Bi-National or Overreaching?

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A key topic of discussion at Synod 2013 will, undoubtedly, be the bi-national character of our denomination.  Also undoubtedly, it is brought forward to us in Overture 5 from Classis Toronto and in Overture 6 from Classis Niagara.

I am an American who, with the exception of a wonderful internship in Calgary, AB (I’d like to do a shout-out to my peeps at Emmanuel Church “What up, peeps!?!”) has only ever served in the American context.  So all I can offer is this:  I know that I don’t know what it is like be a part of the CRCNA north of the border.  I know that I don’t know what it’s like to negotiate the bureaucracy associated with being an American serving a Canadian church or a Canadian serving an American church.  

It is for this reason that I refer you to Harry Houtman’s piece – recently published in The Banner – proposing a radical or not so radical solution to a felt problem in our midst. 

During their years of living in Egypt, the people of Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham prospered. But 400 years after Joseph had initially brought the 12 tribes to Egypt, Moses came to Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go.” It took many attempts before Pharaoh acceded to the request. The people of Israel did not rise up in a rebellion, a civil war, or a labor stoppage. Instead, through Moses, they relied on those in power to voluntarily give up their power.

Martin Luther King Jr., as head of the civil rights movement, also came to those in power. He went to white people, legislators, and common church people, and said, “Let my people go.” Give us human rights. Again, it was the 90 percent of the population who had to voluntarily give up discrimination, voluntarily grant equality.

Dear friends in the United States, you have been “mother” to the earliest congregations of the Christian Reformed Church in Canada for more than 100 years. You have been our mentor and helper for more than 60 years, since the flood of immigrants and the tenfold multiplication of congregations in Canada after World War II. Now it is time for us to say: “Let my people go.” Let us go. Let us be an independent CRC in Canada.

This is not a rebellion, a civil war, or a stoppage of ministry shares. It is more than time for you to recognize that you did a great job of cultivating a mature church in Canada. There are thousands upon thousands of Christian Reformed people in Canada who have benefited from your colleges and seminary in the early years so they could pursue the Christian Reformed testimony in Canada. We have matured. We have grown up. We want to move on in partnership, in equality, with equal rights, in equal determination. We want to be the CRC in Canada, not the CRC in North America.

Dear U.S. friends, urge your synodical delegates to make motions toward true independence for Canada. As Americans you are proud—humbly proud—of the mission success in Nigeria. There you claim the CRC has more members than in North America. You did not hold that church in subjection as you are holding the Canadian churches in subjection. Stop dictating to us how to do Canadian Home Missions, Canadian Chaplaincy, Canadian First Nations relations. Stop administering Canadian pensions and auditing Canadian bookkeeping records. We can do it, and we want to do it. Delegates to synod, have the courage to make the motions for Canadian independence.

We can come back stronger as true partners.

A few questions for reflection:

  • Are Israel’s slavery in Egypt or the segregation of races refuted by Martin Luther King Jr. the right metaphors to use in order to understand the relationship between the US and Canada within the CRCNA?
  • In what ways is ministry in the Canadian context being held back by their union with the church in the US? (Honestly, this is a question asked in ignorance.  I really don’t know.  Please describe to me – beyond the list given at the end of Houtman’s article.)
  • Will we be stronger as voluntary partners than as covenantal conjoined partners?  Or, to put it colloquially, will we love each other more if we are living together than if we are married?
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Hey all,

I think that this banner article is an interesting read, but I'm afraid I have to disagree with Harry on a couple of things.

1) I don't believe that the Egypt or racial metaphors are at all appropriate. No one is holding Canadian CRCs captive in any way, shape or form.

2) I don't think we will necessarily be stronger as independant partners for several reasons:

   a) The differences in our contexts does not have to get in the way of our work together-- in fact, there are many mutual benefits to working with people from a different culture. We, as Canadians and Americans should get this by now! Yes, Canadian issues are different in many ways (more on that later), but that makes it all the more important, to me, that we work with folks who have a different context and perspective. You don't marry yourself, you marry someone different from you.

   b) The agencies that we do have as a shared resource would be significantly poorer if we were trying to go it alone in the U.S. or Canada. There's a reason why big companies like Wal-Mart can out-sell, and undercut the (smaller) competition: pooling resources has advantages! 

   c) In a similar vein the publishing and studies and research and so on would all be poorer if we were trying to do it seperately. I have a complete set of Acts and Agendas of Synod from 1930-today sitting on my desk, partly as reference, but partly as reminder of what good can come of working collaboratively. My father-in-law who comes from a loose association of baptist churches often bemoans the lack of study resources like these. If we split ourselves up, we would loose the ability to do these kinds of studies on the same level -- a significant loss, even if you don't really like the outcomes of the studies all the time.

