This is Prof. John Cooper’s response to the Classis Grand Rapids East study on same-sex marriage. Thankful for scholars of integrity like Prof. Cooper. Edited without footnotes by me.
The following observations respond to the Classis Grand Rapids East study of same-sex marriage ( http://www.classisgreast.org/downloads/ssmstudyreport2016.pdf ), which Classis sent to Synod 2016 as a Communication ( Agenda for Synod 2016, 663-668). (I assume that the reader has a copy.) My comments are not a complete, fully articulated or fully documented assessment but are significant critical observations about important assumptions, data, arguments, and conclusions of the Report. (I can articulate and document more fully if necessary.) I offer this response because I remain convicted that the basic issue is the integrity of the CRCNA’s use of Scripture, not merely its sexual ethics or view of marriage. Sexual sanctification for all of us should continue as we anticipate the next synodical study.
The GRE Report is a significant contribution to the denominational discussion because it articulates what many who are open to same-sex marriage are thinking. It summarizes and examines “the biblical/theological support currently offered by Christian proponents of same-sex marriage ”, presumably presenting the best arguments available. As a result, the CRCNA and the study committee appointed by Synod 2016 can examine what thoughtful, committed CRC members actually regard as a valid case for reconsidering or supporting same-sex marriage rather than debating straw persons and hypothetical positions. In this way the GRE Report contributes toward a clear debate and, hopefully, a definitive conclusion.
Summary of the Report (See GRE Report, pp. 6-10)
The GRE study is well written, irenic, and seeks to promote the good of the CRCNA. It acknowledges the authority of Scripture and Reformed hermeneutics. It points out that the Holy Spirit has led the church to change its understanding of Scripture on other issues, and it offers reasons for reconsidering the Bible’s teaching about normal and disordered sexuality, sexual activity, and same-sex marriage. Its first reasons are current biological and psychological studies of sex and gender. Then the Report summarizes the Reformed approach to Scripture, presents readings of relevant texts on both sides of the issue, and claims that some on both sides are reasonable, use legitimate methods of interpretation, and therefore warrant reconsideration of the CRCNA position on what Scripture teaches. The final sections offer extra-biblical reasons for reconsidering or favoring same-sex marriage, including the harm done by forbidding it, historical changes in marriage, and the positive experiences of people, including Christians, in same-sex relationships. In sum, the Report claims to present a variety of reasons that are sufficient for the CRCNA to reconsider the teaching of Scripture and which some members regard as sufficient to affirm that Scripture allows same-sex marriage.
Summary of this Evaluation
The GRE Report rightly affirms the final authority of Scripture and Christian Reformed doctrinal and hermeneutical standards. It must therefore make a plausible case according to these standards that at least one set of biblical interpretations open to same-sex marriage appears to be as legitimate and tenable as the prohibiting interpretations. If the Report does not make this I conclude that the Report fails to make a case both for same-sex affirming interpretations of Scripture and for the status it gives to extra-biblical data for the following reasons.
First, its treatment of Scripture is flawed and inadequate to validate the alternative interpretations it presents–in three ways: 1) Its statement of the nature of Scripture (especially its plenitude and perspicuity) and its account of Reformed hermeneutics are incomplete and sometimes skewed. More seriously, in later sections it adds a “hermeneutics of experience” to Reformed hermeneutics (106), which is either redundant (because Reformed exegesis already discerns biblical compassion and justice and interprets experience) or else it inappropriately uses current experience and extra-biblical notions of compassion and justice to determine the teaching of Scripture. 2) It does not apply Reformed hermeneutical criteria to evaluate the interpretations it presents, and thus it completely fails to show that any new reading appears reasonable, legitimate, or even plausible by Reformed standards. 3) It provides no comparative evaluation of the interpretations it presents to determine whether they are equally tenable, or whether some are clearly better than others (cf. the perspicuity of Scripture). In spite of these serious omissions, the Report declares that there are reasonable and legitimate interpretations on both sides of the issue. In effect, it pronounces a verdict without evaluating the arguments and evidence of the attorneys on both sides.
Second, the Report gives too much weight to current science, experience, and perceived beneficial outcomes as reasons for reconsidering Scripture. Its appeals to the current science of sex and gender and to the history of marriage ignore or blur the crucial difference between creation and fall, and it mistakenly elevates science to the status of general revelation. Further, its arguments for same-sex marriage based on personal experience and perceived benefits do not consider biblical warnings against the possibilities of self-deception and confusing the goods of earthly life with the goods conducive to everlasting life.
For all of these reasons (elaborated section by section below), the GRE Report does not make a good case for the CRCNA to reconsider biblical sexual ethics. It certainly does not give sufficient reason to conclude that Scripture allows same-sex marriage. It presents a lot of complicated and confusing material but does not explicitly state or implicitly contain a cogent argument or combination of arguments (“multiple strands”) for its conclusions.
Nevertheless, I believe that the study of the biblical teaching about sex and sexual norms commissioned by Synod 2016 is warranted by the fact that a significant number of people in the CRCNA are either confused by the Report or perhaps even believe that it makes a legitimate case. We need an honest, definitive study of Scripture explicitly done according to the CRCNA doctrine of Scripture and hermeneutics for the sake of education, pastoral care and guidance, denominational unity, and confessional integrity.
Here follow some comments on each section of the GRE Report, explaining and supporting this critique.
Section 1: Guidance of the Holy Spirit and the reinterpretation of Scripture.
The Report correctly lists issues on which the church has reinterpreted Scripture in response to developments in science and social ethics. It would be more balanced if it also acknowledged issues–such as God’s unique creation of humans and ethical issues about life and death–on which the church has not changed after considering current science and culture.
In addressing the nature of Scripture in Section A, the Report mentions its inspiration and authority, but it does not mention the perspicuous and plenary character of biblical revelation. Perspicuity means that the Bible is clear and compelling on important matters of doctrine and life–not obscure, tentative, or ambiguous. If its “plain meaning” is occasionally not clear to ordinary readers, it will become clear through the church’s faithful learned study. Plenary means that all of Scripture is revelation. We should acknowledge everything that texts teach and not exclude anything without sufficient reasons consistent with Scripture itself. The Report omits these crucial categories and thus does not use them to evaluate the interpretations that it presents.
Section C, “Scripture interprets Scripture” (an implication of plenary revelation), affirms only that new interpretations must be consistent with other biblical passages. It does not affirm the heart of this principle—that the texts are meant by the Holy Spirit to illuminate and reinforce each other . For example, Leviticus 18 and Paul’s statements in I Corinthians 6 and I Timothy 1 help determine the meaning of Romans 1. Mutual illumination is a much stronger connection than mere absence of contradiction. The Report fails to evaluate whether the new interpretations actually “let Scripture interpret Scripture” and how well they do so. It nevertheless declares that some on both sides are “reasonable” and use “legitimate methods.”
