Note: This story has been updated to include a paragraph describing how the initial and future committee members will be selected.
At its October 2018 meeting the Christian Reformed Church’s Council of Delegates laid the groundwork for a committee to guide and support the CRC’s Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJ). The Council acts on behalf of the CRC’s synod between its annual meetings.
The new committee is a result of a debate at Synod 2018 about the role of OSJ and whether it was venturing beyond its mandate of Christian advocacy to actual lobbying by calling on church members to support specific legislation.
Synod decided to create a committee modeled on the Canadian Committee for Contact with the Government, which for 50 years has provided guidance and support for the OSJ’s counterpart in Canada, the Centre for Public Dialogue. Synod left implementation of the assignment to the Council.
The mandate of the new committee is to guide and support OSJ in addressing U.S. governments on pressing issues of the day “from an integrally biblical, theological, and confessional perspective … emphasizing whenever possible the official positions of the CRCNA as adopted by synod.”
The new committee will meet twice a year. As is the case for the Centre for Public Dialogue, which reports to the Council’s Canada Corp., the new committee will present an annual plan detailing the work of OSJ in addressing public policy, to be approved by the Council’s U.S. corporation.
The committee will include eight members, with at least one representative from each of the four U.S. regions. The Council said membership must also “primarily consist of persons with expertise in, affected by, and/or lived experience with the primary justice issues that the OSJ addresses,” such as poverty/hunger, creation care/climate change, immigration/refugees, religious persecution, or abortion.
Tyler Wagenmaker, Classis Zeeland, wanted the committee membership to also reflect the ideological diversity in the CRC’s American churches. Delegates refused to specify that.
Bruce DeKam, Northern Michigan, opposed the mandate. He said the understanding at synod was that this committee was a compromise to try to see things from both sides of the aisle, to “temper OSJ, not cause more division. I’d like that mandate to be rewritten totally.”
Gary Bos, Classis Columbia said that this committee “would at least provide a group that OSJ could bounce [ideas] off before going public.”
The members of the committee will initially be recommended by the Council’s nominating services committee in consultation with OSJ staff. After that, recommendations for membership will be brought by the committee itself for approval by the Council.
The Council adopted the mandate and membership. DeKam, Wagenmaker, Brian Oschner (Central Plains), and Ralph Wigboldus (Huron) registered their negative votes.