   d) Going away from a relationship based on negative things (like those in Harry's article) is almost always not only a bad idea, but counter to biblical mandates. When people come to my office agonizing about what church they should attend, or whether they should stay at our church, or come to our church, one of the things I always explore with them is why they're wanting to move. If they're wanting to move for negative reasons (bad relationships, poor preaching, no people to relate to, etc.), then I usually say to them, "Okay, those are important things to think about, and maybe you need a break from this community for a while, but the real question is: where is God calling you? The relationships need to be fixed, regardless, but you move from one church to another because of God's calling. Not because the preaching is better somewhere else, or the programs, or the people, etc.. 

        The same should be true for us as a denomination, if we're going to consider having a Canadian CRC (CCRC?), and a USCRC, we need to ask ourselves why. And the reasons proposed thus far are not clinchers. The ONLY okay reason that I can see would be that we, as a bi-national denomination, together determine that it is God's will for us to be independent.

As to the Canadian context, Meg, it is true that there are significant differences. We had folks come up from 3dm ministries to do a discipleship conference recently, and they were saying that something like 4% of 30 somethings are going to church. The reality in Canada is that there are only about 9% of Canadians going to church AT ALL! Significantly lower than the U.S. average. Yet, only 100 years or so ago, about 90% of Canadians went to church on a regular basis. Canadians also tend to have a weird mix of US and European values systems. We are heavily influence by both of these giants on our boarders. Additionally, the Canadian CRC, because it (still) is made up of largely post-WWII imigrants, has a VERY Kuyperian view on things, and is still somewhat culturally separate from larger Canadian society (Christian schools up here are still often called "Dutch schools" by other Canadians, and CRCs are called "Dutch Churches" often too).

The CRC in Canada is also in a slightly different space with relation to other denominations in Canada. The CRC is the only church in Canada to be both a member of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the Canadian Council of Churches (a more mainline church organization). We kind of stradle both the evangelical and the mainline church worlds up here. I know that this is somewhat true in the U.S. too, but my sense is that the U.S. CRC is slightly further into the Evangelical end of things.

We also struggle with different issues, as Harry mentions, regarding aboriginal relations (though there are significant similarities there too), environmental concerns, government and political relationsh, dwindling church numbers, how to evangelize the non-believers in our society, etc., etc. A lot of these differences, though, are matters of degrees, not of polar opposites.

I still believe very much that we have a great deal to offer one another across this friendly border, and I deeply hope that we will, with God's help, get through the "tough stuff" together and contribute to the visible unity of the church for many years to come.

Just a small correction.  There are 7 denominations in Canada that are both in the Canadian Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.  The Salvation Army, Reformed Church in America (Canada Synod), Mennonite Church Canada, Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec, Canadian Baptists of Western Canada, share this with us.  Also, the Pentecostal Assembly of Canada (PAOC) is an "Observer" of the CCC and attends events.

What this means is that the alienation between "Mainline" and "Evangelical" that exists starkly in the US is much less evident in Canada.  This comes from the fact that we Christians in Canada can't afford to fight each other, there are plenty of other spiritual battles to take up our energies.

 

Participant

If the denomination splits, can my U.S. congregation join the Canadian side? 

I say this only half jokingly. Speaking as a US person who has served on one bi-national board in the CRC and worked in a number of contexts (denominational and otherwise) with Canadian CRC folks, I guarantee that the US CRC will be less effective, less wise, and less able to fulfill its unique mission without our Canadian siblings.

Maybe we need to find ways to acknowledge Canada's unique needs through our governance structures while still maintaining our unity and our strength through diversity. It might make for some discomfort at times for us U.S. folks. But it'd be worth it.

Participant

Fascinating...all of a sudden, with a blink of a "nationalist eye", our brothers and sisters to the north of the border wish "freedom."  Just a short while ago I'm sure there was a great deal of relief when those south of the border decided to help the Canadian Pension Fund out- that was fine.  So if there is a split, is that reimbursed, or adjusted to fit needs both north and south of the line?  Shame on you...shame on us...if we are seeing ourselves as distinct political entities within a collaborative denomination.  How better will Christ be served?  However, I'm sure this imagined split will eventually happen, hopefully amiably.  After all, we are big into equity in our cultures- it's more important to highlight what is mine, what is yours...and who cares about what is ours.  The CRCNA is unique, it has been a lovingly managed by those who see the congregations all over as "one"...and isn't that unity Biblical?  Too bad now for the sake of a few the majority must be denied; all for the sake IMHO of "flag waving."