The SALT Report Explained: Question #6
April 12, 2022
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The Council of Delegates (COD), in a series of decisions in October 2020, approved the creation of the Structure and Leadership Task Force (SALT). Learn more about the mandate and work of this task force through the SALT report, which is explained in this series.
The SALT report highlights the concept of partnership as a relationship among equals. How does the report account for the need to achieve equity, parity, and organizational justice in the CRCNA?
The Christian Reformed Church in North America is made up of eight ministry organizations and educational institutions, all of which were once created by an act of synod. In the SALT report, they are seen as partners in the CRCNA organizational system.
While the terms equality and equity may sound familiar, the implementation of one versus the other can lead to dramatically different outcomes for ministry partners. Equality would mean that each ministry partner is given the same resources and opportunities. Equity, on the other hand, recognizes that each ministry partner has different circumstances (contexts) and variable resources and opportunities are needed to reach equal outcomes.
Currently, the CRC churches in Canada and the US are required to contribute their fair share to the overall CRCNA denominational budget. The formula used to arrive at this fair contribution has remained largely unchanged for decades. The SALT report recognizes that the formula used in the past will not be effective going forward. While Canada and U.S. ministry organizations and their Boards are equals as partners, they differ in size, internal economy and in the scope and scale of their ministry operations.
The SALT report recommends the enhanced and renewed Joint Ministry Agreement as the way to ensure that ministry partners receive the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach equal outcomes. Ministry contextualization needs in Canada for example, will require additional resources and the ability of the Canada Board to leverage the CRCNA’s considerable collective ministry strength to properly set and achieve ministry goals in Canada. The Joint Ministry Management Committee was established over the past year in order to ensure equity, whereby each of the partners receives resources according to their actual ministry needs.
Organizational justice is achieved whenever resources are distributed in a manner that is perceived as fair and just by all parties; and the process of resource allocation (budget process) decision-making is also seen as procedurally just. The SALT report recommends the establishment of the Office of Governance which will support Board and executive leaders in the design of denominational resource decision-making procedures and processes.
The SALT team seldom uses the term parity in its deliberations opting instead for the terms ministry equality and ministry equity. Parity is most often used in the context of competing groups. Equal pay for equal work, for example, underlies the notion of pay equity or parity in the workplace. However, equality and equity among employees ultimately involves more than the presence of pay equity in the workforce. Additional steps must often be taken at an organizational level to ensure all employees have the same opportunities for advancement in the workplace.
SALT believes that ministry partners are not competitors who seek parity for themselves, but rather collaborators who are committed to working together as partners to advance the mission and ministry of the Christian Reformed Church throughout the world.
Rev. Frederic Koning is a retired CRC Pastor and Medical Ethicist. He served as the Reporter for the Structure and Leadership Task Force (SALT), and co-facilitator of the SALT Steering Committee and the Joint Ministry Agreement Task Force.
Dr. Lloyd Vanderkwaak is a retired CEO and has conducted research on the governance partnership in nonprofit organizations. He served as a co-facilitator of the SALT Steering Committee and the Joint Ministry Agreement Task Force.
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The opening sentence of the answer to question # 6 ought to give all the "rank-and-file" members of each and every local congregation "pause". It reads, "The Christian Reformed Church in North America is made up of eight ministry organizations and educational institutions, all of which were once created by an act of synod." My hunch most folks are scratching their heads thinking "what about the local congregation"? Where do "we" fit into this system? Did the authors of this answer miss something or omit something or take something for granted? I don't think so. I think the CRCNA is exactly as they define here: "eight ministry organizations and educational institutions, all of which were created by an act of synod". I think its high time we come to terms with the state of affairs vis-a-vis the local churches and the CRCNA. The local congregations are simply the "funding-source" for the CRCNA. That's it. All talk about "we're in this together" is not so. Our ecclesiastical admistrators have grown larger and larger by acts of Synod. This is true. But these ministries and educational institutions have also grown further and further apart from the local congregations. Add to that the issue of bi-nationality and things become exponentially more complicated. It's clear from reading all the documents regarding S.A.L.T. that Burlington and Grand Rapids are not complimentary system. It's clear they're in competition with each other. At least that's what the Canadian side of the aisle seems to think. We have something like a sibling rivalry going on here and we ought to admit it and reckon with the implications of doing so. Isn't it time for the bi-nationality arrangement to be concluded? The Canadians seem to want to be set free to pursue their own vision of ministry in the context and culture of Canada. They should be set free to do so. Then the Americans can simply go on doing what they've been doing. We can cut costs and reduce staff and simply get back to doing what we all thought the administrative office were supposed to be doing in the first place and that is support the local congregations in advancing the kingdom locally. However that brings us full circle: we don't belong to the CRCNA. How did we get here?
