We Must Listen AND Respond

“Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world.”

Ouch. That is the opening line in the position statement on homosexuality of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. I wonder how many gay individuals had a chance to review that before it went to press. I’m guessing not too many. That is a hurtful and embarrassing statement. I am ordained in the CRCNA. This statement does not represent me.

Efforts are made in this denomination to welcome and minister to/with LGBTQ individuals. But when the opening line is that you represent something disordered, do you really think that will be received as a genuine offer?

Perhaps it’s a backhanded compliment for a denomination that believes in total depravity. We’re all broken… but you’re beyond broken, you’re disordered. And disordered in such a special way that we put you in your own category. Oh, and if you decide to do what human beings do and have a relationship with someone, you’ll never be able to be a member here, let alone hold an office.

all loveThe Pew Research Center has researched that young people are more accepting of homosexuality than older people, and other studies have shown that intolerant/unaccepting views of gay people is a leading factor for young people who walk away from church. The state of Indiana is finding that such an approach is not great for economics either, as the hashtag #BoycottIndiana immediately gained steam. (A helpful article in the Atlantic shows that there are important differences between Indiana’s law and other state/federal laws.)

People in the CRCNA know the data on young people leaving church and intolerance toward nontraditional orientations being a factor, and therefore the issue came up at the annual Synod gathering in 2013. A motion to reexamine (understand: not change, just talk about) the official position was defeated 154-24. People voted overwhelmingly against even having the conversation. What was decided was to create a committee charged with “giving guidance and clarification” on applying the church’s current position, which was formed in 1973. Good luck, committee.

In the meantime, there are encouraging signs in the broader Reformed world. A large Reformed Church in America (RCA) church in San Francisco decided recently that it will no longer ask members who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender to remain celibate.

“We will no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation and demand lifelong celibacy as a precondition for joining,” senior pastor Fred Harrell Sr. and six board members of City Church, one of the largest members of the Reformed Church in America denomination, wrote in a letter emailed to members earlier this month.

“Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community,” the letter states. “‘If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.’ This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”

We must listen and respond. Yes.

Laura Turner, communications coordinator for City Church, said City Church’s leadership spent nine months debating the new policy as well as reading the gospels, books by evangelical theologians and social science research.

“Churches are slowly coming to recognize that if God is bringing people to them who are LGBT they have to meet them where they are and not demand that they change,” Turner said. “Telling LGBT people they have to change before they can become Christians is leading to depression, suicide and addiction and we won’t do that anymore.”

Yes. Yes. And yes.

I’m encouraged by this development, as well as the work being done by Room for All and other congregations in the Reformed Church in America, a sister denomination to my own.

As a church planter in the CRCNA, having formed communities in Traverse City, MI and Washington, DC—we would have gay people join us, and they nearly always felt a need to ask: “Are we welcome here?” My response was always, “Yes. Without a doubt. You are welcome here.” I wish we had been more vocal about this publicly though. I think we felt a need to keep awareness of that approach local (for funding reasons and/or compliance), and I’m guessing there are other communities in the denomination who feel the same.

One of the reasons I love gatherings like Pub Theology is because this kind of thing is not even an issue. It is just plain obvious that everyone is welcome. There aren’t barriers, whether you’re gay, straight, a believer, a non-believer, a doubter, an atheist, a Baptist, WHATEVER. You’re a person, and we want to hear your voice, so pull up a chair. Genuine community should be more like that. I often hear comments like, “Man, I wish church was more like this.” But that’s another article.

There are minority voices in the CRCNA for change, including a group called: All One Body, and a Canadian congregation that has bravely had a position similar to City Church for years. People saying: “You are welcome here, no matter your age, race, gender, or sexual orientation. We are all created in the image of God.” I think those voices will only grow, or, sadly, leave. So I’m adding my voice, as small as that is. It’s past time. We must listen and respond—whether in our denominational structures, state governments, or local communities—wherever we find language and practices that dehumanize and discriminate, especially when we do that in the name of Jesus.

[Clergy member? Join me and sign this petition for Clergy United Against Discrimination]

In this holy week, we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem, the heart of his community’s religious tradition and leadership. He was both prophetically angry and heartbroken. This line stands out: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all people.”

Amen. May it be so.


IMG_20150330_224309Bryan Berghoef is a pastor, writer, and author of the book, Pub Theology: Beer, Conversation and God.  He insists that good things happen when we sit around the table together and talk about things that matter, and what better setting than at the pub, over a pint. Bryan has been hosting pub conversations since 2008.


