For those who wonder if there is hope for the RCA staying united, this post will certainly take that hope away. In fact, the days of the RCA are numbered. In just a few years, it will be a whisper of what it is now. It is time for a new thing.
A few weeks ago, I was made aware of a statement of policy made by Western Seminary, an RCA seminary:
Western Theological Seminary will defer the granting of the Certificate of Fitness for Ministry for an LGBTQ student in a partnered relationship until the Seminary receives further guidance from the General Synod, which is expected to meet in June 2021.
This wise move keeps the seminary from being a political pawn in the catastrophe emerging in the RCA. It also is part of a concerted effort by Western seminary to assert itself as an evangelical institution that holds to orthodoxy. There is so much to commend in the leadership of the new president, Felix Theonugraha. This includes the addition of Winn Collier and Weslie Hill to the faculty. The seminary is positioning itself to be a premiere evangelical institution. What a turn around! Not everyone is celebrating this good news.
In response to the pause of giving fitness of ministry certifications to partnered LGBTQIA students, a new advocate group has been formed, RCA Queer Student Initiative (RCAQSI). This is made up of Western alumni. The mission of this organization is “To support, empower, and advocate for LGBTQIA students with ties to the Reformed Church in America (RCA) answer the call to ordained ministry.” This support includes a secret ordination guide (almost comical), counseling, consultation for students, and a public letter of dissent concerning Western’s decision.
I want to point out some of the assertions in the letter that ought to be deeply troubling to those who hold to a biblically traditionalist view on human sexuality. One thing for sure, this is a sure sign that it is time to leave the denomination, and let’s find a way to take Western seminary with us.
The first thing to notice is that Western’s announcement is not a line in the sand but a decision for the institution to not be drawn into the war that is happening all around it. Western will defer certification of partnered LGBTQIA students until there is clarity from the next General Synod. The seminary is acting responsibly. Western could have ended the possibility of certification for these students since the stated position of the RCA is clear on ordaining partnered LGBTQIA clergy. Instead, in a very heated environment involving people, the seminary took a pause. Slowing down shows thoughtfulness and wisdom.
This pause also should be seen as a time of spiritual reflection for Western as it decides what it means to be an evangelical institution holding to traditionalist readings of the Bible. Western isn’t moving hastily, but it is moving in a clear intentional manner. It takes its call to form pastors seriously. This means taking qualifications for ministry seriously. It should encourage all of us how Western is moving forward. The future is bright.
The RCAQSI had responded by making this modest step into a battlefield. Their very name is an act of warfare. Including queer in their name is a strategic step to escalate Western’s decision into a war. Chris Woods, in “State of the Queer Nation: A Critique of Gay and Lesbian Politics in 1990s Britain”, writes:
In the late 1980s, US gay and lesbian activists begun using the term “queer” to designate a hardcore politics, militant anger vented both externally (at the Republican Bush administration, the rise of Christian fundamentalism, the AIDS crisis) and internally at the apathetic gay establishment seen to be failing in the light of these factors. (Woods 1995, 29)
Deborah Gould, in “Moving Politics: Emotions and ACT UP’s Fight Against AIDS”, goes farther “Intense affective states of eroticism and sexiness, exuberance and euphoria, pride and self-respect, now attached to the term queer …”(2009, 264). Grabbing this modest pause and moving it into the space of queer politics is profoundly telling.
One of the oldest refrains of the progressive left in the RCA, to the insistence by traditionalists to have a clear stance on sexuality, is “let’s learn to be together in our difference”. This impassioned plea comes with a reminder of our long history, the preaching that difference is good, and an almost condescending reminder that we are Reformed united by creeds and confessions not secondary ethical issues. This is nothing but political misdirection.
In fact, progressives want a queer denomination and will not settle for less. One need only use a bit of common sense to know that gay clergy is only the first step in this queer new world. The future of a queer RCA is one where biblical Christianity won’t exist. Liberals aren’t looking for common ground; they are biding their time for a death blow to all that matters to biblical Christians. At least RCAQIA is open about their motives. Now, conservatives need to act by leaving this mess for something new.
Second, RCAQIA moves this pause on certification into the realm of civil rights. Their letter states, “making determinations about a student’s sexuality and presumed sexual activity as a means for adjudicating fitness for ministry is highly inappropriate and constitutes open discrimination”. This is done to align their queer movement with the black civil rights movement or the feminist movement. While LGBTQIA men and women most deservedly deserve civil rights, its usage here is a red herring.
There are no civil rights issues at play in Western’s pause. Western makes no prohibition towards a gay student being certified for ministry (saying this is deceptive!). In fact, there is now a well known gay Christian on their faculty, Wesley Hill. The only reason to state this in their letter is to portray Western as bigoted and backwards. Their hopes is to gather support and perhaps the social machinery of our time that regularly destroys good people and institutions.
This is no longer a matter of a denominational family disagreeing on identity; this is a fundamental shift of worldview that sees traditionalists as bigots. It’s time to leave; this yeast will ruin the whole bread (and at the very least, the signers of the letter should apologize to Western and the RCA for this clear misrepresentation.).
Further, one’s sexual activity is an important measure of fitness for ministry. The Bible, if one considers it an authority, explicitly makes out-of-marriage, unrepentant sexual activity a barrier to leadership. Traditionalists also understand gay marriage not to be a biblical marriage. Sex within its bounds is sin. This is a biblical position. It is also an ethical boundary. This has nothing to do with civil rights. This is about morality. It’s unfathomable that this even needs to be said.
The church has a responsibility to protect its authority in deciding the ethical bounds of leadership. Using the language of civil rights is to move this into a world where the LGBTQIA students are oppressed if their sexual activity is evaluated. If embraced, this rationale of oppression opens the door for the removal of any ethical boundary for ordination. We wouldn’t want to infringe on anyone’s civil rights! This world of oppression and rights has overtaken the world of sin and redemption. It will be the death knell of our denomination.
Finally, and most shockingly, notice the therapeutic language of violence used. Western seminary “has purposefully caused tremendous emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse to students called by God to ordained ministry”. The American Psychological Association defines abuse as, “interactions in which one person behaves in a cruel, violent, demeaning, or invasive manner toward another person”. Setting aside the reality that Western is only pausing the certification of LGBTQIA partnered students, the practice of orthodox Christianity is portrayed as cruel, violent and demeaning. As the saying goes, “with friends like these who needs enemies?” Progressives don’t want to keep the family together. They want traditionalists, or at least those who live out their faith, to be pushed out.
There is no way that traditionalism and thousands of years of Judeo-Christian ethics can be seen as respected in such an environment. Since our polity can’t fix this deep problem, it is time to go. Progressives want the orthodox to leave. This is the win they want. Isn’t it obvious? There will be no peace until separation.
Those who think that they can be conservative and part of the RCA are sadly mistaken. They will eventually come for you. There will be a demand to embrace the queer worldview and if not, watch out. You’ll be seen as an oppressor, bigot and an agent of violence. This family called the RCA is heading for divorce. Let’s get it done.
It is time to begin a new thing.