See also Disabilities, Immigration and Refugees, Race Relations.
For full reports and exact statements of the denomination's position on this issue, the reader should look to the references provided.
The CRC's Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action is a ministry that deals with many social justice issues: restorative justice, racism, abortion, HIV/AIDS, poverty in North America, world hunger, war and peace, religious persecution, refugees, marginalization of immigrant workers, and more. In Canada, the CRC's Committee for Contact with the Government deals with similar advocacy issues. For more information, see www.crcna.org/justice and a report on restorative justice adopted by Synod 2005 (www.crcna.org/SynodResources).
Social justice ministry in the CRC developed in response to world hunger reports adopted by Synods 1979 and 1993. A world hunger and social justice coordinator was appointed in 1994, and the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action became established in 2000. A similar advocacy ministry in Canada has operated as the Committee for Contact with the Government in social-justice advocacy since 1968.
In response to overtures regarding the Jubilee 2000 campaign seeking debt cancellation for the world's poorest countries, Synod 1999 adopted a "Resolution on International Debt" to encourage social justice and hunger action and the implementation of educational and discussion activities in conjunction with the work of Bread for the World, Citizens for Public Justice (Canada), the Center for Public Justice (U.S.), Jubilee 2000, and other compatible organizations and efforts such as the Micah Challenge (2004). Along with the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee, the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action has also helped the church develop awareness and measures in working against the challenges of HIV/AIDS.
In 2009, in response to a request from the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa to Reformed churches throughout the world, synod voted to introduce and promote study of the Belhar Confession (which calls for faithfulness in unity, justice, and reconciliation) in preparation for consideration of a proposal to Synod 2012 to adopt the Belhar as a fourth confession of the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRCNA). Synod 2012 adopted the Belhar as an Ecumenical Faith Declaration and recommended it to the churches “for study and for incorporation of its themes into their discipling and liturgical ministries” (Acts of Synod 2012, p. 767). In 2016 synod received an overture proposing again that the Belhar Confession be adopted as a fourth confession of the CRCNA, and the request was denied on the basis that the overture did not present “sufficient and new grounds for reconsideration” of the matter, as required by Church Order Article 31. At the request of the advisory committee dealing with the matter, however, Synod 2016 agreed to make “a substantive response,” including a denouncement of “racialized violence, systemic racism, and ethnic strife evident in North American society,” expressions of grief and lament in “solidarity with those who have been brutalized by these sinful actions,” and recognition that “locating the Belhar Confession in the Ecumenical Faith Declaration category” has met with dissatisfaction and confusion (Acts of Synod 2016, pp. 904, 909-13). In addition, synod directed the Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations Committee (EIRC) to “report on the confusion with the Ecumenical Faith Declaration category as identified by our ecumenical partners,” and synod proposed “that Synod 2017 recategorize the Belhar Confession” as a contemporary testimony in the CRC (Acts 2016, p. 913). In 2017, in response to recommendations presented by the EIRC, synod discontinued use of the Ecumenical Faith Declaration category and recategorized the Belhar Confession as a contemporary testimony in the Christian Reformed Church in North America. In prior action, Synod 2017 also adopted a definition for the category of contemporary testimony (as proposed by the EIRC) and affirmed Our World Belongs to God: A Contemporary Testimony as within the newly defined category (see Acts of Synod 2017, pp. 699-700, 707-708).
Synod 2010 received an overture regarding advocacy of the denominational position opposing abortion and adopted a recommendation "to instruct the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJ) to boldly advocate for the church's position against abortion, and to help equip churches to promote the sanctity of human life" (Acts of Synod 2010, p. 883).
Synod 2010 also received and adopted a study report on the migration of workers, highlighting the great need for mercy, compassion, advocacy, and justice in ministering to and for migrant workers and refugees from other countries. (See Immigration and Refugees.)