ADDENDUM: I am adding some comments from someone who helps give more of the history of the denomination on this issue, including the origins of the 1973 position statement: [brackets mine]

“The ‘disordered’ condition in Synod 73 means MEDICALLY disordered, – mentally ill. It’s there in black and white. The term is not only insulting, it’s a lie, since the medical profession changed their stance, removing homosexuality from it’s diagnostic list of mental diseases SIX MONTHS AFTER SYNOD 73 WAS WRITTEN. That’s forty years ago. [Cornell University: “In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders, and patients practicing homosexuality were no longer treated as if it were a disease. Thus, since its conception in the early nineteenth century, the scientific definition of homosexuality has greatly evolved; this evolution has been closely associated with the progression of the social and political definition of homosexuality as well.”]

In 2002 the CRC realized that gay people were non-existent [or in the closet] in the church, so they pushed Synod to offer guidelines for ministry. I appeared before that committee and stressed that you can’t minister to any gay people today without acknowledging that their medical status had changed. I brought statements from medical associations that totalled almost two hundred thousand heath professionals. The response from the committee chair, Mel Hugen, was “I’m sorry, but you’ve failed to convince me”. There was no further discussion. So, TWENTY-NINE YEARS after the medical profession declared that gay people were not medically sick, the CRC continued to assert that the medical profession still claims they are. All the ‘ministry’ in Synod 2002 is geared towards ‘ex-gay’ ministry, which the report tries to pass off as ‘the medical profession’. There is not one single medically accurate statement about gay people in this report. Now that Exodus has failed completely and collapsed, the CRC still wants to pretend nothing has happened. [Exodus was an ex-gay ministry that closed in 2013 and apologized to the gay community. It’s then-president said: “For quite some time, we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical.”]

The issue is not about ‘unkindness’. It’s about lying, enforced negligence, and deceit. That’s the first thing young gay people are going to see when they read these ludicrous reports today. All the kind words from well-meaning people in the church today are still going to sound like hypocritical horseshit through the filter of these reports, including those of Bryan Berghoef. [ouch]

This matter is far from theoretical. These reports have been used to excommunicate members, defrock ministers who dared to publically disagree with the stance, They were also used to try to throw churches completely out of the denomination if they did not sign on the dotted line that they would abide by all the baloney contained within. The CRC is the LAST denomination I would ever recommend a young gay person to attend if they want to find a safe church. Even with some people in the church who are trying to welcome gay people today, sooner or later these kids are going to be confronted by a homophobic dinosaur waving the official stance at them like a cudgel and demanding that they conform. “Disordered sexuality, Read that? Disordered. That’s what it says.” Who needs it? I speak from a great deal of experience.”

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12 thoughts on “We Must Listen AND Respond

  1. “We’re all broken… but you’re beyond broken, you’re disordered.”
    Is that what the statement says? Wow, talk about putting words in other people’s mouths.

    Saying an action is disordered (i.e. not ordered according to God’s pattern of Creation) does not say it is more of a disorder than any other sin. You have made a logically fallacious accusation against brothers in the faith. Jesus said they shall know us by our love for one another. Seems like you have no problem loving the world, but what about your brothers?

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  2. When I noted in the fb discussion that ensued from your blog post, Bryan, that the 1973 decision did not represent me even in 1973, I didn’t mean to sound enlightened (or, perhaps for some of your readers, ensnared in darkness). It’s personal. I will turn 71 next month. I was already a CRC pastor in ’73–in fact headed that summer for my second ordained ministry at University of CO. My home town, the schools I attended, and the places I have served are a matter of public record; I will not cite–even anonymously–persons or stories. Some years later, when I asked a noted ethicist, who was also a mentor for me, “you know the CRC, will we ever come to grips with same-sex relationships?”, he responded that it will happen as it did with changing positions on divorce and remarriage–when it gets personal. When it’s your siblings, your parents, your offspring, your dearest friends. As a pastor, I was invited places in people’s lives not everyone gets to go. Judy and I have also invariably, until the day I retired, worked with young people. By 1973, it was personal.

    That isn’t all it was, of course. I was already deeply skeptical about those few Scripture passages. Even without Ezekiel 16’s commentary on the sin of Sodom, it seemed a real stretch to use all the men of the town demanding to gang-rape visiting angels as an authoritative example of “gay lifestyle.” Other passages have similar contextual issues for me. Once you no longer recognize same-sex attraction as a choice–and that’s where ’73 went–we are on very different ground. (That decision in ’73 was itself a bit revolutionary in its historical context. Remember, books and journal articles were still being written in the ’60’s refuting the justification for slavery and Jim Crow using the Biblical account of Ham. And the city of Boulder, one of the most progressive in the country, did not add sexual orientation to civil rights protection until the mid-late ’70’s.