Section D addresses God’s accommodation of the language and historical situation of original texts, mentioning Scripture’s toleration of slavery and polygamy. But it does not present the clear criteria (stated below) by which Reformed and other church traditions distinguish between Scripture’s temporary injunctions and its enduring principles, and thus it does not use these criteria in Sections 5 and 6 to evaluate the interpretations it presents. It also does not note that Scripture almost always challenges its historical-cultural circumstances rather than affirming them or adopting their meaning. The Report’s omission of these crucial aspects of historical exegesis are a serious liability in Sections 4-6 because the key issue is whether Scripture’s negative judgments about specific kinds of sexual relations are temporary or permanent.
Section E claims to avoid the slippery-slope problem—the danger that reinterpreting Scripture to allow same-sex marriage will lead to permitting sexual promiscuity and polygamy. The Report affirms sex within marriage and considers allowing LGBT people to marry, but it does not allow sex for unmarried people. This position is arbitrary, however, because although it does not permit extra-marital sex, it implicitly undermines the biblical prohibitions against “faithful” and “fulfilling” extra-marital sex. It sets up the slippery slope in this way: Accepting the new interpretations of the relevant biblical passages validates the methods they use–methods which readily deconstruct the biblical view of marriage as the sole context for sex (e.g. one might argue that Genesis 1 mentions procreation but not marriage). Combine that outcome with appeals to science, psychology, and the benefits of sexual fulfillment, and there are more than sufficient reasons for allowing sexual relations among mutually caring, freely consenting individuals in unmarried relationships. Thus the Report’s affirmation of sex within permanent marriage is arbitrary by its own standards. It holds a double hermeneutical standard—one for traditional marriage and another for sexual orientation–which is a slippery slope. (I note in passing that this slippery slope has similar implications for the doctrines of the creeds and confessions—the Trinity, incarnation, atonement, everlasting life, etc. Thus it is implicitly a confessional as well as biblical issue.)
Section G claims that same-sex marriage increases human flourishing. But this begs the question about what Scripture teaches that God wills. Real flourishing is everlasting life and whatever is conducive to it. The CRCNA position promotes flourishing in this life by affirming our renewed nature in Jesus Christ by the power of the Spirit, by condemning homophobia, stereotyping, and discrimination against LGBT people, and by striving for their full affirmation and inclusion in church and community. But the CRCNA does not believe that any sexual activity contrary to Scripture contributes to genuine human flourishing, no matter how good it seems. It is certainly not conducive to everlasting life in God’s kingdom. True compassion does not encourage sin. True justice does not defend the right to sin. Unless Scripture demonstrably does not forbid all same-sex activity, Section G promotes an unbiblical view of the good life.
Section 2: Advances in scientific understandings of sex and gender, intersex and transgender; Section 3: Same-sex attraction and gender variance: disorder versus creational variance.
Current Science Does Not Distinguish Creation and Fall
These two sections summarize a great deal of valuable information about how current science understands the causes, variety, and dynamics of same-sex attraction and gender variance. The CRCNA should benefit from this information by updating the science of the 1973 report, better understanding the experience of LGBT people, and thus enabling more effective support and relevant pastoral care.
The GRE Report also appeals to this material as a reason to reconsider our understanding of “normal” gender and sex. But it is both a logical mistake and inconsistent with biblical-Reformed doctrine to suppose that current biology, psychology, and sociology can alter our normative understanding of sex, gender, and marriage, as the Report does.
The logical mistake is the is-ought fallacy, which confuses what is normative with what is statistically “normal”. One cannot infer how things ought to be from the way they currently are, even if they are universal. Racism and sexism are wrong even if all humans believe they are right. Cancer and genetic defects are “fallen” even if they inevitably affected everyone. In the same way, sexual disorientation, ambiguity, and confusion might be “normal” but not normative in a fallen world. Furthermore, the view that gender-polarity is normative is completely consistent with recognizing that males and females manifest a diversity of body-types, personality types, and styles of self-expression, and that complex biological processes are involved in sexual differentiation. This diversity rightfully challenges narrow stereotypical
The theological mistake softens the antithesis of the fall against creation. Science studies the current world, which is fallen. (I’ll address science and general revelation below.) The fallen world does depend upon the creation order, which God sustains, like a parasite feeds on its host. But it also seriously deviates from and distorts the creation order, rendering it dysfunctional and perverse. Thus scientific generalizations, even if they are universally true, actually describe the way that fallen human nature functions. Nonetheless, science can often help us understand the good and healthy order of creation and how deviations occur. Healthy cell reproduction and cancer is a graphic example.
The underlying problem in the Report is the assumption that the current science of sex and gender reveals how humans have developed and functioned ever since God created us. On pages 20-21 it appeals to gender variance and homosexuality in the animal world to reconsider what is normal for humans. But that data is relevant only if humans were created exclusively by evolution from animals without any supernatural input or transformation by God and there has been no change in human nature and functioning. This assumption is not scientific biology but theistic evolutionary naturalism, a problematic theological perspective. It is rejected by many Christians who affirm evolution and hominid ancestors, including the Roman Catholic Church, precisely because it fails to distinguish creation and fall.
For these reasons, what current science says about sex, gender, and self-perception is not sufficient to challenge the normative nature and boundaries of sexual identity and sexual activity as revealed in Scripture. At most, science supports the (Christian) ethical imperative to reform our false assumptions about human identity, sexuality, and sexual dysfunctions in a fallen world. Current Science is Not Part of General Revelation
The GRE Report gives too much weight to current science for another reason–its view that science is part of general revelation. In Section 4, Guidelines for Interpreting Scripture, paragraph 1 (43) it explicitly states: “Taking Scripture seriously leads to recognizing the sciences as a form of revelation given by God…” If science is a kind of revelation, then it might carry some secondary weight in relation to Scriptural revelation.
But identifying science as general revelation is theologically mistaken, and the GRE Report misrepresents the report of Synod 1972 on the Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority. The 1972 Report ( Acts , 1972, 540) identifies general revelation with creation and states that science as part of the cultural mandate can provide insight into creation. In Reformed theology, science is a reading of the book of nature, just as theology is a reading of the book of Scripture. Both are fallible human interpretations of revelation that stand under the Spirit’s illumination of Scripture as the final authority for our understanding of nature, history, and redemptive history.
