Doing Justice

Churches invited to be part of the Restorative Justice Process

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Restorative justice, in its simplest form, is the attempt to make things as right as possible between victims, offenders, and the wider community when some harm or crime happens.  But what does that look like for those of us who work mostly with offenders, the folks who’ve hurt others or caused some sort of harm to others?

Most of my work is with men and women who’ve done federal prison time, and are transitioning into the Edmonton area.  They are trying to write new chapters for their lives, to walk new paths, to live in ways that are not defined by their pasts.  What does it for them to “make things as right as possible”?

Part of the answer, I think, is for faith communities and churches to create safe, welcoming spaces for folks leaving prison.

Every other Saturday, I facilitate a men’s group that usually consists of about a dozen men who’ve done time, and a dozen volunteers who want to support their reintegration. The group provides the space for our friends to explore a new identity, a new story for themselves – one that is not defined by crime, past abuse, or poor decisions.  Rather, through discussions, outings, and – most importantly – eating together, the men who attend can start to heal, seeing themselves as people with a new future.  They can start to ask what it might mean to make things right with the people they’ve hurt.  And when they mess up or take a few steps back, our group is there to pick them up again.

Churches and faith communities are just the sort of places capable of providing this sort of community.  It can be as simple as connecting with a local prison chaplain, reintegration chaplain, or community support program and asking where to begin.

Another important way to empower offenders to “make things right” with the wider community is to give opportunities for them to give back.  Are there jobs that we can offer to former inmates as they make a new start, so that they can provide for loved ones, support themselves, be part of a healthy workplace, and contribute to the wider community?  Are there volunteer opportunities that churches or their partners can offer, so that they can be givers and not just service-recipients?

Finally, churches and faith communities can make space for former inmates in their pews (or folding chairs or coffee shop benches).  Many former inmates long for a sense of belonging.  Churches can offer just that by the simple act of inviting them to church on Sundays, for coffee afterwards, or for lunch at the nearby diner when church is over.  Those simple invitations can be an echo of Jesus’ invitation to “all those who are weary and heavy-burdened,” and can be an opportunity to journey with someone who – like all of us – needs a fellow pilgrim to join them on their way to making things right with those they’ve hurt.

-written by Jonathan Nicolai-deKoning (Rev), Reintegration Chaplain, Open Door Program (The Mustard Seed, Edmonton, AB)

The Open Door Program (participants and staff pictured above) is an Operation Manna partner.

 

Willoughby CRC Hosts Play for Restorative Justice Week

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About 60 people gathered at Willoughby CRC (Langley, B.C.) on Nov 19 to see a dramatic presentation of “Forgiven/Forgotten” that set the tone for Restorative Justice Week.  The event was facilitated by Willoughby’s Just-Faith Forum, sponsored by Mennonite Central Committee and Trinity Western University’s school of the Arts, Media and Culture.

After the CRC in Canada (with its various partners) completed a 2-year study on the intersection of justice and faith in the Canadian CRC context, a one act play toured the country and brought the results of the study to life. Churches across Canada, like Willoughby CRC, responded in various ways to the tour.  Willoughby formed a JustFaith committee and, this Fall, helped to facilitate the production of the Forgiven/Forgotten play.

In this play, the talented cast of four with the traveling theatre company, Theatre of the Beat, engaged the crowd with a dramatization of what ordinary people experience when someone incarcerated returns “home” from prison.   The complete human drama of returning to society is usually unspoken and disregarded in our society, but it gripped us intimately that evening as it became real on the stage.

Through the actors’ dramatization, it became clear that sending someone to prison doesn’t do justice to the needs of the human beings involved; rather, it harms. The script is outlined: “Torn between compassion and their fear of the unknown, a church is thrown into turmoil upon hearing that an offender will be serving his parole in their community.”  It is precisely the human dimension of justice that is neglected by the formal criminal justice system.  Crime in our society is regarded as a legal offence against the state by having broken its laws; how people, even victims, are harmed, and who should meet their needs is not central to our present justice system. Restorative justice provides a different way.