    We are sexual beings; we relate as sexual beings. I learned that in childhood from watching my parents…my father’s banter and mannerisms over the counter with women was different from men–and, if I’d been on my toes, I might have noticed a difference again with gay persons, for we did have them within our relationships. By the time I entered high school in the late ’50’s, the church’s ministry with “young people” and “young adults” (2 different groups) implicitly recognized our sexual nature. Our youth activities were “mixed gender;” we wanted to be together; we were preparing for, practicing for, hoping for marriage someday, stumbling our way out of “girls/boys are ‘yukky’.” And the church took this developing stage in life as an opportunity to teach us about love and fidelity–someday. Sunday night services, the young people did not have to sit with family; we could sit together, in the back rows even! If you were lucky, Sunday night was date night; you could even hold hands (discreetly). No, not all of us would eventually enter a “lifelong partnership”; nor, for some, would “singleness” be a 1st choice. And yes, deny it or not, the church folks knew that not all those bright young faces were “practicing abstinence.” Adults may have talked more awkwardly about sex then, but they were not stupid. By and large, the church did not publicly censure sexually active people; it only did that to young women who got pregnant, God help them.

    But now–freeze that frame. Before–and, I found, even more after 1973–you relate as a sexual being only if you’re straight, or continue to pretend to be. You’re welcome here, of course. But not to relate in ways we consider harmless among heterosexuals. There is no hand-holding, flirting, or standing beneath the mistletoe at the Christmas party or pairing up for couple’s skate at the rink. A group of young men or women may sit together in back…but not two. The teaching about fidelity and life-long relationships is not about you. There’s no gentle teasing about who you might “love” or frank talks about your hormones. Celibacy is not a choice or something that happens to you–it is a requirement for folks like you. What’s more, it is not just celibacy but, in reality, a complete denial of sexuality–of your being–that is a requirement for your acceptance into the community of Christ.

    The casual interactions of relationships as a sexual being are denied you. And…you will be monitored as those of us who are straight will never be monitored. You will listen to sermons about fidelity (and even sexual pleasure in marriage), and hear endless illustrations from the pastor’s family life. You’ll be encouraged during announcements to attend this week’s seminar on marriage–even if you’re single (“there’s always a possibility, hee, hee”). But wait–not YOU. There is no reason for you to go. And when it comes to your being in church leadership, we hope you understand our special “discernment.” Nothing personal. There are facets of “normal life” you may not understand. And some concern about the example you may set. Or your potential to fail in your required celibacy And, of course, although we welcome you, we must also keep in mind those who are not so sure we should. THIS. IS. A. NIGHTMARE. And a nightmare for anyone who seriously wants to be your spiritual leader. If you follow ’73 as a pastor, your ministry for same-sex-attracted persons is to enforce negatives, guard the barriers–and be welcoming, supportive, hopeful and encouraging.

    This we do in the world where we really live–where…

    …reading specific Scriptures in historical context lends “dodgy” at best direction to dealing with homosexuality in general and monogamous same-sex relationships in particular, while the “arc” of Scriptural leading lends zero support to the kind of “hate stuff” coming from a wide part of evangelical christianity.

    …same-sex marriage is legal in more and more states and even whole countries. And even before that, our broader culture recognized “civil unions” as a just way to deal with rights and benefits. And we increasingly know people who are in monogamous same-sex relationship and fit nothing of those horrible stereotypes we’ve been fed as “normal” for “those types.” And…an increasing number of our own families are bravely coming out, at younger and younger ages.

    …even the older amongst us (and I am one), upon reflection on our own history, knew of faithful same-sex relationships, including in the churches of our childhood. Some of them lived together–sharing quarters, don’t you know, for reasons of frugality. (No, we didn’t think about the “sex part,” which was easier then because, mostly, people didn’t think aloud about the sex part with straight folks either.)

    …now that there isn’t much we don’t know about the bedroom (thanks, Google, magazines, and the earliest editions of “The Joy of Sex” in many of our nightstands 40-some years ago), we are aware that about everything same-sex couples do is done by straight folks, too. Comfort levels may vary, but what two married people do in joyful abandonment is their own business.

    …arguments about who pays for it aside, modern birth control makes it a reality that marriage is not necessarily about procreation–intentional or accidental. (For example, there are, I believe, legitimate moral reasons, especially in the Western world which uses a disproportionate amount of the earth’s resources, to limit our offspring. Already in 1969, a number of us seminarians, for the sake of a hungry world, chose to limit the number of our biological children and to adopt if we wanted larger families.)

    …we are aware, after having time to study it, that same-sex couples (as well single parents) do just fine in parenting. I can only imagine how much better that would go with a loving faith community giving them the same support as straight parents.

    …we know from our experience and our reading of the ancient world, that it is not the case that “marriage has always been about the faithful partnership of one man and one woman.” We could examine that assertion from “faithful” to “partnership” to “one” to “man-woman.” Witness some of our favorite Biblical characters. As to faithful…whenever I read about “a man lying with another man as with a woman,” I strongly suspect that this is about males who already “possessed” their own woman, or women. As to partnership–and I’m aware that’s an addition to some people’s definition of marriage–even in a majority of weddings today, only one person gets walked down the aisle by one man and “given away” to another. (When Judy and I were married in 1965, our officiant insisted on including “obey” in Judy’s vows–mine only required me to “maintain” her. She says she crossed her fingers on that part; lucky for me because there have been countless times when obeying me would have been disastrous.) My observation is that some same-sex partnerships do better without the baggage of sexism.

