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Faith in Action

The Centre for Public Dialogue celebrates 50 years of justice seeking in Canada.

For 50 years (and more!), God’s call to justice and reconciliation has been a core part of the Christian Reformed (CRC) churches’ efforts to be a faithful messenger of the gospel in Canada. 

In November 1968 the Council of Christian Reformed Churches in Canada (CCRCC) convened for the first time and established a standing committee for contact with government. This inaugural meeting flowed from the desire of CRC churches in Canada to “assume their full responsibility within national life as quickly as possible” (as spoken at Synod 1966). 

Since then, the Committee for Contact with the Government, today operating publicly as the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue, has worked to seek justice and speak hope in the name of Christ in Canadian public affairs. 

We’ve been dedicated to theological reflection and dialogue, research, non-partisan advocacy and citizen empowerment on major issues of justice and reconciliation in Canada: abortion and medical assistance in dying; immigration and refugees; gambling; pluralism and religious freedom; pornography; marriage and family; poverty and affordable housing; environment and climate change; peace and development; human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation; assisted human reproduction; Indigenous self-determination and many other issues. 

In addition to this breadth of issues, the Centre for Public Dialogue works to encourage CRC participation in interchurch cooperation for justice. Ecumenical justice work that started with the CCRCC today is manifest in CRC participation and leadership at KAIROS, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, and the Canadian Council of Churches – because justice and reconciliation are a shared responsibility of the Body of Christ.

Disquieted
Advocacy for justice and reconciliation work has come with controversies throughout the history of the Centre for Public Dialogue. Justice work is inevitably controversial, because it continually seeks answers to hard questions about how we are to live together and the call of Christ on his people. Pursuing this call is an expression of a beautiful prayer of the Iona Community: God bless us and disturb us.

 
  

Debates about the role of Church in society had a shaping influence on the mandate and practices of the Centre. Historically and still today we work within the tension of discerning how to humbly and constructively proclaim biblical norms and principles of public justice in Canada’s public square. And indeed, working through that tension as a national community of Christ-followers with diverse passions for justice and public ethics has enabled a rich and vital dialogue on – and exercise of – the role of the church in public life. That dialogue and practice is the living day-to-day ministry of justice and reconciliation that we do at the Centre for Public Dialogue today – hence our name!

Our committee members have included pastors, teachers, social workers, home-makers, civil servants, academics, lawyers, community activists, medical practitioners, business people and more. We’ll resist the temptation to name drop here because the list would literally be too long – it’s a who’s who of leadership in the CRC in Canada. 

The long game
Early on in this journey a mentor encouraged me to look at the calling as a long game. “It’s not your job to change the world,” he said. “It’s God’s, through you and I and future generations.” That call to faithfulness, humility and realism has shaped a blessed journey of serious deliberation and laughter with many gifted and diverse members of the body of Christ in Canada. It has been a journey of hearing truth and beauty in the testimony of God’s image-bearers who struggle with injustices every day, and in informative and surprising connections with policy makers and shapers. In all of these relationships we learn that justice and hope are a messy journey of many steps, setbacks and a few highpoints. It is a joyful journey – because the work is Christ’s, and we journey with him.

As we look forward to continued gospel-shaped justice ministry, I’m convinced that there is so much more to do and learn. The prophetic challenge and rich learning that we have received from Indigenous neighbours in this Kairos time of reconciliation has uncovered a history of deep brokenness, a call to repentance from the corporate sins of colonization, and amazing testimonies of hope and resilience. 

In this time of increased fears about border security, the CRC’s 40 years of welcoming of privately-sponsored refugees must point us towards compassion, understanding and advocacy with refugee claimants too. 

We must continue to find ways to courageously seek justice and speak hope in Canada today, holding tenaciously to nuance, deep theological roots and principled debate among diverse viewpoints, while embracing the full participation of people who experience marginalization themselves. 

The Centre for Public Dialogue exists because of the continued conviction of Christian Reformed people in Canada that justice-seeking is an integral part of our faith. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: we can’t seek justice and speak hope without you! 

  • Mike is Director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Centre for Public Dialogue and a PhD student with NAIITS, an Indigenous Learning Community. He lives in Ottawa, Ont.

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