Climate Witness Project Moves Focus to Congregations

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After focusing on the Paris Summit on climate change (COP21) and sending a delegation there, the Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice is continuing its creation care work. The Climate Witness Project (CWP) is part of that broader effort.

Corenna Roozeboom of Hope CRC in Oak Forest Ill., is a member of her church’s creation care committee and is one of 210 climate partners in 35 congregations in the CWP. “We received daily newsletters [from COP21], participated in online video chat, and visited legislators in Illinois; [we] told them who we are and why we support legislation actively fighting climate change,” she said.

Peter Vander Meulen, director of OSJ, reported that the total budget for the delegation to Paris, production of video and education materials, website and communications, and stipends and salaries came to approximately $54,000. About $23,000 was raised outside denominational ministry shares.

“The four-person delegation to COP21 was central to our entire CWP phase 1 organizing project. It was COP21 and all of the other events around COP21 that we leveraged to draw the attention of CRC members to this issue,” he said. “The charge I sometimes hear of an OSJ team ‘junketing’ to Paris at denominational expense is particularly galling and unfair because this group worked so hard and lived so frugally.”

Since the Paris meeting, the CWP focus has been on congregations. Phase 2, which runs until June 30, 2017, includes doubling the number of churches participating in the CWP to 70. Climate partners in each congregation will be enabled to take steps to make their buildings more energy efficient, continue to educate their congregations on the damage caused by climate change using materials prepared by the CWP leadership team, and discuss climate change with their legislators. Roozeboom’s church recently received an Energy Star rating from the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency for its energy efficiency.

Organizers of the CWP point to a mandate by Synod 2012 (the annual leadership meeting of the CRC) as their marching orders. That synod called on the CRC (churches, members, and denominational bodies) to reduce individual and collective carbon emissions. It called on members and churches to advocate for public strategies that reduce carbon emissions. And it called on everyone to advocate for governments to take action to assist populations that are bearing the brunt of the negative effects of climate change (Acts of Synod 2012, pp. 804-806).

The Climate Witness Program is not without its detractors. One of them is Doug Vande Griend, a member of Sunnyslope CRC in Salem, Ore. He agrees that a synod can declare that Christians should be stewards of creation. But, he said, neither synod nor its agencies, including OSJ, “should decide for CRC members what conclusions they should come to as to creation care issues.”

He said CRC members will come to different conclusions about the Paris Summit and questions related to creation care, and that’s okay. “What is not okay is that we have a CRC agency that uses both the dollars (ministry shares) and the name of the CRC to pick which CRC members are correct about the Paris Summit.”

Vande Griend said when the denominational level of the CRC starts making too many non-ecclesiastical decisions on behalf of its members, some will agree with those decisions and others will say, “Who are you to speak for me, especially when you’re wrong?” The OSJ Climate Witness Program, he said, substantially represents the denomination doing just that, and it’s divisive.

Vandermeulen said that OSJ promotes citizen advocacy, but, he noted, climate change hurts the people who are poor with whom World Renew and World Missions work. “Our mission to [them] lacks integrity if we cannot institutionally raise their voices and needs to those in power.”

Roozeboom said her congregation will continue to be engaged with the project. “Our creation care committee feels that it’s really important that members of the CRC are thinking about climate change and our responsibility to those most vulnerable to changing climate. For us it is a moral, faith-based issue.”

About the Author

Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.

See comments (6)


By this article, Mr. Vandermeulen offers, in defending OSJ's actions on climate change, that "climate change hurts the people who are poor with whom World Renew and World Missions work."

Well, maybe, but then again maybe not.  I would actually argue the converse, that an OSJ supported United Nations perspective about climate change will have the effect of hurting the populations in these third world countries.  Why?  Because those countries will be deprived of the use of fossil fuels (not to mention nuclear energy) in their efforts to bring a modern day economy to their countries.

Is OSJ an expert about the multiple sciences involved in the incredibly complicated subject of climate change?  Nope.  Would anyone in the institutional CRCNA at the denomination level have that expertise?  Nope. 

Is it the defined job of the denominational agencies to make decisions for all CRC members about what is and is not true about conflicting claims in areas of physics, meteorology, oceanography, atmosphere science, and global econonomics, just to mention an incomplete list of areas involved in climate change questions?  Nope.  

So why are they?