    I’m not writing this as some academic effort; there are plenty of people who can do that better than I–you being one of them. Don’t get me wrong; I won’t cop to being a theological or Biblical ignoramus, swept along by subjective experiences. I’m a pastor who took seriously the decision of ’73 to welcome and pastor everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. It’s personal. Judy and I count among friends, acquaintances, and professional relationships, same-sex couples who are living and have lived for many years in faithful monogamous relationships. Some are now legally married, and we rejoice with them. Some are parents of bright and healthy children, and some of those are adults. (And we count among our friends those who remain in the closet, or live in discomfiting doubt about their standing in their faith community or in bitter alienation from it.)

    That ’73 was adopted as it was is understandable. That it has been re-affirmed nearly 4 decades later is beyond regrettable. (Sometimes I wonder if some delegates did so, thinking it was the best that could be salvaged in the climate of today’s church.) I am retired. I feel deeply for those in pastoral ministry today who must preach a Gospel that frees only some people, faltering their way through a commitment to love and care for ALL their members, representing faith to the real world, and explaining to their youth that ahead of them lies a fork in the road where some of them will be required to deny their very being and the rest of you will be required to make sure they do.

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  3. As I said in my piece https://paulvanderklay.wordpress.com/2015/04/01/what-i-want-from-my-conversation-with-bryan-and-others/ I appreciate your willingness to talk about this. I think the CRC does need to talk about this. We have some agreements.

    1. the 73 report is dated in my opinion and the CRC can and should do better. I’m not opposed to a new study committee that re-looks at the subject in light of current medical evidence and cultural situation. I disagree with Synod’s unwillingness to have a broader discussion. I think it wants to avoid it out of fear of a number of things. The issue is important enough for us to not duck it out of fear but to engage it fully.

    2. I also agree that the CRC as a denomination is not necessarily a “safe place” for many who identify themselves as sexual minorities of various kinds. The CRC has a thick culture. The CRC is also not necessarily an easy place for many ethnic minorities. Having said this I also know that some who identify themselves with sexual minority groups have embraced it as a home and the same is true of ethnic minorities. The CRC has a lot of work to do. Local contexts also differ. Unless you were born into the CRC and raised deep in its institutional network many people experience the CRC as their local church. That is the case for many of the people in my congregation. This will lead many to ask “which CRC are you talking about?” Even though the CRC has a thick culture and in some places a robust identity, that certainly isn’t true everywhere. If you are in MIchigan or areas of traditional Dutch immigration, you will experience some things, in other places, your mileage may vary.

    3. This statement caught my attention.

    “These reports have been used to excommunicate members, defrock ministers who dared to publically disagree with the stance, They were also used to try to throw churches completely out of the denomination if they did not sign on the dotted line that they would abide by all the baloney contained within.”

    To my knowledge no pastor has been “defrock”ed (I assume you mean “deposed”) for his positions. I know gay pastors who have been deposed for sexual behavior or perhaps left voluntarily because they no longer agreed with the CRC’s position, but I don’t know anyone who has been deposed for asserting a position contrary to basic logic of the 73 report. Similarly “To try to throw churches out” is a bit dramatic. Are you referring to the case of First Toronto? Do you think the goal was to throw First Toronto out of the denomination? There might be some that wish this, but I didn’t see any desire on this part from Classis Toronto nor First Toronto who could of course leave if they wished. A church an leave the CRC relatively easily compared with the RCA or especially the PCUSA.

    Another more famous case was of course Mark Tidd at Highlands Church Denver. My understanding was that he left voluntarily. My guess is that many were sad to see him go. Some perhaps rejoiced, but that’s the nature of people. http://www.nbcnews.com/id/34493087/ns/us_news-faith/t/evangelical-church-opens-doors-fully-gays/#.VRxe9PnF_-I

    If what you said is true, I’d love to see you substantiate it. Your text reads to me, however, that you’re making a case and you want to motivate peoples passions. OK. In my experience with emotionally high voltage topics like this ramping up the voltage tends to temp people to say things that break bonds and hurt relationships, sometimes unnecessarily. If the goal is to encourage people who have been raised with the traditional position to be more open and accepting, ramping up rhetoric tends to incite fear which usually encourages people to be reactive rather than open or thoughtful.

