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Beliefs about homosexuality by various Christian denominations.

Part 2: The Christian Reformed Church

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The following is continued from the previous essay

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CRC discussions on homosexuality (Cont;d):

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2002: The Committee to Give Direction about and for Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members which was authorized by the 1996 Synod, issued its final report. They reported:

"The process of the committee was initially one of listening, information gathering, study, and deliberation. Many individuals, couples, and groups from diverse locations in the United States and Canada were met and heard. These guests described not only their pain, loneliness, and isolation as church members with same-sex attractions but also their hope that the church can become more of a place where they feel they can belong and openly participate. ..."

"... many congregations had little knowledge of the report presented to Synod 1973 or of its pastoral recommendations. Furthermore, the survey
revealed that guidelines had not, by and large, been effectively carried out in most congregations."

Feedback to the Committee from individual churches repeatedly stressed two topics:

  • Objections to the prayer of repentance that the Committee sent to Synod 1999 who offered the prayer to the churches. "Objections advanced to the prayer of repentance were the lack of culpability, the impropriety of a call for corporate repentance, and erroneous conclusions from the survey results."
  • Objections to the 1973 distinction between homosexual sexual orientation and same-gender sexual behavior. Some felt that the distinction was not psychologically and/or biblically sound. They felt that sexual orientation -- "... the desire itself ... even if the person does not act on that desire" is itself sinful.

The 1973 report differentiated between same-gender sexual attraction and same-gender sexual behavior by referring to feelings of attraction as "homosexuality" and behavior as "homosexualism." Unfortunately, the term "homosexualism" is not often used outside of the CRC. When it is, the term is often used to refer either to feelings of attraction -- sexual orientation -- or to same-gender sexual behavior. This is bound to be a major source of confusion.

The committee concluded that it was required to accept " ... the validity of the church’s current exegesis of those scriptural passages" that condemn all sexual behavior between persons of the same sex. However, in recent years there has been a growing belief among some Christians and others that the Bible is silent on same-gender sexual behavior within a loving, committed same-sex relationship. Some now interpret:

  • the three "clobber" passages in the Hebrew Scriptures (a.k.a.Old Testament) used to attack lesbians, gays, and bisexuals who engage in sex with same-sex persons as actually condemning:
    • same-sex rape, and

    • same-sex behavior with temple prostitutes.

  • a similar number of "clobber" passages in the Christian Scriptures (a.k.a. New Testament) as condemnations of:
    • heterosexuals acting against their fundamental nature by engaging in same-gender sexual behavior while remaining silent about persons with a homosexual orientation;

    • men sexually abusing boys; and

    • men engaging in sexual behavior with angels who are a different species from themselves.

The Committee did conclude that:

"given the thoughtful challenges posed by individuals and churches within the denomination, there may be wisdom, both pastorally and theologically, for the church to address these concerns at some time in the future."

They noted that:

"As a committee, we heard wonderful stories from some homosexual persons about how other members of the church have supported them,
encouraged them, helped them overcome their shame, and admonished them when they needed admonition. However, more commonly we heard stories of the church’s silence and lack of ministry, stories that indicate an unwillingness on the part of the church to talk with them about their same-sex attractions and their spiritual struggles." 1

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"AWARE" support group:

Gays and their gay-positive allies who were members of the CRC in Toronto, ON founded the first AWARE group there in 1983. AWARE is an acronym for "As We Are." and implies that people should be accepted and valued "as they are" independent of their sexual orientation. In 1991 additional groups were founded in London, ON and Grand Rapids, MI. By 1993, a non-profit corporation called "As We Are" was launched with an office in Grand Rapids, MI. A west coast group opened in Burbank CA in 1995.

AWARE also attracted many members from a variety of other denominations, and became ecumenical. Still other members were committed Christians who are not affiliated with any denomination. AWARE held an annual gathering each summer.

As of mid-2013, AWARE no longer has a web site at www.asweare.org, and we can find no indication of its existence as a functioning group. 2

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Slim potential to change in the future:

The CRC debated the topic of female ordination for many decades before finally voting in 1995 to allow women into positions of authority. Some members feel that the decision was made by a denomination because it had become exhausted by endless debate, and in search of peace. Some voices within the denomination warned that if women were accepted for ordination, then arguments for gay and lesbian ordination will logically follow. Their predictions appear to be coming to fruition. Although searches of the denomination's web site and of sermon archives at some CRC churches found no references to this topic, discussions about homosexuality appear to have generated much heat at synod and other meetings. 

