Open Letter to Synod 2018 Delegates
Re: Social Justice Overtures #12; #13; #14
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 [email protected]