Both science and theology are included in God’s providence of the fallen world he is redeeming, but providence is not the same as general revelation. Providence both sustains what is good and regulates what is evil, including false theology and science. What happens in the world reveals God’s plan for history, and in that way providence reveals God’s permissive will. But general revelation proper does not include what is false, sinful, and evil. It is primarily how the creation reveals God’s eternal deity, power, and wisdom (Psalm 19, Romans 1). Secondarily, general revelation discloses God’s normative will for human life–how creation itself witnesses to God’s will so that even people who do not have God’s written law still have a general knowledge of right and wrong via conscience and the natural-moral order (Proverbs 8, Romans 2). Our understanding of general revelation must always be clarified and corrected by Scripture.
In sum, the entire GRE Report gives significantly more weight to current science than historic Reformed theology allows. It treats science as part of general revelation, which gives science the status of revelation, whereas the history of science is merely part of God’s providence of the fallen world he is redeeming. Discerning how current science helps us understand God’s will for human sexuality is far more complex and tenuous than the Report acknowledges.
Science is not a Neutral Perspective
Furthermore, the Report does not raise any questions about the perspectives—primarily evolutionary naturalism (which is distinct from biological evolution) and cultural-moral pluralism–from which most contemporary natural and social scientists make judgments about sex, gender, and what is “normal.” Of course science deals with facts. But it also develops concepts, definitions, and systems of complex ideas which are not testable facts but hypothetical constructions that involve philosophical, worldview, and value assumptions. Disciplines that deal with sex and gender are prime examples. At the very least, Christian scholars should sort through this material to distinguish well-established facts from the debatable interpretations and cultural evaluations commonly given to them. Many of the definitions and inferences about sex and gender are controversial even within the secular scientific establishment, and some are as political and “politically correct” as they are empirical. Surely human sexuality should be approached from an explicitly Reformed/Christian perspective on science and human nature.
The Appeal to Experience
Sections 2 and 3 document much pain, suffering, and self-rejection experienced by LGBT people which result from negative social-cultural and theological-ecclesiastical judgments about the disposition and the practice of alternative kinds of sexuality. Both the suffering itself and the sinfully judgmental and hostile attitudes of individual Christians, churches, and society at large are lamentable, culpable, and ought to be challenged vigorously.
But normalizing the dispositions and affirming the practices are not the only helpful responses. In recent decades many Christian churches have addressed homosexuality–the CRCNA virtually first among them—and have distinguished sexual orientation/disposition as an involuntary consequence of the fall from voluntary sexual activity, which they regard as sin. Many churches are embracing LGBT people and developing ministries that support them. An increasing number of congregational and para-church ministry programs successfully nurture, encourage, fully include, and rely on the ministry gifts of LGBT members. Regrettably, other churches and individual members have not embraced the reforms of recent decades. So the suffering and self-rejection of many LBGT people because of some Christians continue.
The GRE Report does not consider these positive efforts. Instead, in this section and especially in Sections 9 and 10, it agrees with those LGBT people who respond that allowing their disposition but rejecting their sexual expression is existentially undermining and impossible to live by. The Report insists that acceptance requires affirmation of sexuality without having squared that claim with Scripture.
A Related Confusion of Creation and Fall
The GRE Report also softens the antithesis between creation and fall in its appeal to the experience and theology of people who regard their disabilities as good creations, not as effects of the fall. Many deaf, blind, and paralyzed people develop amazing abilities to compensate for what they lack and experience strong solidarity with others like them. Some regard themselves as created that way by God, consider their unusual abilities as essential to their identity, and even envision themselves as deaf, blind, or paralyzed in God’s everlasting kingdom. In the same way, some LBGT people regard their orientations as variations of good, not fallen.
But this position is incompatible with the clear and strong antithesis between creation and fall in Augustinian-Reformed Christianity. Further, Scripture and common sense both regard good design, structure, and function as correlative. If someone designs something to work a certain way and it does not, then something is wrong. If God designed and created humans with “very good” eyes, ears, and limbs, and they do not function properly, then something is wrong. Lack of proper function is not an alternative creational “very good,” although the marvelous ways by which people cope with disabilities is part of God’s providential “common grace” in a fallen creation. But like all effects of the fall, these disabilities need healing, and they will be healed at the resurrection. As signs of the Kingdom, Jesus not only forgave sins but also healed bodies and personalities so that they functioned properly.
Affirming disabilities as created “goods” is a pastorally well-intentioned but biblically misguided attempt to be inclusive. The GRE Report’s appeal to this perspective to support alternative sexuality displays questionable theological judgment. (There are sound and compassionate biblical theologies of disability which we ought to endorse.)
SECTIONS 4-6: HERMENEUTICS AND EXEGESIS OF RELEVANT TEXTS
Sections 4-6 are most crucial because they interpret Scripture. The GRE Report affirms that Scripture is the final authority. It presents a number of readings of relevant texts on both sides, and it claims that there are legitimate readings which allow same-sex marriage.
However, Sections 5 and 6 are the weakest part of the Report and fail to make a case for even one alternative to the traditional interpretation. The problem is not primarily with the summary of Reformed hermeneutics in Section 4, although it is brief, slanted in spots, and incomplete. The fatal problem is that Sections 5 and 6 do not apply the criteria of Reformed hermeneutics to the interpretations they present, they do not evaluate those exegeses in terms of Reformed hermeneutics, and they do not compare the interpretations to determine which are more sound and tenable than others.5 Instead, Sections 5 and 6 merely juxtapose traditional and same-sex affirming interpretations with no evaluation whatsoever. Nevertheless, the Report declares that some unspecified texts on both sides are “reasonable” and use “legitimate methods.” This conclusion is completely without justification or support.
The conclusion is also inadequate because the perspicuity of Scripture implies that in principle the Bible has only one true meaning and thus only one sound interpretation. In practice Reformed churches regard the true meaning as the one determined by the best exegesis of Scripture, all things considered. If one clear meaning cannot be established, or if more than one can be justified by equally sound exegeses, then Reformed churches have refrained from affirming one interpretation as doctrine and have allowed all that are equally exegetically possible. The Report gives no help at all in this regard because it provides no comparative
As a result, the Report is rhetorically deceptive. It presents many complex interpretations that are confusing to people who are unable to evaluate them. It declares that there are “legitimate” interpretations on both sides, and thus that there is a compelling reason for the CRCNA to reconsider Scripture. Some CRCNA members even believe that the Report provides sufficient reason to affirm same-sex marriage. But these impressions and conclusions are false and misleading. The Report neither validates same-sex marriage nor warrants reconsideration because it does not validate any of the interpretations it presents by the Reformed criteria stated in Section 4. If there are sound affirmative exegeses, it does not identify or validate them. Section 4. Guidelines for Interpreting Scripture According to a Reformed Hermeneutic
This section is a generally accurate but incomplete summary of the grammatical-literary-historical-theological method of the Reformed, confessional, and evangelical Protestant traditions. (“Reformed hermeneutics” is not narrowly CRCNA.) The reader should consult the Report itself to understand the following observations.
