OFFERING

This is a picture of the chancel area of my church. img_0618_edited.JPG You are looking at the pulpit and the small lectern in front of the pulpit. Read the rest of this entry »

WORLD RECORD

Back in the old days we used to refer to what is now the congregational prayer as the “long prayer”.  Last Sunday we set a record. Bob Koornneef took care of the “Welcome and announcements”,which included a lot of sick people and one death. So after going thru the usual preliminaries and mentioning these people, he prayed for the sick and the families of the deceased. Then followed the call to worship, singing of opening hymn, God’s greeting (Invocation),  Call to confession, Prayer of confession, Hymn of confession, and Assurance of Pardon , singing of a couple hymns, and then a baptism along with the children’s sermon. A visiting pastor handled the baptism of a relative, and he tended to be rather long winded. Following that was an anthem sung by a visiting soloist (all the verses), and then the offering. At this point in the service the bulletin says “Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession” (the long prayer). 

The guest preacher -the prayer, not the baptizer – must have looked at his watch and reflected on the length of the sermon he was to shortly preach.  His congregational prayer couldn’t have lasted more than ten seconds. A WORLD RECORD.

DON FRANSISCO

This may be old news to most of the readership, but it was completely new to me.  Today we had a guest preacher, as we always do these days.  He had a really great sermon on Rev. 12 thru Rev. 14.  In it he quoted extensively from lyrics of two songs by Don Fransisco.  I had never heard of this song writer, and after the sermon, snagged the preacher and asked about him.  Read the rest of this entry »

WAR AND PEACE (note)

The present War and Peace is a corrected version, and if you read the earlier one and think you have done your good deed for the day, you haven’t.  You should go back and read the new one.

War and Peace

The CRC has previously made statements about a just war. These were made by the Synods of 1939, 1977, 1982, and 1985.  All of these statements are still valid, but the Synod of 2003 felt that more needed to be said, and a new committee was appointed to develop a broader statement, because of the changing methods of waging war, the advancements of nuclear weapons, and because previous statements did not make much emphasis on the church’s role as peacekeepers. The specific mandate for the committee was to develop in greater depth these five issues.
1. The just war theory as an adequate paradigm for Christians to judge the government’s use of military force.
2. The changed international environment, and its and its implications for the CRC’s position regarding the use of military power.
3. The use of military force in preemptive and preventive warfare.
4. The continued proliferation of nuclear weapons as legitimate instruments of warfare, in light of Synod’s declarations in 1982.
5. The underlying theology and principles of peacemaking and peacekeeping to inform the conscience of the church.

The prologue to the report contains a statement which has great meaning to me. One hears so much in the press and on TV about patriotism and the lack thereof. This is the statement, “ The first thing we need to consider is that the church – the people of God in Jesus Christ – is a community that transcends all national and state boundaries.”
The prologue basically sets the stage for the detailed treatment of the five issues to be treated.  The following is a recap of the major thrust of each.

