Social Justice Overtures #12; #13; #14

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Open Letter to Synod 2018 Delegates

Re: Social Justice Overtures #12; #13; #14

Dear Delegate:

The most passionate discussion at Synod 2017 concerned faith and politics. Synod 2018 promises to be no different. None of us can escape politics, nor should we, because Jesus is Lord of life and politics is part of life. I’ll first comment on overtures #13 (Minnkota) and #14 (Columbia). These overtures ask the denomination and its agencies to stop political lobbying, because,“Political lobbying falls outside of what the institutional Church is called to do.”

The overtures claim support from Abraham Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty and the teachings of scripture.

Much of these overtures speak truth. The church is not a political organization. Church members have more latitude to participate in politics then the denomination. But, the overtures go too far; they draw the lines too rigid. By these overtures the denomination should not have spoken against, or taken action to oppose: slavery, racism, Nazism, Apartheid, or the current Canadian government’s curtailment of religious liberties. By these overtures, particularly Overture #13, the denomination should not have done so herself, nor urged its members to do so. The overtures restrict the church’s public witness at a time when speaking truth to power is, arguably, greatly needed.

However that may be, their main failing is that they miss the mark. Both overtures fail to correctly identify the nature of the polarization threatening denominational unity. They assume our divisions require re-assigning who does what. That is not it. That denominational agencies address government is not the stumbling block. Many applaud when the denomination publicly speaks about abortion, same-sex issues, and medically assisted suicide. But when the topic is welfare rates, immigration, economic justice, and earth-care, the same people resort to “the church has no business telling politicians what to do!” What divides us is not the channels by which the denomination speaks to government and addresses politics. No, we divide on choice of topics and on what should be said. It is not about the messenger as much as the message. Our differences about the message will not be resolved by re-assigning the messenger.

The disagreement that threatens the unity of the denomination and prevents family and friends from discussing faith and politics, is as much spiritual as it is political. Some Christians support the policies of president Trump, others find them bereft of Gospel principles. Some watch Fox News daily, others have cut that channel permanently. Such differences must not be dismissed as merely political. Political choices flow from a person’s soul. Political differences have spiritual roots. It concerns where we place our ultimate trust, how we read the Bible and what following Jesus means to us.

These two overtures propose to fix our divisions by re-assigning tasks, when what is needed is greater agreement about the task. The Great Commission mandates the church: “…teach…them to observe all things I commanded you.” The denomination needs greater agreement on: What does Jesus command? Neither overture contributes to that. They miss the mark. They do not bridge differences. They do not bring healing. They perpetuate current divisions.

Classis BCSE Overture #12

This overture sees our denominational divisions, not as administrative, but as spiritual in nature, offering a very different solution. It assumes that our unity can be found only in mutual submission to the Bible.

Judging from the discussion at classis, objections at Synod might include the following:

There is no need for this. The denomination already does what the Overture asks for.

We live in challenging times, with deep divisions, confusion and fears. That also holds for our members. Many families cannot talk to each other about Jesus and politics. That is a reality. That ought not to be!

Some of us are liberal, some are conservative, but we have a common confession, we read the same Bible and serve the same God. We need to find each other by listening to the Bible. That is our touchstone, that is where we meet each other, that is where we meet God’s Spirit, that is where we find direction.

Are we doing enough? As long as we can’t talk to each other, discuss together what God’s will is for us, not even within our families and among friends, can we honestly say all is well, we need not do more, we are already doing enough?

Agencies such as the Office of Social Justice already do this work, why duplicate it?

No, there is no duplication! The mandate of those agencies is directed at government. The overture is directed at our membership. The agencies apply the commands of the Gospel, the overture seeks to understand the commands of the Gospel. It asks the denomination to dig into the Bible to equip our members for ministry. That is central to the church’s task. The objective of equipping the saints for political discipleship should not be left to the Office of Social Justice. It is not their main task.

Lack of specificity. The Overture is too vague. 

Yes and No!

It is true, ‘encourage each other’ may seem weak, vague, imprecise. But in fact, encouraging each other is a powerful motivator for the redeemed of God throughout scriptures.

Second, the Overture is precise, direct, succinct.

  • The Preamble draws attention to 8 of the most central Bible teachings bearing on religion and politics.
  • The Grounds asks that the Banner give direction prior to elections. What is vague about that?
  • The Overture carefully notes that the separation of church and state must be honoured, while affirming that religion should not be severed from politics. It warns against using the pulpit to tell the pew how to fill-in the ballot, while recognizing that the Bible must shape who our members vote for.

There is nothing vague about this. These are very precise pointers to help us find our way. The intersection of religion and politics is extremely challenging, truth and discernment are hard to come by. This Overture is a serious contribution to a difficult topic. To dismiss this Overture as lightweight, vague, lacking clear direction is incorrect.

On the contrary, the Overture is thoughtful, balanced, it arises from our Reformed tradition and it addresses our ‘moment’.

It is best for the church to stay away from politics. It leads to nothing but further divisions, hot heads and cold hearts. We should not go there. The Church should know her place.

