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Why do justice during Lent? Isaiah doesn’t mince his words about the kind of fasting that makes “your voice heard on high.” 

March 14, 2016 0 1 comments
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As new parents, my spouse and I have been figuring out how to raise our family and also find time to continue serving God. We have been learning about being a family on mission.

March 8, 2016 1 1 comments
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How do we stay in dialogue with people who strongly disagree with us on an issue we are passionate about, especially when that issue affects the lives of people in very tangible ways?

March 2, 2016 2 5 comments
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God gave clear instructions to the nation of Israel and its leaders (prophets, priests and kings) to care for the poor.

February 29, 2016 0 4 comments
Resource, Article

Churches are more than buildings taking up space in a city, town, or neighborhood. These are people who encounter the God of cities and nations.

February 22, 2016 1 0 comments
Resource

A working group in the Mennonite Church USA has created a 43-minute documentary entitled "The Doctrine of Discovery: In the Name of Christ" that is a good introduction to understanding the Doctrine of Discovery.

January 29, 2016 0 0 comments
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The plight of refugees has never been more stark, obvious and in your face. So what do we do? Listen to the refugee-Jesus, where we find the simplest, clearest of wisdom. 

January 21, 2016 1 4 comments
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This summer, North American pastors received an invitation from the CRC Office of Social Justice to submit sermons on the topic of immigration. We're exicted to announce the winner!

December 16, 2015 0 0 comments
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Brave survivors of racism and inequality have shared the stories of their experiences. Their bravery has given us a chance to repent, a chance to live together in a better way.

December 16, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Litany

In response to the San Bernardino shooting and increasingly hostile anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric, the Office of Race Relations and Social Justice have collaborated on this litany and prayer.

December 15, 2015 1 0 comments
Resource, Video

View the video recording from the CRC delegation attending the Paris Climate Change Talks (COP 21). Get updated on how this group is bringing a Christian witness to this global event. 

December 10, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Devotional

Starting Nov. 30, World Renew and the CRC Office of Social Justice are sharing a daily devotional series for Advent 2015 called Displacement and Belonging. It's not too late to sign-up! 

November 30, 2015 0 0 comments
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Here’s the thing: while the image for justice in our culture is a set of scales, the image for justice in Scripture is a river (Amos 5:24). A broad, flowing, living, rolling, sustaining, beautiful river.

November 23, 2015 1 0 comments
Resource, Article

January 17 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday and the CRC Office of Social Justice is pleased to offer resources for your church to honor the day. 

November 19, 2015 0 0 comments
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In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, anti-refugee sentiment has greatly increased throughout the world. CRC Office of Social Justice offers ways to respond with love amidst fear. 

November 18, 2015 1 0 comments
Resource, Article

In a highly nuanced article, the British author Alistair Roberts touches on the need of the church to reach out to the weak and disadvantaged but also be cautions against kneejerk emotional judgments.

November 18, 2015 0 0 comments
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The CRC is blessed with immigrant pastors and members who stand strong and speak up for more welcoming attitudes. Read sermons from the finalists of the Immigration Preaching Challenge!

November 12, 2015 1 0 comments
Resource, Devotional

Starting November 30, World Renew and the CRC Office of Social Justice will share a daily devotional series for Advent 2015 called Displacement and Belonging. 

November 11, 2015 0 0 comments
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In a few weeks, the nations of the world will gather in Paris to try and reach a global agreement in response to the challenge of climate change. How do we, as Christians, engage in this process?

November 5, 2015 1 3 comments
Resource, Webinar Recording

In this interactive webinar, four panelists give their Top 5 Lists, from four different perspectives, for becoming more hospitable and loving in a diverse world.

November 5, 2015 1 0 comments
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These questions are a resource for people who want to question U.S. candidates for federal, state, and local office about their positions on issues that affect people with disabilities. 

October 30, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Article

Compassion for suffering, protection of vulnerable people, and celebration and affirmation of life are three reasons why I am pro-life and oppose assisted suicide.

October 13, 2015 2 5 comments
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Two weeks ago, I think there was a celebration in heaven. Even though Manhattan was awash in black SUVs, there seemed to be an awareness that something very hopeful was happening. 

October 12, 2015 3 3 comments
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Fear of the unknown and the grief that our child might not be “normal” gripped us. But through it all, we relied on God’s strength and grace to carry us through our fears and grief. 

October 6, 2015 2 0 comments
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Even though immigrants bring a wealth of cultural and economic growth to the U.S., mainstream culture frequently describes them as a burden. It's time to unlearn this thinking...

October 5, 2015 3 13 comments

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I think much progress has been made on the MDGs, although I differ as to what caused that progress to be made.  I could have personally established these goals for the world back in 2000 and then claimed success in achieving them when observing progress had been made.  Association doesn't mean causation.

The fact is, the world has been and is, on the whole, increasingly opening up to free (or freer) market economic policies.  This is the cause for MDG progress.

Take China for example.  Despite the government being a dictatorship, China has implemented policies of open market economic principles, both internally and internationally.  Those policies haven't been implemented and executed without problems, but the move away from China's government controls of the past (under Mao) has brought a level of economic prosperity that few predicted possible or likely in the Mao days.  And all of that prosperity works in favor of each and every United Nations MDG goal.

