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Separation a Sin?

I have to strongly disagree with “Is Separation Always a Sin?” (IMHO, September 2010). Cornelius Plantinga Jr., in his award-winning book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, defines sin as “culpable disturbance of shalom.” Ethnic separation, even willing, unforced separation, is a disturbance of God's shalom—of God's designed flourishing of human life. If the visions of Revelation 7:9 and 21:24 are signs of God's shalom for human cultural diversity, then to intentionally go against that, whether willingly or forcefully, is still sin.

Palmer confuses cultural contextualization with ethnic separation. When a church in China, for example, uses Mandarin for its services, that is contextualization to its cultural context. It is not sin but trying to be faithful to the gospel mission. But when the same church does not attempt to welcome foreigners or immigrants who are not fluent in Mandarin, it is engaging in ethnic separation. That would be sin. When a group of, say, Canadian immigrants in China start their own separate church for Canadian immigrants, that is a sign of either the existing Chinese church’s failure to be inclusive or the Canadians’ failure to accommodate to a new cultural community, or both. Either way, it is still sin. Couldn't a Mandarin church, in dialogue with the Canadians, start an English-Mandarin service ministry/fellowship as a way to meet the need, as a temporary stepping-stone to help the Canadian immigrants contextualize themselves into the Chinese context?

I am ethnically Chinese but was born and raised in Malaysia. I became a Christian there and the local church I went to used English in its services. But I remember that whenever there was a perceived need—when visitors did not know English—every attempt was made to provide translation of the sermon. Once, I vividly remember, we provided four language translations! This is analogous to providing ASL sign language for the hearing-impaired. It's a sign of a church trying its best to include everyone, whenever possible, and willingly being inconvenienced—four translations make for a very long sermon—for the sake of hospitality.

I'm not suggesting that every church must provide translators. What I am focusing on is the intention of both dominant and marginal ethnic groups: is it to strive after and reflect God's shalom of integrating cultural diversity under the lordship of Christ by whatever means possible and reasonable (though perhaps inconvenient), or is it to appease our cultural comfort zones or our own ethnic preferences by the easiest sociological justifications?

—Shiao Chong and Martha Schreiber Toronto

Mountain Lion

I am disturbed by the August news article about the Idaho woman who “bagged” a huge mountain lion (“Idaho Woman Bags Huge Mountain Lion”). Was the woman protecting herself, her family, or her livestock? Was she seeking to feed her family in these economically difficult times? Or did she take the life of one of God’s most beautiful creatures for the thrill of the kill?

I recognize that people have different sensibilities about hunting as a sport, and I understand the challenge of stalking, aiming, and shooting an arrow with a bow, but in the end I can’t believe this is what God has in mind when he commands us to care for creation, and I certainly don’t believe The Banner should encourage killing for pleasure by including reports or pictures such as this.

—James E. VanderMolen Grand Rapids, Mich.

How do I explain this news item to my children, who saw the photo in The Banner (“Look, Mama! This lady is hugging a mountain lion. Is it her pet?”)—especially when we try to teach them that life is sacred and to be respected, as each living organism has its function given by God?

I read each Banner carefully, as I see it my duty as a professing member of the Christian Reformed Church to be aware of the bigger things happening within the denomination and in our many churches in North America. I have always felt that it has had a very strong American content and that, unfortunately, it seems to be going in the direction that “anything goes” in terms of how we carry out our Reformed faith.

Sorry, but at this time we no longer wish to receive The Banner.

—Sharon Van Kampen and Stephen Johnson Listowel, Ontario

When I first saw this photo and the accompanying article, I was initially angered and then very saddened. Article 10 of our Contemporary Testimony states, "By sovereign appointment we are earthkeepers and caretakers . . . tending the creation. God uses our skills in the unfolding and well-being of his world." I cannot reconcile this testimony with what appears to be the destruction of a magnificent creature simply for sport. Would it not be more in line with our calling as caretakers to use our outdoor time in contemplation of that "beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God (Belgic Confession Article 2)?

—Don Nydam Waterloo, Ontario

Does killing an animal for the pure enjoyment of killing glorify God in any way? I don’t think so. Call me a “cat hugger,” but this kind of news has no business being printed in The Banner!

—Barbara Kamps Gallup, N.M.

I feel that this article was not thorough enough. Was Leslie Workman or her family or friends threatened by the lion? Did the lion pose a threat to livestock? Was Leslie so hungry she needed lion food? Was there an overpopulation of mountain lions that affected the local ecosystem? If the destruction of part of God’s creation was done for enjoyment or pleasure, I cannot see why The Banner would promote such behavior. To destroy what God has created for no reason is beyond my comprehension, especially in an historical time when we have to work so hard to preserve what is left.