It is true, the church must respect the freedom of her members to take partisan sides. And the church must respect that government has its own job to do.  That, we can all agree on.

But it is equally true that the church owes its members biblical tools for political discipleship.

The overture does not ask the denomination to get involved in politics. It asks the denomination, in teaching and preaching, to focus more on those teachings of the Bible that help our members be a reconciling influence in today’s brokenness.

The gospel of redemption is not an escape from the world, it is God’s plan to rescue and restore the world, including politics, because Jesus is Lord of politics. Jesus came that God’s will be done on earth and the redeemed are to carry that work of redemption forward.

Church and state must remain separate but religion and politics cannot be separated, lest we deny that Jesus is Lord.

We appreciate what the Overture attempts to do but question whether this is the appropriate time. Since the election of President Donald Trump, passions are running high. We are deeply concerned that this Overture will merely add fuel to the fire. Is there not wisdom in letting this run its course? A few years from now the turmoil of today might well have subsided and people might be more open to receive this Overture with an open mind and with grace, but right now, no, this is not the time. Instead of this Overture, a more appropriate action is for the denomination to call on its members to petition God in deep and earnest prayer for our nation’s peoples and its public leaders. Rather than risk contributing to heightened tensions, humble prayer will induce calm and shalom to dampen aroused passions. That is the way of love and wisdom. It is the Jesus way!

Yes, we need to engage in prayer and rely on God’s spirit. Unless God is with us, we who labour, labour in vain! There is not a person in this room opposed to prayer.

You say the time is not appropriate. This Overture will draw attention to emotionally charged, difficult questions that are the cause of much division and polarization. Why go there? Leave it for later.

Leaving it for later, is that an option? As you say yourself, we are in a serious situation, now. People are fearful, people are polarized, passions are on edge, many are afraid to say anything.

This Overture is designed for times such as these. The Overture aims to bring the denomination together at the only place where unity is to be found, that is, the teachings of God’s word and our common confession that Jesus is Lord of all.

If there is ever a time to talk about that, it is today!

The intersection of politics and religion is all around us, today. We are in the middle of it. Now is the time to talk. Our talk should be about God’s will, how to do God’s will on earth, today, as it is in Heaven.

We should not be led by fear. We should trust that if we meet each other on the pages of the Bible, the Holy Spirit will guide us into wisdom.

We must trust that God will use us at a time like this to be agents of reconciliation, pointing to the coming of the kingdom of righteousness. Trust, we will be used by God for good at a time like this.

Nick Loenen, Richmond BC, March 2018 nloenen@shaw.ca

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“But, the overtures go too far; they draw the lines too rigid. By these overtures the denomination should not have spoken against, or taken action to oppose: slavery, racism, Nazism, Apartheid, or the current Canadian government’s curtailment of religious liberties.”

That’s simply not true, Nick.  For the church to say that murder and genocide are immoral is not practicing politics.  Sending delegations to Paris to opine on international climate pacts is practicing politics.  For the church to say that God has instituted marriage as between a man and a woman is not practicing politics.  Lobbying in the halls of congress for particular immigration policies that bend in one direction is practicing politics.  For the church to say that stealing and owning people and not paying them for service is immoral is not practicing politics.  Giving church members one-sided information about the conflict in Israel/Palestine is practicing politics.  For the church to say that the government has no business impinging on freedom of religion is not practicing politics.  For the church to say that hatred for fellow man is immoral is not practicing politics.   The church always has spoken to moral issues, and for millennia has managed to do it without the church forming groups to lobby the government for certain preferred policies. 

You are making a category error.

Participant

For two Paul Vanderklay hosted Youtube discussions about Overtures 12, 13 and 14, go to:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bU59ZdioEjQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6A2lye3mm4

Echoing Eric Van Dyken, I too think a "category mistake" is made when it is suggested that refraining from political lobbying means the CRC -- as an institutional church -- can't speak prophetically to questions of murder, care for the poor, creation care, slavery, Nazi-ism, suicide, or any number of issues that Scripture speaks to.  But the institutional church needs to speak prophetically, based on Scripture, as to those things.

Here are concrete examples of what would be outside the institutional church's role/competency:

    - Politically lobbying for the Senate version of the Agriculture Bill over the House version of the Agriculture Bill is outside the proper scope and expertise of the institutional church. 

     - Politically lobbying for a "clean DACA bill" (as opposed to one that is "comprehensive immigration reform?").   

     - Politically lobbying to oppose a the budget component proposed by the federal "Fiscal Year 2018 Homeland Security Bill."   

     - Politically lobbying to "Urge Congress to End Abortion by Creating a Budget that Adequately Funds Medicaid" (calling doing so "having an opportunity to use the power of advocacy to call for a faithful budget").  (One wonders then, if one doesn't agree with these budget proposal, is one "not faithful"?)

     - Politically lobbying to "Urge your Senators to Say No to [Immigration] Enforcement Expansion".

     - Politically lobbying to "speak up" about the "Administration sign[ing] an executive order that instruction the EPA to begin rolling back the Clean Power Plan," or to ask "Congress" to "support politices that align with the goals of the Paris Agreement."

