Joel Boot: Synod Feelings


This piece is neither a report nor an evaluation. It is an account of my own feelings and reactions to Synod 2012. Feelings, as we all know, are fickle. Some of mine are not as vibrant as they were that first week in June. But they continue, nonetheless, so I am taking the risk of sharing some of them with you who are reading this now.

This was an “editing” synod. Frequently one of the first voices from the floor suggested an amendment to the motion that had just appeared on the screen. While it may have appeared that delegates were saying, “I can say it better than either the study or advisory committee,” I do not believe that was actually the case. But it did seem that we were sometimes, at least, more eager to improve the statement than to grapple with the issue. Nowhere was that more evident than the inordinate amount of time we debated whether the Belhar Confession was “excellent” or, as it turned out, (merely) “significant.”

Speaking of the Belhar, I had feelings of deep pain over what happened the night we dealt with it at Synod, feelings that persist until this moment. The debate was almost entirely about whether or not the document constituted a confession, while little, if anything at all, was said about what the document actually confesses. And the matter of its confession-ality was debated enthusiastically and vigorously in the presence of several delegates and many observers and some fraternal delegates whose hurt was palpable but who were almost totally ignored during the process. Whether the Belhar ought to be a confession or not, those to whom it referred were wounded again during our consideration of that issue and our apparent indifference to them. In this respect this was also an indifferent synod.

This was also a referring synod. Issues like fighting pornography and intervening earlier in intra-congregational tension and turmoil were referred too easily to the Board of Trustees for implementation. Maybe it is a function of the workload of synod. Maybe it is a function of the limited time. But the reality is we often referred issues to other destinations and did not really deal with them as a body. Synod did not accede to an overture to form a union classis with the RCA in Arizona, not because synod objected to the idea, but because Classis Arizona had not done enough homework. Synod was reticent to do homework, too, and we need to deal with issues more fully.

That was also evident in the debate regarding the Creation Stewardship Committee Report. More than 30% of the debate concerned whether or not a majority of scientists actually believe in global warming. While that matter can be discussed at some point, the more important matter of how to care for creation was minimized and diminished. It seemed that many delegates had come with minds made up rather than to engage Christian-ly in a discussion of how to be more Christian with regard to the creation we all agree we are obligated to steward. There was confusion, too, over what the church as institute and the church as organism was allowed to do and say. But that issue does not mean the church has exceeded its bounds by bringing up an issue like creation care. A denomination that prides itself on saying, with Abraham Kuyper, “There is not a square inch of creation over which Jesus Christ does not say, ‘I am Lord.’” needs to remember that as it seeks to live in the world for the Christ who owns it.

Please do not think I saw and heard nothing good at synod. The worship was fabulous. The singing was inspirational. The fellowship was enriching. The church was alive and at work. Most of the decisions were right on target. But we are flawed people and we showed that, too, that week in June. We talked sometimes more than we listened. Frequently we criticized more readily than we praised. We sometimes referred what we should have faced. And more than once we injured others without noticing

I pray that God will be praised by what we did right, and that we will be forgiven for what we did wrong.

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I appreciated your observations and comments. 

Thanks for your honest reflections Joel.  I hope that they are remembered during the preparations for and participation in the agenda reports and decisions of Synod 2013!

Community Builder

Appreciate Joel's "feelings" regarding synod. I wonder if technology isn't part of the reason that some subjects get only superficial review at this deliberative body.   Following synod via technology (and even participating) does make me part of the process though.

Difficult issues (often divisive ones) discussed by 150+ people lead "group think" and reverting to what comes easy....wordsmithing. The end result is disappointment for some and satisfaction for others.

Just because Christ "owns every square inch" does not therefore mean the Church has to have an opinion on "every square inch".

I pray for wisdom for Pastors, Elders and Deacons in local congregations and those who serve those folks in the echelon of the CRCNA in Burlington, GR and Chicago.

Thanks for the wise words Joel and for taking the risk to write and share them. Your words at the end of the last full paragraph--about listening, praising, facing and noticing are worth noting in most relationships in life, I suppose, but could serve as an orientation guide at the start of most deliberative meetings, whether council or classis or synod.

I find it strange that Dr. Boot should object to Synod debating the question before it - which was whether or not the Belhar should be adopted as a confession ("The debate was almost entirely about whether or not the document constituted a confession").  I should hope Synod debates the matters actually before it, and not get lost on side issues that leave the major questions unanswered.

