Resource, Article

We are many sided beings. We are made in the image of God, unique, complicated, individuals, set in a time and place, responding to nurture and nature, and we complicate things.

March 21, 2016 0 4 comments
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            Two recent videos, one from a Yazidi woman and one from two Muslimas living in Al-Raqqah, the ISIS capital in northern Syria demonstrate the realities of life for women. The earlier video of December 15/2015  [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kxHg34DK5_Y...

March 16, 2016 0 0 comments
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Many Christians, on both sides of the border, are looking at the current political climate in the United States with disbelief and wonder. How did we get here?

March 16, 2016 0 0 comments
Resource, Website

If you’ve been to the CRC Office of Social Justice website recently, you’ve noticed a whole new look -- check our new site at crcna.org/justice!

March 14, 2016 0 0 comments
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Why do justice during Lent? Isaiah doesn’t mince his words about the kind of fasting that makes “your voice heard on high.” 

March 14, 2016 0 1 comments
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As new parents, my spouse and I have been figuring out how to raise our family and also find time to continue serving God. We have been learning about being a family on mission.

March 8, 2016 0 1 comments
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How do we stay in dialogue with people who strongly disagree with us on an issue we are passionate about, especially when that issue affects the lives of people in very tangible ways?

March 2, 2016 0 5 comments
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God gave clear instructions to the nation of Israel and its leaders (prophets, priests and kings) to care for the poor.

February 29, 2016 0 4 comments
Resource, Article

Churches are more than buildings taking up space in a city, town, or neighborhood. These are people who encounter the God of cities and nations.

February 22, 2016 0 0 comments
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A working group in the Mennonite Church USA has created a 43-minute documentary entitled "The Doctrine of Discovery: In the Name of Christ" that is a good introduction to understanding the Doctrine of Discovery.

January 29, 2016 0 0 comments
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The plight of refugees has never been more stark, obvious and in your face. So what do we do? Listen to the refugee-Jesus, where we find the simplest, clearest of wisdom. 

January 21, 2016 0 4 comments
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This summer, North American pastors received an invitation from the CRC Office of Social Justice to submit sermons on the topic of immigration. We're exicted to announce the winner!

December 16, 2015 0 0 comments
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Brave survivors of racism and inequality have shared the stories of their experiences. Their bravery has given us a chance to repent, a chance to live together in a better way.

December 16, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Litany

In response to the San Bernardino shooting and increasingly hostile anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric, the Office of Race Relations and Social Justice have collaborated on this litany and prayer.

December 15, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Video

View the video recording from the CRC delegation attending the Paris Climate Change Talks (COP 21). Get updated on how this group is bringing a Christian witness to this global event. 

December 10, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Devotional

Starting Nov. 30, World Renew and the CRC Office of Social Justice are sharing a daily devotional series for Advent 2015 called Displacement and Belonging. It's not too late to sign-up! 

November 30, 2015 0 0 comments
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Here’s the thing: while the image for justice in our culture is a set of scales, the image for justice in Scripture is a river (Amos 5:24). A broad, flowing, living, rolling, sustaining, beautiful river.

November 23, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Article

January 17 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday and the CRC Office of Social Justice is pleased to offer resources for your church to honor the day. 

November 19, 2015 0 0 comments
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In the wake of the recent terrorist attacks, anti-refugee sentiment has greatly increased throughout the world. CRC Office of Social Justice offers ways to respond with love amidst fear. 

November 18, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Article

In a highly nuanced article, the British author Alistair Roberts touches on the need of the church to reach out to the weak and disadvantaged but also be cautions against kneejerk emotional judgments.

November 18, 2015 0 0 comments
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The CRC is blessed with immigrant pastors and members who stand strong and speak up for more welcoming attitudes. Read sermons from the finalists of the Immigration Preaching Challenge!

November 12, 2015 0 0 comments
Resource, Devotional

Starting November 30, World Renew and the CRC Office of Social Justice will share a daily devotional series for Advent 2015 called Displacement and Belonging. 

November 11, 2015 0 0 comments
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In a few weeks, the nations of the world will gather in Paris to try and reach a global agreement in response to the challenge of climate change. How do we, as Christians, engage in this process?

November 5, 2015 0 3 comments
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In this interactive webinar, four panelists give their Top 5 Lists, from four different perspectives, for becoming more hospitable and loving in a diverse world.

November 5, 2015 0 0 comments
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These questions are a resource for people who want to question U.S. candidates for federal, state, and local office about their positions on issues that affect people with disabilities. 

October 30, 2015 0 0 comments

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Thanks for sharing this Kris! I think that event was a positive example of collaboration among organizations and neighbors to raise awareness about an important justice issue in the U.S. today. Interestingly, on the topic of immigration justice, Tim Keller makes a very compelling case from Scripture-- in Generous Justice--that how we welcome, treat, care for and include the immigrant/stranger/alien (as one of the groups in what he refers to as the "quartet of the vulnerable") is an indicator as well as a demonstration of our relationship with and love for God.  

posted in: What About Justice?

Thanks for the good reminder! I'm a deacon at my church and a small group that I am in showed a film called "The Stranger," about immigration, to a group of nearly 200 in the Holland, MI area. The response was very positive and it was a great collaborative effort with neighborhood participants and help from other organizations like the OSJ and the Methodist Church organization Justice For our Neighbors. 

posted in: What About Justice?

Thanks for sharing this Abigail. I'm grateful for the support that OSJ and World Renew will be providing and hope many deacons and diaconates will take advantage of these resources.

posted in: What About Justice?

Thanks for this important post, Jack! The Office of Social Justice has also created a new group study called Live Justly, created in partnership with Micah Challenge U.S., that will be available around September. This could also be a great resource for a deacons' Bible study or another small group!

Plus, you can receive the Live Justly curriculum for free by signing up for World Renew's Deacon's Newsletter (information regarding signing up will be going out soon). 

posted in: What About Justice?

How I wish that you would join us in a prayer meeting which we have every thiird Thursday of the month at the Omega House on Fulton street Grand Rapids. Many of the things you talk about are true, But just talking does not get the job done. We must practice what we preach It is Ora et labora. Our group comes together for prayer support . Our side walk counselors are reaching out to those who come for abortion. We are ready and have done so several times to give financial and material help to those who need it. Our Church family is supporting us in this ministry. Garden of Hope has a minisytry for post abortion ladies. Yes, we must pray and work

Matthew, it sounds like to me, that maybe you are saying that there are two kinds of knowledge:  one derived from scripture (what God tells us), and one derived from nature or what we see (secular).    This is one way of understanding a difference.  Craig is hinting at a problem with that in the sense that secular knowledge comes from what God created.  Secular knowledge is based on what we see of God's creation, God's natural laws working. 

So what is the relationship to morality, eschatology and purpose, you ask?   One relationship is that they are directly connected, not disjointed.  The laws that God gave us in scripture are related to the creation that He made.  The creation that He made reveals also who He is and what He is like, but often we don't understand this very well unless we know scripture.  The Bible says His word is all connected.  The word that spoke creation into being, is the word of God, and is also the son of God, who is the Word made flesh. 

A secular person will try to separate the secular from God, but as Christians, we know it all belongs to Him.  We can also see how God's moral laws for us make sense from an empirical perspective, even thought that is not our primary purpose for obedience to God.  Scripture provides with a lens and perspective on how to see the laws of nature.... for example how does predation fit in, or how does murder or adultery fit in to nature.... is it natural or unnatural and why?   Our value judgements color how we look at empirical evidence;  the empirical evidence is what we see, but does not by itself determine whether what we see is good or bad. 

In some cases, it is even difficult to determine meaning of empirical evidence without a value framework, or without a world and life view.   Is monogamy good or bad... is pornography acceptible or not.... are bribes another form of taxes.... should parents or government raise children.... is it okay if some species become extinct....  does it matter if poor people starve...   etc.   Usually world and life views even shape the collection of evidence, the way "secular" news is presented, and the interpretation or investigation of empirical evidence.   EG.  it is true that both the inquistion and Stalin and Hitler killed many people, but which one is more significant to you, and why? 