     - Politically lobbying to "Stop Congress from Cutting Refugee Resettlement Funding."

     - Politically lobbying to "urge Congress" to "End the Immigraiton Detention Quota!"

     - Politically lobbying to "urge your state legislators to ban prolonged solitary confinement."

     - Politically lobbying to urge passage of "The Fair Day in Court for Kids Act of 2016" (that would have government fund lawyers to represent children and others seeking asylum).

     - Politically lobbying to "Tell World Leaders to Sign the Paris Agreement," or to "Urge your Members of Congress" to "Support the Principles of the Paris Agreement."

Law (what political processes, including lobbying, creates) and politics are complex.  Theology and other ecclesiastical work is complex too.  The two categories of 'things to be done' are not the same.  Certainly, some who read the above examples (all taken from OSJ Action Alerts) might say "well of course OSJ is lobbying for the 'right side' of the issue," and maybe it is, but then again maybe not.  The issues involved are all enormously more complex than bumper stickers or even "Action Alerts" would suggest.  The two Agriculture Bills were hundreds of pages (one beyond a thousand pages I recall) in length.  They deal with many, many, many issues.  Any law must be considered within the context of other laws, existing budgets, and, perhaps most complex of all, "political reality."  Pushing for a "clean DACA vote," for example, discourages "comprehensive immigration reform."  Which might be considered good, but it might also be considered bad.  Reasonable Christians (CRCers) seeking to be "faithful" can and do disagree as to all of the examples above given.  Should we call some of those Christians (CRCers) "unfaithful"?

Doug and Eric:

 

Thank you for interacting. I am Canadian and not sufficiently informed about OSJ activities to make a valid assessment. But I am not much interested in that discussion. As my letter goes on to state the denomination has more important fish to fry than quibbling over who the messenger should be, the denomination or its members. Many of our members think president Trump is a man of God, to many others he is the Devil incarnate. That is not merely a political disagreement, our political disagreements have turned so intense and all-encompassing they are spiritual disagreements. That our members can no longer speak to each other about political issues as Christians informed by the Bible and in way that is respectful has spiritual origins. We read the Bible differently, we have different understandings of what constitutes modern-day idol worship. Increasingly, I hear voices, including Calvin’s James Bratt, questioning how much Evangelicalism has in common with Christianity. In that reality, discussing who does what in addressing government is treating symptoms.  The denomination needs to address the underlying cause. Overture #12 aims to do that. It asks the denomination to find ways whereby the members in their local churches struggle to understand the central Bible teachings that relate to government, its task and how we are to serve God as citizens of our respective countries.  We need to find greater agreement on what the Bible teaches. That, it seems to me, is where the denomination should focus its efforts. Overture #13 and #14 miss the mark. Neither overture will result in greater unity among out members. They will only lay bare hidden fissures. The church does not need that at this time.

Participant

Nick.  As you know, there is something I like about Overture 12, and there is much that you and I agree about.  I'd encourage interested readers to view the Vanderklay hosted YouTube video that included both of us if they are interested in these questions.

Thanks for your interest in this topic Nick, and your willingness to put your thoughts out there, even if we disagree in some ways.

Nick,

1.  You have said things about overtures 13 & 14 that are not true.  You would do well to acknowledge that.  These overtures would in no way stop the church from speaking clearly on pressing moral issues.  You have missed the mark with this criticism.

2. If you think that overtures 13 &14 are simply "quibbling over who the messenger should be", then you misread them badly.  It is not simply about who is saying what, but also about what is being said and with what authority.  Whether or not you want to recognize the fact, OSJ and Race Relations (among others) have said and continue to say things that violate and at times seek to bind the consciences of faithful CRC members.  That should concern you.

3.  Overtures 13 & 14 don't seek to "lay bare hidden fissures", but rather seek to stop denominational employees form exacerbating hidden (or not so hidden) fissures.  The fissures are there.  Some are normal and healthy diversity of opinion.  Some are basic and foundational and grounded more in interpretation of the gospel and approach to scripture.  Acting as if these fissures are not there is foolish.  Exacerbating these fissures by "lording it over" others in using the bully pulpit is unbiblical and not promoting of unity.  Overtures 13 & 14 can promote unity by recognizing and promoting principles of love and justice without impinging on each others' freedom in Christ.  That is conducive to unity.

4. The idea that if we just work harder to understand the implications of justice we will all arrive at some unanimous conclusion of what love and justice require in public policy is naive and ignorant of what the entirety of human history teaches us.  Simply put, the Bible does not dictate many of the things we encounter is daily life.  There is no one Christian immigration policy.  There is no one Christian economic policy.  There is no one Christian environmental policy. Christians of good conscience will always and forever disagree on these matters.  The question is, will those in power lord over those not in power?  The answer to that question will go a long ways toward determining the future of the CRC. 

Community Builder

Nick you wrote: "It (overture 12) asks the denomination to find ways whereby the members in their local churches struggle to understand the central Bible teachings that relate to government, its task and how we are to serve God as citizens of our respective countries."

