Eric Van Giessen. (Courtesy photo)

Topics: Justice | Opinion

What the Christian Reformed Church’s vote means to this queer former member

The decision serves as a reminder of all that remains broken in the contemporary church


By the time I’d turned 19, my home address had already changed six times. My father was a pastor and church planter with the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), and true to the denomination’s values, I made my way through three Christian schools and followed in my parents’ footsteps by enrolling at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. At age seven, I was rotating overhead transparencies marked with song lyrics at church and by 11, I was singing harmonies on the worship team. At Calvin, a liberal arts university, I steeped myself in reformed theology, refined my understanding of liturgy, relished the opportunity to boldly integrate my faith and intellectual life, and playfully deconstructed everything I thought I knew. The CRC—the denomination, the culture, and the people that grew up in it—was my home. 

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In 2016, the Synod (the annual general assembly of clergy and lay leaders) of the CRC reaffirmed the church’s position on homosexuality (that “homosexual activity” is sinful), and commissioned the Human Sexuality Report to clarify the CRC’s theological position on sex, sexuality, and sexual behaviour. In early June, as a result of this report, Synod voted to affirm that “the church’s teaching on…homosexual sex already has confessional status.” Declaring confessional status means that teaching anything other than that “homosexual activity” is “sexually immoral” is a violation of the Church’s confessions. In other words, sexual morality is not a matter of discernment and disagreement but should be understood as a core doctrine.

Affirming these heterosexist teachings as confessional not only holds immense and destructive symbolic weight for LGBTQ+ people in and outside of the CRC, but also provides the denomination with the grounds for discipline against those who might act contrary to this position. 

Today, despite its integral part in my story, I rarely find myself thinking about or interacting with the CRC. After graduating, I moved back to Kitchener-Waterloo and, at 25, I slowly came out as queer, first to my friends and later to my family—the year before my father died from leukemia. I am now a PhD student studying sociology at York University with a focus on queer religiosity. When asked if I still call myself a Christian, I still say yes—however, my understanding of what this means has changed significantly.

I no longer attend a formal church community and I no longer believe in a God that is bound by human theology. I encounter the divine in gatherings of queer family gathered around homemade food and plentiful libations; amidst joy-filled dance floors celebrating the grittiness of moving in a fleshy body; while bathing in the dappled sunlight of a forest walk with my dog; and in the quiet moments of compassion, vulnerability, and solidarity that occur in day-to-day living in community.

This varied and sporadic landscape is my church; my home. I have made it with the help of a chosen family marked by difference, disagreement and a whole lot of love. God, Jesus, faith…these things are rarely spoken about in my church without a healthy portion of skepticism and bitterness. And yet, these queers practice love, grace, forgiveness, and compassion with a particular gay huzzah that my friend Robbie Walker would say “smells like Jesus.” 

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A few years ago, I had the opportunity to learn from Sylvia Keesmaat and Brian Walsh, two scholars, theologians, and mentors who also have roots in the CRC. They offer a way of interpreting the biblical narrative through a framework of homemaking (creation), home-breaking (fall…or something like it), and homecoming (redemption). Homemaking, home-breaking and figurative homelessness have been central themes in my story. The recent synodical vote marks a further act of attempted domicide for me and so many other queer and trans Christians.

I believe that the biblical homecoming story continues and that our longing for homecoming is characteristic of our humanity.

Synod’s decision serves as a poignant reminder of all that remains broken in the contemporary church and that doctrine about who belongs and who does not only serves to comfort the comfortable and impede the belonging of those who need it most. This vote reeks of home-breaking and once again threatens LGBTQ+ Christians—those who are out and those who remain hidden in the pews—with figurative homelessness. Once again, I find myself turning to queer family to help make home anew.

I have little doubt that the church Jesus envisioned will persist, and I am more confident than ever that it will not resemble what so many churches have become in 2022.


Eric Van Giessen (he/they) is a writer, artist, scholar, and poet who calls Toronto home. He is currently a PhD student studying sociology at York University researching lived experiences of queer religiosity.

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  • says:

    This is beautiful. I especially love the last line:
    "I have little doubt that the church Jesus envisioned will persist, and I am more confident than ever that it will not resemble what so many churches have become in 2022."

  • says:

    This story is a poignant reminder of why it is important for us to continue to educate ourselves on the need for affirming communities of faith and how to be supportive sensitive allies. I pray we may be a truely home-coming presence that heals individuals from the wounds made by toxic theology and/or congregations. Those who are fixated on narrow definitions of gender, sexuality and identity do a lot of damage. We need to speak up that there are alternative communities and be those alternative communities centred around compassion.


    • says:

      I laugh at your comment, how many genders did God create?

      Here's a hint. Genesis 5:2. (This seems very narrow indeed.)

      God does have compassion, but He is not to be mocked either. Galatians 6:7-8

    • says:

      For me, a church should be a place of compassion, understanding, and comfort for those choosing to live in the manner in which Jesus taught. But we must remember that the writings which are compiled as scripture were written at a time and place far away from who and what we are today. Our society is blessed with science, new and different ways of expressing who we are and churches should allow new understanding and varied spiritual expression. Though the United Church as a national body may express an attitude of acceptance, when decisions are left up to individual congregations we often see prejudice being expressed in a way that shuts some people out who should be welcomed. We are all created by God and we are who we are. Jesus offered a welcome to all who desired a deeper relationship with God. And that's what matters.


      • says:

        The problem with your thought is that you don't believe the authority of God's Word. (To state that God's Word is no longer relevant or is out dated suggests that you know better than God.)
        God's Word reveals Himself, and lets us know and understand what He thinks is best for us. It is not written to suggest what we think should be best for us.
        You're correct, we are blessed, which has become a curse. We are so blessed we forget who gave us the blessing and no longer give the appreciation to the Source of our blessings.
        Finally I agree that Christ offers a welcome to all, but there are boundaries set, and it is hard to have a deeper relationship to God when you want things done your way and not His. (Try that on a first date and see where it goes.) That matters more.

  • says:

    I see the person of Jesus as a story about an idealized human in an idealized loving relationship with God. As humans we can never live up to that ideal and so we do our best. However there are those, long past, past and present who have sought to impose rules on us as to what they think God says about various feelings and acts of humanity. They put forth interpretations of ancient writings of a time and a place and culture far away and foreign from today's knowledge, discoveries, and enlightenment and they proscribe certain acts that they, not God, see as unseemly while attributing their pronouncements to God. Theology is a human construct carried out by imperfect people. Best thing to do is to educate yourself and come to your own accommodation with God. Anybody's interpretation is just as good as yours if yours makes you happy and a good, loving, caring person. There are those rule followers who will always do what others, especially those in power, tell them to. Then there are those of us who's experience of the divine proves otherwise. Go with your heart, not with human made rules. It's much more fulfilling and there's no guilt.

  • says:

    When it comes to spirituality you have to go with your heart. Church rules are human rules, not God's rules.

  • says:

    The Jesus who presents himself to me invites all to the table.

    It is a sad 😔 that the Christian Reformed Church has never embraced the concept of inclusion.


    • says:

      It is true that He invites all of us, (but not to the table).

      Reading Matthew 7 (in its entirety) it doesn't seem God embraces the concept of inclusion either.

  • says:

    Very sad to hear that his father's last few months on the earth before passing away to Leukaemia were probably very trying for him. He watched the son that he loved and cherished from birth walk away from Christ and His Word. It is written:

    "Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (Jude 1:7.)