World poverty alleviation advocate, Bono (yes the singer with U2), began his advocacy career by meeting with high level government officials, urging them to fight worldwide policies alongside the United Nations with its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  After years and years of advocacy, Bono has figured out that what the world needs more of is not more government effort but more free market economic activity.  He has even publicly laughed about himself, saying who would have thought when he started his world-wide crusade that after this many years, he'd become a fan of free market capitalism and be asking governments to get out of the way.

So now, the UN sets more goals.  That's OK I suppose, but just so we don't become fooled about why so much progress was made on MDGs.  What I will celebrate is when whatever government of whatever country decides that open markets -- which really is nothing more or less than recognizing the truth contained in that old Kuyperian concept of "sphere sovereignty" -- is a key to all kinds of success.  If the UN then wants to later take the bow for the success, that's OK, so long as it doesn't get in the way of the progress being made, or of the measures being taken by governments who have figured out what it takes to make economic progress, and thereby progress on pretty much everything else.

Peter, 

There is so much joy and gratitude in your report, and I appreciate the spirit with which you wrote it. 

It is therefore with great reluctance that I further inquire into what this means.

Another great international business consultant, John Vandonk, once said that we report what we want to see, and what we see is not necessarily what truly is.

Without testing, I would hypothesize that reported attendance figures for any daily Vacation Bible School are approximately 20% higher then the actual attendance. We want it to be true. 

Could you offer a died in the wool cynic such as myself any reassurances that the numbers you cite are somewhat close to reality? Because if they are, this news deserves much greater publicity than a little blog tucked away on the CRCNA network website. 

On the other hand, if the numbers you cite were generated by the same models that predict the rising and lowering of the oceans, there may not be enough consensus about your numbers to start  the celebration. 

Peter, I believe, help my unbelief.

50 years ago humans were persons, corporations were businesses, and raw materials were assets to be consumed. These days corporations are persons and persons are raw materials to be consumed.  I knew the jig was up when personnel managers disappeared and personnel departments were renamed "human resource" departments.

Without checking the uncited Pew research, I do wonder how Pew would know.  Most of the unlawful immigrants I know personally) don't publicize that they here unlawfully.  But even if we assume, for the sake of the argument, that your uncited Pew reference is true, I don't understand the point.  Would it be that we should decrease the number of unlawful immigrants?  If not that, what?

To the broader point, I've already conceded that on the whole, from a macro perspective, immigrants as a whole probably benefit the US economy.  Still, from a micro perspective, especially unlawful immigration predominantly benefits the more wealthy class but burdens the middle and lower classes.

Nor have I denied that immigrants and all other people are image bearers of God, but that's not really a particularly helpful observation either.  They are image bearers of God even if they are live in their home countries of Honduras, or San Salvador, or Mexico, or China, etc.  Image bearers of God don't have to unlawfully come to or stay in the United States to be image bearers of God.

Again, my point, which seems to be missed, is that we have to be more nuanced about all of this than to just say that we should lobby government to regard all immigration, legal or illegal, to be a blessing to all and a burden to no one (which is, effectively, a call for an unrestricted immigration policy).  Again, we owe it to everyone involved to be more nuanced than that.

Yes! What a great read. 

Pew says the number of unauthorized immigrants in Oregon has "decreased" since 2009 by 20%. 

I think this article from the Acton institute has some great lines like, "Humans are assets, fashioned in the image of God with creative potential and unbounded relational capacity. All is gift, and we are all destined to be gift-givers in God’s grand economy of all things. We are made to build and innovate, share and collaborate, and immigrants of whatever skill set from whatever country or political system are born with that same creative capacity." 

And the author is generous in taking time to converse in the comments section. It is helpful read, imo.  

The myth that immigrants (including legal immigrants) are a burden to society, the economy, jobs, and the "American way of life", is THE root reason that the U.S. immigration system has not been reformed in 50 years--the myth of the burdensome immigrant is more powerful than the political will to reform the broken system.  

The bitter irony is that unauthorized immigrants, while being offered no options for legal status and while contributing over $80 million in Oregon state and local taxes and billions to Social Security, continue to receive most of the suffering and most of the blame. 

Christians are called to be a voice that stands with vulnerable immigrants burdened by American myths. That is what #blessingnotburden is all about. I shared the article from Acton. If anyone has research or opinions from trustworthy sources to the contrary I would be happy to read them and learn more.          

That's a fascinating analogy (kids as immigrants).  I'm willing to play with that.  So my client Jon is in his early thirties and married with two kids.  He started a roofing business some years back.  The more the unlawful immigration (I distinguish between lawful and unlawful even if you and this campaign refuse to), the more "black market" (and "white market") competition he has.  For Jon, unlawful immigration is a hardship.  If Jon was required to accept additional children because the government said he had to, the effect would in fact be the roughly the same -- hardship.  To be clear, all people are created in God's image, as are all children.  But people who come to the US in violation of US law and become a particular burden to particular segments of the US population (in this case, small businesses and lower skilled employees) were as much created in God's image in Honduras, or Mexico, or Nicaragua and they are if they come to the US.  

The irony in all of this is that a political campaign like this one, which advocates a simplistic message that lacks nuance, hurts the small, poorer people in the US (like my clients Jon and Andrew and others like them) and helps the big ones (like my client Larry and companies much bigger than that who are not my clients -- I mostly represent small businesses).  The reason is simple: uncontrolled, unlawful immigration from third world countries favor big businesses and higher skilled employees and disfavors small businesses and lower skilled employees.  As I said before, this is really the opposite of what OSJ says they advocate for.

