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Q What’s the difference between bribery and extortion? Is one more sinful than the other?
A Bribery is initiated by a person offering a payment or favor of some sort. The process of extortion is initiated by a person seeking to be the recipient of a payment or favor of some sort. When someone offers a bribe to another person, that person is free to refuse the bribe. Extortion, on the other hand, is a form of blackmail. The person being extorted is threatened by the likelihood of harm (to the person or a loved one) if the payment in question is not made. Generally speaking, offering a bribe is a less serious moral offense because it does not involve coercion.

We sometimes speak loosely of bribery, as when we talk about bribing a child to do something she is not inclined to do. This way of speaking might tempt us to regard bribery as acceptable in certain contexts. Strictly speaking, bribery only takes place when a person is asked to do something in violation of a legitimate role such as being an employee, a fiduciary, a relative, a trusted confidant, or a law-abiding citizen.

There can be a fine line between our perceptions of bribery and extortion. Suppose your father promised to give you a valuable family heirloom and instead, while suffering from dementia, he gives it to a neighbor. If that neighbor offers it to you as a bribe in exchange for doing something illegal, it becomes a case of extortion.

—Gregory Mellema is a professor of philosophy at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Q What is the origin of the triangle/cross Christian Reformed Church symbol?
A The synodical committee appointed to celebrate our centennial developed a “commemorative seal” of a triangle with the words “The Christian Reformed Church Centennial 1857-1957,” under which were the words “I will build my church.”

In response to requests from many churches and members, that committee recommended that the “Seal be retained as much as possible in its present form, with the revised wording “The Christian Reformed Church. Soli Deo Gloria. 1857” (Acts of Synod 1958, p. 378). Synod rejected this recommendation and appointed a study committee “to prepare a denominational seal for our church.”

The committee presented a seal to Synod 1960, which voted to “tentatively adopt the proposed seal as the Denominational Seal, final decision to be made next year.” Synod instructed the committee to “publicize the Denominational Seal in order to . . . ascertain the reaction of the church” (Acts 1960, p. 32). At Synod 1961, the committee reported that “due to certain delays . . . it was impossible to carry out its mandate fully.”

The committee submitted another design to Synod 1967, one that was opposed by two overtures (Acts 1967, pp. 706, 708). Synod rejected the proposed seal and appointed a new committee that proposed to Synod 1968 the current emblem of our denomination. The committee described it as follows: “The triangle, a beautiful geometric form, is the time-honored sign of the Trinity. Superimposed in a dominant central position, in the design as in our lives, is the Cross of Christ” (Acts 1968, p. 306).

—George Vander Weit is a retired pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Although he was declared missing in July 2013, we are continuing to run George’s contributions to this column, which were submitted earlier this year.


Q I’m a 24-year-old member of the CRC. There seems to be a huge disconnect between my church’s stance on issues such as homosexuality, evolution, or premarital sex and the reality I experience “out there.” I consider myself a Christian, but I’m not sure I can stay in the CRC. Should I just find a more “contemporary” church?
A Yes and no.
It is better to have a positive connection to a church community than to pretend you feel a connection to a church you have already left emotionally and spiritually. Better to find a Christian church body where your relationship to God and the community can grow and flourish than to feel alienated and possibly experience a continuous temptation to disdain, mock, or judge brothers and sisters in Christ.

The harder choice, which is not for everyone, is to stay and accept the challenge of loving not only God (our first call as Christ followers), but also your neighbors, including your fellow church members. The more difficult neighbors to love are usually the ones whose shortcomings we are familiar with. The challenge is to pray for and accept leadership opportunities within the fellowship of believers you are part of, to explore what it means to be “in the world but not of the world.”

There is always a cost to discipleship, although Jesus promises that the burden we will carry being yoked to him will be light. Knowing your motives for leaving or staying can help you discern whether you are hungering for a place to be more comfortable in the world, or whether your discomfort relates to Christ calling you to serve him in a different community of faith.

Either way, God calls all of us to accept his love, friendship, forgiveness, and the lordship of Christ, no matter what body of believers we belong to.

—Judy Cook is a family therapist and a member of Meadowlands Fellowship CRC in Ancaster, Ontario.

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