I also find it difficult to believe - and from what I heard, saw, and heard reported about the debate on the Belhar I would even say it is untrue that Synod debated the Belhar "while little, if anything at all, was said about what the document actually confesses ".  How many overtures were there, after all?  That these were referred to via a kind of verbal short-hand rather than replicated en toto should not be either surprising or unwelcome, given the compressed time available to Synod.

The plain and simple fact is that there was no way Synod could have debated the matter without causing pain to someone, and there is no decision Synod could have reached regarding it that would not have been offensive to some.  The question was polarizing, and yet Synod's advisory committee came with a unified report having crafted a compromise that was largely acceptable to all sides.  I'd call that very little short of a miracle.

Perhaps Dr. Boot is himself giving way to the tendency he notes at the end of his reflections and being rather too quick to criticize than to praise?

Dear Joel:

You are a prophet and pastor to our denomination's leadership.   You are a church man of stature,  the kind I remember in our denomination when I was just a young lad.   Lead on brother.

Warmly yours,

Vern Vander Zee,  retired yet ministering in Miami


Thanks Joel,

  This helps some of us "non-delegates" understand the context of some decisions.   I long for the days when we might return to true deliberation in Council rooms, Classis Meeting, and Synod.  Instead of opinion ruling and minds made up, let the Holy Spirit  direct our ways.  Maybe we should have our Synods after Prayer Summits.

-Pete Byma


Well said.  Thank you.


Community Builder

One of the delights of synod is that it is a deliberative body; the Church in action. One of the frustrations of synod, especially in recent years, is that delegates arrive with one eye on the clock. I attended synod for seven consecutive years back in the 1970s and 1980s … back when there was time for extensive debate. There was an appetite for debate and discussion, for taking time to do the Lord’s work.

Perhaps it’s technology that causes us to rush through a discussion, or that turns it into an ‘editing ‘ session.

When delegates fly in from across the continent once a year for a meaningful conversation about what it means to be church, set aside 10 days, turn off the Blackberrys, slow down the mind and prepare to debate and discuss … until decisions are reached.

It was a sad day when the economic decision was made to shorten the length of synod. The church lost something. Delegates were more inclined to refer issues to a future synod rather than to hunker down and spend the time working through the issues.

As a result, the church is paying the price for efficiency. Decisions deferred or, worse, made in haste.

Eric is right on.  Joel is entitled to his feelings as we all are.  But as a long-time leader in the council rooms and now of the denomination, he should know that all decisions don't go our way.  When they don't, we need the grace to accept the decision and maybe evaluate the way we thought it should go.  The broadest assembly of the church has spoken and now is not the time to second-guess or criticize that decision.


I agree with most of your sentiments.  You sum up well the problem that too many of us suffer: "We talked sometimes more than we listened."  I learned long ago that we Christians need to do far more listening than speaking if we want to be heard when we do speak up.  We also have to expect that at times what we hear will be painful, but we need to wrestle with the truth.


Randy Gabrielse

Just two comments, Joel.   While I appreciate your empathy for fraternal delegates and others who may have been inadvertently hurt in the Belhar discussions, your empathy seems to be a bit one sided.   How would you address the issue of someone giving you a gift that you don't really want?   Someone gives you a bright yellow carpet and expects you to put it in your bedroom... and feels hurt when you don't?    Perhaps a gift ought to be given without expectations, without conditions, otherwise it is not a gift, but an obligation.     

Second, perhaps the deliberations at Synod might be more possible when it concentrates on priority issues, particularly on those issues which are not simply following the general societal trends.   While creation care and racial equality are important, we as a church are not speaking truth to society when we simply echo what society has already determined.   So we are not using our time most productively by re-inventing the wheel.   Creation care as a concept yes.   Conservation tillage, recycling, water purification, composting, fuel consumption, CH4 emissions, CO2 recapture, SO2 reductions, species at risk, no... not at synod. 