The first halve of the above is very valid.
Combining resources to achieve (certainly international and media ministries) mission outreach is something that should be thought through very carefully before being abandoned. The world is getting smaller is one side, the other is that people are becoming introverted (self absorbed). Having 20 independent missions in, say for example, Haiti, is not a wise use of resources of 20 organizations, all staffed with well paid managers.
Thank you very much for your question. You are correct the ecclesial system of the CRCNA also includes roughly 1100 incorporated congregations and many classis. Indeed the ministry footprint is arguably much larger and global in scope.
The answer provided ought to have distinguished between the synodically created ministry corporations /organizations as an inset to the primary ecclesial system. This seemed self-evident to us in the context of the SALT report but perhaps not so much to the wider audience.
A continuing question I struggle with is why this is more of an Ontario issue within the Canadian CRC? The matter of different cultures is a red herring, notwithstanding the fact there are differences between the two countries - but there are also substantive cultural differences between Ontario and Quebec, let alone Ontario and Alberta, and perhaps even British Columbia.
Is it necessary for churches in Canada to absorb the financial costs of a new administrative infrastructure to manage various ministries? I don't feel there is a call for this at the local congregation level. More likely, in terms of those sitting in the pew, there's been a gradual loss of connection ever since the 1980's with the implementation of Synod's Vision governance report which led to a gradual erosion between denominational ministries and the local congregation.
Since then it's been a battle within the denominational hierarchy over who controls the corporation and ministries, rather than focusing on ecclesiastical matters. Establishing a fraternal Canadian CRCNA will only shift the question to "why have the denominational office in Burlington, Ontario and not elsewhere in Canada?"
Perhaps it's time to consider spinning off the various ministries into stand alone corporations separate from the CRCNA as an ecclesiastical body. These corporate ministries can still seek financial support at the local congregation level, but be removed from this ongoing politicking. Secondly, it would re-establish a more direct link between the person in the pew, the diaconate and denominational ministries.
In that sense the SALT report is perhaps a preliminary step forward.
On another note, what exactly is "organizational-justice"? Who is bringing up that subject and why? Back in October of 2021 the "Banner" published a document entitled "The CRC in Canada: A Field Guide". The subtitle reads: "Your guide to the history and development of Canadian ministry in the Christian Reformed Church." The opneing paragraph simply indicates that CRCs on both sides of the boarder have "wrestling with the ministry...should mesh together." Then follows a question: How did we get here? Answer: It's complicated. The obvious reaction for any alert reader would be what do you mean by the question. Where is "here" and how did we jump to "complicated" so quickly. Then, to make things more problematic the second paragraph opens with the following: "In fact, to write this guide The Banner went back through more than 100 years of synod records to help trace the origins of those wounds and frustrations." (italics mine). What? I can assure you that there isn't a single member of the CRC in the United States of America, not one congregation south of the border that would characterize our relationship with those congregations north of the border with those two words (wounds & frustrations). I'm calling attention to this fact because it speaks to the underlying problem no one seems to deal with. The USA and Canada are entirely different cultures. We share a common language and heritage but we are not the same culturally. Canadians are, in the main, keenly aware of this fact. In fact they celebrate it. It is an essential component of their identity. They are "not" American. No American says such a thing in reverse. I have never heard a single American say "I am not a Canadian". It doesn't enter their head to think or say such a thing. I realize this is just personal observations but it is nevertheless valid to point this out as key to understanding that SALT is never going to solve the issue of perceived "organizational injustice" and the wounds and frustration inflicted on Canadians by Americans. The "Guide" referenced earlier runs 25 pages cataloging every injustice, wrong, hurt, slight, oversight, snub, and disregard felt by Canadians in the CRC. It reminds me of all 5 of children going through their teens and feeling their mother and I were heartless, unfeeling callous and unjust. Then they moved out and moved on. I think its time the Canadian CRC stands on its own. Once we do that I think we will all get along famously and then we can write up joint partnership on any number of joint ventures. However, until that happens I think we're going to be seeing more "wounds and frustrations", most of which the average American member of the CRC will remain blissfully unaware.
