HSR Summaries: Section I: Introduction & Section II: Preamble
The Human Sexuality Report that came to Synod 2022 has been widely debated but seldom read. Its intimidating length and broad areas of discussion mean many have heard about it but few have dug into it for themselves. The debate at Synod centered almost exclusively on the issue of same-sex marriage, but the report is far broader than any single issue. In this series we want to give you an overview of the Human Sexuality Report in bite-sized pieces and offer pastoral implications for us to live into going into the future.
The Human Sexuality Report that came to Synod 2022 has been widely debated but seldom read. Its intimidating length and broad areas of discussion mean many have heard about it but few have dug into it for themselves. The debate at Synod centered almost exclusively on the issue of same-sex marriage, but the report is far broader than any single issue. In this series we want to give you an overview of the Human Sexuality Report in bite-sized pieces and offer pastoral implications for us to live into the future. This first part will look at the Preamble and Introduction to get us rolling.
Synod 2016 formed a study committee as a request from multiple churches and classis, including an overture I wrote that came through Classis Zeeland. I wrote in 2015, “We live in a changing culture, and nowhere has that been clearer than in the realm of gender, human sexuality, and marriage… Culturally we have, as Jonathon Grant says, “put our confidence in sex but lost our faith in marriage [in such a way that] the Christian view of sexuality seems naive and unrealistic.” The effect is that real people are struggling, unsure, hurting, broken, seeking, and confused. These are people we know and love, and for whom we as a church are called to love and care. We have to do better. We also realize that marriage is not only rooted in God’s nature and in creation but is a picture of the gospel and the eschatological reality of the wedding supper of the lamb—our eternal marriage as a church to our Savior. It is about more than just us.
Therefore, Synod adopted the following: “That synod appoint a new study committee to articulate a foundation-laying biblical theology of human sexuality that pays particular attention to biblical conceptions of gender and sexuality. The central aim of this theological task will be to provide concise yet clear ethical guidance for what constitutes a holy and healthy Christian sexual life, and in light of this to serve the church with pastoral, ecclesial, and missional guidance that explains how the gospel provides redemptive affirmation and hope for those experiencing sexual questioning, temptation, and sin.”
That report begins with the simple declaration that, “God made sex, and, like everything God made, sexual intimacy was designed as a very good thing.” This is true not only of the physical side of our sexuality, but also of the spiritual and emotional side. But, like everything in a broken world, “God’s good gift of sexuality is tainted… throughout history humans have sinned and been sinned against sexually. Our selfish treatment of others or their treatment of us leaves us with shame, anger, hurt, or fear of intimacy, or it causes us to withdraw. As powerful as sex is, its misuses can be brutally destructive.” Our hyper-sexualized culture has overwhelmed us with questions and struggles around gender, identity, and sexuality.
The report is brutally honest about our failures in loving God and neighbor in the area of human sexuality. “Instead of being salt and light to the world, embodying for our neighbors joyful sexual wholeness in communities of loving marriages and friendships, we in the Christian Reformed Church have been as susceptible to the lures of the evil one as has the rest of the Western church.” We have failed each other. “We have too often been indistinguishable from the world around us.” “We have grossly mistreated persons among us who identify as gay, lesbian, or transgender with mockery, derision, or harsh denunciation.”
In short, “the church is facing a crisis of gospel proportions.” But in that very realization, we find an opportunity to repent together, confess together, grow together, live together, serve together, and offer hope to a desperate, broken world. This will mean finding our identity in Christ alone, living as forgiven and forgiving sinners, taking up our cross, offering fellowship and hope, meeting one another’s needs, and living in mission together.
And so, the Human Sexuality Report comes to us as a pastoral response to a human crisis with deep biblical and theological roots, bringing to us the good news of the gospel in the life-giving Word of God applied to our everyday lives. Piecemeal reflections will no longer do. As the overture asked, we need a comprehensive biblical theology of human sexuality before we can address specific issues like pornography or divorce or same sex relationships. In the next article, we will explore part III of the report, which gives us this biblical theology of human sexuality which will undergird all the applications to the specific issues addressed in the remainder of the report.