Sorry Sid but I'm not a fan of too much of this post. Certainly, we should be agents of reconciliation, but the political conclusions in this post are a bit merely politically fashionable.
This post clearly, even if a bit vaguely (another CRC trait beside having "gentle grace"), promotes grace for all except the "bad guys" of course. At best, they get a "just say no," and the president (without speaking his name of course) gets an unambiguous "put your thumbs down everyone." We can do better than that. A lot better.
Which is the approach taken by Daryl Davis, as described in the documentary, "Accidental Courtesy." It would seem that Davis, a black musician, has been doing reconciliation work -- including with KKKers and white supremacists/separatists, for years now, and with the kind of "sturdy, gentle grace" that is suggested by this article to be the perhaps exclusive possession of CRCers. And Davis has been doing this all while doing it was neither cool nor politically current.
Davis understands, quite correctly I believe, that fear and ignorance predominantly underlie the postures of KKKers and white separatists/supremacists. Davis exhibits "gentle grace" there, not a simplistic "just say no" posture, and it does indeed make for results.
This article, and most if not all CRCNA agent articles on this same hot political topic, give no hint that the CRCNA understands what Davis does.
Perhaps there should be a GR showing of "Accidental Courtesy." Knowing there would never be (too different from the preferred GR political narrative, which frankly is less "gentle grace filled"), I'll recommend watching it on Netflix, now showing.
Thanks for your time in considering our position.
The phrase "not keeping records" comes from I Corinthians 13, quoted earlier in the article: "Love . . . keeps no records of wrongs."
But Benjamin, your claims notwithstanding, the "history of slavery and racial oppression" has been anything but "ignored." To the contrary, the CRCNA beats it to death. These days, one out of every _____ articles on the various CRC publications deal with racism. Confessions, both individual and institutional, abound.
I really don't think all of this "recognizing" is doing much good in the real world. After all we keep saying it and nothing changes except for the worse. While racism is being more and more reported on and emphasized by the media, and by institutions like the CRCNA, the racial divide is clearly growing.
I don't think this author is an "unaware" as you claim. Rather, I think he believes our focus might better if more turned to emphasize reconciliation, using methods that increase the chances for that, instead of our continuing to grind guilt and shame into the foreheads of the "bad guys" like a lighted cigarette.
This sin has never been "unnamed" -- as you state -- but rather named over and over and over and over again. It's even named when it doesn't exist. Our former president was quick to declare it even when it wasn't the case when the facts were more fully made evident. You may want to solve the problem of "Way too many Americans  not [wanting] to recognize the systemic nature of racism" but both this author (I think at least) and I would prefer the Daryl Davis route, a route that actually gets something done.
You're right, Harry. Normally, I wouldn't use a foreign word for God in an English language blog. But the purpose of the blog was to point out that the word Allah in Arabic is used by Christians in the same way that we use the word God in English. Unfortunately, some people don't realize this and think it is only used by Muslims, and therefore suspect.
When I was visiting churches on home service as a missionary in Nigeria, I frequently taught people a song in the Hausa language that we used in our worship services in Nigeria. Because the word for God in Hausa is Allah, some people took offense. I just want to let people know that they don't have to take offense at using or hearing the word Allah since it has been used by the Arabic speaking church since the time of Pentecost.
Of course, we do use foreign words for God and Jesus in many of our hymns and songs - El Shaddai, Elohim, Jehovah, Yesu, etc. Maybe when some people use these different words, it helps keep their faith fresh and vital.
I appreciated this article. However, it seems there's a key element that the author does not seem aware of - and that is that racism, racial oppression, and white supremacy are linked, systemic and ongoing problems that continue to affect millions of people of color around the country, including above the Mason-Dixon line. He writes that we must try to right this wrong, "without keeping records." The problem is that racism is not fully acknowledged and its impact not appreciated. Sin that is unnamed can't be repented of. Way too many Americans do not recognize the systemic nature of racism, and many truly racist people deny that they are racist. Rather than ignoring our history of slavery and racial oppression, we should bring it to light so that people can experience the conviction of sin and recognize that their continued ignorance only paves the way for further oppression.
Thank you for your prophetic voice and willingness to share.
Beautifully written Syd. Thank you!
Amen! Yes, I could disagree with some nuances of this post, but Amen!
