational board of trustees. The committee report was finally issued in 2002.

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1997-OCT: Freedom of speech: Calvin Seminary's publication, the Calvin Seminary Forum is sent "to all church councils... as well as to significant contributors to the seminary." 5 Referring to the 1973 CRC statement on homosexuality, seminary president Dr. James A. DeJong wrote:

"People are free to disagree with it, some claim, because we are not bound by synodical decisions. So, some disagree openly -- in personal conversations, on the internet, in articles in church papers, perhaps even in classrooms or from the pulpit. We should tolerate, even welcome these voices, it is said. These dissenters have a right to their opinions and to express them. By giving them a platform in the church the church tests its positions, learns, and moves forward. Even church leaders, office bearers, have claimed this right for themselves and for others."

He was concerned that people will be confused "when the church deals with such dissent in a vacillating or indifferent manner." He felt that dissenters should be able to send an overture (resolution) to a CRC Synod giving biblical support for their position, but should not otherwise advocate any other change publicly.


1998-APR: Study conference: Hope Christian Reformed Church in Oak Forest, IL (a suburb of Chicago) held a homosexual study conference, called "Conference of Hope." This led to numerous protests and a formal call to "rebuke the sponsoring church, pastor, and organizers of the conference." At a meeting in 1999-MAR, Classis Chicago South ruled that the conference:

"... did not provide for the proclamation of the Christian Reformed position on homosexual acts."

They rejected a request to require two ordained ministers involved in the conference to:

"explain to classis their belief and teaching on chastity and to state clearly whether or not they believe and teach that all homosexual erotic acts are unchaste." 6


1999-JUN: Synod 1999: Delegates accepted, with modifications, the report of a synodical study committee which investigated pastoral care for homosexuals within the denomination. The report called their churches:

"... to repentance for their failures to minister to those who experience same sex attractions."

Dr. Melvin Hugen, chairman of the committee commented:

"We have not done what Jesus did, sit down at table with those who are in public sin."

The delegates voted to change the text of the report at one point: "Scripture seems to forbid such sexual intimacy with persons of the same sex" was changed to "Scripture forbids..." No wiggle room was to be allowed.

A resolution was submitted by the First Toronto CRC. It had been prepared by Dr. Henk Hart of the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto and former CRC minister Jim Lucas. Dr Hart lost his license to exhort (preach as a lay person) because of his pro-gay views. Lucas lost his ordination status because of his endorsement of committed monogamous same-sex relationships. The First Toronto overture noted that:

"very recent history in our denomination provides evidence that people who discuss views that deviate from [the CRC's] 1973 [declaration on homosexuality] can expect censorship in one form or another."

Hart and Lucas had circulated a petition calling for a "safe place" to discuss homosexuality within the CRC. It was signed by over 300 CRC members, including almost three dozen ministers. The Toronto overture:

"asked the churches to consider whether same-sex partners should [be permitted to] take communion, as well as to consider how to respond to members whose views differ from [the CRC's] 1973 [declaration on homosexuality]." 7

With "no discussion, debate, or public announcement," the Toronto resolution was ruled out of order. "CRC General Secretary Dr. David Engelhard simply announced that the synodical officers were recommending that no new materials would be added to the synodical agenda without specifying what those materials might be." 8

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

  1. "A gay youth's story," As We Are, at: This group and web site are no longer online
  2. The Christian Reformed Church's official home page is at:
  3. "Calvin Seminary Professors Urge Classis Grand Rapids East to Affirm CRC Synod's Ruling that Homosexual Practice is Sin," Christian Renewal/United Reformed News Service at:\
  4. "Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members (1999)," CRC web site, 2002, at:
  5. "Seminary President to CRC: All Christian Reformed Members 'Obliged to Support' Synodical Stance on Homosexuality," Christian Renewal/United Reformed News Service at:
  6. "Classis Chicago South Criticizes Hope CRC's Homosexuality Conference," Christian Renewal/United Reformed News Service at: 
  7. "CRC Calls Congregations to Repent of Lack of Ministry to Homosexual Members," and "Christian Reformed Church Calls Congregations to Repent of Lack of Ministry to Homosexual Members; 'Nervous' synod delegates express fear of news media response," Christian Renewal/United Reformed News Service at:
  8. "CRC Synod Rules First Toronto Homosexuality Overture Out of Order," Christian Renewal/United Reformed News Service at:

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Copyright © 1998 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-JUL-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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