Posts tagged with: christian reformed church

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, July 19, 2012

I belong to the Christian Reformed Church, and our synod this year decided to formally adopt a report and statements related to creation care and specifically to climate change. I noted this at the time, and that one of the delegates admitted, “I’m a skeptic on much of this.”

He continued to wonder, “But how will doing this hurt? What if we find out in 30 years that numbers (on climate change) don’t pan out? We will have lost nothing, and we’ll have a cleaner place to live. But if they are right, we could lose everything.”

Over at Think Christian today, I reflect on the delegate’s question and try to begin to answer it in “Climate change and the church.” I do so primarily by attempting to inject the idea of opportunity cost into the discussion about climate change and specifically ecclesial responses.

This recognition of opportunity cost is closely identified with a central insight of economics, and it is informative to see how natural scientists and social scientists, like economists, approach the question of climate change. It’s also intriguing to see whether and how these two different groups are given platforms to speak to (and sometimes for) the church. Robert Murphy has a lengthy and worthy entrance into this broader discussion, which includes this critical observation about the insights of economists on the climate question:

The general public has no idea that the “consensus” (if we wish to use such terminology) of economic studies shows net benefits from anthropogenic climate change for decades.

Are the conclusions of such economic studies relevant to the question of how churches, groups of Christians, and individuals address the question of climate change? I submit that they are. And I also submit that Murphy’s general conclusion should chasten the confidence with which non-experts (which includes nearly everyone involved in church leadership) engage these issues:

The scientific modeling of climate change, and its possible impacts on human welfare, are very technical areas requiring years of study to master. When experts try to summarize the fields for the layperson, they sometimes present matters in misleading ways, however inadvertent.

I’m not sure I have ever really encountered the term intergenerational justice before this discussion over “A Call for Intergenerational Justice,” at least in any substantive way. This unfamiliarity is what lay behind my initial caveat regarding the term, my concern that it not be understood as “code for something else.”

The Call itself provides a decent definition of the concept, or at least of its implications: “…that one generation must not benefit or suffer unfairly at the cost of another.”

One of the commenters here at the PowerBlog is Peter Vander Meulen, who runs the Office of Social Justice at the Christian Reformed Church (the denomination to which I belong). Vander Meulen rightly reiterates that much of the disagreement has to do with our differing views of the primary responsibilities of government.

Much of my concern with the Call is that is does not display enough in terms of substantive commitment to principles. I think our debates about the budget crisis need to lead us back to consider from first principles what the role of government in society ought to be relative to other social institutions. (I hope to provide more on that positively later this week.)

It is on this point that my concern about the invocation of intergenerational justice in this context, and social justice more broadly, is not being construed in a vigorous enough manner.

To put it bluntly: How can a call for intergenerational justice in particular, or social justice more broadly, have any plausibility without addressing the fundamental social problem of abortion? If intergenerational justice is about the duties and responsibilities from one generation to another, it seems obvious that the starting point of the discussion, from a particularly evangelical and even more broadly Christian perspective, should be on the question of whether that next generation has a right to come into existence in the first place.

It is an unfortunate reality that social justice and abortion are oftentimes not viewed as related in this way. Acton Institute research fellow Anthony Bradley wrote last week at WORLD’s site about how abortion is often not considered a priority justice issue. In the context of the abortion rate in New York City, he writes,

I’ve been browsing the mercy and justice websites of several of New York’s well-known churches and Christian non-profit groups for discussion of New York’s abortion crisis. Outside of the crisis pregnancy centers themselves, I have not found much of anything. What one will find are very good discussions on subjects like fighting homelessness, improving inner-city education, opening women’s shelters, and dealing with sex trafficking and juvenile delinquency. I raise this issue because I am concerned that perhaps the missional pendulum has swung too far in one direction.