Eric, thanks for your well-reasoned input.
I admit my fingers paused for long time after describing "wisdom" as "common sense." I was going for brevity and ease of understanding, and probably lost accuracy in the process.
I like your suggestion of "the essence of the knowledge and character of God."
I appreciate your perspective here. Having emotions/empathy inform and season our judgments rather than rule them is wise advice, I believe. Of course that has to be balanced with passages like James 2:13 that tells us “Mercy triumphs over judgment”. Is this a definitive statement to only exercise mercy, and not judgment? In the context of the first half of that verse and the rest of scripture we have to say no. But it does seem that the mercy that we exhibit in our judgments necessarily flows at least in part from our emotions or our empathetic response. All that said, I think scriptures such as James 2:13 don’t contradict what you are saying, but they do hammer home the dreadful evil of merciless (read: lacking in empathy) judgements. Where I think your post excels is in calling us not to automatically assign a lack of empathy (which is to assign evil motives) when we disagree with another’s perspective.
I would caution against shorthanding wisdom as “common sense”. I think this is a woefully inadequate shorthand for wisdom. As matter of fact, I think the opposite may be true. It seems to me that biblically speaking, we might call wisdom the essence of the knowledge and character of God, while we might quite accurately call common sense the knowledge and character of man. Eve likely appreciated Satan’s common sense appeal to eat the fruit. All manner of foolishness has been done under the guise of common sense. In my professional regulatory role, I have all manner of people appeal to “common sense” in the face of legal requirements. These appeals are as widely varied as the individuals who I encounter. I often say (amongst my coworkers, not to those people) that “one man’s common sense is another man’s idiocy.” Hence my somewhat visceral (def: emotional – oops!) reaction to the characterization of wisdom as common sense.
Beer and Hymns is brilliant! I can't believe I did not catch on to this event sooner. As for my favorite part....well, it is a combination. I guess my first favorite part is simply the opportunity to sing hymns! We just don't sing enough hymns anymore these days. And I do love a variety of music styles. But singing hymns at a casual gathering like this just brings joy to my heart and a big smile to my face. I see the very same in others around me as well. As far as a favorite hymn...that is hard, too. I have dozens of favorites. Just to name a few: Blessed Assurance, Great is Thy Faithfulness, How Great Thou Art, By the Sea of Crystal. I also enjoy ending the night with the good old "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms". The Spirit of God is so powerful in this monthly gathering. I love seeing folks of all ages, singing their hearts out together and enjoying food, drinks, and community. Just for the record, I am not even a beer drinker. But "Coke and Hymns" or "Tacos and Hymns" doesn't have quite the same ring to it. ;-) Lucky for me, drinking beer is not a requirement. This is just a great community gathering in praise to God. I love to invite friends and family to come and check out Beer and Hymns. And whenever I do, they too fall in love and want to keep coming back, month after month. Many thanks to the inventors of this wonderful event! I hope it continues for years to come.
I agree that Christians must make efforts to be accurately informed, and that we must also respond with both grace and truth. Donald Trump, in calling out evil on many sides, equated the two sides; and that's exactly the problem. One side espoused hatred, and racism, glorifying Nazi symbols. The other side stood for equality for all people. These two sides are not the same. We must, as Christians, stand on the side of justice for all people, and not on the side of hatred and bigotry.
How do we respond? Grace and truth always goes together. If one listens only to the mainstream media, then one could say that President Trump had a shameful failure to call evil for what it is. But a key problem is the mainstream media has become shamefully unreliable. By his own words, President Trump called out evil on all sides. Christians must be informed accurately before we respond in grace and truth.
Thanks for these good words.
Thank you for this encouraging blog. I need it and want to learn more.
No doubt our inclination to "hate our neighbor" can be manifested by our dividing up people by "race," or by other criteria equally meaningless, and then by treating some groups created by that irrational division unjustly, but that is merely one of many ways to "hate our neighbor." I buy the notion that we all have an inclination to hate others, but I don't buy the notion that all manifest that hatred by dividing according to skin color.
Indeed, Daryl Davis seemed not to. When as a child he was pelted with thrown objects marching in a parade and holding an American flag, it never occurred to him that anyone would throw those things at him because he appeared to be of a certain race. And then Daryl grows up, talks with and befriends (even if he totally disagrees with) KKKers and white separatists, which suggests that Daryl himself does not have the claimed universal "vice" of racism. And if Daryl is not afflicted with that universal vice, why could others not be also?
