An Overture Regarding Homosexuality and the RCA
NOTE: This overture is under consideration and has not been approved by my classis (South Grand Rapids). If approved, the overture may undergo revision and amendment. Other RCA classes may also be considering the same or a similar overture. The General Synod will consider overtures at its annual meeting this June in Palos Heights, IL.
The Classis of ___________ overtures the General Synod to adopt the following resolution:
While compassion, patience, and loving support should be shown to all those who struggle to overcome same-sex desires, we also state unequivocally that homosexual behavior is a sin according to the Holy Scriptures. Further, as a violation of Scripture, those persons engaged in the celebration, promotion, blessing, solemnization, or activity of homosexual behavior are subject to discipline in the Reformed Church in America.
1. According to the Book of Church Order, the only offenses subject to discipline are “those which can be shown to be such from the Holy Scriptures, or from the Constitution of the Reformed Church in America” (Chapter 2, Part I, Art. 2, Sec. 1).
Homosexual behavior is repeatedly and clearly forbidden in Scripture. The order of creation informs us that God’s plan for sexuality is one woman and one man (Genesis 2:18-25). This order is reaffirmed by Jesus (Matthew 19:4-6) and Paul (Ephesians 5:22-33). The Old Testament law forbade homosexual behavior (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13). Paul reiterates this prohibition by using the same Greek construction (arsenokoitai) in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. Paul condemns same sex behavior in Romans 1:26-27. Jude 7 links sexual immorality and the “unnatural lust” (NRSV) present in Sodom and Gomorrah.
On top of this, Jesus condemned the sin of porneia (Mark 7:21) which is defined by a leading New Testament lexicon as “unlawful sexual intercourse, prostitution, unchastity, fornication” (BDAG). Likewise, James Edwards of Whitworth College states that porneia “can be found in Greek literature with reference to a variety of illicit sexual practices, including adultery, fornication, prostitution, and homosexuality. In the OT it occurs for any sexual practice outside marriage between a man and a woman that is prohibited by the Torah” (The Gospel According to Mark, 213).
2. In addition to calling on the church to acknowledge its offenses toward homosexuals and make a genuine effort to understand the complex phenomenon of homosexuality, the General Synod has consistently and frequently affirmed that homosexual behavior is sinful.
- In 1978, the General Synod approved a paper entitled “Homosexuality: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal.” The paper stated clearly that “Paul’s rejection of homosexual activity is beyond question” and “we cannot affirm homosexual behavior.” The paper concluded, “Heterosexuality is not only normal; it is normative. Homosexual acts are contrary to the will of God for human sexuality.” (MGS 1978: 233-39)
- In 1980, General Synod voted to adopt a resolution “To bring to the awareness of RCA members, congregations, classes, and synods competent programs and persons which can successfully help the practicing homosexual and lesbian, minister or layperson, overcome his or her homosexual behavior.” (MGS 1980: 97)
- In 1990, the General Synod adopted R-11: “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 towards such persons as fellow human beings” (MGS 1990: 461)
- In 1995, the General Synod approved that a faithful summary of the RCA position on homosexuality includes, among other statements, that “Homosexual behavior is not God’s intended expression of sexuality.”
- In 2004, the General Synod adopted R-92: “To affirm that marriage is properly defined as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.” (MGS 2004: 332)
3. The judicial actions of the 2005 General Synod set a strong precedent concerning the unlawfulness in the RCA of blessing same-sex partnerships. In a trial before the whole General Synod, three charges were heard and upheld against the Rev. Dr. Norman Kansfield for presiding at a same-sex “marriage.” The minutes of the General Synod report the judicial actions and the imposition of discipline:
In a letter, dated November 2004, Rev Kansfield disclosed that during 2004 he had “presided at the marriage of his daughter to another woman” to quote his own words. This action allegedly took place in June of 2004 according to a letter addressed to the General Synod by the classis of Illiana in March of 2004. The Reformed Church in America has reaffirmed its stand against the marriage of same-sex partners several times in the past few decades. Rev. Kansfield’s actions were contrary to our faith and beliefs as affirmed by the Holy Scriptures and the decisions of the General Synod concerning the relationships of active homosexuality.
