(The following article is a reprint from the August 1973 issue of The Outlook. It has been edited for size.)
The 1973 CRC Synod has spoken on homosexuality.
In a nutshell, Synod rejected homosexualism (homosexual practice) as sin (for which we are in deed grateful!) while at the same time it made certain pronouncements about the homosexual that call for the most careful scrutiny and Scriptural consideration.
Some are horrified.
Many, myself included, are deeply concerned. It may be fitting then to address three specific questions to those who prepared the report for Synod, to those who voted for it at Synod, and also to others who give it their approval.
Please be assured that the questions here posed are being asked in good faith and with genuine concern.
Question Number One
Where is the evidence for the basic assumption that homosexuality is constitutional rather than something acquired and cultivated?
No evidence from Scripture is given for this basic assumption in the report. The study committee states: “Paul does not make the kind of distinction we have made earlier between homosexuality and homosexualism” (Agenda 1973, p. 485).
On whose say-so must we then accept this basic assumption in the report and in Synod’s decision? On the word of Synod’s study committee, science, the experts? But that the experts are not all agreed in saying that homosexuality is “constitutional” is evident from the following:
In His (Feb. 1966, p. 24), Magazine of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Dr. Charles Young, a psychiatrist with the University of Illinois health service in Urbana, Illinois (MD from the U. of Mich. Medical School and psychiatric residency with the Menninger School of Psychiatry) had this to say:
“I am persuaded that homosexuality is mainly a learned condition, and that anything learned may be altered by further learning. I do not believe that anyone is damned from the time of his conception to become homosexual. I agree with Freud in his ‘Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex’ (Sigmund Freud The Basic Writing of Freud; New York Modern Library, 1938; p. 560) that every person has the potential to become homosexual. If a person encourages and cultures the deviant urges which can be aroused in all of us, he is on the way to a life of sexual perversion.”
However, the study committee that drew up the report affirmed and also convinced Synod that there are “those who are constitutionally homosexual in their sex orientation.” Their report states: “A person who is homosexual, we have seen, has a disordered sex condition, so that what is ‘natural’ to him is to have sex relations with a member of his own sex, and what is ‘unnatural’ for him would be to have heterosexual relations” (1973 Agenda, p. 487).
Concerning the classic Romans 1:26, 27 passage, the report says: “Is Paul not speaking of those who willfully exchange sex relationships and willfully give up their natural relations? What then of those for whom it is not a case of willful exchange or willful giving up of the natural?” (1973 Agenda, p. 487).
You see then that the study committee has convinced Synod, without any proof from Scripture for this, that there are “those who are constitutionally homosexual.” And if we ask now: On whose say-so do we have to believe this? here is the committee’s answer:
“As we have seen in the earlier part of this report, we have leaned from the sciences [italics added] that, homosexuality often is a condition which is rooted deeply in biological and psychological aberrations that create a disorder for which the individual can be held only partly responsible, if at all” (1973 Agenda, p. 489).
Please tell us: Is this a well-established fact, with adequate evidence for it, or possibly only another of those many theories of science readily accepted as gospel today and just as readily scuttled again to morrow? The study committee itself concedes the following in its report “A precise definition of homosexuality is impossible, and to say who is homosexual and who is not is a matter on which there is no unanimity” (1973 Agenda, p 478). Please tell us then how the study committee and the Synod can be at all apodictic in attempting to tell us what homosexuality is.
And please tell us also: Is there any evidence from Scripture for this assumption that is basic to the study committee’s report and to the decision Synod has made? Are “the sciences,” on whose authority this assumption is accepted, truly normative for us in this matter? And if so, why? Did the majority of Synod who voted in favor of this really know “the sciences” to be correct on this score?
Question Number Two
On what ground may the CRC officially absolve the homosexual from responsibility for his condition?
Is that what Synod did? To be precise, Synod adopted the following as its first statement of pastoral advice for the churches:
“Homosexuality (male and female) is a condition of disordered sexuality which reflects the brokenness of our sinful world and for which the homosexual may himself bear only a minimal responsibility.”
This pronouncement on the part of the church, while leaving room for responsibility on the part of others who may have contributed to the homosexual’s condition, encourages him to believe that it may be that only a minimal part of the responsibility may be charged to him.
Now, on what ground may the church say this? Once again, no evidence from Scripture is given.
Here too, we are obviously expected to come to this conclusion on the ground of what “the sciences” tell us about homosexuality as a “constitutional” condition.
Would anyone among us deny that homosexuality also, like any other evil tendencies and urges in fallen man, is nothing else than part and parcel of total depravity, or just another instance of what it means we are conceived and born in sin, and that by nature we are prone to all evil and incapable of any good. Sure, that’s old-fashioned language from which we may be supposed to have emerged in our day of greater knowledge of science. But are we now ready to deny that this is still the plain teaching of Bible?