Paragraph 1 is sound except that it identifies science as an aspect of general revelation whereas the Belgic Confession and the 1972 Report identify general revelation with creation and providence. This point was explained above.
Paragraph 2 is basically sound except that it could state more precisely that Scripture is authoritative on everything that it teaches—it is plenary revelation. It reveals theological worldview truths about the physical world even though it does not teach physics or chemistry.
Paragraph 3 rightly points to salvation through Christ as the central theme of Scripture. But it may unintentionally downplay the importance and truth of other teachings of Scripture. It is correct that some texts are more directly and explicitly about salvation through Christ than others and that Scripture is not simply a book of rules or timeless truths. But everything the Bible teaches is true—not just salvation through Christ–including sexual boundaries that do not change over time. Jesus affirms enduring doctrine as part of the Gospel in his Great Commission (Matt. 28).
Paragraph 4 rightly points out the historical features of organic inspiration. But it omits another important aspect of “organic,” that the full meaning of every part of Scripture is correlative with—determining and determined by–every other part within the cumulative whole of Scripture. Section 7 alludes to this point when it states “Scripture should interpret Scripture.”
Paragraph 5 rightly calls attention to the historical location of the original text and that applications of the original doctrine might change in other historical contexts. However, it does not state the criteria by which we determine which doctrines and commands remain constant and which ones change with historical circumstances. Reformed hermeneutics has well-developed criteria derived from Scripture itself—whether the New Testament reaffirms Old Testament laws (e.g. the Commandments) or considers them fulfilled in Christ and transcended (e.g. kosher laws and OT civil legislation). This omission in the Report is a serious problem because the whole issue hinges on whether the sexual boundaries in Leviticus 18 and Paul’s epistles are universal or historically limited.
Paragraph 6 is stated well. Its claim that the “plain” meaning (i.e. the clearest, most arguably correct interpretation) of the text is an important criterion to ward off subjective readings. Here an implication of the plenary character of Scripture is briefly acknowledged. But because the debate about Scripture involves detailed scholarship, this section could have added that “plain” is primarily a judgment of thoughtful common sense (the Reformation insistence on the Bible for the laity) and secondarily the best interpretation by the church’s confessionally faithful scholars. The Report does not use this principle in evaluating the exegeses in Sections 5 and 6, some of which are not “plain” at all but hypothetical, arbitrary, convoluted, or obscure.
Paragraph 7 about Scripture interpreting Scripture is accurate but too brief. It should invoke the plenary character, that is, the fullness of biblical revelation— tota Scriptura . Either here or in Section 5 the Report should indicate that all texts about marriage and sexual activity in creation, fall, redemption, and discipleship from Old to New Testament constitute the interpretative framework within which each should be understood. This principle is crucial for the debate because many interpretations select or “cherry pick” the data, as well as the other texts and the doctrines which they apply in their exegeses instead of doing a complete job. Unfortunately, the Report neither specifies nor applies this criterion to evaluate how well its featured exegeses perform.
Paragraph 8–that obscure texts are to be interpreted according to clear texts–is crucially important as an aspect of Scripture interpreting Scripture. This principle likewise reflects the perspicuity, clarity, or “plain meaning” of the text. Regrettably this principle does not function in evaluating what is clear and obscure in the relevant texts or how the exegeses considered in Sections 5 and 6 rank in applying this criterion. Some are arbitrary, improbable, or speculative.
Paragraph 9 concerning the Holy Spirit is correct and important. The Holy Spirit never leads the church to affirm what is contrary to the teaching of Scripture or to find in Scripture meanings that cannot be warranted by sound exegesis. The Spirit may lead the church to revise its understanding of Scripture or modify its applications in response to historical developments. But the Spirit also sustains the church in the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints”–the Word of the Lord that stands forever. Appeals to the “leading” of Holy Spirit and for the church to be “always reforming” give no support to affirmative views of same-sex marriage unless they are shown to be tenable from Scripture. “Always reforming according to the Word of God ” is the complete maxim. Perhaps the great work of the Spirit in our generation is not to change our interpretation of Scripture but to reform and empower us to love and nurture LGBT people according to the current position of the CRCNA. So we turn to Sections 5 and 6.
Section 5. Interpretation of biblical passages referring to gender differentiation and same-sex intercourse
I will not engage in a point-for-point critique of this section but merely make some comments on key issues.
The Summary of Findings does not judge exclusively in favor of the traditional or the affirming position. It notes similarities and differences of interpretation within both positions and between both positions. But it concludes that some on both sides are reasonable and legitimate. Point 1 (p. 56) states:
“We found reasonable dispute among scholars over the interpretation of these contested passages. By reasonable , we mean that scholars demonstrate that they can legitimately reach multiple conclusions about these passages using sound methods , with healthy motives. This does not mean that scholars cannot be said to have reached an incorrect interpretation or conclusion. It does mean that scholars and authors of various viewpoints cannot be dismissed summarily on the basis of their methods and motives without engaging with the merits of their arguments. (We should clarify that not all scholars and authors we read or quoted necessarily self-identity as Reformed or would necessarily subscribe to each of the Reformed hermeneutical criteria laid out in the previous section, though at least some affirming scholars do. In any case, Reformed readers can and should subject any interpretation to those hermeneutical criteria, as we did.)” (My emphasis.)
I do not dispute anyone’s motives. But I do dispute the truth of Point 1. The Report has completely failed to demonstrate that these scholars reach opposite conclusions by “reasonable” and “legitimate” exegesis using “sound methods. ” It does not apply the criteria of sound Reformed hermeneutics that it lists in Section 4 or evaluate the interpretations and conclusions in terms of them. It has not “engaged the merits of their arguments.” All of the interpretations consider original languages, make historical references, mention other texts in Scripture, and seem very learned. But there is much more to proper and thorough Reformed exegesis than that. In addition, the Report makes no comparative evaluation of the interpretations to see which earn higher scores by Reformed standards—which has the best claim to be the true interpretation.
The Report merely describes—it briefly summarizes and compares conclusions of various exegeses.