The ripple effect of an incarceration and the impending parole disturbs the well-being of a human community.  The actors poignantly represented a variety of human reactions and unspoken fears. The wife of the prisoner struggles to keep her needs and situation secret as she desires church fellowship. Her desire to hide the fact that her husband is coming home from prison is made complex by her desire for normalcy in her young son’s life.  Church members, upon learning that the unknown prisoner husband will be coming to their community, anxiously confront their fears. The pastor wrestles with his theology as the gospel becomes personal.  Restorative justice calls for meaningful human response, the affirmation of each person’s worth, and for inclusion.

This play gets beyond the rhetoric of headlines and explicates the community drama behind the scenes of the prison and release experience.  It clearly shows the importance of restorative justice.  Although it is not necessarily without some pain as personal feelings and biases are faced, it is a ministry that brings reconciliation and needed community support for the prisoner and his/her family.

-written by Henry Smidstra, organizer of the Forgiven/Forgotten play (italicized paragraph added for context)

For more on restorative justice, click here.

Will you be there?

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Diaconal Ministries Canada and Christian Reformed Home Missions invite you to join us at the Day of Encouragement this Saturday in Ancaster, Ontario. There will be times of sharing and connecting, great worship, and plenty of opportunities to be equipped in all different areas of ministry in your church and community.

Our theme for this year is Mess is More: Finding Mission in Mayhem.

Life can be messy. It doesn’t take long to think of times in our lives which have been filled with disappointment and pain. And when our church is intentional about engaging with its neighbours, we seem to encounter situations that can be overwhelming, daunting and sometimes even discouraging. And yet, these situations are also full of opportunity.

Jesus left the perfection of Heaven and chose to live in the messiness of earth. He entered into it, felt the pain of it, and was full of compassion and mercy for a hurting world. As followers of Christ. we are called to respond with the same love and compassion -and empathy. Those who are hurting around us are people who share in the same brokenness of a fallen world as we do. This is the common ground on which relationships may be built. This is the place to begin mission in that mayhem.

The Day of Encouragement is meant for you to come and be encouraged and equipped to do just that. Wherever you serve in the church and community, this day is for you.

So come and join the many people who will gather together in Jesus’ name! Come learn and share, and be inspired to follow when you hear Jesus calling you to walk with Him into, and in spite of, the messiness around you.

We pray that the Day of Encouragement will bless you richly! See you there!

Click here to go to the website to register and learn more.

Doing Justice to Short-Term Mission Trips

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Short-term mission trips are a hot topic in the Christian Reformed Church right now, and in the broader Western church in general. Millions of North Americans travel to both far off and nearby places every year with the intention of sharing the good news of Christ to those living in poverty, or places where the gospel is not well known.

These trips, otherwise short-formed to “STMs,” usually involve travelling to a different country for a brief period of time—anywhere from a couple of days to a couple of months. Most groups are composed of volunteers within a church congregation. These volunteers sacrifice time, money, and resources to travel, serve, and share the gospel. It sounds great, right? What could be possibly be wrong with that?

Short-term missions frequently do very little to address injustice.

This past weekend I spent three days in Ridgetown, Ontario, at a festival called “Cahoots!” It’s organized by the Student Christian Movement and the Beansprout Collective, and is in its third year.

The idea behind Cahoots! is to gather anyone who is interested in the intersection of faith, justice and activism. All are welcome: LGBTQ+, refugees, people of colour, privileged white folks, clergy, queer persons, and anyone on the margins of the church or of society.

By no means was this a “Reformed” event, and it pushed me far out of the comfort zone I sat in for nearly 20 years at a fairly traditional CRC. However, I definitely found the presence of the Spirit among the wonderful, ramshackle group that gathered. And, interestingly enough, I found myself a minority. The amount of straight, white men there was minimal. Perhaps I was given an extremely small taste of what life on the margins is like for many people.

