Homosexuality and the “Slippery Slope” Argument Revisited

d dispute within the Christian Reformed Church over the subject of the ordination of women to church office, opponents of women’s ordination have often been accused of misapplying the “slippery slope” argument. This argument says that the advocacy of the ordination of women is only a symptom of a deeper problem—a new and unReformed view of the Bible. If this view of the Bible is not exposed and rejected, the Christian Reformed Church will only slide from crisis to crisis, losing its grip altogether upon its confessional heritage as a Reformed fellowship of churches who seek to live under the supreme authority of the Word of God in Scripture. The “slippery slope” argument, therefore, maintains that, unless the root cause of the problem is exposed, the Christian Reformed Church will follow the pattern of many mainline denominations which have gone from one controversy to another, abandoning at each stop along the way one further aspect of what it once believed and confessed.

While this slippery slope argument has often been ridiculed as a kind of ecclesiastical version of the now-discredited “domino” theory of the eventual triumph of communism, evidence of its plausibility continues to surface. The most recent exhibit, for those who fear the Christian Reformed Church is on a slide from which it may not recover, is a study committee report on homosexuality which has been prepared by a committee of Classis Grand Rapids East. This study committee report reaches conclusions that suggest that, if anything, advocates of the slippery slope argument may have underestimated how quickly the Christian Reformed Church would slide into the confusion and decline that have become such characteristic features of mainline Christianity in North America.




The study committee report to which I refer is entitled, “Revised Report and Recommendations of the Classis Grand Rapids East Study Committee on Ministry With Persons Who Are Homosexual.” To appreciate the significance of this Committee’s findings, a quick review of the Committee’s mandate and the background to its formation is necessary.

The mandate of this Committee was given to it at the time of its appointment in January, 1994.1 At that time Classis Grand Rapids East appointed this Committee “to provide Classis and its member churches with advice regarding the suitability of various types of ministry to persons requesting spiritual counsel and encouragement relating to homosexuality.” This mandate was defined further to include “a setting forth of the parameters under which ministry to homosexuals can be offered by organizations and/or persons affiliated with the Chris-Han Reformed Church.” The Committee was appointed, therefore, not so much to serve as a study committee which would evaluate the whole subject of homosexuality in a biblical and theological manner, but to provide Classis with advice about the variety and suitability of different ministries to homosexuals.

Those who are acquainted with the history of the discussion of the issue of homosexuality in the Christian Reformed Church will not be surprised to learn that the occasion for the appointment of this Committee was the specific question of the propriety of Rev. James Lucas being called by one of the churches of Classis to a specialized ministry with an organization called AWARE. AWARE (“as we are”) is a “Grand Rapids-based organization begun in 1991 and modeled after chapters in Canada (London and Toronto, Canada) whose mission is  ‘to provide faith-based support for gay, lesbian and bisexual persons and to promote a positive response within the Christian community’” (Report, 7.1.6). Rev. Lucas, who has publicly declared himself to be a celibate homosexual (by orientation) and open to the permissibility of homosexual practice under prescribed conditions, presently serves as the part-time chaplain of this Grand Rapids organization.

The mandate and background for the appointment of this Committee are clear enough: before Classis Grand Rapids East declares a specialized ministry like that of chaplain for AWARE consistent with the calling of a minister of the Word in the Christian Reformed Church, it wanted to be served with the advice and recommendations of a study committee.2


After an opening section in which the Committee summarizes its mandate and approach to its assignment, the Committee’s Report addresses five issues: pastoral concerns, educational concerns, existing ministries to homosexuals, educational resources, and some parameters for ministry with persons who are homosexual. Each section of the Report is relatively brief, though the final section, dealing with parameters for ministry with homosexuals, is dearly the most important.