You and OSJ are right that on the whole, when all the numbers are counted in a macro kind of way, immigration, probably including illegal immigration, is more a blessing than a burden.  But peoples' lives aren't lived at the macro level; they are lived at the micro level, in the real world as it is.  Why should the government ignore its own immigration laws so that the rich can get richer but the middle class and lower class are economically pinched?  And why should OSJ push a political campaign that supports that? 

I suspect my clients Jon and Andrew would be interested in your t-shirts, but only if you put the word "Legal" in front of the word "Immigrants."  My client Larry would be interested in the shirt without that added word, and maybe even prefer the word "Illegal" (illegal immigrants are easier to manipulate and abuse for bigger business and bigger agricultural operations because they are more vulnerable).

Why are you and OSJ favoring the wealthier class of Americans over the middle and poorer classes of Americans?  Micro justice for real people may be as much or even more important that macro economic growth for a nation and more wealth for the already wealthy.  Not?

No more hyperbolic than saying "kids are a blessing and not a burden". We all know that sometimes kids are and feel like a burden - a pain in th but even. That does not negate the truth of the assertion and it does not fit the definition of hyperbole. But if you insist Doug, I'll buy you a T-shirt that says "Immigrants are a Blessing - (but sometimes and in some places some of them can be a bit of a burden)" If you will post a picture of yourself wearing it?

I would suggest it is never the case that a phenomena as complex as legal and illegal immigration, in a nation as large as the US, with immigration numbers (legal and illegal) as great as they have been in the US of late, can be called all good or all bad (or all "blessing" or all "burden").  It will always be a mixed bag.

In contradiction to the claims made by this campaign, I personally know of people in my community, including my clients, who are substantially burdened by immigration, especially when the numbers of unlawful immigration increases as it has.  To put it simply, a high number of lower-skilled immigration increases the supply of low-skilled workers as well as small businesses who, whether with appropriate licenses or not, engage in certain kinds of lower skill work and small business efforts (e.g., roofing, painting, yard work, etc).  That reality effectively reduces  wages and the amount of available work for some workers and some small businesses.  And of course, this would be true not just where I live but anywhere there are high numbers of immigrants, especially when high level of immigration is unlawful.

The problem with declaring -- and then pushing in a political way as does this campaign -- a hyperbole (that unlawful immigration produces all upside (blessing) and no downside (burden)) is that lawmakers get caught up in the bumper sticker mantra and tend to legislate accordingly, which of course means they tend to simply ignore the problems unlawful immigration in fact creates.  That is, they ignore the lower-skilled work force and the small business that can get hit hard by the effect of high unlawful immigration numbers.

A better approach would be to simply avoid hyperbole in this sort of campaign.  Better yet, if avoiding the hyperbole proves too difficult, would be to allow intelligent CRC members to speak for themselves to their own political representatives, based on their own experience and fact-finding.  Above all, that approach respects the rights of CRC members to be part of the CRC church without surrendering their political voice to a proxy.

Congratulations to CRC staff who have put this campaign together. In order to have a good conversation it is important to be grounded in evidence. Immigrants are blessings and not burdens happens to be a true and significant statement in multiple spheres - economic, social, and faith among others. It is this reality - this insight - that ought to ground and inform the important policy discussions needed in the public square. Love it!

That is a helpful comment, I agree!

CRCers are invited to discuss the complexities of the issues. The OSJ would be happy to facilitate the Church Between Borders workshop at any congregation in the U.S. It receives outstanding feedback from all sides of the discussion everywhere it goes. (http://www2.crcna.org/pages/osj_churchbetweenborders.cfm

Many Christians already make their voices heard in national and local conversations about immigration, without the lead, and sometimes in ways contrary to, the way the CRC/OSJ would instruct.  The more pertinent question is whether OSJ should tell all CRCers what exactly they must think and express when they make their voices heard in these conversations. 

Wouldn't it be better to invite CRCers (and other Christians) to discuss the complexities of the issues involved instead of just tell them what they should think and what they should do?  Does this topic have to be a one-way conversation?  Of course, a one-way conversation isn't a conversation at all.  And do we have to reduce our perspective to one that is so black and white?

I am so grateful that the CRC is leading this campaign! It is time for Christians to make their voices heard in national and local conversations about immigration.

Thank you CRC and OSJ for this important and much needed reminder that immigrants bless my life and that as an immigrant I also bless the lives of those around me. It is both disheartening and frustrating when some people around me and part of mainstream culture either explicitly or indirectly refer to me as a burden and other me with their language and assumptions. So, I am glad that the church and others around me are counteracting that narrative with this positive message. Muchas gracias! 

While I do agree that the church has a responsibility to help our suffering Christian brothers and sisters from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Eritrea and other conflict zones, I don't think we should discriminate on the basis of religion or ethnic background when it comes to refugees. The Gospel requires us to help all who flee violent environments and experience immense suffering. Plus, we have the added opportunity of not only helping but also witnessing to God's love to those who do not know Jesus. So I would encourage the church to open its doors to all refugees, Christian, Muslim, Yazidi, etc.

I was touched by this article.  Thank you to those who spend their time helping people through such a gut wrenching decision.  I appreciate the comments about what it means to her to be pro-life. 

