Sifting, sorting, sweet spots

Last time, I wrote about the possibility of a schism in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC). It certainly remains a live option, though should it come to pass, I expect it won’t be in the immediate future. Thanks be to God.

In lieu of a schism though, some serious sifting and sorting has already begun. In my circles I’ve heard plenty about folks rescinding their memberships, about pastors doing exit interviews for parishioners both conservative and progressive, and of others, who survey this battered institution and wonder aloud “why persist here?”

It was ever thus, I suppose. Our communion has never been a static one, and folks have always left for greener pastures. Sometimes for very compelling reasons, too.

Part of me would like to raise my hands, acknowledge the feat of conscience it must take to cut ecclesiastical ties, and wish them well. But the better part of me wants to call out this sifting and tell people to pump the brakes. In part because seeking out greener pastures is frequently an expression of that old capital vice we call “sloth.” In part, too, because sifting ourselves according to ideological disposition is just the most clichéd and conventional thing to do these days.

Even more, though, is that I think in so doing, we’re giving up something really unique and precious in the culture of this denomination.

Connective tissue

In my work in my extremely diverse, ecumenical, secular parish, I’ve often felt that I dwell in a sweet spot. By disposition and ecclesiology, CRC folk have one foot in the mainline, and one foot in the evangelical camp. We also value catholicity, which means we cherish the inheritance of the Catholic and Orthodox communions, while at the same time we value nimble, inventive, experimental forms of mission and worship. This has allowed me to be a kind of pastoral connective tissue among these camps, and to draw wisdom and insight from all of them.

I see the sweet spot in my own pastoral practice, too: from the queer students who want nothing to do with liberal, Boomer Protestantism, nor conservative evangelicalism, yet manage to find a companion in the CRC chaplain. Budding scientists find the same – they aren’t swayed by specious creationism, but know that their exploration of the material world requires rich theological analysis and insight, too.

I see this sweet spot in our bi-nationality. In our sagacious engagement with popular culture. In our love of – and prophetic critique of – the university… I could go on.

Then again, maybe it doesn’t always feel like a sweet spot. There’s often something tense about this space – a feeling of being tugged in more than one direction at once. It isn’t always comfortable. So I have some sympathies with folks who’d like to resolve that kind of tension, either by sorting themselves with the like-minded, or by casting a vote at Synod.

Yet tension can be sweet, too! Especially if it bears good fruit, which it has, in my experience, in my work, among my tribe. In our time of quarrels and conflict, I wish we sought out that sweetness more.


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