—Marsha Vandergaast Newcastle, Ontario

I was distressed to read this article. I find trophy hunting to be unethical and immoral when killing is recreational. Bow hunting causes more injuries than any other hunting practice. We were taught many years ago on our family ranch to shoot bears only when they were damaging crops or a danger to cattle.

—G. Lieuwen Langley, British Columbia

I was deeply saddened to see the photo of the woman posing with the mountain lion she’d recently shot. I’m not sure what the relevance of her kill is to The Banner, aside from her attending a Christian Reformed church.

Bow hunting can be a slow, cruel way for animals to die, and the majority of people who shoot mountain lions do so for the trophy, not for the meat. We are called to respect and care for all of creation, not to shoot it, watch it suffer, and then stuff it or hang its head on a wall.

I don’t want to disrespect or make the gal in the photo feel bad. Obviously she and I hold different views on hunting. I respect her right to hunt—I just don’t want to have to see photos of it.

—Kim Traas

I was thoroughly disgusted to see this story in The Banner. This beautiful creature was not killed for meat, but for sport—something I find repulsive at best. Is this honoring God’s creation? Is this caring for the creatures God has entrusted to our care? Boasting about the size of the kill was also nauseating. The thought that this beautiful creature is undoubtedly stuffed or hanging on a wall instead of living out his life in the wild makes me want to cry. This is not something I ever want to see again in The Banner.

—Lynn DeJong Lansing, Ill.

Hunting has a place for food purposes, but not as a sport for killing God’s created creatures. There are enough magazines on the newsstands for hunters. We do not need such stories in a magazine that promotes God and his church and what people are doing to make this world a better place for others, doing as Jesus would want them to do, loving their neighbor. I believe there was a lapse in judgment when this article and picture were placed in The Banner.

—Bert Wassink Cardinal, Ontario

We have never understood how any human being, much less a Christian, can kill God’s magnificent creatures for sport. To see it celebrated in the August Banner disappointed and dismayed us.

—Jim and Sharon Payton Ancaster, Ontario

If The Banner includes articles on creation care, as your August issue does, then it must recognize that protection and care of animals are a major part of creation care.

—Florence Kowar Kalamazoo, Mich.

In case you’re wondering, the letters above represent about half of the letters The Banner received in response to the mountain lion story. And no, no one wrote in defense of hunting.—Ed.

Synod 2010

The July Banner reports that Synod 2010 created a two-year task force to identify a “biblical and Reformed perspective on our position on creation stewardship, including climate change.” Could that perhaps be the most important decision this year’s synod made? Would it have been even better had synod made this decision 30 years earlier? Article 2 of the Belgic Confession indicates that we know God by two means: first by God’s creation, preservation, and government of the universe, and second by God’s holy and divine Word.

We, the human race, have seriously failed to honor God’s majesty in our handling of the beauty of his creation in its amazing resilience. We Christians take what we think the Bible says very seriously. However, could it be that when handling God’s creation we are also too moved by the profit of material advantage rather than by Scripture’s prophetic guidance? That raises the serious question not only of whether we have failed to raise a prophetic voice against the violence inflicted on God’s creation, but whether we have joined in this world’s craving for an ever-higher standard of living that wreaks havoc with God’s creation.

—Dirk Velthuizen Brampton, Ontario

The article about synod not allowing two West Michigan churches to transfer to another classis hundreds of miles away states that “nearly half of the delegates” preferred to permit the transfer and “the decision was made with a very close vote” (pp. 30-1). One hundred seventy-eight delegates voted on the motion not to approve the transfer; 107 voted yes, 66 voted no, 5 Abstained. One-half of 178 is 89. Sixty-six is not “nearly half”; it is 23 short of half. And a vote of 107-66, with a 41-vote spread, cannot be described as “a very close vote.” Synod 2010, as did Synod 2007, desired to find unity in Christ instead of compounding division. Accurate reporting will help our denomination as we strive to reach that goal.

—George Vander Weit Rochester, Mich.

Can someone please explain to me why the “wise guys” at Synod 2010 talked about “age- and ability-appropriate faith in Jesus Christ” when discussing children’s participation in the Lord’s Supper? Are “they” planning to add that kind of language to the form for infant baptism also?