    As I said in my piece I’d also encourage you to get more specific about what you would like to see. Despite many “affirming” statements on the web I’ve found few to be specific about exactly what they are affirming. You’d clearly like to lead on this subject. It would help us to know more of where you think we should go. Being fuzzy is OK in face to face relationships, as groups are non-geographical they require more specificity. Thanks. pvk

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    1. Some of your questions, Paul, are for the person who wrote the addendum. I chose to quote him anonymously, but I can possibly get you in touch with him if you like.

      As for specificity – I think City Church in SF presents a good model, which I referred to in the article. (Specifically).

      Also, as I noted elsewhere, some think I was far too tame in this piece, contrary to your perception of being high voltage. A differing perspective might be received as high voltage, but that doesn’t mean it was given in that spirit.

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  4. Having spent my 22 years of existence in the CRCNA, the wording of the ‘official position’ has never offended me; despite the fact that I am, and always have been, gay. Although I do not particularly appreciate the clinical connotations of the words “condition” and “disorder,” I absolutely identify with their intended meaning in this context. I know that I am a broken person who is part of a broken world, and I absolutely believe that homosexuality (and gender dysphoria) are reflections or manifestations of that brokenness. I personally find such a viewpoint to be presented in scripture, affirmed by nature, and supported by my own personal experiences. I do not hear this position calling me ‘extra’ broken, or singing me out. None of us are perfect, but we are all different. I just see a statement that seeks to speak to and understand homosexuality through a very Reformed lens. I can appreciate that.

    That being said, our denomination has not done a great job of encouraging good treatment of LGBT persons. Even if we can identify other people who suffer from seemingly extraordinary manifestations of brokenness, we as a church do not usually single these people out. While it was not God’s original design for anyone to be blind or deaf, we do not focus on the brokenness of blind people within the church; we affirm their intrinsic value as children of God, and as a community, we seek to submit to each others needs and capabilities. We certainly would never ask these individuals to act like a hearing or seeing person would, even if we believe that God initially intended for human beings to see and hear. And while nobody would deny the power of God to perform miracles, most in the church would not pressure such individuals to continually pray for healing. (Consider the implications of praying continually for God to heal a child born without an arm) We certainly would never -ever- blame the person by implying that they could be ‘healed’ if only they had enough faith. Yet these are exactly the kinds of things I see our church saying to -or about- LGBT persons. I believe it is a fundamentally inconsistent application of theology.

    Once we come to a place that affirms all human beings as intrinsically valuable children of God, who are all affected in differing ways by the same brokenness, only then can we enter into a conversation about sexual ethics. This is where we really need to work. We have created space for those who hold differing views on women in office. I think it is about time for our denomination to create space for those who (like me) believe that the bible does not condemn loving, committed relationships between two persons of the same sex.

    But that is much easier said than done. As much as I would like to feel more officially welcome within my own denomination, I do not want to see the denomination that I love be torn apart over this issue. Top down change rarely works; people who disagree just leave. Change is happening, but it is happening in congregations. I think we are going to see more and more individuals and congregations creating space for difference and engaging in conversation.

    All best,

    Ryan

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  5. A few thoughts here on yesterday’s post. I’ve gotten quite a bit of pushback from fellow clergy in my denomination. Some heartfelt and respectful, some less so. Many continue to think the denominational position is just fine and represents “what the Bible clearly says.” I differ, and offered this somewhat lengthy response, which I am sharing some of here, for those interested:

    Someone noted that the article itself that I wrote comes across with a very negative tone. Yet another person yesterday told me he could’t believe how gracious and kind I came across, and how could anyone have a problem with it? So perhaps a matter of persecutive is helpful. It was also asked why I posted it to my own personal blog. Because that is my own personal blog. As it says, I talk about matters of life and faith, over a pint. I actually didn’t write this one over a pint, though that might have helped.

    Further, I think that I’ve actually soft-pedaled how bad the CRC’s approach really is, and how negative the history of the 1973 statement is, and the complete lack of pastoral compassion in the subsequent decades. I’ve added an addendum to my original post with some comments by someone with very helpful information on the situation in ’73 and subsequently. You can read that above.

    Finally, some are asking for clarity on “where I really stand.” Here’s where I stand: I do not think that same-sex, monogamous, committed relationships are any more sinful than heterosexual, monogamous, committed relationships are. As our friends at City Church SF said, “Imagine feeling this from your family or religious community: ‘If you stay, you must accept celibacy with no hope that you too might one day enjoy the fullness of intellectual, spiritual, emotional, psychological and physical companionship. If you pursue a lifelong partnership, you are rejected.’ This is simply not working and people are being hurt. We must listen and respond.”

