I include the above picture for those for whom my Kubrik reference in the title was too subtle.
So, the first full day of Synod has come and gone, and we have had the reports of the General Secretary and the President (http://images.rca.org/docs/synod/Synod2015-GenSecReport.pdf and http://images.rca.org/docs/synod/Synod2015-PresidentReport.pdf, respectively), and we have a proposal before us to “clarify”—the President’s word—the issue of homosexuality. And I was all set, for much of yesterday, to write my first Synod blog about how this was an extraordinarily bad idea, because the council proposed will not stop subsequent Synods from fiddling with the result, because total depravity being what it is means that will probably happen, and because it has the potential for setting up winners and losers and end up throwing some people out of the church. I know that the General Secretary said that the stakes and ropes holding up our big tent were being stretched to the limit, but, because I believe that those stakes and ropes are the grace of God and I, as a Calvinian, believe God to be sovereign, I tend to doubt that.
Other, wise voices will be—and already are—speaking and writing on all of that, so please allow me to go where God suddenly led me last night. I was sitting with a woman who was at Synod for the first time, who was worried, discouraged, even maybe a bit afraid about some of the proposals to “settle” the human sexuality issue. And I found myself talking to her about how, even if the council came to pass, the processes and assemblies in which we all covenanted to walk together through the RCA Constitution will still happen afterward.
After our talk, my mind was drawn back a quarter century. The Synod of 1990 was my first General Synod as a voting delegate, and that was the synod which, on the same morning, voted against sending out a Commission on Christian Action report titled “The Three-Tiered Society”—which said greed was bad, and which many delegates were concerned would offend bankers in our congregations—and then voted to approve a declaration about homosexual behavior being sinful. It concerned me that we had no trouble offending LGBTQ members of our congregations, and it concerned me more that the General Synod seemed to be setting one sin in Scripture up as being worse than all the others, which didn’t seem terribly Reformed. In my naïveté, I thought all hope for the Synod might be lost.
John W. Beardslee, III, General Synod Professor, was also a delegate, and he sat a number of us down that night. While drinking us under the table, Dr. Beardslee—who, at that point, may have been at severeal dozen synods already—reminded us of the broad sweep of church history and the Spirit’s work through it, how the Spirit tended to work toward more and more inclusion, and how that was rarely disrupted for long by individual synods. He urged us to keep our eyes on the big picture, to speak our piece, but not panic, and to let God take God’s time to do what God will do.
This is advice that has hung with me over the decades and the many synods where I have been present. As I age—Dr. Beardslee got older, but didn’t age so much—I am more and more struck by the persistence of God to do what God will do with our Reformed Church despite all our fussing and feuding and family drama. Now, there are definitely things about the President’s proposals which bother me, and I expect I will be speaking out about those in the coming days. In particular, I don’t know that “settling” the human sexuality issue is a good idea. I am reminded of the words of the pharisee Gamaliel in Acts 5 (using the NRSV here): “if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” If the changes in understanding about sexuality are human, they will fail, but, if this is of God, the RCA will not stop it. Because of that knowledge (and yes, I have an opinion about which it is), I will be able to speak in peace and love, trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ for strength, and I know that, whatever happens to the General Synod and the RCA, the Church, and even many churches that continually struggle as we are ever being reformed by God, will go on.
And now, let the deliberating begin.