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I take the role of advocacy and faith to be more of a dance: advocacy takes shape (or perhaps is shaped) by the confluence of faith and our present social reality. We are all constrained by the limitations of our social setting, be it of education, socio-economic status, where we were born (and to whom), as well as our profession. All these and more give us a set of options which interact with and our informed by faith.

The corollary of this underlying diversity in our own experience would be that our ethical or political acts will be varied, even, on the face of it, contradictory. The owner of a small business in Ottawa County will almost certainly have a far different view of appropriate advocacy than say, some one who grew up in major university town like Ann Arbor.

So which policy should prevail? Why this advocacy and not another choice? On a secular level, that would be the combination of pragmatism (which policy works better, delivers more of some good) and of ideology (which policy advances our perceived long-term political interests). This is after all the stuff of politics, but is it the stuff of the church? Should it be?

Obviously here is where I am differing with Kate's perspective. I don't see how it is the Church's business to advocate for one correct answer as opposed to another, e.g. yes to local farms and no to Monsanto in Haiti. This is an honest temptation to all engaged in advocacy and committed to a Christian witness; it makes no difference if one is standing for the poor of Haiti or the weak in the mother's womb. As Reformed folk we want to create this iron links between principle and ethics; the power of righteous witness is intoxicating and motivating, no doubt. But spiritually? I think it a trap, one that ensnares us with a sort of self-regard.

A better way of thinking about advocacy would be to see it as a covenantal activity, grounded in our life together. The act of response to our neighbor, our obedience is of more consequence than the policy outcomes. Because we are in a community shaped and called by God, and not by mere social affiliation, we have the freedom to entertain even contrary politics or desired advocacy outcomes (goodness, as Ken Prol will note, we do not at all see eye-to-eye on these matters). As a community we obey, reflect, refine. We can share our witness together. And because we know Who holds the victory, we are free from the advocate/partisan trap of needing to win.

So then do we dispense with social advocacy? I don't think so. The champions of social witness can become exemplars of how we all can think about the issues. We are all in needs of models, awareness, and frankly, enthusiasm. And we all can use a few more dance lessons.

I would have liked if there were more N American examples here.

Churches have their own particular, cultural character, and certainly their own histories. So the N American church, and even more so, the Dutch Reformed (that is CRC and RCA) also have their experiences. In N America, Methodists have historically been in the forefront of combining social mission and gospel mission; we might add the Salvation Army. So why not ourselves? Is it that we lack a social vision? or perhaps it is that we lack an evangelistic mission. When we conceive of ourselves as a community, the whole faithful church, then the question of social action is one about what some of us do, a faction. Without evangelism, it's all politics. The church in Korea grows because it transforms and so empowers the cast aside; the church in S India grows because it transforms and empowers those who once were untouchable; the church in the Deep South grew because it transformed and empowered the lives of African Americans.

Or to borrow from Paul, justice is a branch that needs to be connected to the Vine, otherwise, no matter how green it is today, it will soon enough wither and be cast aside. Gospel hope powers justice.




OK, I struggle with this. I'm someone who does dress up a bit for church, and who mentally sighs at casual clothing. But then again, I'm old, so a lot of this is sort of a legacy standard on my side. That said, I think there are two doors to the topic.

First is what clothing means at a personal level. What we choose to wear conveys who we identify with, how we see ourselves, and even something about our status. From a missional stance, how folks wear clothes in a congregation will communicate directly whether one might belong or not; gaps open or close. And it's not just the fancy clothing -- the brands, the shoes, the haircuts can all speak of a social location. I don't know that there is any way around this, other than being mindful of what one chooses. If I know what I've chosen then i am able to engage the other, put them at ease, sense the cultural speed bumps etc. So mindfulness about clothing can make me mindful about outreach, too.

The second door is that of worship. What dress seems appropriate depends on what we understand to be happening in worship. How do I participate? How passive am I? How active? The more I understand myself as a participant then the more I want to be deliberate about the clothing choices. My clothing at the least should not distract others. At a personal level, I have found that I get less work done if I'm dressed casual; a certain professional attire helps me concentrate, and the same goes for church.