In addition, Synod 2010 requested a review of the mandates of OSJ and the Canadian Committee for Contact with the Government; Synod 2011 approved revised mandates for these ministries.
Synod 2013 received an overture asking for a study of religious persecution and religious liberty, and synod responded by appointing a study committee to report to Synod 2016. In 2016 synod received and accepted the report of the Committee to Study Religious Persecution and Liberty, and synod adopted recommendations to pursue organized prayer efforts for people suffering religious persecution and to continue communications with the churches about persecution faced by Christians as well as by people of other faiths.
In 2014 synod adopted a revision of the Judicial Code of Rights and Procedures (Church Order Supplement, Article 30-c) that takes into account the CRC-adopted statements on abuse prevention and restorative justice.
In June 2012 synod adopted a recommendation to authorize a task force to study the fifteenth-century European Doctrine of Discovery and its effects on Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada. Later that year the Board of Trustees initiated a Doctrine of Discovery Task Force, which would eventually submit a report of its findings in 2016. In the years leading up to the completion of that report, the Office of Race Relations, the Office of Social Justice, and Aboriginal Ministries (Canada) collaborated to provide CRC constituents with the Blanket Exercise, a workshop that helps participants enter into and understand “Native Peoples’ experience of inequality” in their treatment by European settlers in the United States and Canada (see Acts of Synod 2015, p. 640). Synod 2015 encouraged classes and congregations throughout the CRC to engage in the Blanket Exercise prior to Synod 2016, and synodical delegates participated in the workshop during Synod 2016. In response to the Doctrine of Discovery Task Force report, Synod 2016 declared the fifteenth-century Doctrine of Discovery a heresy that helped to “shape Western culture and led to great injustices” while missionary efforts, by the grace of God, aimed to extend love and the gospel message to Indigenous peoples in the United States and Canada (Acts of Synod 2016, p. 922). Synod lamented “mistakes that caused pain” in residential schools such as Rehoboth Christian School, and synod affirmed actions toward confession and reconciliation, celebrating “the current culture at the Rehoboth Christian School, the Zuni Christian Mission School, and our Urban Aboriginal Ministries” as well as “stories of renewal, transformation, grace, and cultural exchange as together God’s people remain committed to mutual learning, encouragement, and healing” (Acts 2016, p. 923). Synod 2016 also affirmed ongoing actions by the CRC in Canada toward justice and reconciliation in response to calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2015). In addition, synod directed the executive director of the CRC to work with agencies and ministry offices to walk alongside, listen to, lament with, and weep with Indigenous parties who have been oppressed and marginalized “in a culture of discrimination,” and to consider developing an annual Day of Justice to be observed throughout the denomination (Acts 2016, p. 923). In response to an ad-hoc committee proposal presented by the Board of Trustees, Synod 2017 designated an Annual Day of Justice to be held “preferably on the third Sunday of August, for CR churches, classes, ministries, and educational institutions, beginning in August 2018” (Acts of Synod 2017, p. 631).
Synod 2017 also adopted recommendations to remember, reaffirm, and reinvigorate the CRCNA’s response to global humanitarian challenges, recognizing that in a time when “recent progress made in alleviating poverty, hunger, and oppression at home and abroad is threatened by expanding violence, changing climate, and mass migrations,” it is important to hold “our governments and international bodies accountable so that they devote sufficient resources to ending violence, preventing famine, trading fairly, reducing the causes of climate change, improving refugee and immigration policy, and paying attention to racism and discrimination endemic to our societies.” In addition, synod took note of “the efforts of CRCNA ministries toward peacemaking in the Middle East,” with a view toward continuing partnership with the RCA and with Churches for Middle East Peace in ecumenical relations, interfaith dialogue, and addressing refugee displacement and religious persecution (Acts of Synod 2017, pp. 633-35, 696-97; see also Immigration and Refugees).
