We Need to Focus on Pastoral Care - Part 2
by Brandon Haan
This is the second in a series of articles about pastoral care for LGBTQ+ people. Read Part 1
Cut to the Heart
I watched a lot of Synod 2022 (as much as I had time for). And, specific to the deliberations on human sexuality, of all the comments the various delegates made (and there were a lot), there was one, far away, that stood out to me. Spoken by a delegate who himself identified as attracted to members of the same sex, he said (and I’m paraphrasing):
I joined the CRC because of the 1973 report.
I joined the CRC because I was looking for a Christian denomination that would hold me accountable in what I believed about my sexuality. I believe, as someone attracted to members of the same sex, that I am called by God not to engage in a relationship with someone of the same sex. Instead, I believe I am called to remain celibate in my obedience to God.
I was looking for a church that would help support me in that, and so, when I came across the CRC’s 1973 report, I remember thinking, “Yes! This is it! This is what I’ve been looking for! This is what I need!”
And then I remember slowing down and thinking, “But wow. This was probably really hard. This denomination probably had a really hard time implementing this report. The first ten years or so were probably really difficult.”
But then I thought, “But it’s been a while. It’s been a couple of decades now. They’ve probably figured it out. They’ve probably figured out how to balance this Biblical and theological position with hospitality and care for LGBTQ+ people.” And so, I was excited to join the CRC.
But, brothers and sisters, I’m here to tell you, it’s been so hard. Because the truth is we still haven’t figured this out. We still haven’t figured out the pastoral care piece to this. And we need to. We really need to. Because we said we were going to do that in 1973, and we haven’t. And now we’re back, having this discussion again, and we need to make sure we do it this time. We need to make sure we finally start to focus on pastoral care.
I’m so glad I was tuned in when that delegate was speaking. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll ever forget what he said. His words cut to my heart. They convicted me. And they need to convict the rest of us too.
Because he was right.
Fifty years ago we said we were going to do something. By and large, we haven’t. But the time has finally come for us to do what we said.
Waiting for the Shift
In the wake of Synod 2022, I was hopeful.
I was hopeful we could finally start doing what we said we’d do five decades ago. I was hopeful we could start to care better for the LGBTQ+ community. I was hopeful that, even as a non-affirming denomination with a traditional perspective on the Bible, we could begin the process of becoming the radically inclusive, hospitable, gracious, kind, loving denomination we said we would be in 1973.
Unfortunately, though, rather than seeing that shift, in the time since Synod 2022 what I’ve instead seen is multiple people, congregations, groups, and classes focus on things like church order, overtures, and church politics, the result of which is that we’re yet again leaving the LGBTQ+ members of our churches and communities on the sidelines. “The fight continues, and we will fight on,” seems to be the mantra, and we’re so busy opening additional fronts of this battle that we’re in danger, yet again, of forgetting the very people (image-bearers of God, mind you) wrapped up in the conflict. In other words, we’ve become so focused on winning a culture war within our denomination that the people involved in that war and our care for them have become, at best, secondary and, at worst, something we’re choosing completely to ignore.
Feed My Sheep
Whenever I bring this up in traditional CRC circles, by the way, my fellow traditionalists say things like, “Well, we can’t make that shift into pastoral care until we first figure out all the implications of Synod 2022’s decisions. We need to sort through the ins-and-outs, the nooks and crannies of Church Order, and how we’re supposed to apply Synod’s decisions before we can focus on care. Then, once we’ve figured all that out, we can start making the shift you’re talking about towards caring for LGBTQ+ people.”
I would humbly like to disagree.
I would like to disagree because, in the time since Synod 2022, some of my LGBTQ+ friends in the CRC have actually tried to take their own lives. This is not an exaggeration. These are people I know, people I care about, people I want to live and not die, and they have tried to kill themselves. And so I don’t have the luxury of waiting to start pastoral care. I don’t have the luxury of waiting for Synod 2023, 2024, 2025, and beyond to iron out the details. I don’t have time to wait for overtures and communications and Church Order edits. I don’t have time for the dust to settle and the implications to be clear before I start caring for the LGBTQ+ people I know and love. They’re members of the congregation I serve, members of the community I live in, members of both my friends and family, and they’re hurting now, so I have to start caring for them now. And so do you. So do we all.
Now, none of that is to say that the implications of Synod 2022 don’t matter. They certainly do, and I’d be the first to say that. In fact, as a delegate to Synod 2023, I understand that acutely. Working out the ramifications of Synod 2022 is important. It’s necessary. It matters.
It’s just that our care for LGBTQ+ people matters too. That’s also necessary and important. And, if we ignore it (like we did after 1973), we will do so to our shame.
Remember, as ministry leaders, LGBTQ+ people are not simply an issue to be debated or a problem to be solved. They are, instead, our sheep. And someday, when we stand before him in glory, like Peter, one of the questions the Lord will ask us is how well we cared for them: “Did you feed my lambs? Did you take care of my sheep? Did you feed my sheep?”
That will be one of the metrics for whether we’ve faithfully abided in Christ: whether we’ve extended care to the flock God has entrusted us.
That’s what I hope to explore in the next few articles in this series: How we can finally embody that kind of care to LGBTQ+ people.