This letter is written by the Rev. Paul Janssen, of the United Reformed Church in Somerville, New Jersey. If you are an LGBTQ person or ally who would like to contribute to the #WeAretheRCA project with a letter of response to General Synod 2016, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dear General Synod 2016,
I wasn’t there. So I’m not going to ask about any particulars of who said what, and how, to whom, etc.
I’m an uber-privileged, third-generation minister in the RCA, with deep roots in the German pietists who immigrated into northeast Iowa and eventually formed what is still the most beautifully named classis: “Pleasant Prairie.”
I’m not G, L, B, T, or Q, but I can’t remember when I wasn’t an ally. Not always a very good ally. In fact, sometimes a pretty lousy one, as I am still on a very long learning curve to understanding the implications of my privileged upbringing in the RCA. I try to learn, but often fail.
What I am is the pastor of a smallish congregation in New Jersey. For just over 30 years, Jersey is where God has called me. That’s my “context.” For three decades people have visited the congregations I’ve served, and many have asked to become members of those congregations.
And, while it’s not usually the first question on people’s minds, at some point, nearly every prospective member has asked what the RCA teaches about homosexuality. Given what I’ve heard ministers and elders from various regions say, that’s a pretty common experience.
What might be a bit more surprising to many of you, however, is that the folks who come to me (almost universally) want to be assured that the RCA welcomes all people – regardless of sexual orientation – into full membership. Same question; opposite side.
So, here’s my set of questions to those who long for the RCA to have a public witness against same-sex marriage: (You may wish to argue that “welcome” is a far cry from approving of “same-sex marriage.” I’m not 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure that from the perspective of most of my LGBTQ friends and allies, that’s what’s called a distinction without a difference.)
- When an open and affirming person wants to join the congregation I serve, what should I do? Should I teach them the “right” way of thinking, and say that it’s not enough to believe in Christ – they also need to reject homosexuality as a “disorder” before they can join an RCA congregation? Or do I tell them, “Well, this is what the RCA says, but we don’t care about the denomination (but we remain obligated to support it with our donations, so let’s just nod and wink at each other at our clever duplicity)? Should I lie, for the sake of gaining new members? Or shade the truth, just enough to lure them in? Or, well, what exactly do you suggest?
- Is there some way that you can explain to me why it is that the persons in my context – who long to have a relationship with Christ through the living, breathing body of a Room for All congregation – why are their longings for a church to belong to less valued than the longings of people who want to join the congregations you serve? Are you simply defining your context as normative? That’s how it sort of feels to me.
- Can you also offer me some help in how to educate our youngsters, who by middle school (high school, at the very least) are well aware of out LGBTQ classmates, whom they know as, well, just plain people? Should I teach them that the desires of those classmates are more dastardly than, say, greed or (heterosexual) lust or pride? Or that it’s a worse sin to engage in same-sex behavior than it is to trample on the poor (a quantifiably, significantly greater sin in Biblical terms…and we’re kind of working hard to help our children learn and live Biblically)? Help me understand this conundrum.
- And while we’re at it, I’m just wondering how sexual orientation is THE issue over which you believe the church needs to take a stand? To bring up that pesky collection of texts known as the Scriptures again, the warnings about greed in many forms are vastly more numerous than allusions to homosexuality. The only explanation I’ve ever heard is that there is a cabal with the agenda of pushing the acceptance of “deviant sexual orientation.” Please differentiate that “agenda” from the social acceptance of accumulation of wealth, from tax laws that encourage conspicuous consumption, from mega-church gospel preaching that reaps billions of dollars from people who believe that God will bless them the more they shell out, from the financial planning industry, from . . . . . . . .etc., etc., etc. The argument – “we must take a stand against this sin because society promotes it – makes no sense to me, in the context of so many other sins against which the Bible speaks more often, and which are so much more heavily promoted. Is it all about the “ick” factor? Help me understand.
I have plenty other questions, but if you’re willing, we could just start with these four.
Rev. Paul G. Janssen
United Reformed Church in Somerville, NJ