Overtures, Politics, & Justice

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Overtures 13 and 14 will be considered by Synod this year. Both overtures aim to limit the amount of political activism carried out by CRC employees using CRC resources, and refocus denominational activities on ecclesiastical issues.

One criticism of these overtures is that approving them would limit the institutional church's ability to weigh in on matters of social justice that it should weigh in on. Indeed there are times when the CRC ought not be silent, and sometimes it involves issues that spill over into politics. Because, let's be honest, the political world is steadily creeping into every area of our lives.

So, is it possible for Synod to adopt these overtures AND still leave room for denominational staff to speak truth to power on important justice issues of our day?

Yes! It is!

CRC staff should be permitted to use denominational resources to advocate for (or against) specific public policies and political actions if at least one of the following 3 criteria is met:

1) The policy or action is specifically addressed by Scripture.

An example of this would be policy concerning abortion and euthanasia, because Scripture specifically states that all murder is wrong. This is a command that has been objectively clear in both Scripture and church teaching for thousands of years. Therefore, any action aimed at stopping murder and protecting life would be something the institutional church could support. The word "specifically" is critically-important in this criterion, as it prevents subjective interpretations of general Scriptural principles, whereby true believers may in good conscience disagree on preferred public policy ideas. Only if the course of action is specifically dealt with by Scripture should CRC employees take up the issue.

2) The policy or action is specifically addressed in our Three Reformed Standards (Confessions).

Take, for example, political activism dealing with pornography. Scripture itself does not specifically address the issue, but the Heidelberg Catechism does (see Lord's Day 41). Again, requiring a specific mandate from our confessions as a prerequisite to political activism will promote unity among believers. Once again, CRC employees should be prohibited from applying subjective interpretations of broad principles. Only when action is clearly and objectively supported by our confessions should they take action.

3) The policy or action deals directly with the church as an entity or institution.

If the state attempts to impose an income tax on churches, or is considering legislation requiring churches to provide "equal access" for gay ceremonies or other activities that contradict Scripture, the institutional church must be free to participate in the political process, even if the action is not specifically commanded by Scripture or our confessions. This is a common-sense protection of the institutional church's sphere of sovereignty, against government encroachment.  It's an area of growing and critical importance as governments usurp more and more power.

If we want to maintain & promote the unity of believers, if we want to avoid binding the consciences of our bothers & sisters on debatable matters, if we want to project a powerful voice of Scriptural justice into our communities, we must let our denomination’s political involvement be informed by these 3 criteria. The best way to do justice is to follow Scripture (rather than societal fads) and pursue actual justice (not subjective political preferences).

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Dan,

Did you mean "ecclesiastical" instead of "ecumenical"?

Yes! Holy cow, thank you. You know me...I'm such an ecumenical guy I can't help but confuse the two words.

Well said.

Community Builder

I appreciate the article and I do share some of the same concerns about how much or what type of issues our denominational agencies or denomination as a whole have to speak about.

However, to discern what is appropriate is difficult. Using your argument that Scripture is to provide the rubric by which we determine what issues are addressed, then one could say that many of the things that our agencies speak about are guided by scripture--especially the several times where God's people are commanded to care for the "orphan, the widow, and the stranger or sojourner within our gates."  So, that said, I agree that scripture should be the guide, but I also sense that if what is said can be attributed to scripture, the next level of our response will be determined by how what is said fits or conflicts with our political leanings. This will influence our reaction and response to what our agencies say.

This is where the issue becomes difficult. It seems that it will be difficult do find a happy, "just right," middle ground. It seems that this issue lends itself to one of two paths: The OSJ continues to speak on a number of issues, some of which our members will disagree with because of political reasons. Or, maybe they will agree on scriptural principle, but will disagree on the solution suggested. The other route is to go the route of more conservative churches in the Reformed tradition and say nothing as a denomination in regards to the specific issues that affect our country and world.

That said, thanks for the discussion, and I am interested in hearing the response of others.

Hi Kris. I'm glad to see someone from OSJ participating in the conversation.  You're always welcome to give input!

Would you say that OSJ's positions on the Farm Bill, DACA, and the Paris Climate Agreement are the only morally-appropriate positions that could be taken by sincere believers of the Reformed persuasion?

 

This doesn’t really work. It would not allow them to respond to apartheid, slavery, racism, colonialism, or “first us” nationalism — any of the societal or political issues that have arisen since the closing of the Scriptural canon or the writing of the Three Forms of Unity. Seeking justice in the current day isn’t just about criticizing problems that existed only centuries ago, but also those that — challenging as they may be, given contemporary Christians’ adoption of many societal or political attitudes — are problems NOW. That is dicey stuff, for sure — and many contemporary CRC folks might find it upsetting ... but isn’t challenging false concepts something we need to do for each other? For myself, I’m glad for and indebted to what the OSJ and CPG do. The overtures you defend with this would hamper them from serving us all well by addressing many of the issues we face today. 