I wonder if you give the members of the CRCNA enough credit for knowing scripture.  To get the church involved in a teaching exercise on this issue would be a waste of resources. Others outside the church are much better equipped to do that. I am thinking of a range of Christian Colleges that have courses on this topic.

Far better to emphasize the church get back to teaching the Catechism in sermons and to young people and new converts.

Eric, Jason and Doug have all made good points regarding the issues re overture 12.

As a Canadian CRCNA member I have had difficulty with the Committee for Contact with the Government (in its various manifestations over the years) on speaking on my behalf to government on issues.

I have also spent two hours listening to the You Tube discussions and I have to admit have more sympathy for the view of our American brothers. 

Jason Ellis in his network piece said it best “No, we divide on choice of topics and on what should be said. It is not about the messenger as much as the message. Our differences about the message will not be resolved by re-assigning the messenger."

How wonderful to have a fellow Canadian join the discussion and we are just down the road from each other.

 

Harry, I do not doubt our church members can make judgments about political matters. The concern of Overture #12 is that often we fail to do so as Christians. We make political judgments that are not informed by the Bible. For example, I often hear Christians defend restrictive immigration policies because ‘we are about to be over-run.’ Is that a biblical argument? I have never seen or heard a defense of restricted immigration that quoted Jesus, or the prophets, or the Apostolic letters or the confessions.  Do we lack a Christian mind when it comes to politics?

 

You say the church need not instruct its members in political discipleship because the members do not lack in biblical understanding. I think we do, at least when it comes to politics. Another example, Overture #12 is grounded in the Bible. You disagree with the Overture, but on what grounds? You don’t say. Are your views about the task of the church derived from the Bible? I know what Jesus’ instructions are, “Teach them to observe all I commanded you!” What did Jesus command that might relate to immigration? Perhaps something about loving others!

 

All Jesus commanded. Think of that. For starters, Jesus spoke more about money than any other topic, he also spoke a lot about idols, false gods. If the church cannot equip the saints for ministry what do you take the task of the church to be?

 

You say the church should preach and teach the Catechism. Here I agree, totally, because the catechism covers the 10 Commandments. The Ten Commandments show us how to live in righteousness on earth. When you and I were a bit younger, the Catechism and the Law played a huge role, they grounded us to think and live life Christianly. In contrast, today most messages from the pulpit are designed to take us away from this life. Overture #12 asks that the church through all its preaching and teaching equip its members for political discipleship so we might glorify God in how we talk and act as citizens, so God's will be done on earth.

 

PS Harry, the quote you attribute to Jason Ellis are my words and I agree with them. I am particularly pleased that you think Jason Ellis said it best.

"In contrast, today most messages from the pulpit are designed to take us away from this life."

Wow, Nick, that's quite a sweeping accusation.  I bet there are quite a few ministers of the Word out there who would disagree that are not preaching from the Word in the light of the Catechism for how to "live life Christianly".  I'm sorry if you've been so deprived, but I hear sermons continuously on how to live in light of "all that Jesus commanded."  But my minister also doesn't try to pass off OT civil instructions to "welcome the stranger" as immigration policy. 

I have no problem, personally with healthy immigration numbers, but consider for a moment the outworking of what you insinuate.  Isn't any limit on immigration "restricted immigration"?  Do you advocate for no restriction?  If you advocate for some restrictions, how are you not then unloving by your standard?  Love your neighbor and welcome strangers are not immigration policy prescriptions.  The only way to consistently use your standard of "love your neighbor" as immigration policy would be to let in anyone who wanted to enter, which would be an end to the nation-state.  There is no such thing as a nation-state if there is no such thing as national sovereignty. 

The church is equipping the saints for ministry, however imperfectly.  The fact that people don't engage in political reasoning in the same manner that you do is not prima facie evidence to the contrary. 

Eric, thank you for engaging. You suggest we need immigration laws to protect the nation-state. Does Jesus, does the Bible command us to protect the nation-state? On the face of it, not at all! The OT says protect the stranger among you because you were a stranger and God delivered you .... 36 times  it is repeated.  Jesus is about inclusion, breaking down walls. Do you think there will be nation-sates on the new earth? Historically, the nation-state is weakening, if not disappearing. That is moving in the direction of the Kingdom. In the meantime we must recognize the nation-state can be a force for good but also for great evil. Let us use the nation-state for good while working toward a better order. Do you not think that the European Union represents a model more worthy of Christian support than calls for isolationism?

I greatly admire John Calvin, in his commentary on the Lord's Prayer he asks who is included in the 'our', just the disciples, just the Jews, just Christians? No, every member of the human race. He also discusses how difficult it is to love our neighbour because some of them are disgusting, immoral and ready to take advantage of us. Calvin says it is possible only when we see all humans as image bearers, made in God's likeness. If Christians advocated for those values to be reflected in immigration laws we would testify to the coming of the Kingdom and hounour King Jesus. Too often we merely parrot the values of the world which in our culture is money.