Part of my participation at the festival was leading a workshop with my good friend, Justin, on STMs, entitled “Doing Justice to Short Term Experiences.” Justin has spent large parts of his life involved in short-term missions in Canada, the Philippines, Guatemala, and this coming autumn, South Africa. Justin brought a lot of knowledge of cross-cultural experiences, while I brought a keen understanding of Biblical justice, and my own STM experience in Northern Ireland, to the workshop.

During the lead-up and the debriefing of the workshop, I spent much time reflecting on what I had been reading, and what I heard during and after the workshop. I was left with four ideas about short-term experiences that I would like to highlight:

  1. It’s not about you. It’s about the people and place you’re visiting. Churches usually send out short-term missionaries with the intent of hearing from the volunteers when they are back in North America, rather than hearing from people in the receiving place. This attitude can allow for neo-colonialism, paternalism, and privilege to rear their ugly heads, creating what is now commonly known as “White Saviour Complex.”
  2. It’s not a vacation. Cross-cultural experiences are complicated, and we need to learn how to take postures of listening and humility—not which posture is best for our next “selfie.”
  3. Language matters. The commonly accepted term for missions in the CRC comes from the Latin missio, from mittere, which literally means “to send.” The notion of sending Christians out to evangelize is a popular and attractive one to many Western Christians today. However, as we embrace this sending, it sometimes speaks to the faint (and often unnoticed) colonial repercussions of concepts like the Doctrine of Discovery. This is not to deny the importance of mission, but our sending can come at the expense of transformed relationships, and be tinged with paternalism.
  4. Robust preparation is crucial. In order to communicate and learn well across cultural boundaries, education about the country, city, or village being visited is of paramount importance. What is the theological background of the receiving location? Who are the leaders in the community? Are the people being sent empowering and inviting the community they’re visiting to participate in our process?

Ultimately, a cultural and structural change within our churches needs to happen. There must be a fundamental shift in the way we talk about, practice, and listen to stories of short-term missions. Rather than calling them “missions,” we may be better off to call them “learning trips” or “cross-cultural experiences.” We need to begin asking if these trips are creating any lasting or transformative change in those being sent, or those receiving.

If the goal of Biblical justice is to return to the shalom we experienced when God created us, then the motives and end goals of short-term mission trips need to reflect this.

Want to talk more about short-term missions and your church? Contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, and dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

A Step Towards Reconciliation

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“When you hear about all the assimilation policies one after the other, you sit back and think ‘whoa,’” says Shannon Perez. Shannon has experienced and led the Blanket Exercise, an interactive workshop developed by KAIROS that walks participants through the history of Canada from the perspective of Indigenous peoples, dozens of times. As a Sayisi Dene woman, Shannon knows firsthand that even those who know and have lived parts of the history, like herself, can learn much from the experience of “stepping into the moccasins” of Indigenous peoples and hearing the whole sweep of history at once.

Shannon has spent much of her time in the last year training Blanket Exercise facilitators across both Canada and the United States, and she knows there is much more work yet to be done, despite all the progress that has been made. “There are still people who don’t know about residential schools,” she says.

Many who have gone through the Blanket Exercise are now looking for more opportunities to learn, so the Christian Reformed Church has responded with a 7-part small group series called Living the 8th Fire, based around the CBC’s 8th Fire documentary series, a hugely successful series that launched its narrator, Wab Kinew, into national fame. “When we sit in circle after a Blanket Exercise, one of the most common questions is: so now what?” says Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue. “We usually respond with encouragement to learn more and build relationships. In a sense Wab Kinew’s invitation to ‘get to know the neighbours’ in this excellent video series is a way to begin some of that learning and living in relationship with Indigenous neighbours. We know that the journey of reconciliation is a challenge, a blessing and a deeply spiritual journey. The 8th Fire videos and this curriculum draw us into this journey in a friendly and moving way.”

The curriculum provides more time and space to explore topics that people heard about through the Blanket Exercise, says Shannon. If the Blanket Exercise is about getting your feet wet, the Living the 8th Fire series is about diving deeper.

