Christian Reformed Church to Enter Heated Debate over Female Leaders

Delegates of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in North America voted Tuesday night to reaffirm its position to allow women in leadership but with some compromise.

Synod 2007, an eight-day meeting of the church's broadest assembly, voted to remove the word "male" as a requirement for holding ecclesiastical office in the church. The vote allows women to be ordained as ministers, elders, deacons or ministry associates.

However, respecting the convictions of those who believe the Bible prohibits women serving as officer bearers, Tuesday's vote by synod delegates allows classes (regional assemblies) to set restrictions on women serving as delegates to classis meetings. The decision passed 112 to 70.

"There will be many of us who continue to believe that biblical requirements involve gender and it is impossible for us to surrender that," said Rev. Joel Nederhood of Classis Illiana, according to CRC Communications.

Still, Nederhood stressed unity of the church and said that allowing classes to set restrictions "goes far in enabling us to work in classes and the local church together."

Many saw the vote as a historic and pivotal moment.

"I've worked and prayed for this moment for year," said the Rev. George Vander Weit of Classis Grand Rapids East. "I think [this proposal] gives us (classes) space. Let's model the inclusion of men and women at Synod. Let's have the classes look at us and say, 'That's the kind of unity we want.'"

This week's vote confirmed a decision made at Synod 2006 to remove the word "male" from the Church Order of the Christian Reformed Church. When 186 synod delegates made that milestone decision last year, it theoretically was allowing ordained women to serve in all the same assemblies as their male counterparts, including synod.

At the same time, however, Synod 2006 had declared that women may not be delegated to synod or serve as synodical deputies (synod representatives) at classis meetings. The decision was called "illogical" by some but still adopted as a compromise between those for and those against women in leadership for the unity of the church.

The Rev. James Blankespoor of Classis Grand Rapids East wondered how the 2006 recommendation changes anything as it still restricts women from serving as synodical deputies. Women were allowed to hold positions of power since 1995.

At the center of heated debate again this week is whether women could serve as delegates to synod. The 188 synod delegates are scheduled to take a vote on the issue on Wednesday.

Tuesday's vote comes days after Synod elected the Rev. Joel Boot, pastor at Ridgewood CRC in Jenison, Mich., as its president. The election of a leader who supports full clergy rights for women was seen as a possible signal toward approving historic changes for female ministers.

Boot had expressed at the beginning of the June 9-16 Synod meeting that he hopes this week's Synod removes all restrictions from female clergy, according to Religion News Service.

Acknowledging the efforts to keep unity in the church, Boot stated earlier, "I understand the desire to keep the peace. But I don't think we have the luxury of keeping the peace at the expense of others' rights."

Synod 2007 is being held in the Fine Arts Center at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Mich., until June 16.