Is "justice" something that can be defined? The same nit-picking used in the earlier "Whatever..." section can be applied to the preferred definition: "deserve"? what standard is that? what order? who sets the terms, etc. Or for that matter, how do we determine "good or bad"? The moment I push the concept it goes all squishy.

Rather than speak abstractly of "justice" why not biblically? Justice takes place in the presence of a wrong, thus the psalmist cries out for justice for the poor. Justice is about the ordering of our relationships so the reflect and participate in God's interaction with us. The very care God has for the poor and weak leaves us exposed:we are sinners. This brings to the other sense of justice, that God acts to restore a relationship with us, unilaterally. That decision is profoundly displayed in the crucifixion, and vindicated on Easter morn.

Thus, I find the biblical narrative on justice a better way to start. To start there allows for the articulation of justice in our neighborhood, in our embedded lives, in our differences.



Before I get to some further "discussion" I would agree basically with the last two paragraphs, particularly the dangers when our rhetoric gets vague. In those instances, the generally positive term like justice or liberty become the cover for not ony a subjective frame, but often something malicious. This is the territory which George Orwell so sharply explored in "Politics and the English Language." 

So in the interest of not being vague, let's consider the idea that "deserve a fairly objective proposition." This seems to point to a social understanding, that is that "objective" is a stand-in for "commonly held". could what we consider as "fairly objective"  be mistaken? That's not to point to doubt, but rather that the standards we use finally cannot be propositional, but given to us: we see our social obligations through the lens of scripture. (And here I also wonder whether this is a difference between the Reformed understanding of the Scots/English tradition and that of the continental, or in my case Barthian one.)

Be that as it may, how about this term "deserve": to my ears that sounds as if the standards are on the human side, as somehow my "right", as something intrinsic to me as an individual. This understanding seems to come to a dead end with the NT notions of servanthood, particularly that of Phil. 2 ("who did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped..."). Further, as anyone who has been around kids knows, "deserves" creates winners and losers -- again, is that where Scripture proposes to lead us? I think not.

So what is it? i take scripture to be more relational in its focus. There are less intrinsic "rights" than there are (covenantal) relationships. The poor cry out for "justice" in the face of a wrong: it is the wrong that cries for remedy, of restraining the perpetrator and of restoring the poor back to their social / covenantal position. And while I would love to talk about property rights, that seems to be a different discussion -- the thrust of Scripture appears to be more on the teaching of property as a gift than as a possession found in  the justice/property rights discussion.

Last as a practical matter: I find that approaching our politics through a more biblical framework actually helps us to craft more humane solutions, as well as a deeper respect for the other actors in the political arena. 

Is this not a question of epistemology? That is, how does one know objectively? 

My knowledge of God's Law, of God's intent for us is always something provisional, contained as it is, within this wineskin of my own life. That's why we need others on our walk, and why I would think that even our best concepts inescapably possess a social, or common framework. Practically, that means that even our best understandings of justice, let alone our application of the same in our affairs will always have the twist of self-serving. We know this spiritually. Even at the Cross, like Peter, we want to cut our deals. (And this is why Proverbs marks righteousness as the capacity to "swear to our own hurt", cf. Prov. 15.4).

Practically, then, even our best rendering of justice is something incomplete, never a resolved state but a pointing to, a witness of God's character. We cannot speak of justice without also coming into the presence of Mercy. This means our pursuit brings a humility, and may God grant us, a vision: that we can see past justice to reconciliation and redemption of the Other. I take this to be a fairly hard work on our side; it's the stuff of the crucifixion and the answer of Easter. Personally, it's what I find when I come to the Table.





Is the Muslim neighbor first a "Muslim" or is she my neighbor? It seems the jump to twin ministry options is a sort of false dichotomy. The more basic way, that pioneered by InterVarsity, is that of good old friendship evangelism (see Rebecca Piper's Out of the Saltshaker & Into The World). The command to do good to all certainly applies, as does Peter's word about us always being ready to give an account for the hope that it is us. That's not the hope of some evangelism program, but the hope of a shared life. The division between evangelism and social justice likewise misses all the occasions where our lives do intertwine, volunteering say, serving together on school's PTA, etc. These are the places where we get to know other lives, and in doing so can hear their joys and their struggles, and if we have ears, their need. 


