With very little discussion, Synod 2016, the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church, agreed that the CRC needs to do more about religious persecution and liberty.
To that end, it adopted recommendations that were part of a study committee report commissioned by Synod 2013. In the words of Kevin den Dulk, who headed that committee, the reality of persecution “was crying out for a response from the church.” The committee’s mandate was to propose actions to empower the church to walk alongside those who are subject to religious persecution or who are denied religious freedom at home or abroad.
Den Dulk told synod delegates that violations of religious liberty and persecution affect church members in different, even if not direct, ways. A great deal appears more indirectly, and yet we in both Canada and the United States seldom consider any governmental response, he said. The goal of the church must remain, in his words, to seek ways for churches to foster “shalom,” including religious liberty as it affects an increasing number of refugees in the world.
Acknowledging the complexity of the topic, synod recommended several personal, congregational, and denominational actions. Congregations are encouraged to appoint a prayer coordinator who will keep up on religious persecution, advise office bearers, and foster regular prayer for those suffering.
The CRC’s Office of Social Justice will be instructed to expand the practice of urging congregations to participate in the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. World Renew and the CRC’s Centre for Public Dialogue are asked to communicate up-to-date information for congregations on issues of religious persecution.
Chris DeWinter, Classis Niagara, urged delegates to be careful about how to speak about suffering from their privileged positions while others are facing death. He called for “pastors to be incredibly prophetic about speaking to their congregations.
Henk Bruinsma, Classis Toronto, said his classis had asked for this study committee. He said that the report did not fulfill the mandate given. “The Christian community still lacks tools to understand religious liberty.” Another delegate, Robert Arbogast, Classis Lake Erie, reminded the body that the prevalence of persecution also reminds us that suffering for Christ is, and will always be, part of our Christian lives.
Synod also encouraged “all members of the CRC to actively live out love for God and for others in every area of life, despite the relative threat of persecution.”
Synod 2016 is meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-17. For continuous Banner coverage, please follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC FCommunications releases, webcast, and live blogging, please visit crcna.org/synod. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.