Reformed Church Seminary President Faces Dismissal for Performing Daughter's 'Gay Marriage'
"Love has come to replace faith and knowledge; it has also become the new law." — R.J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Vol. II, Vallecito, CA, 1982: pg. 482
A ministry of 39 years may soon be brought to an end for Dr. Norman Kansfield — a theologian and seminary president who has joined other modern, mainline Protestant ministers in turning from the law of God to follow the promptings of his heart.
This summer, Kansfield, president of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary (Reformed Church in America), went to Massachusetts with his daughter and officiated at a "marriage" between her and her lesbian partner — an action that could result in his dismissal from the ministry.
"His actions have caused a tremendous uproar in the church," said Rev. Steve Vander Molen, president of the RCA's General Synod. "We'll have to deal with it."
"I will not get out of this unscathed," Dr. Kansfield told Chalcedon. "I think the church is going to judge me harshly, and I will accept that judgment."
Knowing that the church regards homosexual behavior as "contrary to the will of God" and that the rules do not permit same-gender "marriage," why did Kansfield put his life's work on the line?
"I did it out of love for my daughter," he said. "When one has lived with a child who is in this kind of pain for her whole life, one wants to be there for her. When she told me she wanted to marry her partner, I said I wanted to perform the ceremony. I wouldn't recommend the same course to others."
A delegation from the General Synod visited Kansfield December 6 at the New Jersey seminary, setting in motion a disciplinary process that would end in his dismissal from the ministry, Rev. Vander Molen said. The next step will be to file charges, which will probably lead to a trial by the General Synod when it meets in June 2005.
"I travel a lot on business for the Synod," said Vander Molen, who pastors an RCA church in Iowa, "and I hear about this matter everywhere I go. For many in our denomination, what he's done is a grave moral offense.
"Our disciplinary process is a long one, and fortunately we don't have to use it often. But this time we have to. Dr. Kansfield has put us all in a very difficult spot — especially in a period when we've been declining in membership. His action helps no one."
Kansfield's daughter, Ann, has been preparing for the ministry and finished her studies last Spring at the seminary where her father is president. But now, Vander Molen said, she won't be ordained.
"Our church rules won't allow it," he said. "You can't be in an openly homosexual relationship and be a minister of the Reformed Church in America. She cannot be ordained."
(On December 2, the United Methodist Church dismissed from the ministry an openly lesbian pastor, Irene Elizabeth Stroud. Ms. Stroud was serving in Philadelphia, not far from New Brunswick, New Jersey.)
"I suspect we do have pastors in our denomination who are gay," Vander Molen said. "We don't know for sure. It's never been tested — until now."
Ann Kansfield, now 29, was a stockbroker in New York City until September 11, 2001 — the day Arab terrorists murdered thousands by destroying the World Trade Center. Since that traumatic incident, said Dr. Kansfield, Ann abruptly left Wall Street in response to "a radical call" to study for the ministry.
A 'Theology of Relationships'?
Dr. Kansfield has tried to protect the seminary, where he has served as president for 12 years, from being discredited by his actions. He recently sent a letter to all RCA pastors, explaining that he consulted neither the faculty nor the trustees at the seminary before performing his daughter's gay marriage.
The seminary's theology, he said, is Biblically based, orthodox, and "conservative." But is his?
"Scripture is very clear about it [forbidding homosexual behavior]," Vander Molen said. "Those who don't adhere to Biblical teachings … are eroding our cultural morality."
Kansfield insists that Biblical condemnations of homosexual activity — exemplified by St. Paul's teaching in Romans 1:24–32 — applies not to the sex acts themselves, but to the "relationships" between individuals.
"For me, the relationship is the huge issue," he said. "Romans one is about passion. Paul never likes passion, which involves a person who is out of control. Homosexuals can misuse sex, just as others misuse heterosexual sex. But if the relationship is one of love, and commitment, I believe God blesses it."
But what if a brother and sister, claiming that their relationship was one of love and commitment, wished to express it sexually? Should they be allowed to marry? Or would they be forbidden to by the Bible's teaching against incest?
"You'd have me in a very hard place, there," Kansfield said. "I don't have a good answer for that."
He believes homosexuality for some is inborn, genetically determined, but cannot explain why a "gay gene" would not have become extinct via a process of natural selection.
Kansfield also said he believes "God changes God’s mind" about what is morally acceptable behavior. "The side of God that God shows us, at any given time in our history, is the side we can handle," he said. "That's why you have to read Scripture in its historical, sociological context."
Divine sanction of "loving" homosexual relationships, he said, eluded Jewish and Christian thinkers for thousands of years "because they were working in a very different social context" from today's.
"I meet people whom I see to be touched by Christ," he said, "and yet who are in love with a person of the same sex. They're entitled to full inclusion in the church and its ministry."
Although he says none of this is taught at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary, Kansfield ran afoul of the General Synod in 1998, when he hired an avowed lesbian as a professor of New Testament studies. The board of trustees rescinded her contract, and Kansfield had to promise the General Synod Council not to hire any more homosexual professors. "I've kept that promise," he said.
'A Daily Hell'
Homosexuals, Kansfield said, live in "a daily hell" from which there is "no way out." His daughter "has struggled with this for years. These people are constantly being defined by others' angry reactions to them."
Dr. Kansfield and his wife will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in June. "After 40 years together, she feels exactly as I do," he said. "When Ann first told us she was gay, in her sophomore year in college, there was no difficulty. We have always loved her, and her sexual orientation didn't change anything." Ann's announcement, he added, came as no surprise to her parents.
"It's a very sad situation," Vander Molen said, "and it's hurting our church. I've known Dr. Kansfield for years, and I like him. He's a warm-hearted, magnanimous person. He is in my prayers.
"But we can't have this in our denomination. We can't allow it to go unaddressed."
Topics: Biblical Law, Church, The, Reformed Thought, Theology