1. The just war theory: First of all, the church acknowledges that war is sometimes necessary, and participation therein justified, but Christian pacifism has a long and respected history.  These are the questions that need be asked if a war is to be considered “just”:
a. Is our nation the unjust aggressor?
b. Is our nation intentionally involved for economic advantage?
c. Is our nation intentionally involved for imperialistic ends, such as the acquisition of lands, natural resources, or political power in international relations?
d. Has our nation exhausted all peaceful means to resolve the matters in dispute?
e. Has our nation in good faith observed all relevant treaties and international agreements?
f. Is the evil or aggression represented by the opposing force of such overwhelming magnitude and gravity as to warrant the horrors and brutality of opposition to it?
g. Has the decision to engage in war been taken legally by a legitimate government?
h. Are the means of warfare employed or likely to be employed by our nation in fair proportion to the evil or aggression of the opposing force?
i. In the course of the war has our nation been proposing and encouraging negotiations for peace, or has it spurned such moves by the opposing force or by neutral or international organizations?
It is obvious, if the answer to most of these questions is no, then the war is not just. The report goes on to say, “the unparalleled destructive power of nuclear weaponry calls into question the very possibility of a just war today.” A further statement along similar lines is this, “Although a just war is thinkable, and in the past was concretely possible, it is at least questionable whether, in view of the destructive power of modern weapons, it can any longer become actual.”
One other aspect of a just war is the matter of jus in bello. The previous stated questions address the matter of jus ad bellum, jus in bello, has to do with the conduct of the war during its execution. Two principals are cited regarding the latter: 1. proportionality of means to ends. 2. noncombatant immunity or protection.
2. The changed international environment: One of the changes is the increased threat to civilians. The lines between civilians and military are blurred in contemporary warfare.
The international environment is also significantly different from the context in which synod earlier considered the matter of war and peace.
Some of these differences are:
a. Increased interdependence in an age of globalization. Involving matters of instantaneous communication, flow of goods, services, finances across state boundaries, and increased global involvement of other agencies such as arms dealers, criminal elements, humanitarian agencies, international social movements, and religious organizations.
b. The historical development of human rights and humanitarian law have added new components to international relations.
c. The gap has widened between nations and companies with great wealth and power on the one hand, and peoples who struggle in abject poverty with little hope of improvement on the other. Commitments have been made to help these people, but few of these commitments have been kept.
d. International governing bodies play and increasing role in international affairs. These have developed to manage interstate relations in such matters as, security, trade, diplomacy, health, and environmental protection.
e. A wide range of nonstate actors have a growing impact on peace and security, including, international criminal organizations, international corporations, and international civil society organizations.
f. The unprecedented military power, economic resources, and political influence of the United States have significant implications for international relations. These conditions make the USA a target for those who oppose its agenda and choose to use violent means to express their resentment.
g. The existence of governments that either can not or choose not to maintain a reasonable standard of justice within their boundaries presents a challenge to the international community.
h. The proliferation of weapons around the world, including small arms as well as weapons of mass destruction. Such proliferation is at odds with the goal of fostering peace, and threatens untold numbers of people with potential destruction.
3. The use of military force in preemptive and preventive warfare: The report acknowledges that a preemptive engagement with a foe is permissible if all the elements of a “just war” have been met, and the opponent has massed forces or has advanced other means for an imminent attack. The committee disproves a preventive war. A preventive war is one which initiates military action against an adversary who, it is believed, may pose a threat at some future date. Such warfare, however, contravenes the jus ad bellum requirements of just cause and last resort. In discussing this issue the report, for the only time at least that I recall running across, makes reference to the present administration. In introducing the National Security Strategy of the United States, President Bush made this statement, “ ….. And as a matter of common sense and self-defense, America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed. (NSS, Sept. 2002”. This strategy is precisely what the report describes as a preventive war and one which the report regards as unjust.
4. The continued proliferation of nuclear weapons: The United States, along with 186 other countries came to an agreement on nuclear disarmament, declaring it is the “only absolute guarantee against the threat of the use of nuclear weapons”. In 2001 the congress of the United States of America directed the Bush administration to conduct a Comprehensive Nuclear Posture Review. That review indicated the government has gone back on its agreement on nuclear disarmament. In explaining its position reference was made to the changes in world conditions since the end of the Cold War. Russia was the only concern at that time, and there was not the fear that getting rid of nuclear armaments would be a problem, because Russia also agreed to reduce their arsenal, and neither power would be so foolish as to make use of their nuclear weapons. Now the conditions are much different. The enemy is not known, and could be a serious threat if they were to obtain nuclear capabilities. The review made these observations:
The report establishes a New Triad composed of
Offensive strike systems (nuclear and non-nuclear).
Defenses both active and passive.
A revitalized defense infra structure that will provide
new capabilities in a timely fashion to meet emerging
threats.

The report goes on to say:
The new policy shows a determination to use nuclear weapons not only as a deterrent, but also to place them in the operational force in a new and expanded way. We need to think clearly about nuclear weapons in the context of a preventive war. The United States intends to keep and modernize its nuclear force. This is apparently an abandonment of the policy to eliminate nuclear weapons.

5. Theology and principles of peacekeeping: This subject, as mentioned earlier, is being given more treatment than any previous reports on war and peace.  References to promoting peace and many Biblical quotations regarding the Christians duty as peace-keepers, are scattered throughout the report as other issues are discussed. Finally there is a separate section titled “A learning curriculum for the church”. The CRC has done very little in challenging its membership to be disciples of peace. The committee is encouraging churches to develop programs of study and other tools to promote peace.  The most prominent recommendation in the report is that the church establish a Virtual Institute of Peace.  This agency would make use of the many people within the church who are experts in the area of peace.  To get this started the Committee designates Calvin College in Grand Rapids and Kings University College in Canada as the initiators of the project.  Associated with the subject of peace is concern for the aftermath of war.  The committee recommends that efforts be started to train pastors in the area of helping people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and counseling for people both about to enter the military and those returning as well as giving help to those displaced by war. The committee recommends that the CRC engage in open dialogue with other faith organizations that have greater experience with issues of peace.

The report closes with a long list of recommendations, but before looking at those, there were several other interesting items touched on, but not directly related to the five points considered earlier.

Pacifism: The CRC respects the rights of members to be pacifists while not agreeing with their view.  The committee also instructs pacifists to respect those who are opposed to pacifism.  There are two flavors of pacifism:  those who are against any form of war and efforts of the government to maintain peace in the state, and those who oppose war, but recognize the need of a police force to maintain a free and peaceful society.  This second flavor gets more support from the committee.

