Inhumanity in the Church, pt. 2 of 3.
pt.2 : Natural Selection?
What people value is often demonstrated through what gets them upset. And here we mean, upset enough not only to take to social media to offer their commentary, but also to do something.
We can take Synod 2016 as the snapshot of what people in the CRC, or at least, those whose activities and opinions matter, care about. Someone has already helpfully encapsulated the discussion of the three most, shall we say, controversial, issues on the floor. These are the so-called ‘Doctrine of Discovery,’ the Belhar confession, and gay marriage (to be more specific, the majority & minority reports from the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance re Same-sex Marriage).
These are what people are talking about—repudiating past pre-modern notions about settlement, colonization, and the church’s side of Manifest Destiny in North America, encompassing insensitive methods of mission (we should perhaps later revisit the use of the word ‘genocide’ in this context); trying, yet again, to promote the Belhar to the level of the Forms of Unity; and finally, needing a bureaucratic approach to address a matter which should be so straightforward, but which has been complicated by the secular culture, and by Christians whose commitment to the authority of scripture has been compromised. And, while the reports from the Pastoral Guidance committee are actually biblically oriented, and while Synod voted to adopt the more conservative minority report, in a flagrant and cheeky nose-thumbing to Synod, Classis GR East decided, against the mandate given the Synodically appointed committee not to revisit the issue of homosexuality in scripture, decided to do it themselves, publishing a troubling ‘study’.
I am not going to evaluate the importance or validity of these three issues here and now. I will instead direct the reader to these articles on the first (especially the February 8, 2013 comment by Mr. Vande Griend) and on the second, and also to this piece on the application of the 9th commandment in the PCA’s own racial reconciliation overture presented at their 2016 GA.
I will include one excursus: to build on the 2013 comment from the esteemed Dutchman about ‘responding’ to the Discovery Doctrine, and the associated issues (about which I admit I know VERY little!), I want to think for a moment about our obligation to our brothers and sisters dead and gone. If we are not careful, we may end up vilifying fellow believers who, though flawed, were nevertheless products of their own times. Renaissance missionaries (here I’m talking about those from Europe) not only to the Americas but to all parts of the world risked life and limb venturing into unknown territory, with no guarantee of provisions, perhaps insufficient protection against the elements, wild animals, and the native peoples themselves, and in an age where humanity had no defense against disease, some of which many Westerners nowadays have never heard of. And where would I be if Augustine the Lesser and others like him hadn’t similarly taken the Gospel to my ancestors in endarkened Britain in the Anglo-Saxon period?
All this to fulfill the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations. And we must remember that the evils perpetrated by people (or even the machine of the Roman Catholic church itself) in the Middle Ages up through the present who were/are self-styled Christians, are not representative of the whole, either the church universal or even political christendom. No doubt many, in spite of pre-Reformation darkness, and in spite of their now-scorned pre-modern worldview, were true disciples of Christ, bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. Some of those missionaries to the Americas, Catholic first, and later Protestant, heeded the call to witness to Native Americans. And for many of them, how important was the Doctrine of Discovery to their individual ministries? We may fault them for politically incorrect, pre-modern, and sometimes wrong and unbiblical thinking about race, colonialism, and equality, but one thing they had right: everyone needs to hear the Gospel, and they left behind all they knew to seek people they’d never seen, whose languages they didn’t speak, to tell them about the love of Christ. It’s too easy to condemn people of the past for what they did or failed to do, and especially for what they didn’t or wouldn’t understand, and too easy to move from that to character assassination or thorough disparagement of sincere efforts in service to the Lord. They are not here to defend themselves, and it is a dishonor to the dead saints of the invisible church to be careless in our criticism. Some of those cited in the Banner report on the DD discussion express similar sentiments–that actually, not enough emphasis was placed on the testimony of those of Native American descent who experienced tremendous blessing in CRC boarding and other Christian schools in question. (I will here insert a disclaimer that, as a classicist, I recognize the value in preserving cultural memory and distinctiveness; cultures are, however, judged by God’s law, and when a pagan people come to know Christ, their culture ought to and will be transformed– and not conformed to that of other peoples, but according to the moral standards revealed in both the Old and New Testaments.)
At any rate, apparently some contemporary reformed Christians (again, we see it in the PCA as well as in the CRC) are very concerned (like other groups are obsessed) with confessing and repenting of past wrongs—on their [our?] behalf? Or on behalf of the sometimes long dead perpetrators? If it includes the latter, this is condescending—or patronizing? Dare we say, insensitive? As a student of history, I am often reminded how easy it is to judge people who aren’t here, who didn’t have the advantages of modernity, of technology, of whatever it is we [think we] have that they didn’t, and whose motives are difficult to discern (especially in their fulness). On the race issue, one recent internet event (links here and here) demonstrates that race relations in the church, let alone in America at large, are incredibly complex, and a unilateral repenting of–especially generic—past acts of racism (even those that took place in another country!) by one ‘side’ (whatever or whoever that is) is not sufficient to effect ‘reconciliation.’