Thank you for pointing out the sin of pride so many of us Christian Reformers suffer from.  Can you imagine what Jesus would say when pride/reputation trumps the life of one of His kids.  I think he would respond as He so often did to the Pharisee's.  So glad we all have something called Grace available to us.  May God have mercy on us all.

 

Bob Brasser

Last Fall, the Business Department at Calvin College and the Acton Institute hosted the Symposium on Common Grace in Business, and the proceedings have just been published in the Journal of Markets and Morality:  http://www.marketsandmorality.com/index.php/mandm/issue/view/37

Two of those articles may be particularly relevant:

This one is on pricing: http://www.marketsandmorality.com/index.php/mandm/article/view/1060

This one is on debt and risk: http://www.marketsandmorality.com/index.php/mandm/article/view/1058

 

For more reading on Christian business ethics, I would recommend the following.  I use the first two in my classes at Calvin, and the first one is thoroughly Reformed.  The second one delves into a number of specific business ethics problems, and the third one is a careful exegesis of the Gospel of Luke as it pertains to Jesus's teachings on the management of the household (which at the time was a center of economic production as well as consumption).

Van Duzer, J. 2010. Why business matters to God (and what still needs to be fixed). Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Hill, A. 2008. Just business: Christian ethics for the marketplace. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic.

Dyck, B. 2013. Management and the Gospel: Luke's radical message for the first and twenty-first centuries. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

 

As for the "how" of taking action on ethical challenges in business, my article in the abovementioned issue of JM&M talks about that:

http://www.marketsandmorality.com/index.php/mandm/article/view/1056

I also recommend the following book, which contains another framework that I use in my class at Calvin.  It's written from a secular perspective, but it provides useful guidance for acting on one's convictions in a secular organization:

Gentile, M. C. 2010. Giving voice to values: How to speak your mind when you know what's right. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. 

 

Finally, for businesspeople who want to organize for change, I recommend a secular organization called Net Impact.  https://netimpact.org/   For Christian businesspeople who want to connect with each other and learn how to live out their faith at work, I recommend the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York. http://www.faithandwork.com/   Both of the above have annual conferences, and both are holding theirs this year November 5-7, in Seattle and NYC, respectively.

Thanks for starting this conversation, Larry! I think it's a really important one. In my town (Hamilton, Ontario), an organization called Christians Against Poverty is working (indirectly) against loan sharks by providing debt counseling that helps people get out of debt. I would love to see more discussion around work like this and the Faith for Just Lending coalition, because this is an issue that affects so many of our neighbours, so the church should care. The biblical prophets speak so clearly against predatory lending practices. If any of you would like to expand this conversation by writing a post for Do Justice (a blog of the Office of Social Justice and the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue), I'd be happy to publish it. (I'm the blog's editor.) 

Thank you Kent.  I am greatly encouraged by your comment.  It also makes me aware of your books for which I am grateful.  It seems that the church has a great deal of teaching to do on this topic, advocating for it  in politics and other public arenas.  Do we have Christian attorneys dealing with this? 

There is a great deal of academic work in this field, and most MBA programs have a course in Business Ethics.  But knowing and doing have long been separate items.  I too published a book in Christian Ethics (The Moral Disciple, Eerdmans) and one related to global poverty (Less than $2.00 a Day, Eerdmans).  The problem is not a lack of reflection on the topic, but a lack of action.  It could perhaps be promoted within the church in classes, sermons, and activities.  The big foe, however, is economic liberalism, which holds that if a transaction is legal, it is OK, as long as it follows the rules.  That certainly needs to be challenged.  Let's keep working at it.

The Center for Public Justice is also part of the Faith for Just Lending coalition. See my post at http://network.crcna.org/social-justice/predatory-lending-survey for a survey they are conducting through July 31.

Thanks Kris, this is a helpful list!

Thanks Gwyneth! What did you think of the Challenge, now that it's over? 

I am looking forward to being connected with this initiative! 

Thanks for sharing this Kris! I think that event was a positive example of collaboration among organizations and neighbors to raise awareness about an important justice issue in the U.S. today. Interestingly, on the topic of immigration justice, Tim Keller makes a very compelling case from Scripture-- in Generous Justice--that how we welcome, treat, care for and include the immigrant/stranger/alien (as one of the groups in what he refers to as the "quartet of the vulnerable") is an indicator as well as a demonstration of our relationship with and love for God.  

posted in: What About Justice?

Thanks for the good reminder! I'm a deacon at my church and a small group that I am in showed a film called "The Stranger," about immigration, to a group of nearly 200 in the Holland, MI area. The response was very positive and it was a great collaborative effort with neighborhood participants and help from other organizations like the OSJ and the Methodist Church organization Justice For our Neighbors. 

posted in: What About Justice?

Thanks for sharing this Abigail. I'm grateful for the support that OSJ and World Renew will be providing and hope many deacons and diaconates will take advantage of these resources.

posted in: What About Justice?

Thanks for this important post, Jack! The Office of Social Justice has also created a new group study called Live Justly, created in partnership with Micah Challenge U.S., that will be available around September. This could also be a great resource for a deacons' Bible study or another small group!

Plus, you can receive the Live Justly curriculum for free by signing up for World Renew's Deacon's Newsletter (information regarding signing up will be going out soon). 

posted in: What About Justice?

