Classis Grand Rapids East Creates Study on Same Sex Marriage

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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12 Responses to Classis Grand Rapids East Creates Study on Same Sex Marriage

  1. Nathan Bierma says:

    Thanks Paul! I look forward to your thoughts. One of my main takeaways from working on this is that the issues are more complicated than almost anyone assumes. Hoping and praying for constructive dialogue

  2. Jeff says:

    Understanding will be needed on both sides. One way that understanding will be needed is not thinking that one position is the result of rigorous study and the other the result of assumptions.

  3. Nathan Bierma says:

    Jeff, agreed. “Almost anyone” covers, well, almost anyone.

  4. PaulVK says:

    I haven’t yet read through the entire report, even after the admonition in the executive summary to not stop there.

    In our haste we usually skim with two questions in mind, 1. Is there something new? 2. Who is saying what? (in the interest of politics we care about).

    I don’t know if there’s anything new yet. I doubt it. I’ve read tons on the subject. Usually church reports are summary reports where the arguments in print in other places get distilled. Church reports seldom present original work. One can always hope, however. 🙂

    This report seems to be all about the second concern. “What does Classis GRE think?”

    Classis GRE is of course not simply like any other classis because the central institutions of the CRCNA reside there. There are other “liberal” classes but people watch GRE because influencers and power holders go to church there, are elders there, etc.

    You can’t know the CRCNA without watching GRE, yet it is unique among CRC classes and can’t be ignored.

    Progressivist assumptions dictate that GRE will lean to “affirm” early, but it is always more complicated than that. Madison Square, a large and influential church in the classis has a paper floating around that articulates the traditional position.

    For many this report will be tl:dr (“Too long; didn’t read”). We like to imagine that as a community we make decisions about things like this “rationally”. The take-away will be “oh look, Classis GRE put out a report that didn’t bother arguing the traditional side, go figure…”

    To me the great irony of this is “this classis doth protest too much” because as Jonathan Chait noted in the SCOTUS decision the progressives won because the traditionalists didn’t have an argument against it.

    Has the “argument” phase concluded in the CRC yet? That’s a real question. That question is behind some of my last comments on this issue.

    Meanwhile the majority report on “pastoral care…” can’t seem to find a reason for the traditional position either. It’s an elegant legal brief that says “if you believe the conclusion of the 73 report this is how much flex you’ve got” but what the report doesn’t do, or even try to do is actually paint the traditional position as making any practical or attractional sense.

    All of this suggests that many will interpret (because again, tl;dr…) the GRE communication’s “argument for” cynically is really theological cover to do what they simply want to do for sociological, ideological, relational or political reasons.

    I think in the minds of most the board is set.

    The “affirming” side is counting on the coming generation’s implicit embrace of the “same-sex issues were never really a problem, get over it already” to carry the political freight. It will win because there is no reason against it.

    The traditionalists side is counting on future generations of those who “affirm” to not care enough about church to actually bother with the institution for the long haul. While the “affirming” side feels it wins the Western demographic argument evidence from the PCUSA and others suggests to the traditionalists that they win the institution’s future. While the rainbow flag may inherit the government sexual traditionalists inherit the church.

    Jesus says the meek inherit the earth but as Steve Martin in “Leap of Faith” noted, all they usually get is the short end of the stick. To believe in the meek inheriting the earth you really must have a vigorous embrace of interventionist second coming. 🙂

    I didn’t want to write a post on it until I read past the executive summary but I fear I’ve just backed into it in my comment section.

    • Nathan Bierma says:

      Thanks Paul. A few thoughts:

      – Our mandate was to summarize, so if we said anything “new” we violated our mandate 🙂 But perhaps most pertinently, I don’t know how many so far have said what this report says: that Synod 1973 is inadequate exegetically, not just scientifically and culturally. And not just because some don’t like its conclusions, but because of the questions the ’73 report itself raises and doesn’t resolve (such as the question of the culpability of the exchange of relations in Romans 1, where Synod’s treatment basically and surprisingly ends with a question mark.) Quote from p.57 of our report: “On some key exegetical points that are central to authors on various sides, Synod left some unaddressed and addressed others without resolving them.” Not saying ’73 was necessarily bad exegesis–or that more substantive traditional exegesis hasn’t emerged since then (it has, and in fact, that’s part of our case to revisit)–but exegetically Synod itself didn’t really close the case the way many on both/all sides often assume.

      – I think many traditionalists hear those who are affirming to be saying little more than, “We should hastily baptize this secular movement for opportunistic or generically idealistic reasons.” I hope this report helps traditionalists hear something more and better than that. I think one of the main points is how with any “issue” and any passage/s we are always seeking healthy and faithful resonance among scriptural interpretation, scientific observation, social change, and pastoral practice–and this process is properly defined not as “explaining the Bible away” but simply as hermeneutics–as it has been dating back to Galileo, or, really, the Jerusalem Council. (Not to mention your good posts on Mark Noll and the hermeneutical crisis of the Civil War…)

      – Has everyone made up their minds? No doubt most of the loudest voices in the CRC have. I suspect there are many “in the middle” who are truly conflicted, and many of them have simply never been “allowed” to ask the question or imagine the alternative, because “it’s just not biblical” or “case closed since ’73.” There are, no doubt, also those on the affirming side who are motivated more abstractly by diversity and inclusion and haven’t really wrestled with Scripture. Sections 4-6 of our report are for them too.

