Thoughts on Binationality

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Many Canadian CRC leaders are grieving the dismissal of Darren Roorda as Canadian Ministries director (see p. 16). Roorda was beloved by many. I pray for God’s providence and blessing for him and his family as they face the future.

Unfortunately, we have been here before. A letter of lament by nine Canadian ministry leaders, including two former Canadian Ministries directors, points out that three other people in the position left “in deep frustration with the CRCNA administrative structures.” It asks for a third party to investigate “this dysfunctional pattern of frustration.” As a Canadian, I get a sense of the concerns among Canadian CRC-ers.

I have two streams of thought flooding my head when it comes to the CRCNA’s binationality. The first concerns lingering and underlying fears. Secondly, I wonder about the dynamics of the cultural differences between Canada and the U.S. and how that relates to doing God’s mission in each country’s contexts.

It’s not like we haven’t studied this before. The Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture’s (TFRSC) report to Synod 2013 (it also reported in 2012 and 2014) delved into issues of binationality among other things. It noted two fears that often are raised with binationality. First is the fear of separation or division into two denominations. This fear often “stifles space for legitimate differentiation.”

The second fear is the fear of one nation dominating the other, namely, that the U.S. side of the CRC, with its sheer number of churches and members, would dominate the Canadian side, calling all the shots in ministry decision-making. Canadians fear that the default unconscious mindset is that of the CRCNA as a U.S. denomination with a Canadian subsidiary rather than a partnership of two equals.

Even though that 2013 report named them, I wonder how much these fears have been openly acknowledged and transparently wrestled with by CRC leaders. I wonder how much of our various attempts at restructuring were subconsciously trying to allay these fears.

The fear of U.S. dominance leads to my second stream of thought: the cultural and contextual difference between Canada and the U.S. Generally, Canadians are far more likely than Americans to emphasize and maintain those differences.

Part of the Canadian identity narrative is that while America’s ideals from its Declaration of Independence are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Canada’s Fathers of Confederation preferred “peace, order, and good government.” Is that a fundamental difference in the two countries’ cultural DNAs?

The 2013 TFRSC report noted some more practical differences. For example, while immigration to the U.S. was dominated by working-class Hispanics and Latinos with Christian backgrounds, immigration to Canada was dominated by middle-class Asians and Africans with non-Christian backgrounds. Pursuing God’s mission in these two different contexts should not be a “one-size-fits-all” posture.

Ultimately, pursuing God’s mission in a faithful and contextualized way is the goal. And, logically, Canadians should have the freedom to self-determine the best ways to contextualize ministry in Canada, and vice-versa for Americans. This need for self-determination takes us back to those fears. For some, self-determination sounds too much like separation or division. For others, lack of self-determination implies U.S. dominance over Canada, rather than an equal partnership.

I don’t think this is an either-or polarity. We need to go beyond this narrow thinking. At the very least, it will be wise to revisit, in a deep engagement, that 2013 TFRSC report on binationality. If we don’t wrestle with these fears and differences, we likely will repeat this cycle of frustration.

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.

You can follow him @shiaochong (Twitter) and @3dchristianity (Facebook).  

See comments (6)

Comments

The editorial speaks to the proverbial elephant in the room: The cultural differences between American and Canadian churches. The binational nature of our denomination is felt much more strongly among Canadians than among Americans. That's the nature of being an elephant and a mouse. The sudden departure of the Canadian director won't even cause a raised eyebrow south of the border.

The issue is about more than the numeric imbalance in representation from American and Canadian classes at synod or its various boards.

There is a noticeable cultural difference that shaped both halves of the denomination a century or two ago. American CRC folk grew up with a pietistic mindset; a strong focus on a personal and private faith. That is also reflected politically in individual rights. Faith is a personal faith: me and my God.

Canadian CRC folk -- especially during the denominational growth years of the 1950s and 1960s -- came out of the Dutch, Kuyperian (after theologial Abraham Kuyper) focus on community; the body of Christ, social justice, human rights.

Those cultural differences have shaped the way our denomination approaches missions, both domestically and internationally. It shapes the way we view citizenship and politics and care for the poor.

The issue, therefore, isn't really about binationality and equal representation at the table. The issue, really, is about biculturalism. Can two different cultures continue to live together -- elephant and mouse -- or is it time to live in separate houses?

The answer lies in a series of frank discussions around whether or not the two cultures can co-exist under the same roof.

The author’s point is well taken, however poorly written.  One constructive comment that I would offer is that he should resist the temptation to resort to a website as source material as to “America’s Ideals.”   Rather, he should go to the text of the document and cite full statement.  If the author insists on locating “America’s Ideals” in the Declaration of Independence, then let him use the entire sentence, which recites a richer set of “Ideals” or, as Jefferson referred to them, “truths.” 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Now, it is certainly not lost on me that, as far as my Country is concerned, we, as a people, have not always lived up this powerful statement of values.  That is the nature of Ideals, it seems to me.  They are forever out of reach in this life, even as we try our best to do what is right.  We keep trying.    