How I wish that you would join us in a prayer meeting which we have every thiird Thursday of the month at the Omega House on Fulton street Grand Rapids. Many of the things you talk about are true, But just talking does not get the job done. We must practice what we preach It is Ora et labora. Our group comes together for prayer support . Our side walk counselors are reaching out to those who come for abortion. We are ready and have done so several times to give financial and material help to those who need it. Our Church family is supporting us in this ministry. Garden of Hope has a minisytry for post abortion ladies. Yes, we must pray and work

Matthew, it sounds like to me, that maybe you are saying that there are two kinds of knowledge:  one derived from scripture (what God tells us), and one derived from nature or what we see (secular).    This is one way of understanding a difference.  Craig is hinting at a problem with that in the sense that secular knowledge comes from what God created.  Secular knowledge is based on what we see of God's creation, God's natural laws working. 

So what is the relationship to morality, eschatology and purpose, you ask?   One relationship is that they are directly connected, not disjointed.  The laws that God gave us in scripture are related to the creation that He made.  The creation that He made reveals also who He is and what He is like, but often we don't understand this very well unless we know scripture.  The Bible says His word is all connected.  The word that spoke creation into being, is the word of God, and is also the son of God, who is the Word made flesh. 

A secular person will try to separate the secular from God, but as Christians, we know it all belongs to Him.  We can also see how God's moral laws for us make sense from an empirical perspective, even thought that is not our primary purpose for obedience to God.  Scripture provides with a lens and perspective on how to see the laws of nature.... for example how does predation fit in, or how does murder or adultery fit in to nature.... is it natural or unnatural and why?   Our value judgements color how we look at empirical evidence;  the empirical evidence is what we see, but does not by itself determine whether what we see is good or bad. 

In some cases, it is even difficult to determine meaning of empirical evidence without a value framework, or without a world and life view.   Is monogamy good or bad... is pornography acceptible or not.... are bribes another form of taxes.... should parents or government raise children.... is it okay if some species become extinct....  does it matter if poor people starve...   etc.   Usually world and life views even shape the collection of evidence, the way "secular" news is presented, and the interpretation or investigation of empirical evidence.   EG.  it is true that both the inquistion and Stalin and Hitler killed many people, but which one is more significant to you, and why? 

How do you interpret other phenomena for example.  Empirically we know that there were giant camels and mastodons and other mammals and large trees in the high artic and the Yukon, some frozen, and some fossilized;  we know that there were dragonflies with four foot wingspans and we know that there are many seashells on the tops of mountains.  What we interpret is how they got there, and it makes sense for people to derive that interpretation within the context of  their world and life view. 

Maybe this gets a little closer to answering your question? 

There is a big difference between science being compatible with the bible and God teaching man about the natural world. Hence my term, 'secular knowledge'. That is the discintction I am drawing, and to understand what I mean by secular knowledge, plese stick to this idea.

 

For example, suppose God didn't just describe the world in genesis, but also black holes, quasars, and so on. Then I would see your point. There are things God could describe that we will never know about since he was there from the begining. Anyway, my point is about the stuff of the natural world that God does not describe. Whether or not this is derivable or consistent with the bible is a seperate matter. Basically, you haven't offered a direction of where we should go with 'secular' knowledge.

 

I certainly am able to answer everything that you are talking about, partly because I'm not getting what your main idea is.  I do have one question and one answer though.

My question is what do you mean by secular knowledge?  I'm afraid that you are forming a false dichotomy.  Is there knowledge that is secular and knowledge that is unsecular?  All knowledge comes from God.

To answer your last question we have to go back to Genesis.  God created us with perfect vision.  It was our sin that brought about all these physical problems.  By God's grace we are able to improve our vision through glasses, surgery, etc.  God could have left us with the results of our sin and never helped us.  Instead, He graciously gives us help.

I know I haven't hit the meat of your discussion.  Hopefully others can.

Well said, Bert.  It reminds us of how all the commandments are so closely connected. 

Marie, I would suggest that you try this for war, environmental damage, and poverty and see what happens.  I could think of a couple of differences, however, depending on motive, knowledge, and responsibility.   For example, war might be defensive to protect the innocent;  how would that compare to agressive war to indulge imperialism?  Or environmental damage from ignorance or to save lives, vs deliberate destruction with no purpose?   Or poverty caused by others, vs poverty caused by sloth and sluggardly behaviour (as Proverbs mentions).  Abortion is an action;  war is an action;  poverty is a result of actions; environmental damage is a result of actions.  Hard to compare exactly. 

Interesting. Bert, what do you think this would look like for war? Or for environmental damage? Or poverty?

Maybe John K, the reason the issue is not raised, is that there is no prohibition against caring for needy children.  Maybe the issue is not raised because at least in Canada, health care is already available to all, including the children of single mothers.  In addition, many pro-life people do not feel hindered in fostering, adopting, etc.  In our small church of less than 100 souls, we have 14 adopted children, and support a mission project in Kenya which builds a school for orphans.  Many pro-life people have set up homes or assistance for single mothers-to-be.  Families usually support single teen moms within their family;  while this sometimes sends mixed messages about appropriateness of "being" a single mother, it also confirms the value of unborn  new life. 

 

Doug, I ran across this comment thread recently and found something on the OSJ's website that I thought might be helpful in answering your original question: 

 

What do you mean by the term "social justice"?  Isn’t the name of the OSJ controversial?