 

 

Hi Nick,

Thanks for your response.  I should clarify quickly before going any further that I am using the term “nation-state” in the broad sense of the term, as follows: “a nation-state is simply a large, politically sovereign country or administrative territory”.  This is contrasted with the narrow sense of the term that sometimes is used: “a country where a distinct cultural or ethnic group (a "nation" or "people") inhabits a territory and have formed a state (often a sovereign state) that they predominantly govern”. 

On the face of it the Bible actually does command us to recognize, respect, and honor the nation-state.  Romans 13 tells us that God himself instituted government and appoints the governing authorities.  Just like Jesus told us to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, Romans 13 also tells us to pay our taxes.  How can there be government if there is no nation and no sovereignty?  Who pays taxes if not citizens of a nation?  God institutes government to restrain evil.  Nation-state in the narrow sense may be weakening historically, but not in the broad sense.  Just because heaven will not have nation-states does not mean that it is “moving in the direction of the kingdom” for nation-states to weaken on earth.  Take law-enforcement, for example.  There is will be no law-enforcement in the fully realized Kingdom of God.  But the weakening or doing away with law enforcement here and now would not be moving in the direction of the Kingdom. 

I absolutely do not think that the European Union represents a model worthy of Christian support.  There is simply nothing more Christian about the European Union than the more complete sovereignty of the United States or Canada.  The EU simply represents a confederation of  mostly-sovereign nation-states who have banded together for some economic and political reasons.  There are other choices between the EU and “isolationism”.  Have you been lobbying your Canadian MPs to dissolve the Canadian government and become the 51st state of the union?  Canada is pretty much the 51st state already, why not make it official?  :)  Wouldn't that be moving toward the Kingdom?

People in separate nation-states can just as easily see each other as image-bearers as can neighbors in the same small town in the middle of the U.S. or Canada.  You state generally that Christians should advocate for immigrations laws that value humans as image-bearers, but you give no specificity.  Many faithful Christians will differ greatly in what those laws will then look like, and neither you nor the institutional church has the authority to bind my conscience in the matter. 

Money is not the only revered value of our culture, and there are many other worldly things to parrot.  It is just as easy and tempting to parrot various political values of our surrounding culture regarding matters such as race and immigration.  We don’t need the church dictating biblically debatable political and social matters to her members, and thereby acting as the hand saying to the eye “I don’t need you”.

Hi Eric:

Rom. 13 establishes that all governing authorities are of God, accountable to God and deserving of support in as far as they fulfill their God-given mandate. It does not specify whether a governing authority is local, state, federal or international, whether it is hereditary, a constitutional monarchy, or a republic, nor whether it is appointed, dictatorial, resulting from conquest, or democratically elected. It covers all governing authority but does not speak to size of country or an optimum form of governance.

I am not suggesting Europeans are more God-fearing than people in North America. I am suggesting that the European Union is the most successful treaty of nations in modern times. It has successfully prevented armed conflict among its members for over 50 years, promoted cooperation, eliminated borders, worked towards the common good of all its members, replacing centuries of strive and conflict. I was born in Europe during wwII and well remember what Europe was like before the Union. Christians should celebrate and support the Union’s efforts and oppose all attempts to thicken borders for self-interest and exploitation of others.

You say the church should not bind the conscience of its members. If its members hold political views that are not shaped by Bible truths the church would be negligent to not point that out. I took exception to your view that immigration policies should aim to preserve our home country, which usually means our home country is only for people like us and we will let people in only if there is a net benefit to us. Such thinking, in a world of great inequality, exploitation and injustices, is in my view not supported by Bible teachings, it runs contrary to all Jesus taught.  

Participant

Your above is intriguing Nick.  You say, as to Eric's comment: 

"I took exception to your view that immigration policies should aim to preserve our home country, which usually means our home country is only for people like us and we will let people in only if there is a net benefit to us. Such thinking, in a world of great inequality, exploitation and injustices, is in my view not supported by Bible teachings, it runs contrary to all Jesus taught."

OK, let's follow that.  Would you claim then that the US should have an open border, allowing anyone and everyone (let's exclude terrorists, drug dealers and felons just to make it an easier hypothetical) to come into the US?  Canada too?

And this is a real debate, not hypothetical.  The "open borders" position is a growing one.  

And assuming you think the US (and Canada) should have an open borders immigration policy (which I think your above suggests), how exactly do you claim that such a policy is demanded by Scripture?

