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…
This is a follow-up post to my two-part series on the Westminster Standards and gay Christianity, which can be found here. In this installment I will be addressing the question of transgender pronouns and the Westminster Standards. I am not here addressing the subject of transgenderism in general and the best medical or social response to it, for which I recommend the work of Madeleine Kearns on the subject.
The topic of transgenderism and pronouns is a fraught one, but exactly because of its complications it needs to be addressed. There are two foundational principals that I am not interested in demonstrating here, but am rather assuming. First, that men and women are distinct in sex and gender and these distinct attributes are not interchangeable (e.g. Gen. 1:27, 2:20-24, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 11:8-15; cf. WCF 4.2, WLC 17, WSC 10), and second, that our bodies are not incidental to being human but constitute who we are. Men have male bodies and women have female bodies. Men ought to be men and women ought to be women.
There is a difference between sex and gender, in that sex refers to someone’s biological sex while gender refers to someone’s personal or social identity that directs their sexual behavior, which is normally, and ought to be, tethered to their biological sex. Someone’s gender is how they live out their biological sex, and ought to be reflective of that sex. Since our bodies matter and are constitutive of our identities, our genders should be consistent with our embodied being. In other words, men should be masculine and women should be feminine. Men should identify as men and women should identify as women…
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.
From Ross Douthat, in The New York Times,
The rhetoric of anti-Catholicism, whether its sources are Protestant or secular, has always insisted that the church of Rome is the enemy of what you might call healthy sexuality. This rhetorical trope has persisted despite radical redefinitions of what healthy sexuality means; one sexual culture overthrows another, but Catholicism remains eternally condemned…But at the same time, the way the “healthy sexuality” supposedly available outside the church seems to change with every generation offers a reason to be skeptical that all Catholic ills would vanish if Rome only ceased making “unnatural” demands like celibacy and chastity.
The difference between the secularists of today who believe that priests need to be sexually liberated, and the Protestants of the past (and present), is that the Reformed believe Rome insisting on clerical celibacy goes beyond scripture and even violates it. This twists the gospel by concluding that celibacy is necessary for a better spiritual life…