Growing up CRC and thinking about homosexuality

A two-part series on faith and sexual identity

In 2013 the Christian Reformed Synod was asked by member classes for guidance on the issue of homosexuality, given that same-sex marriage is now legal in Canada and most of the United States. The CRCNA holds that, “Homosexuality is a condition of disordered sexuality that reflects the brokenness of our sinful world.” Synod has appointed a study committee and we expect a report a year from this summer.

I know that contributors to and readers of Christian Courier hold a variety of different perspectives on this topic. Some have argued that social concern about homosexuality is a sign of a liberal “slippery slope” akin to legalizing euthanasia and smoking pot; others call for a more generous compassion toward those whose sexual identity is something we may not understand very well.

I’ve spent a lot of time and prayer focused on LGBTQ matters and I’d like to share my thoughts with readers. In this series I want to do two things. First, because narrative is so important in understanding different perspectives, I will share my own story. Then, next month I will describe what a variety of Reformed and Evangelical theologians teach regarding Biblical hermeneutics on passages that I was taught condemn homosexuality.

As I have mentioned in earlier columns, I was born into a Christian Reformed family and attended CRC churches and Christian schools all my life. Being a Calvinist was an important part of my theological identity. I was a Calvinette decades ago, and I could recite the TULIP (a Calvinist acronym) at age eight. When I met Charles, my husband, at Dordt I was charmed to see Calvin’s Institutes on his bookshelf. It’s embarrassing, but in college friends and I had t-shirts made with the face of Abraham Kuyper to demonstrate our commitment to Reformed principles: All of life is religion.

If you had asked me then what I thought about homosexuality I would have answered glibly, “Look to Scripture.” Sodom and Gomorrah were punished because of gay men; Scripture is clear that homosexuality is unnatural, and also kind of creepy. I spent little time thinking about this other than to parrot what I had been taught: homosexuality is sinful but homosexuals must be loved. Love the sin; hate the sinner. If they insist in living in a state of unrepentant sin we must exclude them from our institutions.

Faulty assumptions
Writing that last paragraph was hard for me because I can now see that I have been a source of great pain to gay people over the course of my life. I repent of this. I repent of this because I now know that what I was taught about homosexuality was not based on Scripture but was based on an assumption about what Scripture said. I know this will upset readers, but hear me out. I’ve worked on this; I’ve struggled with this. And I’ve come to understand that on this issue we have seen through a glass darkly (1 Cor.13:12).

Over the course of a few years three things happened to bring me on a journey.

First, I lived in the Netherlands and in Washington D.C. for a period and met gay Christians. This was cognitive dissonance for me.

Second, I learned more about biology and came to understand that God has created a wide diversity of human beings with chromosomes that are XX, XY, XXY and other formations. What we now call intersex has existed in all places and at all times; millions and millions of people do not fit into what I always believed was a standard XX/XY clear, biologically delineated dichotomy.

Third, I heard a sermon that demonstrated to me that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality but violence and lack of hospitality. The assumption that the Hebrew word yada, translated in English as to know, means sexual intercourse has led our community to assume this story condemns homosexual acts. But if yada means knowing in a different way, like to interrogate or to meet, then our assumption about homosexuality is misdirected. This sermon sent me into Scripture and then into a seven year study of all that theologians have taught us about how to understand the teachings of both the Old and New Testaments.

Next month I will share material from the authors that have been the most helpful to me in understanding the questions my study raised. The thing that was the most surprising to me was that theologians in my own Reformed tradition have guided me the most clearly. My opinion about homosexuality has changed not because of culture and not in spite of Scripture; rather, it has changed because of Scripture. 

  • Julia Stronks has practiced law and is the Edward B. Lindaman Chair at Whitworth University, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. She lives in Spokane, Wash.

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