To no surprise, there has been immense discussion on what it means that General Synod declared (1) advocating homosexual behavior or (2) providing leadership for a service of same-sex marriage or a similar celebration a “disciplinable offense.” There, better well, should be a lot of discussion!
Just a few thoughts…
First, as I mentioned in a previous post – at some level, the statement is useless and non-binding. Boards of Elders (in local congregations) and Classes handle discipline on their own – Synod cannot tell them whom to charge or require them to do so. The only exception would be in the case of General Synod Professors. A member of this year’s General Synod could bring a charge referencing this “disciplinable offense” against a currently-installed General Synod Professor who had engaged in either of these activities. Doing so, for the record, would not require next year’s Synod to find him/her guilty. In other words…
Secondly, Synod 2012 is simply Synod 2012. It cannot tell Synod 2013 or any other Synod what to do – its statements are only binding on itself (and it will cease to exist when next year’s Synod is called to order). In other words, it would be fully possible for next years Synod to disagree, or even to admonish the Synod of 2012 (although, again, its influence would be similarly limited except as I’ll discuss in a moment.) A Synod’s ability to define something for the entire denomination is fundamentally limited to what it can get the Classes to approve. In other words, for a Synod to make something binding, it would have to start the process of a constitutional change (probably Book of Church Order) which requires 2/3rds of the Classes’ approval. No local approval = no power over the entire denomination.
Having said all of that, in some ways (as many of my colleagues and friends have noted). Despite it’s technical lack of ability to do much, it has already done a lot. Much of what a church does (or a synod, for that matter) is intangible. Like the words that come out of our individual mouths, the words that come out of synod “create” – sometimes our words create grace, love, cooperation, and good will to the glory of God and the facilitation of God’s kingdom. Other times, as we’ve all experienced personally, our words create pain, sorrow, fear, and hatred – realities that inhibit the growth of God’s kingdom and alienate others created in God’s image. The church has often been in the latter category, anathematizing those who are different and creating long-term (and often irreconcilable) schism. While it is certainly necessary, at times, to experience short-term pain in the process of facilitating long-term good… other times the pain has no long-term benefit or the potential benefit simply isn’t worth the cost. In metaphorical terms – Sometimes the medicine is worse than the disease.
I believe – at a very deep level – that R-56 has very little ability to create long term good, and that its words will inflict pain far beyond it’s technical influence. I wonder why those who would declare everything related to homosexuality a “sin” (certainly not a unanimous position in the RCA) would inject the body with a lethal “medication.”
After years (even decades) of being the one mainline denomination that managed to resist schism despite varied beliefs on this topic, R-56 may have, sadly, been our initiation into a club we’ll wish we hadn’t joined.
Nonetheless, Grace and Peace,