How do you interpret other phenomena for example.  Empirically we know that there were giant camels and mastodons and other mammals and large trees in the high artic and the Yukon, some frozen, and some fossilized;  we know that there were dragonflies with four foot wingspans and we know that there are many seashells on the tops of mountains.  What we interpret is how they got there, and it makes sense for people to derive that interpretation within the context of  their world and life view. 

Maybe this gets a little closer to answering your question? 

There is a big difference between science being compatible with the bible and God teaching man about the natural world. Hence my term, 'secular knowledge'. That is the discintction I am drawing, and to understand what I mean by secular knowledge, plese stick to this idea.

 

For example, suppose God didn't just describe the world in genesis, but also black holes, quasars, and so on. Then I would see your point. There are things God could describe that we will never know about since he was there from the begining. Anyway, my point is about the stuff of the natural world that God does not describe. Whether or not this is derivable or consistent with the bible is a seperate matter. Basically, you haven't offered a direction of where we should go with 'secular' knowledge.

 

I certainly am able to answer everything that you are talking about, partly because I'm not getting what your main idea is.  I do have one question and one answer though.

My question is what do you mean by secular knowledge?  I'm afraid that you are forming a false dichotomy.  Is there knowledge that is secular and knowledge that is unsecular?  All knowledge comes from God.

To answer your last question we have to go back to Genesis.  God created us with perfect vision.  It was our sin that brought about all these physical problems.  By God's grace we are able to improve our vision through glasses, surgery, etc.  God could have left us with the results of our sin and never helped us.  Instead, He graciously gives us help.

I know I haven't hit the meat of your discussion.  Hopefully others can.

Well said, Bert.  It reminds us of how all the commandments are so closely connected. 

Marie, I would suggest that you try this for war, environmental damage, and poverty and see what happens.  I could think of a couple of differences, however, depending on motive, knowledge, and responsibility.   For example, war might be defensive to protect the innocent;  how would that compare to agressive war to indulge imperialism?  Or environmental damage from ignorance or to save lives, vs deliberate destruction with no purpose?   Or poverty caused by others, vs poverty caused by sloth and sluggardly behaviour (as Proverbs mentions).  Abortion is an action;  war is an action;  poverty is a result of actions; environmental damage is a result of actions.  Hard to compare exactly. 

Interesting. Bert, what do you think this would look like for war? Or for environmental damage? Or poverty?

Maybe John K, the reason the issue is not raised, is that there is no prohibition against caring for needy children.  Maybe the issue is not raised because at least in Canada, health care is already available to all, including the children of single mothers.  In addition, many pro-life people do not feel hindered in fostering, adopting, etc.  In our small church of less than 100 souls, we have 14 adopted children, and support a mission project in Kenya which builds a school for orphans.  Many pro-life people have set up homes or assistance for single mothers-to-be.  Families usually support single teen moms within their family;  while this sometimes sends mixed messages about appropriateness of "being" a single mother, it also confirms the value of unborn  new life. 

 

Doug, I ran across this comment thread recently and found something on the OSJ's website that I thought might be helpful in answering your original question: 

 

What do you mean by the term "social justice"?  Isn’t the name of the OSJ controversial?

The term “social justice” emerges out of Scripture, and was actually originally coined by the church: a Jesuit monk based the phrase on the teachings of Thomas Aquinas. Contrary to some misconceptions, “social justice” is a concept deeply rooted in the historic, Biblically orthodox traditions of the Christian faith.

When we talk about “social justice” in a Reformed context, we are referring to God’s original intention for human society: a world where basic needs are provided for in love, where people flourish, and where shalom reigns in the Kingdom of God. This vision of shalom is a vision of “the way things ought to be,” or the way God created the world to be before sin. As Cornelius Plantinga writes, “In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight… the webbing-together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight.” 

Social justice refers to the pursuit of shalom in human, social relationships. There are many types of justice (retributive, restorative, etc.). The significance of social justice is that it references the pursuit of shalom — righteousness, harmony, and “the way things ought to be” — specifically in our human interactions and societal structures. The CRCNA rightly emphasizes the pursuit of God’s shalom in all areas. However, the choice of the specific term in the name for the OSJ acknowledges the mandate of the OSJ, which focuses the office on addressing societal structures and injustices which hinder human flourishing.

One final note of clarification: technically, the full name is the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJHA). However, because the activities of the office extend beyond issues related just to hunger and poverty, the shortened term is more commonly used.

 

The FAQ page is pretty useful. If you're interested, here's the link: http://www.crcna.org/pages/osj_faqs.cfm

posted in: Political Diversity

Yes, that's the one  =)...

Wendy: 'No' to both your questions.  What I am suggesting is that if our society decides to use a clumsy tool like government to accomplish a nuance-required task like 'helping the poor,' it has chosen an ill-suited tool to do the job.  Result: "unfair laws" will seem to be everywhere.

I'm also suggesting that the solution to the problem is for society to change its decision about how it will go about "helping the poor'.  Specifically for Christians (or non-Christians for that matter), I would suggest they can best help the poor by deciding how they, with others, might directly help the poor and to cast their political votes and voice in a way that would cause government to regard 'helping the poor' to be less within its sphere of concern and more the task (within the sphere of concern) of individuals and private institutions (voluntary orgnizations).

At present, the denominational perspective, judging from its actions via OSJ and other facets of the denominational bureaucracy, is that both Christians and the institutional church itself should persistently urge government to become more and more involved in the task of caring for the poor, rather than less.  Some may believe that perpetually increasingly government's role in caring for the poor will result in increased care for the poor (e.g., Sojourners/Jim Wallis, CRC/OSJ).  I think that's counter-productive, accomplishing little more than creating dependency life-styles and breaking/eliminating relationships that should exist among individuals in communities (you don't need to have a relationship with anyone around you if you can depend on the anonymous hand of government to bail you out whenever you need it).

Quite contrary to the Accra Confession and WCRC (which believe a market-driven economic perspective is the worship of Mammon), I believe we worship Mammon when we expect and urge government to right all wrongs, including the supposed wrong of "having poor" within a political society.

I had actually considered attenting that one, I think - in Seattle? http://www.chalmers.org/work/hwh-schedule

I ended up going to their conference in Atlanta instead, as it was two days and more geared towards nonprofit organizations that practice those principles and those involved in philanthropy.

Oh, I definitely agree that government is not the best tool to help the poor! However, are you saying that there are no unfair laws? Or that Christians should not attempt to change any unjust systems? 

I'd better bite on your book suggestion, since I throw my suggestions out left and right ; )... a few days ago I heard via radio advertisement about a seminar somewhere in the area based on this book... maybe I'd better see if I can hunt that down too!!

Wendy: I think much of what we might see as "unfair" in government policies (your example of a single mom who gets a 50 cent raise and loses all child car benefits) comes from the underlying choice our society has made to predominantly use a poor tool, that being government, to "deal with" such matters.

Government is inherently (can't be fixed) unable to micromanage things like "care for the poor" without creating a great number of what everyone would characterize as absurd results (e.g., 50 cents an hour eliminates child care benefits).  Why? 

First, the process is clumsy (recall here the old cliche about the two things you don't want to watch made: sausage and laws).  Few laws are made that don't suffer from the "clumsiness" created by political compromise (and that can never be eliminated) and political 'deception' (what Eric refers to: politicians acting like they are interested in taking care of the poor but their first and second rules are to get elected and then re-elected).

Second, government is just too big of a 'tool' for the job.  Government can be good (well, sort of good) at "big (macro) things," but the smaller and minutely nuanced (micro) a thing is, the more incompetent government is at dealing with it.  People are "small" and really, really "nuanced."  So government's one-size-fits-all rules (doing otherwise would fill the world with written rules) create a bad fit, sometimes for almost everyone.  In my law practice, one place I encounter this reality is in "probate."  Oregon and all other states have rules for probate, whether a deceased's estate/will is very, very simple or very, very complex.  Which means simple estates/wills (example: $100,000 in CD's and 'all goes equally to my three children') have to go through a very complex and costly process, even doing so makes no sense at all (it might make sense for complex estates/wills, but ...).  The solution is to take the government out of the picture, whether by using tenancies with rights of survivorship or a living trust or something else.  Much time and many dollars are saved by eliminating government's one-size-fits-all rules.

