Christian Reformed Church tells congregation to remove deacon in same-sex marriage

Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan. | Courtesy Neland Church

The Christian Reformed Church in North America has reaffirmed an earlier ruling demanding that a Michigan church rescind its appointment of a deacon who is in a same-sex marriage.

At the CRCNA Synod 2023, which took place June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, church leadership rejected an appeal from Neland Avenue Christian Reformed Church, also located in Grand Rapids, to have a noncelibate homosexual deacon.

The final vote was 124 against the appeal, 47 for the appeal and six delegates abstaining.

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The decision against Neland Church reaffirmed an earlier ruling against the church from Synod 2022. At Synod 2022, the denomination also voted to declare its biblical stance on sexual ethics as having "confessional status."

"Since 1973, the CRCNA has held the position that its churches should show love and welcome to same sex attracted people. The CRCNA has also been steadfast in its biblical conviction that sexual relationships are reserved for marriages between men and women," CRCNA General Secretary Zachary King stated in comments emailed to The Christian Post Wednesday.

"The CRCNA expects that its leaders — pastors, elders, and deacons — align themselves in their teaching and preaching with this position. Therefore, Synod 2022 instructed Neland Ave CRC to rescind its decision to appoint a same-sex married person to a leadership position."

CRCNA, a small Calvinist denomination rooted in the Dutch Reformed Church of the Netherlands, has over 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada and over 230,000 members. 

King acknowledged that "the Church has often failed people in the LGBTQ+ community."

"The synods of the CRCNA have repeatedly affirmed a pastoral posture towards same-sex attracted people, and yet we too often fail to do so. Several synods have lamented that as churches and as a denomination we have struggled to live up to our ideals and calling in this area," he continued.

"Synod 2022 recognized that all human beings suffer from brokenness in their sexuality. This is not exclusive to those that are same sex attracted. God calls us to encourage and disciple each other, regardless of our sexual orientation, to live out our biblical understanding of sexuality."

Neland Church will now have time to follow the decision, with the congregation's regional body, known as a classis, holding it accountable if it refuses to abide by the Synod 2023 decision. 

In brief comments sent to CP, Neland Church co-pastor Cindy de Jong said that her congregation "was disappointed that the CRCNA Synod did not sustain our appeal."

"Neland is taking time to pray and talk with our leadership, with our congregation, and with other churches in our Classis (local group of churches), as we seek God's plan for us and discern what comes next," she added.

As with other Protestant denominations in the United States, the CRCNA has endured much emotional debate over its biblical stance on LGBT issues, with many progressives within the denomination advocating for change.

Last November, the leadership of the CRCNA-affiliated Calvin University voted to allow faculty to publicly disagree with the stance of the denomination on human sexuality issues, such as marriage definition.

A spokesperson for Calvin sent CP a statement at the time stating that, despite the allowance for dissent, faculty will still have 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 Calvin.

"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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