Any one of us could dig deep into our familial and ethnic past and find a wrong perpetrated on our ancestors and peoples by others, or on others by them. For the first, we could demand an apology from their descendants; for the second, we could excoriate our progenitors and ‘lament’ (a word that appears in more than one recent bit of CRC news ‘literature’) and confess and repent and regret on their behalf (regret is one thing–what does it mean to ‘repent’ on behalf of a sinner who no longer exists? There is a biblical precedent for communal confession and repentance, but which contexts require, shape, and validate such acts?). The memory of the Highland Clearances is still alive in Scotland: while driving past the statue of the First Duke of Sutherland, en route to Wick in summer 2011, we looked at it from the car through narrowed eyes, and my husband’s mother remarked on the fact that it was still standing, in spite of what the duke had done to the crofters not so long ago. If one does a Google images search for the statue, one result is a recent photo of youths urinating on its base… Old animosities between the Scots and the English are being dredged up by the SNP, exacerbated by political tensions surrounding Brexit and the EU. Aren’t we all supposed to be advanced and post-modern, having left the useless-to-us past behind us, along with all tradition? People are now turning backward, but picking up out of the rubble all that is damaging, and little that is worthwhile.
Once we’ve started ‘repenting’ on behalf of ourselves and others long dead, where does it end? Does it actually serve a purpose to resuscitate the spectres (Bernard Woolley would object to mixed imagery like that!) of ancient injuries, a purpose that outweighs all the potential harm done by triggering what may be an endless of cycle of ‘Your clan did this to mine in 1720!’. Why isn’t it enough to say, ‘This was wrong, these people shouldn’t have done it; God, help us not to do it’?
And then there is the issue of same-sex marriage. I would direct the reader to the colossally significant book by Dr. Gagnon. In the media, argument-free publicity was showered on one quarter of the CRC—those baking rainbow cupcakes. One wonders if there was any demonstration of solidarity for those in the black church killed by the crackpot kid with a confederate flag on his jacket (that fact received WAY too much publicity, in my opinion). In spite of all the race rhetoric in the public square now, I’d argue that one gets more social media mileage out of rainbows than shows of support for black fellow Christians gunned down in their place of worship.
The patrons murdered in the Orlando nightclub were human beings who were endangering no one and breaking no laws. The man who murdered them was depraved (and apparently, if we believe his ex-wife, an equal-opportunity abuser).
But he wasn’t a conservative Christian who held to traditional biblical teaching on marriage. To tie in ‘lament’ over Orlando to the Synod’s approval of the minority report is a bit odd, perhaps even irresponsible. And I doubt the patrons frequented Reformation Project seminars. That’s where buying into the terminology of the ‘LGBTQ community‘ gets us into trouble, because it leads to sloppy thinking and doesn’t allow for differentiation between someone like Matthew Vines, a self-professed ‘gay Christian’ (with his resultant position on monogamy, for example), and someone like Dan Savage, who is, cough, certainly not.
I’ve wandered far from my main point, which is this: people are talking heatedly about issues they can summarize in a word or two on Twitter with a hashtag. I would argue, with the ‘group repentance for historical wrongs’, the push to treat Belhar like it’s Holy Writ, and the push for the denomination to do an about-face on God’s intention for human sexuality, that folk are all for self-flagellation—when the confession and repentance is fashionable, and especially when it’s outward-directed and wholly impersonal. This then begs the question: if it’s a fad now to ‘repent’ as well as to ‘repudiate’ in/on certain issues, how can we be sure that repentance is genuine, and not just a jumping on the bandwagon in the emotional heat of the moment—a bit of churched Groupthink? Or worse—how much of it is self-righteousness dressed up as self-deprecation? See this on the self-aggrandizing theatrics and inconsistency of ‘social justice’ advocates. Though not the most perfect in terms of articulation of his ideas, the author makes some important points. I will note here that just yesterday, during a catch-up in a cafe, a Nigerian friend of mine called the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement a ‘joke,’ peopled with rabble-rousers gathered from the ether via social media who, when interviewed, can’t even explain why their group exists. I won’t comment further.
I repeat this: ‘It’s too easy to condemn people of the past for what they did or failed to do, and especially for what they didn’t or wouldn’t understand…’ It’s also too easy to demand repentance on the group plan, with no real introspection of our personal, secret, perhaps shameful, not-so-‘trendy’ sins. More on this in the next instalment.
‘Women adviser Melissa Van Dyk said that she was familiar with the effects of residential schools on Canadian First Nations people. “[Synod is not going] far enough in acknowledging our personal and community response. We do need to acknowledge the cultural genocide that we have been part of and continue to be a part of.”
Gina Taylor, Classis Hamilton, said she had read the report and wondered what, specifically, are alleged to be the CRC’s sins. “What are we apologizing for in Canada?” The CRC did not run any boarding schools in Canada. Hogeterp responded that we also own the corporate sins of the nation.
Synod delegates asked next year’s synod to consider setting a Day of Justice in the CRC in order to lament racial injustices. Afterward, synod delegates formed a large circle and prayed, honoring the Native tradition of holding a sharing circle. Delegates then recited Lord’s Day 40 of the Heidelberg Catechism, addressing the sixth commandment, murder.’
The last paragraph is replete with eyebrow-raising phrases. We’re talking McCoy-level. But I’ll ask just one question: can we get a definition of ‘cultural genocide’?
‘Synod recognized and gave thanks for “the love and grace extended over many years by missionaries sent out by the CRCNA,” but also acknowledged the pain of those who suffered from experiences in boarding schools in the U.S. and Canada, including Rehoboth Christian School.’
My sister suffered painful experiences via thought discrimination at a Christian school under a Calvin College-educated Bible teacher. Probably no one would care because it can’t be classified under a publicity-drawing category headline.
In closing, these are the things that get our age, famous for its short attention span and apathy, agitating for change: ‘social’ justice issues, topics you see on the scrolling ticker-tape on the major news networks. In part 3, we’ll look at what people evidently don’t care about.