—John Duifhuis Duncan, British Columbia

Being Catholic

Congratulations to Richard Mouw for his article “How to Be Catholic” (July 2010). There is no perfect church, denomination, or theology. There is, however, what is called the visible and indivisible church (i.e. true believers and unbelievers). That is true for every church and denomination.

—Norman Haan Fox Lake, Wis.

In his article Mow says, "The Belgic Confession, in Article 28, makes much of the distinction between the 'true church' and the 'false church,' insisting that every Christian must be united with the former while staying separate from the latter at all costs." In our membership in the new World Communion of Reformed Churches, we are part of a body some of whose members have ministers who do not believe in God, deny the bodily resurrection of our Lord, deny the virgin birth of our Lord, and deny his atoning work on the cross. These are foundational Christian doctrines.

I wonder how we affirm and practice catholicity while separating ourselves from outright heresy, and I wonder how we keep the Christian Reformed Church from being contaminated by such unbelief, which is really belief in religious doctrines that are other than Christian.

—William (Bill) Steele South Korea

Illegal Immigration

Regarding Larry Edsell’s news article “Arizona Churches Silent on Controversial Law” (August 2010), I believe that the same is also true of other churches in Arizona. I am personally opposed to this law or any law that implies discrimination or sows the seeds of hatred. Ethnic studies in the public schools have been banned in the state. Politicians are looking at the 14th amendment to find a way to deny citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants in this country. Many have jumped on the bandwagon for political purposes. The best description of these I have seen has labeled them as demagogues—that is, leaders who make use of popular prejudices and false claims to gain power. I do not believe Jesus would approve of this law and these matters. Border crossings are a serious problem. Border security has tightened, but more needs to be done. Bipartisan action is urgently needed to come up with a sensible immigration reform bill. If this law is so great, how come Texas, New Mexico, and California have not done the same thing?

—Herman Klap Sahuarita, Ariz.

Larry Edsall and Rev. Esteban Lugo express an interesting concept of the church in this story. In reflecting on the Arizona churches’ response to Arizona’s immigration law, one says none of the churches have taken an official stand, while the other says the church is not to be silent on these matters (implying that these churches have been silent). From a Reformed perspective, the church is not a building nor a steeple nor a council; the church is the people. It may be that the councils have not taken an official stand, but do these two men have a basis for their judgment that the churches (the people) have been silent?

All too often governing boards impress themselves and a few others with courageous stands that have little impact on the church or the culture, which little notes nor long remembers. The issue is NOT what the Arizona CRC councils have done, but what the churches have done. The article leaves us guessing about that.

—Les Kuiper Oostburg, Wis.

We just finished reading (in utter shock) the article "CRC Urged to Seek Better Treatment for Undocumented Immigrants" (News, May 2010). How would YOU react if a burglar entered YOUR home uninvited? That is exactly what the ILLEGAL immigrants have been doing and continue to do. Legal immigrants are welcomed through the long time quota system of our country. When people wait to enter legally, that is respected. When they enter illegally, that unlawful! They fill our emergency rooms, schools, and receive other privileges for which legal citizens pay required taxes. Yes, most of our ancestors immigrated to the U.S. legally through the quota system and later studied to become citizens. They obeyed the laws of the land. The 1960s civil rights movement was conducted out of great concern for fellow citizens of our country—they were not illegal immigrants. We are all for promoting legal immigration.

—Shirley Sybesma Visalia, Calif.

I found the two articles about immigration in the May issue incredibly encouraging. Both the interview with the undocumented man (“Young and Undocumented”) and the article on the CRC's stance supporting immigration reform express the love and justice of Jesus. Lately, the new bill in Arizona concerning immigrants has weighed pretty heavily on me. I know a youth pastor in Arizona at a church that is opening its doors to any immigrants in need of a place to stay. He's prepared to face jail time if necessary, and that scares me. I keep praying more churches will stand up and be the light to immigrants that God wishes us to be. When I found this issue of The Banner, I read the beginning of an answer to that prayer.

—Jake Crammer

Regarding the two articles in the May Banner and the one in July (“Reaching Out to Undocumented Workers”), illegal is still illegal. My great-grandparents came to the U.S. in 1902 legally through Ellis Island. Watch PBS’s American Experience documentary on Ellis Island and you will find they turned back thousands of people who were deemed unhealthy, had criminal backgrounds, or could not work and thus would “become an added burden to the United States government.” Today we are getting the bad with the good without any regulation.

Hiring an undocumented worker is illegal and is contrary to being “subject to a governing authority.”

