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Christian Reformed synod tells LGBTQ-affirming churches to repent or disaffiliate


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Christian Reformed synod tells LGBTQ-affirming churches to repent or disaffiliate

At its national synod last week, the Christian Reformed Church in North America voted to put congregational leaders on ‘limited suspension’ if their churches publicly welcome LGBTQ+ members, violating the CRCNA’s official stance on same-sex relationships. 

News story by Ethan Meyers | Religion News Service

At its annual national meeting last week, the Christian Reformed Church in North America, one of the oldest denominations in the United States, voted 134-50 on Wednesday (June 19) to put congregational leaders on “limited suspension” if their churches publicly welcome LGBTQ+ members, violating the CRCNA’s official stance on same-sex relationships. 

The synod also voted Tuesday (June 18) to tighten rules for how congregations voice their differences with the ruling body of the denomination and asked for new resources for dissenting churches as they seek to realign or disaffiliate in the wake of the week’s decisions.

Like other Christian denominations in recent years, the CRCNA has been debating inclusion and participation in church life for LGBTQ+ individuals and couples. Two years ago, the CRCNA synod voted to include “homosexual sex” alongside other behaviors, such as adultery, polyamory and pornography usage, in its official definition of “unchastity.” The move elevated the church’s stance against LGBTQ+ behavior to confessional status, meaning that anyone who holds office in the church is expected to uphold this belief.

LGBTQ+ affirming delegates

Sandy and Bob Navis visit the Christian Reformed Church annual synod in Grand Rapids, Michigan. / Photo by Ethan Meyers

Sandy Navis and her husband, Bob, members at Sherman Street CRC in Grand Rapids, came to watch the deliberations, feeling it was important to be a “presence to support the minority of (LGBTQ+)-affirming delegates,” said Sandy Navis. “I really felt called by God to come and be an observer all week … I think things like this need to be witnessed. They shouldn’t be done in private.” 

How exactly the decision will be implemented will be left largely in the hands of regional subdivisions of the CRCNA, known as classes (singular: classis). Elizabeth Koning said her church, Hessel Park Church in Champaign, Illinois, is the only church in Classis Chicago South to have a publicly available statement that affirms LGBTQ+ people.

Before attending synod as a deacon delegate this year, Koning said she didn’t know what to expect. “I came here to make sure that our experience as a church was represented, our point of view and understanding of Scripture was represented. And I came here because I really love the CRC, and I am invested in its future, and I was hoping that future would include me,” Koning said.

She added that while there are many conversations ahead about how to proceed at Hessel Park, Koning doesn’t expect her church to be interested in revoking its statement. The church spent more than a year in conversation with its members and other organizations while drafting its statement, according to Koning.

Those who agree with suspending LGBTQ+ affirming churches

For those in favor of the decision, the move is seen as a chance for everyone in the denomination to follow Christ in “humility and joy,” according to the Rev. Michael Bentley, pastor at Trinity CRC in St. Louis, Missouri. Bentley said pastors have a responsibility to “minister like Jesus did and still say, ‘I love you, I’m calling you out of your sin, and Jesus calls you out of your sin.’”

He emphasized that the move shouldn’t be seen as only applying to certain churches and is instead a reminder that “we are all under the yoke of Christ.”

As the denomination moves forward, Bentley said he hopes that all of its members will be “able to be ministered to and loved and brought to walk with Christ gently.”

Churches that choose disaffiliation

But the Rev. Ryan Schreiber, pastor of Grace CRC in Grand Rapids, which has a publicly available statement supporting LGBTQ+ involvement, said the synod vote threatens the existence of the denomination. 

Christian Reformed Church
The Christian Reformed Church annual synod meets at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Thursday, June 20, 2024. (Video screen grab)

The pastor delegate from Classis Grand Rapids East, who said he took on a “very visible” role at this week’s synod, said Grace CRC will now begin the process of disaffiliating itself with the CRCNA. While he appreciates that the synod was “very generous in the terms outlined for churches like mine, that are openly affirming,” Schreiber is deeply concerned that the split over LGBTQ+ will deprive the denomination of needed resources.

“There is a coalition of churches in the Christian Reformed Church that is turning the polity of the Christian Reformed Church into a steamroller,” moving to push out most of the churches in his classis, Schreiber said.

In the CRCNA, a denomination of roughly 200,000 members, he said, this creates a real risk of financial collapse. He claimed that many churches now on the path to disaffiliation have “historically given much more in ministry shares to the Christian Reformed Church than any other classes.”

Speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves

But Schreiber believed he was also acting in the best interest of the church, saying he was “called to this moment by God to speak for those who can’t speak for themselves.” Schreiber said that in his time in Russia as a missionary, he encountered the concept of “yurodivye,” or “holy fools” — those who challenged the behavior of the Russian tsars on moral grounds.

Describing his involvement with this year’s synod, Schreiber said he “took on the role of a yurodivye, or God’s fool, in front of an all-powerful Synod.”  

Christian Reformed Church
Delegates mingle during the Christian Reformed Church annual synod at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. / Photo by Ethan Meyers

Even as it reaffirmed its belief that same-sex sex is sinful, synod delegates declined to call it a “salvation issue,” which may lead some to interpret it as a more egregious sin than others.

The synod also declined to label the belief that the Bible sanctions same-sex marriage a heresy, noting that the overture, or proposed ballot item asking for this belief to be formally declared heretical, “does not meet the high standards of definition and articulation needed for declaring a heresy.”

Grieving over the synod’s direction

The synod leaves a bittersweet feeling. Schreiber is grieved by the direction the denomination is moving. “I love the Christian Reformed Church with all my heart … As I said, I am deeply concerned about the Christian Reformed Church, and especially those that I’m leaving behind, gentle conservatives and moderates,” he said.

Sandy Navis wishes the delegates had widened their focus surrounding this year’s decisions. “There’s so much talk that makes it seem as though the churches who are working towards an affirmation of LGBTQ people are like rebellious children. And I think that that dismisses the thought and the consideration and the deep commitment that affirming churches can have to do God’s work.”

Religion News Service
Religion News Servicehttps://religionnews.com
Religion News Service (RNS) aims to be the largest single source of news about religion, spirituality and ideas. We strive to inform, illuminate and inspire public discourse on matters relating to belief and convictions.

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