Personally, I think "classism" is a far greater problem in today's United States than racism, even if once upon a time it could have been otherwise.
Call "classism" a sin or a vice if you like, acting on that perspective is destructive, sinful, unjust and unloving. And yet the CRCNA largely ignores it, or perhaps recognizes it but only when and where the victims of classism are particular races, which is itself racism, as Daryl Davis seems to understand. The book, Hillbilly Elegy, is instructive as to this reality, as is, frankly, the election of Donald Trump.
It was interesting (and spot on I thought) that Daryl Davis saw fear as the underlayment for the KKK and white separatist/sovereignty groups. I'd add of course our disposition to hate our neighbor, but I think Davis was quite astute in that observation.
I checked out Accidental Courtesy.
Perhaps what we struggle with here is the difference between sin and vice. A sin can be forgiven, and the memory of it removed from our consciousness, as either an individual or as a people.
A vice, however, is not eliminated by forgiveness. A vice, like lust, anger, pride, or I think, racism, must be eliminated over a long struggle that changes attitudes and feelings, be they individual or corporate. I don't think our church, or many others, has dealt with this as well as we have with individual acts of sinfulness.
But Jesus famously did, when he commented on the 10 Commandments in the Sermon on the Mount. There he clearly showed that failing to perform sinful acts is not enough. It does not address the root attitudes/vices. Our thoughts, attitudes, feelings, and perspectives need to be converted as well.
So the question is not that of forgiveness only. Forgiving an act of violence, for instance, leaves the perpetrator and the victim off the hook regarding the underlying anger or resentment that may lie below the act. I wish we had been more well trained in the conversion of vices into virtues, not just in the forgiveness of particular sins.
And now I have a reading recommendation for any who wish to pursue this. Miroslav Volf, The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World.
I think that approach, Kent, at least done as it is usually done these days, simply leads to increased racism. Human history is one big "long story of inequality and dismissiveness," in the US and anywhere else in the world (perhaps even more so in other places in the world). Someone recently recommended a Netflix documentary to me, Accidental Courtesy, "starring" Daryl Davis, a black American musician who has -- for decades now -- made it his practice to talk with, and befriend even, KKK's and other white supremicists (included or even especially their leaders). A good watch.
Its funny how we preach forgiveness, over and over and over and over, but then as to some culturally pet wrongs, we make exceptions. It might feel good, righteous even, but it doesn't make for progress, or even for justice or mercy, but rather the opposite. Of course that doesn't mean we need to simply tolerate racism and do nothing about it when it occurs, but that is no different than what we should do for any other unjust "inequality."
Do check out "Accidental Courtesy."
We cannot face racism without "keeping records." And racism in this country has a long and spotted record. This is not an individual, isolated event. It is part of a long story of inequality and dismissiveness in the U.S. And it has been most obvious in the South. Saying that we must address an event, rather than its history or causes is like trying to treat an alcoholic by getting him to stop drinking only rum. No, this is a systemic problem.
Nice to meet you Bryan! Appreciate your heart for church communicators already.
I do hear that a lot! And I know from experience how frustrating it can be to have to remind folks that children are worth the one hour of prep time it takes to tell God’s story well with them. So hang in there as you seek to do that!
Re: What’s in the Bible? If you’ve determined that video curriculum is the way to go in your setting, I would recommend taking a look at the What’s in the Bible? videos as they will line up better with Reformed theology than videos from other publishers. (Unlike KidMo or 252 Basics for example.) If you are familiar with the Veggie Tales videos you will already have a sense of the quirkiness that’s found in this series because it’s created by former Veggie Tale creator, Phil Vischer. I have not read through enough of the written curriculum content to comment specifically on that content (although look for a review of it in the new Children’s Ministry toolkit from Faith Formation Ministries later this year) but I would suggest signing up for the free sample download Vischer offers on their site and reading through those pieces, using the 10 Question Tool for Choosing Children’s Ministry Curriculum as a guide. Finally, here’s a link to a review I found on the approach Vischer takes with the videos. Hope that helps!
