Essays

A Closer Look at CRC Policy

by Dave Ellens

I’ve made a huge mistake.

Such a statement, bold as it is, is almost always hard to make. We, as Christians, should be among the first in line to admit wrongdoings or misconceptions when dealing with the life around us. Oftentimes, though, it seems that there is a certain amount of infallibility that we tend to associate with our belief system, with our interpretation of how things are – particularly within Scriptural analysis. But even if we believe that the Scriptures themselves are infallible – truly without error – it is frighteningly unhealthy to think that our understanding of them is also without error. If truly open, respectful dialogue is to be our goal in terms of settling – or at least civilly discussing – contentious issues within Christianity (such as homosexuality), it strikes me that both parties should at least be willing to concede that certain aspects of their beliefs may turn out to be misguided. There is a certain humility that is inherently necessary to facilitate such beneficial dialoguing, but it seems to be absent all too often — especially when passion and personal experience enter the picture.

As convenient as it would be, it seems almost preposterous that some see the Bible as a definitive guidebook of sexual ethics; moreover, as the definitive word on how a Christian should understand the concept of homosexuality. As Mel White (former speechwriter for Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Billy Graham) notes, the Bible accepts sexual practices that we condemn and condemns sexual practices that we currently accept. Just as the Scriptures ‘clearly’ condemn homosexuality, the Bible also says clearly that sex with a prostitute is acceptable for the husband but not for the wife. Polygamy is acceptable, as is a king’s having many concubines. (Solomon, the wisest king of all, had 1,000 concubines.) Slavery and sex with slaves, marriage of girls aged 11-13, and treatment of women as property are all accepted practices in the Scriptures. In Deuteronomy, it is said that if it is discovered that a bride is not a virgin, she must be stoned to death. Deuteronomy also says that both parties in an act of adultery should be put to death. On the flip side, there are strict prohibitions against interracial marriage and birth control, and Mark (amongst numerous other Biblical texts) clearly forbids both divorce and remarriage.

When viewed in this light, the clarity of the seven passages that mention same-sex sexual activity begins to diffuse a bit. Why, for example, are issues of interracial marriage and remarriage ‘clearly’ outdated, while virtually identical condemnations of homosexuality are seen as the definitive stance on the issue? I recall someone saying once that “there are more Biblical reasons to oppose homophobia than there are to oppose homosexuality.�? Such a sentiment rings true to me. Upon introducing elements of cultural context, translation difficulties, and intense exegetical work, a definitively Christian stance on homosexuality falls into a deep shadow of ambiguity. The thought of David Meyers sticks with me: “When torn between judgment and grace, let us err on the side of grace. When torn between self-certain conviction and uncertain humility, let us err of the side of humility. When torn between contempt and love, let us err on the side of love. In so doing we may be more faithful disciples of the one who embodied grace, humility, and love.�?

If we, as Reformed Christians, truly believe that we should be “in the world but not of the world,�? shouldn’t we be actively engaging the fact that virtually all major American mental health associations, representing nearly half a million professionals, are essentially unanimous in rejecting the effectiveness and validity of reparative therapy (which implies that homosexuality is a disorder that needs a cure)? A 2003 Pew Research Center study reported that by a 4 to 1 margin, “highly committed�? evangelicals believe sexual orientation can be changed. By a 2 to 1 margin, mainline Protestants (and White Catholics by a similar margin) think it can’t. Why is this? Such a discrepancy undoubtedly deserves our attention. Shouldn’t we also give some credence to the fact that the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Association of Social Workers, and the American Psychiatric Association have declared that reparative therapy has distinct potential for harm and that their ‘success rates’ are potentially unfounded or misguided? Are we, as Reformed Christians, supposed to ignore or downplay that reality since it, technically, falls into the realm of the secular?

Calvin seems to be caught on a fault line of indecision, not wanting to explicitly promote concepts such as reparative therapy, but clearly not endorsing a loving (and distinctly romantic) relationship between two people of the same sex. What results, then, is – as Ms. Baker suggested last week – a vague call to celibacy for those who are homosexual on this campus. A question that begs to be asked, then, is whether or not we, as the Calvin community, are essentially letting an entire demographic of people (most likely larger than some might initially believe to be present) flounder in unnecessarily murky waters during their years here — essentially feeling like the practical questions of how they can go about living their lives and experience love are being shoved under the carpet of ambiguity (and, it seems, fear).

Is ‘experiencing love’ merely pleasure-seeking, just a choice to follow our hormonal impulses? I’m quite sure most people would not reduce the quest for love to something so basely blanketing. When we, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike, live predominantly for pleasure’s sake, we are inviting disaster. But since it would border on ludicrous to assume that homosexuals are any more pleasure-seeking than heterosexuals, the questions become much more layered, both inside and outside of explicitly Scripture-related issues: Should the Biblical ‘rules’ relating to sexuality still apply even if we no longer accept the (predominantly cultural) reasons for which they were made? Should they still apply even if we no longer apply the punishments which were attached to them?

Sometimes such questions get lost in the shuffle of mudslinging and push-button rhetoric: “anti-homosexual,�? “bigot,�? “liberal,�? “practicing,�? “lifestyle,�? and a flurry of other word choices that often impede courageous and necessary attempts at dialogue. It strikes me that we need to remind ourselves that no question is a stupid question, particularly when dealing with sensitive issues such as homosexuality; but that questions need to continue to be asked. What is the range of possibilities of how a particular verse could be interpreted? Is the CRC in dire need of a reality check in terms of its legalistic approach to homosexuality? Since the church has almost universally made an about-face on the issues of interracial marriage and re-marriage, should we (as Lewis Smedes suggests) be making a similar case for homosexuality?

Before we, as Christians, get on a high horse of our beliefs, it helps to get slapped with a reality check — to lie down on the ground and look up at the stars — from time to time. A thought from our namesake, John Calvin, comes to mind. Quoting Psalm 93, he attacked Copernicus and his groundbreaking sun-centered theory of the solar system: “The earth also is established. It cannot be moved.�? Calvin added, “Who will venture to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?�?

As the dialogue around homosexuality continues in the days, weeks, months, and years down the road, will we end up looking similarly foolish?

posted in full by permission of Dave Ellens

1 thought on “A Closer Look at CRC Policy”

  1. Dave,
    If you read this I wanted to say I loved your essay, well articulated and I like the way you demonstrate the contextual nature of 7 passages that deal (all in a rather terse manner) with “homosexuality.” I hope that we (as Christians) continue to have questions and not simply accept the status quo as divinly placed but rather we (with our good reformed roots) continue to contextualize and divine truth for our lives.

    p.s. another great line is where we are told not to have a garment of two fabrics for its an abomination… lots of things end up getting labeled that it seems.

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