Hi Doug:

Thank you for weighing in. There are no easy answers to immigration. I struggle as much as anyone. In the 2015 federal election I voted for Trudeau in part because he promised to bring 50,000 Syrian refugees while his predecessor, Harper, was dragging the puck and painting all Muslims as a threat to us. Trudeau was elected and delivered. I admire Germany’s Merkel for taking in 1 million refugees. Many predicted chaos. Does that mean an open policy? Probably not. One consideration is how quickly new arrivals can be integrated lest chaos does result. I think on balance we can for good reasons discount the extremes. As indicated, my reading of Jesus suggests that a far greater tolerance in both the US and Canada for the plight of the millions displaced is warranted. I do know that holding the line on immigration because we must preserve our own country is not Bible-based. He who wants to save his life will lose it. It is by emptying ourselves that we serve Jesus. In an earlier post you said the US still takes in more than any other nation, perhaps in absolute numbers, but as a percentage of the existing population Canada’s intake is twice to three times that of the US. My own congregation of Ladner CRC has for 12 years taken in on average one refugee family a year. Every Sunday I am surrounded by two Iranian families and sprinkled through the sanctuary are many others. It has been a blessing to them but even more for us. I can respect Christians whose views differ from mine as long at they base their views on Bible teachings. That must at all times be out touchstone. Nor do I think that my understanding of the Bible is the only right and true interpretation. Over the years my understanding of the Bible has shifted, not because the Bible is not reliable but because my understanding is very fallible.

Nick, thanks for contributing this thought-provoking blog to the discussion.

If I could summarize:

- You interpret Scripture and the teachings of Jesus to favor open borders and the dissolution of nation-states, and replacing them with a one-world government.

- You are also in favor of CRC employees being allowed to use denominational resources for political advocacy.

- Presumably this is because you want the CRC as a denomination to push for the immigration policies you read in Scripture (no more borders, and one-world government).

- That's why you oppose Overtures 13 and 14...because you want CRC employees to continue pushing for open borders.

Is that an accurate summary?

Dan, thank you for your response. I do not find your summary accurate.

One The modern nation-state is a European invention of the last 400 years. I find nothing in the Bible that commands us to maintain the nation-state. I do find in the Bible we are our brother’s keeper and that in Christ borders breakdown. While we await the new earth the nation-state can be an instrument of good for promoting and administering justice, for instance, but it can also be used for self-centered purposes, and that Christians must resist. God created the earth to held in common by all, by what right then do we put up borders for the purpose to keep others out?

Two, Yes, even Overture #14 allows for political advocacy.

Three, I want the denomination to advocate for public policies that are shaped by and based on Bible teachings.

Four, I oppose #13 and #14 because they deal with symptoms, not the cause. The cause is differences in how we understand the Bible.

I must express my discomfort with describing those who hold positions within the denomination as employees. Such language is demeaning and reduces the Church to a business organization. Those who occupy Church positions have a calling, a vocation, an office governed by their mandate but more importantly they are accountable to God.

Thanks for clarifying, Nick.

Regarding "employees":

The priesthood of all believers is a crucial aspect of our Reformed faith. Those who are paid for their work by the CRC have no greater or less a calling than people like me who work for welding companies. We are ALL ministers of the Gospel. Reformed churches are not hierarchical (contrast this with the Roman Catholic church). I am an employee of the company I work for. That is not demeaning to me or any other employee. In fact, hard work and productivity are praised in Scripture, right? "Employee" is an accurate term, is it not?

Regarding immigration law:

I thought you said Jesus supported open borders, correct?

Or are you arguing from silence, saying that Jesus did not say anything about borders one way or the other? Therefore borders are bad?

Participant

It seems to me, Nick, that your approach conflates what Christians and the church should do with what government should do.  I'm not saying that government should not do justice (that's it's main task) but I'm not so sure government should be in the mercy business, as should be Christians and churches (and all people for that matter).

I think it is fantastic that your congregation takes in refugees -- mine has too in the past.  But I don't think that perspective says anything about what government should do or not to, it haven't the differentiated job of doing justice.  Consider, for example, Christ's instruction to turn the other cheek.  If government does that, society has chaos and government has not done its differentiated job.

Calvin Sem Professor Matt Tuininga has written a great book on Calvin's Two Kingdom theories.  It does, I think, a good job (because Calvin did) of differentiating the task of government from the task of the Church (or Christians).  These are important distinctions I believe (which didn't exist for Israel, which makes it difficult if not wrong to copy pithy statements (e.g., "welcome the stranger") from the OT to form government policy conclusions.

Another good book on this is Jim Skillen's "The Scattered Voice."  I think the key for us in thinking about these questions is to discern the differentiated task of government.  If we don't do that, we project the scriptural mandates to the Church and Christians as mandates for government, with the result being, frankly, injustice. 

So when you say, "I do know that holding the line on immigration because we must preserve our own country is not Bible-based," I'm not so sure you aren't failing to discern the differentiated task of government.  Would you say that a government may go to war to "preserve our own country"?  I would.  Indeed, I would say that defense of its citizens from outside force is a core responsibility of a government, even if the mandate for the Church and Christians (in their differentiated tasks) might be to "turn the other cheek" or to "love their enemy."  Again, if we don't differentiate properly, the result will be injustice.

