Comment Stream

Larry Van Essen February 23, 2017

Number wise the crcna would certainly be better off if she had not debated women in office for 25 years.  The result was a kind of compromise that said both ways of interpretation of God's word were appropriate. However the compromise did not work.  We ended up with the URC with nearly 20,000 give or take leaving the CRC.  It would have been hard not to talk about it since each year we elect new elders and deacons.

If I hear you correctly you imply that there were other divisive positions the CRCNA has taken.  May I ask what they were: capital punishment, abortion, marriage and divorce, peace and war,maybe I'm overlooking theone(s) you are thinking about.  Help me out here, Ed.





Doug Vande Griend February 23, 2017

Color me as one of those confused.

If "being missional ... is simply what the church is," as this article says, it is no wonder the word has always perplexed me.  I'm disinclined to add modifiers to words when the modifier means what the word intended to be modified means.  When others do that, I have this itch to discover the additional meaning the modifier brings to the word being modified, but it would seem that in this case there is none?

Yes, confused.



Doug Vande Griend February 23, 2017

And blessings to you as well Shannon. I have no doubt as to the orientation of your heart, even where we might disagree.  To me, that tension is in a way an essential characteristic of the church.  I'm glad we are both in CRC.

And if ever you want that public, "honest conversation about racism," you know where to find me. :-)

Jeanne Kallemeyn February 23, 2017

Hi, Wendy,

I understand that the list of 2017 candidates will be available in early March.  Just keep checking the link on the Candidacy website where they will be posted.



Terry Woodnorth February 22, 2017

I really appreciate these suggestions. Might a corollary to "refusing to compete" be to "partner or cooperate with other churches when appropriate" (which probably wouldn't apply to the grocery store)?

Andrew MacLeod February 22, 2017

Thank-you Staci, I'll check it out.


posted in : Study Bible Apps?
Wendy de Jong February 22, 2017

This is the 2016 list. I realize the 2017 list might not be ready yet, but I hope it will be uploaded and shared soon so that churches looking for seminary candidates will also be given contact information for those graduating this May.

Mark Stephenson February 22, 2017

Doug, Disability Concerns bought 50 hard copies of an expanded version of this book as soon as it came out, and they are sitting in my office. We send a thank you gift to all CRCs that take an offering for DC, and this will be next in line for the churches in the US. I've lobbied a couple Canadian friends to create a Canadian version of the booklet, but that hasn't happened yet. The Putting Faith to Work model is excellent, and its principles are applicable across North America though the stats and resources are US-centric. 

Doug Vande Griend February 22, 2017

Thanks for the link to the booklet, Mark.  I think its content is excellent.

I don't think it would hurt at all to send a copy, in paper form and perhaps also by email, to the clerk of every local CRC council, and the clerk of every CRC classis.

If all CRC members transformed 90% of their angst about government related politics, and the CRCNA 100% of its, into efforts toward serving directly in their own local areas, whether the disabled or others, much, much more would get done with infinitely more satisfaction.

We don't really have much power at all to overhaul the government, especially at the federal level, in whatever direction.  And we'll forever disagree about what that overhaul should be.  But our power as a church of Jesus Christ to directly impact the lives of many  immediately around us, each in our own communities, is great indeed.  And as to that, I really don't see any disagreement at all.

Mark VanAndel February 22, 2017

Joe, Thanks for inviting conversation around this topic.  We are currently in a new church development process here in Detroit which is asking those questions and experimenting with answers.  We are building relationships among three different "house church" communities across the city.  Once a month, we borrow space in a building from another church in order to gather with the combined groups.  We don't have intentions on worshipping as a large group every week, because each neighborhood/house church already has their own rhythms of meeting weekly in their own community.  We do not desire to own a building of our own for both financial and mission-minded reasons.

The benefits of not having a building are multiple: not having the costs associated with it, not having people get in the mindset that the building is central to the ministry, interacting with our church and community in spaces that are not owned by us, having to be creative rather than getting into routines based on a consistent meeting space, we don't fall into a consumeristic mentality of providing goods and services to the church.

 The challenges are: The need for good communication is critical because of a lack of a consistent meeting space for people to depend upon.  It can also be challenging to be nomadic in setting up for a gathering (even once a month).  People with needs also seek us out in our homes rather than a building, which can be a challenge to have need coming to our doorstep rather than an "organization" like a church building provides.

If we were to settle on a consistent space for our monthly gathering (or if we decided a more frequent pattern of gathering with the larger group was better) we would try to find a space to utilize that was already a neighborhood asset in order to partner with other community-serving agencies.

Those are some initial thoughts to keep the conversation going.

posted in : Organic Church
Edward Gabrielse February 22, 2017

Please be a bit careful when you list those things you feel you must preach about, Larry. You see, 81.5% of evangelical Christians who voted, voted for a president who advocates controlling the border, enthusiastic capitalism, a degree of materialism and individual responsibility. And he was supported by a great number of evangelical pastors. Apparently you have a better insight into what scripture teaches, or you are a lot smarter than them, or you have a different bible.

