Calvin University ordered to examine dissent on LGBT issues

The chapel at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The chapel at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. | Wikimedia Commons/Ejd24

The Christian Reformed Church of North America has instructed Calvin University to examine dissent among faculty and staff on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

At the CRC Synod 2024, held last month in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the denomination's leadership instructed the Board of Trustees at Calvin to “define the differences in Calvin’s use of ‘confessional difficulties’ in relation to the decisions of synod concerning gravamen.”

A gravamen is an official statement that can be filed by church members and officials to address concerns about a specific part of the denomination's teaching that they believe goes against the Bible.

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In recent times, members of the Calvin faculty have openly expressed opposition to the CRC’s official stance labeling homosexuality sinful and rejecting same-sex marriage.

The Synod also called on Calvin trustees to develop “language and processes in alignment” with those in the denomination in order to “build trust in its relationships with CRC churches.”

Some Calvin faculty, among them English professor Debra Rienstra, have expressed concern that the denomination is cracking down on healthy intellectual dissent within the CRC.

“The CRC has provided many, many blessings and gifts in my life,” said Rienstra in an interview with Religion News Service. “But what happened last week is a new version of the CRC. I have never seen the complete shutting down of principled dissent like we saw this week.”

In June 2022, at their annual synod, the CRC voted to identify its biblical stance on sexual ethics as having "confessional status," effectively solidifying its opposition to homosexuality. This meant that church discipline measures could apply to people who teach at church-owned schools, like Calvin.

Months later, the leadership of Calvin voted to allow faculty to publicly disagree with the denomination’s support for traditional marriage and other human sexuality issues.

A university spokesperson sent The Christian Post a statement at the time explaining that, despite allowing dissent, faculty still had to "adhere to the university's expectations for teaching and personal conduct that honor the church's position."

"The Calvin University community has been well served throughout its 150-year history by accommodating a range of faculty perspectives on specific doctrinal issues, while affirming and upholding the confessional standards of the Christian Reformed Church in North America," stated the university in 2022.

"The Board characterized its decision as respectful of the university's covenantal partnership with the CRCNA, consistent with confessional commitment, congruent with existing policies and procedures, supportive of academic freedom, and reflective of constructive engagement."

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