Walking Well Together Within Our Differences About Human Sexuality and Gender Expression
Several decades of study and dialogue make clear that significant differences of perspective exist among members of CRC congregations - including lay people, theology and seminary professors, and ordained leaders - about sexual orientation, same-sex relationships, gender fluidity, and related matters. Some believe that God-given sexuality is binary, and marriage can only be between those who are of opposite gender, identity, and orientation. Their perception of God’s creational intent sets the boundaries of what may or may not be allowed for marriage and sexual expression. As a result, some believe deeply that sexual expression between persons of the same sex is very wrong, maybe even enough to put one’s personal salvation at risk. Others have a different perception of God’s creational intent. They believe God created a spectrum of sexuality, and that marriage, therefore, ought not be reserved only for some on the spectrum. They believe the error of denying marital belonging to such persons is multiplied by denying church fellowship to them and robbing the church of their Holy Spirit gifts.
Fears among us are also significantly different. Some fear that we are losing our respect for the final authority of clear commands in Scripture. Some suggest that dangerous trends in our society are driving our actions rather than obedience to the Bible.
A disquieting fear for LGBTQ+ persons is that some members of their congregations will no longer walk with them if they “come out,” or if they choose not to remain single, or if they transition to a gender different than the one aligned with their biological sex at birth. Additionally devastating for some is the fear that because they are LGBTQ+ they will not be able to respond fully to God’s call on their lives to minister to others through things like leadership roles in worship, church school teaching, and holding ordained offices.
Rejection, fear, and hindrances to following God’s call are not what we desire for any of us. How, then, are we to walk together on this journey in the middle of our longstanding differences on these matters? How are LGBTQ+ individuals who desire to covenant their love in marriage before God and their church family to live well with those who think that is an offense to God? How are those who are traditional in their understandings of gender, sexuality, and marriage to walk well with those who accept evidence that human sexual identity and gender expression are diverse?
Places to Begin
Seek to Understand One Another
In the Agenda for Synod 2016, the Majority Report of the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance on Same-sex Marriage recommends that members of the CRC “...listen to one another to seek better understanding of the other’s position, recognizing the potential of better understanding of the matter itself.” (p.426) We still have a lot of listening to do.
Ask Hard Questions
We need to open ourselves to facing hard questions such as these: Are we distancing rather than enfolding? Are we spreading fear and suspicion rather than showing love? Are we tearing apart or building community? Is diversity in sexuality and gender broken or beautiful? Dare we think about God’s creativity more expansively in light of what the biological and social sciences teach us?
Abandon “Us vs. Them” Thinking
If someone is gay or lesbian, or transgendered, or anywhere within the kaleidoscope of gender identity and sexual orientation, they should not consider themselves, or be considered by others to be, outsiders. Nor should they consider themselves to be the “enlightened ones” while considering those who disagree as primitive in their thinking. If someone is straight or cisgender, they should not consider themselves automatically to be morally superior in sexual ethics to those who identify as LGBTQ+ and desire to live in faithful marriage. Together, we are in this business of being human and of trying to understand how God wants us to live. All of us clay pots have cracks, yet we are simultaneously glorious bearers of various facets of God’s image. Each of us with our different experiences of life, and the different ways of seeing that result, can bring new revelations of God and the life of Love to others.
Recommit to Living Together in Community
In 2002, a synodical Committee to Give Direction about and for Pastoral Care for Homosexual Members encourages this, “It is important that members of our churches who experience same-sex attraction can belong to, openly participate in, and be ministered to within the fellowship of the church.” (Agenda for Synod 2002, p. 315)
Henri Nouwen teaches us that community need not be comprised of people who think alike or are similar in every understanding of Scripture. We don’t even have to be attractive to each other. Being in community means living joyfully with each other in generous places of shalom where God can work creatively to renew us all. Community is not about complete compatibility, but it is where we can experience God-With-Us. “The mystery of community,” asserts Nouwen, “is precisely that it embraces all people whatever our individual differences may be, and allows us to live together as brothers and sisters of Christ and sons and daughters of our heavenly Father.” (from You are the Beloved)
Engage in Acts of Solidarity
Living as a community fiercely loved by God with no “us vs. them” also means engaging in acts of solidarity. To be in solidarity means to accept each other as fully human, both with gifts and with struggles. The work of solidarity means being committed to relationship, by choosing to walk together as an act of love. It means risking all, as did our Lord and Savior, in a choice to love. All of us—those who are open to change and those who are committed to traditional views—can humbly and gently say to each other, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” This is not some sentimental act, nor is it moral relativism. It is a decision to live out of the extravagant Grace we have already received from the greatest Giver.
Walk Together as a Mutual Choice
People who identify as LGBTQ+ who remain in the CRC or choose to join it are choosing to walk alongside fellow members who are not LGBTQ+ and who may even be hiddenly hostile. Why might they do that? For the same reasons as anyone else who wants to be part of a denomination and faith tradition that gets so many things right. They also may recognize that they have opportunity to influence a denomination that wants to find more ways to get itself right. They may feel led to offer their experience of God’s tender mercies and creational imagination to those who are trapped in feeling broken or unforgiven or misunderstood. They may hope to share theological insights and fresh ways of understanding God’s Word that are uniquely grown in the soil of their life situations. They may hope that their witness may shape the church’s understanding of God and of what faith calls the church to be and do.
Straight and cisgender people may want to walk alongside people who are sexual or gender minorities because they are discovering new heights and depths in God’s expansive Grace. They are not consumed with a need to identify every alleged flaw others may have. They are compelled by Christ’s invitation to lay down our burdens and find rest in the bosom of God. They are filled with the expansive joy of welcoming and being welcomed, despite everything, into the company of the Divine.
Remember What It Means to Be Reformed
Strong, Reformed voices now and always have recognized that interpretations of Scripture are culturally shaped. We trust that the Holy Spirit is leading us into truth—truth that sometimes feels rather new and even risky. Recently, for example, Reformed Christians have affirmed new understandings about what the Bible says about the Lord’s Supper, the exercise of church authority, and human origins. As a church we have worked hard to graciously walk with each other within diverse understandings of what our life together should look like. Let’s commit ourselves to continuing that precious tradition.
It’s time for us to season our allegiance to doctrinal precision with a commitment to unconditional, grace-filled, Jesus-imitating love and mercy for those who identify as LGBTQ+. To do anything else may risk blaspheming God’s love and mercy for each of us. Walking alongside someone is an act of mutuality where each one disciples but also is willing to be discipled by the other. Applying rules for whom we may or may not walk alongside is not an option. Looking for those who have not been included, for whatever reason, and bringing them into the wide flow of God’s imitable love is perhaps the paramount task for the church today.
How are we to walk together? By showing each other in our words and tones that we share the human condition in all its complexity and perplexity. When we walk side-by-side, listen attentively and empathically, and seek to understand rather than to be understood, it is then that we can give, and receive, the compassionate care already extended to us by God, who walks with all of us.
Copyright © 2020 Thomas Hoeksema and Donald Huizinga. All rights reserved.
About the Authors: Tom Hoeksema and Don Huizinga are members of the board of All One Body. Tom, a retired Professor of Education at Calvin University, is a long advocate for the inclusion of children with varied abilities in Christian schools and for the complete participation of people with disabilities, women, and persons of color in the church. Don is a retired teacher of the Old Testament and Reformed Theology at Calvin Christian High School in Grandville, Michigan and loves the blessing that the racial and ethnic diversity of Madison Square Church has brought him for 51 years.
From time to time a member of All One Body will post to this blog. We will also have guest commentary. Stay tuned!