“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.
The 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.
Bryan 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.”