Closer to the context of this discussion, Mr. Vander Meulen’s agency, the Office of Social Justice (OSJ), was instructed by the denominational synod last year to “boldly advocate for the church’s position against abortion.” This instruction was deemed necessary because the OSJ did “not currently offer many resources to advocate for the unborn,” despite the fact that there is an official denominational position on the question of abortion (while there is not one on so many of the issues that the OSJ does “boldly advocate” for). You can judge for yourself whether that situation has changed substantively in the intervening time (e.g. “Advocacy…Coming Soon!”).

One of the signers of the Call, Jim Wallis, perhaps illustrates this illegitimate dichotomy between social justice and abortion in his judgments about the moral status of the abortion question. In a 2008 interview with Christianity Today. When pressed on this point, Wallis spoke candidly:

“I don’t think that abortion is the moral equivalent issue to slavery that Wilberforce dealt with. I think that poverty is the new slavery. Poverty and global inequality are the fundamental moral issues of our time. That’s my judgment.”

By contrast I do think the “Guideline on Human Life” offered by CPJ is rather more helpful and substantive than the current efforts of the OSJ to “boldly advocate” against abortion.

But shouldn’t consideration of abortion be a critical consideration in any discussion of “intergenerational justice”? The Call itself invokes the context of “generations yet unborn” and the relationship between “grandparents” and “grandchildren.”

If the connection of abortion to the budget debate remains unclear to some in the context of intergenerational justice, we might raise the following considerations:

Does the Call adequately address government provision for funding of abortions, whether through entitlement coverage or through funding for organizations that provide abortion services, such as Planned Parenthood? There are clauses advocating that “Effective programs that prevent hunger and suffering and empower poorer members of society must continue and be adequately funded,” and that “We must control healthcare expenses.”

Is funding for Planned Parenthood support for “an effective program” that prevents suffering or something that should be cut?

And there are also clear demographic and population implications for questions of future funding of entitlements, including Social Security. As I noted above, I hope to make the link more clear later this week when I talk about the need to get back to basics in the budget crisis.

The second annual Grand Rapids Film Festival starts today and The Genesis Code, a film making its debut tonight, has a strong Acton connection.

One of the executives driving this production is Jerry Zandstra, who also plays the Rev. Jerry Wells in the movie. You’ll see him in the opening shots of the trailer here in the pulpit, which is what is known in Hollywood as typecasting. That’s because Zandstra is an ordained pastor in the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Outside of the film business, he teaches global economics at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids. But many Acton students, supporters and staff remember him as the institute’s former director of programs who was an outstanding lecturer and great friend.

If you’re in the area, check the festival schedule for screenings through the weekend. After its premier, The Genesis Code will have a run in West Michigan  theaters. You can get tickets here on the official site. The movie was filmed last year in the Grand Rapids area, and tells the story of a college hockey player and a journalism student looking for common ground between faith and science. It stars Fred Thompson, Louise Fletcher, Ernest Borgnine, Logan Bartholomew and Kelsey Sanders.

Grand Rapids Press religion writer Charley Honey, in a story about The Genesis Code, looked at this  faith-versus-science theme:

… it turns out the book of Genesis and the findings of science agree just fine, according to this $5 million movie to be released this week at the Grand Rapids Film Festival … “The core of the story is this faith-versus-science piece,” said Zandstra, an energetic guy with a weight-lifter’s physique. “Those two are not necessarily enemies. As a matter of fact, they ought to be friends.”

The premise is not new, but presenting it as a film drama definitely is. While not likely a blockbuster, Zandstra’s movie might move into the popular square a long-raging debate in Christian academia: Can the Bible’s six-day creation account be squared with the 4.5-billion-year-old scenario of science?

The Dove Foundation gave the film 5 stars. It’s reviewer was thrilled with the story: (more…)

This week’s Acton Commentary from Jordan Ballor:

Unity or Unanimity at Reformed Council?