Sure, you can preach on some of these topics, but I can just as easily walk out of your church never to return. Sure, you can ostracize another third of the denomination, but then do not cry when the denominational offices are starving and on the road to extinction. You have reduced your potential market to a very small percent of the population that needs the love of our Lord. You only have a message that resonates with guilt ridden liberals. You have made salvation contingent upon political views. That is the problem when you bully the institutional church, either a local congregation or the denomination, into taking a stand on social issues.

If, instead you focus your preaching on salvation through the blood of our Lord, individual Christians are allowed the freedom to respond to social issues as an expression of their love for our Lord rather than as a duty to the institutional church. I am convinced that this individual expression offers a far richer blessing.

Doug Vande Griend February 22, 2017

Respectfully Larry, I think you are failing to distinguish between biblical admonitions to people and biblical admonitions to governments.  I am obliged to be a good neighbor even to those who have committed crimes like theft or drug dealing or even rape or murder.  Notwithstanding my obligation to those, government's obligation to those same persons is different.  Government  is obliged to curb those evils, which may often mean prosecuting and incarcerating those people.  

Your and my roles are often quite different than government's role.  We may be required to turn the other cheek, but government couldn't do what God would have government do if its policy is turn-the-other-cheek based.

I'm not saying I know that the current administration's policy on this immigration time-out is good policy, but I am saying its duties, responsibilities and obligations are not correctly understood by applying the lesson of the parable of the Good Samaritan.  Again, this doesn't mean the administration's policy is good policy, but, as I have suggested, neither you nor I nor the institutional church (nor even the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals frankly), are privy to the information required to in order to determine the wisdom of the administration on this policy.  Congress gave this power, and the right to have the information, to the executive branch.  Some in Congress have the right to the information, and to oversight, but you don't, I don't, and the institutional church doesn't.

Beyond that, there are plenty of neighbors that we can be good Samaritans too.  There is no lack there I don't think.

Larry Van Essen February 22, 2017

I want to thank everyone who has expressed themselves on this topic, especially Matthew for starting it.


John Zylstra February 22, 2017

Jesus parable applied to a man who was left behind by robbers.  His parable could also have included a robber waiting in ambush to attack anyone who might choose to help.  His parable could have included or been about a robber pretending to be hurt and robbed so that he could attack unwary helpers.  But his parable wasn't about that.  It is important not to conflate or blur the distinctions.  

It seems you are arguing and preaching to the converted, those who want to help refugees who truly need it.  But you are ignoring all the other real issues and thus your preaching will simply allienate those who are concerned about protection of the innocent.

Larry Van Essen February 21, 2017

All that I meant by referring to the parable of the good Samaritan is that Just as the priest and Levite must have had "good" reasons not to give practical help to the one robbed so it seems we are finding " good reasons" why a temporary ban on certain refugees is acceptable.  But Jesus did not see it that way.  He asked which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell among robbers?  The expert in the law said "the one who had mercy on him"  Jesus told him "Go and do likewise"

Perhaps I'm wrong.  You might be a good samaritan every day of your life but why can you not be a good samaritan toward Syrian refugees right now.  Is there ever a time someone in trouble is not our neighbor?

Doug Vande Griend February 21, 2017

I'm not following Larry.  How is it that someone has said or otherwise suggested "we cannot be good samaritans in our world"?  I see that being done all the time by Christians.  I practice it quite regularly.  I advocate it.

Larry Van Essen February 21, 2017

I think the priest and the levite in the parable of the good Samaritan would have been comfortably at home in your world of logic. Too bad that we cannot be good samaritans in our world.

John Zylstra February 21, 2017

Today I heard something about the USA supreme court redefining marriage.  And in the process, innocent Christians are being persecuted, fined and prosecuted for exercising their religious freedom.  Are the democrats doing anything to reverse that?  To protect these issues of conscience?  Are they speaking out against it?  Are they promoting judges who take a more reasonable view of the US constitution?  

If not, are Democrats still a viable option for Christians?  Shouldn't they support politicians who at least honor God with their lips, rather than deny his claims to His very face?  

And compare their stand on abortion, the murder, desecreation and genocide of innocent preborn human beings.  Does not this also call into question any support by Christians of a Democrat party that promotes and funds institutions such as PLanned Parenthood, whose main business and funding stream is for abortion?  

Michele Gyselinck February 21, 2017

  No, I DON'T think we should wait and see.  That would be wasting precious time.  We KNOW Trump's character and his values, and he's NOT going to change.  Why would he?  All his life he's been led to believe he could get away with his behavior.  Even the fact that he was elected would confirm him in the belief that he was right to believe he could get away with his behavior.  So it would be foolish to wait and see at this time.  No new data are going to come in about the Trump Administration.  Americans with disabilities and their advocates need to put pressure on that government to respect the laws put in place by previous administrations to protect those who are vulnerable.  It's too bad he was elected, but since he's there until some people decide to impeach him, American citizens need to deal with him.