Shannon led the series for a mixed group of Indigenous and settler people last year at her church, Good News Fellowship in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Her pastor, Kasey Vander Veen, participated. One of the sessions uses the CBC 8th Fire episode “It’s Time” and includes a quick summary of 500 years of history, narrated by Wab Kinew. “It really makes you realize—there’s a lot to be done. Where do we even start?” Kasey, whose background before becoming a pastor was in counselling, says that he learned that settler people need to be much more sensitive to the trauma that Indigenous people carry as a result of colonization. “We say sometimes, ‘just get on with it’, but would you say that to someone who experienced the Holocaust? We don’t understand trauma, especially intergenerational trauma like Indigenous people are experiencing.”

Kasey also emphasized that having these conversations with both Indigenous and settler people in the room is invaluable. “When you have these discussions with Indigenous peoples rather than about them, you get a lot more sensitized to what’s going on. It totally changes the experience.”

Shannon, who played a key role in fine-tuning the curriculum, agrees. She highlights that the course is designed not only to teach about reconciliation, but to be an example of reconciliation in action. “Because we’re talking about Aboriginal culture, we wanted to include Aboriginal culture in the design.” The course uses Aboriginal prayers and sharing circles frequently. When the course was held at Good News Fellowship, an Aboriginal elder participated and often led the group in Aboriginal ceremonies. “We’re honouring Aboriginal culture and helping people to get more comfortable with it,” says Shannon. After watching each video, the group would have a sharing circle, which for Shannon was one of the most memorable parts of the experience. “Even people who had already seen the videos were affected by them again,” said Kasey.

The course is designed so that the facilitator doesn’t have to be an expert in the subject, with a consistent structure for each of the seven sessions. Each session, the group opens with prayer, follows a warm-up activity from the curriculum, watches an 8th Fire video, shares in circle, and closes with prayer.

Kasey says the 8th Fire and other opportunities he’s had to learn about the relationship between Indigenous and settler Canadians has helped corrected some of his own assumptions and helped him to understand where my Indigenous neighbours are coming from—like the First Nations people that he meets at the park down the road or the Metis woman who lives on the same apartment floor as he does.

“It’s time that we talk. The 8th Fire is about us all coming to the fire together. These things happened…now what? What does reconciliation mean? The Apology for residential schools happened…now what?” he says.

Kasey says we have to take these first steps of reconciliation, even if the challenges at hand seem overwhelming and we don’t know exactly where they will take us. “Then you see some little kid on the Internet whose heart is touched by something in the news and ends up raising a bunch of money. They just took a step and didn’t know where God would take it. We just have to take those first steps.”

Does the prospect of reconciliation overwhelm you? Invigorate you? Leave you with a desire to learn more? Whoever you are, Living the 8th Fire may be a good next step.

If you would like to learn more about running the 8th Fire series at your church, visit this page on the Canadian Aboriginal Ministry Committee’s toolkit or contact Shannon Perez (Justice and Reconciliation Mobilizer for the Christian Reformed Church) at camc@crcna.org.

written by Danielle Rowaan, Justice Communications Team Coordinator for several justice ministries of the Christian Reformed Church 

A Part of the Body

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I was born and raised in the Christian Reformed Church. My parents were missionaries in the Navajo Nation. As a passionate believer, I witnessed to my playmates and started begging to take communion when I was seven because I had asked Jesus into my heart. I expected that God would one day call me to serve. When I was sixteen, two women at Rehoboth Mission were discovered to be lovers and were expelled. A year earlier, I’d had a romantic relationship with my best friend, which confirmed something I’d sensed for a long time about who I was. I was terrified, thinking that I, too, might be expelled from the church that had cradled me and nurtured my spiritual growth, the church I loved.

Within two months of what happened to those two women, I became what would today be a statistic. I tried for the first time to kill myself. Studies show that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers.

In Canada, 33% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide in comparison to 7% of youth in general. About 25% of transgender youth report suicide attempts in the USA, and 28% in Canada (Taylor et al. 2011). In 1964, we were so invisible that such statistics, if they were compiled at all, were probably highly inaccurate.

