The recent developments at General Synod, the highest assembly of our denomination in the United States and Canada, have startled many. At first glance, the bone of contention is Resolution R16-16. If adopted by 2/3 of our Classes, it would bring a change to our Book of Church Order. The change would hold consistories responsible that their pastors do not officiate at same-sex weddings.
At second glance, the proposition entails even more: Binding consistories in this way is a severe change in Reformed Church polity, because it limits the authority of consistories in an area where there used to be freedom. This is part of an increasing centralization that goes through our denomination.
But there is more. The General Synod debate on the issue made clear that a majority of delegates had little hermeneutical awareness in terms of understanding the Bible. Warnings and concerns raised from both our seminaries were disregarded and replaced by the simplistic concept that God’s Word in any Bible passage means the same in all periods of time. Starting with the oldest texts of the Bible, the wrong assumption would be that a text like the story of Sodom and Gomorra with roots in the late Bronze Age was understood then the same as we understand it now – only that none of us can really know what it means to belong to a bronze-age culture, because we live now and not back then.
In most mainline churches of the world, seminaries have taken on the difficult task of helping students to bridge the hermeneutical gap: A homosexual act committed in war during Biblical times really has nothing to do with a committed gay or lesbian life style today.
But for many in our denomination the difference is not apparent, and the hermeneutical gap has disappeared. The cultural ignorance across the lines of history could not be more severe! It’s like saying today that women’s issues mean the same for men, or African American issue the same for a white population – only that the Biblical references to homosexuality do not exist parallel in our time but belong to eras long past.
This is dangerous fundamentalism, and since it ignores fundamental principles of understanding, it can spread. Today, they disenfranchise the LGBTQ community. Tomorrow it will be women. And they day after it might be anybody who is overweight!
I’m being polemic, and that’s not a good Reformed trait. Better would be to consider where to go from here. It is important that we stay together in this. Unilateral or even individual decisions will only satisfy personal emotions, but they will not help further God’s Kingdom. This can only be done if we act with composure and in conjunction with all those affected in the same way. Only together, we will remain strong.
So let us wait for our Classis and become part of its work in this regard, so that we can sort all this out and weigh the alternatives on how to proceed. In the meantime, nothing has changed, because the unfortunate General Synod Resolution can first be ratified at General Synod next year. Let us trust that, in the meantime and together with the other churches of our Classis, we will find the way God is preparing for us to get out of this mess!
With fond wishes, Pastor Hartmut