Regarding the matter of "paying" for the expense of maintaining offices in Burlington: How are those expenses being paid for today? CRC's in Canada are paying those expenses already. With regard to spinning off any or all of the associate organizations of the CRC: by all means and the sooner the better. Let them all solicit support from folks who truly want to be invested in and fully supportive of these ministries. In the long run these ministries will gain more support and funding. The label "red herring" with regard to pointing out that the cultural divide between USA and Canada is dismissive and fails to reckon with profound distinctions between these two nation-states. Is Alberta different culturally than either Ontario or British Columbia or the Maritime provinces. Of course it is. However, no one would assert that Alberta is virtually "North-Montana" with regard to "culture". This brings me back to the document "The CRC in Canada: A Field Guide". It's a 25 page litany of grievances. How do we understand the significance of that "record-of-wrongs" spanning a century. This isn't a "red-herring". It summarizes the over-all psychological impact among Canadian CRC members, many of whom are second generation immigrants from the Netherlands, who are simply trying to partner with another group of CRC members, most of whom are third, fourth or fifth generation Americans and these two groups don't really do not understand each other anymore. The effort to bridge the divide, which is what the SALT document attempts to do, is really nothing more than nostalgia at this point. We should just admit the obvious. Canadians CRC members are culturally distinct and ought to be set free to pursue their unique vision of the kingdom rooted in that distinction. We did that with other nations. Why not simply do that with our Canadian brothers and sisters and move on. Let's end the heartache outlined in that "Field-Guide" once and for all.
Notwithstanding the fact that CRC's in Canada are currently paying for the for the offices in Burlington, there has been a call at Synod to decrease the denominational administrative infrastructure footprint. Creating a separate denomination will only add to the desire to add additional entities and costs at a time local churches are struggling to maintain their existing ministries and staffing.
The push for separation has more to do with the exercise of power and control over denominational ministries, than a common ecclesiastical tradition grounded in a reformed world view and/or a commonality in Christ our Saviour. At the root of the problem is the 1980's Vision Report.
Regardless of the fact Canadian provinces share a commonality in terms of history, etc. - Ontario has traditionally misread the west (western alienation) and in that sense Canadian CRC immigrants are probably more Canadian than Dutch in that reading after 70 years of residence. This misread is even now playing out between Ottawa and Alberta. Notwithstanding the opinion expressed above, there is a commonality between mid-western provinces and states based on immigration patterns in the 1800-1900's, socio-economics, etc. that does not necessarily align with Burlington/Grand Rapids. This is also the case along the British Columbia, Washington and Oregon west coast corridor.
It's time to find our commonality in Christ rather that focusing on our differences.
What we have in common is not in dispute. Separation would be less expensive than adding yet another layer of administrative executives (General Secretary w/ staff). We already have Burlington & Grand Rapids offices fully staffed. How many of these functions are necessary? Does every ministry need to be mirrored on both sides of the border? Our local congregations keep getting smaller or fewer in number, but our "over-head" never ceases to grow. That is not a sustainable model. Aside from these stewardship issues, we still have the 'grievances" outlined in the "Field-Guide". We have 25 pages listing a century of "wounds and frustrations". There is nothing in the SALT discussion that is going to modify or heal this litany of injury. My prediction is that the soon to be appointed "general-secretary" will be mightily discouraged in short order for the same reasons the last four "executives" in the Burlington office left their assignments earlier than expected. Is this where the "organizational-justice" issue comes into play? I think so.
We probably do share some thoughts in common.
As to the litany of grievances outlined in the Field-Guide, might I suggest that these are matters the local church and the members in the pew are to a large degree oblivious to and/or unconcerned with. This speaks to a large degree to the extent to which reform polity (Church Order, Articles 26-27) has been upended by the emergance of a bi-nationational clerical administrative class which has replaced the "original authority" of the local church council. These same concerns were raised in the 1980's at Synod.
And no, not every ministry or agency needs to be mirrored on either side of the border, however, that some will be - will only add to costs and duplication of services (see Harry Boessenkool's comment above). These are costs over and above that of 3 executive directors, as well as the COD, which is why I have previously raised the question whether Synod's decision to implement "Vision 21" in 1987 was the wisest. Maybe it's time to step outside the box rather than trying to continually restructure the same shape over and over.
I agree completely. It's clear from the way virtually all communication, media, publications, etc. coming out of the offices in GR and Burlington that those folks truly believe they are the "church" and that classis and the local congregations are merely branch offices. We should review Vision 21 as soon as possible, while we still have critical mass. However, I'm afraid we're going to see the "system" double-down on the decision patterns that got us here in the first place. We are not far from "point of no return" with regard to sustainability. I'm curious about whether or not anyone in GR is paying any attention to the "Alliance of Reformed Churches" phenomenon. I know it involves mostly RCA congregations, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if a significant numbers of CRC congregations end up joining them.
I wouldn't lay this matter at the door of the offices in GR or Burlington.
They live within the box of Vision 21. It was the delegates at Synod 1987 who adopted the Vision 21 report after lengthy discussions throughout the 1980's.
We are "all" here today due to the implementation of that decision without attention to due diligence, risk management, and/or fiduciary obligations to Church Order.
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