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The CRC’s valiant stand and Calvin’s moment of truth

The denomination’s defense of moral orthodoxy gives its university a mandate to change course

Students on the campus of Calvin University Facebook/Calvin University

The CRC’s valiant stand and Calvin’s moment of truth

Last week, the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s 2022 Synod overwhelmingly voted to uphold its historic confessional position that the Bible permits sexual activity only within a marriage between one man and one woman. Anything beyond those bounds was declared immoral and therefore condemned as sinful. This move came as a surprise to many outside the denomination, though a very welcome one. Several insiders, however, weren’t so happy.

Religion News Service was one of the first media outlets to report on the story, and its coverage was decidedly negative. While reporting the facts, the reporter also interviewed only those pastors and professors from the denomination’s university who dissented. Five unhappy individuals are quoted, and readers are warned that up to a third of the professors at Calvin University opposed the decision. By contrast, the vote at Synod was not close. The motion carried 123 to 53.

Calvin history professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez, described as a “star” faculty member, was quoted as issuing something of a threat: “Many people are polishing their CVs, starting to look at what else is out there and preparing themselves to leave.” In November 2021, Du Mez maintained an official position of neutrality, arguing that the debate should be mostly had within the confines of the CRC. But as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Denny Burk noted, her rhetorical framing and moral explanation indicated clear support for the revisionist position. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that Du Mez is now among those “many people … polishing their CVs.” The Jesus and John Wayne author had her initial bluff called. Now she stands in defiance of the denomination.

But what about the 30-plus percent of Calvin professors who could now leave their positions? Quite simply, Calvin and the CRC should let them go. This moment is a decisive one in the history of their ecclesiastical communion, and it could lead to great revival and retrieval at Calvin University. There are many more professors looking for work than there are suitable places for them to teach: Both older orthodox professors seeking refuge from the inhospitable confines of contemporary activist institutions and younger traditionally minded Reformed professors would be happy to fill the new vacancies. With the promise of renewed orthodoxy at Calvin and the CRC, they probably would be willing to make a few sacrifices along the way. New donors, or alienated former ones, would likely be interested as well.

This moment is a decisive one in the history of their ecclesiastical communion, and it could lead to great revival and retrieval at Calvin University.

This could also be an opportunity to lessen or reverse the consistent demographic decline at Calvin. The university’s enrollment has steadily dropped, even more so than similar Dutch-Reformed schools. Compared to nearby Hillsdale College, Calvin’s numbers look abysmal. Hillsdale is less expensive than Calvin but can be much more selective. And over the past few years, the same years of decline for so many, Hillsdale has experienced an enrollment boom. RNS’s reporting has it all wrong. Calvin is not looking at some new looming catastrophe. Its denomination, the CRC, has shown the way out of catastrophe.

There’s never been a better time for Calvin University to change course. In God’s providence, the school now has a mandate of confessional and Biblical fidelity behind such a shift. The school has a venerable tradition, and all those who love it should fight for its continued existence and success. They now have the potential for new life. Indeed, this could set the stage for an orthodox revival at Calvin. It just takes faith—and faithfulness.

There’s an old saying among lawyers that if the facts are on your side, you pound the facts. If the law is on your side, you pound the law. If neither the facts nor the law is on your side, you pound the table. That’s all that the negative coverage of the CRC’s Synod is doing. It’s noisy, but the argument is over. The delegates have made their voice clear. The church will not revise its confession. The morality of the Holy Scriptures concerning sexual activity is still the morality of the Christian Reformed Church in North America.

This is great news. The CRC has defended moral orthodoxy. Calvin University now has the responsibility, not merely to tolerate the confession of its church but to enthusiastically support and proclaim it. The church stood by the truth. Now it’s Calvin University’s turn to do the same.

Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Ind. He has written for Desiring God Ministries, the Gospel Coalition, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and Mere Orthodoxy and served as a founding board member of the Davenant Institute. Steven is married and has three children.

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