Organized in 2021, the Abide Project seeks “to uphold the historic, beautiful, Biblical understanding of human sexuality in doctrine, discipleship, and discipline” in the CRC.
Once forbidding movies, card-playing and dancing, the CRC has drifted leftward in recent generations. Across the past decade, the push for full inclusion of LGBTQ members has gained momentum and prompted the organization of the Abide Project.
The focal point of contention is a report adopted in 1973 by synod (the CRC’s annual assembly and highest body of authority). The report says believers with same-sex attractions are to be fully accepted in the church, but declares homosexuality to be “a condition of disordered sexuality” and “Homosexualism – as explicit homosexual practice – must be condemned as incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Holy Scripture.” This has been the official position of the CRC since 1973.
At Synod 2011, an overture asking to reexamine the CRC position on homosexuality was voted down. The overture came from Classis Grand Rapids East, the regional body of churches surrounding the CRC headquarters as well as the denomination’s educational institutions in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Shortly after Synod 2011 voted down the Grand Rapids East overture, a group called All One Body emerged to promote full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the CRC.
All One Body hosted events at Classis Grand Rapids East congregations. Speakers called into question the CRC position on homosexuality. Professors presented on new scientific findings. Ex-members identifying as LGBTQ spoke about the hurt-feelings over the 1973 position.
As national polls tipped in favor of homosexuality and same-sex marriage became legal in more locations, another regional group of churches (Classis Zeeland) asked Synod 2013 for guidance on how to apply the 1973 stance on homosexuality in the changing society. Some synod delegates seized the opportunity to amend the request for guidance into reconsidering the whole topic from scratch. However, amendments from the floor were defeated. A committee was tasked to give guidance on applying the current stance. But when members were chosen to fill the committee, the vast majority were pastors and scholars with an LGBTQ-inclusivist view.
The committee of nine divided along ideological lines, producing majority and minority reports. The inclusivist 7-person majority report’s advice stretched the CRC stance on homosexuality as far as possible. The 44-page report made passing references to only four Scripture verses, frequently stressed the complexity of these issues and contained thinly veiled disparagements of the 1973 position. Dividing marriage into civil and religious unions, the majority report said ministers could perform same-sex civil ceremonies as long as the ceremonies were not religious. By contrast, the 2-person minority report noticeably stood with the current CRC position. They declared that civil and religious marriage cannot be separated, that CRC ministers cannot conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, and entering into a same-sex marriage is to violate church membership vows.
Meanwhile, Classis Grand Rapids East formed its own study committee to “examine and summarize the biblical/theological support currently offered by Christian proponents of gay marriage.” Their report was released in 2016, advocating for an agree-to-disagree approach to what they said was a complex topic.
When the majority and minority reports came to Synod 2016, there was a showdown. The inclusive crowd was actively advocating. Synod delegates saw messages in rainbow sidewalk chalk: “We are the church too” … “WE ARE DYING TO BE WHO GOD MADE US” … “57 yrs in CRC, GAY, What will you do w/ me? And 1000s others?” Inclusive advocates gathered in the audience wearing rainbow colored clothing for the debate.
Despite the advocacy, Synod 2016 voted to accept only the minority report. Ministers would not be permitted to participate in same-sex weddings and members entering same-sex marriages violate their membership vows. Synod 2016 then appointed a new study committee to produce a comprehensive report on human sexuality. This time synod specified that the committee was to be composed of those “who adhere to the CRC’s biblical view on marriage and same sex relationships.” The committee was selected accordingly and given five years for the monumental task, reporting to Synod 2021.
Suddenly in September 2020, one of the congregations of Classis Grand Rapids East – Neland Avenue CRC – ordained a same-sex married woman to the office of deacon. Their open letter said, “Our understanding is that all synodical reports and decisions related to homosexuality have been pastoral advice [italics theirs] to the churches,” and “According to Calvin Seminary’s Adjunct Professor of Church Polity, Kathy Smith, who spoke with our congregation in several educational sessions, this is of a less binding nature than confessional or church matters.”
Pleas for rescinding the decision from congregations and classes poured in but to no avail. Instead of beginning disciplinary action, Classis Grand Rapids East has defended Neland Ave. CRC.
The Neland Avenue action and Classis Grand Rapids East inaction would prove to be a watershed moment for the orthodox in the CRC. Concerned CRC pastors began to meet over Zoom from all corners of the USA and Canada about what could be done. Each meeting attracted more people than the last. A consensus soon emerged to form a steering committee to coordinate various efforts. The Abide Project was chosen for a name to highlight the need to abide in Christ as the true vine. Abideproject.org went live in September 2021 featuring the testimony of Joseph Bowman, a same-sex attracted Calvin Seminary student committed to following the biblical commands on sexuality. Ending January 2022, the Abide Project had a 275-strong mailing list, most of which are pastors within the CRC’s 1000 congregations.
One month after the Neland Ave. news, the 2016-appointed committee released its Human Sexuality Report. The 172-page report thoroughly presents the biblical/theological view of sexual identity and activity maintained by the historic Christian church. Its most eye-catching recommendation is for synod to declare that “the church’s teaching on premarital sex, extramarital sex, adultery, polyamory, pornography, and homosexual sex already has confessional status.” In other words, all CRC ministers, elders and deacons will be undeniably required to hold the historic church’s view of marriage and sexuality.
Virus considerations canceled the 2020 and 2021 synods, pushing all business to Synod 2022. Meanwhile, battle lines are being drawn. Overtures to synod from congregations and classes are piling up. Some call for Neland Avenue and Classis Grand Rapids East to be held accountable. Others ask synod not to adopt the Human Sexuality Report recommendations. One third of the Calvin University faculty signed a statement opposing the Human Sexuality Report. All One Body has released a series of talking head videos of therapists, social scientists and pastors discrediting the Human Sexuality Report.
Synod 2022 meets June 10-16 at Calvin University and will likely be monumental. The Abide Project’s stated goal is to adopt the Human Sexuality Report and hold all church leaders to the historic biblical view of sexuality.
The Rev. Aaron Vriesman is pastor of North Blendon Christian Reformed Church in Hudsonville, Mich.