Moreover, I find a remarkable similarity between the statement of the Canadian Fathers “Ideals” (“peace, order, and good government”) and the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

So, maybe the operative “Ideals” of Canadians and Americans are not all that different.  Food for thought.  I don’t think that this takes much away from the author’s main point, though.

Finally, I’ve been a member of the CRC my whole life.  And, I have to confess that I really don’t care one way or another if the church splits into Canadian and American versions of itself.  Protestantism generally, with its thousands of iterations across the globe, is a monument to the failure of Christians to follow Jesus’ call to unity.  That’s the way I see it.

Although I'm an American, I understand the sadness around Darren's involuntary departure. When the position opened up, I encouraged him to apply. But tenure in the four senior leadership positions in the CRC staff is brief on both sides of the boarder. (By "senior leadership positions" I'm refering to Executive Director, Canadian Ministries Director, Director of Ministries and Administration, Director of Finance and Operations (DFO).) In the 15 years since I began serving as Director of Disability Concerns, I have had six different supervisors. In fact, in those 15 years, other than John Bolt, DFO, Darren served longer than anyone else in those four positions. We need to ask not only why is it so difficult for someone to lead the CRC's Canadian ministries, but why have do we make it so difficult for people on either side of the border to lead our denominationally-funded ministries. 

First, respect to Shiao and Keith's comments regarding the doctrinal bi-cultural differences between the two countries I would suggest there is an element of boomer / academia nostaglia in their observations. Millenials and the generations that followed them quite probably have no recollection of such distinctions. Canadians in CRC churches are today as pietistic as their brothers and sisters in the USA.

Secondly, though there a deep differences between the two countries they also share many similarities having their roots in British political institutions, and being immigrant cultures - per Kenneth's comment. To a large degree North America functions as one economic unit even though there are fundamental differences in healthcare, etc.

Lastly, regarding Mark's observation - maybe the reason denominational leadership keeps running aground has to do with a fundamental misunderstanding regarding governance, i.e. administrators / employees do not govern - they administer / manage. 

I am disappointed in this editorial. 

The onus is on the proponants of change to make their case.  As an interested person and a delegate to the first cancelled synod, I have repeatedly asked the leaders of Canada Corporation and Darren to spell out precisely how and where Grand Rapids has thwarted any grand (or small) Canadian CRC visions or actions.   

Crickets. 

I have heard of "laments", "sorrow", "bruised feelings" and "hurts" but nothing more.  If people cannot make out a coherent argument as to why they need more control, then I conclude this is more about ego or power than anything else.

As for the cultural differences, this can be more of a misplaced conceit than anything else.  Ask Wolterstorff, Skillen, Calvin's enonomics and poly sci departments, etc, if as American members of the CRC they are interested in justice issues.  In the halcyon days of AACS conferences and the Christian Labour Association, perhaps an argument could be made that Canadians were more Kuperian.  But I suspect that those in the pews of Listowel are far more similar in mindset to those sitting on the pine boards in Oskaloosa.  

Cordially,

John A. Tamming

Owen Sound, Ontario

This is a comment in the  45 page SALT report from 2012 

Here is the first thing (great people but no corporate organizational skills)

Task Force Reviewing Structure and Culture Calvin J. Aardsma Joel R. Boot, chair R. Scott Greenway Julius T. Medenblik, reporter Peter Meerveld Ida Kaastra-Mutoigo Terry Vander Aa Jane Vander Haagen Katherine G. Vandergrift Colin Watson, Sr.

 

Here is the second thing (no word about preaching)

We have identified five key priorities. These core ministries, sometimes referred to as our “five smooth stones”, are: Develop leaders Start and strengthen churches, Make and deepen disciples, Love mercy – Do Justice Serve globally

 

Here is the third thing (American church with 3% of their churches in Canada)

Evangelical Covenant Church (in Canada) Clearly not a proper template re bi-nationality

Number of churches Canada Classis: 23                                                      

Number of churches Mid West USA Classis 88 (just a sample 800 churches in total)

Here is the fourth thing (impossible anticipations)

The basic anticipated footprint is this: 1,000 congregations >30% of congregations among populations of color or intentionally multi-ethnic 250,000 aggregate attendance on any given Sunday (implied constituency of 400,000 regular attenders) 2,500 credentialed clergy 1,000,000 lives impacted globally through international partnerships and initiatives

This is what is really going on in the CRCNA:

CRCNA Church Information

03 to 21

Numbers of

2003

2013

2021

% change

Families

                  75,129

                  73,425

                 66,885

-11.0%

 Congregations

                   1,017

                   1,101

                   1,057

3.9%

Total Professing Members

              187,806

              178,851

               153,898

-18.1%

Total. Members

              278,798

              248,258

               211,706

-24.1%

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