The term “social justice” emerges out of Scripture, and was actually originally coined by the church: a Jesuit monk based the phrase on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. Contrary to some misconceptions, “social justice” is a concept deeply rooted in the historic, Biblically orthodox traditions of the Christian faith.

When we talk about “social justice” in a Reformed context, we are referring to God’s original intention for human society: a world where basic needs are provided for in love, where people flourish, and where shalom reigns in the Kingdom of God. This vision of shalom is a vision of “the way things ought to be,” or the way God created the world to be before sin. As Cornelius Plantinga writes, “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight… the webbing-together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” 

Social justice refers to the pursuit of shalom in human, social relationships. There are many types of justice (retributive, restorative, etc.). The significance of social justice is that it references the pursuit of shalom — righteousness, harmony, and “the way things ought to be” — specifically in our human interactions and societal structures. The CRCNA rightly emphasizes the pursuit of God’s shalom in all areas. However, the choice of the specific term in the name for the OSJ acknowledges the mandate of the OSJ, which focuses the office on addressing societal structures and injustices which hinder human flourishing.

One final note of clarification: technically, the full name is the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJHA). However, because the activities of the office extend beyond issues related just to hunger and poverty, the shortened term is more commonly used.

 

The FAQ page is pretty useful. If you're interested, here's the link: http://www.crcna.org/pages/osj_faqs.cfm

posted in: Political Diversity

Yes, that's the one  =)...

Wendy: 'No' to both your questions.  What I am suggesting is that if our society decides to use a clumsy tool like government to accomplish a nuance-required task like 'helping the poor,' it has chosen an ill-suited tool to do the job.  Result: "unfair laws" will seem to be everywhere.

I'm also suggesting that the solution to the problem is for society to change its decision about how it will go about "helping the poor'.  Specifically for Christians (or non-Christians for that matter), I would suggest they can best help the poor by deciding how they, with others, might directly help the poor and to cast their political votes and voice in a way that would cause government to regard 'helping the poor' to be less within its sphere of concern and more the task (within the sphere of concern) of individuals and private institutions (voluntary orgnizations).

At present, the denominational perspective, judging from its actions via OSJ and other facets of the denominational bureaucracy, is that both Christians and the institutional church itself should persistently urge government to become more and more involved in the task of caring for the poor, rather than less.  Some may believe that perpetually increasingly government's role in caring for the poor will result in increased care for the poor (e.g., Sojourners/Jim Wallis, CRC/OSJ).  I think that's counter-productive, accomplishing little more than creating dependency life-styles and breaking/eliminating relationships that should exist among individuals in communities (you don't need to have a relationship with anyone around you if you can depend on the anonymous hand of government to bail you out whenever you need it).

Quite contrary to the Accra Confession and WCRC (which believe a market-driven economic perspective is the worship of Mammon), I believe we worship Mammon when we expect and urge government to right all wrongs, including the supposed wrong of "having poor" within a political society.

I had actually considered attenting that one, I think - in Seattle? http://www.chalmers.org/work/hwh-schedule

I ended up going to their conference in Atlanta instead, as it was two days and more geared towards nonprofit organizations that practice those principles and those involved in philanthropy.

Oh, I definitely agree that government is not the best tool to help the poor! However, are you saying that there are no unfair laws? Or that Christians should not attempt to change any unjust systems? 

I'd better bite on your book suggestion, since I throw my suggestions out left and right ; )... a few days ago I heard via radio advertisement about a seminar somewhere in the area based on this book... maybe I'd better see if I can hunt that down too!!

Wendy: I think much of what we might see as "unfair" in government policies (your example of a single mom who gets a 50 cent raise and loses all child car benefits) comes from the underlying choice our society has made to predominantly use a poor tool, that being government, to "deal with" such matters.

Government is inherently (can't be fixed) unable to micromanage things like "care for the poor" without creating a great number of what everyone would characterize as absurd results (e.g., 50 cents an hour eliminates child care benefits).  Why? 

First, the process is clumsy (recall here the old cliche about the two things you don't want to watch made: sausage and laws).  Few laws are made that don't suffer from the "clumsiness" created by political compromise (and that can never be eliminated) and political 'deception' (what Eric refers to: politicians acting like they are interested in taking care of the poor but their first and second rules are to get elected and then re-elected).

Second, government is just too big of a 'tool' for the job.  Government can be good (well, sort of good) at "big (macro) things," but the smaller and minutely nuanced (micro) a thing is, the more incompetent government is at dealing with it.  People are "small" and really, really "nuanced."  So government's one-size-fits-all rules (doing otherwise would fill the world with written rules) create a bad fit, sometimes for almost everyone.  In my law practice, one place I encounter this reality is in "probate."  Oregon and all other states have rules for probate, whether a deceased's estate/will is very, very simple or very, very complex.  Which means simple estates/wills (example: $100,000 in CD's and 'all goes equally to my three children') have to go through a very complex and costly process, even doing so makes no sense at all (it might make sense for complex estates/wills, but ...).  The solution is to take the government out of the picture, whether by using tenancies with rights of survivorship or a living trust or something else.  Much time and many dollars are saved by eliminating government's one-size-fits-all rules.

Third, government must (as government) be evenhanded with its citizens (treat people the same), which very often means that it may not consider exceptional circumstances or do something different because certain circumstances cause absurdities of result.  Again, too big -- and inflexible -- of a tool for the job.