Third, government must (as government) be evenhanded with its citizens (treat people the same), which very often means that it may not consider exceptional circumstances or do something different because certain circumstances cause absurdities of result.  Again, too big -- and inflexible -- of a tool for the job.

Interestingly, there was an article in my local paper this morning -- at: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20120525/NEWS/305250023/The-key-...|topnews|text|Home -- about a non-government organization that helps helping families who need it figure out how to save money, develop good financial habits, and then gives them a charitable hand.  These kinds of organizations are smaller than government, and so can be more much more nuanced than government as they deal with people's lives.  And they aren't required to "treat everyone and everything the same).  Also, the folks involved in these kinds of organizations, as a whole, are more appropriately motivated.  They aren't looking to get re-elected, don't need the limelight.

I would think that the preaching CRC members hear on Sunday would, among other things, encourage them to be part of efforts like the one cited in my newspaper this morning, and/or to create those efforts if they aren't there.  To some extent, I would think local churches would also directly administer "mercy."  But even more, I would think CRCers, because of what their church teaches, preaches, and encourages, would be engaged in these kinds of efforts.  And frankly, I do see that from CRCers.  Not all CRCers of course -- everyone has their gifts -- but I actually see a goodly amount of it.

I'm afraid I am more cynical regarding both Republicans and Democrats, at least as political institutions, though I will agree that both individuals and structures are distorted by the fall.

As a recent biography of Lyndon Johnson (as well as some revisionist histories recently published concerning the New Deal) makes clear, the guiding principle underlying the design of our current welfare state in the U.S. has been to secure various voting blocs for the Democrat Party - to create incentives towards specific voting patterns.  It is not designed to actually help the poor and vulnerable.  That is primarily a marketing strategy to secure its acceptance by the public and so when the poor and vulnerable are aided, at least on occasion, it is little more than a politically useful byproduct, not the primary objective.

The results indicate that it has been extremely successful in attaining its design purpose, but with disastrous consequences for poor, vulnerable, and those on the margins.  Nearly 70% of Black babies are born to single mothers and the Black family has been all but destroyed over the last 50 years.  Poverty and living off government transfer payments have created a near-permanent underclass in most of our urban centers.  The public education system is in shambles.  Tremendous barriers are in place to those who would escape this trap of dependency and effective slavery to the government that feeds them.  Far too many find freedom and belonging only within the context of criminal activity - activity that often ends in early deaths or lengthy prison sentences.  But they sure do vote for Democrats.

This does not mean that Republicans would do better.  They, after all, also want secure voting blocs and their efforts to counter this are not - as a party - designed to save the poor, either.  Their proposals are designed to win elections.  The manifest failure of the current system to attain its advertised ends (caring for the poor) is giving them an opening, but we should not be blind to their ultimate goal - secure political power.  True, individuals (Republicans and Democrats) are sincere in their efforts to care for the poor and vulnerable, but the party structures are there to win elections and they will seek to influence other individuals, structures, and systems towards that end more than any other.

"Put not your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save...Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God...He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.  The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but frustrates the ways of the wicked." (Ps. 146:3,5,7-9)

It's high time we all remembered that.  In all of these questions and the answers we think we've found, above all else, we need to stop putting our faith in government and return to the Lord.  The idolatry of the State must end.

Might I suggest the book When Helping Hurts? I think it does an excellent job of showing how poverty is caused by broken relationships--with God, with self, with others, and the environment. (I'll be posting a blog about it next week in the Global Mission Network).

I was at a workshop with the Chalmers Center last weekend, and they made a point that made sense to me - Democrats tend to think that systems are broken, and forget that people can be broken; Republicans tend to think that people are broken, and forget that systems can be broken. According to the Fall, it's ALL broken. 

Somehow we tend to get trapped into either/or thinking.

I won't pretend to know all the ins and outs of governmental policies. Whenever I take the time to read an actual bill I find myself agreeing with some parts and disagreeing with others. However, there are some things that stand out as very unfair. Such as, when a single mom struggling to get back into the workforce gets a 50 cent an hour raise and loses all of her child care benefits. What incentive is that to work? And when you read the lists of things that are allowed on WIC, or whatever it's called these days, it's easy to see which lobbyists had their hand in coming up with what poor people should eat. A friend of mine has foster children in her care and she was telling me that she isn't allowed to buy anything organic, even when the organic Meijer brand of peanut butter, made from actual peanuts, is actually cheaper than the generic brand of "peanut butter."

Even with all that's wrong with policies, and I do think when things are clearly injust that we need to speak out, one can't expect policy alone to fix poverty. That's where it goes back to the church's responsibility.

So how do we get back to our mission as a church to do the work (Micah 6:8)  ourselves primarily, instead of through government... because it seems some people think the answer is doing it primarily through government, and maybe that's what's necessary until we (believers) start fulfilling our mandate better...

I'm just re-reading the Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson... wow, what an incredible story of a Spirit led ministry... I encourage everyone to read that book too, read it again if necessary!  it's crazy how God started the street ministry of "teen challenge"   In one way, teen challenge started by David unintentionally almost getting arrested... and then getting his picture during that moment put in the NY times...  that did not sit well with his parishioners, but it is amazing how God used that incident to help him connect with the gangs in NY, even though David didn't even realize that at the time, and thought he had made a terrible mistake, because he thought God had "told him" to go to NY, and it seemed he couldn't have been more wrong...  and that's just one out of many things God did in beyond our imagination ways, through Holy Spirit guidance... and then he went back because God told him too... I would have said "no way, don't you remember what happened last time i was there?"  all i can think is that the Holy Spirit was so compelling, that he had to go again, even though it made no sense to him.  every couple of years, i re-read that book, because the testimonies of the Spirit's leading in it just boggles my mind.

 one of the things that was interesting to me in the "Daring to live on the edge" was an appendix by Don Johnson (probably not the Miami Vice Don Johnson) about the premise of the policies for helping the poor and spreading the wealth...  The premise is that there is limited wealth... he says that's not true...  wealth can be created through ideas... ie songs, books,  sand =>silicon for computer chips - who would have thought something made out of sand would be such a commodity...  as well as through growing things, ie food, trees, plants, etc.   gov't's role is to protect the opportunities to create wealth through hopefully God given ideas that are meant to serve others...  the enemy's "ideas" steal from people, he steals, kills, destroys and deceives- ie human trafficking, pornography, drugs, etc... When the poor turn to God for help, He will provide their needs according to His riches in glory...  He will help them, often through believers, to take advantage of some opportunity, or who knows what... anyway, I thought this was interesting and insightful as I hadn't thought about it from the angle of creating wealth...

another interesting insight from the book, was on the enemy's influence in the economy... see Ezekiel 28:16  "through your (lucifer dba king of tyre) wide spread trade"... this passage (v 11-19) has a double meaning (and possibly v1-10 as well), referring both to the king of Tyre and to satan... it's an interesting glimpse into the time before the fall of man (not sure if the reformed perspective supports the double meaning as i don't recall ever hearing a sermon on this, but read it yourself and see what the Holy Spirit highlights to you)...

ok, praying for some leading and prompting by the Spirit to help us move forward in our mission as a Church to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God...

thanks John...  yes, I confess that article made me cranky... 

I'd like to cite another example that demonstrates the incredible difficulty involved when government decides it will be society's force in "helping the poor," and when we (CRCNA) decide we will tell government what it should do.

In the 1990's, both political parties (though Democrats perhaps more) concluded that the poor, as well as society in general, would be better off if "everyone owned their own home."  Of course, it would take a lot of money to make that happen, and so Congress created Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, which in turn took federal dollars (our taxes) and offered to buy any loan that banks or other loan brokers (who sprung up like grass blades in an Oregon spring) made which met "conforming criteria."

A few problems already: (1) Conforming criteria were (necessarily) one size fits all, which meant that some who shouldn't get loans did, and some who should have couldn't.  (2) The federal dollars artificially pushed interest rates way down (intended by congress to force something that otherwise wouldn't happen), which meant (although not intended by congress but they aren't God, their claims notwithstanding) that real property values soared in an artificial way.  (3)  We were headed for a bubble and a crash (exactly when unknown).