      – Your picture of who inherits the church and how is a bleak one, since it suggests
      not only that an affirming stance correlates with an allergy to institutional church itself, but that the only ones eventually left doing church will be culturally marginalized as never before. I do think your scenario — and maybe you would agree with this? — plays out the same way whether or not this issue ever gets raised in the first place. People’s relationship with previously stable and authoritative institutions has been in flux ever since Vietnam. That’s one of the reasons I fail to see (as I’ve commented to you before) SSM as a unique, unprecedented, existential threat. Take remarriage after divorce, for one: wasn’t that existential? What if the larger ballgame of faithfulness against cultural individualism was either hopelessly lost after that case–or faithfully won–and in either case SSM can’t change the larger outcome? (Or was women-in-office the existential fork in the road? Or common grace in the 20s?) (You often in your posts here worry about a Pandora’s box of sexual expression and identity, and I am inclined to call slippery slope on that — but I would also point to Sections 2 and 9-10 of our report, which find that struggling with sexual orientation and identity is often a torturous process, at least within the church, and sadly is marked more by self-loathing than by cavalier celebration.) Again, many would see SSM as a “conservative” rebuke of secular individualism. Perhaps only if we see it that way, rather than as libertinism, does SSM have a healthy future in the CRC. If nothing else, I hope the report convinces many that at least some see it that way.

      • PaulVK says:

        Thanks Nathan for your thoughtful and substantial response. I’ve got to run now to do some of my “day job” but I’ve got time for a couple of quick responses.

        1. My pessimism on who will inherit what at this point is based on general revelation. These are the trend lines today. Two posts where I express this further are


        2. I would happily be wrong about all of this. Part of me would love nothing better than for the affirming posture of “this really isn’t a big deal. This has been something like a huge, gross incidental yet catastrophic misunderstanding throughout human history and Christian thought that is responsible for enormous suffering and social injustice. Just changing this little piece will bring much joy and no loss.”

        What troubles me is the consequence of THAT being true. Yes, I fully embrace the messiness of humanity, slavery, brutality, oppression, etc. Sex is messy business, always. In reality with real people around me know that I will walk with someone a long long time according to what their conscience and freedom takes them, but dismissing gender polarity challenges not just special revelation but science as well. On this front gender means nothing, even after decades of exploration of the mental, emotional, physical, chemical and social realities of sex and gender.

        3. The challenge of the “affirming” side is boundaries. Slippery slope? OK, Where do you really stop? Monogamy? Why? There is less biblical warrant to embrace monogamy than hetero normativity. While it might be tough for the traditionalists to mount a compelling argument “why not”, it’s at least as hard for the affirming to declare “why stop here”. Any progressivist vision has within it a slope. For a progressivist history rolls down hill.

        • Nathan Bierma says:

          Thanks as always for the constructive engagement. Looking forward to more ruminating, discerning, and talking …

  5. Doug Vande Griend says:

    I’m not convinced PVK’s Pandora Box concerns can be so easily refuted by “calling slippery slope” on them. For me, SSM doesn’t LEAD TO opening the door to all other sexual expression, it IS opening the door to all other sexual expression. I’ve read the full report from GRE but before that, Wendy Gritter’s book as well, and before that publications of non-CRC pro-SSM groups. I think both Gritter and this GRE Areport advocate for a “gracious spaceousness” that, again, doesn’t LEAD TO but IS the demise of the institutional church’s authority to fence out pretty much any sexual practice.

    I’m interested in how the GRE report authors would separate themselves from Wendy Gritter’s book, and also from her real world implementation of here book, if they would. If I understand Wendy correctly, she seeks “gracious spaciousness” for polyamorous groups as well as SSM folks. In doing so, she is simply being consistent, I think, not slipping from slope to slope.

    How is the GRE report different? How does it claim not to be, eg., providing hermeneutical cover fir, say, polyamorous practice, other than of course asserting the usual “we are only considering the one question,” which I find to be the typical answer from those who already have a incrementalist strategy in mind and in place?

    Put another way, what would the writers of the GRE report say, in equivalent detail, about polyamory, polygamy, open marriage, 20 somethings living as married but not (the Banner article proposal for blessing that), “wife swapping,” bisexual practice, embracing gender fluidity as a general reality, dating horses (with consent of the spouse of course), and other variations on the same theme.

    It seems to me that anyone proposing to have the CRCNA reverse 1973 must deal, again in equivalent deal, with all other LGBTQ+ (with emphasis on the plus) practices. If they don’t, I’ll smell a strategy of political incrementalism, and I should be, as should anyone who has anything of a doubt about SSM.

    • Nathan Bierma says:

      Proponents distinguish between covenant commitments–which have boundaries, discipline, and self-sacrifice–and libertine indulgences. They charge that conflating the two ethically is a category mistake. The slippery slope argument is considered a fallacy when it presumes a causal relationship between two things without demonstrating one. (A relationship can be proposed and examined, I would think, just not presumed.) The best arguments by proponents do not deny or fail to lament our cultural atmosphere of sexual libertinism, but see covenant commitments as potentially running opposed to libertinism rather than in concert with it. That can be disputed, but that’s the approach.

  6. PaulVK says:

    I took some time to look through the report tonight. I thought the report was helpful to the conversation. It brought together a lot of the material available especially from the “affirming” perspective. I thought the personal testimony portion of the report was the most moving. It’s hard to imagine any of the rest of the report really having much momentum without that section. Stories like these give the movement its power.

    • Nathan Bierma says:

      Agreed about the stories. Of course some are leery of them, fearing that emotion or experience will drive or determine an interpretation of Scripture, and that’s an appropriate caution. But these and countless other stories are an essential part of the overall conversation.

  7. Jeff says:

    Honestly, Paul, the article that you link to leaves me with the question…why is this being reported on? Will the Banner also report on the various communications and overtures from other classes in the US and Canada that do not speak from the same perspective on this issue? Or is that not news? Sorry, long Thursday, think I need a snickers bar.

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