Living is intended to be a lifelong learning process, beginning with childhood.
In my case, I missed knowing my father, who died when I was eight. Three years later, out of necessity, my mother became a round-the-clock caretaker in another town. I learned during those years to grow up in a hurry.
I met a person of color for the first time in my life while I was a student at Central College in Pella, Iowa. My perspective until that time was very different, but I learned. Then came seminary; although my world was still small in those years, God had some real surprises for me.
In 1954, I was called to serve a Reformed church in New Jersey. What a culture shock! The congregation was diverse; Aaron Vander Tulip was the only Dutchman. There were harsh challenges in the first six months, including two suicides. Again out of necessity, I learned.
The youth group grew, and a young man, Gary, started to come to our church. He was 6 feet tall with incredible artistic abilities. He asked a mountain of questions, many about Christianity. One day, this: “Do you think Jesus would accept me as a gay person into your church?”
I was 26 years old, and had never met a gay person in my life. I had heard people describe gays and lesbians with cruel names. Gary helped me to understand many things, such as, “Being gay was never a choice for me.” He wanted very much to commit himself to Jesus Christ and unite with the church. The consistory learned a lot of things, as I did. Gary used his gifts not only in the church but the community as well. When he moved to Florida, he spent time every week working with youngsters in a juvenile prison. Again, he took his place in the church and community as a kind and caring Christian. Gary died a couple of months ago. We grieved his death; he was truly a child of God.
But Gary was not the only gay person my wife, Luella, and I have met. Over the years, there have been many more, and they are among our best friends. We have learned to share their pain and loneliness. We celebrate their giftedness. Somehow, our congregations need to become acquainted with the LGBTQ people who live hidden among us, and welcome them for who they are.
My heart is heavy with the action that the 2015 General Synod of the Reformed Church in America has taken. It proposes to address the question of homosexuality as it relates to ordination and marriage, with the mandate to make changes to our Book of Church Order that “settle the question.”
Such action will greatly divide our denomination, and I heartily support the counsel of the Rev. Dr. Donald J. Bruggink that “the General Synod needs to avoid the use of extra-canonical tests in addressing issues of disputed biblical interpretation and social issues” (In Nyenhuis, Jacob E., ed.: A Goodly Heritage: Essays in Honor of the Rev. Dr. Elton J. Bruins at Eighty. [The Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America, Book 56.] Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007, p. 63).
We do, indeed, need to have conversation among ourselves. We need to remember that LGBTQ people are sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ; our Creator has given them gifts to be used in the life and work of the kingdom. We truly need transforming, but not the kind that excludes those who love Jesus Christ as Lord. Following him, may a spirit of tenderness and graciousness be among us. May we always be open to learning from each other. Learning is, after all, a lifelong process.
The long list of Rev. Dr. Edwin G. Mulder’s service to the Reformed Church in America includes parish pastor, General Synod president, and General Secretary (1983-1994). Among many honors, he is the recipient of Western Seminary’s Distinguished Alumni/ae award. He and his wife, Luella, live in Holland, Michigan. Ed reflects further about his personal experiences in a video from the 2013 Room for All conference.