Surprisingly, it nevertheless claims that it does provide such an evaluation. “Reformed readers can and should subject any interpretation to those hermeneutical criteria, as we did .” I repeat: There is no such evaluation in the GRE Report—no determination of proper and complete grammatical, literary, historical, and theological interpretation that takes into consideration all the relevant data; no determination which interpretations are exegetically most perspicuous, plenary, and plausible, and which are unwarranted, obscure, speculative, or arbitrary. Interpreters who self-identify as Reformed are not Reformed if they do not read Scripture in a Reformed way. If the committee made such an evaluation, it is not in their Report.
For the record, let me state that some of the traditional (exclusively heterosexual) interpretations presented are likewise weak, incomplete, or mistaken. Even the 1973 Report is sometimes incomplete or less than explicit in its application of classical Reformed hermeneutics, and it does not clearly spell out its exegetical-theological method, although it is intentionally Reformed and consistent with Report 44 on the inspiration and authority of Scripture, adopted by Synod a year earlier. All interpretations should be judged by the same Reformed standard.
Some Specific Criticisms and Illustrations
A major deficiency of virtually all affirming interpretations is their failure fully to acknowledge plenary revelation– tota Scriptura— to interpret Scripture according to Scripture, that is, to apply “the analogy [reiteration] of Scripture”—which includes everything in the Bible relevant to a particular topic. Virtually all affirmative interpretations select part of the text as its real point and explain away other parts. “Marriage is about relationship, not gender.” “Paul meant lust, not loving same-sex acts”. “Paul’s term refers to demeaning same-sex acts, not loving relationships.” “Sodom was about inhospitality and rape, not homosexuality.” All these conclusions conflict with the plenary nature of Scriptural revelation unless the limitations are clearly and decisively warranted by thorough exegesis and the analogy of Scripture. None of the limiting interpretations is validated in this way.
Let me illustrate inadequate interpretations by noting some decisive features that must be considered by a sound reading of Genesis 1 and Romans 1.
In Genesis 1, the “very good” human nature that God created is male, female, and reproductive, however one understands the image of God.6 Those who deny that heterosexuality is normative in Genesis 1 ignore the fact that male-female correlation is one of several creational polarities in the text—heaven and earth, day and night, sea and land, animals and
6 Both genders together image God, but God is not gendered, so gender is not part of the image of God. Procreation, like having dominion, is either part of the image or expresses it. Both are normative callings for humanity in Gen. 1. Affirmative interpretations which claim that same-sex marriage images God ignore the distinction between the narrow (created, regenerate) and broad (universal fallen) image of God. Same-sex marriages exemplify the latter but cannot exemplify the former, which includes holiness (cf. Lev. 18) humans—which constitute the basic order that structures and regulates human life . The regulative character of the creation order is also expressed in Psalm 19, Romans 1-2, and in the creation-wisdom theology of Proverbs 8. In addition, the analogy of Scripture requires that Genesis 1 be interpreted in terms of Genesis 2 and all other texts about marriage and gender, including those in which Jesus and Paul appeal to creation as normative for marriage and gender relations. Theologically, the normativity of creation order is crucial to the entire Reformed worldview (cf. Our World Belongs to God )— creation, fall, redemption, consummation—and to Reformed ethics, which holds that God’s normative will is evident to all from creation order (Psalm 19) through conscience (Rom. 2), and that the Commandments, which reiterate the Law of Love (love God above all and neighbor as oneself) are rooted in the creation of humanity as the image of God (Gen. 1). Reformed theology, worldview, and ethics as a whole do not make sense without the normativity of creation order, including gender polarity. All of these data must be considered in a thorough—plenary canonical—interpretation of Genesis 1. The Report itself notes that the traditional position typically affirms that heterosexual marriage is normative in Genesis 1 and 2, whereas the affirmative position typically denies it (50). Are both positions equally reasonable and legitimate? Surely not by Reformed standards.
Sound interpretation of Romans 1 must likewise consider everything we know from the rest of Scripture. Cultural context is a secondary aspect of historical exegesis. Paul makes clear statements about male homosexual practice elsewhere (1 Cor. 6; 1 Tim. 1), where he uses a term derived from the Septuagint Greek text of Leviticus 18 and 20 and associates same-sex relations (without qualification or limitation) with violations of the Commandments–clear hermeneutical marks of a universal norm, not a limited application. Further, Paul was trained by the Pharisees, and the church at Rome had a significant Jewish membership who would naturally understand him as affirming Leviticus and rabbinical teaching, not an obscure Roman view. What’s more, Romans 2:12-16 continues to speak of God’s universal law which is known even by those who do not have God’s inscripturated law. Romans 1 must be read in terms of all these factors. When it is, the plain common-sense meaning is overwhelmingly corroborated by sound and thorough scholarship. It is exegetically unreasonable to limit or reduce Paul’s prohibition to lust, or sex contrary to personal orientation, or pagan practices. Reformed historical interpretation first locates texts within the biblical canon and then relates them to extra-biblical culture. It does not define or relativize the meaning of Scripture in terms of culture (e.g. defining Paul’s terms for same-sex acts in terms of pagan practices) without clear and sufficient reason. In fact pagan culture actually confirms the historic reading of Paul: Even those Greeks and Romans who accepted homosexual behavior regarded nature ( phusis ) as universally normative and for some even as divine. In sum, interpreting Romans 1 as perspicuous and plenary revelation concludes that homosexual behavior of any kind is against nature (the universal normative order) and manifests God’s punishment, which abandons people to follow their own fallen desires.
Of course Paul is not describing Christian homosexual behavior, a notion he would consider as a total oxymoron! If he were addressing Christians in homosexual relationships, he would say exactly the same things that he said about incest (also prohibited in Lev. 18) in 1 Cor. 5:1-2: don’t engage in such pagan behaviors, and if necessary, shun those who do so that they repent.
The Report’s Sections on Biblical Interpretation Do not Support its Conclusion
The GRE Report simply describes positions taken on Genesis 1 and Romans 1. It does 22
not evaluate how well they exegete texts and “let Scripture interpret Scripture.” It declares unspecified examples on both sides to be “reasonable” according to “legitimate methods” without comparative evaluation by the standards of Reformed doctrine of Scripture and hermeneutics.
This absence of theological, hermeneutical, and exegetical evaluation completely undermines the Report’s claim that there are legitimate interpretations supporting both sides, and therefore that the CRCNA has sufficient reason to reconsider the 1973 Report’s conclusions about Scripture. More significant, it entirely vitiates the claim of CRCNA members who believe that the Report provides “multiple strands” of reasons sufficient to affirm that Scripture allows same-sex marriage. There is no affirmative case in the GRE Report, even implicitly. At most it offers interpretations for the denomination and synodical study committee to evaluate.