Shannon Jammal-Hollemans February 21, 2017

Thanks for your response, Doug. It is good to read some of your story. While we draw different conclusions, like you, I also read Hillbilly Elegy, and I really appreciated Vance's perspective. I think we both seek to give God all the glory in what we do and say. Blessings on you as you seek to do that, Brother.

Dean Koldenhoven February 21, 2017

Andrew MacLeod, Andrew...I was a friend to Angus and Peg MacLeod. I met Farquar while we were at Mac's house in Evergreen Park Il. In fact their father was also there. Where does Andrew fit into this ancestry? Just curious !....Dean Koldenhoven

posted in : Study Bible Apps?
Mark Stephenson February 21, 2017

Doug, You wrote, "I think there is much more promise for increased employment of the disabled in the private sector, profit and non-profit." I agree. And from where I sit, it looks to me like churches are uniquely situated to assist people with disabilities to get employed. A couple basics to get a job are skills and a network. Churches can provide opportunities for people with disabilities to gain both soft and hard skills by encouraging them to be involved in various aspects of ministry, and providing mentoring and guidance along the way. And churches are a network of people who are employees, supervisors, and business owners who can assist fellow members with disabilities make the connections they need to get work. But this kind of thinking requires a shift that's starting to happen, but still is a long ways in coming: a shift from seeing first what people with disabilities can't do, to see and celebrate and encourage what they can do. This booklet produced in 2014, The Call and Opportunity for Faith Communities to Transform the Lives of People with Disabilities and their Communities, provides helpful guidance for faith communities. If every faith community helped one unemployed person with a disability get a job, that would be another 300,000 people in the workforce, who would have less dependence on government benefits, and possibly a greater sense of self esteem and a better sense of how to fulfill their calling while here on earth. 

Staci Devries February 21, 2017

I've heard really good things about the Read Scripture app

posted in : Study Bible Apps?
Staci Devries February 21, 2017

In previous years I have given up various things (i.e. pop) for Lent but this year I am planning to finish reading through the Gospels (I'm currently in the middle of Luke). Lately I have been struck by how often Jesus talks about the importance of having faith. I'm going to be looking for specific ways this season to 'increase' my faith, maybe through bold giving or by listening more closely to the Spirit's leading. To do this, I'm hoping to be still more often (less media, tv, distractions).

Doug Vande Griend February 21, 2017

While I certainly don't oppose the kind of action that was taken by Obama's EO, Mark, I always wonder about the ratio of "show to go" with federal action. In my neck of the nation's woods, the biggest employers of the disabled (including a neighbor of mine that I've know for his entire life), are private non-profits.  My guess is that next to no one in my geographical area is benefited by Obama's EO (or Clinton's before that).

I think there is much more promise for increased employment of the disabled in the private sector, profit and non-profit, perhaps with some tax credit assistance from government, federal, state, and/or local even.

One thing everyone is likely to agree on is that is it better for the disabled to work, at whatever level that might match their abilities, than that they not work.  Even if they worked for no compensation, their lives are made better by working.  And frankly, I think that sentiment is quite bipartisan, and shared by those who like big or small government.

Staci Devries February 21, 2017

Thanks for this information and important discussion, Mark. Please keep challenging us and pointing us to those who are being marginalized. 

Doug Vande Griend February 20, 2017

You are taking some logic leaps there Larry but I assume you know that.  In case you don't, I can't imagine how exactly you can make the case that any kind of ban on Syrian refugees by a sovereign nation for a finite period of time for whatever reason is unbiblical.  Too much nuanced knowledge is required, and there are too many variables that potentially come into play, in my view at least, to be able to responsibly declare the scripture will always be violated when such a ban is implemented by a particular sovereign nation.

And I can't follow you when you say you must preach about all the things you list, BUT on the other hand, I think you certainly can preach on topics than involve greedy capitalism, irresponsible socialism, materialism, etc.  It might take some degree of in-depth knowledge about the subject matters to have the sermon come off as "credible" and not a cheap political pitch, but sure, these subjects are, or their component parts at least are, the object of scriptural admonitions.

Mark Stephenson February 20, 2017

One other thought: the federal government influences behaviors not only by where money gets spent but also by setting priorities. My Exhibit A is Executive Order 13548. Although employment (and unemployment) of people with disabilities has (sadly) remained relatively constant ever since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, the emphasis by the Obama Administration on hiring people with disabilities for jobs with the federal government has actually increased the percentage of people with disabilities working for the federal government. 

Mark Stephenson February 20, 2017

Doug, I agree that Trump is quick to lash out at anyone who makes him look bad in some way. Still, my sense is that there is an undertone to his rhetoric that diminishes anyone whom he deems as "weak." As you write, we'll need to wait and see. We're barely into his presidency yet.