Sadly, the statistics on LGBTQ depression and suicide among churchgoing youth are even higher than in the general population. The place where we should feel the safest and most supported as we struggle to understand God’s will for us as believers is most often a place fraught with danger and judgment. I struggled with my sexuality, scripture, and my place in faith communities for the next nine years, attempting suicide a second time. In 1973, when the CRC position on homosexuality was published, I left my church.

For the next forty years I tried to reconcile who God had made me to be with how most Christians saw me and how they interpreted what the Bible had to say about me. I learned from other spiritual traditions, where I was welcome. I also served the LGBTQ community in a peer-support and advocacy organization I cofounded and as a professional counselor.

In a recent discussion, a member of the CRC suggested that the church was right to deny LGBTQ people full membership. She compared the organization I’d served to the church, saying that our group would have rightly kept out people that held anti-gay positions. At first I thought that wasn’t a bad analogy. Then I said to myself, “No! The Church is not just an organization. The Church is The Body of Christ. The Church is not allowed to say to one part of the Body, ‘We have no need of you.’”

Anna Redsand’s memoir, To Drink from the Silver Cup: From Faith Through Exile and Beyond will be released in July. Anna lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, where she is a part of The Body of Christ in a Presbyterian church. She cares deeply about what happens in her first church home.

For more information:

Eisenberg, Marla E., and Michael D. Resnick. 2006. “Suicidality Among Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth: The Role of Protective Factors.” Journal of Adolescent Health 39: 662–668.

Kim, Y., & Leventhal, B. (2008). Bullying and suicide: A review. International Journal of Adolescent Medicine and Health, 20(2), 133–154 Saewyc, Elizabeth M. 2007. “Contested Conclusions: Claims That Can (and Cannot) Be Made from the Current Research on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Teen Suicide Attempts.” Journal of LGBT Health Research 3 (1): 79–87.

Sanchez, J., Diaz, R., Huebner, D., Russell, S., and Caitlin Ryan. 2010. “Family Acceptance in Adolscence and the Health of LGBT Young Adults”. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing 23 (4): 205-213.

Taylor, C., Peter, T., McMinn, T. L., Elliott, T., Beldom, S., Ferry, A., Gross, Z., et al. (2011). Every class in every school: The first national climate survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. Final Report. Toronto, ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.

Advocacy: It’s Not as Hard as It Sounds

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Advocate. It’s a word we hear every once in a while. No, it is not a smooth green fruit that gets turned into guacamole. And no, it’s not a liqueur made with eggs, sugar and brandy. (Yep, I’m talking about the Dutch liqueur known as Advocaat. Yuck.)

Jokes aside, advocacy is an activity we talk about, but rarely take part in. So what does advocacy really mean, and what does an advocate do?

An advocate is a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.

Or, more simply: a person who pleads on someone else’s behalf.

To quote the wise words of Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue: “Advocacy is a crucial part of our discipleship as believers.”

I agree with Mike.

Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, speaking to the team about advocacy.

Mike Hogeterp, Director of the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, speaking to the team about advocacy.

Last week, I spent two and half days in Ottawa with 14 other young people from across Canada on a Justice Leadership Tour. The Tour was organized by World Renew and funded through the Canadian Foodgrains Bank (CFGB). The goal was to learn about advocacy, to meet with MPs from around the country, and to urge support for the Good Soil Campaign.

The Good Soil Campaign is a national advocacy initiative of CFGB, aimed at encouraging the Canadian Government to continue its long history of fighting global hunger by increasing its foreign aid funding to assist small-scale farmers in the Global South.

Monday was spent in a day-long workshop, with various speakers: Jared Klassen, a Public Policy Advisor for CFGB; Geoff Brouwer, an Advisor for International Affairs and Development with the Treasury Board of Canada; and Mike Hogeterp (mentioned above).