Thanks for this insightful post. :-)
We should not use foreign words for God in the English Language. In writing in Arabic and the word for God is Allah no problem. Most ethnics in Canada changed from their mother tongue to English in their religious observances. We don't use "Deo" for God in the English language either.
So what was the point of using Allah in this article?
What other discussion guide to you have? You mentioned film discussion guides. Do you have any film discussion guides available?
I always love requesting and singing Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. My younger self probably would request The Trees of the Field.
This is great, Ruth! Can't wait to hear how it goes in your Together group this fall!
This article clearly articulates what it is like attempting to live "in Christ." I am pleased at finding the material, and wish to share it with my people.
Thank you for your help!
Very encouraging Drew! Thanks for sharing this.
Good thoughts Paul! Much appreciated. I would echo that we are all "born that way" to correctly use the commonly misused phrase. Not merely born, but even conceived in sin as a human being with a fallen, sinful nature. I also whole heartedly agree that the only hope for true change is the gospel. This has been a very present application to our sermon series in Galatians. This past Lord's Day we were on Gal 3:15-29 concerning both the Promise and the Law. The reality is that while the Law does have its purposes (see the Institutes) it can never change the heart! The same would apply to any form of reconciliation. Mandela's work of reconciliation will never become a reality. Peace cannot be accomplished by law nor by any other man-made (centered/initiated) focus, action or emotion. It will never change the heart. Only the gospel of Christ can change our very nature. Our weapon is the gospel! While others want to subdue, silene or defeat their enemies, we long to see our enemies become brothers and sisters. This can never be acheived by any other means. We are all one "in Christ," only.
Honestly, it was hard to choose just one part because it was all "Inspiring"! The things that immediately came to mind are these: ~ Even though Liz Curtis Higgs was not listed as one of the original speakers, she was a gift from God for me. Listening to her speak was exactly what I needed to be refreshed. Her personal story, the Gospel story and her delivery brought tears to my eyes and hysterical laughter! Thank you, Liz! ~ The breakout session on "Praying Like Jesus" was meaningful because of the emphasis on memorizing and praying the Psalms. Kevin Adams' sharing of stories and encouraging group participation made it interesting and memorable. It created a desire in me to follow through with some of the suggestions. ~ The music, worship and singing were like a little glimpse of heaven as we sang songs in different languages and tempos. It was evidence and a reminder that we believers are part of the larger, global body of Christ!
I will say more. I am planning a video on this. I think it's important. In the mean time Pastor T I think sheds light on what I want to say in this important conversation with Coates. https://youtu.be/Gton4je7T_Y
Thank you for your comment. I think you are right that there is a lack of lament as there should be. Many white evangelical Christians struggle with what exactly is racism and how to confess it let alone lament it. I myself am still learning.
I am not sure where you land with this line of reasoning. What will you do with do not lie, steal, commit adultery. Should the church be silent on these sins as well. Please say more
Thank you, I agree that the sin can be ambagious. I especially wonder about racial reconciliation, who reconciles with who. Being that we are a confessional community, might integrating remorse and lament over the historic racialization of people be helpful in making us more welcoming to people who have not felt welcome in our midst.
Thanks for that explanation Bill. I suspected that might/could be the answer to what many readers would have as brow furrowing questions. You explanation makes sense and doesn't conflate Christianity with Islam. :-)
What a timely and helpful post by Chris Pedersen. It clearly describes how complex the act of listening is. The four-direction model is helpful in demonstrating this. I find that this issue is especially pertinent in making room in the church for people with mental health challenges. Not only might there be no room at the table for them, there may be no "table".
As one who spent his career as a social worker listening to others, I am conscious of how imperfectly I listened; it is still a challenge. Several factors get in the way. Here are four reasons / excuses:
1. Time - I don't have (or take) the time. How can I be a better steward of my time to include listening?
2. Fear - I don't know how I would respond to something I don't understand. Actually listening doesn't require solving anything - it requires only my presence. Many husbands find this out the hard way.
3. Skill - I don't know how to listen. Our churches can do something about that. how about Listening 101 as an Adult Discipleship class?
4. Apathy - I am not sure I care enough to listen; I have my own issues to deal with. Closely allied with fear.
The challenge of listening is much more than an individual one, it is institutional as well. Churches are noisy places - we sing, pray, drink coffee and chat, and do service. but our churches by-and-large do not structure themselves to allow listening to flourish. Small groups may help to make this happen but not uniformly.