And as the years went by, it got even worse.  Congress was not satisfied with the numbers of new homeowners, and so they took it a couple of steps further.  Borrowers didn't have to say what their income was and banks/lenders didn't have to check.  Indeed, borrowers and even their brokers just started to lie on applications to get loans (no one cared, their somewhat rightfully said).  Wall Street brokers, looking for ways to make money off of these (sup-prime) mortgages started to bundle them and sell them.  Large corporations (like AIG) started offering "insurance" (credit default swaps) to assuage the fears of other companies that bought these bundles of mortgages.  In short, a pretty big financial structure was being built based on then existing economic realities, everyone assuming that government would keep the whole artificially created system from falling on its face.  After all, Congress wanted everyone to own a house?  -- including the poor who couldn't afford it?? --because that was good and right and just??

So if Paul Ryan had introduced a bill in 2005 that would have called for a managed cut-back (even elimination) of this federally propped up facade, the passage of which would have meant that some/many/most of the poor would no longer be able to buy their homes, the outcry would have been absolutely huge.  Not only from the usual "advocates for the poor," but from realtors, AIG, bankers, Lehman Brothers, independent brokers, home owners (their values would stop climing)--literally everyone who had adjusted this new economic real estate reality.  And so such a bill would have never seen the light of congressional day, because bumper sticker styled objections and lobbying, sound-bites on the news, and claims that the government was abandoning society's more vulnerable would have won the political day.

How nice that every now and then we have a good seat from which to clearly see retrospectly.  The result of these supposedly benevolent government housing policies, pushed and cheered on by advocates for the poor and politicians who liked getting the votes and campaign cash associated therewith, has been nothing less than a lose-lose-lose-lose-lose result (well OK, China did come out a winner in all of this I suppose).

All of which is just another illustration of why the CRCNA should not become another low/no-competency, "me too" cheerleader for political causes that so many left-of-center, so-called "advocates for the poor" have become. 

The CRCNA can do better, by focusing on being a church, loving mercy, and dealing directly with those around us instead of urging government to do work we should be doing ourselves.  We need to rethink and regroup, including for the sake of the poor who live among us.  If we don't, the poor have only the government to depend on, and history teaches us (or should?) what that can mean.  People in churches almost always act out of true benevolent motivations.  Can the same be said about those who run for and are elected to congress?  If not, why are we trying to do our work through them?

Bev, great points.   The difference between proof texting, and not proof texting, is often in the number and length of verses used to prove the point by the text.  But sometimes those who accuse others of "proof texting" are merely looking for a way to diminish authority of scripture and supplant it with their own human "wisdom".   I do believe that Solomon tried that when he tried to satisfy his foreign wives rather than please God.  Don't apologize for your use of scripture.  :) 

yes, that snarky thought of one experience today with how assistance to the "poor" is abused escaped me earlier... I try to take every thought captive, but that one got out... there were more examples that I experienced while helping at the food bank earlier today, that i didn't share... it did make me think about that exact question, how do we get assistance to those who need it without "feeding" the dependency, entitlement, greed of those who don't...  I could rant on about experiences of ingratitude and entitlement, etc... but I think the answer is listening to the Spirit on a case by case basis... Inefficient... yep, God's priority is usually not about efficiency... messy, you better believe it, and of course quite time consuming... but it's our call as the Church, and He has given us supernatural and natural gifts to make it happen 

Many "welfare" "justice" programs are the results of leaning on our own understanding, not trusting and following God by listening to the Holy Spirit.  It totally makes me think of I Cor. 1:20-31... man's wisdom/understanding doesn't even come close to God's ways... even the brightest and best we have to offer, don't hold a candle to God's ways, and can make things worse... testimonies support God's higher than the heaven ways, as well as scripture... ie  Is. 55 and Prov. 3:5-6 echo that...  (oh wait, I'm proof texting, and that is not suppose to be the way we "interpret" and study scripture anymore, because we have better models today than they did in the 1600's... there's that snarkiness again... sorry.. there was this article I read today... here, i'll just give you the link...http://pubtheologian.com/2012/05/23/losing-our-religion/  )

ok, back to the topic =) being discussed here...

When we try to fix things at this broad a spectrum using our ways, we generally, often, almost always actually make things worse, particularly if they are from the brightest and best, but who do not have the Holy Spirit...  I can think of many programs... ie to help the Natives, that have them actually far worse off now, then before... go figure... I'll get on my prophetic bandwagon again =)... it takes listening to the Holy Spirit.  It takes Spirit led giving, Spirit led assistance to show us who to help and how to help them..  it might for the most part be a case by case basis... the church can no longer abdicate primarily to the government, this calling which God gave to us, His Church.  God expects us to step up, by listening and obeying His promptings...  Not saying that there never is a time or place for the gov't to step in, but the primary responsibility belongs to believers as the Church, the Body of Christ...   the testimonies I've experienced as well as others I've heard or read about are incredible... that's the power and wisdom of God at work... that's what He wants to show the world, through us, His Bride...  I encourage everyone to  read "daring to live on the edge"  about faith and finances by Loren Cunningham, founder of YWAM...  That ministry has experienced a lot of Spirit led giving... in ways that just blow the mind...   

one quick story, Sam, a missionary in Marshall Islands was discouraged, because God had "told" him to build a bible school, but he only had $200...  so a pastor noticing he was down, asked him why, and he shared..  the closest source of materials was 1700 miles away in Guam, and the $200 wouldn't even get him there... so the pastor, said, well let's see how far the $200 gets us...so that encouraged Sam that the pastor was willing to be a part of the project... the $200 got them 400 miles away to another island, but still over 1000 miles from Guam, and the middle of nowhere...  they had $.36 cents left and so bought a hamburger to share (this was the 70's) and ate it very slowly... while they were eating, a man came down, and gave them a bag, saying that he had been in his room praying, and felt the LORD leading him to give them this money.  It was $10,000 in cash (this was the 70's)... this man had been tithing, but didn't have a place to give it to, until they came... Go figure... how in the world God orchestrated getting these 2 missionaries to the exact and probably only island in the middle of the Pacific with someone who had $10k in the 70's and that someone was also listening and obeying the Holy Spirit's promptings.    That's the kind of Spirit led giving I'm talking about...   Many of us probably would never even have left home...  crazy, wild, beyond our imagination kind of God stuff... we're missing out on a lot of this for a variety of reasons...

now I have to find the book and chapter to find this story again...  can't find the story right now, but read the book, because it shares about helping the poor and what Doug and Eric are sharing line up with/confirms what is shared in the book...  ok, it's pages 137-140; copyright 1991 with YWAM publishing...

...

Concur.  OSJ, through its advocacy on these matters, has become a force for the perpetuation of injustice and a promoter of government incentives that have been disastrous for, not protective of, the vulnerable and poor.

As Bev notes, there are those who abuse what is provided - and anyone who works in retail sales, particularly in convenience stores will tell you stories about the ways food stamps (SNAP) and welfare cash payments are misued.

But there are also genuine needs.  How do we devise a system where those who will not work don't eat, but those who cannot work are properly provided for - and that includes creating circumstances and conditions where, if at all possible, they are enabled to work productively?

This requires careful thought, not talking points.  It requires admitting that the current system is not working - it is simply not achieving the ends it was put in place to achieve, so continuing it or expanding it is foolish.  It requires that more people take it upon themselves to understand economics (most either don't understand it, or think they do but don't).  It requires a much broader look at the Bible's teaching on money matters (currently defined primarily by Matthew 25:31-46 more than any other passage, and the Liberation Theology notion that Luke teaches a "preferential option for the poor", which it does not).

I recently got a book from the denomination billed as essays that let pastors know what scientists wish they knew about science.  I think we need a book that addresses what scientists and pastors should know about economics.

I wonder what OSJ would have said when Newt Gingrich/Republicans and Bill Clinton got together in the 1990's to reform federally funded welfare more than it had ever been reformed before or since.  Certainly, that reform amounted to cuts to welfare and that reform was one of the federal spending cuts that contributed to a stronger economy and a balance budget. But more importantly, those cuts to welfare were reasonably well done in a way that reduced abuse and probably "depency mentality" as well.

Since then, welfare benefits (broadly defined) have consistently "crept up" again, via income tax mechanism, food welfare (now SNAP), housing benefits, articifically low interest rates, school funding, extended unemployment, etc.  The web of complexity is staggering.  And more than a few reaonably bright people have learned how to literally make a living for themselves and their families by extracting government benefits. This is no more productive for society, individuals, families or communities than government sponsored lotteries are.  Both give the impression of value where none exists.

