An unwise decision

The General Synod’s action in response to the overtures on homosexuality was unwise — and unloving. It also disclosed a fundamental problem with how the process of the synod has evolved.

My primary reservation arises from the nature of the General Synod itself. If one understands the office-bearers as representatives of Christ to the church — and not as a parliament that represents its constituents — then the body is to gather in  the Spirit as it listens to the Word. As the synod debated the issue, there was no consultation with the Word. There were only brief references to “what Scripture says” without even stating Scripture, let alone wrestling with it — or better allowing it to wrestle with the synod.

Nor was there time. That’s where the structural issue comes into play. The synod has become so compressed, and so little time given to full debate or mutual consultation, that by the time the substance was put on the floor, the delegates were limited in their debate. The thing needed several hours, at the very least.

The second reason that it was unwise is that there was clearly no consensus. Nor could there be. You could get a vote, which happened. But to move forward on an issue where so much hurt could be inflicted is unwise, even if possible. The synod has taken an action that has no direct effect on the classes and consistories, but suggests that classes and consistories that are dealing with the issue must consider it settled. That becomes a matter of church order in that it silences elders, deacons and ministers.

It was unwise because it will confuse. The general synod has no authority, on its own, to tell anyone what a “disciplineable offense” is. That is reserved to lower bodies which must determine whether an offense meets the criteria stated in the BCO.

It was not the synod’s finest hour.

8 thoughts on “An unwise decision

  1. Al: Well said! What is happening to the RCA? !! I have triouble believing it. The things I thought Wes brought in have outlasted his tenure, even biennial meetings.

    1. I was unaware that the RCA had made homosexuality a sin in the past. I have always defended the RCA to others with comments that they were still considering their stand, and that they were divided as they frequently are on many issues, but that at least they discuss it. It appears discussion and open-mindness are a thing of the past. And, as for hierarchy, this appears to establish that the General Synod and its Council can decree and enforce anything, including discipline on those who don’t follow their edicts (formerly known as "recommendations").

  2. Al calls it a decision, but I think it really is not. On homosexuality, Synod exercised its constitutional authority to set denominational policy in 1979 when that Synod said the same thing R-56 at this Synod says. So, the decision had been made long ago, not here. And all the verbiage after calling homosexuality a sin in R-56 is merely that – an assembly ranting. Nothing said there has any authority or effect on any other assembly. Synod is not “over us” because we are not hierarchical. Synod is just one assembly of our six, with its particular responsibilities in complement to the particular responsibilities of the other five. When any assembly says something for which the Constitution gives it no purview, it is simply its opinion, nothing more. Think of classes and consistories getting emotional about things for which they are not constitutionally responsible, such as the views of other classes and consistories! It happens – it would not if the assembly leadership had even a passing acquaintance with and care for that assembly’s constitutional tasks – but it does not affect other assemblies and R-56 likewise is meaningless to anyone but Synod 2012 participants.

    CI was founded to express the lack of attention by leadership to the nature of who we are as a Reformed Church. R-56 is simply another example of that lack. Unfortunately, R-56 stirs up strong unfocused emotion. Fortunately, R-56 doesn’t do, constrain, or mean anything in the real world.

  3. Rett,

    The reason I called it a decision — perhaps in haste — is that a synod’s action is an action for that synod only. In a real sense it does stand as the policy of the General Synod until a later action is taken. So in that sense you could say that it was nothing new.

    What was, and is, a bit odd is to call something a “denominational policy.” As you rightly point out, such policy holds for the General Synod. And a lower body cannot contradict it by saying, “The Reformed Church holds… [the contrary of the synod’s action].

    So perhaps I should have said “an unwise action…”

  4. Rett,
    Having sat through the discussions and voted on the outcome, one should be reminded that the vote was in fact closer than it might seem. Weakened Parliamentary steering of the issue allowed for the unfortunate tone of R-56; a really frustrated outcry that masks a much more comprehensive undertone expressed in Advisory. Tom’s insightful prayer was one of the highlights of the Synod and should be examined to understand more fully the way forward with this issue. Impassioned and hence volatile, it is still only one of many significant issues before the denomination.
    I do not believe that it changes the status quo, nor will impact markedly our Classis, but I defer to more learned heads on that.
    Gary Reetz

  5. I find myself asking, “When is a synod no longer a synod?” When do we become so efficient that we don’t have time to be the church walking together?

    Historically, synods did what Al mentioned: they wrestled with the word and they wrestled with the Spirit and they wrestled with one another. They figured out, together, how they could live together, not how they could discipline one another or create a policy or program. The Great Synod of Dort took upwards of nine months to decide issues of who was and/or wasn’t walking together in the church; a modern synod tries to do so in less than nine hours.

    This is the kind of deep, profound, potentially scary discussion which most of us in modern society do not like to have. We would much rather have somebody “from above” tell us what to do, what to think, and then walk out if we don’t like it. But then there are no gray areas, there is no confusion, nobody has to worry that the world after synod will look dramatically different from the world before synod. So we have people who want quick, clear decisions made by one synod, rather than messy, human, Spirit-filled, paradoxical decisions made by a thousand consistories and dozens of classes. And we have leaders who want the same: synods with no real surprises.

    A conspiracy between leadership and people with these desires results in a denomination that is increasingly incapable of being the church reformed and ever reforming, because we cannot discuss anything together. We now have synod as institution–and institutions tend to protect the status quo–rather than synod as a body where the church processes change together.

    It would seem that, to move on, we need to have a synod. But what we call “synod” is not, in many ways, a synod. This may be a predicament.

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