Good Morning Doug:

You are keeping me very busy. This is turning into a full time job. I appreciate you drawing attention to the need to differentiate between the various tasks of God-instituted social structures. The command to love your neighbour takes on different forms depending on whether the neighbour is your employer, the plumber, or your spouse. The particular form that love takes is determined by the tasks of each social structure. The task of the business enterprise differs from that of government and that of marriage is different again. That flows out of Kuyper’s sphere sovereignty. I get that and it remains a helpful tool to shape the actions of Christians. As you note, the task of government is to promote and administer justice. That is not merely for its own citizens but for all citizens of the world. That is the basis for foreign aid and humanitarian relief efforts. Today, 60 million people world-wide are displaced, looking for a safe place. That deserves government action as much as an earthquake in Haiti. During our life time the role of government has enlarged beyond recognition. It is possible to use sphere sovereignty to argue for limited government to the point where all acts of charity and compassion including health care and all social services are left to individuals. We have to recognize history, that is, the increasing complexity and inter-relatedness of life which requires a larger role for government. We cannot go back to simpler days because the job of caring for those in need, if left to individuals would not get done at all. In his day Kuyper was criticized for being a Socialist because he recognized the need for government regulation and intervention, as was Teddy Roosenvelt when he busted business monopolies at exactly the same time. How can we love those 60 million displaced persons today without government initiatives? How can we provide health care to our own citizens except through a single-payer system? It will not happen.  The job will not get done. Many who argue for limited government, whether supported by sphere sovereignty or otherwise, at the same time endorse massive subsidies for business and not only in the US. In my part of the world the Fraser Valley dairy farmers grow rich because of “supply management” while preaching free enterprise for everyone except themselves. In short, to me, the call to love our neighbour must shape government initiatives and public policies as much as my personal actions. Kyper's Sphere Sovereignty was balanced by his Sphere Universality, holding to the one without the other allows people to claim that religion has no bearing on politics. That is to turn Kuyper on his head, As for Calvin, I have never heard anyone accuse Calvin of a Two Kingdom view. I do remember reading Calvin to say government was given for our good and as neccessary as bread and water. Calvin was not a Libertarian. He also served on City Council and had the Church build hospitals and sewer lines.

Participant

Nick. As to Calvin's political thought, check out Matt Tuininga's recently published book, "Calvin's Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church: Christ's Two Kingdoms."

I believe Matt is a current professor of moral theology at Calvin sem.

There is much about which you and I would agree.  I'm not a libertarian, although I think libertarians often make valid points.  Where I depart from them is when they get so infatuated with the idea of "the less the government the better" that they find themselves opposing any government.

Where you and I fundamentally differ perhaps is as to exactly how much "doing mercy" as opposed to "doing justice" is the government's task, as well as how much government should be a controlling entity in society in general.  

I'm a pretty big fan of Teddy Roosevelt, BTW, but then that was back in the days where the governmental footprint was much, much smaller than it is today.  That is, the pendulum was in a distinctly different place.  Teddy's cousin, Franklin, began a move that pushed that pendulum to the other side of what I would consider to the the "sweet center," but I'll admit Franklin was dealing with anomalous conditions.  The problem was there was insufficient swing back toward the center -- in some respects -- after the dissipation of the anomalous conditions. 

Still not all needed swinging back.  I favor a national "federal reserve" banking system, even if many libertarians would disagree with that.   I favor an "economic safety net" but not expanded to the point where that net entraps recipients into dependency.  Thus I favor work requirements (with appropriate nuance) for government assistance -- as well as other restrictions designed to avoid dependency.  That's a justice issue in my mind, but providing a "liveable minimum wage" is not a political perspective that ultimately is helpful to anyone (but that's an economics discussion as well).

I also perhaps depart from your perspective as to a nation's purported duty to show love (if by that you mean mercy) to citizens of foreign nations.  I think that is better and more responsibly done by the citizenry providing mercy (as opposed to their government).  My perspective in that regard would create great opportunity for the church (institutional and organic) and indeed, the church is working in that area now.

For me, distinguishing between justice and mercy is required to formulate a biblically consistent view of the task of government, which is where I find myself departing from the "social justice" crowd.  I think they conflate the two, and assume that government should implement their idea of what mercy should be dispensed, usually on someone else's expense of course given that government has the power to tax (a component of the power of the sword).

 

Hello Nick,

A few remaining comments and then I'll duck out of this conversation:

1.  The EU is arguably no more successful than NATO, and is in no way mandated or even logically required by scripture.  If you like it, fine, but the idea that the EU is somehow closer to the kingdom of God than the U.S. or Canada is laughable.  The EU also does not eliminate borders or even sovereignty, otherwise a country such as Great Britain could not leave. 

2.  I did not say that the church should not bind the conscience of its members.  I specifically said that the church should not seek to bind the conscience of its members with respect to immigration laws, to the extent that the Bible does not establish immigration laws, unless you intend to import OT theocratic civil law into North America, which betrays a lack of understanding of scripture.

3.  Please show me where I stated a "view that immigration policies should aim to preserve our home country".  I did not do so.  Nor did I in any way state of insinuate that "our home country is only for people like us and we will let people in only if there is a net benefit to us".  You are assigning things to me that I have not said, which makes this conversation quite difficult. 

4.  For a government to govern its people in a way that is conducive to the peaceful thriving of its people is not contrary to what Jesus taught. 