(For a source that briefly outlines and applies Reformed hermeneutics and evaluates both traditional and affirming exegeses accordingly, see my article, “Not Like Women in Office: Scripture, Hermeneutics, and Same-Sex Relations” in Calvin Seminary Forum , Fall 2015, as well as the articles by Weima, and Leder for Reformed readings of the Old and New Testament texts; http://www.calvinseminary.edu/ministry-connections/publications/forum-archive/ .)
Interpretive Pluralism and the Dreaded Slippery Slope
This outcome leaves the Report operating with what looks like a postmodern pluralistic hermeneutics. The latter regards as legitimate and reasonable all seriously argued interpretations without determining by standard criteria (as in legal adjudication) that some are reasonable, some are not, and some are more reasonable than others. This impression is not encouraging for Bible-readers who believe that God’s truth in Scripture is clear. The GRE Report claims to use Reformed hermeneutics but unintentionally promotes interpretive pluralism.
This implication undermines the Report’s own Summary of Findings , 5:
We found that debate over these passages did not concern or threaten any core creedal or confessional beliefs. Scholars and all church members, of various viewpoints, can and do confess the sovereignty of God, salvation through Christ alone, the authority of Scripture, and all of the major tenets of the Reformed creeds and confessions. Marital and sexual ethics are not insignificant, but are of secondary significance compared with the core beliefs that unify the church and all its confessing members” (56-57).
To the contrary, if the collage of interpretative strategies presented in Sections 5 and 6 displays a “legitimate” and “reasonable” diversity of “sound methods,” then no issue of doctrine or ethics, including confessional (e.g. infant baptism, the Belgic Confession on revelation and Scripture) and creedal statements (e.g. the Nicene Creed on the Trinity and two natures of Christ), is beyond reasonable and legitimate dispute. The fact that those who support same-sex marriage also continue to affirm the creeds and confessions instead of modern or postmodern theology is their custom or choice, but it is not warranted or supported by their approach to Scripture. Biblical, creedal, and confessional integrity is the primary reason why I challenge the GRE Report as a minister in the CRCNA and professor at Calvin Seminary.
The conclusion that both sides legitimately interpret Scripture elevates experience to be a determinative hermeneutical factor in the rest of the Report, as acknowledged in the Summary of Findings at the end of Section 5 (my underlining):
The GRE Report places the 1973 Report side-by-side with much more recent interpretations as though they are equal competitors. But the juxtaposition is unfair. Sustained same-sex affirming scholarship by Christians only got started in the late 1970’s and 80’s and has since developed standard arguments and conclusions that continue to the present. The 1973 Report cannot be expected to respond to what was written later. Nonetheless, even though the 1973 Report occasionally seems unclear or anachronistic by comparison, its exegesis stands up very well, often anticipating and challenging later affirming interpretations. The CRCNA position on sexuality is based on the 1973 Report but does not depend its precise definitions or exegetical arguments. We should not forget that the conclusions and recommendations of the Report are overwhelmingly inclusive and pastoral far earlier than most other denominations. Competent scholars who defend the traditional position have continued to engage in the debates of the last forty years, and they successfully challenge the affirmative position using the standard biblical hermeneutics of the Reformation tradition. Most theologians who affirm same-sex
unions readily acknowledge that the historic approach to Scripture yields the traditional position on sex and marriage, but they believe that Scripture is culturally limited and not normative for us on that issue. They do not attempt the futile task of reinterpreting Scripture itself to be consistent with same-sex marriage. The CRCNA study committee will produce a much stronger up-to-date defense of the traditional position than the 1973 Report by challenging affirmative arguments of the last forty-five years on a more level and well-marked hermeneutical playing field.
Section 7: Historical, Biblical, and Theological Foundations for Marriage
I limit myself to a few key issues in this section, which approaches the topic this way:
“To contend that traditional marriage is defined as ‘one man and one woman’ ignores thousands of years of history. We briefly review how marriage has changed over millennia and in particular in the last seventy-five years. We also examine theological issues particularly relevant to same-sex marriage in the church.”
My first observation is that this history narrates marriage in a fallen world and has no relevance for the normative biblical view of marriage. My second claim is that history actually corroborates that marriage is heterosexual in spite of all the changes. This is a poor argument.
The first section is marriage in secular history. It notes many variations about age, ethnicity, social and economic class, motivations for marriage, etc. But it offers no historical exception to the definition of marriage as heterosexual and no justification whatsoever for switching categories from age, ethnicity, class, etc. to sexual orientation. The argument commits a glaring category mistake, a non-sequitur .
The next section is about marriage in the Bible. It mentions polygamy, does not point out that polygamy was rejected permanently after the exile, and notes divorce in the NT. But it does nothing to relativize the claim that male and female is the biblical standard.
The same is true of the section on marriage in the CRCNA. Changes regarding “headship,” the role of women in church and society, and latitude on divorce are entirely irrelevant to changing the definition of marriage from “one man, one woman.”
The section on Theological Definitions of Marriage addresses biblical passages. I strongly disagree with the claim (91) that affirming theologians, such as Brueggeman, Brownson, and Vines, implement the same approach to the historicity and normativity of Scripture as is stated in the 1972 CRCNA Report on Scripture. But they do not. Instead they use data and methods that are more at home in modernist and postmodernist biblical scholarship.
There are several problems in this section, but the most egregious is the attempt to separate sex and gender from procreation. This strategy is also evident in Brownson’s attempt to separate kinship from procreation (94-95), as though kinship is possible without procreation. Neither in ancient paganism, nor in common sense, nor in Scripture can sex, reproduction, and the human community be separated. “Every tongue, tribe, and nation”–God’s family in his everlasting Kingdom–are all descendants of the fruitfulness of our first parents (Gen. 1). We are family. Separating sex and reproduction is an modern (individualistic hedonistic) abstraction—an arbitrary either/or rather than a both/and. God created marriage both for procreation and fellowship (whatever exceptions some marriages exemplify in the fallen world). God also created many non-sexual kinds of fellowship in addition to marriage which will remain in God’s everlasting Kingdom when marriage is no more. Separating sex and reproduction contradicts the perspicuity and plenary nature of Scripture, which affirms both in correlation.
Another fallacious argument in Section 7 relativizes heterosexual marriage by tying it to
patriarchalism and oppressive kinds of headship (Paauwe 95).7 This association conflates marriage as created and fallen. The true redemptive solution is in Ephesians 5:21ff, which reiterates God’s original intention: heterosexual marriage in which mutual submission and Christ-like love image the relationship of Christ and the church. To claim that rejecting patriarchalism opens the door for homosexual marriage is another complete non-sequitur , as is the equivocation of spiritual and biological fruitfulness (96).
