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Saving Calvin

Pro-LGBT students at Calvin University (Source)

Last week, the Christian Reformed Church, the denomination that controls Calvin University, stood in front of the woke train yelling, “Stop!” — and they stopped it! :

The Christian Reformed Church, a small evangelical denomination of US and Canadian churches, voted Wednesday at its annual synod to codify its opposition to homosexual sex by elevating it to the status of confession, or declaration of faith.

The 123-53 vote at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, caps a process begun in 2016 when a previous synod voted to form a study committee to bring a report on the “biblical theology” of sexuality.

The vote, after two long days of debate, approves a list of what the denomination calls sexual immorality it won’t tolerate, including “adultery, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex.”

“The church must warn its members that those who refuse to repent of these sins—as well as of idolatry, greed, and other such sins—will not inherit the kingdom of God,” the report says. “It must discipline those who refuse to repent of such sins for the sake of their souls.”

But 190 delegates to the synod spent the preponderance of time debating homosexuality, with many warning that passage of the so-called Human Sexuality Report and elevating its teachings to the status of confession would alienate LGBTQ people as well as younger generations of CRC members who have a different understanding of sexuality.

“This motion harms LGBTQ people, harms the church’s witness, and naming this as confession will have disastrous consequences for people and institutions,” said one delegate to the synod who voted against the motion.

The vote will also have profound consequences for its flagship university, Calvin. In December, one-third of Calvin faculty signed a letter expressing concerns about the Human Sexuality Report, and some are now expected to leave. Faculty at Calvin University must sign a document saying they align with the historical creeds and confessions of the Christian Reformed Church.

In response, one of the brightest lights of post-Christian Christianity has taken her stand. Excerpts:

This week has been filled with conversations among members of the CRC and Calvin faculty, staff, and students. Beautiful and heavy conversations. I’ve wept with parents of LGBTQ kids who are heartbroken and distraught that there is no place for them in our church. I’ve thought of the Calvin history student who was queer, who took her own life two years ago. I think of her often, and of others I can name, and for whom I fear. I’ve checked in with colleagues to see who is staying (for now) and who is planning to go. I’ve listened to current students discuss the possibilities of getting out of their leases for the coming year so they can transfer. I’ve listened to the struggles of a celibate gay pastor in our denomination who feels he belongs nowhere in all of this. I’ve watched the gloating of some in the denomination who have gotten their way who cannot disguise their eagerness to purge the church and the college of their fellow believers. I’ve watched others who also got their way struggling to come to terms with what they’ve accomplished.

For a sense of what has been done, I suggest reading the poignant words of my good friend Heidi De Jonge. (We’ve been friends since our flannel-shirt-and-baggy-jean-wearing days at Dordt College back in the 90s.)

This is who they are purging. This is what they have accomplished.

My own local Christian Reformed Church offers a glimpse at what this looks like on the ground. We have LGBTQ members who worship with us and who minister among us. We have many LGBTQ children, our covenant children, whom we’ve promised to guide in their faith as part of their baptismal vows. We have members who hold to traditional views of sexuality, particularly among our many immigrant members who attend our Basic English service.

These differences, however, have not interfered with the unity we have found in Christ—through the Word and the sacrament, through our common confession of faith across many languages, through our love for each other and ministry to one another. And so it is with great grief that our church now faces the possibility of this rare and beautiful thing unraveling.

Read it all.

I read De Jonge’s words, and they are moving and emotional … but totally disconnected from Biblical truth and tradition. Totally. Christians who chuck sexual teaching are going to end by chucking Christianity. It is a bright, clear line — whether the Du Mezes of the world realize it or not (and they don’t).

What’s going to happen to Calvin? It’s going to lose its rock star faculty. But it’s probably going to remain Christian. These liberal faculty are going to go on to greater things, professionally, and be able to dine out on how they were badly treated by the homo-hating fundagelicals at Calvin. But the CRC has taken a brave and unpopular stand for the Gospel. God sees.

UPDATE: Reader Andrew S.:

The momentary rush of conservative enthusiasm for this move will please Rod’s readers, but the fury of the left will be in full force over the next several weeks and months. Any university board contemplating a similar move better should study what will likely happen, and plan accordingly for a media siege of their institution. Watch for the following:

1) a sudden drop in college rankings, unattributable to any objective criterion currently used by the major ranking media;

2) a tsunami of requests, using already existing anonymous online reporting portals, for Biden’s Department of Education to open Title IX investigations at the universities in question;

3) calls by social media talking heads to blacklist graduates of the schools;

4) a sudden mysterious dearth of available federal and private grant money for faculty at these schools, along with the denial of conference platforms for faculty members.

Financial pressures are such that many if not most religiously-affiliated schools will quickly develop new “insights” into the Bible that permit them to cave in to the left, if they haven’t already. Board members sticking to Christian principles better raise prodigious sums of cash to plow into their endowments and strengthen ties with allied Christian schools to bolster their financial self-sufficiency. Woke winter is coming, and Calvin will provide an example of what other colleges should expect.

UPDATE.2: A reader is not optimistic:

I read your column on the Christian Reformed Church and Calvin with interest. I was in the CRC most of my life and served as an elder in that denomination. I am also a fourth generation Calvin alum and still have a child there. Most of my family is still associated with both institutions.

I saw the recent CRC synod actions and thought they were notable, but I’m not as optimistic as some that this portends some great stemming of what has been a rapid declension in orthodoxy that denomination has been pursuing since the 80’s. I would point to the following as counter-points:
1) The statement on human sexuality that was ultimately endorsed and made confessional is fairly weak by historical standards. It is loaded with significant exceptions and concessions. It is nowhere near a full throated defense of traditional Christian sexual ethics. I was relieved  by the headlines when it was first published, but then very disappointed when I actually read it.
2) The fact that so many openly oppose and defy it, and that even Calvin University rushed out a letter essentially stating that they don’t agree with it, find it harmful and plan to slow-roll any potential adoption of it speaks volumes about what is going on in the rank and file as well as the institutions associated with the denomination. Earlier this same year, when some students created a firestorm by even suggesting that same-sex orientation was sinful, Calvin was quick to reassure nervous parents that they stood by the denominations positions on the matter. The tune has changed in a matter of months.
3) An anecdotal point. Nearly every CRC member I know (and I know many) is shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, that Synod did this and fully intend to ignore it and keep right on with what they are doing.
As we have seen with many other denominations (look at the recent history of the RCA, for example), statements mean little without action. After all, this statement was essentially re-iterating what the church says they already believe – but the fact that no pastors or elders are being disciplined, no churches are being censured or leaving tells you everything you need to know. Without teeth, the statement means little and will probably be the catalyst that finally destroys the uneasy coalition the CRC has become with progressives tolerating some rural more conservative brethren.
I hope and pray it is not so, but the majority of self-identifying conservatives left the denomination long ago, so all that really remains is progressives and the squishy middle who doesn’t like being accused of being haters. If there is no will or process to expel those in open defiance of their vows, then this is just the dying gasp of the remnant of orthodox believers there. If they don’t have the votes and networks to fight the bear they just poked, the bear will now proceed to devour them without remorse. Perhaps the bear will deign to permit them a “graceful separation” with some of their property in the future.
“Any institution that is not explicitly conservative will eventually become progressive”.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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