5.  Simply put, with no borders there is no coherent concept of government.  You cannot govern a citizenry that you cannot define.  You cannot tax those who have no citizenship.  If you cannot subject a defined people in a defined geographical area to laws, you cannot carry out the God-ordained functions of government. 

Glad to give credit for the quote where it is deserved :)

In all seriousness, Nick, you bring up the immigration issue. I would agree calls to base nativism would be an unbiblical attitude for a believer. However, virtually every modern nation-state has an immigration system and regulates who can emigrate and who cannot. I would contend this is a legitimate role of the state, consistent with Romans 13 we believers are not anarchists.

However, when we get into the word "restrictive" we are getting highly subjective. Even Donald Trump's proposals, which I do not support, would leave the U.S. taking in the most legal immigrants of any developed nation. As with Just War and other principles of government, we should expect the state to balance justice and mercy. I am neither a theologian nor an attorney, but the actual Synod report dealing with "Comprehensive Reform" seems to be a reasonable framework. That is I agree we should want mercy for neighbors whose only crime is entering the U.S. illegally sometimes decades ago. At the same time, we need to accept that at times people will be deported as laws are upheld and national security is maintained. As with Augustinian Just War principles, I think Christians can respectfully disagree on the specifics while agreeing on a framework. The problem is that the OSJ has often advocated in lock step with one side of the political aisle even at the expense of potential compromise on issues like DACA.  Frustration with this type of advocacy is where I see the other overtures coming from. 

There are 3 instances where denominational employees should be allowed to take a particular political position:

1) Whether Scripture specifically states which position to take (example: murder (i.e. abortion) is always wrong).

2) Whether our confessions and catechisms state which position to take.

3) Whether an overwhelming majority of professing members support a particular position.

If none of these 3 are present, our employees should not use denominational resources to support the position.

Participant

I think there is a fourth Dan: when the political action targets the institutional church.  I know the Canadians are dealing right now with a change in Canadian law that denies the right of churches (of specific confessional positions) to receive some kind of government benefit that is otherwise available.

I don't know the Canadian law details/nuances but it sounds to me like a "charitable choice" or "equal access" issue.  Churches should, for another (hypothetical) example, engage government about proposed legislation that would tax collection plate receipts.

As to your #3, Dan, I would be very, very reluctant even there.  I have had experience with political active churches (on the right) and I think those churches, as churches, were diminished for their very specific political involvement.  Certainly, their political activities guaranteed that Christians on the left side of the political spectrum would stay away, and there is just something not right about that picture.

Thanks for your input, Doug!

I would offer that your #4 falls into my #3.  If government specifically targets the freedom of churches, or tries to impose taxes on them, an overwhelming majority of members would support efforts to oppose those government actions.

To clarify my #3...I'm not saying the denomination MUST support any policy that a vast majority of members support.  I'm just saying that any social/political/economic issue supported by the denomination MUST meet one of the 3 criteria (preferably #1 or #2...#3 would only apply in rare cases like the things you mentioned where government is infringing on the specific rights, or trying to exercise control over them).

I hope that helps.  Thanks!

One part of the piece the strikes me is this excerpt:  "Many applaud when the denomination publicly speaks about abortion, same-sex issues, and medically assisted suicide. But when the topic is welfare rates, immigration, economic justice, and earth-care, the same people resort to “the church has no business telling politicians what to do!” What divides us is not the channels by which the denomination speaks to government and addresses politics. No, we divide on choice of topics and on what should be said. It is not about the messenger as much as the message. Our differences about the message will not be resolved by re-assigning the messenger."

If only this were true. While leaders of the CRCNA regularly speak out on immigration issues and attend Climate Change rallies, one would be hard pressed to show a time they took a stand on the marriage issue. In fact, I would say that they have pretty much dodged it. 

Now as to the issue of Calvin's 2 Kingdoms doctrine which seems to have been largely abandoned by the current generation of the clergy, I do not see it as at all abandoning the church's role in calling out social injustice. With regard to abortion, a competent minister ought to be able to proclaim the evil that is elective abortion from the pulpit. We can also make general statements calling on Congress or the Canadian Parliament to curb the practice. The problem comes in when the church endorses House Bill XYZ or suggests, as some do, that Christians need to call their Senators to confirm Judge So & So. Some may see this as a distinction without a difference. I see it as respecting the conscience of believers to have differing reasons for supporting or opposing various bills, judges etc. To point out the absurdity of the OSJ's positions, they have endorsed or opposed very specific tax and spending bills. Appropriations by definition require compromise between competing political factions. There is no discernible, biblical position as to what Corporate Tax Rates ought to be or what levels of funding the USDA should receive, yet the OSJ has spoken on them. 

Finally, I am a bit tired of Donald Trump being injected into these debates. I am far from a fan of this President, but I do not take seriously anyone who feels he represents an imminent threat to themselves, much less the Church nor does his election somehow justify practices on the part of our denominational elites many of us have criticized for the past couple decades. 

Community Builder

Amen Nick!  Preach it loud and clear.  Hopefully synod will find its way to incorporate your wisdom in their guidelines.

Larry