By Jordan Ballor

Global Christianity comes to Grand Rapids, Mich., this weekend in the form of the Uniting General Council of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). Thousands of delegates, exhibitors, and volunteers will gather on the campus of Calvin College to mark the union of two Reformed ecumenical groups, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) and the Reformed Ecumenical Council (REC). This new global ecumenical body will include 227 denominations in 108 nations worldwide, with over 80 million Christians of broadly Reformed, Congregational, and Presbyterian membership.

But the proceedings over the next two weeks will go far beyond mere celebration and praise at the joining of these various groups. The future course of the newly formed WCRC will be set at this first council, and all signs point to an institution defined by a narrow set of advocacy items rather than a Gospel-oriented vision. As WARC president Clifton Kirkpatrick has said, “A true test of the value of our impending union will be how it enhances and strengthens our commitment to economic and ecological justice.”

The basis for the WCRC’s exploration of justice is a document called the Accra Confession, named for the last general council of WARC, held in Accra, Ghana in 2004, which produced the text in response to a perceived crisis of the Christian faith. In the words of the Accra Confession, the crisis calls for “a decision of faith commitment,” specifically focused on condemning “the development of neoliberal economic globalization.” At the core of this “faith commitment” is a perspective that views the developing world as victimized at the hands of a vast conspiratorial network of developed nations, multinational corporations, and global financial institutions. The primary villain in this “neoliberal empire” is the United States, cast as the leader of “the coming together of economic, cultural, political and military power that constitutes a system of domination led by powerful nations to protect and defend their own interests.”

The South African economist Stan du Plessis has criticized the Accra Confession for this perspective, one that in his view “substitutes a narrow ideology for a critical understanding of modern economies.” And so the problem with the Accra Confession is not just that it takes sides on questions of economic prudence and policy, although this is something that institutional churches should always be wary of. As the great Princeton ethicist Paul Ramsey wrote in 1967, “The specific solution of urgent problems is the work of political prudence and worldly wisdom. In this there is room for legitimate disagreement among Christians and among other people as well in the public domain–which disagreement ought to be welcomed and not led one way toward specific conclusions.”

The compounding problem with the Accra Confession is that it takes the wrong side, the side that embraces an essentially neo-Marxist narrative of Third World alienation and victimization, and seeks “justice” in the form of retribution against First World villains. Far from promoting the kind of unity that is at the core of ecumenical efforts, this kind of rhetorical and ideological confessionalism drives apart those who ought to be joining together. It pits the rich against the poor, north against south, east against west, inserting the divisive language of economic class into the definition of the Christian church.

Wholesale rejection of globalization should not be made into an article of the Christian faith. But this is precisely what the Accra Confession does. And if the World Communion of Reformed Churches adopts the Accra Confession or its underlying economic worldview in the coming weeks, it will be undermining its own stated commitment to “unite Christians for common witness and service to the world.”

Yesterday marked the beginning of the Christian Reformed Church’s two-month long Sea to Sea bike tour, whose slogan is “ending the cycle of poverty.” As a member of the CRC, I’ve been hearing a lot about how the denomination’s sponsoring agencies and various cyclists are “gearing up” for the tour, which began yesterday in Seattle, and will conclude on Saturday, August 30, 2008 in Jersey City, New Jersey. covering more than 3,800 miles.

I plan on going through the Shifting Gears devotional and tour guide over the following months. During this time I hope to offer some reflections here about what I read and encounter. I hope to find some sound wisdom about how to confront the problem of poverty over and above the obvious good intentions connected with this tour.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Here’s a definition of freedom worth noting:

The Word of God teaches that the Christian is a free man and should “stand in the freedom which Christ has made him free.” What is meant by Christian freedom? What is freedom in general? We answer: it is not the right and the ability to do as one pleases, but the ability to move without constraint in the sphere for which God made us. Freedom therefore is not inconsistent with limitation and law. The bird is free only when it can move in the air unhindered. A worm is free when it is not prevented from moving in the ground–in a sphere which would mean bondage and death for many other creatures. A locomotive is not free unless its motion is confined to the two rails on which it was made to run. Man was made in the image of God to be like Him and to reflect his holiness. Consequently he is free only when he moves without constraint in the sphere of holiness and obedience to God’s law.