    I agree 100%. They studied the gospels, scholarship, and relevant literature before coming to their decision. So have *many*, *many* others. Sometimes we act as if the Bible is absolutely clear on this, and it’s only our own uncomfortableness that prevents us from wanting to apply it. The Bible may seem to be clear in places, but that doesn’t mean it is clear, or even if clear, that it is right, or that it is proper to apply it today. The Bible is also “clear” in places that slavery is OK, or even God-ordained. It is also “clear” that women are property. It is also “clear” that we should stone someone collecting firewood on the Sabbath. It is “clear” that genocide is OK and that God occasionally commands it. It is “clear” that wearing two kinds of fabric is not OK. It is “clear” that men shouldn’t have long hair, or that women shouldn’t speak in church. We don’t hold to those other positions, so why in this one position do we feel so constrained to say: “The Bible clearly says.” In fact, perhaps it was clear at that time, and it was wrong. We have to be able to say that, or else we risk endorsing lots of other things that today we find unconscionable. That happens when you are dealing with ancient writings from past cultures. Further—context is very important. The NT language from Paul and others seems to be referring to pagan worship rituals and/or pedophilic acts moreso than what we are talking about today with committed relationships based on fidelity among two adults. Also, how much did Jesus have to say about this? Nada.

    I’m not saying it’s cut and dry, in fact it isn’t, which is why I’m not buying the argument that one side has the clear Biblically moral position. You can’t honestly say that, unless you’re willing to ignore most of current biblical scholarship on this and many other issues.

    To briefly respond to the issue of citing young people leaving. This is not simply about: “What is popular today, and let’s go with that.” It is that SOME OF THOSE YOUNG PEOPLE ARE GAY, and they want nothing to do with a church that refers to them as “disordered.”

    A few responses to my article from gay individuals to close:
    » “As a gay person, I would stay far, far away from your church.”
    » “The CRC presumes to judge me with its interpretation of what sin is worthy of exclusion.This continues to cause me pain over thirty years after leaving the church I once loved.”
    » “I am so desperately saddened. I feel like exiting right now. I’m glad there’s some movement. That is encouraging. But it really means nothing to me. Still so praying about what to do next.”

    I’m not writing or saying anything in this forum, on my blog, or anywhere else because I feel like being a rebel, or because I don’t love the Bible or Jesus, or anything close to it. Enough with those assertions. I love Jesus so much that I want to follow his path of embrace for the least of these, especially those most rejected by our religious institutions. My heart aches for these friends. Let’s strongly consider that we just might not be following Jesus on this one.

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  6. I don’t want to get into a blogging comment war, I responded to “G” specifically because she asked me to. So I intend this to be my last post.

    Brother Berghoef, your addendum was helpful in that I didn’t know that the term “disordered” was specifically from the DSM manual. That is helpful. However, posting someone’s anonymous information is not helpful at all. When I get an anonymous letter it goes straight into the circular file. Are you willing to cite a source (or is your source willing to be cited). If not the information loses any substantial weight.

    God’s grace and peace be with you all,

    Todd Hilkemann

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  7. I think Bryan is right. I have not studied at Calvin Seminary. In fact, my education is not Reformed. But I was drawn to Reformers more than 25 years ago when I saw how they methodically scrutinized poverty…and then loved this world. In VERY practical ways. (this was my best understanding of what Jesus was about) They attacked poverty. And they did a better job than everybody else. So I worked with CRWRC (now World Renew) in some of the most challenging posts of Africa. I came back to the USA when I came to terms with the fact that I could not keep serving while trying to not be me. It became a matter of integrity. I certainly did not want to be this week’s scandal in the Banner. Our countries, Canada (deja) and the USA are changing…will the CRC just sit there claiming (like many) that our world is going to hell or will it come to terms with change, reform, and most importantly: love? I think the CRC is great. I can even say I love you. I thank you for the days I worked with you. I cannot force change…I am sort of an outsider, but I really believe if any church is capable of reforming, you guys have the history of doing it! Godspeed, friends!

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  8. As a woman in a ten year committed relationship (and 5 year marriage) to a loving Christian woman, I cannot help but be amused by how the CRC leadership continues to highlight the “sin” of LGBT persons while professing at the same time that everyone is sinful. My question is, if sin is sin then why does the CRC spend SO MUCH time focusing church attention on excluding homosexual “sinners” whose only intention is to experience love and often deep commitment to one another, while at the same time essentially turning a blind eye to other “sins” that cause untold misery, pain and suffering to congregants (e.g. child and spousal abuse, greed, selfishness and dishonesty in business). All of these sinners are welcomed without Synodical debate about their right to membership in the church. I have never read a Synod agenda item that proposes to exclude men who abuse their wives from membership, or whether those who cheat on their income tax should be asked to leave the Church. How about a “Synodical committee” to discuss membership for congregants who commit these often flagrant and unjustifiable acts? But no, only the supposed sin of sexual identity incites such rabid dis-ease and threat of disassociation. To my mind it points to a deep and unreasonable fear of God-given sexuality, not an abhorrence of sin.