So my word is, let's make a friend. 

OK, I'll bite: is the local church the hope of the world?

That idea packs a host of theology, and certainly runs counter to Christian history. Of course the Gospel must take on scandalous clothes in the particularity of a given place, time and community, but that doesn't mean that it is the hope. Rather that hope, properly is in Christ Jesus and then it is to that hope we are to give account, with our lives, in our gatherings, in our broader life together.

The larger question in the reductio ad congregation is that of social class. How exactly do communities get to hear? One of the important roles for collective or institutional action is to work with those who otherwise do not have the resources: the poor, the weak, the forgotten. The proposal works well enough for the established (hey! internet!) but if educational institutions are any judge -- and they are at the least, a useful model -- then we know who will be going without. Really, is that the model for "the hope of the world?"

Lastly, what does this model of the local church do to confession? If the church is fundamentally local, then the notion of confession must itself be circumscribed, good ideas at best, perhaps. How then do we have any weight, any possibility of mutual accountability? Denominational structure strikes me as the necessary wineskin for our common confession.








I would suggest that report is fundamentally unclear as to its purpose. Is it to address the mission at Rehoboth? Is it to urge reconciliation with my Native neighbor? Is it to engage in repudiation of the Doctrine of Discovery (whatever that might mean)? Each of these are more than sufficient for serious reflection and action, together they result in a report that is long in generalization, but frustratingly small in specifics.

In particular it is difficult to see how the Doctrine of Discovery is sufficient to hold all these ideas together, primarily because as used, the DOD refers to three different items: a set of papal bulls, reflective of the cultural setting in 16th Century Europe; as a warrant for an ongoing stream of decisions in the US Supreme Court and with it the structuring of US federal government and tribal relationships; and third as a sort of symbol of Euro-centric claims of cultural and moral superiority over the Other. 

As the report itself discloses, not all of the European powers acted in ways that matched the moral superiority claims of the DOD. E.g. the Dutch treatment of Haudenosaunee (or for that matter their treatment of Native populations as having clear title to their land); and especially in the two hundred years of French relations with the Native communities of the Great Lakes. The European relations in short, were far more varied than the simplistic notion of Christendom = racism narrative that creeps into the report. Specifically, one may want to consider the deep indigenisation efforts of the Jesuit and Moravian missions. As one might expect from a five hundred year history, the European Christians brought a number of approaches to their dealings with Natives, not least including outrage at the massacres.

But of course the legal questions are something else again. One does not need to assert some sort of moral animus to explain the law, the mere presence of financial gain is sufficient for that. However, it is precisely here that the report fails. Having recognized the impact of the DOD on Supreme Court decisions, it passes by any possible action or advocacy relative to the legal framework. I care far less whether the Pope repudiates the doctrine (Rome believes it has in subsequent papal bulls), than I care that SCOTUS repudiate this premise which has caused so much harm.

As to reconciliation with my Native neighbor, I only wish that the report had demonstrated an awareness of the peoples who still live in our cities and regions. Oddly, their invisibility in the document reinforces the dominant cultural narratives that Indians don't matter, or that Indians belong to some other time, some other place. These are conversations that should be undertaken.



An addendum to the above: while the use of "settler" is suitable for the European, the term is hardly appropriate for those who came her by force in the slave trade. The removal of the Cherokee, the vacating of the Choctaw claims and other actions of in South were both a direct consequence of the Marshall court decisions, and actions that set the necessary foundation for the development of the plantation system of the South. The American society's treatment of Blacks and of Natives intertwines and reinforces the narratives of presumptive racial supremacy; likewise, the resistance to this mistreatment of these peoples also shares common narratives both in the Gospel, and in concepts of human rights. The use of "settlers" for blacks pulls apart these shared narratives; it does not, cannnot erase DuBois' "color line."

If for no other reason than that I came out of the charismatic renewal movement of the 70s, I do wonder what Sam means by "charismatic." Is this only a matter of worship style, say? Are there other distinctive behaviors? In the 70s the charismatic emphasis, for instance, became one of the levers used on the women in office struggles, viz. that gifts are freely given and so must be honored. So what is meant by "Charismatic?"

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