In 2018 synod received overtures requesting that the CRCNA refrain from political advocacy and lobbying. The advisory committee addressing these matters observed that while there will not always be “unanimity and single-mindedness on all political issues and that differences of opinion will arise,” we are called to “gospel-centered relationships that hold unity as a high value,” and we can trust that our means of addressing differences “will give testimony to our unity in Christ.” In response, synod urged the churches to continue in prayer that justice and mercy may prevail in our nations and that the CRCNA may grow in wisdom as we speak the gospel prophetically and pursue mercy and justice among the nations. Synod thus reminded “our diverse binational church” that “we need to continue engaging in the social/political/economic layers of public life” in order to be faithful to our calling as the body of Christ in this world, and that synod itself, through various statements and directives in the past two decades, “has provided the initial instruction behind CRCNA social justice activity” (see Acts of Synod 2018, pp. 524-26). In addition, after hearing about the helpful role the Committee for Contact with the Government has provided for many years in guiding and supporting the work of the Canadian-based Centre for Public Dialogue, synod called for the creation of a “U.S. committee to provide guidance and support” to the U.S.-based Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action. Synod further instructed that our justice and mercy ministries be sure to “foster discussion and education focused on biblical principles for public discipleship” and to “provide rationale that is biblical, theologically Reformed, and grounded in our denominational positions whenever issuing calls to action” (see Acts of Synod 2018, pp. 527-28).
References to Agendas and Acts of Synod
Agenda for Synod 1979, pp. 29, 82-84, 418
Acts of Synod 1979, pp. 610-41
Agenda for Synod 1993, pp. 128-29, 138-55
Acts of Synod 1993, pp. 540-41
Agenda for Synod 1994, pp. 355-56
Agenda for Synod 1995, pp. 44-45
Agenda for Synod 1996, pp. 40-41
Acts of Synod 1996, p. 557
Agenda for Synod 1999, pp. 219-20, 425-32, 487-88, 492-95
Acts of Synod 1999, p. 573
Agenda for Synod 2000, pp. 33, 76-79
Acts of Synod 2000, p. 621
Agenda for Synod 2001, pp. 86-88
Agenda for Synod 2002, pp. 61-62
Agenda for Synod 2003, pp. 83-84
Agenda for Synod 2004, pp. 48, 68-70, 233, 489-91
Acts of Synod 2004, p. 555
Agenda for Synod 2005, pp. 70-72, 529-65
Acts of Synod 2005, pp. 726, 743, 761-62, 778
Agenda for Synod 2006, pp. 85-87
Acts of Synod 2006, pp. 642-43
Agenda for Synod 2007, pp. 34, 145-47
Acts of Synod 2007, pp. 581-82
Agenda for Synod 2008, pp. 38, 61-63
Acts of Synod 2008, pp. 457, 510-11
Agenda for Synod 2009, pp. 249-51, 269-313
Acts of Synod 2009, pp. 604-607
Agenda for Synod 2010, pp. 535-85, 661-62
Acts of Synod 2010, pp. 875-79, 883
Agenda for Synod 2011, pp. 35, 73-76
Acts of Synod 2011, p. 817
Agenda for Synod 2012, pp. 232-56
Acts of Synod 2012, pp. 765-67
Agenda for Synod 2013, pp. 415-16
Acts of Synod 2013, pp. 569, 641-42
Agenda for Synod 2014, pp. 30, 72-84
Acts of Synod 2014, pp. 569-70
Acts of Synod 2015, pp. 463, 472, 640
Agenda for Synod 2016, pp. 32-33, 324-25, 444-74, 475-543, 575-79
Acts of Synod 2016, pp. 862-63, 904-14, 922-23
Agenda for Synod 2017, pp. 30, 43, 135-37, 335-36, 338-39, 358-64
Acts of Synod 2017, pp. 463-64, 470-72, 536-50, 552-55, 631-35, 696-700, 707-708
Agenda for Synod 2018, pp. 317-30
Acts of Synod 2018, pp. 414-15, 524-28