Again, what keeps our political system from correcting these problems, more than anything else, is when masses of votings fail to think things through but instead listen to "leaders" who say they have their interests at heart and vote/advocate as directed by their leaders.

AARP is Exhibit A.  Seniors won't lend they votes to solve real problems (entitlements) merely because AARP says not to.  Most seniors don't know anything about the particulars themselves (don't have to--AARP does the thinking for them, ya know), but those within AARP's bureaucracy, who call the shots, can play it safe, and keep themselves personally in a very nice place, by telling AARP members, "just say no."

And when the CRC, via OSJ or other agency powers does what AARP does (and we increasingly do), I worry -- for the CRC, for CRC members, for our national community, for the poor, for the children who are 3rd and 4th generation "welfare lifers," for those who have no jobs, for our future generations.

One might also ask whether or not the "cuts" in spending on the OSJ favored programs are in fact cuts.  Most of the time what are called "cuts" in Washington, D.C. are not what ordinary people would consider a cut in spending thanks to baseline budgeting.  Instead, they are cuts in the rate of growth.  This is how it's possible for the Congress to spend more money than last year while still claiming to cut spending.

I haven't read the detailed version of the bill proposed, just the summary, but it sure looks to me like the "cuts" are Washington, D.C. cuts (smaller increases), not regular people cuts (spending less).

sometimes the "poor" are driving to the food bank in $40k vehicles...  now of course there might be extenuating circumstances I'm not aware of, but sometimes I really have to watch my attitude when serving the poor.

But Nathaniel, what you say is only OSJ's characterization of the bill, not the bill itself.

I've read some of the bill, but like most others, it takes a pretty good deal of time (not to mention expertise) to really ferret out all of the details involved in any federal budget, but I would be of the following perspectives:

   1)  Above all, the federal government may not continue to (that is, it is grossly unjust to do so) spend so much more than it receives over such a prolonged period of time, which is what the federal government has been and is now doing.  Doing so "goes against Christian values" of being honest, living within one's means, and not stealing (from future generations).  Indeed, if the Iraq war could be called unjust and immoral, it would be, first of all, because it was waged on the financial backs of future generations.

   2)  Within the contraint of the above, there is a great deal of debate that may be had, but it is inherently unclear which arguments/positions "go [with or] against Christian values."  Given that, the CRC, as a denomination (or classes or councils) simply has/have no business being the political proxy of its members.

   3)  It is certainly not a given in this country, or pretty much in any state within this country, that a reduction in food stamps amounts to "sacrificing protection of the needs of the poor."  Indeed, I am astounded that OSJ would simply equate a reduction of food stamps with "sacrificing protection of the needs of the poor," as if that's all there is to the analysis.  To even define "the poor" in this country is an incredibly complex task.  To then analyze the incredibly complex web of assistance programs provided by the federal government and the various states is yet another incredibly difficult task.  Has OSJ done this foundational work?  To form a conclusion like this (that reduction of food stamps = sacrificing protection of the needs of the poor) is nothing less than grossly irresponsible, if for no other reason (and there are other reasons) than that such a correlation is just not that simple. And it is because of this kind of mindless political drum beating that aid to the poor policies are never adjusted downward, regardless of how ill-advised, but rather get added to, like a one-way ratchet, without regard to the damage (yes, damage) this does to the "the poor."

   4)  The federal government in this country has, in the course of more than the past half-century, but particularly since the 1960's, provided "assistance to the poor" in ways and to an extent, that is has created what is now a multi-generational engrained "dependency mentality" that would not exist to a large extent but for sustained, incompetent government policies.  Doing that can rightly be called unjust and immoral.  I'm not suggesting that the federal government immediately suspend all such policies (it simply can't at this point), but it has created a social responsibilty mess, and that mess needs to be slowly unwound, now merely ratcheted up by bumber-sticker chanting and reacting.  In all of this, government has not heeded the admonition of "the first rule is to do no harm."

   5)  Our governments will keep being "stupid and counterproductive" if the political analysis of its population is based on shallow thinking and bumper sticker sloganizing.  Respectfully, for OSJ to oppose this bill by simply saying it "sacrific[es] protection of the needs of the poor in favor of an already bloated military budget [and therefor] goes against Christian values" is just that.

   6)  Caring for the poor does NOT mean urging government to care for the poor.  Government money is money taken from its citizens via the power of the sword (or the business end of a gun if you will).  Caring for the poor means caring for the poor (yourself, individually and in your voluntary communities) and urging others to do likewise, without threat of force.  One of the results of our incompetent government politicies is that we have diminished our population's ability to take responsibility for each other, to "love mercy."  This victimizes both the poor (who get their cup of water from a cold, sterile hand) and those who might do mercy by providing that cold cup of water along with many other things the recipient might need that government simply lacks the capacity to give.

   7)  In short, advocating that government ignore its unjust and incompetent actions (over spending like the world is coming to an end) in order to create a distorted society where the population predominantly believes that doing mercy is advocating that government does mercy by taking money from the other guy is something the CRCNA ought not be doing, for all kinds of reasons.

Granted, Synod 2006 adopted a report and urged agencies and members to promote and engage in international initiatives for building peace with justice.  Why 163 delegates to Synod, perhaps none of which had any competency in the areas they were pronouncing on, thought they should say this is beyond me.  What I offer in response is CO Article 85.  Who is Synod, or OSJ, or any other CRCNA agency, to lord it over me or tens of thousands of other CRC members by claiming the power of political proxy for us?  Their so doing is highly  objectionable even if they have competency, and even more objectionable because they don't.

1. Would the spending in question, if it were not being diverted (a mischaracterization, actually) to the DoD, in fact provide "protection of the needs of the poor", regardless of whether the DoD is bloated or not?  (For myself, I can't think of a single Federal government expenditure that is not bloated - including social welfare programs.)  Given the effect of the social welfare state on poor and minority families in this country over the last 50 years of government transfer payments, I can make a very good case that it does not provide that protection but rather is positively harmful to them.

2. Actually, the budgetary prioritization of defense spending CAN be squared with biblical teaching.  It is not one that has a biblical "justification" (and neither does the OSJ preferred policy) because the budget is not primarily a theological document - it's a statement of spending priorities, based on prudential considerations that are highly contextualized by the historical situation, the objectives of the institution in question, and the efficacy of those spending options.  Furthermore, to make the apparent assumption that the national government must prioritize in the same way as a church, a family, or some other organization is to ignore the different function and calling of government (sphere sovereignty).  There is, for instance, explicit biblical warrant for the State to bear the sword (DoD funding) - Romans 13 - but there is no corresponding biblical warrant for the State to be the primary care-giver of the poor (in Deuteronomy, that task was given the Levites).  That is a matter of prudence and effectiveness (about which, see item 1 above).

3. It is arguable that increasing and enhancing the U.S. military is one of the most effective means available of promoting peace with justice in the international arena.  A U.S. carrier battle group off shore has done more to encourage peace and justice among dictators and tyrants in this world than all the food aid the U.S. government has ever tossed about, not to mention its direct humanitarian capabilities (as victims of the Inodnesian and Japanese tsunamis will attest).  A strong U.S. army presence along the DMZ in Korea has protected peace and justice (at least in the South) for 60 years.  And let's not forget NATO - an international initiative to build and maintain peace with justice through a strong military alliance.

In other words, your response is an indication of the problem.  You simply assume that spending on the military is evil (perhaps a necessary evil in some cases, but still bad) and spending on welfare programs is good (no matter how ineffective and damaging those programs may be), so naturally the Bible tells us to do good (spend on welfare) and not bad (spend on the military).  As you say (erroneously), there is "simply no biblical justification" for anyone who disagrees with you on this matter.

But I don't agree.  And I can tell you why based on history, human nature, economics, and, yes, biblical teachings.  What I will not tell you, however, is that my political beliefs and opinions are the only biblically valid opinions.  I won't even imply or insinuate that.  I do think you can make a biblical case for your preferred policies - I think it's mistaken and ineffective, but that's a matter for debate, discussion, and review of the empirical results.  Would that the same could be said for OSJ regarding those of differing views.  OSJ is, however, part of an effort to wed the CRC to a single political faction, and if that effort is successful it will be the death of the CRC as the politics will quickly overwhelm our witness to Jesus, just as has been the case in the ELCA, the PC(USA), the Episcopal Church in America, and others.

