Church and Politics—Again

Editorial
It is time we determine whether our faith is shaping our politics or our politics has been shaping our faith.

Three overtures are coming to Synod 2018 having to do with the church and politics. Classes Minnkota and Columbia think the denomination has overreached its spiritual sphere and waded too deeply into political waters. Classis Minnkota wants “all agencies of the CRCNA to take up ecclesiastical matters only and to refrain from political advocacy.” Classis Columbia, however, draws the line at “political lobbying” while allowing for advocacy. Both overtures worry that denominational political activity will divide the church.

Classis British Columbia South-East (BCSE) also perceives that our unity is “threatened by a deep and growing divide and confusion about the practice of political discipleship.” But instead of shutting down political activity, it encourages the denomination “to foster discussion and education focused on the biblical principles for public discipleship,” which includes political discipleship.

I toyed with naming this editorial “Divided by Politics.” Our culture’s political polarization has infected our churches. We do not agree on what political policies we think Christians should support or oppose. In the United States especially, and to a growing degree in Canada, members of the Christian Reformed Church are split politically left or right. But why is a community that shares a common faith, a common Reformed tradition, and a common Bible so divided politically? It is time we determine whether our faith is shaping our politics or our politics has been shaping our faith.

Classes Minnkota and Columbia seem to assume that our political divisions are insurmountable, and we should simply not provoke the divisions further. Classis BCSE, however, thinks our political division stems from our failure to adequately teach our members how to connect the dots from our faith to our politics. I lean toward Classis BCSE’s approach because I believe that if this underlying issue is not resolved, stopping political activity is only a Band-Aid solution at best. Granted, we may never reach full political agreement. But surely we can have greater political common ground than we have currently.

The institutional church should not be reduced to either a political lobby group or a provider of religious goods and services. In fact, the New Testament Greek word ekklesia, from which we get the word “ecclesiastical,” was originally “a political term in secular Greek—the citizen assembly of a Greek city (Acts 19:39)” (Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 3rd ed., p. 47). A nonpolitical term for religious organizations—thiasos—was common during the New Testament era. Yet the early church chose to use a politically charged name, akin to our modern terms City Hall, Congress, or Parliament, to name itself. Why? If our churches today went by the terms of “the Congress of President Jesus” (because Caesar was “Lord”) in Los Angeles or “the Parliament of Prime Minister Jesus” in Toronto, would not non-Christians think those terms are political? Is our current assumed definition of “ecclesiastical,” therefore, too narrow or unbiblical? Has it been shaped instead by our culture?

As I suggested in last year’s editorial, “Church and Politics” (Nov. 2017), we need to have tough conversations about church and politics that draw from various traditions, not just the Kuyperian one. And I don’t think synod is the best place for these particular conversations. They are best facilitated in a forum that allows for deep, civil deliberations from our best thinkers with as few side political agendas as possible. Perhaps we need a task force to organize and structure such a forum. Regardless of how, where, or when, we desperately need these discussions.

About the Author

Shiao Chong is editor-in-chief of The Banner. He attends Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Toronto, Ont.

Shiao Chong es el redactor jefe de The Banner. El asiste a Iglesia Comunidad Cristiana Reformada en Toronto, Ont. 

시아오 총은 더 배너 (The Banner)의 편집장이다. 온타리오 주 토론토의 펠로우쉽 CRC에 출석한다.

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Comments

I notice that Chong and other CRC leaders rarely if ever defend specifics but prefer to speak in vague principles when defending political activism on the part of the CRCNA. Simply put there are *moral* issues that have political ramifications from Chattel Slavery to the destruction of human life via elective abortion. We may disagree how and to what extent the institutional church should be involved but few would silence her prophetic voice.

However, we have a situation in the CRCNA where staffers, many ordained ministers, are advocating on issues including fiscal and tax policy. Is it really a matter of Christian orthodoxy or church discipline what the U.S. Corporate tax rate ought to be? Apparently, the Office of Social Justice and Hunger action thinks so. Ditto with appropriation levels on food stamp bills. Is this the type of theology being taught at CTS? It is time to get clarity on this so more of us can discern in this is indeed a fellowship worth covenanting with. 

It is bad form for the editor to be seeking to prejudice against certain overtures lawfully before Synod prior to the meeting.  Recently Chong went to great lengths to fend off any notion of bias in The Banner, seeking to paint The Banner as mainly an exercise in unbiased journalism.  This editorial is an example of bias in defense of institutional bureauracray and prejudiced against the will of classes. 

Chong seeks to make a case based on the fact that the name for "church" has political implications.  Such a case is exceedingly weak, beginning with the fact that a search for the New Testament church examples parallel to the politicing of the modern CRC will go begging.  What do we see the New Testament church giving their time, energy, and resources to?  It certainly wasn't lobbying the Roman government.  Do we think there were no social injustices in the ancient near east?  Did Paul go to Rome to preach the gospel or speak truth to power on behalf of the church in the halls of Roman government?  Well, he gives us a hint when he says that he determined to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  Is anyone seeking to reduce the church to a provider of religious goods and services?  Certainly Minnkota and Columbia aren't. 

This defensiveness on the part of the GR establishment is indicative of ears that are stopped up to the legitimate concerns and continual feedback from rank and file members spread across the U.S. and Canada.  Ministry shares will continue to suffer more and more as this type of resistance to accountability is shown. 

Your sense of what the developing division in the CRC is, Chong, is slightly but so importantly, off.

The division isn't "political left vs political right."  Rather it is those CRCers who insist on the institutional church (CRC) taking political positions and lobbying re political questions in behalf of members vs those CRCers who insist that CRC Art. 28 constrains the institutional church (CRC) from doing that.

Now it just so happens that the political lobbying that is done by the CRCNA these days generally represents and embodies lefty political positions, but those CRCers whose politics can be described as right are not advocating the CRC become a political force for their political positions.

The difference may seem to be a slight nuance but it is not -- so all.

Thank you, Chongfor your voice in our community. I'm grateful for the witness of OSJ and other agencies in our denomination. There is, indeed, little benefit to bandaid solutions if we are unwilling to deal with the brokenness that boils below the surface.

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