I would like to be for smaller government. Yes, people closest to the ones receiving assistance are more likely to care and provide appropriate solutions, and less likely to allow waste. However, the kind of money that's required to provide supports for people like my daughter and many, many others with disabilities is not going to come out of people's pockets unless local, state, and federal government collects it in taxes. Don't get me wrong. People are generous. My daughter lives in a wonderful place that was fully paid for the day she moved in thanks to generous contributions, but providing day in day out support for her and others in group homes is not going to come solely from charitable contributions. She lives in a home that is a public/private partnership, and I truly wish it were possible for it to be funded fully privately, but I can't imagine it, not only for the place our daughter lives, but also for many other people needing supports for daily living. And that's just one example of group homes. There are people living in their own places who need some assistance. There are people in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. There are people in supported employment. There are people receiving health care through Medicaid. There are disabled vets. There are a lot of kids in special education programs. I believe that one of the ways that Americans show their heart is through providing supports (through our taxes and through charitable contributions) for people with disabilities, but I fear we would not provide this level of support to this many people if we all were simply asked to pitch in with voluntary contributions. 


Larry Van Essen February 20, 2017


You have greatly relieved my mind.  I thought you and the others did not want me or others to preach or teach that a ban on Syrian Refugees was unbiblical.  Now I understand you as saying the institutional church may preach against all things that are contrary to scripture such as banning refugees, immigrants, racism, sexism, ruthless capitalism, irresponsible socialism, materialism etc.  So we agree ministers in the CRCNA must preach the Word of God on all these matters and let the chips fall where they may. 



Hubert Krygsman February 20, 2017

Hi Elly;

Amen to that!  As you say, one of the best ways to to commemorate Canada 150 is to show God's love to our neighbours, right in our local communities.  A small drop in the bucket can ripple across the whole country;  many drops just might, with God's help, be transformative!


posted in : Canada 150. Now What?
Doug Vande Griend February 20, 2017

But Larry, the CRCNA already opposes "slavery, apartheid, racism and sexism."  No one opposes that institutional "speaking out" because such speaking out is ecclesiastical (CO Art. 28), just as is speaking about about homosexuality or the human obligation to be a steward of creation.

But it would seem you want the CRCNA to be a political lobbyist as well, as if there is no distinction between pronouncing, as an ecclesiastical matter, that racism is sinful and lobbying congress to pass certain legislation that, say, deals with nuances of voter registration requirements.  There is a difference and even the IRS knows the difference.

To plumb the specifics of your posture on this, would you also want the CRCNA to train paramilitary forces just in case a Hitler-like despot takes over, so that the CRCNA can not only oppose this "Hitler" in words but also with deed?  If not, why not?  

Or to ask another way, just what are your jurisdictional limits, if any, for the CRCNA?  What should Church Order Article 28 allow the CRC assemblies to take up beyond "ecclesiastical matters" (the present church order imposed jurisdictional boundary)?


Doug Vande Griend February 20, 2017

Mark: I do appreciate concerns about non-policy aspects of Trump (his mocking a reporter), but one should really consider him an equal opportunity offender, if you will.  Trump will rant against and offend anyone and everyone -- and has.  So anyone who is looking for Trump to be always be "nice to them" or "nice to the group they are part of" is just going to be badly disappointed -- sooner or later.  Russian's Putin, and everyone else, will get the same treatment, sooner or later. :-)

In terms of the broader picture, but perhaps expanding the conversation a bit, I have always been an advocate of smaller government, and for people to look first to their local resources (first private and only after that local and state government) for solutions to problems -- all before looking to the federal government.  Why?  Because one-size-fits all solutions (solutions "from the top") are clumsy at best, and because things "at the top" can change in the blink of an eye, in which case ... well, here we maybe are, aren't we, at least for some things?

We have been looking increasingly to the "top" for solutions over the past years, decades even.  OK, but then we maybe set ourselves up for these kinds of possibilities?

Mark Stephenson February 20, 2017

Doug, thanks for your comment. I hope you are right, though this author's concern is not only with federal disability benefits, but also with the way Trump so far has used his bully pulpit with regard to people with disabilities. My sense is that she fears that the incident involving Serge Kovaleski and the removal of the disability section of bespeak at least a lack of intentionality about engaging Americans with disabilities respectfully, or worse, a degrading of these fellow Americans which could lead to even greater discrimination in employment, housing, and so on. 

Doug Vande Griend February 20, 2017

My answer is part "wait and see," part "these concerns are overblown."

If Trump did everything he might have alluded to verbally at one point or another, all Hispanics unable to produce documentation of their right to be in the US would not be here anymore, but of course that hasn't happened.

Trump's communication style drives me beyond nuts,  but it is only style.  One cannot simply find an off the cuff point in an off the cuff speech he may have made and conclude that is what he'll do.  

The best approach to Trump is to take almost everything he says with a lot of salt, especially when he talks to his hard core supporters or the public in general (and most of us are not privy to Trump's private conversations so this is very difficult), try to decipher major themes amid all his verbal noise, and then, ultimately, wait and see what he actually does.

I think the chances of federal government disability benefits being curtailed because Trump is President, at least across the board, are slim.  And it isn't at all impossible that those benefits would increase because Trump is President.  In all the things he's said, support for that possibility is more easily found than what some in the disabled community may fear.

John Cook February 20, 2017

At Calvary CRC in Ottawa, ON, we have a small group that meets for a potluck dinner and discussion. We are always looking for good resources! To date we have found useful these resources:

Bridges - Christians connecting with Muslims (Crescent Project)

Manning - Abba's Child

John Timmer - Four-Dimensional Jesus

John Timmer - The Kingdom Equation - on the parables of Jesus

We'd love to hear from others!

John Cook,

Larry Van Essen February 19, 2017

It sounds to me like Doug, John, and others would approve, like the church in Germany once did when they refused to speak up against Hitler, of such ethical issues as slavery, apartheid, racism, sexism.  I do not buy it. Do you really mean the institutional church has no obligation to officially speak out against such evils?

Your easy distinction between individual Christians and the church as institute is tidy but it denies the church of being salt and light in the real world of evil.  If fellow Christians cannot accept speaking out against such evils I suggest they should take it up with God.

Craig Haslam February 19, 2017

I believe the bible tells us that The Sabbath Day started in the garden of Eden. The Sabbath day was the seventh day of creation week. The Sabbath was instituted  before man sinned. Thus, the Sabbath day was made for all man and not just for the Jews. Adam and Eve where the first humans to observe the Sabbath day that God blessed and sanctified.

February 18, 2017

I appreciate the reference to "financial issues for long term pastors who have lived in church supplied houses." Not so long ago I received a notice from the CRC Minister's Fund (which pays a certain sum of money towards the funeral costs of pastors who have contributed to this fund), if we please could pay our assessment as soon as possible since some of the widows were unable to pay the funeral costs.

Churches with parsonages reaped the rewards of higher housing prices and many of the pastors upon retirement ended up in an apartment since housing was out of reach, particularly in many cities in Canada. 

John Span February 17, 2017

Just how much should the Church [in this case the CRC] get involved with anything or everything?

     It appears that a number of comments, including an allusion in my previous post, touch on the fact that a church, in this case the CRC, needs to prioritize its engagements. I wonder at times, if this is one of its greatest challenges, especially when it holds to the idea of "every square inch" is Christ's. It appears that idea, is then taken to mean, that the CRC should get involved in "every square inch" of engagement on this planet. 

    A while ago Palmer Robertson penned an article entitled "Toward a Reformational View of Total Christian Involvement" in two parts, and  suggested the following:

 Sadly the church today has assumed that all the labors of the Messianic kingdom must be funneled through its assemblies. Sadly the church has taken upon itself a role too great for its resources. Sadly the assembled form of Christ's people has lost faith in the working of Christ outside its own assembly halls. The result of this tragic assumption by the church of all that which rightly belongs to the Messianic kingdom is two-fold: first, the most essential task of the church, which is to concern itself with that particular revelation embodied in Christ and incorporated in Scripture has been neglected; and, secondly, by wrestling from the kingdom members their initiative in every realm of human existence, the church has robbed kingdom members of their proper and effective role among the world today......

Receiving its impetus and direction from the church, working individually and in groups as servants of the Lord Christ, the kingdom of Christ assaults every structure and seeks to bring every thought of man into sub-mission to Christ. Christian political organizations direct their efforts toward bringing the secular state into conformity with God's intention for the state. Christian social group strain their efforts to seek social justice among men. Christian educational organizations demand that every philosophy be brought into submission to the lordship of Christ......

So long as the church assumes to itself all the prerogatives which belong to these various ways of God's working in the world, its central task and calling, its unique mission to the world shall be dissipated.

....more later...enough said, other than he sketches out three positions in part 2 of his paper, and here he echoes what has been expressed in some of the posts above:

.....the liberal expands the church so that it engulfs the kingdom. As a result, the church is forced into involvements too deep for its competence. The church usurps those areas of concern which belong rightly to Christians in their vocations, and at the same time neglects its distinctive responsibility of expounding Scriptural truth to its people. The result is that kingdom members lack the theological depth necessary for accurate and significant action, while the church issues ineffective decrees on subjects beyond its competence.

Hope that helps.




Eric Van Dyken February 17, 2017

Hi Larry,

I think in order to answer that question meaningfully, several words need to be parsed.  What exactly is involved in "caring" and which of the "refugees" are we referring to?  Caring can involve anything from prayer, taking of offerings for relief organizations, volunteering in refugee camps overseas, individual sponsorship, offering a job, serving in the armed forces attempting to bring peace and stability to war-torn areas, or if you subscribe to the theory of Cataclysmic Anthropomorphic Climate Change, something as mundane as changing a light bulb, installing weather stripping on windows, or forgoing that spring vacation with your family.  As for refugees, which of the millions of refugees worldwide is this mandate for care referring to?  All of them?  If not all of them, which ones, and how do some get excluded?  If "caring" automatically means advocating for the admittance of a certain number of international refugees, my question is "Why do you hate the rest of the refugees so much?"  Which level of care is mandated in Scripture and how do you arrive at that conclusion?  Do you have the expertise and inside knowledge to dictate a certain level of refugee admittance or a certain protocol for refugee screening to the government? 

Without exploring these types of questions, I don't think we can come to solid conclusions.  Barring that exploration, I would encourage you to individually do what your conscience convicts you to do along that continuum of care of all the people God brings into your life (including refugees).  And likewise, as is preached from many pulpits every Sunday, the rest of God's people should also be exhorted to love their neighbor as themselves.  The particulars of what that love looks like begin in the heart and will look different from person to person and situation to situation.  If we begin to dicatate to one another the only acceptable versions of care and love, I fear we will resemble the Pharisees as they laid heavy burdens on the people with their minute parsings of what it meant to live out a particular command.


Doug Vande Griend February 17, 2017

I don't think you are understanding John's comment correctly, Danielle.  Or maybe I'm not, but here's my take on what John suggests (and Ed for that matter), which would be mine as well.

First, there are two questions here, perhaps three, and if you don't understand the questions to be two (or three), and not one, you won't understand John's comment or what I think.

Question #1 is this: What should government do in terms of setting laws and policies that allow or disallow refugees from entering the country (US or Canada)?

Question #2 is this: What should we, folks in this country (US or Canada) -- whether as individuals or local churches or even denominations -- do when there are refugees that our government's laws and policies will be entering this country?

Here's the possible Question #3:  What should we, folks in this country (US or Canada) -- whether as individuals or local churches or even denomination -- do when there are refugees but in other countries as opposed to ours? 

So the answer to Question #1: As to the institutional church, it should simply allow the government to do its job.  In terms of those of us who hold the "office of voter," we should exercise that office (hopefully with intelligence and discernment) but certainly, it is not the jurisdiction of the pastor of a local church (or its council, or synod, or the executive director of the denomination) to lobby the federal government in behalf of church members in favor or against one possible government policy or another.

My suggested answer to Question #2: As to individuals and the local and denominational institutional church, we should consider what individual ("love mercy") or communal ("deaconal") responsibility we might have to directly act, working with government but not lobbying it, knowing that refugees may be coming to where we live, and then actually act according to that responsibility (e.g., sponsor refugees -- my church did this in the 1970's/1980's, sponsoring Vietnamese and Loation families).

My suggested answer to Question #3: As to individuals and local and denominational institutional church, we should consider what individual ("love mercy") or communal ("deaconal") responsibility we might have to directly act, knowing that refugees that exist in other countries, and then act according to that responsibility, which might take the form of supporting organizations like World Renew, or possibly by (an individual) deciding to physically going to those other countries to help out.

You may be correct in pointing out, Danielle, that if the government isn't letting refugees in, or so many of them, then we (individuals or local churches, etc) can't enfold those refugees.  But there is lots of other work to do it the world.  We could address other issues needing addressing (and we won't run out of issues needing addresses).  And hey, those of us individuals who hold the office of "voter" can get into the politics of it.  But the key point is that it is not the jurisdiction of the institutional church, local or denominational, whether via pastor, council, synod, or ED, to be the political lobbyist for all of us, even if the institutional church, at whatever level, should act in its deaconal role (which does not include being political lobbyist for all member as to government policy).

Doug Vande Griend February 17, 2017

When I first read this article, I immediately ordered Debby Irving's book (Waking Up White).  It arrived two days ago and I'm about half way through it.  It is illuminating in a way, but perhaps in a way different than one might first think.

So far, there is next to nothing that Irving "uncovers" as to the real history in the US that I haven't already long known to be the real history.  Apparently, she was sheltered from the truth (she says so) and I was not.

What struck me about Irving's story is how incredibly different her life was from mine.  Her father was a Boston investment lawyer whose law school education had been paid by the GI Bill.  Her family had a really, really nice house, multiple cars and televisions, an abundance of material things generally, a summer vacation place in Maine, and more.  Her family is what I would call old New England upper, or at least middle-upper class.  She went to college of course, and, like Shannon, her bill for that was paid for, although by family, not by the GI Bill.  Indeed, to say that Irving's family "drank downstream" from government and non-government laws and policies is quite true.

But I, started contrast here's my life (I'm white too), which is representative of the lives in the NW Iowa community I grew up in. Irving was born in 1960, BTW.  I was born in 1954.

My family's first house, that I remember reasonably well, had no indoor toilet.  It was two rooms, a small move-on house plunked on the yard of my grandparents' farm.  It didn't even have real running water for that matter.  Cold water could be hand pumped from a cistern, but to get it hot, my mom had to put in on the stove.  

Our next house was one one that was torn down after we moved off.  About the same as the first house, although at least there was regular running water.  The third house was the "mansion" (as a six year old of my experience would see it).  No, still no indoor toilet (who cared) but it was roomy (in my eyes at least) and on a farm where a creek (even if muddy) ran through the pasture, a quarter mile from the house.  We could fish for bullheads in the muddy water.  This was indeed heaven.

Ok, there were negative aspects to the house.  A full one third was not habitable (even the walls were fallen in).  There was no heat upstairs, which is not a small discomfort for kids who slept upstairs during NW Iowa winters on 20 below nights.  Mom put "flannels" on the beds in place of sheets, and we learned to start the night in a tight ball, speeding out very gradually, and to share body heat.

We didn't actually get to fish much, but sometime.  From age 6 onward, I probably worked 40 or more hours a week, but only during the school year.  In the summer, we worked much more.  Don't misunderstand, I didn't resent the work.  It was just "life."  And the dividends that part of life would eventually pay were great.

When I was 12, we moved a true mansion on to the farm and tore down the prior one.  This house was apparently insulated (old mansion was not) and warm air actually came through the vents upstairs on winter nights.  Wow!  A new stage of heaven

Work was still a lot, but again who cared.  It wasn't any different for anyone else on my school bus route.  Indeed, lots of the boys got on the bus with some manure on their pants.  You get up at 5.30 in the morning to milk cows (who produce a lot of sloshing manure), and then just before the bus comes, you run out of the barn, gobble down some eggs and pancakes and hop on the bus.  No time to change clothes.  Besides, who cared.  One less thing to do in life, which was busy enough.

Well, I did start caring once I got to high school.  Thankfully, the same mansion that had heat upstairs had a shower in the basement (not enclosed but fine).  On some mornings, I was able to shower (quickly!) and now I always changed clothes before school.  But work was certainly no less.  I couldn't play HS basketball because practice was during milking time and I and my brother were the only milkers.  Basketball was for the "town kids" -- sorry.  But I did play baseball and summer fast pitch softball, all of which was scheduled with milking (and other chores) schedules in mind.  As far as I was concern, life was really great (well, minus some other aspects of it).

So I went to college, Dordt actually, but not in anyway like Irving went to college, or even the author of this article.  No one in my family had gone to college.  They were all farmers.  No one had benefited from the GI Bill.  My grandparents on both sides had immigrated from Holland, and neither of my parents had gotten any wealth from theirs.  Nor did I from mine.  College, if I wanted to do that rather foreign thing, was mine to figure out and do (in every sense of that word).  My first year, I paid tuition, room and board by milking cows for a near-by large dairy.  Started 2.00 pm on Friday. Got up 2.30 AM Saturday morning, the repeat for Saturday afternoon, Sunday morning, and Sunday afternoon.  By the time that long weekend was over, I had nearly 40 hours put in.  At $1.50 an hour, that was a ton of money (I thought).  During Christmas break I could and did put in 80 - 90 hour weeks, still at $1.50/hour, none at overtime rate -- ag work was exempted from those rules).   It paid what I needed paid. But I hated it, passionately.  It messed with my days and nights, badly.

One early college summer, I worked night shift at a Campbell Soup plant, cleaning up the facility after the day shifts killed chickens and turkeys, cooked them, deboned them, and diced the meat.  Hated that too, but irrelevant -- again, it paid the bills.

My last 2 plus a bit years of college, I ran my own insurance office.  Got licensed and sold life, disability and health insurance.  Boy, that was a learning curve, but no, there was no $ or even other support from family.  What I did or didn't do was mine to figure out and do.

Then to law school, in Oregon.  Fortunately, the federal government had not yet so badly driven up college and graduate school prices by injecting massive funding into higher education (by providing large grants and loans), so the price of law school, even a well known private one, was within reach.  My wife's teaching job paid $9000 a year, tuition was $3000, and we were really good at skimping on expenses.  Plus, during my first year, I worked side jobs for area farmers, and then starting my second year, I clerked 40+ hours a week.  Poor pay but a lot of experience.  Sure, busy, but life was still good, better than it ever had been I thought.

After law school, I hung out my shingle, practiced with a small group of attorneys.  We weren't a firm but we shared expenses.  A good model, looking back.  I made $5000 my first year.  No, not disappointing.  I was ecstatic it was a positive number and not negative.  A solo practice of law was a small business start up after all.  Most of those failed and I didn't -- yet at least.  Besides, my wife still was a teacher and we could live on her modest salary, even if very modestly.  And that was fine.  Life was still very good.

That startup year was about 37 years ago.  I'm still practicing law, in my solo practice with a small group (members having changed over the years; remember, business startups fail a lot).  In the course of those 37 years, I have represented clients of all characteristics, whether by color, gender, orientation, religion, culture, political persuasion, for other background/status.  Frankly, life is still pretty good, my wife has been teaching again (after years off because we raised four children).  And I've had opportunity to help people and good causes that might not otherwise have gotten help.

So Irving says I'm "white," and thereby I am "privileged."  She and this article would suggest that my race (which at the same time is said to not be real as an actual concept, except by perception) has created advantage for me that has given me a good life, at the expense of others (non-whites) and so I should feel guilty, regard myself as indebted, recognize I have unfairly "drunk downstream" from the unfair advantages of my white parents, but that I'm just "not seeing it" --because I am "white" of course.

For all those who read, or might read, Irving's book, should would also read JD Vance's book, Hillbilly Elegy,  a book that, since I read it, has become a bit known, perhaps because of the election of Donald Trump.

Early Dutch Reformed generations in NW Iowa were not the "white people" Irving broadbrushes.  Early on in her book, anticipating the objections, she argues that even though some readers might think that the injustices she is about to reveal stem from class, they really do stem from color.  JD Vance's book demonstrates that class disadvantage is color blind.  His Appalachian heritage resulted in a very white multigenerational mass that has become known as "white trash," or more recently, part of the "basket of deplorables."  While American culture of late says we should sympathize with the part of the poverty class that is not-white, we are allowed to, and should, regard the white poverty class as pathetic, as deserving of our scorn and disparagement, as hicks, as trailer trash, as white trash, as redncks, and as "deplorables."

At a point in his book, Vance describes how he was explaining to someone not from his culture what his culture, and his early life was like.  And then at a point in that conversation, he remarks, it dawned on him that his description matched that of how someone else might have described inner big city black ghettos.  Some song really, just a different verse.

This is the core of my disagreement with recent CRCNA memes that proclaim "we are all racist" (if we are white) and "we all have drunk downstream, and so have unjustly benefited" from a "systemic injustice" rooted in "white privilege."  

The problem with the meme is that it just isn't true.  Well OK, it may be true for some (like Irving), but it is not true for so many others (like JD Vance's community, nor the communities I have lived in -- nor me and so many I grew up with).

So what, some may say?  So what if Irving's (and the repeated denominational meme) is not true, or not so true?  So a lot, would be my answer.  To the extent any person or cultural group does well, they will do so because they, and each of them, accept the fact that their own decisions, in the points in time right in front of them, will be the dominant factors as to the outcome of their lives (and I'm not talking about financial outcomes, or even mostly about financial outcomes).  Incessant and often factually inaccurate ranting about how the privilege of "whites" are the cause for the lesser wellbeing "non-whites" won't help "non-whites" but hurt them, because they will learn from the repeated message that they themselves were not and are not in charge of their lives and still cannot be.

Thank God (I mean this literally) no one told me I was from a disadvantaged class, that this lady named Irving from Boston and others like her had innumerable advantages over me, and because of that "systemic injustices," I was doomed, unless of course I could find some outside hero, someone who had power I did not and could not have because of my "systemic disadvantage."  Thank God no one told me that.  I might have listened and believed.

So may be Irving should feel "white guilt" because her life "drank downstream" from "white ptivilege."  And who knows, the same may be the case for many CRCers, maybe especially in certain geographical areas of the country.  But even if true to that extent, it is still a broad brush caricature, and one that, I would submit, does far more harm than good.

Danielle Steenwyk-Rowaan February 17, 2017

Hi John, just to clarify how refugee systems work: it is impossible for individual citizens to sponsor refugees without working with the government. It's not quite as simple as putting the responsibility on individual citizens. As we've seen with the recent mass layoffs at World Relief, government decisions to limit the number of refugees coming into the country directly and immediately affect the ability of churches to welcome refugees. The CRC has a long history of churches welcoming refugees, on both sides of the border, and we can't do that without working with the U.S. and Canadian governments. 

John Zylstra February 17, 2017

Confusing caring for people with condoning their illegal activities is a non-starter.  We care for people in prison, but do not suggest that the courts were wrong in putting them in prison.  If a nation decides in its interest to delay approval of refugees, or to deny them entrance, or to screen them and put conditions on entry, can a minister legitimately contravene that policy?  Under what conditions?  Is a right for a minister (or any christian) to protest a war, or to protest taxes, or to protest unpaved streets, or to protest global trade?  Is he doing this as a minister, or as an individual private christian with his own opinions on these matters.  

As a minister, he should focus on the gospel unto salvation.  Not put himself into a box of social activism which may end up biting him in the butt when he gets more information in five years.  

Caring for the poor does not mean putting the responsibility on the government, but picking up the task at home with your own hands. 


Edward Gabrielse February 16, 2017

Let me suggest three things that we all must do because we believe that scripture teaches caring for refugees.

1 Recognize that ISIS promised to seed the refugees with hardened terrorists.

2 Put a value on the lives of those who will be blown up when these terrorists strike.

3 Give the President the benefit of the doubt when he asks for a 90 day halt to figure out ways to identify and cull these terrorists before reopening the door to refugees.

This seems to be a responsible and biblical way to balance love for our fellow human beings and their safety with our responsibility to care for the refugees.

Craig Haslam February 16, 2017

Hi Rebecca,

Two points to your statement. 1) You mentioned that there is importance of having "a" Sabbath day of rest. Do we have "any" day as our Sabbath day of rest, or did God command "the" Sabbath day ?   2) What did Jesus do on the Sabbath day? The Word of God tells us that Jesus preached, healed, walking and talking with His disciples on the Sabbath day. Thus Jesus was busy on the Sabbath day doing the work of His Father.  

Larry Van Essen February 16, 2017

What must a minister do when he believes scripture teaches caring for refugees. Period .