Revisiting a Landmark Statement on Homosexuality

The May 1999 issue of Perspectives contained an essay by Lewis Smedes, “Like the Wideness of the Sea?” that was among the most significant articles ever to appear in Perspectives. Like most of Smedes’s work, it is richly pastoral, drawing heavily on his experience in the church. He recalled the impassioned debates about divorce and remarriage in the Christian Reformed Church of the 1950s and then wondered about possible parallels to discussions about covenanted, monogamous same-sex relationships. Smedes met with great hostility and criticism for the essay.

Much has changed since 1999. The discussion on homosexuality in the church has changed too. At the end of the article, Smedes says that homosexuality – like divorce – is not God’s good and created intention but is more like an “anomaly” or “burden” on which Christians must ethically “improvise.” Smedes’s views are sort of a halfway house: welcoming, but not fully accepting.

Tragically, Smedes died in 2002. Is his work a helpful middle ground where the church today can find rest, if not agreement? Or, as his critics charged in 1999, did Smedes go too far? Or is his stance that was once considered mediating, even progressive, now passé and no longer helpful? In light of Smedes’s 1999 comments, are we ourselves able to improvise and conjecture about what Smedes might be saying if he were still with us?

We’ve reprinted Smedes’s article in its entirety and asked four voices to engage and evaluate “Like the Wideness of the Sea?” 15 years later. We hope this issue of Perspectives moves the discussion forward.