Interestingly, there was an article in my local paper this morning -- at: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20120525/NEWS/305250023/The-key-...|topnews|text|Home -- about a non-government organization that helps helping families who need it figure out how to save money, develop good financial habits, and then gives them a charitable hand.  These kinds of organizations are smaller than government, and so can be more much more nuanced than government as they deal with people's lives.  And they aren't required to "treat everyone and everything the same).  Also, the folks involved in these kinds of organizations, as a whole, are more appropriately motivated.  They aren't looking to get re-elected, don't need the limelight.

I would think that the preaching CRC members hear on Sunday would, among other things, encourage them to be part of efforts like the one cited in my newspaper this morning, and/or to create those efforts if they aren't there.  To some extent, I would think local churches would also directly administer "mercy."  But even more, I would think CRCers, because of what their church teaches, preaches, and encourages, would be engaged in these kinds of efforts.  And frankly, I do see that from CRCers.  Not all CRCers of course -- everyone has their gifts -- but I actually see a goodly amount of it.

I'm afraid I am more cynical regarding both Republicans and Democrats, at least as political institutions, though I will agree that both individuals and structures are distorted by the fall.

As a recent biography of Lyndon Johnson (as well as some revisionist histories recently published concerning the New Deal) makes clear, the guiding principle underlying the design of our current welfare state in the U.S. has been to secure various voting blocs for the Democrat Party - to create incentives towards specific voting patterns.  It is not designed to actually help the poor and vulnerable.  That is primarily a marketing strategy to secure its acceptance by the public and so when the poor and vulnerable are aided, at least on occasion, it is little more than a politically useful byproduct, not the primary objective.

The results indicate that it has been extremely successful in attaining its design purpose, but with disastrous consequences for poor, vulnerable, and those on the margins.  Nearly 70% of Black babies are born to single mothers and the Black family has been all but destroyed over the last 50 years.  Poverty and living off government transfer payments have created a near-permanent underclass in most of our urban centers.  The public education system is in shambles.  Tremendous barriers are in place to those who would escape this trap of dependency and effective slavery to the government that feeds them.  Far too many find freedom and belonging only within the context of criminal activity - activity that often ends in early deaths or lengthy prison sentences.  But they sure do vote for Democrats.

This does not mean that Republicans would do better.  They, after all, also want secure voting blocs and their efforts to counter this are not - as a party - designed to save the poor, either.  Their proposals are designed to win elections.  The manifest failure of the current system to attain its advertised ends (caring for the poor) is giving them an opening, but we should not be blind to their ultimate goal - secure political power.  True, individuals (Republicans and Democrats) are sincere in their efforts to care for the poor and vulnerable, but the party structures are there to win elections and they will seek to influence other individuals, structures, and systems towards that end more than any other.

"Put not your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save...Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God...He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but frustrates the ways of the wicked." (Ps. 146:3,5,7-9)

It's high time we all remembered that.  In all of these questions and the answers we think we've found, above all else, we need to stop putting our faith in government and return to the Lord.  The idolatry of the State must end.

Might I suggest the book When Helping Hurts? I think it does an excellent job of showing how poverty is caused by broken relationships--with God, with self, with others, and the environment. (I'll be posting a blog about it next week in the Global Mission Network).

I was at a workshop with the Chalmers Center last weekend, and they made a point that made sense to me - Democrats tend to think that systems are broken, and forget that people can be broken; Republicans tend to think that people are broken, and forget that systems can be broken. According to the Fall, it's ALL broken. 

Somehow we tend to get trapped into either/or thinking.

I won't pretend to know all the ins and outs of governmental policies. Whenever I take the time to read an actual bill I find myself agreeing with some parts and disagreeing with others. However, there are some things that stand out as very unfair. Such as, when a single mom struggling to get back into the workforce gets a 50 cent an hour raise and loses all of her child care benefits. What incentive is that to work? And when you read the lists of things that are allowed on WIC, or whatever it's called these days, it's easy to see which lobbyists had their hand in coming up with what poor people should eat. A friend of mine has foster children in her care and she was telling me that she isn't allowed to buy anything organic, even when the organic Meijer brand of peanut butter, made from actual peanuts, is actually cheaper than the generic brand of "peanut butter."

Even with all that's wrong with policies, and I do think when things are clearly injust that we need to speak out, one can't expect policy alone to fix poverty. That's where it goes back to the church's responsibility.

So how do we get back to our mission as a church to do the work (Micah 6:8)  ourselves primarily, instead of through government... because it seems some people think the answer is doing it primarily through government, and maybe that's what's necessary until we (believers) start fulfilling our mandate better...

