A letter from a part of the 2016 General Synod, James Hart Brumm, to the rest of us.
Dear rest of the 2016 General Synod,
I can’t write to the whole General Synod without a split personality, because I was part of the Synod myself. As a part of the Synod, I share responsibility for the horrible things we said and did. I and others argued against it all. We argued for calm and moderation, for patience and trust in God’s time, because we obviously had not yet fully discerned God’s call for us in this matter—and anybody who is absolutely sure they have discerned this when we are so divided is either dishonest or delusional.
I am not absolutely sure of anything, save that the Synod embraced convenient amnesia (When did we abandon inerrancy? When we embraced the Belgic Confession four centuries ago), made a mockery of our understanding of constitutionality and liturgy (by proposing that marriage should be constitutional like our other sacraments—think about it), and denied basic core Reformed doctrine (by voting that we don’t trust the sovereignty of God or the power of the Spirit to work through our assemblies and voting to place undecipherable, unenforceable requirements on our consistories). We set a future Synod up to fail (by voting to discuss a modern understanding of Reformed hermeneutics while making it clear that we don’t want to listen to each other). And then we voted to be hypocrites (by saying that we did not advocate harming those beloved in Christ whom we refuse to call beloved in Christ and on whom we had inflicted such pain).
As I said, I was part of the Synod, and failed to do my job in helping to steer the Synod in a better direction. This was not the first time I have been part of a Synod that failed. In 1990, I was there when we voted to declare homosexual behavior sinful according to Scripture—picking out one sin from Scripture and holding it above all the rest, all right after refusing to endorse a Christian Action paper that suggested that greed was bad, at least in part because it would offend members of our congregations who had money. Fifteen years later, we violated our own order to discipline Norman Kansfield—violated it by even having him on trial when he should have been transferred out of the jurisdiction of the Synod over two months before, and by suspending him from the office of minister when, by deposing him from the office of professor, we had again surrendered authority over him. As a delegate to all three of these Synods, I share in all of that guilt, and I confess to resenting that.
Unlike others who are writing letters for Stacey to share, I am not so sure I have been injured by the 2016 Synod, but I do know I have been affected. You see, I started out in a very white-bread, politically conservative part of the church, in a world that was rather insulated from the idea that LGBTQ+ people even existed. I struggled with how I understood all of that and understood where I fit in relation to that for many years. But, the more I watched how the more “conservative” part of the RCA treated people over this issue, the more I was driven to the “liberal” end. As the denomination insists on dividing into two groups, I have a hard time seeing how Jesus is present in the actions of the many conservatives, while the liberals try to love everyone, not by tossing them out, but welcoming them in. The more I was pushed on by the conservative end of the church, the more I read and re-read our Doctrinal Standards—even before they included Belhar—and found them to be socially progressive and inclusive.
This was not the place I found myself by natural inclination, not even by how I was raised in the faith. This is the place to which God has led me in response to people who have been vehemently, sometimes mindlessly conservative, and very often hurtful and cruel in their zeal to love God.
Because I am who God has made me to be, I need to apologize to members of my family in Christ who are LGBTQ+ and their allies. The church has hurt you, and seems determined to continue to do so, and, whether it was against my will or not, I have been part of it. Please forgive me.
And please forgive me for calling on all of you to be patient with the church rather than splitting it over things we are called to see as, indeed, right. But my vow to defend the church against all schisms and heresies, to claim the Standards as historic and faithful witnesses to Scripture, and thus to claim the idea that we are gathered, protected, and preserved by Christ and that schism is sinful, means that I cannot encourage disunity. It means that I have to continue looking and working for a third way. It means I cannot just get up and leave, even when the church I love and have given my life for, is so hurtful to people I love and makes me complicit in that injury. I have to keep loving this part of the church, even though I can’t see it meeting me even part way.
This is just where I am, where I have been pushed to be. It is what I must confess as well as embrace. And it is where I will try to do a better job of witnessing.
James Hart Brumm