The matter of conscientious objectors was also considered. The government respects the right of a citizen to be a conscientious objector to all wars.  The government does not recognize that a member of the military can be a conscientious objector to a specific war while at the same time agreeing to serve in the military when other wars are justified.  The committee disagrees with the government’s distinction and feels that is it possible to be truly an objector if he or she feels the war is unjust and yet be willing to serve when a war is justifiable. This distinction is especially valid when the military is populated by enlisted soldiers, not conscripted soldiers.  If a person voluntarily enlists he or she expects to be assigned to battle if the occasion arises.  When it turns out the battle is unjust, then becoming, selectively, a conscientious objector is deemed justifiable.

Of course the report could not omit references to the Canadian branch of the CRC, because they represent a significant part of the body of the church. First is a discussion of Canada’s government and their attitudes toward war and peace.  Theirs is considerably different than those of the USA.  One major difference regards the Iraq war.  They refused to join the coalition with the USA because of disagreements regarding its justification.  They do, however, provide substantial aid to the Iraqis. Regarding terrorism they were willing to join the USA in the war against terrorists in Afghanistan. Then follows a discussion of the Canadian branch of the CRC and their influence on the Canadian government. The Canadian CRC is a member of many agencies – at least four by my count – these agencies participate directly with government agencies in formulating policies regarding peace, war, and human rights.

The report concludes with a list of recommendations starting with A and ending with M.  Under many of the headings are sub-catagories numbering up into the teens.  I will not try to list all these recommendations.

Following the recommendations are appendices amounting to 35 pages of the total of 73 pages in the entire report. One appendix is a bibliography of roughly 150 books and articles that presumably were referenced in developing the report.  Another appendix is a minority report by one of the committee members. I believe the same report was published in The Banner when they sought to get some dialogue started.

By the miracle of cyberspace it was possible for me to sit at home in my easy chair and watch and hear the deliberations of Synod as they considered the 2006 report to Synod on War and Peace.

When Synod receives a report such as the one we are discussing, an advisory committee is formed to study the report and then advise Synod.  I don’t know how long before Synod the committee is formed, but it must be quite some time, at least for all the work that the advisory committee did.  Rev. John Medendorp, a son of a retired minister and a member of Calvin Church, presented the material to the entire body of Synod for the Advisory Committee. He did an outstanding job.

These are 13 items presented to Synod for adoption. Of the 13, the first and last two were not really important, one was to grant three members of Synod the privilege of the floor, and the last two were that synod dismiss the committee with thanks, and that the meeting be closed with the singing of “Crown Him with many crowns”.

Second recommendation: That synod urge the CRC, through assemblies, congregations, and agencies to affirm the gospel’s call to Christians to be agents of shalom in a broken world and to encourage members to take specific and intentional steps to fulfill this calling, including the following: There follows a list of seven specific items. I won’t try to discuss each one.
Contained in this recommendation was reference to the word shalom. Some discussions resulted on this point. Shalom was to be distinguished from the word peace. Also, some delegates questioned the church’s active participation in matters which they regarded as outside the calling of the church. One delegate responded that the OT prophets had no problem with getting involved in governmental matters. It was also pointed out that Abraham Kuyper certainly had no problem with mixing his faith with his governmental activities.

Third recommendation:  …..CRC publications to partner with pastoral care experts to make available materials to assist churches in ministering to members and their families who are contemplating, entering, or serving in, the military as well as to veterans in their congregations.

Fourth recommendation: to engage in educational activities for our children and youth on issues of peace with justice.

Fifth recommendation: That synod encourage congregations to urge their members to exercise responsible citizenship by calling upon the governments of the United States and Canada to expand efforts in their calling to be agents of peace with justice through good governing. Six topics for consideration were listed.

The reactions to this recommendation were similar to those for the second recommendation.

Sixth recommendation: That synod acknowledge that the call for shalom in a broken world goes beyond any one nation’s borders and urge the agencies and members of the CRC to promote and actively engage in international initiative for building peace with justice.

Seventh recommendation: That synod approve the following moral statements and direct the executive director to communicate these moral concerns to the U.S. and Canadian governments.
The three items to be communicated deal with the distinction between “preemptive war” and “preventive war”, and the proper definition of a just war.

Eighth recommendation: That synod instruct the executive director to communicate to the U.S. and Canadian governments: 1. Our moral opposition to the development or deployment of new weapons of mass destruction, and 2. Our continued support for conducting negotiations with other nations to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons and to further reduce nuclear arsenals, with the ultimate goal of multilateral nuclear disarmament as called for under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Discussion on this point centered around the fact that the church seemed to permit nuclear armament that was not of the mass destruction type. The reporter for the advisory committee explained that the type of enemy our nation might face in these unsettled times justifies possessing highly accurate types of nuclear weapons.