I'm just re-reading the Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson... wow, what an incredible story of a Spirit led ministry... I encourage everyone to read that book too, read it again if necessary!  it's crazy how God started the street ministry of "teen challenge"   In one way, teen challenge started by David unintentionally almost getting arrested... and then getting his picture during that moment put in the NY times...  that did not sit well with his parishioners, but it is amazing how God used that incident to help him connect with the gangs in NY, even though David didn't even realize that at the time, and thought he had made a terrible mistake, because he thought God had "told him" to go to NY, and it seemed he couldn't have been more wrong...  and that's just one out of many things God did in beyond our imagination ways, through Holy Spirit guidance... and then he went back because God told him too... I would have said "no way, don't you remember what happened last time i was there?"  all i can think is that the Holy Spirit was so compelling, that he had to go again, even though it made no sense to him.  every couple of years, i re-read that book, because the testimonies of the Spirit's leading in it just boggles my mind.

 one of the things that was interesting to me in the "Daring to live on the edge" was an appendix by Don Johnson (probably not the Miami Vice Don Johnson) about the premise of the policies for helping the poor and spreading the wealth...  The premise is that there is limited wealth... he says that's not true...  wealth can be created through ideas... ie songs, books,  sand =>silicon for computer chips - who would have thought something made out of sand would be such a commodity...  as well as through growing things, ie food, trees, plants, etc.   gov't's role is to protect the opportunities to create wealth through hopefully God given ideas that are meant to serve others...  the enemy's "ideas" steal from people, he steals, kills, destroys and deceives- ie human trafficking, pornography, drugs, etc... When the poor turn to God for help, He will provide their needs according to His riches in glory...  He will help them, often through believers, to take advantage of some opportunity, or who knows what... anyway, I thought this was interesting and insightful as I hadn't thought about it from the angle of creating wealth...

another interesting insight from the book, was on the enemy's influence in the economy... see Ezekiel 28:16  "through your (lucifer dba king of tyre) wide spread trade"... this passage (v 11-19) has a double meaning (and possibly v1-10 as well), referring both to the king of Tyre and to satan... it's an interesting glimpse into the time before the fall of man (not sure if the reformed perspective supports the double meaning as i don't recall ever hearing a sermon on this, but read it yourself and see what the Holy Spirit highlights to you)...

ok, praying for some leading and prompting by the Spirit to help us move forward in our mission as a Church to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God...

thanks John...  yes, I confess that article made me cranky... 

I'd like to cite another example that demonstrates the incredible difficulty involved when government decides it will be society's force in "helping the poor," and when we (CRCNA) decide we will tell government what it should do.

In the 1990's, both political parties (though Democrats perhaps more) concluded that the poor, as well as society in general, would be better off if "everyone owned their own home."  Of course, it would take a lot of money to make that happen, and so Congress created Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, which in turn took federal dollars (our taxes) and offered to buy any loan that banks or other loan brokers (who sprung up like grass blades in an Oregon spring) made which met "conforming criteria."

A few problems already: (1) Conforming criteria were (necessarily) one size fits all, which meant that some who shouldn't get loans did, and some who should have couldn't.  (2) The federal dollars artificially pushed interest rates way down (intended by congress to force something that otherwise wouldn't happen), which meant (although not intended by congress but they aren't God, their claims notwithstanding) that real property values soared in an artificial way.  (3)  We were headed for a bubble and a crash (exactly when unknown).

And as the years went by, it got even worse.  Congress was not satisfied with the numbers of new homeowners, and so they took it a couple of steps further.  Borrowers didn't have to say what their income was and banks/lenders didn't have to check.  Indeed, borrowers and even their brokers just started to lie on applications to get loans (no one cared, their somewhat rightfully said).  Wall Street brokers, looking for ways to make money off of these (sup-prime) mortgages started to bundle them and sell them.  Large corporations (like AIG) started offering "insurance" (credit default swaps) to assuage the fears of other companies that bought these bundles of mortgages.  In short, a pretty big financial structure was being built based on then existing economic realities, everyone assuming that government would keep the whole artificially created system from falling on its face.  After all, Congress wanted everyone to own a house?  -- including the poor who couldn't afford it?? --because that was good and right and just??

So if Paul Ryan had introduced a bill in 2005 that would have called for a managed cut-back (even elimination) of this federally propped up facade, the passage of which would have meant that some/many/most of the poor would no longer be able to buy their homes, the outcry would have been absolutely huge.  Not only from the usual "advocates for the poor," but from realtors, AIG, bankers, Lehman Brothers, independent brokers, home owners (their values would stop climing)--literally everyone who had adjusted this new economic real estate reality.  And so such a bill would have never seen the light of congressional day, because bumper sticker styled objections and lobbying, sound-bites on the news, and claims that the government was abandoning society's more vulnerable would have won the political day.

How nice that every now and then we have a good seat from which to clearly see retrospectly.  The result of these supposedly benevolent government housing policies, pushed and cheered on by advocates for the poor and politicians who liked getting the votes and campaign cash associated therewith, has been nothing less than a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose result (well OK, China did come out a winner in all of this I suppose).

All of which is just another illustration of why the CRCNA should not become another low/no-competency, "me too" cheerleader for political causes that so many left-of-center, so-called "advocates for the poor" have become. 

The CRCNA can do better, by focusing on being a church, loving mercy, and dealing directly with those around us instead of urging government to do work we should be doing ourselves.  We need to rethink and regroup, including for the sake of the poor who live among us.  If we don't, the poor have only the government to depend on, and history teaches us (or should?) what that can mean.  People in churches almost always act out of true benevolent motivations.  Can the same be said about those who run for and are elected to congress?  If not, why are we trying to do our work through them?

Bev, great points.   The difference between proof texting, and not proof texting, is often in the number and length of verses used to prove the point by the text.  But sometimes those who accuse others of "proof texting" are merely looking for a way to diminish authority of scripture and supplant it with their own human "wisdom".   I do believe that Solomon tried that when he tried to satisfy his foreign wives rather than please God.  Don't apologize for your use of scripture.  :) 

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