Feelings are always valuable for what they reveal about someone and can be a helpful vehicle for further communication as long as "hurt" feelings don't become a way of silencing important discussion.  FOr my part, I have quite a different response to synod---I thought it was an excellent synod and in some cases precisely for some of the reasons Joel Boot thought to the contrary.  Mindful of how our church is divided---a significant majority of overtures opposed to making the Belhar a confession---the advisory committee did an extraordinary job in putting forth their recommendation to let the Belhar play a role in the life of the CRC without elevating it to the status of a confession.  If the wishes of those who wanted an up or down vote on whether to adopt the Belhar as a confession had prevailed, the Belhar would simply have been rejected.  There is little doubt about that.  Did we miss an opportunity to have a needed further discussion about race?  Yes, we did but such a discussion would have been quite a bit more painful that the one we had because we would have had a public discussion about the direction in which race relations have gone in the CRC in the last 25 years, including an open discussion of the Board of Trustees decision about what critics call "affirmative action."   I believe that such a conversation is needed and could be conducted in a healthy manner if proper preparations were made but feelings about the Belhar were so strong that the timing may not have been right.

There is an assumption behind a number of Joel's expressed unhappinesses, namely that synod did not deal with matters as it should have.  I wonder.  Remember that behind the overtures against the Belhar and the expressed concerns about the church as institute and organism are real theological and confessional matters and a great deal of pain from the other side, the side that is concerned about the CRC drifting from its confessional roots and moving in the direction of social gospel mainline Christianity. These concerns cannot be dismissed with a superfical appeal to Abraham Kuyper's "square inch" rhetoric.   Genuine confessional pain also needs to be acknowledged by the denominational leadership and taken seriously.  In the final analysis, however, we do not make decisions on the basis of a denominational "pain meter" but on serious study of Scripture in the light of our confessions.  On that score, my own view is that the 2012 CRC synod gets pretty high marks. 

Community Builder

Thank you John Bolt.


As a delegate at Synod 2012, I find myself agreeing with much of Joel Boot's reflections, especially regarding the Belhar.

First, there was unnecessary hurt directed at a fraternal delegate when a delegate made incorrect and offensive accusations against the fraternal delegate's denomination. This was inappropriate in any situation. The fraternal delegate then requested to speak and spoke to the assembly to address those accusations and misunderstandings. What hurt afterwords was that there was, as I recall, no public apology to the fraternal delegate. This was very unfortunate at best.

Second, what I find frustrating are the "institute/organism" discussions that are still going on. This all seems to be born out of concern that the CRCNA is engaging in justice issues that some of us disagree with. But when we have a document which summarizes Biblical teaching on justice and the Church's role regarding it (or at least tries to), we don't even discuss it. No one during the Belhar deliberations even tried to address the Belhar's points on this. Instead, we make moves which effectively made it "go away", in the words of one delegate.

This leaves me very confused. Are we going to have discussion on the church's role in justice issues? The Belhar created a framework for a discussion regarding justice and the Church's role and was ignored by the same synod that kept bringing up the "institute/organism" concerns regarding justice. I believe that any future denomination wide discussion regarding "institute/organism" concerns regarding justice will also need to include a discussion of the substance of the Belhar and its Biblical understandings. 

We all agree that we need to have a greater discussion about the Church's role in justice. So let's have it!       

Community Builder

I have apprediated Joel Boot's feelings/comments and am happy he shared them with us.

Since Joel comments I have again re-read the Belhar and the three forms of unity. What I miss in the Belhar is a confirmation in the document itself, that God's word the Bible is and I quote from the Belgic Conf. & H. Cat.

"We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith. And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them—"

"Q. What then must a Christian believe? A. All that is promised us in the gospel, 1a summary of which is taught us in the articles of our universal and undisputed Christian faith."

Without those qualifiers I am afraid the Belhar will open wide the cracks that are already in the CRCNA when the following statement would become the CRCNA's confession:

"Therefore, we reject any doctrine: which explicitly or implicitly maintains that descent or any other human or social factor should be a consideration in determining membership of the church." (My underline)

While Joel Boot has "feelings of deep pain" re the Belhar his next paragraph he states this was a "referring Synod". When Synod referred (the other way which is a good thing) the Belhar and received 20 plus overtures to not have the Belhar declared a confession.

My suggestion to Joel (as Ex-officio member of the Board of Trustees), just ask them to create a committee, do some homework on the issues this Synod referred to them and refer it back to the churches. Then, as many have said on this forum, review the overtures and have a good discussion at Synod.  Do not rush into decisions.