Summer Conventions '97
Denomination: Christian Reformed Church in North America.
Issues relating to women dominated this year's annual meeting of the Christian Reformed Church. Like many Christian denominations, the CRC is struggling to define or fortify its position on a number of divisive issues.
Three abortion-related matters provoked many hours of debate. The synod voted to send a letter to President Clinton and the U.S. Congress calling for a ban on partial-birth abortions. The delegates also decided not to censure a biology professor at a CRC college whose teachings on abortion differ from the synod's position on such matters. In a related vote, the delegates decided not to appoint a committee to provide biblical grounds for the synod's position on abortion.
"This is an issue that is affecting every community, every creed, every culture," argued elder Keith Vander Pol, according to the United Reformed News Service. "Certainly we have the resources to give clear biblical direction and guidance."
"It was the Pharisees in the time of Jesus who knew Scripture very well, who used Scripture to condemn other people," rejoined the Rev. Clayton Libolt, chairman of the committee that advised against the study. He denounced the idea of bringing "more ammunition" against a professor who is "saying things we don't like."
The most important debate of this year, though, was over gender-inclusive language for God. The synod voted to accept a committee report which rejects the use of gender-inclusive language – such as calling God "Mother" – except where there is biblical precedent. "Inclusive language for God presents a significantly different view of God than the language of Scripture does," the report concludes. "It is spiritually dangerous in refusing to accept God as he has revealed himself to be."
The report recommends the occasional use of feminine imagery for God that conforms to the "biblical pattern of language for God." It also notes that pastors may wish to use feminine imagery more frequently when counselling people who find masculine language "emotionally difficult."
The gender debate was not confined the question of language about God. Last year's decision by the CRC to allow women to serve as pastors and elders continues to have repercussions. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church and the Presbyterian Church in America have severed ecclesiastical relationships with the CRC as a result of this decision; similarly, some members of the CRC had suggested establishing separate classes (regional units) for congregations that disagree with synod decisions such as whether women should be ordained. Some members of the CRC feared that the denomination would lose more traditional congregations if the proposal was not passed.
The proposal was rejected by the synod, though, after several hours of debate. "The real issue is not women in office," said elder Brian vanStaalduinen, according to the CRC. "The real issue is whether we can accept each other in love when we disagree with each other. If we can't work together at classis, we can't accept each other in love."
©1997 Heather Elizabeth Peterson