1995 General Synod Report of the Commission on Theology, Materials for the Study and Discussion of Homosexuality: A Prospectus

View statement online

Introduction

Homosexuality is an issue which Christ’s
church cannot avoid. The challenge arises not
because developments within the larger culture
in North America make it unavoidable, but
rather because the pastoral and theological
issues surrounding homosexuality raise fundamental
concerns for the church’s identity, its
sense of what it means to obey God and to minister
to people in a broken world. Yet, it is an
issue that people often attempt to avoid,
because it involves difficult and uncomfortable
questions about sexuality, and because for many,
attitudes about homosexuality and toward
homosexual people are deeply visceral in
nature. If Christians are to confront this issue in
an honest, informed, and biblical way, however,
Christians must learn to open their hearts to
God’s Word, and in that light to set aside their
own assumptions and to listen and talk with
each other.

The General Synod of the Reformed Church
in America has dealt with the issue of homosexuality
several times in recent history. In 1978 the
Commission on Theology submitted a paper to
the General Synod entitled “Homosexuality: A
Biblical and Theological Appraisal.” General
Synod voted to make the paper available to the
churches for study (MGS 1978, pp. 229-40). In
1979 a companion paper from the commission,
“Christian Pastoral Care for the Homosexual,”
was similarly recommended for study, on the
grounds that “the report is biblically sound, positive
in spirit, and will become a valuable
resource to pastors and elders in the discharge
of their pastoral responsibilities” (MGS 1979, pp.
128-35). Hence, these papers, while not adopted
as the official position of the denomination, did
elicit favorable response from two General
Synods.

In 1990, responding to an overture which proposed
that General Synod adopt the 1978 report
“as the official position of the RCA on the subject,”
General Synod instead voted “to adopt as
the position of the Reformed Church in America
that the practicing homosexual lifestyle is contrary
to Scripture, while at the same time
encouraging love and sensitivity toward such
persons as fellow human beings” (MGS 1990, R-
11, p. 461). At the same time, General Synod
voted to “instruct the Commission on Theology
to conduct a new study on homosexuality” (MGS
1990, R-12, p. 461), and commended the 1978 and
1979 General Synod papers to the churches as
“pastoral advice until such time as a subsequent
study…is approved by General Synod” (MGS
1990, R-13, p. 461).

The Commission on Theology appointed a
task force in 1992 to help it consider the issue.
The task force recommended to the commission
that rather than producing a new study, the
church should initiate a process of study and
reflection at the congregational level. It also
proposed an outline for such a study, in which
the 1978 and 1979 reports represented the current
denominational position.

Acting on this recommendation, the commission
submitted to the 1994 General Synod a proposal
“to urge RCA congregations, classes, and
regional synods to enter into a season of discovery
and discernment guided by study, prayer, listening,
and discussion, aimed at relating to
homosexual persons in ways that are more faithful
to Christ,” using material to be prepared by
Congregational Services staff, in consultation
with the commission. After extensive discussion
in the Advisory Committee on Theology and on
the floor of General Synod, the following substitute
motion was unanimously approved by
General Synod (MGS 1994, pp. 375-76):
 

To adopt the following resolution:
The General Synod of the Reformed
Church in America recognizes and confesses
that the Reformed Church in America has
failed to live up to its own statements regarding
homosexuality in 1978 (MGS 1978, pp. 229-
40), 1979 (MGS 1979, pp. 128-35), and 1990
(MGS 1990, R-11, p. 461). Few in the Reformed
Church in America have creatively and lovingly
spoken with persons with a homosexual
orientation about the truths of Scripture and
the hope of the gospel. Many have participated
in or tolerated forms of speech and behavior
which humiliate and degrade such persons.
Many of the churches within the
Reformed Church in America have not provided
an environment where persons have
felt the acceptance and freedom to struggle
with hard issues involving sexual orientation.
Many Reformed Church in America members
have shown no interest in listening to their
heartfelt cries as they struggle for self-acceptance
and dignity. For all these wrongs, this
General Synod expresses its humble and
heartfelt repentance, and its desire to reflect
the love of Christ to homosexual persons. In
all that this General Synod does, it seeks to
obey the whole of Scripture, demonstrating in
its own life the same obedience it asks from
others. It calls itself and the whole church to
a greater faithfulness to Christ in relationships
with persons of homosexual orientation.