The judicatory determined that this charge was proven with a high degree of probability. Voted: 182 yes; 65 no.
In his actions Dr. Kansfield has contradicted his affirmations in the three Declarations mentioned above (Declaration for Licensed Candidates, Declaration for Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, and Declaration for General Synod Professors of Theology), all of which say “I promise to walk in the Spirit of Christ, in love and fellowship within the church, seeking the things that make for unity, purity and peace.”
The judicatory determined that this charge was proven with a high degree of probability. Voted: 164 yes; 83 no.
By his actions Dr. Kansfield has violated his promise, in the Declaration for General Synod Professors of Theology, in which he promised: “I will submit myself to the counsel and admonition of the General Synod, always ready, with gentleness and reverence, to give an account of my understanding of the Christian faith.” If there was ever a situation where this statement could and should have been applied it would have been the June 3-9, 2004, meeting of General Synod, before the ‘marriage’ in Massachusetts later in June.
The judicatory determined that this charge was proven with a high degree of probability. Voted: 167 yes; 80 no.
Upon completion of deliberations, the judicatory:
VOTED: To exercise discipline of the Rev. Dr. Norman Kansfield by deposing him from [the] office of General Synod Professor of Theology and suspending him from the Office of Minister of Word and sacrament. (MGS 2005: 43-44).
4. The frequent pronouncements of Synod, together with the judicial actions of 2005, have established that the General Synod considers homosexual behavior and the solemnization of gay partnerships to be contrary to Scripture. This established position renders other interpretations of Scripture on the matter to be out of bounds.
Prior to the trial in 2005 an Investigative Committee was appointed by the General Synod Council to investigate the various charges filed against Rev. Kansfield. In this report, the Committee comments on “The Binding Nature of General Synod Statements and Decisions.”
- The Committee concluded that the RCA Constitution “lays a firm foundation for accepting the statements and decisions of the General Synod as binding with regard to our interpretation of Scripture” (11).
- Likewise, the report stated: “We believe that the vesting of this authority of General Synod is not only considered as a positive grant of such authority, but would also necessarily restrict the exercise of such authority by ministers and professors of theology when in conflict with the statements and decisions of the General Synod” (13).
Whether or not some people in the RCA interpret Scripture differently on the matter of homosexuality, the General Synod has concluded time and time again that the proper interpretation of Scripture is one that sees homosexual behavior as a sin contrary to the will of God.
5. While our stated position is clear, there continue to be some in the RCA who teach, practice, and promote what is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and the pronouncements of the General Synod with regards to homosexuality.
- In 2005, at the same Synod in which Rev. Norm Kansfield was disciplined, an item was included under “new business” with the title “Engage in Dialogue or Hold Us Accountable, Too.” The letter stated: “We believe that the Church of Jesus Christ, full of the Spirit, should bless covenantal same-sex relationships, as it does heterosexual relationships. We believe committed same-sex relationships are not sinful, but rather a blessing from God. We believe that the Reformed Church in America ought to confess its sinfulness in adhering for too long to an oppressive position on homosexuality and ought to seek the forgiveness of its lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgendered brothers and sisters.” The letter included more than 150 signatures, including dozens of RCA ministers, scores of elders and deacons, and several professors at RCA institutions. (MGS 2005: 378-81)
- In 2007, Rev. Jacqui Lewis was invited be the guest preacher at General Synod, this despite the fact that she and her church had recently made very public statements supporting and promoting homosexuality.
- Room For All continues to pursue its mission, with seeming immunity, in “supporting, educating, and advocating for the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the Reformed Church in America.” Their website lists 16 board members, including eight RCA ministers, and lists 15 “Welcoming and Affirming” RCA congregations (four “Collegiate” churches in New York City, plus four New Jersey churches, and five New York state churches). Room For All offers several regional conferences and saw over 150 people attend some or all of their national conference hosted by Central Reformed Church in Grand Rapids. [Note: Since drafting the overture there are now 17 Room For All congregations, the latest Hope Church in Holland, Michigan.]