Ninth recommendation: Without writing out the entire recommendation, basically it is asking the executive director to petition the President and the DOD to permit selective conscientious objection. Four grounds were listed for this recommendation.

This item got as much debate as any of the ten.  One member of the 2006  Committee is an army chaplain with the rank of Major, and I am advised held several tours of duty as a highly regarded officer with a position at the Pentagon, he pushed for the inclusion of this recommendation in the report.  When it was debated on the floor he gave a very impassioned and moving justification for its approval by the Synod. He recounted his experience as a chaplain during the Vietnam War, a Christian young soldier came to him and asked if he could become a conscientious objector to the war because he was in complete disagreement with it.  The chaplain asked if he objected to all wars, and he said no. The chaplain said there is no way I can help you. I am not going to go before your superiors and say you have become a conscientious objector when you are in fact not. The young soldier then told his superiors he was unwilling to fight in this war, and was put in jail and given a dishonorable discharge.
The basic objection to the motion was that the army could be practically instantaneously depleted by anyone, for any reason, claiming selective conscientious objection. The chair, rather humorously, put this objection to rest with the observation that the church is making a moral statement as an expression of its commitment to a higher principle.  If the objector thought the army would ever put this recommendation into practice, not to hold his breath (a rather liberal paraphrase of his comment). One consideration regarding this recommendation is that the army does not get its soldiers through conscription.

Tenth recommendation: That synod ….. inform the Canadian government of the report and encourage study of the peacebuilding components of its foreign policy.

Eleventh recommendation: That synod urge the Board of Trustees to encourage the CRC through its members, assemblies, appropriate agencies, and committees to participate more intentionally in policy development and programs for peace building, such as Project Ploughshares in Canada ……

I had anticipated that there would be a great hue and cry from members of the CRC in attendance who make up a part of the religious right, because, although the report and the recommendations of the advisory committee took great pains to avoid any political overtones, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be able to read between the lines and come to the conclusion that there was not a great deal of agreement with what has been going on since 2003.  That was not the case, however; things went along very smoothly, and the entire list of 13 recommendations for adoption by Synod were acted on beginning at 3:00 in the afternoon, with two and a half hours out for dinner, and singing of a closing hymn by 9:30 that evening.

One surprising omission in the list of motions the advisory committee submitted, was a reference to the recommendation for the church to establish a Virtual Institute of Peace. Apparently they felt it was unwarranted.

There were several overtures to Synod in regard to this report and they were turned over to Synod for further study.

I hope this brief synopsis has piqued your interest to the point you want to read the entire report. You may read it here: http://crcna.org/site_uploads/uploads/2006_warandpeace.pdf

EDITORIAL COMMENTS: I feel there is much in the report to be commended.  I am proud that I am a member of a church that takes the stand they do on matters of War and Peace.  I am at the same time disappointed that so many of the statements they make along the lines of, “the CRC should do this or that”,  but I have not seen any of that happening and the recommendations are not very specific in initiating really substantive means of making a statement to the government.  In that regard, I feel the Canadian branch of the CRC puts the USA branch to shame.  Even so, the recommendations urge the Canadian churches to expand their efforts.

An essay by Rev. Al Hoksbergen really makes a very strong criticism of the church for their lack of speaking out about the injustices that have occurred in the pursuit of the war in Iraq. You may find his essay at http://www.crcna.org/site_uploads/uploads/youshallbemywitnesses.org

He also, in a letter to the Banner, criticizes the report for pussy footing around the issue of Iraq and not making any direct reference to it as an unjustified war or any references to the Abu Ghraib incident, and the Guatanamo Bay treatment of prisoners.

I think it was very wise of the committee to state its positions on war and peace without any branching into political commentary or reference to current events.  The only exception was the reference to Bush’s speech before the NSS, and that was to point out the Defence Department’s position on “preventive warfare.”

Coming back to the jus in bello phase of a just war. Theodore Plantinga, a Christian philosopher at Redeemer University College, has made some observations on a just war. One very interesting concept he proposes is that a just war should be conducted like an athletic contest.  An athletic contest has rules, referees, side lines, time outs, etc.  Spectators are on the other side of the court’s boundaries and don’t participate – except maybe Piston fans – so should it be with the uninvolved citizens in war.  Rules of war should be observed and courts should see that the rules are observed. Regarding time outs, it is my understanding that during World War I (or II) at Christmas time the sides agreed to a cessation of hostilities so each side could celebrate the event.  Statements like the Geneva Conventions rules for the treatment of prisoners of war are “quaint,” and aggressive strategies such as “shock and awe” and night-long bombing of cities do not come even close to fitting Plantinga’s idea of jus in bello.

In closing, I hope this treatment has helped to shed some light on my church’s concern about the issue of War and Peace. And I hope it makes some practical difference in the unsettled world we live in.