To this end, the General Synod calls the
church to a process of repentance, prayer,
learning, and growth in ministry. This process
will be guided by the basic biblical-theological
framework presented in the previous
statements of the General Synod in 1978
(MGS 1978, pp. 229-40), 1979 (MGS 1979, pp.
128-35), and 1990 (MGS 1990, R-11, p. 461).
The same substitute motion also instructed
the Commission on Theology to develop three
resources (MGS 1994, p. 376):

1. A study guide…[based on] the 1978 and 1979
statements of General Synod on the church
and homosexuality. This study guide will
include updating of these reports only with
respect to factual material.

2. A process of reflection for RCA congregations
who are seeking to increase their sensitivity
and awareness of the ways in which persons
of homosexual orientation have wrongly suffered
in our churches and in our society.

3. A collection of models for ministry to persons
of homosexual orientation…which are in
harmony with the Reformed Church in
America’s stated positions [which say a) that
homosexual practice is wrong, and b) that the
church must reach out in love and compassion
to persons of homosexual orientation].
The commission was further instructed to
submit these materials to the 1995 General
Synod for its approval prior to their distribution
(MGS 1994, p. 376).

As the commission discussed the 1994 Synod
mandates, three areas of concern emerged.
First, it became clear that there was not adequate
time for the careful completion of this
entire mandate before the 1995 General Synod.
Secondly, the commission felt that the 1994
Synod’s statement that the 1978 and 1979 reports
should be updated “only with respect to factual
material” (MGS 1994, p. 376) was ambiguous.
The commission believed that its work would
benefit from the opportunity to confer with the
General Synod on exactly the scope of updating
which was appropriate. Finally, there was some
concern over the possibility that significant
funds might be invested in the production of
materials on a controversial topic which might
not then be approved by the 1995 General
Synod, resulting in a waste of precious
resources.

In response to these three concerns, the commission
decided to produce a prospectus for the
materials requested by the 1994 Synod, rather
than to engage in the full production of materials.

This course of action is intended to keep
good faith with the 1994 Synod’s desire that the
theology of the materials be approved by
General Synod. It also allows the commission
the opportunity to test its understanding of what
is centrally important about the 1978, 1979, and
1990 General Synod statements on homosexuality
which should guide the production of materials.

Finally, this course of action allows the RCA
to move ahead with investing in the production
of materials, with the confidence that the materials
will be distributed and that these will reflect
the mind of the denomination. It should be
understood that the commission does not submit
this paper as a new position on homosexuality
for the denomination, but rather as part of
the process of the production of educational
materials mandated by the 1994 General Synod.

Prospectus Outline
The following is an outline of the assumptions
and the content of the materials which will be
produced to fulfill the 1994 General Synod mandates.
The first section attempts to distill from
the previous statements of the RCA on the subject
of homosexuality a set of clear parameters
to guide the production of the RCA study materials
mandated by the 1994 General Synod.

Though many sentences and passages from the
1978 and 1979 reports are reproduced verbatim,
this first section does not attempt to reproduce
every detail of the earlier statements, since
some of the data and terminology used in these
statements are no longer current. Nor does it
set out extensively to rethink or revise these
statements, though at some points it seeks to
clarify the arguments contained in them. The
aim is to make available to members of the RCA
a digest of the earlier statements to serve as a
basis for further discussion, and to define the
pastoral and theological parameters which will
guide the production of RCA study materials to
fulfill the 1994 General Synod mandates. The
second section sketches out in broad form the
basic outline which the materials will follow. …

[The complete 1995 Report can be viewed as a PDF by clicking on the above link, "View Online Statement," and then selecting "Appendix I."]

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