Celibacy in the Bible is both a gift to some and an obligation for all who are not married. The Report’s attempt to assert one and deny the other is another violation of the perspicuity and plenary character of Scripture, which clearly teaches both. Admittedly, desire for sexual expression can be powerful whether people are married or not. But we are enjoined to celibacy nonetheless if we are not married. Vastly more heterosexual than LGBT people wrestle with unfulfilled sexual desire, although not because of their sexual orientation. Christian churches must take this existential problem seriously and deal with it pastorally for all unmarried people. But the GRE Report’s repeated suggestion that sexual expression is necessary for love, intimacy, touching, etc. is confused and false. It conflates personal and sexual intimacy. Non-sexual love and intimacy are available in family, friendship, church community, social solidarity, and other relationships created by God.
In this section the Report asks whether celibacy is required of homosexual people. It turns for its answer not to Scripture but to research by the American Psychological Association
7 When Paauw applies this view to gender issues, she states, “The more mutual, the more egalitarian, the more flexible one’s view of what it means for marriage partners to be complementary, the more room one has to embrace same-sex marriage” (Paauw, 2013, quoted in the GRE Report) which emphasizes the similar character, needs, and satisfactions of hetero- and homosexual people. This section simply declares without biblical support that celibacy is a special gift and that same-sex people are rightfully suspicious of heterosexuals who restrict sex to marriage (97). It closes with a rhetorical call for change: “Is the church ready to revise its understanding of Scripture as it has done historically with slavery, anti-Semitism, segregation, interracial marriage, divorce and adultery, and women’s equality?” (98) This call presumes that Scripture is open to same-sex relationships, but the Report has not made the case. This section virtually equates opposition to same-sex marriage with endorsement of slavery, anti-Semitism, racism, and the other evils it lists. The charge is slanderous if not true.
Section 8: Social and Psychological Goods Typically Enabled by Marriage
There is no doubt about the benefits that a good marriage brings to both partners. It is the most comprehensively intimate relationship possible for humans in this life—personal, spiritual, emotional, and physical union. Want of a marriage partner is an onerous burden for many people, not just those with same-sex attraction.
But this section fails to maintain consistently the crucial distinction between personal intimacy and sexual intimacy and thereby caricatures the position of traditional Christians and the CRCNA. Scripture and common sense know the difference between close personal relationships that are sexual and those which are not. Family, friendship, cohabitation, and other close relationships provide spiritual, personal, emotional, and even physical intimacy, such as touching and hugging. These contacts satisfy basic needs, and without them most people do not flourish. The CRCNA and the 1973 Report forbid none of them to same-sex attracted people.
Obviously, good sex is a distinct and wonderful addition. But many people enjoy good, fulfilling lives without sex, whether celibate by choice or factors beyond their control.
This section of the GRE Report repeatedly fails to distinguish between the love of marriage and the non-sexual love of close personal relationships. It also fails to distinguish the benefits of marriage from those of civil unions, which can have the same legal rights without arbitrarily redefining marriage in a way that is without precedent in human history. Most traditional Christians and churches do not say what the Report alleges: “You must live alone and have no intimate friends. It is sin for you to live with a loving partner.” (95) Certainly the 1973 Report does not. Once this confusion is eliminated and the caricature exposed, the rational and rhetorical force of Section 8 is weakened considerably.
In addition, if it is truly a consequence of God’s goodness, justice, and compassion that the benefits of sexual intimacy be available to all, then the church must rethink its prohibition of sex outside of marriage. After all, millions of people of all sexual orientations are unable to marry for all kinds of reasons beyond their control—personality, lack of partner, circumstances, poverty, health, age, etc. If a good God who gifted the human race with sexual needs and desires wants us all to flourish with creational good, as this section claims, and if celibacy is a gift given only to some, as the previous section claims, then a good God wants all people as best they can to seek mutually consensual and satisfying sexual relationships without harming others, and the church needs to revise its sexual ethics accordingly. CRCNA members who favor same-sex marriage, believing that it is justified by Scripture and required by God’s justice and mercy, must either concede other sexual boundaries or else explain why their interpretation of Scripture affirms same-sex relations but preserves the traditional limit to sex within marriage. The diverse hermeneutical repertoire they approve inevitably supports the progressive view of both. Moving any of the traditional boundaries will leave the church unable to resist the principle of modern liberal sexual ethics—whatever is for self-determined benefit by the mutual consent of competent persons without harm to others is OK. Why not sex with friends, roommates, and even with family members if it expresses true affection and shared Christian faith? After all, there are legitimate, reasonable disagreements about the biblical view of these relationships, and it is reasonable to claim that Scripture is limited to its cultural-historical circumstances. Compassion, justice, and positive experience should be decisive. Birth control, a social safety net, knowledge and drugs to combat STDs, and redefinitions of family and kinship have rendered the biblical prohibitions obsolete now that the Spirit has finally enabled us to understand God’s real intention for sex—interpersonal communion. This rationale is enabled by the case for same-sex marriage, which deserves to be held responsible for all of its implications. The GRE Report unwittingly concedes a lot more than it realizes.
Section 9: Psychological Issues Involved in Considering Full Inclusion vs. Non-inclusion
This section contains important information about the nature and causes of same-sex attraction and the effects of negative social, moral, and religious judgments about it. Its accounts of the suffering of people with same-sex attraction are heart-wrenching and lamentable. Its allegation is sobering: that the church’s traditional position, including the 1973 Report, is existentially devastating, makes emotional health impossible, and makes the church repulsive to most LGBT people. The church ought to acknowledge this suffering and deal with it tenderly and realistically. These negative dynamics are a significant reason for reconsidering Scripture.
But the main problem with this section is precisely that it subtly plays emotion—what it calls “compassion, kindness, love, and empathy” (106) against the traditional reading of Scripture, which it suggests is too rationalistic (clear, systematic, compelling, and definitive?). It asserts a hermeneutical principle: “Any biblical interpretive conclusion must be congruent with God’s justice and mercy” (106). This claim is obviously true. But by the standard of Reformed hermeneutics, it is either redundant (because God’s compassion and justice as taught in Scripture are already reflected in the church’s position), or else it applies current cultural standards of compassion and justice to determine what Scripture teaches, making culture the final authority. Current cultural attitudes and social psychology do not reveal God’s justice and mercy accurately because they are affected by the fall. The point is this: If Scripture teaches that same-sex activity is against God’s will, then this prohibition expresses God’s justice and mercy, which require that we help people live chaste lives. It is not just or merciful to encourage people to disobey God’s will even though they feel fulfilled by doing so. However, if as the GRE Report suggests, Scripture is unclear or misunderstood, then justice and mercy could lead the church to change. But the Report has not made a case that the church’s view of sex and marriage is mistaken or that affirmative views are valid. Thus it does not make a case that God’s justice and mercy require rethinking the issue of sexual boundaries.