I'm not saying that faith has no political implications, but I will say that those implications are primarily in regards to ends and only secondarily in regards to means.  These "Action Alerts" (along with the bulk of what OSJ does) conflates these two, assuming that the means - statist welfare policies - automatically entail the ends and vice versa.  This conflating assumption is false.

Eric,

You left out the first and key paragraph of the alert, which highlighted its intention. It hit on a very specific point, namely that the House of Representatives was advocating cuts to food stamps and other domestic programs in order to boost military spending. In the budget debate, sacrificing protection of the needs of the poor in favor of an already bloated military budget goes against Christian values. The action alert is, in effect, advocating for fair treatment of the poor: it is unfair to ask the poor to carry the burden of maintaining military spending. Regardless of where we stand on the role of government in terms of food stamps, setting a precedent of harming the poor in favor of the military spending goes against Christ’s teaching of love and compassion. How is increased military spending at the expense of the poor justifiable in the current context of our nation’s debt and budget debate? When military spending is boosted by cutting services for the poor and vulnerable, they are indeed getting the short-end of the stick, or as you put it, shafted. There is simply no biblical justification for that.

Further, Synod 2006 adopted a comprehensive report by the synodical Committee to Study War and Peace urging the “agencies and members of the CRC to promote and actively engage in international initiatives for building peace with justice” (p. 672). Our efforts to reduce military spending are part of a response to this Synodical mandate.

Our assumption is not that you don’t care or that you aren’t Christian. In fact, we assume the opposite, which is precisely why we send out action alerts. And we do recognize that there are differing opinions. But in this specific case, there is no biblical justification for increased spending of a war machine at the expense of the poor and vulnerable.

Action alerts are only one way OSJ engages CRC members. We have numerous resources on our website and work to create workshops that open up the opportunity to discuss the differences we have among us and work towards a Biblical solution. (Church Between Borders is one such workshop.) 

I wouldn't say "justice" and "mercy" are synonyms.  I say they are, in the context of Micah 6 anyway, parallel concepts.  Think of it as a spiral - do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with God - the latter imperatives build on the former, including and enhancing them to develop the fullness of the author's intended conceptualization.

Parallelism in Hebrew writing is not mere repetition with different words.

A partiality for the poor is a perversion of justice - and not particularly merciful to either the wealthy or the poor (and the wealthy, in their own way, need mercy as much as do the poor).  We beggar the concept of mercy if we restrict it to those materially less well off.

So I'm not saying we should get rid of the word "mercy" or "justice", but that the two are intimately connected and mutually dependent concepts, not opposed or estranged one from another.  I agree that the Belhar (and similar documents) misunderstand both justice and mercy, and that the vision of justice they have is neither biblical nor merciful.

posted in: Political Diversity

I would add to John's comments the text of Leviticus 19:15, which is:

        "Do not pervert justice; 
         
do not show partiality to the poor 
         or favoritism to the great,
         but judge your neighbor fairly."

Certainly, justice and mercy must be two different things, and not merely synonyms, for in Leviticus, God declares is it a perversion of justice to show partiality to the poor. That would not be the case for mercy, particularly (but not limited to) economic mercy. Given that, why would we want to rid our language of the word "mercy" when advocating for the poor?

This is why I regard the Belhar Confession (as the Accra) as very mistaken when it says, "that God, in a world full of injustice and enmity, is in a special way the God of the destitute, the poor and the wronged".

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"Neither praise thyself in what is good in thee, nor accuse God in what is evil in thee. For this is wrong judgment, and so, not judgment at all. This thou didst, being evil; reverse it, and it will be right. Praise God in what is good in thee; accuse thyself in what is evil. So shalt thou anticipate the judgment of God, as He saith, "If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged of the Lord" 1 Corinthians 11:31. He addeth, love mercy; being merciful, out of love, "not of necessity, for God loveth a cheerful giver" 2 Corinthians 9:7. These acts together contain the whole duty to man, corresponding with and formed upon the mercy and justice of God Psalm 101:1; Psalm 61:7. All which is due, anyhow or in any way, is of judgment; all which is free toward man, although not free toward God, is of mercy."     "(Barne's (B   

(Barnes Notes)

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The word translated as "justice" in both Leviticus and Micah (also the most common word for "justice" in the OT) is "mispat".

The sense of that word is not "fair" as that word has come to be understood in a modern context, that is, equal or even.  It is more along the lines of "in accordance with the law", or more specifically, "in accordance with the law of God".  Since the law of God does not distinguish among persons on the basis of wealth, status, power, or any other human characteristic, it is most certainly "fair", but that is not the primary purpose of the law.

The words translated as "mercy" (at least in the NIV) are more varied, but the one in Micah 6 is "hesed".  Included in the sense of the Hebrew word is "faithful", "loyal", "devout" - all characteristics called for by the law of God.  And indeed the law of God is merciful since that law is what requires us to tend to the interests of the poor, the alien, the orphan, the widow, etc.

There is merit in the notion that "justice" pertains to actions and "mercy" to an attitude of the heart, hence "do justice" and "love mercy", but it is also true that - at least in Micah 6 - the latter is intended to build on and expand what is understood by the former.

As to "rights-based" justice, I have come to be very skittish about the word "rights".  Justice is not a matter of getting my rights, but a matter of acting in accordance with the law of God.  It is not "me-directed" (my rights), but "other-directed" (God's commands).  There is an appropriate use of the word "rights" in the context of contingency.  If I agree to pay you X dollars in exchange for item Y, then pay you X dollars, I have a right to item Y.  But that right is contingent upon my paying you.  But when it comes to inherent (aka human) rights, that is not a biblical concept.  The poor person does not have a right to my mercy or charity.  God has a right to demand that I act mercifully and charitably (he made us and we are his), but neither the poor person nor the rich one has any inherent rights.  Unless you mean the right to be damned for eternity (all have sinned and the wages of sin is death).

Social justice, or any other form of justice, understood as this panoply of ever-expanding "human rights" is inherently flawed and is in the long term unsustainable.  This understanding of justice not only rejects the concept of mercy, it ultimately rejects the divine basis of the covenant, and therefore of justice and law, rooting them instead in human nature (dignity, image of God, etc.).  It is, therefore, decidedly not Reformed and not really even Christian.

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Bev: When you say/ask "and I wonder if 'social justice' aka 'rights based justice' (is that a fair equation?)...", my response is yes, that absolutely is a fair equation, and is at the core of my objection to it.

"Social Justice" movement thinkers do indeed get rid of talk of mercy.  I suspect they consider it demeaning to the receivers of mercy to characterize what they receive as mercy. Sort of like "I don't want your pity or your charity!" but "you will give me what my justice rights demand!"

And yes, I think the current zeitgeist of "Social Justice" (which is really a successor to Liberation Theology, the political orientation of which is neo-Marxist) is, as you say, "part of the reason 'entitlement' seems to be so rampant."

If you read the Bylaws of the CRCNA (last updated January 28, 1995), you will find as one of its statements of purpose for the CRCNA to be "to extent mercy ...".  More significantly, you will NOT find even one occurence of the word "justice."  Flash forward to the present and check out the website of the WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches), the ecumenical organization the CRCNA belongs to. If you do a word search there for the word "mercy," you'll get no hits (zero), but if you do a word search for the word "justice," you get 11 pages of hits (that's pages, not just 11 hits). Indeed, in one of the "section reports" of the WCRC (you can find it at their website) the "section" participants recommend to the greater WCRC body that it:

"Affirm[] the centrality of the Accra Confession to the life of WCRC and so name[] covenanting for justice in the economy and the earth as WCRC’s number one priority ...".  The Accra Confession (adopted confession of the WCRC) reads largely like a political manifesto. Probably the most often used word in it is "justice" (or "injustice), and again, there are zero (0) references to mercy.  It is a clear and unapologetic call to action that is predominantly political.

So the number one priority of WCRC (our ecumenical organization) is "justice" and no mention is even made of "mercy."  This is a pretty big shift from our CRCNA 1995 Bylaws. What a difference 16 years can make, eh?