- The Reformed Church of Highland Park (NJ), in partnership with a local Lutheran church and Unitarian Society, hosted a Room For All Christian camp for GLBTQ teens. The effort was spearheaded by Rev. Patty Fox, a pastor at RCHP and a lesbian with a longtime partner. According to the Room For All newsletter (Summer 2011), “Youth who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or trans-gender were given the opportunity to spend time with other teens and adult staff who acknowledge their own Christian orientation.”
- The legalization of gay marriage in New York has opened a door for RCA congregations and pastors there to perform same-sex marriages, even though this is in violation of the Scriptures and the official position of the RCA. For example, consider this announcement from an RCA church’s website in June 2011: “Tonight the New York State Senate voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage. The consistory of the Greenpoint Reformed Church has voted to encourage committed same-sex couples to prayerfully consider marriage, and pledge our support to couples wishing to get married in our church. If you would like to be married at the Greenpoint Reformed Church or would like one of our ministers to officiate at your wedding, please email us. . . .” Likewise, in an online article focusing on the wedding of a lesbian couple in an RCA church, one person reports: “I regularly attend Middle Collegiate Church where our Pastor, a fierce advocate for Marriage Equality, invited us to share our commitment along with two other gay male couples a week later, on July 31, 2011. Our families came to that ceremony where, in front of an affirming church community, three homosexual couples renewed their spiritual commitment through marriage.”
- Ann Kansfield, the daughter of Rev. Norman Kansfield, was ordained by in the UCC in 2011. Ann and her partner Jennifer Aull (also ordained in the UCC), are listed by the Greenpoint Reformed Church in Brooklyn as their co-pastors.
- According to a recent article in the Grand Rapids Press, “An RCA classis in New Jersey in September embraced the ordination of the Rev. Ursula Cargill, a gay woman credentialed in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.”
- On October 18, 2011, the Rev. Dr. Norman Kansfield was reinstated as a Minister of Word and Sacrament by a nearly unanimous vote of the Classis of Rockland-Westchester. The RCA Disciplinary Procedures (Part I, Article 6, Section 2, page 83) stipulate: “A person who has been suspended or deposed from office may be restored to office upon repentance and renewal of vows before the judicatory which suspended or deposed that person, provided that the judicatory is satisfied that the honor of the office will not be impaired and that the welfare of the church will be served by such a restoration, and provided that the restoration is approved by a two-thirds vote of those present at the meeting of the judicatory. Restoration after deposition shall include reordination to office.” It is hard to imagine how Rev. Kansfield has repented of Charge One which found him guilty of acting “contrary to our faith and beliefs as affirmed by the Holy Scriptures and the decisions of the General Synod concerning the relationships of active homosexuality.”A few days after his reinstatement Kansfield administered communion with his daughter Ann at the Room For All national conference. He gave a seminar entitled “Uncomplicated Theology for Same-Sex Marriage.”
- On December 29, 2011, Rev. Jon Norton, who is on staff with the Synod of New York, posted the following announcement from Rev. Rob Williams (an RCA pastor in Rockland-Westchester Classis) on that Regional Synod’s website: “I am excited about one of the best Christmas presents I have ever received. On Wednesday, December 7th, Clark & David Cameron-Gonzalez allowed me to perform their wedding at our church (the United Church of Spring Valley). I had truly married them nine years before at the Marble Collegiate Church, but this wedding, on the ninth anniversary of the original, has the force of New York State law. Hallelujah!”
6. “The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults” (Belgic Confession, Article 29). Although we will not do so perfectly here on earth, we should strive to have a holy church that reflects the character of our holy God. To allow blatant and open sin to flourish in the RCA is to dishonor the testimony and history of the global church, the witness of Scripture, and the character of God. The question is not whether we can have an entirely pristine church. The issue is whether, in exercising the marks of the church, we will defend what is true and take courage to oppose what is false.