Concerns on Our Ecumenical Trajectory

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Reputedly, Billy Graham once referred to the CRCNA as the “sleeping giant” of North American evangelicalism. I have understood this to mean that, while we are not know as revivalistic and are relatively small in numbers, we have had a significant influence well beyond our concentrated pockets. I have found books by Geerhardus Vos at a Desiring God (“New Calvinist”) event in Minneapolis and have found copies of Louis Berkhof’s Sytematic Theology on the shelves of a seminary library in Aizawl, India. Needless to say our relationships with other denominations and Global Christianity are very important.

This brings me to a concern tucked away in the 2018 Synodical Agenda for the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee. There is much important work that this standing committee does! We maintain bilateral relations with many denominations as well as ecumenical groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals, World Communion of Reformed Churches, the World Reformed Fellowship and others. One organization, however, gives me pause for concern: Sojourners.

For those unfamiliar, Sojourners is a left-leaning advocacy group founded by Jim Wallis, a former leader of the Students for a Democratic Society organization in the 1960s who went on to seminary and became a pastor, while largely holding onto the political views of his youth. I do not begrudge brothers and sisters who are sympathetic to the politics of the Sojourners organization as public policy views are adiaphora (Christian liberty allows us to disagree on these matters).

However, I do question why our denomination maintains an “official” tie to this organization? Scanning Sojourners homepage (sojo.org),  while many individuals and people representing para-church organizations serve on their board, the CRCNA seems to be the only denomination with official representation in this group. With few to no other denominations directly partnering with Sojourners, it leads me to ask if they truly meet the definition of an “ecumenical” organization?

It is my contention that our denomination has no more business forming an official partnership with a group like this than we would with the free-market oriented Acton Institute or a social conservative group along the lines of Focus on the Family or Right to Life. Again, CRC members can and ought to engage public policy. Ecumenicism, however, is about Christian unity. Our unity must be defined by mutual Gospel commitment, however, not a political alliance.

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Community Builder

Thanks for the article Jason.  I have long wondered the same about the CRCNA/Sojourners affiliation.  Indeed, it would be a very small step for the denomination to also tie itself to People for the American Way, or the ACLU, or the Federalist Society, or, for that matter, one of the political parties.

I have always wondered: who was it that established and approved of this connection?  Do you know?  I don't believe it was Synod, and if not who/what?

Doug, I became aware of the "official" link in the 2018 Synod agenda under the Ecumentical and Interfaith section: https://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/2018_agenda.pdf

I do not know the history of this relationship. While I don't believe that this was anything the percolated up from local churches overturing Synod, I cannot find evidence that it has ever faced any scrutiny either. 

Participant

I know Sojo.net publishes a lot of articles telling people how hypocritical Republicans are, as well as how much “evangelicals” don’t follow Jesus as well as Progressive activists do. So, that’s helpful. And, there’s the activism. I have read a few of Wallis’ books though, and I’m not sure he supports the CRC’s theological interpretations or motivations. So, I suppose we could have official ties to The Acton Institute or The Christian Community Development Association.

Guide

FYI World Renew is a member of CCDA and in the Partner Network of Poverty Cure (which is an initiative of the Acton Institute).

Participant

Holy cow, look at that. Thanks, Wendy!

Community Builder

Wendy: Thanks much for that information.  That is really good to hear.  I've long been a big fan of World Renew's work generally and knowing this gives me even more cause for being a fan. :-)

Community Builder

Thanks for calling this to our attention Jason. This does not seem to be an ecumenical relationship in any traditional sense of the word, and any official ties should probably be ended in short order.

Yes, to be clear my concern is not simply Sojourners or their politics. While the case can certainly be made that they are a polarizing and ideologically driven organization, it is that they are at their core, a political organization. The CRCNA belongs to Christian Churches Together, which advocates on hunger/poverty issues and the National Association of Evangelicals which sometimes speaks out on pro-life topics, but these groups are properly "ecumenical" in the sense that they are composed of Christian denominations and their purpose is not purely or primarily political activism. 

Thank you Jason for raising the concern. It does not sound like an ecumenical organization. 

Community Builder

Thank you for raising this concern. I am not sure a post like this would make it on to the agenda of the EIRC but I will bring it to the attention of one of the members.