Offering the Gifts of Sturdy, Gentle Graces: Reflections After Charlottesville

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“Let your gentleness be evident to all; the Lord is near.”  (Phil. 4.5)

After a week which included a public display of racial hatred, the murder of a young woman, and the shameful failure of a president to name evil for what it is, how do we respond?

And what meaning — if any — does our CRC identity have in such a context?

During last year’s election campaign, we in the CRC were ambiguous and conflicted, and perhaps there were reasons why that needed to be so at that time.

Those reasons no longer exist. We are at a fork in the road and ambiguity is not an option.

We are a people who know how to offer the gifts of embodying sturdy, gentle graces.

Yes I know, at times our tribe can be noisy, confrontational, polarized, and angry. But those adjectives do not describe our core identity. If one digs deeper, one discovers that somewhere down there we are a community of sturdy, gentle graces.

We are a denomination founded by immigrants, and deep in our DNA one can still find etchings of the Lord’s words to the Israelites upon entering the promised land: “Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice ... remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there.” (Deut. 24: 17-18). Among our oldest Canadian members are those whose Dutch families hid Jews during the Nazi occupation, and among our oldest American members are veterans who helped to defeat those Nazis. In hundreds of CRC communities today one can see the gospel enacted in interactions with recent immigrants, refugees, migrant workers, and inner-city missions, while our offerings support racial reconciliation in different ways in both the US and Canada.

We are a people who know how and when to take a stand for the oppressed.

Furthermore, our identity is doubly blessed by that T of TULIP: total depravity. First, we're too aware of human brokenness to ever fanatically support a single fallen organization; our T-shaped skepticism combined with our rich theological and biblical heritage won't let us accept the simplistic declarations of extremist idealogues. Second, total depravity gives us no choice but to surrender deeply to God's grace. Before making our conclusions, we ask a key, orienting question: "What is your only comfort in life and in death?" And the response gives voice to unequivocal submission: "That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

We are a Q and A 1 people, on our knees, humbly assured of our salvation, committed to being wholeheartedly willing and ready to live for Jesus.

What does it mean to live for Jesus? We CRC folk have little tolerance for pious fluff that pretends to pass as godliness. We know what “real” smells like, and that’s what we aim for. Our preaching traditions have rich gifts for engaging the whole story of Scripture centered on Jesus. We love the interplay of the two testaments, with “the Old in the New revealed,” illustrated beautifully, for example, as Matthew names Jesus as the Isaiah 42 servant:

“Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations.

He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,

till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their

hope.”  (Matt. 12:  18-21)

Imagine if the sturdy, gentle graces that live within us became evident to all — to every tribe and language and people and nation.

Imagine if we confessed our total depravity by repentantly acknowledging how difficult it is to live out racial reconciliation, and quietly went about learning the skills we need to be salt and light in this area and practiced our way into living out these skills.

Imagine if we collectively spoke a quietly firm “no” to every voice that enables racist hatred and embodied the “yes” of the chosen servant, Jesus Christ.

Imagine if we leveraged strengths like those named above so that CRC congregations in Canada and the U.S. became known as havens for racial reconciliation, places where we integrated Q and A 1 with our biblical worldview, our intellectual sturdiness, and our immigrant history to risk our way towards a deeper hospitality.

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Community Builder

Thanks for these good words.

How do we respond?  Grace and truth always goes together.  If one listens only to the mainstream media, then one could say that President Trump had a shameful failure to call evil for what it is.  But a key problem is the mainstream media has become shamefully unreliable.  By his own words, President Trump called out evil on all sides.  Christians must be informed accurately before we respond in grace and truth.

Community Builder

I agree that Christians must make efforts to be accurately informed, and that we must also respond with both grace and truth. Donald Trump, in calling out evil on many sides, equated the two sides; and that's exactly the problem. One side espoused hatred, and racism, glorifying Nazi symbols. The other side stood for equality for all people. These two sides are not the same. We must, as Christians, stand on the side of justice for all people, and not on the side of hatred and bigotry.

The main stream media says Trump equated the two sides.  He did not.  He said there was blame to go around.  Yes there were some espousing hatred, racism and Nazi Symbols.  But some on that side were also there about the issues of keeping the confederate symbols as part of history. On the other side were people standing for equality and peace.  But that side also included Antifa and others just looking for a fight.  Calvinists and every parents knows that rarely is there a purely evil and totally righteous side in a fight. 

Antifa does not plan to kill anyone as far as I know.  

Community Builder

Beautifully written Syd. Thank you!

Community Builder

Thank you for your prophetic voice and willingness to share.

Community Builder

Sorry Sid but I'm not a fan of too much of this post.  Certainly, we should be agents of reconciliation, but the political conclusions in this post are a bit merely politically fashionable.

This post clearly, even if a bit vaguely (another CRC trait beside having "gentle grace"), promotes grace for all except the "bad guys" of course.  At best, they get a "just say no," and the president (without speaking his name of course) gets an unambiguous "put your thumbs down everyone."  We can do better than that.  A lot better.

Which is the approach taken by Daryl Davis, as described in the documentary, "Accidental Courtesy."  It would seem that Davis, a black musician, has been doing reconciliation work -- including with KKKers and white supremacists/separatists, for years now, and with the kind of "sturdy, gentle grace" that is suggested by this article to be the perhaps exclusive possession of CRCers.  And Davis has been doing this all while doing it was neither cool nor politically current.

Davis understands, quite correctly I believe, that fear and ignorance predominantly underlie the postures of KKKers and white separatists/supremacists.  Davis exhibits "gentle grace" there, not a simplistic "just say no" posture, and it does indeed make for results.  

This article, and most if not all CRCNA agent articles on this same hot political topic, give no hint that the CRCNA understands what Davis does.

Perhaps there should be a GR showing of "Accidental Courtesy."  Knowing there would never be (too different from the preferred GR political narrative, which frankly is less "gentle grace filled"), I'll recommend watching it on Netflix, now showing.