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The middle path can be the way of wisdom. Sometimes issues get polarized, positions get hardened, and straddling the fence is the better part of valor. Sometimes it’s best to look at both sides of a controversy and conclude that there is a third way in between them. Sometimes the middle of the road is where you want to be.

And sometimes the middle of the road is where you get flattened by a semi.

For several years the Reformed Church in America has approached the issue of homosexuality as an opportunity to have our cake and eat it too. On the one hand, we have numerous official statements which condemn homosexual behavior and affirm the normativity of heterosexual marriage between a man and a woman. And on the other hand, we can easily compile a growing number of incidents where our official statements are being disregarded with apparent immunity. We have a position that says one thing and a practice that allows for another.

A Kairos Moment

The time has come for the RCA to make up its mind on homosexuality. There are basically two different paths the denomination can take.

There is virtually no chance the RCA will change its official opinion in the near future. The General Synod has never come close to affirming the legitimacy of homosexuality in its official statements. So changing our position and coming out as an aggressively pro-gay denomination is, thankfully, not a realistic possibility.

But there are two other paths before us.

Option one is to do nothing. We can push aside the controversy and tell everyone to get back to the important work of “staying on mission.” In the meantime, we can allow each classis to handle the issue for itself, essentially saying, “If your classis doesn’t allow for homosexuality, that’s your business. But if our classis does, you have to respect our judgment.” This makes the issue someone else’s problem (at least for now). And if all else fails, we can dialogue the issue to death, talking a few more years about our experiences until we all learn by a hundred unspoken statements that we should just get along and not let this issue divide us.

The other option is to do something. We can dare to say that this issue is truly a gospel issue. We can realize that the church’s mission is never strengthened and blessed by God through doctrinal and ethical compromise. We can turn away from the easy “let’s all get along” option. We can turn from the convenient approach that says, “As long as I can do my ministry, why should I bother with all this controversy.” If we do something-be it church discipline or some kind of amicable separation-it will come with a cost. It will mean strained relationships. You will hear words like “witch hunt” and “homophobic.” People will think you are mean and narrow. People will not believe you if you say love gays and lesbians. They may consider you oppressive, repressive, and reactionary. But if the integrity of our denomination, the glory of the gospel, the truthfulness of the Bible, and the spiritual well-being of homosexual persons (and heterosexual for that matter) are at stake, then we cannot afford to take the easy path.

Why Can’t We Agree to Disagree?

In the past the controversy surrounding homosexuality has often been cast as an “agree to disagree” issue. The biblical command to unity has been held high, but it not always been clear that true unity can only be found in the truth. We have been told that “mission comes first,” but we have not stopped to think whether our mission is helped by undermining the gospel. Over and over it’s been suggested—usually implicitly, sometimes explicitly—that the problem is not with the existence of two positions on this issue; the problem with those who distract us from more important work by insisting that there is only one faithful position.

This was the message we frequently heard from our former General Secretary. Wes Granberg-Michaelson was an effective leader in many ways and helped encourage church planting and evangelism, for which we should be thankful. But on this issue, unfortunately, he pushed an agree-to-disagree middle path. Whether he was talking about the need for dialogue or the need to stay away from divisive disciplinary proceedings, his message was consistent. “Our challenge,” Granberg-Michaelson wrote in the Church Herald in the middle of the Kansfield gay marriage crisis, “is to keep our focus clearly on our mission.  And then, if we renew our vows of fidelity, we can learn to argue while still holding hands” (Church Herald, February 2005, 14). Similarly, in his memoir Unexpected Destinations, Granberg-Michaelson concludes that the debate over homosexuality involves a minor issue that should not threaten our fellowship:

In the end, the church’s debate over homosexuality revolves around a very narrow question. If a couple of the same sex are committed publicly to a monogamous, lifelong relationship, should they, in the privacy of their bedroom, be celibate or sexually expressive? I understand that there are different convictions around that matter. But what I don’t understand is why those differences should rupture fellowship between brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

It seems completely mistaken that this narrow ethical difference become a church-dividing matter in the Anglican communion, or should alter how Rome has fellowship with historic Protestants, or should cause Lutherans to break their bonds of communion with one another, or should cause anyone to question whether they can maintain their vow to fellowship and unity in the Reformed Church in America. (223)

