Since the early 1900s, the Canadian and American Christian Reformed Churches have coexisted as one united North American denomination.
The time has come to re-examine that arrangement.
In the April 9 issue of The Banner, Justin Triemstra wrote an article called “Beyond Thoughts and Prayers,” which began with the sentence: “The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., reminds us of the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.”
The Facebook post version of the article was immediately lit up with angry comments by American CRC members questioning the statement and wondering why the magazine was “politicizing” a tragedy. The editors meekly replied that the article was an opinion piece by a member and not the magazine’s editorial position.
The Banner has not run a substantive political editorial since before the last U.S. election, implying that politics is too divisive to discuss in the magazine. The editor has suggested that topics like gun culture would best be discussed by a committee of Synod rather than in the pages of the magazine. And since the election, the magazine has only once mentioned the elephant in the room – Donald Trump – and then, only in passing.
I don’t mean to pick on The Banner or its editor here. But the magazine’s decision to turn a blind eye to politics because the issue is too “contentious” shows a growing divide between the Canadian and American CRC that is rooted in national culture.
Americans are more likely to doubt climate science than Canadians. They are more likely to own guns and approve of owning guns than Canadians. The Canadian government is open to refugees and immigration, while the U.S. government is creating a no-fly list from certain countries and putting the brakes on refugees entering the country. Canadians favour free trade. Americans don’t. Canadians are more okay with gay couples marrying. Americans aren’t. A centrist political position in Canada – that health care should be free and accessible to all – is a left wing progressive view in the U.S. And on and on it goes.
The differences are religious, too. Back in 1986, 43 percent of adults ages 15 and older in Canada and 54 percent of U.S. adults said they attended religious services at least once a month. By 2010, the figure for Canadian adults had fallen to 27 percent, while the share of U.S. adults had only declined to 46 percent. All told, Canada has fewer Christians, more atheists and a greater diversity of religions than the U.S. Which might explain why they’re less likely to throw their weight around in politics and more ecumenical in their views.
American Christians are not only more conservative, politically, they are more fundamentalist, religiously. American Christianity is more nationalistic, and deeply wrapped up in the national mythology about what it means to be American. More than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump. American Christians resent the so-called “War on Christmas” but battle LGBTQ rights at every turn – they’re violently pro-life but also fiercely pro-gun – a position that is utterly perplexing for many Canadian CRC members.
And none of these deep and fundamental differences are being discussed right now at the denominational level. Not in the pages of The Banner. Not at Synod. It’s the religious version of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy – meaning that maybe, if we don’t talk about the differences between us, they will cease to exist.
I know that a lot of what I’m saying is generalization. There are regional differences and age-group differences which mean that, for example, a CRC Church in Lethbridge, Alberta, may have more in common with a church in Grand Rapids than with a CRC church in Toronto. Fair enough. But I think most CRC members would agree the generalizations are also, generally, true.
America and Canada are headed in radically different directions. Perhaps it’s time the CRC in each country did, too.
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