Christian Reformed Church solidifies opposition to homosexuality as ‘confessional' belief

The Grand Rapids Office of the Christian Reformed Church in North America
The Grand Rapids Office of the Christian Reformed Church in North America | CRC Communications

The Christian Reformed Church Synod has declared that its historic stance on sexual ethics, particularly the practice of homosexuality, has "confessional status."

According to The Banner, a monthly magazine published by the Christian Reformed Church in North America, 69% of the denomination's representatives voted last week to affirm the definition of "unchastity" in the Heidelberg Catechism to include homosexual acts.

The vote occurred at Synod 2022 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. CRC has over 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada and over 230,000 members. 

The Heidelberg Catechism is a Protestant confession of faith in the Reformed tradition that was initially composed in 1563 in Heidelberg, Germany, and was approved by the Synod of Dort in 1619. 

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The CRC vote followed another vote where 74% of Synod 2022 delegates recommended that the human sexuality report to CRC congregations was a "useful summary of biblical teaching" on human sexuality. The report upholds the denomination's traditional stance that homosexual practice is not in keeping with biblical orthodoxy. 

The synodical vote giving this definition of confessional status carries significant implications, specifically church discipline measures for officers and faculty who teach at church-owned schools should they teach or preach anything that diverges from the confessional creed.

"There might be one-third of the people in this room who would be subject to special discipline if this passes," said Anthony Elenbaas, a delegate in attendance from Hamilton, Ontario. 

"Those of us who are in the minority in this place will have a much harder job to do. Please don't put the walls up any higher. Please allow room for us."

Michael LeRoy, the outgoing president of the denomination's flagship university, Calvin University, voiced a similar sentiment. 

"Since 1973, there have been officebearers who disagree with (the church's stance that homosexual practice is a sin)," he said.

"For officebearers who have written or spoken in opposition to this, there would be cause for church discipline. Consider the implication for officers of the church."

In 2020, the Calvin student senate elected its first openly LGBT student body president, a bisexual student who questioned if she is a lesbian but calls herself "queer."

The theological and spiritual conflict over sexual ethics in the Reformed Church is part of a long-running and much broader pattern across several Christian denominations in recent years.

Although nuances abound, the division in each Protestant group appears to mostly center on whether marriage and sexual ethics are first-order doctrinal issues and essential to a scripturally faithful proclamation of the Gospel or secondary or tertiary matters where Christians can peaceably agree to disagree. 

Earlier this month, the Mennonite Church USA voted to retire denomination-wide membership guidelines that barred pastors from performing same-sex wedding ceremonies.

Local Mennonite churches, however, are allowed to maintain the prohibition. Delegates at the Mennonite Church USA's Delegate Assembly also passed a non-binding resolution calling upon the church to repent for the mistreatment of LGBT-identified people.

Some groups within the Mennonite Church USA, such as the 70,000-member Lancaster Mennonite Conference, formally split from the denomination in response to the more liberal posture toward these issues. 

The Methodist Church has also faced divisions along similar lines. In March, a group of theologically conservative Methodists announced the creation of a new denominational structure — the Global Methodist Church — amid a schism over the issue.   

The UMC General Conference, where the potential separation plan is set to be debated and may be approved, has been postponed until 2024. 

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