Blind Spots – What We Don’t See in the Human Sexuality Discussion
Written by Andy Sytsma
We recently rented a car on a trip out of state – a fancy car! One of the features was a flashing yellow light in the driver’s and passenger side mirrors that would turn on if there was a car in the blind spot next to you. We all understand blind spots in driving. But what about blind spots in our faith?
In this article, I will outline some blind spots that I believe we have in the CRC regarding our discussion about human sexuality in general, and our debate of the Human Sexuality Report (HSR) in particular. These are things I hear in conversations with families, between pastors and church leaders, in council rooms and on the floor of classis. I wonder if you can relate to what I am seeing and hearing.
One of the blind spots is the emotional tension that we all feel surrounding this issue. We can’t see it, but we can feel it. By its very nature human sexuality evokes strong emotions and leads to tensions and misunderstandings. I have heard many stories of people lamenting past hurts they experienced when the church debated and split over women in office. The impact was real. Families, churches, and our whole denomination were divided. It was painful. It seemed unnecessary. Why go through that again?
Dr. John Cooper wrote a book summarizing the official denominational position with women in office. This was an issue of wisdom, the church said, not of doctrine or morality. We can come to different conclusions based on exegesis of different texts while holding to the same Reformed hermeneutic. Whether or not you agreed with his work, the issue of human sexuality is different. Several years ago, Calvin Theological Seminary dedicated a whole issue of “The Forum” to this topic. The theme was “Biblical and Hermeneutical Reflections on Same Sex Relationships.” Dr. Cooper and other professors warned that this was not like women in office. To conclude that gay marriage or homosexual behavior was acceptable to God wouldn’t only involve faulty exegesis, but a faulty hermeneutic as well. The HSR echoed this, “Although a variety of revisionist arguments have been made, none of them are convincing but, rather, ought to be justly judged as ‘strained and unhistorical’ and evidence of the ‘extraordinary maneuvers’ involved in the attempt to reread Scripture.”
Although there are CRC pastors who have publicly voiced their affirming position, my sense is they are in the minority. Even if people say they have problems with the HSR, I have heard most pastors and leaders say they are orthodox on this issue. Many say they are in alignment with the CRC’s 1973 Report and even voice their agreement with much of the HSR. If that is the case, why is our discussion about the HSR so difficult? Why is there so much fear and anxiety surrounding synod coming up this summer? One of the factors is this blind spot of emotional tension. To stay united and not cause division, people will stay silent or vote against the HSR, even if it means going against their beliefs. The danger is that the fear of dividing and the pain of reliving past hurts will trump people's commitment to Biblical truth.
A second blind spot is that of religious syncretism. My father and grandfather were CRC missionaries to Japan. They partnered with the Reformed Church of Japan (RCJ). The RCJ was birthed out of the ashes of World War 2 by a group of Reformed pastors pushing back against syncretism. Religious syncretism is the “fusion of diverse religious beliefs and practices.” In Japan, the WW2 context was that of Emperor worship. The Japanese government permitted Christians to practice their faith, but also forced them to worship the Emperor and pray at Shinto shrines. Reformed pastors refused to do so, and because they refused to compromise, were persecuted and sent away to backbreaking work in the coal mines.
What does all of this have to do with our discussion of human sexuality? In foreign countries like Japan, syncretism is easy for us to see. We see clearly how Japanese Christians struggle to avoid idolatry and stay true to Christ. But what about us? Are we fusing Biblical norms with cultural norms? If so, how?
Lesslie Newbigin, long-time missionary to India, said this about the church in the West: “Since I came to live in England after a lifetime as a foreign missionary, I have had the unhappy feeling that most English theology is falling into [the danger of] syncretism. Ours is an advanced case of syncretism. In other words, instead of confronting our culture with the gospel, we are perpetually trying to fit the gospel into our culture. In our effort to communicate, we interpret the gospel by the categories of our culture.”
How do we interpret the gospel through our culture? There are many ways. When it comes to the discussion of the HSR, we have a tendency to value a variety of perspectives equally, regardless of whether or not these align with Biblical truth. Even if there are only a handful of people voicing a minority opinion, we feel these voices need to be affirmed. If someone is authentic in their convictions, we feel their viewpoint must be valid, or at least given equal weight. In doing so we show we are more concerned that everyone's voice was heard, valued, and given equal weight than we are about seeking Biblical truth regarding human sexuality and whether that position is clear, consistent, and compelling.
How can this be? I believe this comes from confusing the high cultural values of authenticity and personal sexual identity with the high value of Biblical faithfulness. Today, authenticity in terms of sexual identity is key. The most important thing is to be true to yourself. This includes being true in expressing ourselves sexually. Carl Trueman explains,“…the sexual revolution, and its various manifestations in modern society, cannot be treated in isolation, but must rather be interpreted as the specific and perhaps most obvious social manifestation of a much deeper and wider revolution in the understanding of what it means to be a self. While sex may be presented today as little more than a recreational activity, sexuality is presented as that which lies at the very heart of what it means to be an authentic person.” In other words, we don’t worship the Emperor, but we worship ourselves. Sexual identity, being true to yourself, and expressing ourselves authentically, is valued more highly today than finding our identity in Christ, being true to God’s Word, and worshipping God and God alone. There is great syncretistic confusion.
If Newbigin is accurate about our Western cultural syncretism, and Trueman is accurate that we value authenticity with sexual identity without even realizing it, what is the remedy? How will we clearly see things we are blind to? What is the flashing yellow light in our side mirror that we need to pay attention to? Of course, we need to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). Love, unity and dialogue are important. Jesus prayed that “all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you” (John 17:21). But in that same prayer he said, “(Father), sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). Unity just for the sake of unity is neither helpful nor Biblical. Unity is only a benefit when we are unified on allegiance to Biblical truth.
Our commitment to God’s word and Biblical truth is essential. We need to hear from God clearly, even amidst all of the syncretistic confusion. I believe that our non-Anglo brothers and sisters, both here in North America and around the world, are a gift from God and an important voice in our conversation. The Consejo Latino, the official leadership group of Hispanic CRCs, wrote a letter strongly supporting the HSR. This letter will be included in the Agenda for Synod 2022. This is consistent with the global church. The HSR noted, “We stand with the majority church worldwide, including the Roman Catholic Church, all branches of Orthodoxy, the non-Western global church, and a majority of active Protestants in North America and Europe. Indeed, the global church finds the Western church’s challenges to biblical teaching on human sexuality incomprehensible and offensive.” We need to listen to them, let them reflect back to us what God is saying, and let them help us correct our course. If we don’t listen to them, my fear is we will lose out on the cultural diversity we say we value. We also will miss out on hearing from God.
The Bible says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Here is the question: If our non-Anglo brothers and sisters teach, rebuke and correct us, will we have the humility to let them point out our blind spots and religious syncretism? Will we see what they see, that what is most important is worshipping God and finding our identity in Christ; not worshipping self, being authentic and finding our identity in our sexuality? Will we hear what God is saying to us in his Word? It is written, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) God is calling us to fix our eyes on Jesus. Let’s set aside our blind spots and faithfully follow him.