This is one way to view the controversy—same sex behavior is simply a small matter of personal consequence. But of course, it hardly would have been the conviction of Calvin or Luther or Ursinus or De Bres or virtually anyone else in Christendom before the twentieth century that two men or two women in a homoerotic relationship was only a “narrow ethical” matter concerning private expressions. More to the point, it’s hard to fathom (impossible really) that the Lord Jesus and his Apostles would have considered sexual immorality such a trivial matter. I know this will sound strange, even offensive perhaps, but imagine if Jesus discovered that two of his disciples were having sex together in a committed monogamous relationship, do we really think Jesus—the holy Son of God and a first century Jew who never broke the Law and never questioned the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures, would have tolerated, let alone celebrated, their actions?

I’m not trying to be inflammatory, but I do want to provoke you to think this through. Are we to suppose that if Peter started a church and ordained a gay couple as co-pastors that Paul would have thought, “Well, Jesus said we should be one.  So no big deal.” Does anyone honestly think that if we could take a time machine back to A.D. 60 and we found (what we certainly would not find) that Timothy and Titus were joined in a civil ceremony and now were sleeping together that Paul would have told the other churches “Relax, it’s only an ethical issue”?  We can do all the mental gymnastics we want with word studies and the dialectics of trajectory hermeneutics, but at the end of the day it takes an extraordinary degree of historical re-invention to imagine the Apostles or the Church Fathers or the Reformers or Domine Van Raalte or Samuel Zwemer marching in gay parades and promoting homosexuality. If we “agree to disagree” on homosexuality and consider same-sex behavior nothing more than a narrow ethical decision, we are agreeing to disagree with the near unanimous consensus of our church for almost 400 years and the Church for virtually all of its history.

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63 thoughts on “Homosexuality and the RCA: A Call for Action, Consistency, and Faithfulness (Part 1)”

  1. DRT says:

    Steve Cavallaro, Bob S. said that “the OT is the word of God as much as the NT” in response to my assertion that there is not a whole lot in the NT about homosexuality. He said there is plenty about it in the OT. He will need to differentiate why homosexuality should be carried over from the old and not these other parts before his argument will make sense.

  2. DRT says:

    Folks, please. If you look at the whole of Jesus teachings you will see that greed and money sins in general occupy a much much great bulk of what is evil. Why don’t you spend the time determining if someone is greedy in the church instead of whether they like people of the same sex? Why?

  3. Milton says:

    Melody, in the end, God will apply this to believers and non-believers, to absolutely everyone. Choose your path wisely, with wisdom higher than your own.

  4. Westwardbound says:

    As far as the argument goes that Jesus knew that Judas was a thief yet still accepted him as an apostle – that did NOT mean that Jesus condoned Judas’ behavior. In fact, Jesus said quite pointedly “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.) [John 6:70-71]. Judas persisted in his sin, and it predictably brought forth death. “Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.” For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” [John 13:10-11]
    “I do not speak of all of you. I know the ones I have chosen; but it is that the Scripture may be fulfilled, ‘HE WHO EATS MY BREAD HAS LIFTED UP HIS HEEL AGAINST ME.’” [John 13:18].

    Further, Judas was stripped of his apostleship, and his position was given to another as is recorded in the first chapter of Acts.

    As far as Jesus never speaking against homosexual marriage – He in effect does, by stoutly re-affirming what Yahweh determined what marriage was intended to be. Observe what He says: “And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.
    And He answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?
    And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.
    And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation GOD MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh….” [Mark 10:2-8]
    It’s quite obvious that to Jesus’ way of thinking – which was in perfect accord with the word of God written – the marriage union was to be between a male and a female.

  5. DRT says:

    Westwardbound, The point I was making with Judas is that you don’t have to take action against every sin you think people are committing. Jesus did not take action against Judas, call him out by name, publicly discipline him or any of that.

    I actually don’t think loving homosexuality is a sin. But the point I was making is that even if you do, you don’t have to discipline these people.

    Stripped of his Apostleship? He was dead! And further, he just sold Jesus into death! Are you really comparing Judas selling Jesus into death with long term same sex love?

