On Aug. 8, 2019, the Christian Reformed Church released a statement in response to public mass shootings that occurred in three different states in the U.S. between July 28 and Aug. 3.
“As Christian Reformed people, we grieve this loss of life. We grieve the hatred and extremism behind these acts of violence. We, as God’s church and society, grieve that we’ve been unable to put a stop to mass shootings,” the statement reads.
It goes on to specifically denounce the ideology of white supremacy, reported as a motivation behind at least the most deadly of the three events, the murder of 22 people in El Paso, Tex., on Aug. 3.
“White supremacist acts of terror have been committed in the United States from its earliest days, at the hands of those most often radicalized on the margins or in secret. Today, these ideas have come into the mainstream and have been espoused and amplified by people in leadership, even in the highest elected offices,” reads the Aug. 8 CRC statement signed by nine senior denominational leaders.
“This is something that the Church should take very seriously. We know that words can fuel and affirm violent actions. Yet, all too often, we sit by and allow harmful words to be spoken, tweeted, and expressed without challenging them.”
The actions called for by the statement include for “members of the CRCNA to take an active stance against false narratives ... stand up against racism and acts of white supremacy ... speak up against words of misogyny and of hatred toward immigrants ... be proactively anti-racist, proactively anti-sexist, and to proactively promote the dignity of all people.”
Posted on crcna.org and distributed via social media channels, the statement received responses, ranging from expressions of appreciation to dismay or disappointment at the statement’s perceived partisan bias.
Synod 2018 dealt with the issue of how much the church should wade into politics, responding to requests from three classes (regional assemblies of churches). See Agenda for Synod 2018 pp. 317-333 and Synod 2018 Creates New Justice Committee (The Banner, June 2018). At the time, Clay Libolt reported, “Synod delegates agreed that it is important for the church to continue to engage the social, political, and economic layers of public life, that the church should continue to pray for justice and mercy, that churches should continue to pray for the CRC as it speaks the gospel to the nations, and that the church should pray for growth in wisdom with respect to these matters."
About the Aug. 8 statement, Colin Watson Sr., director of ministries and administration for the CRC, said leadership did consider “that many would read the statement through a political lens.”
“However, it is our prayer that the readers would view it through a Christian lens—through a Gospel lens,” Watson told The Banner in an email. “Some of the criticisms I have heard do not argue with the facts of the statement, or the need for the actions called for, but rather ask the question why not make similar statements for other cases. This I understand, is a judgment call on the part of the CRCNA leadership, and in this case, we felt that we could not be silent in view of the current targeting and deaths of so many people.”
The Christian Reformed Church has a congregation in El Paso, Texas, Missio Dei Church, which formed a couple of years ago as the joining of a 10-year old church plant and an established CRC. Missio Dei hosted a prayer service Wednesday Aug. 7, in which about 70 people came together to pray for healing, strength, unity, and against the spirit of fear.
“The spirit of fear, whether it exhibits itself in a mass shooting or public places or whether it exhibits itself in our marriages and how we raise our children, it’s a tool of the enemy,” said Charissa Lara, director of ministries at Missio Dei. “But perfect love casts out fear. … We celebrated over and over that we do have a God who chooses to reveal himself to us and to be present in the midst of pain.”
Lara, who ministers at the church alongside her pastor husband Tony Lara, said they held the prayer service “realizing that this is not primarily a racist activity, this is not a problem of people coming from the outside in. This is a sin problem, and we are all guilty of that, and how do we bend our knee before our heavenly father, and how do we help others see that this is a sin issue? And we all have sin, but there is a loving savior.”
Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, an ecumenical organization to which the CRC belongs, also published a statement in the days following the shootings. Titled “Groanings too Deep for Words,” the statement reads, “It is time for American Christians to pray for God’s intervention — teach us what to pray, show us what to do, give us solutions, stop the killing of innocent people.”