On what ground does the church have the right to make an official pronouncement that, with respect to this phase of total depravity, anyone is to be excused from all but “minimal responsibility” for it? Please show us from Scripture how such a pronouncement can be justified. If this cannot be done, it seems safe to conclude that, in making this decision, the CRC is heading in the wrong direction.
For the church to absolve a homosexual from all but “minimal responsibility” could very well prove to be cruel rather than a kindness, harmful instead of helpful.
To quote once again from the His article by Dr. Charles Young, psychiatrist with the University of Illinois health service:
“Mental disorders are never resolved till the disturbed person accepts responsibility for his role in causing his difficulty. It needs to be said that anyone in good physical health with average intelligence reaching late adolescence has already had a lot to say about the kind of person he is.
“Some of the studies cited above excuse the homosexual of any accountability for his situation. Many of the theories of the cause of homosexuality blame the environment for the homosexual’s plight. These theories may be true to a certain extent, but they seldom do justice to the person’s input to his own condition. Sartre says: ‘You are your choices.’ This statement certainly holds true for the homosexual. Often he has failed to exercise his ability to choose between the easy and the difficult. He has often given his assent to the easy, the comfortable, the expedient, and has deafened himself to the restorative voices around him” (p. 24).
I want to be second to none in extending Christian sympathy, counsel, and help to the homosexual as well as to the kleptomaniac, the alcoholic, the drug addict, psychopathic liar, the hypersexual person, and to any others with a powerful urge toward one evil or another. But let’s be on our guard lest we make a bad matter worse by shifting the responsibility from the person involved to someone or to something else without having a clear and convincing warrant (preferably from Scripture!) for what we do.
We not only challenge the warrant and justification of Synod’s statements, but also the wisdom of such pronouncements without first producing Scriptural or other more conclusive evidence for them. For example:
• Synod’s pronouncement about homosexuality being a condition “for which the homosexual may himself bear only a minimal responsibility.”
• the study committee’s statement: “Within this fellowship of love the homosexual who has also been ‘justified and sanctified by Christ’ (I Cor. 6:11) must be accepted in his homosexuality, so that in the congregation he does not need to wear a mask and conduct himself like a hypocrite, living in constant fear of discovery and exposure …” (1973 Agenda, p. 492). Question: What ground is there to assume, as the committee does, that those Christians at Corinth who had once been “abusers of themselves with men” (I Cor. 6:9) were still homosexuals after they had been “washed …. sanctified … justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God”? (I Cor. 6:11). What warrant is there for that assumption?
• and also the following indictment on the part of the study committee: “Unfortunately, the homosexual has not experienced this kind of love and acceptance of his person in either the church or society. It has been said that the homosexual has been far more sinned against than he has sinned. In the light of our understanding of homosexuality today, Christians bear a great burden of guilt relative to such persons” (1973 Agenda, p. 492).
Of course, there may be some truth to this. Let us confess and repent of our guilt as far as the need may be. But are we really helping the homosexual (or making a bad matter worse?) if we run the risk of giving him any encouragement to make a whipping boy of the church and to point his finger to the church as the chief culprit rather than to himself?
Question Number Three
On what ground could the study committee responsible advise, and Synod then responsibly pronounce, that the homosexual must also be made eligible for the office of minister, elder, and deacon in the church?
Did Synod really say that?
Here it is: “By the same token, churches should recognize that their homosexual members are fellow servants of Christ who are to be given opportunity to render within the offices [italics added] and structures of the congregation the same service that is expected from heterosexuals.” So, we must be willing to accept homosexuals not only as members but also as ministers, elders and deacons. Of course, the study committee and Synod would add that this applies only to non-practicing homosexuals.
Once again, no Scriptural proof. Moreover, does it make common sense?
Frankly to give this as “pastoral advice” to the churches seems unbelievably irresponsible.
Anyone diagnosed to be an alcoholic, a drug addict (even though he has taken the cure), a kleptomaniac, or a psychopathic personality is a dubious candidate for the ministry or the consistory. And, if the homosexual is “constitutionally” what the study committee and Synod have defined him to be, it only makes sense not to expect him to be satisfactorily qualified to be entrusted with the special care of Christ’s precious sheep and lambs purchased with His precious blood.
Conscientious men ask at times to be excused from serving in the church offices because of a nervous condition, high blood pressure, age, or other circumstances, and their wish to disqualify themselves is respected. If, as we are told, the homosexual is really suffering from a “constitutional” disorder, would it not be the better part of wisdom and kindness to regard such a person as one not qualified for the exacting demands of the duties of church officers that often prove to be so very difficult even for the normal person?
We are genuinely concerned for the best interest not only of the homosexual but also for the name and future of the church and the honor of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Rev. John Vander Ploeg (1902–1983) was a minister in the Christian Reformed Church. He served as editor of The Banner from many years and was the editor of The Outlook when he wrote this article.