The English term narrative comes from the Latin narrativus and means “telling a story.” Most dictionaries define the term as a form of a story or representing a story or relating to the process of telling a story. It is also to account for events or experiences, whether real or fictitious. A narrative involves characters and storylines, the roles of the characters in the story, as well as the sequence of events or actions.
Now if you were asked, what is the CRC narrative? How would you respond?
For someone who is not part of the CRC circle, and by this I mean someone who does not have a Dutch background or their ancestors are not of European descent and has no connections within the circle, clearly the person can answer this question. What is interesting is that those who do belong to the circle do not always see, or know, or express their narrative. So how does this apply to the context of ethnic diversity?
When synod approved the SCORR formation (that now we know as the Office of Race Relations), the denomination was seeking to be a culturally and ethnically diverse entity. From that period until today, the denomination has made great strides and considerable progress in the process toward ethnic and cultural diversity. However the road that remains to be traveled is still quite long.
When you read the CRCNA homepage, it displays five main statements under the header "This is what we’re about." However, we cannot define it as an ethnically and culturally diverse denomination. Why is that?
It’s here where we begin to use the term narrative. Since its inception in 1857, the CRC was organized as Hollandsche Gereformeerde Kerk, the Dutch Reformed Church. As an immigrant myself, I understand why they kept the name and the mother tongue, among other characteristics.
When a person leaves his land for whatever reasons, and goes to live in a different country, the natural tendency is to surround himself with people from the same country, or with those who speak the same language. It is a natural behavior. You arrive in an unknown land, unknown people, unknown culture, and other thousands of things that you don’t understand, so the process of integration, not assimilation, becomes easier when you can speak your mother tongue and share your culture or a culture that’s close to yours.
Going back to the denomination, we can see that little by little the CRCNA began the painful process of having services, synods and their minutes, the hymnal, and it's magazine in English. This may have been motivated by the new generations that were emerging, as well as the need to integrate into their new country.
However, the denomination remained within its Dutch circle, or at least the closest thing possible including Christian schools, universities, and Christian seminaries. There is nothing wrong with that in itself, but what it has generated is a line that the members of this circle follow and maintain in an exclusive rather than inclusive manner. Later the country faced social movements and the denomination had to decide what position to take when the conflict in 1965 of the Timothy Christian School in Cicero, Illinois, arose. This was the conflict that led to the formation of SCORR.
As a result of the evangelization, new ethnic ministries were started and gradually added to the denomination. However, 55 years later, these ministries continue to see, read, and feel the weight of the visible narrative saying that as an institution the CRC wants to be ethnically and culturally diverse, but does not make enough effort required to get there. The denomination has also developed a deafness towards the nascent counter narrative coming from minority groups.
How can we reconcile the established narrative with the growing counter narrative? Is it possible to carry out an open, honest and transparent dialogue to create a new narrative that expresses the union from a true stand point of racial reconciliation?
Of course! It is possible! To do it, the denomination first needs to repent of past decisions and behaviors. That means, we need to put those painful points on the table and let those affected tell their stories, and for the denomination to listen to those stories. It is a very painful process, but incredibly necessary. It is not possible to jump steps if what we are looking for is to have true racial reconciliation.
If we, as a denomination, are willing to enter this process, which is not a one-time event, we can say we’re beginning to walk the road towards racial reconciliation. Ephesians 2:1-11 is an amazing and powerful text where Paul reminds us the meaning of how to become like Christ.