Tuesday was spent meeting with MPs from across Canada—we met with 11 of them, in all. These meetings were between MPs and groups of three to five people, and usually lasted around 15 minutes to half an hour. I was involved in meetings with Karina Gould, MP for Burlington and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development; with Dean Allison, MP for Niagara West—my home riding—and lastly, with Parvinder Singh, special assistant to the Minister of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development.

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World Renew staff with Karina Gould, MP for Burlington.

Each meeting was concluded with a main “ask,” in which we asked for a number of desirable outcomes. Often this was in the form of a letter to the Minister of International Development, recognition of the Good Soil Campaign/CFGB through social media, or the sponsoring of a petition in the House of Commons.

What this tour did—for me—was bring politics and parliament down to earth. MPs are humans too. They want to talk with their voters and constituents. They want to hear about what you’re passionate about. They have a duty as politicians: to listen and to convey the voice of the people they represent, and to have relationships with them.

And this is where our duty lies as well: to advocate on behalf of both local and global communities. We should try to foster relationships with our members of parliament. It may be frustrating, and we may have to be persistent, but change and development happen slowly—often we do not see the growth of the seeds we sow until years have passed.

Churches are called to petition their MPs, to write letters to ministers, and to advocate. It’s not a common activity of the deacon, but it easily slides into the job description. In Isaiah 1:17, when we are told to “plead the case of the widow,” we are quite literally being told to advocate.

The team signing postcards for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank's Good Soil Campaign!

The team signing postcards for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s Good Soil Campaign!

It took William Wilberforce over twenty years to finally see slavery abolished in England. Advocacy is effective and it can create positive change, but it often takes much longer than we expect.

And this is what advocacy really is: the art of timing. Successful advocacy requires the right people discussing the right topic at the right time. Throw in the movement of the Holy Spirit, and some wonderful things can happen.

Want to talk more about advocacy? Contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, at dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

Changing the Conversation about Climate Change

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Climate change, global warming, and the greenhouse effect—we’ve heard the same language over and over again. The earth is getting too hot, it’s happening too fast, and humanity is to blame.

And, while the scientific consensus is overwhelmingly positive that global warming is real and being caused by humans (97% of scientists), some Christians disagree. Perhaps it’s a general distrust of science, or perhaps we believe that we cannot really change the infrastructure of the world’s fossil fuel consumption, or perhaps—more ominously—we just don’t want to change our lifestyles.

The goal of this post is not to feed the flames, or to argue. The goal is to help us as Christians to think more critically about both our place in the world, and about God’s commands concerning stewardship of the earth.

And this is where deacons come in. One of the last sentences in the Christian Reformed Church’s charge to the deacons is: “Be prophetic critics of the waste, injustice, and selfishness in our society, and be sensitive counselors to the victims of such evils.” We often equate injustice with humanity. We think of words like poverty, homelessness, disability, crime, and violence. But injustice is also about God’s good creation. It is about how we, as humans and image-bearers of God, relate to our surrounding natural environment.

In Genesis 1, God gave us the cultural mandate to rule and have dominion over the earth. We are to be stewards of creation—caring for the earth rather than abusing it.

In Psalm 24:1-2 (NIV), we read: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.”

While we are to subdue the earth, we are also to remind ourselves that the earth is not ours. It is the Lord’s, and we have a great responsibility to care for it. And yet, there is a hostile climate—no pun intended—associated with the larger conversation surrounding global warming in the church.

Consider 2 Peter 3:10-12 (NIV):

“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat.”

The earth is going to be laid bare, and a new heaven and new earth will be created at the second coming of Christ. So, why bother caring for the earth? It’s holiness and a strong faith that matters, right?

It’s more complicated than that. How we choose to live our lives and treat the environment has much broader implications than we tend to realize.

With a warmer climate, a farmer in Kenya may not be able to predict when the rainy season will be coming, and therefore be unable to produce food for their family. A massive storm—more destructive than storms have been in the past—could hit the coast of the Philippines, destroying the communities there. Some plants and animals might become endangered, or extinct. Our decisions affect more than just our local community and ourselves.