The Report goes further than warranted in condemning the church’s position. In fact its rhetoric sides with progressive contemporary sensibilities in favor of same-sex unions and judges the church to be an agent of death. “For the church to impose a celibacy requirement on homosexual Christians who have not been equipped by the Spirit with the gifts for life-long celibacy, and who yearn for the same intimacy that heterosexuals are encouraged to pursue, runs contrary to God’s desire for human flourishing and contrary to Paul’s advice to prevent sexual immorality” (112). A harsh judgment without justification.
But if the church is correct in its reading of Scripture, then the Report is condemning Scripture. If it condemns Scripture, by implication it condemns God who inspired Scripture as his revealed word and will. God turns out to be unloving and unjust to have created people with desire for sexual intimacy and then to deny them a way of satisfying it. Serious charges!
We must show all the love, compassion, justice, and inclusion deserved by our LGBT brothers and sisters. But if Scripture does teach what most of the universal church understands it to teach, then all of the suffering described in this chapter may not be ameliorated by affirming same-sex activity as the will of God. Then a just and merciful God does call all unmarried people to celibacy, just as it calls all of us to chastity. Perhaps the new thing the Spirit is doing in the church is to transform our hearts and minds so that we faithfully love, nurture, and use the gifts of LGBT people within traditional biblical boundaries rather than reimagining Scripture.
Section 10: Personal Stories of LGBT Christians
I whole-heartedly affirm the theme of this section–that we listen to the stories of LGBT people. Much of their negative self-evaluation, experience of rejection, emotional turmoil, and spiritual depression result from unbiblical, unfair, and unloving treatment, misunderstanding, stereotyping, rejection, and even condemnation by families, pastors, churches, and society. The stories in this section narrate a great deal of wrongly inflicted suffering, and in spite of it they witness to the grace of God and to love, forgiveness, and fruits of the Spirit. I do not question the sincerity and authenticity of these Christian testimonies, and I accept that their sense of satisfaction in their relationships is as strong as married heterosexuals.
My first observation is that most of the hurt and suffering identified in Sections 9 andnarrated in Section 10 would have been avoided–and much good would have resulted–from faithful application of the principles affirming LGBT people that are set out in the 1973 Report. The resources for biblical self-understanding, grace, forgiveness, unconditional love, and personal nurture in family, friendship, church, and society are affirmed by the CRCNA position. Many other churches now take a similar stand. The real problem–acknowledged more than once by Synod–is our collective failure to live out these principles. Had we been faithful, only the problems arising from required celibacy would have arisen in these personal stories.
The crucial issue once again is the final authority of Scripture. If the church’s doctrine that sex belongs within heterosexual marriage is true as taught by the Bible, then it is not true that same-sex unions conform to God’s will even though the persons involved truly love the Lord, manifest the fruits of the Spirit, and live satisfying lives by earthly standards.
All redeemed sinners are capable of self-deception about God’s will. We are able to mistake apparently satisfying fulfillment of fallen needs and sinful desires for God’s blessing and approval of our behavior, whereas the satisfaction might only reflect God’s graciously tolerant providence or forbearance of discipline in spite of our disobedience and self-deception.
Examples of mistaken self-evaluation abound in Scripture and in our lives. David was God’s messianic king, but he killed Uriah, married Bathsheba, and felt good about himself until confronted by Nathan. Peter was wrong but thought he was right several times in the Gospels and Acts. Nowadays, spiritually active Christians deceive themselves that a bit of soft porn is OK if it helps them be more relaxed and productive in the rest of their lives. Some unmarried Christians who pray together and share emotional intimacy feel very good about sharing sexual intimacy as well. Some faithful Christians after prayer and soul-searching decide that suicide, abortion, or euthanasia is right. The Lord certainly can forgive these sins, but they are sins in spite of our judgments to the contrary.
All Christians are capable of deceiving ourselves that a practice forbidden in Scripture is OK because we judge that it contributes to our perceived happiness and well-being. In ethics this kind of reasoning is pragmatism or consequentialism: the end justifies the means; the outcome validates the activity. But this reasoning is not biblical or Christian. Nowhere does Scripture permit or sanction sinful behavior because it is enacted by sincere Christians who find it beneficial. But this section of the GRE Report implies that same-sex relationships are permissible and sanctified if the partners are Christian, faithful, and find sex fulfilling.
In sum, the basic issue in this section once again is the final authority of Scripture. Experience that runs counter to Scripture could be a reason for reconsidering what the Bible teaches. But if Scripture teaches traditional Christian sexual boundaries, then people who disagree are simply mistaken and self-deceived even though they sincerely believe that the perceived benefits of such behavior indicate God’s approval. The GRE Report has not made a plausible Reformed case that Scripture is unclear or misunderstood, and it does not take account of possibly mistaken self-evaluation. Thus its appeal to the testimony of Christians in same-sex relationships carries no weight against the traditional view.
The GRE Report is a helpful contribution to the CRCNA discussion about same-sex 35
marriage because presumably it presents a strong case for reconsidering and perhaps reaching new conclusions about Scripture’s teaching on sex and marriage. The Report rightly affirms that Scripture is the final authority and acknowledges that it ought to present ostensibly Reformed affirmative interpretations of the relevant texts in order for the CRCNA to reconsider its position on same-sex marriage. It offers a variety of exegetical, scientific, historical, and experiential reasons for reconsideration. “The strength of the overall argument comes from
how these different strands reinforce each other,” it claims (6).
But the Report fails to show that there are any plausible Reformed interpretations of Scripture allowing same-sex marriage because it does not evaluate any that it presents by Reformed hermeneutical standards. If there is an arguably tenable interpretation among them, the Report does not identify or validate it. Further, its appeals to science, history, and experience do not recognize that those sources reflect the fallen creation and thus that they do not reliably disclose the will of God for sex and marriage. They might provide reasons for reconsidering the biblical view of sex and marriage if Scripture were unclear or ambiguous. But since the Report has not made a case for rereading Scripture, it has provided no reason for using extra-biblical sources carry to reinterpret Scripture. In sum, the Report presents inconclusive reasons for reconsidering Scripture and no sound reasons at all for affirming same-sex marriage.
However, the fact that more than a few members of the CRCNA accept or are confused by the reasoning and conclusions of the Report is sufficient for the denomination to engage in a definitive study of the biblical teaching about the nature and norms of human sexuality.