For me the most important part of almost any gathering are the unplanned conversations. Conversations like these are an invaluable way to get a sense of what is afoot in the church and what people are thinking. So at breakfast one morning a Canadian woman who was retired from a subculture high status position told me about an expectation and hope she had for the Inspire conference. She told me that she had hoped they would have had a breakout group on the CRC and the LGBT question. She had apparently contacted someone and asked if the conference would host such a conversation and the answer was no. It wasn’t the purpose of the conference to get into an issue like this. She was disappointed but accepted the explanation and understood it.
Why no LGBTQ Breakout Group for Inspire2017?
On one hand if I were in charge of the conference I would likely have made the same decision. I can appreciate the reason to not get into it. On the other hand a decision like this says a lot about where the denomination is at. If you want to know where the unresolved stuff is in a relationship or community go to the things not talked about.
I decided to probe a bit more.
I suggested that hosting a conversation about this issue is a pretty complicated thing to do well. There was another pastor at the table who was new to me, and so he chimed in and agreed with me. In the church context this is a notoriously difficult conversation especially if you are responsible for an institution (like a local church) and have an eye out for outcomes. This issue always has with it the potential of alienating someone and even driving them from the church no matter what way the conversation goes. For most stewards of an institution such a conversation is potentially high risk, low reward.
She testified that this was a big issue in the churches where she lived and that she’d like more conversation about it. She didn’t state her position to me although I assume she had one even if I didn’t presume to know what it was. In other words I didn’t get the sense that she was looking for an answer as much as looking for a resolution to the conflict along the lines of her desired outcome.
Should the denomination posture itself like it did with WICO?
I decided to go a bit deeper with this with her. I asked her what posture the denomination should take in hosting such a converation. Should the denomination act as an impartial host for the conversation or should the denomination promote its current position on the subject?
This question gave her pause. She clearly had an assumption about it but had never thought about this aspect of the conversation. After a moments thought she decided that the denomination should play the part of an impartial host, as it did, in her words in the women in office (WICO) controversy.
I decided to probe this a bit with her too so I asked her if she thought the way the CRC pursued that conflict brought resolution or prolonged the conflict leaving it unresolved and even perhaps unresolvable. I noted that it is common for neither side in that debate to feel completely comfortable with the denominational “2 voice” position. Those against WICO sometimes profess to feel like an unwelcome minority in some settings while many women also feel themselves disadvantaged by hidden biases leaving them also feeling like second class citizens. I asked if she thought how we handled that actually and finally resolved anything?
At this point I think I exhausted her interest in this line of conversation at the breakfast table and we let it rest there.
To me a conversation like this is important data. This was obviously a very loyal CRC member. She was very well educated, articulate and concerned about the future of the CRC and this topic. It leaves me with all the same questions I’ve been stewing for a long time.
- How should leadership work in the CRC? How should CRC institutions facilitate leadership? What kinds of leadership do we need and what are our expectations about it? These are not simple issues given the complex relationship between the CRC as organism and the denomination as sy-board.
- What did this conversation say about our implicit lists of in and out-of-bounds. I doubt she would have thought the CRC should host a conversation on polygamy or legalizing prostitution. There are some subjects that people imagine are “up for debate” meaning open for consideration and acceptance while others are not. So what really are these conversations for?
- How do we have these conversations? I’ve said for a long time that we have a poor track record in facilitating large, consequential, long term conversations and my exhibit A has been the Belhar conversation. If anyone thinks we are done with it you’re mistaken.
I think the idea of establishing a category of “contemporary testimony” is a good move in hopes of facilitation future conversations but I haven’t seen any evidence that we’re taking steps to figure out how to do this moving forward. What this tends to mean in my experience is that we will continue to not do conversation well.
I believe that the overture/synod process is a good one but it tends to be rather binary. We’ve tried to do something different with the “Faith formation” process and for that effort I think we’ve seen good results, but part of that was the nature of that particular pursuit. No one is going to be against improving how we remember our baptism and facilitating profession of faith and beyond within our confessional position.
No LGBTQ but there were plenty of Social Justice Breakouts
I did notice that there were numerous breakout groups that touched on what is currently being called “social justice”. As we saw at Synod 2017 this is another hot button area for many in the CRC. Matt Tuininga, who teaches Moral Theology at CTS recently wrote a “The CRC Needs a Conversation on the Gospel and Social Justice”. Robert Joustra who teaches at Redeemer had a piece on The Banner website.
I love the fact that the Inspire conference has created a new space for the body work we need to do ministry in this globalized culture but we haven’t seemed to figure out how to have other conversations as noted by the increasingly volcanic polarization around social justice issues.
So, what do you think?
- What does the CRC need to do to figure out how to institutionalize leadership?
- How do confessions relate to contextual change and how can that help guide us in posturing denominational resourcing for processing conflict?
- What next steps do we need to take to figure out how to have better, larger conversations about controversial and consequential issues?