Sherman Street Church, Grand Rapids, MI

Understanding differing perspectives better.

Over the past few years, Sherman Street Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., has been cautiously feeling its way toward how to approach ministry to members of the LGBT community.

The CRC denomination’s official stance is that persons of same-sex attraction “should be wholeheartedly received by the church and given loving support and encouragement,” but that “homosexualism (that is, explicit homosexual practice), however, is incompatible with obedience to the will of God as revealed in Scripture.”

In trying to understand how to put into practice these positions, the church has listened to members who are gay, to try to better understand their point of view. The Elder Board has had discussions and read books on the topic, and the church has created a “safe spaces” group where people who are LGBT can share their stories without fear of being judged or condemned.

Now church leaders think the time is coming for a much broader discussion, and as part of preparing the church for such a conversation, they’re hosting a Colossian Way pilot workshop on sexuality.

“There are people who are saying, ‘Why isn’t the church being more up front about what its position is, the traditional position of the denomination?’ And then there are people saying it may be time to start pushing for change within the church. Those two perspectives are due for a collision,” said Todd Broberg, one of the TCW workshop leaders.

“I think the next step is really to have an open dialogue within the wider church, and to try and have that conversation in a healthy way.”


“I think the next step is really to have an open dialogue within the wider church, and to try and have that conversation in a healthy way.”

Added Erika Dekker, an elder and the other TCW workshop leader, “I’m a little nervous about what this could unleash. But I also have a sense that there would be some freedom and relief in not having to tiptoe around this.”

Sherman Street’s culture is very much about social justice, diversity and compassion. This is the first CRC church Todd and his family have attended, and when they started coming seven years ago, he was struck by the contrast to other churches he had been used to. Those churches tend to emphasize personal spiritual disciplines and developing your individual relationship with God. Sherman Street recognizes the importance of these things, but is also very focused on loving people within the church and reaching those outside it.

All of which provides a strong foundation for the TCW pilot; yet at the same time, as Erika said,

“This has the potential for raising some pretty strong beliefs and emotions.”


Although the steps taken by church leaders in this discussion have mostly been exploratory, many in the church view them as signs the church is considering challenging the denominational stance and moving toward an affirming position, which has raised some concerns.

“Given the differing perspectives, I believe it is vital that we try to understand one another better,” Todd said.

Todd is sympathetic to both sides, and he sees a high cost to moving forward in either direction without a foundation of dialogue that promotes empathy and understanding.

“Whatever direction the church takes, it must move slowly, or it will alienate people whose concerns have not been heard or recognized.”


If done well, both Todd and Erika see this TCW workshop as offering a blueprint for how to use divisive issues to strengthen the church’s sense of unity instead of fragmenting it. “The content of the workshop is important, but it’s the process that I see as being the key,” Erika said. “My expectation is that this will be replicable – something we can use as a church in a healthy way to address other difficult issues.

These things don’t need to splinter and divide, but in fact they could be the crucible for greater strength and unity and understanding of who we are as the body of Christ.


“I’m curious to see – if we’re engaging this as well as we can, what impact does that have on the overall church?”


 

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