At the end of the day, the question we should be asking ourselves is: Is the way that we’re living sustainable for the earth and everything living on it? If we don’t have any answers, or our answer does not consider the global impact of our lifestyles, it is time we started digging deeper.

There are all sorts of steps we can take towards ecological justice: calculate our carbon footprints (and offset the carbon we produce), grow some of our own food, start community gardens with our churches, know where our food is coming from, connect with organizations such as A Rocha or Citizens for Public Justice, or watch the Climate Conversation video series produced by the Office of Social Justice. The list can go on.

Christians—and deacons, especially—must work towards a vision for ecological justice, even if we don’t believe climate change to be a reality. Our creator God commands it.

Questions or comments? We would love to take part in respectful dialogue. Please leave a comment below, or contact DMC’s Justice Mobilizer, Dan Galenkamp, at dgalenkamp@crcna.org.

Showing Your God-Colours

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This fall I helped start a Generous Space group in BC’s Fraser Valley. Simply put, Generous Space is a bible study for people and allies of the LBGTQ+ Community.

If you asked me five years ago if this is where I saw myself headed, I would have laughed. Six years ago, my husband of 15 years and father of my children publically came out and left me. I was a pastor in the CRC at the time.

It was my worst nightmare coming true. I knew my former husband wondered about his sexuality. He felt a strong pull to the gay community. My response was to pray unceasingly. I dared to believe God would fix my marriage and bring us restoration, renewal and regrowth. I recited verse after verse and declared to the heavens my marriage would triumph and my beloved children would not be a product of divorce.

Things did not work out that way.

I can tell many stories about navigating this season. Even though it was awful, God overwhelmed me with good. Looking back, the biggest shift I experienced was my own.

My heart became more open to my own need for grace and mercy. I could not point any fingers at the LGBTQ+ community. God wanted good things for me; he also wanted good things for my former husband. I began to see that gay lives matter.

I saw churches saying “all are welcome” but I did not see them telling their gay congregants that they’re important and essential to the growth and relevance of the church. I looked for churches telling the LGBTQ+ community that we need them. I found few.

I began dreaming of a day when the church comes out of its own proverbial closet and we stop pretending we don’t have LGBTQ+ people in our congregation.

An example: in the last century, society has had frank conversations about race. Many of us—thinking we were doing the politically correct thing—may have unintentionally hurt our friends of colour by declaring we were “colour-blind” and that skin shade is a non-issue. I don’t think pretending to ignore the colour of someone’s skin was ever the point.

The point is that people are different from us and we can learn from them.

The point is that we are equals. We are created in the image of God. All of us. 

We are created to live in community with each other.

We are created to learn from each other.

We are created to display different parts of the character of God.

Matthew 5:14-16 (The Message) says: “Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it requires great courage. Yes, there may be a cost.

What do we say as we rub shoulders with the LGBTQ+ community? What do we say to LGBTQ+ families whose spousal/parental/sibling relationships have gone through change?

Let’s start with two postures that we, as the church, can take.

The first is: seek empathy. Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Christians are traditionally adept at displaying sympathy. Sympathy is, “I feel so bad that this has happened. I will pray for you.” There is nothing overly wrong about this reaction, but the thing is, it’s a reaction.

Empathy pursues understanding. Empathy means walking a mile in the LGBTQ+ community’s shoes.

The second is: be inclusive. This is different from tolerance. Inclusion is inviting families and members of the gay community into your home. Eat with them. Learn from them. Invite them to pray for you. Stop pretending they don’t exist; they do. They are members of your family, your church family and community. They love you.

Show them your own God-colours.

Beckie— Beckie Evans is an award-winning writer and teacher. She is currently collaborating with Rebecca Schroeder (M.A., R.C.C.) on a resource for the church entitled “ReVision: When Gender Issues Change Partner Relationships”. She lives with her husband Jarrett and five kids in Abbotsford, BC where they enthusiastically cheer for the Winnipeg Jets.