In the opening section on “pastoral concerns,” the Committee summarizes the earlier recommendations of the Study Committee Report on homosexuality presented to Synod 1973 of the Christian Reformed Church. This earlier report, which distinguished between “homosexuality” as a condition or homosexual orientation (for which the individual bears “minimal responsibility”) and “homosexualism” (the practice of homosexuality which is always sinful and which the Christian must resist), is praised by the Committee for recommending many changes in the church’s attitudes and practices toward homosexuals. However, the Committee laments the fact that the recommendations of the synodical study committee have been “almost uniformly unfulfilled” (Report 7.1.2). In a concluding note to this section, the Committee also goes significantly beyond the findings of the synodical committee by declaring:

Christian ethicists, pastors, and homosexual persons themselves are raising the issue of the acceptability of committed, monogamous relationships either as a legitimate option for homosexual persons or as the best possible solution for those who find celibacy to be beyond their capabilities. The question comes with new force because of challenges to the traditional interpretations of Scriptural passages which speak of homosexual behaviors and because of scientific evidence that seems to point to hereditary factors related to homosexuality. An address to this question does not fall within the mandate of this committee but the church can hardly avoid addressing this most difficult question once more (7.1.3).

The next section in the Study Committee Report is addressed to “educational concerns.” In this section of the Report, the Committee argues that the 1973 Synodical Report on Homosexuality suffered from two serious defects. First, it tended to elicit strong reactions which focused all of their attention on the “theoretical issues” (biblical and confessional) while ignoring the practical guidelines proposed for pastoral ministry to homosexuals. And second, this earlier report consistently referred to “the homosexual;” failing to recognize “the diversity and individuality of persons who are homosexual” (7.1.3). After noting these defects in the synodical report, the Committee attempts to show that among homosexuals, who may comprise from 1–4% of the general population, a variety of factors may be the causes or origin of their homosexuality. Contrary to the prejudice that many homosexuals are the product of abusive and disordered environments, the Committee endorses recent studies that point to possible genetic and physiological factors that may account for sexual orientation.3 In the Committee’s judgment, “[v]irtually no one chooses to be homosexual or bisexual” (7.1.4).

Depending upon the factors involved and the way in which homosexual orientation comes to expression, the Committee concludes that ministries to homosexuals should be diverse and specifically directed to the situation of the individual homosexual. If a person’s homosexuality is due largely to an abusive upbringing, “reversion therapy” which counsels either celibacy or heterosexuality may be the preferable approach. However, if a person’s homosexuality is the consequence of genetic and other factors over which the person has little control, then a ministry of acceptance and encouragement to the homosexual, provided he or she lives in a “faithful, monogamous relationship” may be demanded. The insistence of the 1973 Synodical Study Committee Report that homosexuals be celibate needs to be revisited, since celibacy is a “gift” of God given to some, though not all. Provided the homosexual relationship is faithful or monogamous, this might be the best solution for some.

Clearly, promiscuity is outside the bounds of biblically acceptable responses to one’s sexuality. The Christian community should stand steadfast against any ‘ministries’ which tacitly accept uncommitted, promiscuous relationships or declare such relationships to be a matter of moral indifference, even as we continue to respond with compassion and with a call to faithful obedience to all persons, regardless of where they are in their own life’s journey (7.1.6).

Consistent with these claims and observations, the Committee then cites the various ministries to homosexuals that are presently supported by the Christian community and lists a number of church study reports and other significant publications on the subject of homosexuality. In both instances there is a very obvious bias in the Committee’s choice of ministries and publications. Most of the organizations mentioned (AWARE, Dignity, Evangelicals Concerned, Ministry of Hope, PFLAG) advocate the acceptance of homosexuals and homosexual practice in monogamous relationships. The same is true of the study committee reports of other denominations that are mentioned (Episcopal, ELCA, PCUSA, United Methodist, we. and the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches). Only one organization that advocates repentance and restoration and which, interestingly, is on the list of Agencies for Denominational Support in the CRC, Metanoia Ministries, is mentioned in one paragraph, almost as an afterthought.