—Michael De Vries Alvord, Iowa

I write regarding Adrianna Oudman’s moving and well-presented interview “Young and Undocumented” in the May 2010 issue. It is a very sympathetic piece that shows the human side of the immigration debate, and challenges for Christians.

But I believe the sense of the piece is wrong-headed because it allows the interviewee to suggest that illegally entering the U.S. is a debatable moral issue. I should say that my parents were immigrants to the U.S., so in no way am I “anti-immigrant.” But my parents came legally, and we cannot just turn a blind eye to those who have come illegally and forgive the crime. Yes, it is a crime, no matter what the young man in the piece says. While we might be sympathetic to his plight, we must ask (without bitterness) the following: “What part of the word illegal do you not understand?”

I am delighted with the contribution that Latinos have made to American life. My son in California is married to a woman of Mexican American heritage, a granddaughter of people who came—legally—to work in the fields as farm workers. Our own granddaughter carries on that heritage, of which we are all very proud. But in the immigration debate we cannot reward illegal entry, both because we must respect the law and because we must not disrespect all the other immigrants who did the hard work to come here legally.

—Ronald A. Wells Maryville, Tenn.

I was disappointed in your article “Young and Undocumented,” which attempts to justify illegal immigration—in particular by the highlighted quotation “Just because we cross the border to find a better life, we’re criminals?” Yes, illegal immigrants are criminals.

Illegal immigration is not a crime without a victim. Aside from the direct victims of crime and identity theft, illegal immigrants are driving this country more and more into debt and creating a huge burden on schools, hospitals, and government services.

I agree that Christians should have compassion on the poor, but I also believe we do not justify the criminal who is a lawbreaker. I am disappointed in the CRC’s stance on this and would suggest that perhaps we should look more at changing the human rights situation in Mexico rather than supporting criminals who break the law.

—Sara Allen Greeley, Colo.

Not So Funny

When Matthew Bridges (1800-1894) wrote “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” he did so on the basis of Revelation 19, a description referring to our Savior. Do you not think, therefore, that permitting the joke about the dentist’s favorite hymn (Punch Lines, May 2010) was in poor taste?

—Frank and Celia DeVries Richmond, British Columbia

When we get The Banner, the first thing I look at is the Punch Lines for a good joke. But I found the dentist joke very offensive. It is blasphemy and certainly has no place in The Banner.

—Mr. and Mrs. Charles Douma Brampton, Ontario

Regarding “Mischief at Synod” in the July Banner, I found the altered sign of Classis Niagara very inappropriate. Please have more respect for your readers.

—Wilma Karsten Jarvis, Ontario

Baby Blues

I was very happy to see the issue of postpartum depression discussed in the recent article "Baby Blues" (August 2010). Part of the problem about postpartum depression is that there continues to be a reluctance in society, and even in our church communities, to acknowledge and talk about this serious issue. As a social worker who works with families, and new mother myself, the issue strikes home. However, while it is great to see the topic raised, my concern is that this article minimizes the impact that postpartum depression can have on new mothers and their children (and spouses!), and implies that being organized and having enough casseroles in the freezer should mean things will be fine. However, that is not always the case.

While having the "baby blues" is a normal postnatal experience, postpartum depression can be far more pervasive. Medication is often required, and families who are dealing with depression need help from those around them at a time when there is so much pressure to "have it all together." My hope is that our church communities will be places of refuge for struggling families and parents—where we are open to sharing such intimate struggles without shame, to support each other, and to seek medical help when necessary.

—Alisha Dreyer Bowmanville, Ontario

While it was great to see an article discussing the prevalent issue of "baby blues" (which affects up to 85 percent of new moms), it is important to distinguish that postpartum depression (PPD) and other mood disorders are a serious problem impacting 15 to 20 percent of mothers. In fact, postpartum depression is the single most common complication of pregnancy and causes serious problems for the mother, baby, and the rest of the family. Despite being a common occurrence following delivery, postpartum depression is largely underdiagnosed, unrecognized by family and community members, and has many adverse effects on the mother, infant, and the family.

Many problems in maternal-infant bonding, maternal behavior, and infant health result from postpartum depression. Mothers with PPD are at increased risk for suicide, infanticide, neglect, and divorce. The infants exhibit symptoms of irritability, poor sleep, and poor bonding. As they grow, children whose mothers suffered from PPD exhibit more behavior problems.

