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Schism? A Response to Wes G-M

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Yesterday, General Secretary Emeritus, Wes Granberg-Michaelson posted an open pastoral letter for the pastors and members of the Reformed Church in America. His comments appear here. This is my response to his letter.

We live in a divided country. The June 26, 2015, 5-4 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges thrust the marriage debate towards the forefront of politics and social media. Posts and pictures of rainbows and "love wins" flooded Facebook. Discrimination lawsuits fight over the denial of services such as arranging wedding flowers, baking and decorating cakes, wedding photography, and hosting a ceremony. As same-sex marriage has been legalized, the current thought and marriage trends show that Americans are increasingly accepting (and supportive) of same-sex relationships.

The RCA reflects our country because we remain divided.  The RCA consists of Christians, pastors, elders, and deacons who affirm same-sex marriage and those who are not affirming. Both sides have individuals who are gay or (same-sex attracted/SSA) and those who are not. The RCA contains split families, split congregations, splits based on political lines and witnessed denominational split. 

This is not an issue, where we can take an "ostrich" approach. We cannot continue to dance around it. This is more than an issue because we are talking about people, whom God loves and we should love. We cannot and should not separate these people from our thoughts. We have individuals in our congregation who have gay children. We may have SSA or gay individuals in our congregations. I write having “skin in the game” as I have friends and acquaintances that identify as gay and family members who are homosexual. I treated LGBT+ people poorly in the past, and I am working toward lasting change on this front.

Wes Granberg-Michaelson calls for the RCA to humble itself and to come together with a sense of unity. He labels schism a sin. Schism is troubling and clearly, God condemns division in the church and desires for his church to be one. Christ prayed for unity on the cross. Psalm 133:1 says, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” The unity of the church is important for our witness and our credibility. Discord in the body is exactly what Satan desires. A schism certainly is not what anyone wants or desires.

I do not necessarily want a schism as this denomination is (and has been) my life. I know no other denomination. I was baptized and confirmed at Southridge Reformed Church, attended an RCA college (Central), worked at both Camp Geneva and Camp Manitoqua and graduated from Western Theological Seminary. I served the historic Fairview Reformed Church in Fairview, IL (formed in 1837) and currently, serve Otley Church (Otley, IA). Until my parents recently left the denomination, my family had 3+ generations of membership in the RCA. My roots here are deep. For most of us, this is our story; we all care about the denomination. Yet our commitment to the denomination cannot supersede our commitment to Christ. If I am to choose my unity with the denomination or Christ, I choose Christ. I expect all of us would.

Throughout my time, the tensions have grown. I mourn friends and colleagues who led their churches out of the RCA to other denominations. I mourn churches who struggle to find pastors because of a lack of clarity within the theology of the RCA. I mourn church plants whom resist joining the RCA over homosexuality as well. I mourn thriving church plants started by RCA churches who left the denomination over theology. We have spent a lot of time, resources, and discussion over this issue. It is messy and complex, yet it cannot continue in its current form.

Christ calls us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We admittedly have done a TERRIBLE job of reaching out to the LGBT+ community and those who are same-sex attracted. It is our job to repent from our previous actions and change our vantage point. Our repentance, however, does not necessitate a change in theology.

The ultimate example of love is, of course, Jesus himself. Jesus was accepting of sinners and he was critical of those who played “religious games.” While Jesus opened his arms to the likes of Zacchaeus, the woman in adultery, etc., he still called them to go and to sin no more. Everyone in the church agrees that sin is bad. We agree one of the churches roles is to resist sin and to lead believers to carry their crosses daily. Jesus made no place for sin within the church.

The problem however, is the RCA is not arguing about love or loving people; we are arguing over hermeneutics (our approach and how we interpret the Bible). We are arguing over sin. When we cannot agree on the definition of sin, there can be no unity. To make a comparison this is like an adulterous relationship in which the party who was “promiscuous” does not believe they have done anything wrong. They do not see a problem and will continue with both relationships while the victim remains hurt and betrayed. The victim is within their right to ask for a divorce.  Infidelity is one of the few reasons offered by Jesus as a biblical reason for divorce. This does not mean that they like it they may not want it completely either. Divorce is not ideal, but sometimes the gap is too hard to bridge. Reconciliation is only possible through repentance, from both sides. Without repentance, there is no change. Without change, there is no trust. Without trust, there is no reconciliation. Without reconciliation, there can be no marriage.

Those affirming LGBT+ people in their ministries consider it their calling, an essential part of the way they carry out ministries. They truly believe they are serving God. They will not stop their ministries. They will not "repent" because in their mind, there is no sin. Conservatives will not stop calling homosexuality a sin, and preaching against it and they cannot remain in a marriage with a partner who (in their mind) is committing adultery. Their option then is to accept adultery or to file for divorce. Without repentance and reconciliation, there will be no remedy.

The Gospel Alliance and Room For All will not agree on whether committed same-sex relationships are permissible according to scripture. No amount of conversation is going to convince either side that they are wrong or call them to stop working within their biblical convictions and hermeneutics. We are hindering the ministry of Christ by wasting precious time and resources into conversations, which are keeping us from ministries and have no possible resolution. It is time to recognize the relationship in its current form is over.

Let us depart as friends, make provisions for a grace-filled exit and allow the churches to pursue God as the Holy Spirit is leading them.