    And as far as you feeling that because Jesus said marriage is between one man and one woman and that condemns homosexuality, is nonsense. First, I don’t care if we call it marriage or not, and I doubt that Jesus did either, but life long monogamous same sex relationships are not sinful. You are simply reading into that section what you want to believe. Jesus was talking about the institution of marriage which was between a man and a woman. He was not talking about accepting those who have loving same sex relationships.

  6. Westwardbound says:

    “The point I was making with Judas is that you don’t have to take action against every sin you think people are committing.”
    Nobody THOUGHT Judas was committing sin; John 12:6 plainly stated that Judas was a thief. His greed and his sin eventually caught up with him when he betrayed his teacher for 30 shiny pieces of silver. His sin was accumulative and unrepented of; this led to his spiritual and physical death.

    “I actually don’t think loving homosexuality is a sin.” As Christians, what you or I THINK isn’t worth a hill of beans. What God states plainly in His word is the final arbiter of what is moral or immoral, good or bad, valuable or worthless. And the totality of Scripture witnesses against homosexuality, and gives no allowance for it in a “loving, monogamous relationship” OR a casual one.

    Yes, I am aware that Judas was dead when his apostleship was transferred to another. The point is, his persistent sin and transgression was what caused his fall. “(Now this man acquired a field with the price of his wickedness, and falling headlong, he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out. And it became known to all who were living in Jerusalem…“For it is written in the book of Psalms,
    And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all men, show which one of these two You have chosen to occupy this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” [Acts 1]

    Maybe you’re right. Judas, through his own actions which proceeded from a dark heart, became reprobate and in effect, stripped himself of his position. So it will be to all those who refuse to heed the word of God and go on defiantly in their sin.

  7. Jeff Winter says:

    This article like most articles on homosexuality misses the obvious. There is no mention of reaching out with love and grace to those who have same-sex attraction. Why is it as Christians we only debate the homosexual situation or we put our collective heads in the sand. Why doesn’t the church do real ministry with those who have same-sex attraction? The reason why we face such a mess today is because we haven’t loved well those who say they are lesbian or gay. I started a ministry 17 years ago within the PCUSA that reaches out to those who say they are homosexual. It’s called OnebyOne Even after typing the website of this Presbyterian and Reformed organization I can almost guarantee that no one will get in touch with me to find out about this ex-gay organization. The church, pastors, elders and leaders really don’t want to get their hands dirty when it comes to homosexuality. God will judge us.

  8. Quon says:

    Jesus never broke the law? First I’ve heard. Jesus broke UNJUST repeatedly. He spoke to women in public in places where it was forgiven, he visited and broke bread with people he wasn’t even supposed to associate with at all. He defied doctrine that called for punishment of criminals. In the scenario you suggest, there is no doubt in my mind that Jesus would celebrate love between two of his disciples!

  9. Anthony says:

    I agree with the article whole heartily. It’s mindboggling to me that people even think it could be an issue put on the backburner. Seriously? It’s spelled out in scripture. It’s not like an issue where the information is hazy, but it is one that is easily accessed throughout scripture. This is akin to saying “Adultery is an issue we need to put behind us to keep unity.”

  10. Kyl Timmer says:

    This entire debate is something that is unfathomable to me. If there is one place a gay person should feel comfortable, safe and LOVED, it’s a church. I grew up in the Reformed Church in America and I never felt any of these. I was told gay people rot in hell! That’s a horrible thing to hear as a kid and because of that I wanted to die. People kill themselves everyday because they feel their homosexuality is wrong. People, especially those with power in the church, who say things like “We love the person and hate the sin.” It’s okay if you have these feelings, just don’t act upon them.” etc. have blood on their hands. This is a strong statement but I believe it to be true. If the church, a place that is supposed to be a refuge, can’t love each person for who they really are, then the church need not exist. I am 50 years old and I’m gay. I attended an Anglican church for many years and I was totally accepted there as an openly gay person in a loving relationship. If a member was uncomfortable with openly gay people then the pastor simply told them this may not be the church for them. For the first time in my life I loved myself.
    We need to get over this! We need to simply love each other, to celebrate our differences NOT hide them. It’s so simple; until all of us accept a person’s gayness as a loving gift from God, young people and adults will keep on killing themselves. Do you really want that on your conscience?

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Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is chairman of the board of The Gospel Coalition, assistant professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte), and a PhD candidate at the University of Leicester. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have seven children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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