The saddest part about all of this is that few options exist today for treatment of PPD and other perinatal mood disorders. The community continues to be largely unaware of the vastness of this problem. Screening does not happen consistently in many areas. Providers do not feel comfortable giving medications to women who are pregnant or nursing. Women feel ashamed (as described in the article) and often suffer in silence.

What can our response be as members of the body of Christ? We need to support new moms: bringing meals, offering to watch the baby so mom can sleep, listening without judging when she needs to talk, or taking older children for an afternoon. Also, we need to be educated and aware of community resources to help women who are suffering. One great online resource is, which can help women connect with support groups and providers in their areas.

—Gretchen Johnson, RN Grand Rapids, Mich.


George Vander Weit feels that—given our Lord’s Supper form and revisions to Q&A 80 of the Heidelberg Catechism—CRC officebearers are free to participate in communion at a Catholic Mass (FAQs, August 2010). I wonder if he consulted with any Catholic priest or theologian.

At Catholic services I have attended, the priests welcomed those “who accept the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist” to share in the celebration. By “real presence” that church means “a substantial presence” resulting from “the conversion of the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 1374-75). Even with changes to Q&A 80, our Heidelberg Catechism explicitly rejects a real presence. You’ll find the rejection in Q&A 78. Although I would dearly love to participate in the Eucharistic celebration, I can’t see how to do it without misrepresenting myself either to the Catholic Church or my own.

Thankfully, I can still enjoy Catholic hospitality at the Mass. Those who cannot receive communion with a clear conscience are invited to come forward with other participants to receive a blessing. I come forward on each visit, and I have been blessed.

—Len Batterink Rocky Mountain House, Alberta

I—and others—disagree with George Vander Weit and the Acts of Synod 2006, p. 711, stating that the traditional condemnation of the Roman Catholic Mass in the Heidelberg Catechism "does not accurately reflect official [Catholic] teaching."

In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (doctrines 1128-1131,1323-1418) teaches this: (1) bread becomes Christ; (2) it is an actual, perpetuated sacrifice; (3) it pays only for "venial" (less serious) sin; (4) it is required for salvation; (5) it is required for daily sins; (6) it pays for the sins of the dead; and (7) it (bread/Christ) is to be worshiped.

—Rev. Stephen Whatley Tacoma, Wash.

In the June Banner a writer to FAQs requested advice in a job search. Many churches have faith-based ministries to assist job seekers. Those provide help with everything from resumes and interviewing to spiritual support and prayer. The connections from my church-based career groups were key to helping me land a new position while meeting my spiritual needs during a difficult time. Please see for more information.

—Catherine VanHeest Milwaukee, Wis.

Muslim-Christian Roommates at Calvin

When I read “Muslim, Christian Roommates Find Common Ground at Calvin College” (June 2010), I felt proud that this girl felt welcomed and safe at Calvin, but very distressed that she felt that her Muslim faith had grown stronger during her year at Calvin. I also felt distressed that the Banner staff felt this was worth trumpeting. This poor girl tells us that she is even farther from Christ’s Truth than she was a year ago, and instead of mourning this fact and asking where we went wrong, we are supposed to feel warm feelings toward Calvin for being so cozy and nonthreatening that it didn’t challenge her more? Warm and inviting does not have to come at the expense of eventually challenging someone’s ideas that are corrosive to their souls.

—Marc Peterson Grand Rapids, Mich.

At any of the pagan colleges or universities in the world, I would not have thought it unusual for a Christian and a Muslim to share a room. However, I tend to think differently of a Christian college. When my daughter was graduating from high school, we did the typical search for colleges with her. We realized that she would be faced with possible pagan friendships and, worse yet, pagan philosophy taught in every realm of her college education, since nothing in our world is neutral. So we were faced with the decision, Do we allow her to be immersed in a pagan culture or do we encourage the strengthening of her faith, which would come in a Christian atmosphere? However, I'm growing to learn that there may not be much difference between many pagan and Christian schools.

—Linda Bacon Charlotte, Mich.

I am writing to express the sadness I feel after reading this article. The most devastating quote from this Muslim young woman being, “Coming to Calvin has made my faith stronger.” It’s a very sad day for Calvin College when one of its students states that after attending for a year, her Muslim faith has been strengthened. And I believe that writing about an unsaved soul in a positive light (the “common ground” you proclaim) is terribly off track.

—Cheryl Ward

When our daughter applied to Calvin some years ago, she was required to agree with the faith statement of Calvin, which is a statement of Christian principles that I am sure a Muslim can’t agree with. Are we slowly deleting the name Christian from Calvin College?

—John VisserSarnia, Ontario

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