“The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.” (Matthew 13:24-26 NKJV)
Growing up Catholic, “how to be”, was clear. At its best, my Catholic community was like an extended family. However, as I matured I observed it was clearly not a functional family.
For instance, a common saying among the men of the church was “married, but not castrated.” Women and children suffered when men spent the rent and food money in bars and on barmaids. The social decay seemed all too normal. The dysfunctional lifestyle amid confession, worship, and Holy Communion seemed to peacefully coexist.
The priest never condoned it, but neither did he develop leadership to disturb it. No one named the enemy hidden in plain sight. No one stood against it. The drunkenness and sexual promiscuity fueled poverty among an impoverished Cameron County, Texas people (35% poverty rate, and close to 40% in the city). Yet the Catholic church preached Christ on the cross. And for the majority, it provided a faithful Christian community.
Why bring this up? Because it is easy to create an illusion of our holiness in contrast to others. The racist beliefs of Abraham Kuyper inspired in others harmful acts of violence toward God’s image bearers. But God also blessed us through Kuyper, so we seek grace and a redeeming of his work.
Kuyper’s idea of Sphere sovereignty lifted me at a crucial time in my life. However, he assumed human agency solely for Europeans and in essence opened the door to the multiplicity of human kinds, or racial hierarchy. But God’s grace redeemed, church leadership named the heretical actions fueled by Kuyperian influences and repented from them. Here is a great article on the merits and demerits of Abraham Kuyper. Abraham Kuyper: Cancel or Celebrate?
The 20th century boarding school movement provided Christians a missionary place to serve. However, the underlying socialized beliefs integrated emotional pain on too many boarding school survivors (read article: CRCNA Supports Investigation into Boarding Schools). Intentions were good, and many students benefited but it is a dark chapter in the life of the church.
I hear the pain in the memories from boarding school survivors and in the defensiveness from relatives of boarding school missionaries. Great harm was done and great good came as well. It is hard to see the two being held together, only God’s grace places people with diverse views in our denomination. A great read on the diverse narratives of boarding schools is Rehoboth, A Place for Us: An Album of Family Stories.
But we balk at considering grace when it does not favor our way of thinking. Kuyper and boarding schools are good even in the shadows of apartheid and oppression. Yet the Belhar Confession is like a poke in the eye to some. The perceived associations with political or social movements (i.e. Marxism, feminism, liberation, etc.) call for refuting rather than creating a grace filled space to inform us of our blind spots resulting in deadly violence. Not to mention a plethora of globalized theologians and scholars whose work includes truths we reject as heretical based on a larger body of work.
The book of Proverbs says the heart of the discerning acquires knowledge (Prov 18:15) and warns against haste lest we miss the way (Prov 19:2). The misleading social media sound bites are delicacies of familiarity and create a hyper vigilance toward the unfamiliar even if it is true. Let us reflect on the right way.
The good news is we got this (2 Peter 1:3-4)!
We have reports of leadership making commitments to work through the complexity of addressing racism and moving toward a faithful gospel.
The work of Race Relations is centered in Christ crucified. We are like the apostle Peter, prone to racist behaviors but given grace to see our condition of puffed-up superiority and granted opportunities to repent not out of obligation but out of a sincere Christian desire. Until He returns may we have eyes to see and ears to hear God’s leading as we seek to disturb racism and heal from racialized hatred.