I think another reason "Social Justice" advocates like to talk about only "justice" and never "mercy" is because "justice" is associated with government action, and "mercy" with personal action. The net effect of the vocabulary shift here is profound. The best and most appropriate way to do justice to the poor is by lobbying the government to do it, instead of doing it ourselves. And indeed, the WCRC's activity (read the Accra Confession and spend some quality time with the WCRC website at wcrc.ch) is largely political, and aimed at government/political restructuring, and the CRCNA's activity is increasingly moving in that direction as well.

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Some "sharp" insight, Doug... it seems the "sword" mentioned in Hebrews 4:12 is doing some dividing between "soul and spirit", "bone and marrow" and now "justice and mercy" =)...

I think you hit on a key thought with how mercy is meant to be done voluntarily based on biblical love and unity (God's way), not forced (man's way?).  and i wonder if "social justice" aka "rights based justice" (is that a fair equation?) is part of the reason "entitlement" seems to be so rampant.

posted in: Political Diversity

Doug, good comments.   Just to expand a bit more on it:   As Christians, we all confess that justice (God's justice) demands that we are all unworthy, undeserving.  We deserve punishment for our disobedience to God.   This punishment Christ took on himself, on our behalf.   It is God's mercy that put this punishment, this justice, on to Himself, on to His Son.   When we insist on justice only, then we condemn ourselves.   It is when we appreciate God's mercy to us, that we are able to grant mercy to others.   Indirectly, this concentration on justice alone, seems to remove God's grace from us, or remove us from God's grace.

Justice means paying a worker an adequate wage to buy his food and shelter and not defrauding the employer or his worker.   Mercy means giving someone unable to work, or unable to find work, enough to prevent starvation and freezing to death, just as God gave us life, even though we did not deserve it and had lost our  real right to it. 

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Eric:  When you say "In this, then, "Do justice, love mercy" reflect a parallelism common to Hebrew, for to act in accordance with the law of God is to be merciful," are you suggesting the reference to "justice" and "mercy" are references to the same concept but with different words (that mean the same thing), or otherwise.

I've always considered the two phrases ("do justice" and "love mercy") to refer to two different commands: (1) we must do justice; (2) we must love mercy, with a much greater degree of subtlety in the latter.

And this coordinates well with Leviticus 19:15, which says (NIV), "Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly."  Justice is justice, and should be shown equally to poor and rich alike.  On the other hand, given other scripture, it would seem clear that the poor are to be (for obvious reasons) the recipients of mercy, and the not-poor (which doesn't necessarily mean rich) the providers of mercy.

What is particularly damaging about that which its proponents call "Social Justice" is it rejects (or at least ignores) the the idea of mercy, and replaces it with a rights-based justice.  Thus, those who receive mercy ought not respond with "thank you" but rather, "its about time you do me justice, you oppresive rich person who unfairly gained wealth from the worship of the idol god Mammon, also known as 'market economics'."

I say this is damaging because it destroys biblical unity, replacing it with "class animosity."  The other damage it does it substitutes action of the government (the power of the sword is required to take from "the rich" and give to "the poor") for reliance upon biblical unity and love, which is voluntary.

posted in: Political Diversity

Do Justice, as it is meant in Micah and other places, means "act in accordance with the law of God".  In this, then, "Do justice, love mercy" reflect a parallelism common to Hebrew, for to act in accordance with the law of God is to be merciful.

A prime example of what is meant by this is in the way Boaz treats Ruth.

But we have come to define "justice" as "fair" and "getting my rights".  So to us the parable of the master with his workers in the vineyard in which the folks who only worked one hour got the same pay as those who worked all day seems "unfair" and therefore "unjust".  But even if it is unfair, it is not unjust and it is arguably not even unfair. 

So in the "social justice" mindset, there is something terribly unjust when person X has $5 million and person Y has $5000 or $5 - it's unfair on its face.  Somehow it's terrible that there's a 1% even if we 99% have access to video equipment, the Internet, food, clothing, shelter, vehicles, education..... 

I remember a conversation with a member of my congregation who was complaining a bit about this income inequality and I asked him what difference it made to him - after all, he easily makes 2-3 times what I make and that doesn't bother him.  Why does it bother him that somebody else makes 2-3 or even 200 times what he makes?  None of us are starving and if that is how God in his providence chooses to dispense his beneficence, what is that to me? 

All of us are answerable to God for how we use what is entrusted to us and it's fine to remind each other of that (and to be perfectly honest, I really don't want the responsibility of a multi-million dollar income).  Part of how we are to use it is to care for those who are starving.  But inequality is a given, not an injustice, and many who shout "Social Justice" - including our own OSJ - can't seem to grasp that.

posted in: Political Diversity

Hopefully to clarify my question(s), below is a quote (from Wikipedia) of a Polish fellow:

Janusz Korwin-Mikke argues simply: "Either 'social justice' has the same meaning as 'justice' - or not. If so – why use the additional word 'social?' We lose time, we destroy trees to obtain paper necessary to print this word. If not, if 'social justice' means something different from 'justice' - then 'something different from justice' is by definition 'injustice'"

I guess my perplexion is the same as Mr. Korwin-Mikke's.

I don't think this is just quibbling about words.  Micah 6:8 distinguishes between Justice and Mercy, saying "Do Justice" but "Love Mercy."  If we put "justice" content into "mercy," that redefines "mercy" so that Micah 6:8 becomes "Do Justice" and "Do Mercy."  If "social justice" is intended to define mere inequality (of whatever) as "injustice," as opposed to an opportunity to "love doing mercy," we've really changed Micah 6:8 and what I understand the Reformed worldview to be. 

Have we?

posted in: Political Diversity

I've searched our (CRCNA) OSJ site and can't find a definition for "social justice," although I can find lots of language about "what they kind of do," but even then, the language can be really vague (eg., .  That which is not so ambiguous largely sounds like "mercy" to me, as opposed to "justice," let alone "social justice."  And there was an example that involved justice, but I'd just call it "justice."  (Understand I've practiced law for 32 years.  I'm not unaquainted with "justice.") 

I do find this language:

"When we talk about social justice, we mean God's original intention for human society: a world where basic needs are met, people flourish, and peace (shalom) reigns.  God calls us, the church, to participate in the renewal of society so that all--especially the weak and vulnerable--can enjoy God's good gifts."

but the above language really covers pretty much everything in life, whether justice, mercy or anything else, and even the words don't really make sense (as in, "social justice" is said to mean "God's original intention for human society"?????).

I get a better explanation from Wikipedia I think.  See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_justice.  But Wikipedia offers a variety of definitions/perspectives from a variety of historical movements that used the phrase.  So I'm still left wondering what the CRCNA means by "social justice?"  I see a subsection of "Restorative Justice" on the OSJ website and I think that is pretty reasonably  defined.  See: http://www.crcna.org/pages/osj_restorativejustice.cfm.  It says:

"Restorative Justice is a biblically based view of criminal justice that attempts to engage victims, offenders and the affected communities in bringing about deep and lasting solutions by focusing on restitution, restoration, healing, and the future. At its core, it's about relationships."

I do think it important that before the denomination sets off on a supposed concrete project like "doing social justice," it articulate a better (more narrow and meaningful) definition than "When we talk about social justice, we mean God's original intention for human society ...".

Can anyone who has had involvment with CRCNA OSJ activities help out on this?  Is there amore narrow definition for the key two-word phrase that makes up the meaningful part of OSJ's name than "God's intention for human society"\?

posted in: Political Diversity

Doug - Originally "social justice" meant justice that was social.

In our more traditional understanding of things, individuals act and are responsible for those acts.  Custer did this, Crazy Horse did that, the men of the 7th Cavalry did this other...  Justice requires a response to these individuals and their actions.  A man robs a bank, he's caught and he - as an individual - is held accountable.  Justice.

But in "social justice", the man is not an individual.  Rather he is a member of a society, a social group.  Now it is not an individual robbing a bank, but an oppressed minority group striking out at their oppressors (Occupy Wall Street is a prime example of this).  Now it becomes a matter of social groups dealing with one another.  It isn't the men of the 7th Cavalry slaughtering Indians at Wounded Knee, but the White race doing it.  Similarly, the victims are not those who were murdered at Wounded Knee, but all Indians.  Social Justice requires that the White race be punished for the attrocity and until the whole is punished, an injustice exists.  Though couched in terms of human rights and equality, it is a rejection of the individual.

