The Christian Reformed Church of North America (CRC) and my Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) are fraternal, ecumenical partners and are both denominational members of the World Communion of Reformed Churches as well as the World Reformed Fellowship. The CRC in 2016 appointed a study committee to address questions of human sexuality, with that committee publishing its report this past weekend. The report can be found here and its executive summary here. The committee is soliciting feedback from CRC congregations and classes, and its 2021 synod may yet edit their report in light of that response. The EPC similarly dealt with these subjects through a revised position paper (2016) and extensive pastoral letter (2018). There is much to commend in the CRC’s report, and several areas that the EPC could stand to emulate or consider imitating in modifying our own position and pastoral papers on this subject. My areas of concern focus in particular on the report’s therapeutic approach, minimizing the necessity of repentance, sidestepping important confessional questions on transgenderism and preferred pronouns, and the intrinsic evil of pornography.
Areas of Appreciation
I want to begin my comments with the report’s strong conclusion, which addresses the CRC’s confessional position regarding human sexuality: It observes that Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 108’s teaching that the 7th commandment (“You shall not commit adultery”) condemns all “unchastity”, which includes premarital sex, extramarital sex, adultery, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex (pg. 146, 148). Citing Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 81-82 and Belgic Confession 29, the report affirms that the CRC’s confessions already teach that the church may never ignore or affirm these expressions of unchaste sexual immorality, and instead must warn that those who practice such sins and refuse to repent will not inherit the kingdom of heaven (pg. 146). The report concludes that the CRC’s confessional teaching is biblically warranted “because these sins threaten a person’s salvation. The Scriptures call the church to warn people to flee sexual immorality for the sake of their souls and to encourage them with God’s presence and power to equip them for holy living. A church that fails to call people to repentance and offer them the hope of God’s loving deliverance is acting like a false church (pg. 148).”
This is sober and hard language, but loving…
I keep seeing panicky, conservative Christians describe the recent Supreme Court ruling, Bostock v Clayton, as redefining sex to include sexual orientation by legislating from the bench (e.g., Colin Hanson, Joe Carter, Rod Dreher, Russell Moore, Kevin DeYoung, Jake Meador, and Sen. Josh Hawley). This is incorrect, and Christians need to calm down.
The Civil Rights Act prohibits discriminating against employees because of their sex, and the majority opinion of the court ruled that it is impossible to fire someone for being LGBT without also discriminating against them on the basis of their sex:
Today,we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.
The Court is not redefining the meaning of sex or adding the category of sexual orientation to the law, but ruling that any vocational discrimination against someone for being LGBT necessarily includes discrimination on the basis of sex…
It was released yesterday, and is generally superior to the Nashville Statement, which it was intended to supplant as the PCA’s position. In particular, I think its section on sanctification and homosexuality is far better than Nashville.
The center of my confessionally-oriented critique of Nashville was that it conflated homosexual orientation and desire, making them both sinful acts or arising from a sinful nature. I argued that the Westminster Standards teach that the fall into sin not only corrupted human desires, but also inflicted corrupted pressures on human desires, pressures which do no not arise from the moral character of the person being tempted. A homosexual orientation could be a way of describing a persistent pressure to have disordered affections, rather than being a way of describing disordered affections themselves.
While not embracing this error of Nashville, the PCA report simply avoids the conversation, I think very unhelpfully. §8 on the impeccability of Christ is the closest the report comes to this, acknowledging that temptation to sin can be something that occurs passively and externally to a person, but only discusses this as something occurring to Christ, “Christ had only the suffering part of temptation, where we also have the sinning part”. In context, this seems to indicate that all other people always experience temptation from both external pressure and internal sinful desires simultaneously (which may be experientially true, but I don’t think can be dogmatically asserted).
The ~50 page report spends 6 lines on the issue of orientation, and only discusses whether it is appropriate to use that term. Yes, if employed to describe a set of experiences of persistent homosexual desires; No, if the term in its context implies a rigid sense of homosexual normativity. This is wise counsel, I think, but demonstrates that the report still conflates orientation with having the desire, either in regards to classification of a history of desire or an assertion about the permanency of desire. The Side B of Gay Christianity has sometimes used the term to describe the inclination (i.e., external pressure) to the desire, which is substantially different than the report’s engagement with the issue. I think the report missed an opportunity to address this subject.
In my first post I critiqued the Nashville Statement for areas in which it conflicted with the Westminster Standards, particularly in its understanding of sin. In this post I want to engage with gay Christianity’s Side B. This post assumes the spadework of the previous installment. Side B is the belief that the only valid sexual practice other than celibacy is between man and wife in marriage, but that you can retain a gay identity without practicing homosexuality. This is in contrast to Side A, which approves of homosexuality as a valid, Christian, sexual expression. Side B is associated with the Revoice Conference and the Spiritual Friendship movement.
I think there is much to commend about Side B, but do think it falls short of the biblical standard in multiple areas. This can be difficult to pin down since this movement crosses denominational lines and is more of an ethos than an institution or statement. Nevertheless, there are some common features of the movement that do not comport with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms…
The first installment in this series will examine the compatibility of the Nashville Statement on Human Sexuality with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. One of the criticisms of the Nashville Statement was its production by a parachurch organization rather than a church. However, with the endorsement of the Nashville Statement this past summer by the PCA this criticism has been rendered moot. While I am not a member of the PCA, my own EPC shares with it the same confessional standards. So, it was with great interest that I watched a Reformed and Westminsterian sister-church declare the Nashville Statement to be biblically faithful. Both the PCA and EPC require that their officers vow that they “sincerely receive and adopt the Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this Church as containing the system of doctrine found in the scripture.” The Westminster Confession and Catechisms are not the final word on scripture’s teaching, nor are they the final word on the subject matter to which they expressly speak. However, what can be inferred from this vow is that for any additional doctrinal statement to be considered biblically faithful it must be compatible with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. The PCA asserting that the Nashville Statement is biblically faithful is not the same thing as the Nashville Statement actually being biblically faithful, and the best tool to ascertain its biblical fidelity is its compatibility with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms…