Comment Stream

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 . 


Staci Devries February 16, 2017

Thanks, Harry! You can definitely add a comment that links to this article on your post Let's Talk About Pastor Compensation. Let me know if you need help adding the comment with a link. 

Staci Devries February 16, 2017

Hi Harry! Thanks for the note. You can certainly add a new comment to the discussion Let's Talk About Pastor Compensation that directs readers to this conversation. Simply use the linking tool or copy and paste the URL. Thanks for connecting these! 

Harry Boessenkool February 15, 2017

Sheri my discussion in feb 2017 centered around how the CRC determines the salary amount when calculating pensions. My point was that it should be using total compensation not just base salary excluding housing allowance. In Canada the latter is simply a benefit bestowed on clergy  by our tax regime and IMHO  has nothing to do with pension calculations. I agree that expense allowance etc. should be excluded from the pension calculations.

My response to John B was if we included the Housing Allowance calculation, our pensions funds, I suspect both in Canadians the USA, would be significantly underfunded. 

Network manager...Sheri's comments should be include in the new discussion forum if possible.


Harry Boessenkool February 15, 2017

This is a great addition to my post of Feb 2017. It clearly shows the separation between salary and housing allowance. Even if it is USA info the separation of income is telling. If the CRC in the US does the same to calculating pensions as the CRC dies in Canada then my point is even more valid. 

Network manager...We should tie these compensation topics together because each comment adds value.

Shannon Jammal-Hollemans February 15, 2017

Thanks, Alison. I will fix that!

Alison Mittelman February 15, 2017

Thanks for this.  Just want to let you know your citation links to a Newsweek article, not Time Magazine. 

Doug Vande Griend February 15, 2017

Shannon.  OK.  I wasn't so "interested in learning," except that any exchange can result in learning, as I was interested in having a meaningful conversation.  And I'm not arguing the same points that you have responded to, only reiterating when you decline to respond to mine.

This theme of "we are all racists, individually and collectively," seems to be a popular meme these days in the denominational apparatus.  There is a recent Banner article on "white guilt," plus a Banner editorial on the same subject, and now your article here on the Network.

I've always thought the Network was intended to be a place for conversations among CRC members, even those who hadn't personally met.  I've also often heard the message that "we aren't willing to have an honest conversation about race."  Given all of that, I thought this would be a good time and place to have such a conversation, publicly (as your article is public), and that the conversation could be beneficial to the body (those that read Network articles and posts at least).

In terms of free time, I have a pretty full-time day job, practicing law, and doing quite a bit beyond that (right now, building an addition onto a rental I own, getting a bathroom fixed in another rental, working with a surveyor and the county to get a lot line adjustment on property needed to do the addition, taking care of a neighborhood park, and more).  I say this to indicate I see this conversation as needed, not something I engage in because I need to pass the time.  To be more blunt, you may be mistaken when you suggest you work a lot as a pastor, that I don't in my job, and so I have time to do this while you don't.  I'm making the time because I believe this is important.  Apparently, you don't think so and that is of course your prerogative.

Shannon Jammal-Hollemans February 15, 2017

Hi, Doug.

It sounds like no matter what I say, you will continue to argue the same points. I do not have the same amount of free time that you do to have conversations online. If you are genuinely interested in learning, I suggest that you read a book or have conversations with people that you are in relationship with in your community. As a pastor, I have found online comment sections to be an unhelpful place for such conversations between people who don't know each other. 

Doug Vande Griend February 15, 2017

Shannon: You point to a CNN article that suggests there is a statistical preference in the population for lighter skin pigmentation.  While that article may be informative in some respects, it only purports to address a broad statistical reality, not a person-by-person, or individual, reality.  One of the critical questions in our conversation  is: "are we all, each of us, racist?"  You seem to me to say "yes" to that question, while I would answer "no.  Your link to the CNN articles addresses a broad statistical question but not the question I'm asking about here.

To recall, I asked, "What do you make of my and my young friend's contrary sense of physical attractiveness?  Might that be evidence that we are not racist?"

What is your answer to these two questions?  If your answer is, "I suspect if you talk with lots of white women you would hear similar things, but that is unrelated to racism," as you say in your most recent response post, I'm not understanding your answer.  You cite your childhood perception that people with light hair and blue eyes are more attractive as not only "related to racism" but as affirmative evidence of your individual racism.  So I've presented two white people (me and my 20-ish female friend at the coffee shop) who both perceive that those with darker skin and brown eyes (me as to the eyes at least) are more attractive, all other things being equal.  If your childhood perception was "related to racism" and evidence of it, then our perception must be related in some way as well, not?

While I thank you for the reference to books on racism (and I saw that 2010 Anderson Cooper/CNN segment back when it first came out), I don't perceive myself lacking information about racism, nor lacking in time thinking about racism.  I may have more experience with the the questions than you might think, but I may have formulated different conclusions than you have.  Indeed, it seems clear to me that I have, which is why I'm wanting to have a conversation about it.

Shannon Jammal-Hollemans February 15, 2017

Hi, again.

I suspect if you talk with lots of white women you would hear similar things, but that is unrelated to racism. The phenomena that my example was pointing to is widely documented. Here is one article about it:

I have been reading, thinking and writing about these issues for a long time, so yes, I am certain it is racism. There are some books that you could read to learn more, like Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland or Roadmap to Reconciliation by Brenda Salter McNeil.

Doug Vande Griend February 15, 2017

Where this article "gets it very right" is when it divides two questions: (1) what should the institutional church proclaim about government policy on immigration?; and (2) what should "we" do when there are people in need that come to our lives?

As to #1, the answer is nothing.

As to #2, the answer is to show them love, regard them as the Good Samaritan regarded the injured man on the road.

These two answers are not contradictory, and perhaps that is where factions in the CRC disagree.

Where I cringed when reading this article was where the author, after expressing appropriate concern about politicizing the institutional church, then purports to be an expert on this administration's immigration policy, citing a source at an embedded links which did not effectively support his claim of expertise in any way.

I'm not claiming that expertise myself.  What I would suggest, though, is that it is extremely difficult (even impossible) even for persons who very seriously track these issues to formulate meaningful opinions about what governmental policy on these issues should or should not be. Why?  For the simple reason that we lack information.  We don't get the briefings from the CIA or the NSA or Homeland Security or the FBI or from closed door sessions of certain House or Senate committees or subcommittees.  And for good reasons.

Which means the best we can usually do is guess about what good government policy should or should not specifically be.  

In contrast, I can analyze the Ninth Circuit's recent ruling denying a stay on the federal District Court Judge's order granting the State of Washington's motion for a TRO as to the President's recently issued Executive Order.  Why?  Because the District Judge's decision and order are public, the Ninth Circuit's decision and opinion are public, the President's EO is public, and I happen to have the occupational training and experience to meaningfully read them and analyze them.  But with all of that, I still have to say "I frankly don't know" in answer to the question, "was the President's EO wise or at least warranty, and good public policy?," again because I don't know that underlying facts, again because I simply cannot (will not be allowed to) know them.

Nor can the author of this article know these necessary facts, which is why I applaud his suggestion to not politicize the institutional church but then cringe when he suggests he has more ability to conclude about the President's wisdom in creating these executive orders than he possibly can. 

Bonnie Nicholas February 15, 2017

I agree. Thank you.

Doug Vande Griend February 15, 2017

I want to be clear that I am not trying to badmouth "restorative justice," or a "restorative justice process."  I have practiced both in my 37 year long practice of law, starting decades before the CRCNA ever said a word about it (it was a big thing for the Friends community out here and I just thought it made sense).

But, it is a difficult thing.  It is the harder way.  And sometimes, those who just know of the phrase (it is fashionable these days, which in a way is not helpful) but don't understand the complexity, nor the nuance involved, nor that sometimes, maybe often, it can't be done, at least not in the immediate timeframe or when in the context of certain kinds of firmly held perspectives by one or both parties.

And the fashionable popularity of "restorative justice" and "restorative justice processes," as good as those concepts may be, will likely be cause for mistakes like this to be made.

Things in life are sometimes complicated.  I just wanted suggest why and how I thought this situation was complicated.  Understanding complication helps us "do better" with it.

Doug Vande Griend February 15, 2017

Shannon.  Thanks for the response.  Who knows, maybe you are racist. :-)  But let's take the examples one at a time and explore them.

First, your childhood impression of what made for pretty.  I was at coffee this morning and talked to the 20-ish young woman that usually serves me.  She is white, a Christian, working while going to school, not Dutch, not CRC.  We discussed my question to her: "are you racist?"  Setting aside for a moment her general response, we also discussed perceptions of physical attractiveness, using your example as a springboard.  With a bit of a laugh she said she generally considered darker skin people to be more attractive than lighter skinned people, all other things being equal.

I didn't tell her this but understood, because, frankly, I perceive (as pretty) likewise.  I also prefer darker hair to blonde hair, and brown eyes to blue.  And I really think freckles are unattractive (sorry to any offended by that).  My friend's explanation for her darker skinned preference was "I just do, just like my favorite color is red."  My favorite color is blue, not red like my friend's, although I think small cars are best looking in red.

So here's the question.  Are you sure your sense, when a child, that lighter skin is prettier is evidence of racism?  And then this question.  What do you make of my and my young friend's contrary sense of physical attractiveness?  Might that be evidence that we are not racist?

I'm not intending to ignore your other 3 points, and will respond in other posts.  But I want to stop here in this post so we can have a more focused conversation.

Monica Brands February 15, 2017

Thanks Bonnie, that's really helpful and an important clarification. I wasn't aware that restorative justice was a part of the CRC's recommended process, and definitely was not intending to cast a negative light on its use in the CRC or in general. I agree completely that what is powerful about restorative justice is that it can be a way to prioritize a victim's needs and the real damage and impact on a community. I heard Doug's comment more in light of stories I have read in the past where in the case of grave crimes it can easily be misused if a community is not prepared or adequately trained in the process and able to skillfully see through distorted versions of an event from the perspective of the culprit, like this article from the Guardian discusses.  The problem may not be the model of restorative justice at all, but like any issue with abuse response, missteps highlight the need for extensive training and awareness because the potential for human error is always so great. 


Bonnie Nicholas February 15, 2017

While I agree that Restorative Justice may be misused; and perhaps your comments reveal that it is often misunderstood. I have to note that a true restorative practice is not an easy fix or a simple process. Rather, in its true form, it's a process that allows space for the voice of the one victimized, a voice that so often gets lost in other forms of justice. It allows him or her to tell the story and, just as important, it allows others to listen and to hear, to enter in to that dark space, to get up close an personal with some of the devastation and serious impacts caused by the abuse. It gives attention to the harm done and also gives the one victimized a voice in determining what happens next, or what is needed to make things right. It is a process recommended in the Abuse Victim's Task Force Report approved by Synod 2010. 

Perhaps its name betrays the process a bit. Restorative justice is about restoring relationship - we are called to be one in Christ. It does not mean that a situation will be restored to a former state, or that a church leader will be restored to a former position. In cases of abuse that is not possible. Nothing may ever the same again after an experience of abuse, the damage cannot be undone. Yet our God is an amazing God who can transform, who can create beauty from ashes, redeem brokenness into something strong. He can use Restorative Practices to transform a community, as well as the individuals in it. I think Restorative Justice or Restorative Practices fit the title of this article perfectly; because it's a harder path. On a Restorative path, I believe there is more opportunity for healing, redeeming, and transformation - relationships not the same, but deeper. This path will also require more pain, commitment, and engagement. Choose the harder path.

Shannon Jammal-Hollemans February 15, 2017

Hi, Doug.

Racism is made manifest in four ways--two on the individual level and two on the systemic level. On the individual level, there is internalized racism, which are prejudicial beliefs about oneself or others. Internalized racism is often expressed as interpersonal racism, when a person leverages their power, covertly or overtly, knowingly or unknowingly, in relationship with others because of perceived race. On the systemic level, there is institutional racism, which are policies and practices within an institution that discriminate with racialized outcomes. More broadly, there is structural racism that plays out across society, via institutions, resulting in racial disparities.

Here are some examples:

When I was a little girl, I believed that girls with blonde hair, blue, eyes, and white skin were prettier than girls with dark skin, dark hair, and dark eyes. That was internalized racism.

When I was introduced to someone recently, who was black, I started asking her questions about her family. Not long into the conversation I realized that I had offended her somehow. In looking back on the conversation later I realized that the questions that I had asked her were revealing my assumption that she had her children out of wedlock and that they may have had multiple fathers. That microagression on my part was interpersonal racism.

When I was on a hiring team a number of years ago, I felt pretty strongly that we needed to hire someone who understood the culture where I worked, which was mostly white people. As we looked at and discussed applications, the need to "fit in" the culture was the forefront of my mind. When we had narrowed down who to interview, I realized that all of the candidates that we selected were white graduates of the local Christian college with last names from the same ethnic background. I had perceived "in group" status as a qualifier for the position. That was institutional racism.

When my grandfather returned from serving with the US Army overseas, he was offered the GI Bill and used it to purchase a home for his family. His wealth accumulated over the years, so that when my father, an immigrant, married my mother and started his own business, he was able to receive a loan from my grandfather, which banks would not give him, to get started. My father accumulated wealth through his successful business, and was able to pay for my undergraduate degree so that I could graduate without any loans. That accumulated wealth was contributed to by a program that my grandfather (being white) was able to leverage and that black veterans, because of their race, could not. That was structural racism. 

This is why I consider myself racist. It was something I was both born into and something I practice. While I have control over my intent, my intent and the impact of my behaviors do not necessarily correlate. One person I heard put it this way: racism isn't the shark in the water, but is the water we swim in. It's pervasive.  

Monica Brands February 15, 2017

Wow, thanks Doug. Such insightful comments. I agree completely with your concerns about restorative justice. It seems similar to forgiveness in that it can be powerful and freeing if the situation is appropriate for it but has similar real dangers for misuse and distortions when forgiveness is extended to someone who is unrepentant (by any standard more rigid other than a superficial "I'm so sorry.") I have read some stories upheld as models of restorative justice that made me really cringe. A danger of restorative justice can be that victims and their families in a Christian context have internalized deep pressure to forgive and forget great harm, and may not have the appropriate skills and training to assess whether or not the culprit should be extended grace or remains a danger to society. 

This: "It so wants the perpetrator and victim to be restored, but it needs to hold perpetrators accountable.  The former "want" can overwhelm the latter responsibility, especially when the perpetrator is skilled, and sexual predators are often quite skilled" -- seems exactly the problem. Christians are deeply deeply conditioned to see grace and restoration as the desired outcome for sin, any sin, so there's a tendency towards idealism in many churches, this optimism that the gospel can fix anything and anyone if we just try hard enough. But sometimes it can't, sometimes abusive patterns are deep rooted and possibly even incurable in this lifetime. The church needs to learn to love without having this ingrained triumphalism/naivety that assumes all problems can be fixed by our own willpower and good intentions. We can genuinely love an abuser while refusing to compromise on the care and safety of both the victim and other potential victims. But, as the CT missteps illustrates, I think very few churches are prepared for how to handle a charismatic abuser such as this who knows exactly how to manipulate the Christian worldview to their own ends.  


Doug Vande Griend February 14, 2017

Monica. I would very much agree that this abusive pastor was and may well still be a highly skilled, manipulative predator.  Most lawyers, not just prosecutors, would recognize the profile.

What I have long wondered is whether there is some connection between the church's rather fashionable inclination toward "restorative justice" and a particular vulnerability to being manipulated, as this publication was, by these kinds of predators.

Don't get me wrong.  I love "restorative justice."  But I also believe that "restorative justice" is pretty hard to come by in the real world, and usually because the perpetrator wants to be excused, not restored.  It takes two to have true restorative justice, a truth that restorative justice advocates would sometimes like to not be the case.  That may be a harsh thing to say but I think it is true.

In other words, I think there is a tension here for the church: it so wants the perpetrator and victim to be restored, but it needs to hold perpetrators accountable.  The former "want" can overwhelm the latter responsibility, especially when the perpetrator is skilled, and sexual predators are often quite skilled.

This is just difficult in a way, especially for kind hearted, merciful and gracious "church people."  Not sure of the solution to this but I quite believe this tension exists and can be a serious problem, as evidenced by this article.

E. Noel Rink February 14, 2017

Amen and amen. I have nothing to add except thank you for writing this. 

Edward Gabrielse February 14, 2017

To address the question in the title, the Christian Reformed Church should not respond at all.

Individual Christians may respond or not as part of their expression of gratitude, but every time one group or another convinces Synod to endorse their point of view on a political or social issue, another schism is created, members leave and communion of the saints is destroyed. There will never be complete consensus on any social or political issue. Failure to see this means we are comfortable ostracizing those whose Christian commitment has lead them to a different conclusion. One has only to look at the divisive public statements of the leadership of our denomination to see that one needs to be a Democrat to enjoy communion of the saints in the CRC. If true, there is no point in local missions efforts until we determine the political leanings of any prospective members. That is wrong.

We do not belong in global warming, open borders, tax reform, health care, advocacy of candidates or any of a hundred other social issues as a denomination. We have a much higher calling around which we can and must unify. And if, as a result of that higher calling, individuals feel the need to advocate on behalf of one issue or another, they should join with others who are like minded outside of the church structure and endorsement. In fact, it is in this environment that they may find a greater opportunity to witness to the joy of our salvation.

Please stop this divisive social advocacy before there is another split and a Republican Christian Reformed Church emerges.

Doug Vande Griend February 14, 2017

Kent. I read your Think Christian article and commented (negatively) on it.  I pretty much agreed with most points in this article.  I didn't see the articles as similar.

Kent VanTil February 14, 2017

Please see my blog on this subject in the Back to God Ministries' "Think Christian."  Commentary.  I stand with you on this subject, but most of the readers of that blog have responded negatively. 


Aaron Vriesman February 14, 2017

Thank you for sharing! Human trafficking is horrendous and infuriating. Thank you for doing something about it.

Doug Vande Griend February 14, 2017

I quite agree Shannon that race is biologically not real.  I've thought that all my adult life, if not a bit longer.   But unlike you, I don't think I'm racist.  Never have been and am not now.  No, no, no, that doesn't mean I don't consider myself quite sinful, inclined to hate God and my neighbor as you say, but I'm also not a terrorist, a mysogenist, a burglar, a robber, a drug dealer, or a number of other words, all of which denote rather specific ways of acting out one's sinful state.  I have plenty ways I act out my sinful state but acting as a racist or terrorist or drug dealer are not among them.

My question to you is, why do you think you are -- call yourself -- a rscist?  I'm not trying to be personal (maybe that is in fact a specific way your fallen nature expresses itself?), but I gather from your article that perhaps you call yourself a racist merely because you are half white (as you say), or merely because you were raised in a culture you apparently equate with white, as you say (I have a bit of a hard time understanding that), or merely because in our society at large you conclude, again as you say, that whites, statistically speaking,  have some kind of power advantage over non-whites.  But none of these latter "reasons" are cause for you to be designated a racist, nor is your inherent sinful nature.

Unless, of course, the meaning of the word itself, "racism," is changed.  But that would be cheating, I submit, in a dictionary definition-strategy kind of way.  

I understand the inclination, in a good Calvinist kind of way, to be up front about our sinfulness, but I think it does no good, and does do harm, when we so expand the definitional meaning of a word until it covers anything and everything (like the word "Smurf" in that cartoon with the little blue people).

Now I do believe racism exists and that some people are in fact racist, just as terrorism/terrorists exist or murderous assassination/murderous assassins exists, but it wouldn't do good to call everyone a terrorist or an assassin either.  If we call everyone all these specific "ways of sinning," the meaning of the words are lost and we no longer distinguish between sinfulness generally, and specific ways we might, or might not, act out our sinfulness.  And that is not helpful either -- at all.  Among others things calling everything and everyone "smurf," or "racist," results in losing the idea of the specific thing, as well as the ability to deal with it (how would you deal with the problem of "smurfyness" after all, because you don't know what the problem actually is).

I hear often that "we aren't willing to have honest conversations about race and racism."  It would seem that you are.  I am too.  Let's have a conversation. :-)

Shannon Jammal-Hollemans February 14, 2017

Are you saying that race is biological, and a curse from God? Race is a social construct, not a biological reality. And diversity is most certainly not a curse. Have your read Genesis 11? There is nothing about ethnic or racial differences in that text.