Did you actually try to understand what is being asked. The denomination, through it's executives and agencies, could address racism and apartheid and everything else on your list. What they could not do is lobby for or against particular laws. Doing so involves analysis of all the detail that goes into crafting what are inevitably compromise bills, often running hundreds of pages long. This exceeds their competence. It also leads the denomination into the swamp of partisanship and thereby damages the unity of the church.

By all means, decry racism and injustice and sin in its many forms. But don't have the denomination or one of its agencies tell the world that Christians support the Senate farm bill and oppose the House farm bill, which actually happened about two years ago.

Dan, could you elaborate on "ecclesiastical issues"? 

Great question, Jenny. Ecclesiastical issues are those issues that fall objectively within the sphere of church authority and the core doctrines of the Christian church. Thus, a country's immigration policy is not an ecclesiastical issue. But helping refugees and immigrants get connected to a local body of believers IS an ecclesiastical issue.

Thank you Dan.  

The church wants to move away from political activism? Focus on ecclesiastical issues?  

Is this really the direction the church should be considering at this time?

 

The answers to those questions depend on how you define those terms.

If we ask clearer questions, perhaps we can arrive at clearer answers...

Should individual Christians get involved in politics, and allow Scripture to guide and inform their personal political actions?  Yes!  If you believe there is Biblical support for the Senate Farm Bill or the Paris Climate Agreement, by all means call your Senators and tell them so!

Should CRC pastors and local churches get involved in political activity, as their local members see fit (once again, informed by Scripture)?  Of course!  If you want to get organized at the local church level to install solar panels, or join a march in favor of the Dream Act...go for it!

Should the CRC as a denomination (through The Banner, social media, and denominational office activities) look for ways to speak Biblical truth about social and moral issues, and foster discussion of socio-political issues from ALL sides that are represented in the CRC?  Yes again! The Banner can publish articles supporting respect for and value of all human life.  OSJ can share resources to help all of us welcome immigrants and share the love of Jesus with strangers.

Should denominational employees have the freedom to speak for or against specific political positions, as long as there is a clear SCRIPTURAL mandate on that specific action?  I say "yes."  Some would say "no," and I respect their opinion.

Should denominational employees have the authority to speak on behalf of the CRC, based on their own subjective political preferences, and use denominational resources to call on all members of the CRC to support the employees' preferred piece of legislation, even though sincere Christians can have room for disagreement on that issue?

It is that final question that we are talking about...

Thank you Dan. I was getting lost in previous comments.  Your response is clear and hopefully will encourage others to participate in the discussion.  

Could you tell me what is OSJ? I am familiar with CPJ.

I would say that no, "denominational employees should not have the authority to speak on the behalf of the CRC based on THEIR OWN SUBJECTIVE political preference including not using denominational resources".

But denominational employees should be encouraged to speak on behalf of the CRC including using denominational resources on issues that the CRC has majority agreement or can work out a majority agreement.

Maybe start with an issue that is not too emotionally charged. Homelessness?

I would encourage you to not to infer that my questions were not clear. Simplistic yes. Unless you prefer this to be an intellectual discussion and not include the common man.

Thank you for starting this discussion. 

Community Builder

The article by Clayton Carlson in the May issue of the Banner is a clear indication of how the church ought NOT to be involved. 

The definition of the role of the church is interesting.  The article is happy that Syria, a most corrupt and totalitarian regime has signed on with the Paris Climate accord. And by contrast the USA (with a democratically elected government) has "vowed to leave the agreement"!  A comment like “churches need to educate members and function as examples of ecological stewardship” is not a role I would give to churches.  Does the writer really think that those of our church members charged with looking after our properties (just to narrow the discussion) are not up to the task?  And need to be provided with resources from the church (OSJ) to correct this?

We should give the same economic role to the folks who work for OSJ and the Centre for Public Dialogue as we do to missionaries in foreign countries. If you can find financial support for 90% of your salaries directly from churches you are welcome to carry on. 

The CRCNA (based on overture 18) is on track to loose some 8,000 members per year. IMHO this is a far more serious (ecclesiastical) problem to tackle than climate change (scientific and economic) problem.

Community Builder

Dan

You have expressed my sentiments exactly.  We should not define ecclessiastical so that it excludes "political" expreession on clearly stated Scriptural or confessional topics.  I pray that synod will keep the wisdom of your comment s in mind.