An Open Letter to City Church of San Francisco

On March 13th, City Church of San Francisco issued this statement: read here .  Below is a public letter in response to their statement.

An Open Letter to the Elders of City Church,

Grace and peace to you in our Lord Jesus Christ. This letter comes from leaders throughout the denomination of the Reformed Church in America. It is written in the hope of understanding the decision you have made—to open up membership to men and women in sexually active gay relationships. You said you have made this decision because your, “pastoral practice of demanding lifelong ‘celibacy’, by which we meant that for the rest of your life you would not engage your sexual orientation in any way, was causing obvious harm and has not led to human flourishing.” Many of us are dismayed by your decision and reasoning.

We wonder if we are misunderstanding you. Could it be that this is just another innovative way to be, “pastorally progressive and theologically conservative”? Because we love you, want to understand more fully how you made your decision, and admit that this has serious implications for our denomination, we have some questions that we hope you will answer publicly.

We understand that we have no ecclesiastical authority to ask these questions. But your senior pastor has been advocating a third way on the LGBT issue publicly in our denomination. Since he has been such an advocate for this “new way”, we wonder if this is it. Answers to the questions below will help all of us understand exactly what you have decided and why you have decided to do it.

  1. How does City Church view homosexuality? Is homosexuality a gift from God or something that is rooted in brokenness that requires redemption? Please give a biblical reasoning for your answer.
  2. You cite the work of Ken Wilson as being instrumental in your decision. Did you know that Wilson’s attempt to do what you are doing failed at his church? It created deep division, denominational crisis, disunity and eventually, Wilson had to leave. Do you understand the risk you are putting City Church and the RCA in making this decision?
  3. How long did you take to make this decision? How many resources did your Board explore before making this decision? Which resources? Were opposing views openly discussed? Was the City Classis invited into the process?
  4. Do your members have open forums to share concerns or questions? Are there public conversations happening that are hosted by your leadership? Was there a period of open dialogue where members could give input before the decision was made? Why or why not?
  5. If an LGBT person came to you, told you that she had made a decision to follow Christ, had been reading her Bible and decided that her relationship with her gay spouse is sinful, how would you counsel her?
  6. In your public statement you write, “For all members, regardless of sexual orientation, we will continue to expect chastity in singleness until marriage.” Can we assume that you will now perform gay weddings at City Church so that the LGBT community can live up to your moral demands?

Thank you for taking the time to consider this letter. We look forward to the conversation your answers bring. Our deep hope is to keep unity and peace and to continue together in gospel mission.

