Creation Care Coordinator at the CRC Office of Social Justice
Posted in: Political Diversity
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: Climate Conversation: Kenya
Thanks for your comments, Bill and Edward. It's obvious that you've put a lot of thought into this issue--something we should all be doing!
One of the goals for the Climate Conversation: Kenya resource is to be able to move beyond statistics and talking points--both of which can be twisted to fit any existing ideology--and to highlight the stories of our brothers and sisters in Kenya. I wonder if you were able to watch the videos. If so, I would love to hear what some of your reactions were to the stories you heard.
Thanks for your thoughtful comments. They are an important reminder of the diversity of thought around this issue within the CRC, and I'm grateful for your gracious tone in expressing your concerns.
While there is indeed diversity of thought among individual members of the CRC on the issue of climate change, the position of the denomination is actually quite clear. Synod 2012 affirmed the scientific consensus on this issue--including that it is likely human-induced--and called denominational bodies, congregations, and members to public and private action to do something about it (see Acts of Synod 2012, pp. 803-6). In light of this statement, it made several recommendations to the church for how to respond, including "advocat[ing] for public strategies that reduce carbon emissions and move us toward very low or zero net emissions" (Recommendation 3, pp. 805) and "advocating with our governments to take the necessary actions in an effective global framework to assist populations that are bearing the brunt of the negative effects of climate change while being the least able to cope" (Recommendation 4, pp. 805). The Climate Witness Project--and other OSJ efforts on creation care and climate--proceed directly out of these directives from synod.
Your concern about the stewardship of monetary resources is an important one. The post has been edited to include a link to our fundraising effort. It is our hope that we will actually be able to raise all of the necessary funds for this project from interested CRC members. It is an experiment of sorts in what this type of organizing effort can look like, and if it would be replicable for other issues as well. We have so far raised $22,350--almost half of our hoped-for $50,000.
I hope that's helpful, John. Thanks again for your thoughtful engagement with the project.
Thanks for speaking so clearly and boldly, Dr. Timmermans!
Thanks for your thoughts, Paul. I'm curious to hear how you perceive Dr. Timmermans' statement as political. You call the CRC to a compassionate response to those affected by climate change, and rightly so, but that is precisely how I read this statement. It explicitly references our concern for those affected (our children and the poor), and affirms our commitment to responding.
Could you help me understand why you see this statement as "political"?
Thanks for that background, Paul. I suppose I read "political" as advocating for specific policy, but your explanation was really helpful.
It's too bad that you felt that Synod 2012 diminished your questions and reservations. As someone who was proud and excited by that synod's decision to adopt its position on climate change, it is easy for me to interpret the history of that decision in a particular way and to forget that others were not as eager to see Synod 2012 do what it did.
Something that I'm trying hard to remember is that society frames the issue of climate change very narrowly as a technical problem with only (very narrow) political implications. It is tempting to believe this narrative, but I think the vast gift of the church is that it has a larger vision to offer the world when we all discuss global warming and care for the poor. The questions I'm always trying to ask myself are, "How do I think about this, first and foremost, as a Christian? What difference does my Christian faith make for the way that I think about climate change?" While politics will undoubtedly have to be a part of any sort of action that we take in response to climate change, it need not be our starting point. I would hope that could be Scripture, church tradition, and desire to better love our neighbors. Just some of my thoughts recently, for what they're worth.
I wonder if you've ever seen the video resource from World Renew and the Office of Social Justice called Climate Conversation: Kenya? The whole idea is to set the tired statistics and talking points aside and to hold up the stories of Kenyan Christian brothers and sisters and the ways in which they are working to respond to the challenges of climate change in their communities. I think you might find them interesting.
Posted in: Let’s Partner Toward COP 21
Thanks for engaging the post, Michael. I think you raise some good points.
You are right that the predictions of some of the effects of climate change have been revised as our data collection and models get better and better. Al Gore may have predicted catastrophe by now (I'll have to talk your word for it because I'm not sure what exactly he is on record as predicting to have happened by 2015), but I think it would be disingenuous to infer that this then throws all of climate science into question. While secondary and tertiary hypotheses have been honed and sharpened as scientists continue to learn more (as happens with all good science), the fundamental hypothesis of climate science has remained constant and continues to grow more and more certain: human activity is accelerating natural climatic events at an alarming and unprecedented rate.
To your comments about members in the CRC, you are certainly correct that there is diversity of thought on this issue in the denomination, and thank God for that! It means that we get to push each other and continually be challenged to think critically and deeply about this issue. This happened perhaps most profoundly through the synodical process whereby the Creation Stewardship Task Force Report was discussed, challenged, and defended in 2012. In my opinion, it represents not only expert science (it was primarily written by Tom Ackerman and Cal DeWitt, two acclaimed climate and earth scientists) but also a deep concern to see the church wrestle well with this issue. It was a gift from our denomination's scientists to the rest of us--to help us understand better this complicated issue. Out of that process came the CRC's official position that it is the near-scientific consensus that human-induced climate change is occurring and that, as the church, we have a moral and religious responsibility to do something about it. From this report comes the directives to the OSJ to, among other things, educate members about climate change and creation stewardship and participate in advocacy for public policies that work toward net-zero carbon emissions. That is the background for this campaign.
To some of you other more technical questions about climate change and carbon, I would direct you to the Creation Stewardship Task Force Report referenced above. It includes extensive analysis of the peer-reviewed and refereed literature on climate change, and is well worth the read, IMO. It can be found here: http://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/CreationStewardship.pdf.
Thanks again for your post, Michael, and for engaging this important topic!
Posted in: Let’s Partner Toward COP 21
Here is the full statement from Synod 2012:
(Acts of Synod 2012, pp. 803-4)
Following the statement were several recommendations, all of which can be found at this link on pages 804-6. The ones that are particularly germane to this campaign are below:
I would encourage you to read pages 802-7 of the Acts of Synod 2012 to learn more fully about the CRC's statement on climate change and how it has called the church to respond. The Creation Stewardship Task Force Report linked to in my comment above to Michael offers the context of these actions.