    You may say that these other sins are time limited and therefore can be forgiven within a welcoming church community. Everyone agrees that child abuse is wrong, so therefore with loving pastoral care can be forgiven and healed. This then begs the question – if I do not believe that my commitment, attraction and love for my wife is sinful, how can I authentically repent and subsequently ask her to leave me? And yet, the CRC presumes to judge me with its interpretation of what sin is worthy of exclusion.This continues to cause me pain over thirty years after leaving the church I once loved.

    I invite you Rev Hilliman to answer the question of bias in determining what brand of sinner is welcomed into the CRC.

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    1. Dear “G” –

      You bring up some wonderful concerns that also concern me. Let me first clarify (restate) your concern. What “brand” of sinner is welcomed – all brands – all types – sinners with every kind of sinful proclivity (though as the parent of five young children I am personally troubled and pastorally challenged about how to welcome convicted sex offenders and child abusers into the church. That one is really tough because theologically and intellectually I say – YES Jesus and His church Love you – but as a father who wants to protect my kids I don’t know how do that well … but that’s a different topic) (One further tangent – the vast majority of LGBTQ folks or Heterosexual folks are not pedophiles so this is a specific concern for those who have been convicted of a crime.) The bigger issue is the issue of repentance and seeking to live in obedience to God’s will as revealed in His Scriptures. It is a scriptural authority issue.

      You assume that my argument is “other sins are time limited and can therefore be forgiven within a welcoming church community.” It has nothing to do with time and everything to do with repentance. I’ve been part of a church who began the process of excommunicating a member who was involved in an extra-marital affair. When the affair came to light this individual instead of repenting and admitting sin filed for divorce, shacked up with the other partner – and resigned membership from the church before we could continue with church discipline. In that same congregation, I was involved with another member who was caught in an extramarital affair, but admitted it, confessed it, sought reconciliation and counseling with spouse and has been transformed as an active member of the congregation.

      By the way I believe that an LGBTQ person is not sinful because of their orientation. A kleptomaniac is not sinful because of their propensity to steal. An Alcoholic is not sinful because of their tendency to crave alcohol. A person born blind is not sinful because they cannot see. God makes all of us in His image and we all have different and varied aspects of fallenness that is manifested in our Created nature. Just because something is “natural” doesn’t make it good. It’s Natural to not brush your teeth for example. The sin comes in when we indulge our fallenness and say there is nothing fallen about it and indulge in sinful behavior.

      The issue is precisely with the definition of sin. Can the church welcome someone into full membership who is actively, unrepentantly, embracing a pattern of behavior that is inconsistent with God’s Word. My answer is ‘no.’ As Paul says in 1 Corinthians we must expel the immoral brother or sister. Regardless of the sin if someone is caught in an unrepentant behavior (not saying there can never be a relapse) and truly says, “I will do this Bible be damned.” That individual should not be permitted to continue as a full professing member of the congregation. The same goes if they actively disagree and promote a theology that is contrary to our understanding of God’s Word. For example, if a church member becomes persuaded that the Reformers were wrong and the Roman Catholic Church is also a primary source of authority equal to the Bible, then they should begin to undergo church discipline (by the way the end goal of discipline is not shunning but restoration to full membership).

      I wholly agree with you that we make far too much of sexual sins. We should make a bigger deal of Greed, or selfishness, or dishonesty in business, or someone who cheats on their taxes – as well as spousal abuse (to name a few). The problem is that most of the other sins you mention [with the possible exception of spousal abuse] are private “invisible sins.” I’ve been suspicious of more than one individual as an abuser as a pastor – but unless they or their spouse or a government authority report it I really can’t confront them with a formal accusation. I wish I could spot a greedy person or a dishonest person simply by standing in the pulpit and looking at them. I wish I could call them to repent and seek forgiveness – but I can’t. I can and I have preached about all of those sins as often or more than I’ve preached about homosexual behavior. I hope and pray that God will bring conviction and repentance to those individuals. Many sins don’t lend themselves to formal church discipline. Yet sexual sins often are public – You probably can’t “hide” nor do you want to hide your marriage to your spouse.

      This is of course where personal relationships come to play. I’ve been the recipient of hearsay, “Pastor Todd I’m concerned that Mr. X is not entirely honest,” or “I think Mrs. Y isn’t behaving like a Christian at her business.” Well According to Matthew 18 my response is – “I will pray about that, but I encourage you to talk with your friend about that matter.” “Oh, but I don’t want to do that because …” “If you truly love your friend, and want them to follow Jesus then you will want him or her to live according to God’s word. If you want help doing this I’ll go with you to help you.” That is the role of accountability and relationship that has been missing in so many congregations and needs to return so that we can call all sin, and call all sinners to repentance.