Love, Concern & Prayers,

Rev. Bob Bouwer – Senior Pastor, Faith Church
Rev. Ron Citlau – Senior Pastor, Calvary Church
Rev. Mike Pitsenberger – Dyer Campus Pastor, Faith Church
Rev. Andres Serrano – RCA Pastor, Iglesia La Senda Classis of California
Wayne Van Regenmorter
Rev. Tim Taylor – Senior Pastor, Hope Reformed Church Grand Haven, MI
Tim Vink – Coordinator for Church Multiplication, RCA
Pastor Brad Haitsma – Valporaiso Campus Pastor, Faith Church
Pastor David T. Weemhoff – Cedar Lake Campus Pastor, Faith Church
Pastor Jeff Lundington – Lead Pastor, Park Church
Rev. Bruce Wilterdink – Transitional Pastor, New Hope Community Church, Wasau, WI
Richard L. Schuler Classis Leader – Chicago Classis Executive Administrator Calvary Reformed Church, Orland Park, IL
Rev. Dave Izenbart – Senior Pastor, Living Springs Community Church
Rev. Dennis Colton – Pastor, Calvary Church
Pastor Scott Nichols–Faith Reformed, Midland Park
Barry Voorn – Elder, Calvary Church
Bruce Reenders – Vice President, Hope Reformed Church
Pastor Charlie Contreras – Hammond Campus Pastor, Faith Church
Rev. Shawn M. Hulst – Lead Pastor, Fellowship Reformed Church
Pastor Jamison Elder – Calvary Church
Pastor Nathan Prairie – Beecher Campus Pastor, Faith Church
Rev. Jason DeVries – Highland Campus Pastor, Faith Church
Rafael Garcia Elder, Iglesia La Senda from Corona California, part of California Classis
Pastor Brett Dood – Schererville Campus Pastor, Faith Church
Rev. Ted Lindman – Senior Pastor, Alto Reformed Church, Waupun, WI
Rev. Michael VanBuren – Fellowship Reformed Church, Hudsonville, MI
Pastor Ron Ovitt-Calvary Church
Pastor Keith Allen, Pastor of Redemption Church Providence and RCA New England Catalyst for Multiplication
Rev. David H. Powers–Pastor Newkirk Reformed Church
Rev. Troy Nanninga–American Reformed Church, DeMotte, IN
Rev Tony De La Rosa–Christ’s Community Church
Pastor Earl Vander Wall–Calvary Church
Rev. David Vandervelde–Ebenezer Reformed Church
Rev. Joshua Scheid–Massapequa Reformed Church, Long Island, NY
Rev. Grant Mulder–Associate Pastor, Gibbsville Reformed Church
Rev. Chad Strabbing–Pastor, St. Paul’s Reformed Church, Ohio City, OH
Matthew Hendricks, RCA deacon & seminary student
Rev. Nathan Weller–Campus Pastor, Centerpoint Church
Pastor Christopher Hall–Commissioned Pastor, Elevation Church, Wyoming Church, Wyoming, MI
Rev. Michael Saville–Pastor, Faith Reformed Church, Stevensville, OH
Pastor Jim Vellenga–Pastor, Bethel Reformed Church, Exeter, ON
Pastor Mark Jicinsky, Ebenezer Reformed Church, Leighton Iowa
Pastor Paul Smith–New Life Community Church, Corralville, IA

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25 thoughts on “An Open Letter to City Church of San Francisco

  1. I’m deeply saddened that you would write this letter, as if you didn’t know that Fred, Terely, and their entire staff team would have undergone a theological and pastoral reflection, that included the elders, over a considerable period of time. Not only that, to gang up on someone led by the Spirit to stand with those on the margins, seems painfully like the Pharisees. Please consider repenting of this divisive and hurtful response to their church’s decision.

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Seriously. They hijacked the church based on a personal agenda and from what I understand the Board of Elders and staff were not included in the process. They also betrayed the trust of the RCA. So of course they’re a bit upset. It’s about time someone laid it on the line.

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  2. Seems telling that there are no women on the list of names…

    Also, the denomination’s name is the Reformed Church in America not Reformed Church of America.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It is very discouraging as a younger member of the RCA working towards becoming a pastor to see leaders and peers behaving in this fashion. I think the letter is fair and well written, but the fact that it is being posted publicly is unacceptable. I sincerely hope that all who have endorsed this would reconsider their actions in consideration of how scripture would have us handle these types of situations. This is extremely poor leadership and absolutely an error in judgement.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. “Please give a biblical reasoning for your answer.” Good suggestion, but perhaps you should be more specific: “Spare us the appeals to broad biblical ‘principles’, pastoral experience, or scientific insight that were used to override the clear biblical commands that forbid women in leadership and remarriage after divorce, or to undermine those that uphold the legitimacy of slavery.” That should effectively invalidate the reasoning that the City Church letter already offers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I apologize for the sarcastic tone I adopted in the submission above. In the light of day, I see that I should have stated my point directly and charitably. If I may try again: I would like to ask why this letter doesn’t engage with the biblical principles, pastoral experience, and scientific insight that inform City Church’s letter. It seems to me that if you publish a response to Christian brothers and sisters, it should actually be responsive to the perspective that they shared.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. David, I found your first response to be written in a tone that this letter deserved: exposing it for the blatant logical fallacies it contained.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Dear M@, to me, your response was just as uncharitable as David’s first response. I commend David for apologizing for his mistake and restating. I ask that you consider the same. Please also explain what you mean by blatant logical fallacies. Curiously awaiting…Many thanks