The concluding section of the Report is most striking, not only for its advocacy of a church ministry to homosexuals that accepts the legitimacy of homosexual practice, provided it is in a “faithful” and non-promiscuous relationship, but also for its reflection of a divergence of opinion within the committee. Though the majority of the Committee argues that “[m]inistries with persons who are homosexual should not be contingent upon declaring homosexual activity as sin or distinctive evidence of the fall,” two members of the Committee Games Bradley and Melvin Hugen) maintain that the homosexual orientation is “one form” of the sinful distortion of human sexuality. In an obvious break with the rest of the Committee, the minority further argues that the church should “both hope for and direct her ministry toward whatever restoration of our sexuality to its original form is possible,” recognizing “marriage as the proper relationship for the expression of genital sexuality” (7.1.10). Though the minority does not reject the main body of the Committee’s Report, it clearly is uncomfortable with the majority’s apparent willingness to accept homosexual orientation and practice.


To answer the question of the significance of this study committee Report, it needs to be borne in mind that it has not yet been adopted or approved by Classis Grand Rapids East. When the Committee Report first came to Classis in January, 1995, a motion to “[c]ommend the report to the church councils for study” was tabled. At this time, accordingly, the Report represents the views of the members of the Committee, and is not an officially approved document of Classis Grand Rapids East.

However, this does not mean that the Report is without significance. Several observations are worth noting.

First, the Report clearly shows that there are people in positions of responsibility and leadership in the Christian Reformed Church, including professors at the college and seminary of the denomination, who are open to a radical revision in the historic understanding that homosexual practice is sinful and unacceptable.

Second, this Report is potentially of great consequence to the entire denomination. Were the recommendations of the Committee Report adopted by Classis Grand Rapids East and a specialized ministry as chaplain with the organization AWARE approved, the denomination would be pressed to make a formal judgment on the acceptability of a ministry to homosexuals that permits homosexual practice by professing believers. Were a future synod of the Christian Reformed Church to approve such a specialized ministry, the denomination would have at its broadest assembly endorsed a position on the issue of homosexuality at least as radical and unbiblical as that taken by any of the mainline denominations in North America.

And third, though the Committee explicitly declines to evaluate the biblical view of homosexuality, particularly whether it is sinful, the “thrust” of the Committee’s Report indicates that the Committee does not believe the Bible speaks clearly and directly to the legitimacy of homosexual practice in a “faithful, monogamous relationship.” The same view of Scripture that has often surfaced in the debate over women’s ordination surfaces in this Report in a striking way. No longer does the Bible function as a Word that is able to “equip the man of God for every good work.” It is either too unclear, too susceptible of differing interpretations, or too ignorant of the findings of modern science, to serve as a final court of appeal on questions like that of homosexuality.

In short—this Report not only confirms the existence of a “slippery slope,” but it may also prophesy a more rapid slide on the part of the Christian Reformed Church from its historic confession of the authority of the Bible than many could have imagined.


1. The Committee consists of the following members: Hessel Bouma, III, chairman, James Bradley, David Holquist, Melvin Hugen, Gladys Verhulst and Betty Zylstra. Classis Grand Rapids East withheld action on an earlier version of the report in January, 1995.

2. The Committee’s Report notes in its introduction that similar committees with which it has corresponded, have been appointed by Classis Toronto and Classis Alberta North. Though I have not read the materials produced by these classical committees, their mandates appear to have been very similar to that given to the Committee of Grand Rapids East.

3. The Committee Report refers vaguely to studies that “show” a genetic or physiological causality of homosexuality. As with its offhanded treatment of the biblical data related to the subject of homosexuality, here too the Committee acknowledges no burden of proof and neglects to consider the consequences of its position. Though this is not the time or place to consider the biblical and scientific evidence regarding homosexuality, suffice it to say that most of the relatively few studies linking homosexuality with genetics and physiology have been born out of a desire to “make the case” for a homosexual predisposition. Furthermore, were the argument plausible—genetic makeup which predisposes to a pattern of behavior thereby absolves the individual of personal responsibility—the Christian doctrine of original sin would be imperiled, not to mention the criminal justice system that typically looks askance at those who would excuse their unlawful behavior by appealing to their genes!