Communication to Synod - Let's Discuss

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With deadlines having passed and our ability to communicate to a broader synodical audience limited, the only way to begin conversations on the important topic of overtures 12, 13, and 14 is through is informal channels like The Network. Please forward, share, and help us engage in discussion on this vital topic of the role of churches and church members in public society.

On May 23rd, 2018, the following communication was sent to the executive director of the CRC in Canada, Darren Roorda, by Kanata CRC in Ottawa, Canada. It was also shared with Dr. Steve Timmermans, executive director (Grand Rapids, MI) of the CRC.

I invite your feedback and discussion on the important topic of church life with regards to public life and engagement. Please read the letter below, sent by the Board of Kanata Community Christian Reformed Church.

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Members of Kanata Christian Reformed Church have taken note of the three overtures relating to the role of churches and church members in the public life of our nations. We offer our experience and reflections for consideration by synod in its deliberations on this important aspect of Christian discipleship.

As a congregation in Canada’s national capital, Kanata CRC includes members who deliver public services, members who work in public policy development as government officials, and members who engage in the full range of public policy discussions through advocacy groups and all four political parties.

While there are a variety of views on any given issue and vigorous dialogue in the hallways, we are in agreement on the importance of integrating our civic roles into our life of discipleship, guided by Biblical principles and our calling to do justice as both institutional and organic church. When this aspect of our communal life is exercised with reflection and mutual learning, in the context of humility, prayer and spiritual discipline, the diversity of roles and views enriches our discernment without threatening our deep unity in Christ. As such, we welcome the call of Overture 12 to foster deeper development of our civic roles as a vital aspect of Christian discipleship.

We take note that Canada has a rich history of engaging churches and faith-based organizations in shaping our public life together. This includes shaping public services and policies that are highly valued and increase public justice, such as an inclusive health care system and refugee sponsorship. We also learn from situations where churches became complicit in injustice, such as indigenous residential schools, rather than calling governments to act justly. Deeper reflection, drawing on Biblical teachings, is needed, rather than withdrawal from public life. This involves both the institutional and the organic church, not one or the other.

We are concerned about the proposed direction of rigid restrictions and retreat from this area of witness, as proposed in Overtures 13 and 14. At this point in history we need more discernment about how we exercise the calling to do justice and care for creation in the countries where we live.

In light of these reflections, we prayerfully request that Synod:

  1. Be encouraged by our on-going experience that it is possible to combine Biblical reflection, robust dialogue about social issues, and respect for diversity in healthy congregational life without threatening our deep unity in Christ.
  2. Give consideration to the contextual differences between Canada and the United States and allow space for churches and church members in each context to exercise relevant public witness in the life of each nation.
  3. Reject equation of our Reformed and Kuyperian roots with the particular concept of separation of church and state rooted in the liberal political theories behind the US Constitution as the only way to apply a Reformed world and life view.
  4. Consider ways to better equip both churches and church members, at all levels, to more fully exercise our calling to give public witness to the Biblical mandate to do justice and Biblical principles for public life, as articulated in Overture 12.
  5. Support rather than restrict and reduce the small agencies within the CRCNA who work in this vital area of ministry, as an important complement to the much larger investments in other aspects of ministry, and ensure appropriate governance to hold them accountable within the whole body.
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Let's Discuss…

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Again, supporters of the Office of Social Justice continue to speak in vague platitudes, but do not respond to any of the specifics in the overtures. The fact that this particular Council cannot, for example, explain why drilling in ANWR or repealing the personal mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act are things that "Christians must stand up against" as the OSJ has asserted leads me to conclude that they are not seriously reflecting on the issue. Instead it seems we are seeing a steady stream of reactions from people who either 1. Are personal acquaintances with CRC leaders and want to support them for personal reasons or 2. Simply happen to be sympathetic to the political causes that the OSJ has championed. Either way the obfuscation by way of speaking in broad platitudes rather than addressing he specific concerns in the overtures is unfortunate. 

I personally have no issue with agreeing to disagree with people at the foot of the cross. Prudential public policy ought not be an issue to divide the church over. I have passionate views about many public policy issues, but would never even consider asking the denomination to endorse them, out of respect for my fellow believers. My suspicion is that if the CRCNA officials were reactively aligning themselves on the other end of the political spectrum there would be no call to "Support rather than restrict or reduce" this activity. 

Community Builder

First, Aaron, thanks for publishing this communication.  It is a far better process that sending a response confidentially to the Advisory Committee, as was done by the COD forwarding staff responses to the overtures.

I have become convinced that the institutional CRCNA does it politicking in Canada in a way significantly different than in the US.  And while I don't claim to know enough about the Canadian scene, I do know enough to say that the questions and answers to them may be quite different than the questions and answers relating to how the institutional CRCNA does its politicking in the US.

Having said that, I think Overture 14 contains a prescription for how, and the extent to which the institutional CRCNA might address "political matters" that would allow much of what is done in Canada while at the same time appropriately adjust how it is done in the US (via OSJ and sometime by other CRCNA staff).

Overture 14 is long (violating practical unwritten rules for how overtures should be if the authors want to be heard), but I'm hoping enough of the Synod 2018 delegates read it -- to the end and perhaps more than once -- to gain a sense for its prescriptions as well as proscriptions.

I also hope that Canadians at Synod, including any on the Advisory Committee, consider how things are done in the US instead of concluding they are done the same as in Canada.

By the way, those liberal theories you speak of that resulted in certain provisions in the US Constitution have their origins in a Calvinist tradition, and received a great deal of praise from Kupyer as well.  While the US Constitution was not written by God on Mt Sinai, it does contain a pretty good set of foundational rules that allow for political pluralism (that has been copied in whole or substantial part by many other countries, including Canada).

I agree with the sentiment that deeper Biblical reflection is needed but I haven't seen it happen.  The Staff at OSJ and CPD have spent countless hours responding to these overtures by writing secret communications to the advisory committee, but how much Biblical reflection has been done?  I would love to see them wrestling with real Biblical questions such as:  Why didn't the New Testament authors write letters of petition to the corrupt Roman government when they had the opportunity to do so?  What did Jesus mean when he said "My kingdom is not of this world" and when he called Peter Satan when he was thinking in political terms instead of Christ's way of the suffering servant on the cross?  Shouldn't Paul's discussion on not eating food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8 cause us to refrain from lobbying when it binds the consciences of weaker brothers and sisters?  Does the New Testament's definition of "the poor" pertain primarily to those outside the church or those within it?  How do you square this with 2 Corinthians 9 and James 2 which speak of "supplying the needs of the saints" and clothing brothers and sisters in the church?  

This communication calls for "respect for diversity in healthy congregational life without threatening our deep unity in Christ."  Do we really believe that picking and choosing one political solution will not cause factions within the church?  Diversity and dialogue is only a pipe dream when the echo-chamber of those in power reflects only one voice - their own.

Community Builder

The Center for Public Justice in Washington, DC, has developed a new Political Discipleship curriculum that is currently being piloted. It is a curriculum for small groups that provides a practical approach to Christian citizenship and engagement with public justice. If you'd like to read a summary of the curriculum and determine whether you think it would satisfy Overture 12, you can find it in Dropbox. I've also shared it with Steve Timmermans.

Community Builder

What members of this congregation are doing is probably mirrored in many other congregations. Great.. keep up the good work. Let's not delegate that to folks employed by the church. None of whom are elected to  speak on my behalf.