As of mid-2013, the stance of the CRC was defined in a Position Statement on their web site:

"Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world. [Celibate] Persons of same-sex attraction should not be denied community acceptance solely because of their sexual orientation and should be wholeheartedly received by the church and given loving support and encouragement." 3

However, if gays and lesbians engage in same-gender sexual activity, even within a loving committed relationship, the CRC views them as being involved in a behavior that:

"... is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture. The church affirms that it must exercise the same compassion for homosexuals in their sins as it exercises for all other sinners. The church should do everything in its power to help persons with homosexual orientation and give them support toward healing and wholeness. ..."

"Since 1973 the matter of homosexuality has come up repeatedly at synod through overtures from the churches and in ecumenical relations with other denominations. Synod has consistently sustained the 1973 position in spite of pressure from within and outside the denomination." 3

Little or no modification of the denomination's position is expected in the near future. Changes in religious belief about homosexuality started in the U.S. and Canada with the most liberal Christian denominations. Many mainline faith groups continue to debate the issue actively. Many in the CRC currently appear to be concentrating on the suppression of free discussion of the homosexual issue. They, like many other conservative Christian denominations, have yet to fully engage the issue openly. Gays and lesbians within the CRC continue to have no effective voice in church committees.

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2013: Response to the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S.:

The 2013 Synod voted 154 to 24 to not reconsider the 40 year old official 1973 position. However, they also voted 135 to 43 to create a committee to consider how to respond to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Such marriage became available during 2005-JUL in Canada. They have since been legalized in the District of Columbia and 13 states in the U.S.

Topics to be considered by the committee are whether:

  • CRC church buildings can host gay marriage ceremonies;
  • CRC pastors can preside over gay marriages;
  • CRC members are required to oppose the legalization of gay marriage, and
  • CRC parents can participate in a child’s same-sex marriage. 4

A Pew Research survey during 2012 among evangelical millennials found that 44% -- almost half -- favored same-sex marriage. "Millennials" at the time of the survey are young adults between 18 and 29 years-of-age. Among Republican millennials, 49% were in support. These values have been increasing by a few percentage points per year and are expected to continue increasing. We suspect that values for CRC millennials would be similar. The CRC will be faced with a difficult choice later in this decade, between:

  • Retaining its 1973 position on sexually active gays and lesbians, accepting a loss in young adult membership with their financial support, and retaining the membership and support from their older members,

OR

  • Retaining its numbers of young adults and their financial support by adopting a policy of acceptance towards the LGBT community and loving, committed same-sex relationships, even while risking the loss of many older members and their financial support.

The CRC is thus between a rock and a hard place, along with many other conservative Christian denominations.

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Beliefs about the nature of homosexual orientation:

The vast majority of religious liberals, secularists and mental health professionals have long taken the position that gays and lesbians cannot be "healed" by changing their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual through the use of any known therapeutic method. They have taught that same-sex attraction is normal and natural for a minority of adults; is unchangeable; it is discovered, not chosen. A persons eventual sexual orientation in adulthood can be detected in early childhood.

Meanwhile, almost all religious conservatives have taught the opposite beliefs: that same-sex attraction is abnormal and unnatural for all; is chosen behavior; and that it can be changed through prayer and reparative therapy.

For 37 years, from 1976 to 2013, Exodus International was the main conservative Christian group promoting reparative therapy to convert lesbians and gays -- persons with a homosexual orientation -- to straights -- persons with a heterosexual orientation. In mid-2013, Exodus apologized for the harm that they had done to the LGBT community. They finally recognized that sexual orientation cannot be changed, and that reparative therapy was both ineffective and dangerous. The decided to go out of business.

Over time, the millennial generation is expected to attain positions of authority within the CRC and other evangelical denominations. It is likely that this generational shift in beliefs will cause evangelical denominations generally to gradually change their beliefs and practices about the LGBT community to be in harmony with the findings of mental health professionals. However it will take a long time and be very painful.

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References used:

  1. "Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members (1999)," CRC web site, 2002, at: http://www.crcna.org/
  2. "As We Are" was a gay/lesbian support group made up primarily of CRC members. A brief article about its early years is at: http://www.qrd.org/
  3. "Homosexuality," Position paper, undated, at: http://www.crcna.org/
  4. Ryan Stuyk, "CRC to form committee on homosexuality, but won’t revisit official position," Calvin College, 2013-JUN-12, at: http://www.calvin.edu/chimes/

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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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