Eric Verhulst is bothered by the Office of Social Justice (OSJ) of the Christian Reformed Church. And it’s not just that he takes solid, conservative opinions (which he does). Something else is at work with such an office. As he explains it,
These policy matters are quite complex and interconnected – welfare, immigration, environment, the national debt, defense, and so on. There is room for a wide range of opinion that falls within the bounds of Christianity and Reformed thought when it comes to specific policies to be advocated or enacted. In claiming to speak for the denomination, OSJ effectively cuts off that debate before it even gets started, declaring this policy Christian Reformed and that one not.
Even though I speak from the other side of a partisan divide, I broadly agree with this understanding of the complex, interconnected character of the sort of problems we face. That said, it is difficult to see how the church (denominationally or congregationally) can easily escape wrestling with them. It’s part of being embodied, of taking up social space.
Likewise, as Verhulst also notes, there may be a number of approaches that will fall within the boundaries of a faithful walk.
But does this preclude taking a particular stance?
The function of the OSJ is one common to all church groups. There will be some committee thinking about how to speak about and to the complex inter-connected issues in which the church must live out her life.
It seems inevitable that we have to speak. Or more precisely, you and I will have to make decisions for ourselves, in the voting booth etc about issues like that of immigration. How will we decide? How do we integrate that back into Christian life? And where do I get that information?
The very fact that we may come to a particular issue with an existing framework, part of our particular culture, further complicates the matter. On some highly charged items, information outside of our received frame can be very hard to hear (e.g. I have this all the time with the WSJ). Additionally, we bring our own background to the table; a person from Hamilton ON may have a significantly different view of the issue from that of the person in Hamilton MI.
Finally, I have long thought that the real need in the church has been he formulation of biblical and theological frameworks for understanding the issues, rather than particular policy statements. Left and right, there is a noticeable tendency to think simplistically, to cover the issue with some easy Bible verses as if that gave the solution. Perhaps a better way would be to think of social witness as a sort of spiritual discipline — such an approach would modify the policy-advocacy framework we all can so easily fall into.
Discipleship is a matter of embodying truth in our lives, by word and action. It is framed and shaped by or participation in the life of the Church itself, so in that sense our actions are never autonomous, or for that matter, self-evident. The mystery of Grace here, as elsewhere, is that such embodying does in fact convey a whiff of the Grace that is possible. Framed by the life of the Church, such political commitments then can also be free from the univocal nature of the political, where one has to be all in for one side or another, where one is constantly being tempted –invited– to be consumed by passion.