      The biggest debate in all of this is the interpretation of Scripture – and the authority of Scripture. There are some Christians who have become persuaded that the Bible simply doesn’t specifically condemn homosexuals getting married in a committed covenant relationship (like you and your partner). There are others (far more) who have simply become persuaded that the Bible shouldn’t be trusted as the supreme authority for every matter – just matters of faith (although as a reformed pastor I say there is no separation of sacred and secular).

      Here’s my stand. I would love it if the Bible said, “Marriage is for two committed individuals who love one another and want to give their loves and life to one another.” But it doesn’t. The only sexual relationship, the only marriage relationship that the Bible unashamedly affirms is the union between one man and one woman (the vast majority of the time who don’t have another or former spouse still living). I have seen no persuasive argument (and I’ve searched and looked) that the Bible anywhere affirms any other kind of marriage or sexual relationship. So in the Church governed by the Bible as the only rule for faith in practice then I have to affirm that truth, as distasteful as it is. (By the way I find the Bible’s doctrine on eternal damnation for all those who don’t believe in Jesus even more distasteful than it’s stand on homosexual relationships – yet I stand on that truth too). With Martin Luther I say, “Here I stand [On God’s word], I can do no other.”

      Let me be very practical “G.” If Andrew Carnige were still alive and came to my church and wanted to be a member of my congregation – I wouldn’t let him unless he repented of his sin of Greed and abusive business practices. He could come, he could worship with us, he could fellowship with us. But until he acknowledged his sin of Greed (according to God’s word) and repented from it (repentance comes from an attempt at living a different life), I could not allow him to be a member. Fill in the same thing for an abuser, or a cheat, or a liar, or an adulterer. If I know that a person is actively embracing a sin without repentance, then they are not welcome to MEMBERSHIP in the church – but they are worthy of God’s love, and participation in fellowship with us. The “brand” of sin doesn’t matter it’s the repentance.

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  9. Brother Berghoef, as a fellow Minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church in North America, your reflections both inspire me an trouble me. I am inspired by the commitment to welcome ALL to our churches. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “I when I am lifted up will draw All men unto me.” “A great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the Lamb …” Indeed the Son of man came to seek and save the Lost. It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. Our doctrine of total depravity is what should cause us to welcome and reach out to all who are different than we are with the love of Christ and the Transforming power of the Gospel. For too long our churches have excluded (I believe unintentionally in most cases) people who aren’t like us. We must get out of our comfortable bubbles and extend the hand of genuine friendship and love to those who are lost. We must become places where our LGBTQ brothers and sisters experience the Gospel of Love and Grace.

    Yet, we must not compromise the transforming power of the Gospel. Maybe the word, “disordered” is inelegant. But it is accurate. As a result of sin this entire creation is disordered – it is Chaos – Sin always leads to chaos and disorder. Maybe instead of jettisoning the word ‘disordered’ we should include lots more people as disordered. Let’s admit we heterosexuals are disordered. Of course there are greedy people, and thieves, and liars … but all of us are also disordered sexually. All of us (gay and straight) need our sexuality reordered according to the Gospel. For example, 1 Corinthians tells us that the only reason a husband and wife should refrain from sexual intercourse is “for a limited time that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” Sadly there have been seasons in my own marriage when my wife and I refrained and it had nothing to do with prayer. It was selfishness, or manipulation, or tiredness … Of course Jesus says, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” With Jimmy Carter, I too am an adulterer. I need my own heterosexuality reordered by the Cross.

    Instead of trying to redefine sin and lighten it’s consequences (death and disorder) let us more fully embrace our own sinful nature our own disordered sexuality so that we may freely say, ‘Oh the WONDERFUL CROSS’ ‘The Blood that Jesus shed for ME … the Blood that Gives me strength will never lose it’s power’ that is the most delightful thing in all of creation. So that when our LGBTQ brothers and sisters talk to us and say, “Woah wait a minute wait a minute, Jesus wants me to take up my cross, deny myself and follow him. Even my sexuality.” We can say, “Yes, he longs for me to do that too, and when I do it is my greatest delight and joy. Jesus is better than sex. Jesus is bigger than my sexuality. It’s worth it for HIM!”

    And please please drop the argument that if we change our Biblical stance that Sexual sin is sin that more young people will stay in our denomination. Look at the more (for lack of a better word) liberal denominations who fully embrace the LGBTQ equality for which you ask. They are losing young people faster than the more (for lack of a better word) conservative churches. You can find a few outliers but as a whole the decline is much faster for churches who say that homosexual behavior is blessed by God than for those who stand by the Historical Biblical understanding of sin.

    With deep Christian Love for you, and for my brothers and sisters who are LGBTQ. May the Love of God, the Grace of Christ, and the Power of the Holy Spirit be with you this Easter season.

    Todd Hilkemann (Pastor Cragmor Christian Reformed Church in Colorado Springs, CO)

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