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  5. This is a City Church member here. THANK YOU so much for writing and posting this open letter. It encapsulates many of the questions that many City Church members and attendees alike have had over the last few weeks. Contrary to what some other commenters here have written, I and others especially appreciate the fact that you have written a public and open letter instead of a private one. Your letter brings to light facts that some members and attendees may have been unaware of (i.e. the situation at Ken Wilson’s former church in Ann Arbor), and it raises concerns that members and attendees have privately felt but have been unable or afraid to express. I hope and pray that our Elder Board will take your letter to heart and respond publicly to every one of the questions that you have raised. In this manner, those of us attending City Church, regardless of our personal stances on this topic, can understand more clearly our church’s official stance on these matters.

    I also would like to take this opportunity to respond to your question #4 regarding whether members have had any type of open forum. To date, this has not occurred. City Church leadership has not yet provided any opportunity for an open and public forum where members can freely ask any and all questions and hear answers from the pastoral staff. The only avenues provided thus far have been in private conversations (e.g. one-on-one or in small group settings such as Community Groups) or in controlled public settings where City Church pastoral staff speak from prepared talking points and allow either specific or no questions at all. While these avenues are helpful to some extent, they are not the same thing as a truly open and public forum and should not be seen as an equivalent alternative.

    I and others hope that City Church leadership will provide this type of open and public forum in the future. This would go a long way toward transparency, although it is hard to say whether this alone will stem the tide of members who have already or are in the process of leaving. Many of those leaving are doing so because they do not believe there is really a dialogue to be had here, but rather a monologue. Unless the posture and tone of the leadership change, I fear that even more regular and faithful members and attendees will walk out the door.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I am a former City Church attendee of several years duration. I left about a year ago because I felt there was part of the gospel missing there, and also because I lost faith in Fred Harrell’s leadership. I found another church in San Francisco that is true to the Bible and respectful of its congregants. I couldn’t be happier with my new church. Good luck to you and may God bless you.

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    2. Thank you for your well written response – it echoes my sentiments as well. This decision by Fred and some of the Elders has led me to feel isolated and unwelcome.

      I am an ex-city church member who served multiple years as a community group leader. I want to also confirm that we were not given an opportunity share our thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. This decision was made without any input from the members of City Church. The staff is now scrambling to get members on board. As noted by SF_RESIDENT, these “conversations” are anything but. They are more like monologues in “controlled public settings where City Church pastoral staff speak from prepared talking points and allow either specific or no questions at all.”

    It is obvious that City Church is carefully controlling the message without dissent because they are afraid of being exposed. Read http://www.denisonforum.org/america/1433-questions-and-truth-san-francisco-city-church

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  7. I was Ken’s associate and executive pastor from 1997-2011. The misleading expression “third way” suggests that this is somehow a new way of approaching this issue, and is different than “open and affirming.” It is not. In every matter of church doctrine and practice it is indistinguishable from Open and Affirming. Gay weddings, non-celibate gay pastors, and unbiblical teachings on human sexuality. The impression is given that church members can “agree to disagree” on this issue. But ask this question: will leadership be restricted to those who agree with the new “progressive” approach that allows same-sex unions? Does Ken Wilson’s new “Blue Ocean” church have a single member on its pastoral staff or church board who holds the Orthodox position that same-gender sexual activity is biblically prohibited? The honest answer to both questions is a resounding NO. Ken’s misleading implementation of “third way” blew up the church I loved and spent 14 years of my life leading.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I was Ken’s associate then executive pastor from 1997-2011. Let me say this unequivocally: there is no “third way.” It is “Open and Affirming” through and through. Gay weddings, non-celibate gay pastors, and unorthodox teaching on human sexuality. Does this sound new? If you think the “third way” is a new way for church members to “agree to disagree” on this issue, ask this question: in Ken’s new “third way” church are there *any* individuals on the pastoral staff or church board who hold the orthodox teaching on sexuality? The answer is a resounding NO. Yet there are non-celibate LGBT members of both the pastoral staff and board. So again, ask the question: is this something new, or just a repackaging of “Open and Affirming”?

    Liked by 1 person

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