7.26.2005

Confused about the RCA - Steve

So our General Synod this past June deposed Norm Kansfield from office for performing a gay marriage, then days later decided to decide what its policy on homosexuality will be in 2008. Norm had married his daughter to another woman. Norm's daughter has been on the ordination track in the RCA, under care of one of its classes (plural of classis, another word for presbytery) for several months, with nothing but encouragement to continue.

Meanwhile, another minister in the RCA says he has performed several gay marriages, but hasn't been confronted about it, highlighting an inconsistency in the RCA's policy, or enforcement thereof. He has speculated that he hasn't been confronted either because his church is so big, or because the weddings were not licensed by the state, as Kansfield's was, in Massachusetts. (Source: Times Union of Albany, Saturday, June 18, 2005, A1, story by Danielle Furfaro)

Neither of those reasons cut the mustard.
1. Are we waiting for the state to tell the church what is right now? How is it a bigger deal for a minister to perform a gay marriage when the state signs on, versus when they don't?
2. Are we determining who we discipline based on how big they are, because we have to survive, after all? What good is survival if you tolerate sin? You're spiritually dead, then, anyway. God worked with 300 of Gideon's men, 7,000 of Elijah's Israel, less than 100,000 of Nehemiah's returning exiles. Why the grab to retain numbers at the expense of Biblical truth?

So what's the scoop? Is this a don't ask don't tell policy? 'Cause if it is, we've got people telling, even if we don't want to know.

And another thing: was this discipline against Norm for the crime of going against church policy, or for going against the Bible? Turns out it is the former. We can't get consensus, it seems, on what the Bible says about this issue, so the only way we could get a guilty sentence from the Synod was to charge Norm with flouting the church's position. But wait, I thought we didn't have one yet; what's that about 2008?

The RCA has position papers going back to the '70s that oppose both what Norm and others did, and what his daughter is attempting to do. We need to live out our beliefs, or change them and let me go elsewhere. But this inconsistency is worse than doing nothing. Sure, some people are trying to be gracious, but it's coming across as hypocrisy and inconsistency instead. For the sake of a clear voice and consistency, we need to clarify what the RCA stands for, even if it means losing some people.

I wonder when Bible-believing RCA members are going to get over their timidity - "Maybe we went too far in what we did to Norm" - and start realizing the problem is much bigger than we first thought - that we need to start recovering a Biblical lifestyle at the denominational level somewhere, sometime, and that to be squeamish and pass on this one because it's such a hot potato only makes it harder to fight the next battle that will inevitably come.

When will we realize the RCA's problems are bigger than we care to admit - that the issue of homosexuality is just a symptom of a faulty way of reading the Bible as the changeable words of men about God, instead of as God's eternally true words about Himself and us? This faulty view of the Bible has far-reaching consequences. As one pastor told me recently, why are we straining out the gnat of homosexuality and swallowing the camel of universalism present in the RCA tent?

3 comments:

  1. Dear Steve,
    I share your confusion. I also agree with your insight that our problem is not about homosexuality, but about obedience to Scripture. We want to say we are evangelical, as long as that means we are free to ignore certain portions of the Word which are, let us say, inconvenient (eg., divorce, sexuality, the Sabbath, women in ministry).

    The problem is that we have always held up the Heidelberg Catechism as our "acceptable" Standard, while ignoring or dismissing the Belgic Confession and Canons which supply pointed doctrinal and biblical statements which would end the ongoing "debates." In other words, we need to make strict subscription to our Standards a priority, and not just the weak statement all clergy make about the Standards being "historic witnesses" - which is just another way of saying that they are quaint and out of date.

    We need to uphold our three Standards in the same manner as a member of the PCA or OPC subscribes to the three Westminster documents.

    God Bless,
    Scott

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  2. I don't think you have your facts straight if you think that I'm receiving "nothing but encouragement to continue" with regard to my ordination and service within the RCA. Let me recap for you some of what's gone on in my life this past year thanks to the current witch hunt going on in the RCA:

    * A number ministers took it upon themselves to forward around an anonymous email titled "put a finger in the dike" about my wedding and candidacy for ordination.

    * Members of ReNew determined to spread word of what was a small, private ceremony across the denomination causing this controversy to erupt (note, other people “told” about my wedding, I certainly did not announce it to the denomination).

    * Several classes have written to my classis expressing their desire that I not be ordained. Not one of them forwarded their letter to me personally, though.

    * My father has been dismissed from office and suspended as a minister.

    * I continue to receive hate mail from "Christians" in the RCA.

    * Ministers such as yourself have focused on my life without talking to me, getting to know me or interacting pastorally with me. This is in direct violation of those 1970s statements denominational you cite. “The church should acknowledge its sins against the homosexual. The church is obliged to reflect her Lord's openness to all persons. This includes such obligations as learning what people are really like. If an aggressive apology on behalf of homosexuality is to be deplored, so is homophobia, a compulsive, irrational fear and loathing of those suspected of homosexuality, rooted in ignorance and triggering expressions of rudeness and hatred (1979 General Synod Report of the Commission on Theology).”

    Bottom line: if I am receiving “nothing but encouragement to continue” then why do I feel so incredibly hurt by the church I once loved?

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  3. Well.

    A simple clarification should suffice here. The encouragement I was referring to was at the classis level, which is the only level that matters regarding ordination in the RCA.

    I do not deny you've been judged before people have gotten to know you, nor that that judgment has been doled out overly harshly to you. I am saddened that truth has not been spoken to you graciously.

    I DO deny that we have no right to judge before we know someone. If we have all the pertinent facts - and those would have come out at Synod this year - we can do so, even in absentia (1 Corinthians 5:3). Will the sinfulness of homosexual practice be changed if I know what kind of ice cream you like, how long you've struggled with this, who you first met who affirmed you, etc.?

    Moreover, in cases of public controversy or scandal, the broader church has often found that Matthew 18:15ff need not be followed, since keeping the issue discrete (the purpose of the process) is a moot point anyway. But since we're here together...

    Ann, I love you as a baptized sister in Christ. I confess to you and the church that I have been an adulterer-in-heart, heterosexually (Matt 5:27-28). Similarly, I would ask you to confess in line with Scripture any sin of homosexual practice in your life (recognizing a difference between a morally pure "orientation" and a morally impure lusting in the heart, whether heterosexual or homosexual).

    Jesus did not come simply to love us just as we are, but to sanctify us and wash us clean with the Word (Eph 5:26). We are called to fight against sin (Gen 4:7). I confess that I often fail in that fight; I only ask to hear that you are fighting, and not calling sin an acceptable lifestyle, just because the world does.

    If you don't believe such a confession aligns with Scripture, I would urge you to respect (tolerate) the beliefs of the majority within the RCA (reflected at your father's trial), by finding a body of believers like the UCC that believes as you do. Yes, I realize the personal inconvenience and hardship this would cause you, but it pales in comparison to the denomination-wide controversy in the RCA.

    Perhaps you will consider this "hate mail." I hope not. I would love to continue this interaction via email, if you would prefer a more private forum.

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