I would be interested in hearing from people whose churches have structured themselves to help make listening easier. We all have stories to tell, but is anyone willing to listen?
Volunteers in Service, Grand Rapids, MI
I very much agree that we indeed learn racism and that it is lamentably often intentionally taught and modeled. It is important to address it at that level.
My main pushback on the quote is that it isn't merely taught. I believe it is developmentally ingrained in us even before birth by the mere fact of human formation. In other words via our confessions we are sinful from birth. Even in utero we are a petri dish for sin. It is also as many note spiritually created by the demonic. If this is the case then education, or activism, or anti-racism programs themselves will never be sufficient to banish it from each of our hearts. We are natural born racists. This points to a deeper redemption necessary for the anticipated purity of our communal presence before the throne.
You're correct that we must all begin with ourselves. But we must also lead others, both in the church and in society. I'm very glad many find Obama's tweet helpful, and to be much more than just "nice sentiment." The original quote from Nelson Mandela was based on the harsh reality that many learn from a young age (sadly, often from parents and perhaps also their church contexts) to hate people of other races rather than to love them. Obama is pointing to Mandela's very hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation, personally and nationally.
Doug, thank you for your thought provoking response. I appreciate your observation that many people in the CRC understand that the word Allah has a different meaning than the word God. I want to help make people aware that the word Allah had been used by Arabic-speaking Christians for centuries before Muhammad was even born. And it is being used by millions of Christians all around the world today. It is not my intention to make any comparison to the use of the word in Islam, or to equate Christianity with Islam.
As a missionary in Nigeria working in the Hausa language, I worshiped, preached, and taught about Allah for many years. I hope that we can accept our Arabic-speaking Christian brothers and sisters' use of Allah when speaking of God just as readily as Christians speaking about God in any other language.
Josh - Yours may not be the turnaround story you mentioned, but in many ways it is a more important story to tell. And it certainly takes more courage to write! To be faithful, we must remove the stigma associated with closing a church. If not, we'll have churches hanging on past when they should, and that prevents us from responding to how God is calling us next. Thank you for sharing this. Your honesty and wisdom in this reflection is the kind of leadership we need from pastors, and from all of us. Judging from the pageviews and the comments here, your words have struck a chord and have already had a significant impact.
As a follow up, I wanted to point out that this post was written before the horrific events in Charlottesville, VA that happened on the weekend of August 12.
I was able to find a conversation on The Network about putting together a package to call a pastor (including a Letter of Call) here. It looks like the Letter of Call is now available in Word format for easy editing.
Jeanne, would you recommend any other resources? If so, would you be willing to share on The Network in case others have the same question as Yong Choi?
It looks like both the US and Canada "Letter of Call" samples are now available in a Word format here.
Bill. You need to do some explaining, or perhaps more than that. Your statement literally and precisely says that you worship Allah, and the words you further chose associate that with the CRC missions agency (Resonate).
The word "Allah" has an understood meaning within the CRC community that is quite different than the word "God." And it (the word "Allah") is generally understood to refer to the deity as worshipped by those who adhere to the religion we call "Islam."
So please explain? Or are you actually intending to equate Christianity with Islam?
Well said Paul! Well said.
Hello, Yong Choi,
I'd be happy to learn more about your request and have a conversation with you regarding this need. You can contact me at email@example.com
Besides the fresh spiritual insights from the main speakers(gathering)and the breakout sessions , the venue was a good choice and an experience in itself; the Communion at the end of Inspire sealed our love, unity and commitment to move on with God in the CRC. Inspire 2017 is one of the best things in the life of the CRC. It was a rekindling experience indeed. Thanks. Rev. Bulus A. Gani, CRC- Nigeria.
This is great! Thanks, Faith Formation.
My name is Rachel Kapteyn and I work as the Children's coordinator at our church. Our church is busy with many things and we are finding our volunteers are busy and maxed out. I'm sure you heard this a lot. Recently I've looked into introducing one of your "Recommended Resources" curriculums called "Buck Denver asks...What's in the Bible?" to ease prep time for volunteers. Can you let me know your thoughts about this program? Rachel