Dear Brothers and Sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ,
Synod 2012 instructed me to send “a pastoral letter” to the churches. This letter is written primarily in response to Overture 3, which requested that a study be conducted to determine “the difference between the mission of the church as institution and as organism” (Agenda for Synod 2012, p. 467), regarding whether the official church may take and proffer positions on certain matters or whether such matters should be left to individual members of the church.
Specifically addressed in that overture were matters such as “positions on political policies, often including pending legislation concerning immigration, foreign aid, voting rights of felons, debt relief for foreign countries, and so forth” (Agenda, p. 466). The overture also asked whether the church should encourage members to vote a certain way on pending legislation or to take a certain position with regard to global warming. The issues are legion; the controversy is intense.
Synod 2012 decided to “receive Overture 3 for information” and not to take action with regard to appointing such a study committee (Acts of Synod 2012, p. 808). Head-in-the-sand decision? Avoidance of the issues? No, synod decided essentially that how you and I talk about these things is as important – and at this time, perhaps, more urgent – than what we talk about.
First, it is important to remember that these issues are far from irrelevant and ought to be discussed. We must take a vital interest in such things as foreign policy, immigration and climate. It is also important to note that engaging in conversation about these significant matters does not necessarily mean taking a position on them. To bring them up is not necessarily to declare how people ought to feel about or react to them.
Synod also asked the executive director to remind all of us that the Christian Reformed Church has taken positions on a number of ethical matters over the years. These positions and statements are published as the Doctrinal and Ethical Positions (available through Faith Alive Christian Resources) and are available online at crcna.org/pages/positions.cfm. Our previous discussions and decisions can be very helpful to all of us in facing current issues. Please remember that certain positions are not only permissible but obligatory to Christians. For example, while the immigration issue is surely multifaceted, it cannot be debated that Christians must care for others and be concerned for the poor and disenfranchised.
When we speak to one another, when we speak to others, and when we speak about one another and others, we must be sensitive and act in a Christian manner. We must be careful to say what we say and hold to what we believe in ways that do not wound others or offend them. It is neither sinful nor peripheral to try to be as politically correct (and therefore inoffensive) as possible. We may not ignore or belittle or look down on those who see things differently than we do. We should engage one another in a Christian manner in continuing discussion.
All of this led Synod 2012 to quote from James 1:19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” In the next verse, James goes on to say, “. . . because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (1:20). It is, Synod 2012 reminded us, even in how we discuss and perhaps disagree with each other that we reveal whose we are and point to the Christ in and through whom we all find our unity.
In this way, synod reminds us that we must address the world and society in which we live. We must do so in the light of God’s inspired and always relevant Word. We must always speak and write sensitively and lovingly. And we must see both our engagement with our world and the manner of that engagement as part of our witness to and for the Christ who is the one before whom every one of our knees must bow and whom every one of our tongues must confess as Lord (Phil. 2:10-11).
In Christ our Lord,
Rev. Joel Boot
Executive Director, CRCNA