–”Christian Liberty,” in “Report of the Committee on Worldly Amusements,” Agenda: Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, To convene June 13, 1928 at Holland, Mich., p. 22.

The biblical text cited above is Galatians 5:1.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, October 11, 2007

Freemasonry has been deemed to be worthy of protection under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA).

Does this mean that freemasonry is a “religion”? A California court of appeals statement said in part, “We see no principled way to distinguish the earnest pursuit of these (Masonic) principles … from more widely acknowledged modes of religious exercise.”

That’s a stance the Christian Reformed Church would probably agree with. As I’ve noted before, the CRC’s position on membership in the Masonic Lodge, and other “occult” societies, has been, “There is an irreconcilable conflict between the teachings and practices of the lodge and those of biblical Christianity, and therefore simultaneous membership in the lodge and in the church of Jesus Christ is incompatible with and contrary to Scripture.”

This is also one of the three opinions that have historically separated the CRC from the Reformed Church in America (hymn-singing and use of English in worship being the other two).

See also, “The Freemasonry Threat.”

Today I will be attending portions of the Christian Reformed Church’s Assembly of World-Wide Partners meeting.

I’ll be covering some of the plenary addresses and the sessions on Christian Education in Ministry. The education sessions will feature Dr. Gaylen Byker, president of Calvin College, who also serves on the Acton Institute’s board of directors.

I plan on posting a summary of the events here early next week.

A new initiative pioneered by Sojourners/Call to Renewal is called “Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” Included in the platform are “calls for bills that would push for border enforcement while improving guest worker programs and offering chances for illegal immigrants to obtain legal status,” according to the NYT.

The NYT piece points out the potential for this to be a unifying issue for evangelicals, even though few if any prominent politically conservative evangelicals are overtly associated with Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform. “The concerns of the coalition mirror those of many evangelical leaders who have often staked out conservative positions on other social issues or who have avoided politics entirely,” writes Neela Banerjee as she points to the cases of Dr. Richard Land of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Rev. Joel Osteen.

The signatories to the group’s open letter include the executive director of my denomination, Rev. Jerry Dykstra of the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Some of the language in the letter is a bit mealy-mouthed, as might be expected, but I think the statement does capture the spirit of some of the most relevant scriptural principles.

Perhaps the section that some conservatives will find most problematic is the fourth principle: “We believe in the rule of law, but we also believe that we are to oppose unjust laws and systems that harm and oppress people made in God’s image, especially the vulnerable (Isaiah 10:1-4, Jeremiah 7:1-7, Acts 5:29, Romans 13:1-7).”

Many argue that the rule of law regarding illegal immigration needs to be reinforced and respected first, before any of the proposed guest worker or amnesty programs can be effective, no ifs, ands, or buts. And it might also be debatable precisely how a shared “set of common moral and theological principles” ought to be translated into public policy. This raises the question of what is the intent or purpose of law.

The letter says that immigration reform must be “fair and compassionate.” Is the end of the law justice? Love? Mercy? Peace? All of the above? I’ve been trained to understand the normative principle for social ethics, and the behavior of supra-personal entities or institutions, to be justice, as distinguished from (although not opposed to) love. It seems to me that Christians working out of a shared and common sense of obligation to love our neighbors can have legitimate and valid disagreements over precisely these sorts of questions.

With all that said, I think the letter gets it mostly right, at least on this point:

“The current U.S. immigration system is broken and now is the time for a fair and compassionate solution. We think it is entirely possible to protect our borders while establishing a viable, humane, and realistic immigration system, one that is consistent with our American values and increases national security while protecting the livelihood of Americans.”