I understand Mr. Vandermeulen wanting to do as much as can to create as much of what he believes is good in as many places as he can do that.  We all have that tendency, to want to do as much as possible to "make the world a better place."  But in doing that, we have to learn, especially when we hold public or private institutional offices, to stay within our "institutional boundaries." In the CRC tradition, we talk about "sphere sovereignty" when we discern those boundaries.  More specifically for the CRC, we also talk about (or should talk about) Church Order Article 28 when we discern those boundaries.

When I serve on the local Little League board, I need to refrain from using that position as a springboard for advocating in favor of my favorite political candidates.  It is disrepectful and inappropriate if I don't.

And when I serve on the downtown merchant association, I need to refrain from using that as a springboard for advocating in favor of my position on a current state tax referendum.  It is disrepectful and inappropriate if I don't.

And when I serve on my local church council, I need to refrain from using that as a springboard to tell church members which local judge candidates they should vote for.  It is disrepectful and inappropriate if I don't.

I need to exercise such restraint even if I might earnestly believe that my positions are right and true and that those who believe otherwise about the answers to these questions are wrong, and even if I think others' wrong answers will "hurt people."

Conversely, I'm all for people like Corenna Roozeboom involving herself in creation care issues, including climate change -- even if I disagree with conclusions she has reached about those issues.  She is within her appropriate boundaries to do so.  But I'm also all for people who involve themselves in the same questions but have reached different conclusions that Corenna Roozeboom has reached.  What I'm not for is the denomination -- OSJ or otherwise -- telling all CRC members that Corenna's conclusions are correct and the contrary conclusions reached by other members are not correct.  And I also oppose spending ministry shares and the name/repuation of the CRC in support of one set of conclusions over others.

When the latter happens, we have a "boundaries" problem.

I agree wholeheartedly with Doug.  I am have a biology degree from a Christian college, have been trained at Cal DeWitt directed AuSable Institute of Environmental Studies, and am now emplyed by government in the areas of pollution prevention and natural resource protection.  I can say that I have reached decidedly different conclusions about many of the actions and policies promoted by the OSJ under the general rubric of climate care.  I can say without hesitation that the OSJ does not speak for me on this topic or a host of other topics where they consistently go beyond the scope of biblical principle to application in specific ways, many of which are debatable and about which hosts of CRC members reach different conclusions.  Would that the CRC would cease its divisive activity under this banner.

*Correction: "climate care" should read "creation care".  Please excuse my haste.

Thank you Doug and Eric for articulating my thoughts very well. I would add that such efforts by a church organization conflict with and detract from the central mission of the church as I understand it. I have spent my career as an architect and educator promoting resource conservation, particularly energy. The issues are complex and there are abundant viewpoints as to how to accomplish good stewardship of our environment. The church would be better served by generating discussion and respecting all viewpoints.

I received an email blast this morning from OSJ about a number of topics (all political).  Part of the email blast says this:

"The CRC is so excited about the ratification of the Paris Agreement that we are throwing a party on November 9! Consider having your own climate themed celebration, with cake or other treats, during your congregation’s coffee hour or another appropriate time. Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate progress on the world partnering for sustainable solutions to climate change."

Really? The whole "CRC" is has decided that we are all so excited about the ratification of the Paris Agreement that we should throw a party in our churches to celebrate that on November 9?

If some local CRC churches want to start morphing into political advocacy organizations, I won't complain, but my local church will still have its usual "family night" events on (Wednesday), November 9.  Nor is my church likely to convert its after-Sunday-morning-service coffee hour into a celebration of the Paris Agreement.  To repeat, it's OK by me -- even if I think it unwise in the extreme -- if other local CRC congregations decide to tie the meaning of their churches to political perspectives like that represented by the Paris Agreement, but all local CRC churches who think otherwise should object to the CRC pitching this at the denominational level and funding that pitch, and others like it, with ministry share dollars.

There are hundreds if not thousands of political positions I take on hundreds or thousands of political questions that I would never ask, nor even want, my local church to endorse, let alone my denomination -- even though they are my positions.

Thanks folks for this discussion. I trust the CRCNA (HQ) leadership will be listening.  Combining Race Relations and OSJ will eliminate one CRCNA (HQ) leader.  I believe they should have gone further and also reduced significantly the scope of at least OSJ.