After a few years away from the denomination, our family decided to “return to the fold” of the Christian Reforemd Church (CRC) in Fall of 2021, and began attending Inglewood CRC here in Edmonton. Once we joined, we were sent a list of all sorts of important and useful documents, from a directory to doctrinal outlines, but none were as long or as intimidating as the Report from the Committee to Articulate a Foundation-laying Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality (Human Sexuality Report or HSR). Upon reading it, I was taken aback – for being so recent, the report didn’t seem to say anything new, and to be honest the contents made me initially doubt our decision to return to the CRC. It seemed like yet another thing meant to divide us and, especially in the thick of year two of the pandemic, I was tired of feeling isolated, especially in a church family.
Most CRC members will have heard of the HSR, and most likely have varying opinions about its relevance. Our church is no different; many prayerful, God-fearing Christians in our congregation have been deliberating about the contents of the report and how they will proceed if the report’s recommendations are considered. Thankfully, earlier this year we had the opportunity to participate in several listening circles about the HSR, facilitated by trained volunteer members, where participants were given the opportunity to voice their convictions and concerns in a safe, open space. Our church had three separate circles that met at various times and through various means (in person or online). As the title suggests, the main goal of the circles was to facilitate listening, both to each other as well as the supplementary materials. For each session, we were given a list of readings to go over beforehand, made up of a section of the HSR as well as supplementary materials from sources like The Banner, The Christian Courier, and the All One Body Project.
The conversation was fairly structured with a series of questions and a set amount of time for each participant. In each session we responded to the questions: “What’s one thought that comes to mind when you think of the study materials? Who is affected, and in what ways?” “What’s the hardest part for you?” “What are the main issues for us as a congregation?”
Seeing past our differences
Unlike a traditional meeting or discussion, we were encouraged to speak solely of our own feelings and opinions, instead of addressing or debating with each other. Through this, we were all able to focus on what each speaker was saying, instead of on how we would respond. Our feedback surrounding the process was compiled for church council and, while our specific congregation didn’t send an overture to Synod, the listening circles served to take the pulse of members’ concerns with the report.
As I mentioned, our family was new to the church, and Covid risks and restrictions meant that our family hadn’t had a chance to meet many people. Being able to see people’s faces, even over Zoom, was transformative for me, as was talking frankly about subjects that are often considered taboo in a church context. Though our group was only made up of eight people, there was quite a variety of opinions and thoughts about the contents of the HSR. In our current cultural climate, it is revolutionary to silently listen to another person’s thoughts, especially a person whose opinions differ from your own. It was both challenging and healing to understand that, behind our differing opinions, we were all God-fearing, praying, Scripture-reading believers who were earnestly seeking truth amidst shifting cultural norms. I hope we continue to hold space for each other in discussing other issues. It didn’t change my views – if anything, my standpoint is firmer after the exercise – however I am now more positive that we as the body of Christ can reconcile and move forward through our current conflicts and division.
An excerpt of this article was printed in our June 2022 issue with the title “Listening well.” It was written and published before the CRC Synod decisions made on June 14 and 15.
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