There is a smidgen of truth in it.  There are systems and structures that oppress specific groups.  The 7th Cavalry wasn't a mob, but a disciplined military force operating on the orders of the U.S. government.  To the extent these kinds of social (communal) sins can be identified and corrected, it's worthwhile, for there is a social, communal nature to the act.

But there are two major problems with it.  The first is its tendency to utopic visions.  Somehow, if we can just tweak the system here, adjust the structure there, we can create heaven on earth.  Sin, however, still rears its ugly head and human ingenuity comes to the fore.  Somebody (or group of bodies) figures out a way to use the new system for selfish purposes, too.  This is the tragedy of communism and socialism.  If men were angels, maybe it would work, but we're not.

The other problem is that it has become an excuse for all manner of specific, individual injustices - redistributionist politics in which the majority votes to steal from the minority, "Free Mumia", Occupy Wall Street, and so on.  Because there is little room for forgiveness (forgiveness is still individual, it seems), old grievances are constantly dug up and maintained.  An Israeli soldier shoots a Palestinian who is attacking him, and he's a terrible tool of an evil tyrant.  A Palestinian blows up a bunch of teenagers at a pizza parlor, and he's a "freedom fighter".  Why?  Because Israel won its war for independence in 1948, and won again in 1956, '67, '73...  As long as there's one Palestinian somewhere who is still angry about that, Palestinians are justified in their terrorism and Israel is unjustified in defending herself.  Other examples can, I'm sure, quickly come to mind.

posted in: Political Diversity

Would anyone be willing to offer a definition of "social justice?"  In order words, what is that as opposed to "justice?"  Or approaching it from the other side, what within the definition of "justice" is other than "social justice?"

This is a fashionable phrase these days but I frankly don't have working definition for it.  I honestly don't understand exactly what someone means when they say "social justice".

posted in: Political Diversity

Kris: It would seem that the b-ver post you replie to is no longer here, but I suspect b-ver was suggesting pastors/churches should not take political positions.

If I'm accurate about that, I would agree with what b-ver indicated, and I can understand why you would ask whether preacher would then be able to make applications in their sermons.

Sure they can, but there would be lines.  Indeed, I would suggest I've seen my pastors over the years do a pretty good job of drawing those lines and staying on the appropriate side.

So, for example, if it comes to abortion, the pastor would be appropriate to lament and condemn the taking of innocent life that abortion represents.  But if there was pending legislation on the matter, the sermon should not take a position on that.  Certainly, it will seem obvious to everyone in the room, at least in some cases, what position the pastor might take, but people would be surprised how complex legislation can get, even when it seems simple.  I'm on the "practicing law" side of legislation and I can't tell you how often I shake my head, thinking that the language of this or that statute was passed by the enthusiasm of folks who had a great hearts but really didn't know as much as was required to competently evaluate actual legislation.

Abortion presents a relatively simple application.  I would suggest "Social Justice" becomes much more complicated, but a similar analysis would still be appropriate.  Pastors may (and should ) admonish congregants to 'do justice, have mercy and walk humbly with God' (my favorite verse for over 30 years, BTW).  But if the pastor starts to favor or disfavor certain broadly described political/economic systems (eg., "free market" versus more "government regulated"), or specific legislation that has regulatory effect, he/she is really out on a competency limb, and is clearly wandering outside the traditional Kuyperian sphere of the church. 

Yes of course, there are fine lines here, sometimes hard to see precisely, but there are lines, and the CRC historical tradition is pretty rich in providing wisdom in defining those lines.  Ignoring those lines tends toward a Roman Catholic model, which historically created no such boundaries.

posted in: Political Diversity

To answer the question, "Are the Office of Social Justice, the Synod of the CRC, and other official organs of the CRCNA - whether intentionally or not - attempting to define Christianity in a way that excludes conservative political and economic views," yes of course, but that simple answer demands explanation.

The CRC has been and is a member of WARC (World Alliance of Reformed Churches), which together with REC (Reformed Ecumenical Council) has now become WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Churches).

WCRC, and previously, WARC, have adopted the Accra Confession.  CRC representatives have spoken favorably about the CRC (as reported by CRC News Releases).

In turn, the Accra Confession condemns what it calls "neo-liberal economics."  If you review the Accra Confession (get it from http://www.warc.ch/documents/ACCRA_Pamphlet.pdf), you will find that by that reference, the Accra intends to condemn what we all know better as "market driven economics," or "free market economics."  "Market driven economics" is a necessary corollary of what we know as "political freedom."  You cannot, by definition, have political freedom without having economic freedom.

The United States was, historically speaking, a grand experiment in human history, one rooted in the historic Protestant Reformation, the result of which was more political/economic freedom than the world has ever seen.  This was called "liberalism" back in the day (today it's called "conservatism").  John Locke, Adam Smith -- those sorts of guys -- advocated this new freedom, and those ideas were picked up and implemented by the American "founding fathers" in our constituion and other structures.  What was the net result of this "liberalism"?  The most politically free and economically prosperous nation human history has ever witnessed.  Which is why today's conservatives bemoan the reduction of market freedom and the increasing role of the goverment in all things economic.

Those who hold to the Accra Confession, including WCRC, the ecumenical organization the CRC belongs to, call this sort of freedom, literally, the "worship of Mammon."  The Accra is pretty classic "Liberation Theology."  Whether we are willing to recognize it or not, all the "social justice" talk we engage is more than just a fashionable phrase.  It has deep roots in the political/economic perspective embraced by the Accra Confession.  Indeed, the Accra is really much more of a political/economic document than a "confession" as we have ever defined "confession."

So yes, there is a very strong drive in the CRCNA to adopt a political/economic view that, by sheer definition, excludes those persons who in the US today are known as "conservatives." Indeed, its not just a drive, it is already an actuality.   The question is whether or not the move in that direction will continue or reverse.  I for one would like to see the CRC stay out of political/econonomics.  Doing otherwise will, by definition, divide the CRCNA because it does exclude today's "conservatives."  In all of this, we have forgotten the boundaries articulated by "Kuyperian Social Sphere Sovereignty," which really was a close cousin to to the political/economic theory that launched that grand experiement known as the United States of America.

posted in: Political Diversity

Kris: Thanks for the further response and your willingness to invite Than to the discussion.

I'm particularly pleased to see your willingness to use the word "mercy."  It is becoming a rarely used word in CRC.  For example, in the Belhar confession, the word "justice" (or injustice) appears 7 times,  mercy" 0 (zero).  If I go to the WCRC (World Communion of Reformed Justice) website (the CRC is a member of WCRC ) and use it's search facility, there are 11 PAGES of hits for "justice,"  but a search for the word "mercy" renders NOT EVEN ONE  hit.  If I use the CRCNA.ORG search facility on the CRCNA site, I get 11, 100 hits for "justice" but only 2560 for "mercy."  Contrast this with the 1995 Bylaws for the CRCNA (the denominational corporation).  It mentions only "mercy," never "justice." What a difference 16 years makes, eh?

I would suggest "justice" predominantly characterizes the jurisdiction of the sphere of government, and "mercy" is within the "church" sphere (ala Kuyper/Dooyeweerd), perhaps among others.  "Liberation theology" saw this quite differently, with some manifistations of Liberation Theology becoming almost totally, if not totally, involved with justice (usually unapologetically Marxist, eg., Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas).  Somewhat more contemporarily, a "Black version" has also evolved (Black Liberation Theology), as exemplified by Barak Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright.  I regard the "Social Justice" movement as largely a relabeling of  "Liberation Theology," which I think essentially confirmed by John Cooper and is one of his objections to the Belhar.  Unlike Cooper, I don't want the CRC to adopt the Belhar as anything, confession or otherwise.  My objections to both the Liberation Theology movement and the Social Justice movement are: (1) both morph the church into a political organization, and (2) the political theory adopted by both is largely unbiblical.  Both perspectives rewrite Micah 6:8 by ignoring the "love mercy" phrase. 

Which is why I appreciate your obvious willingness to use the word "mercy."  :-) 

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