As I mentioned at the end of my last post, I have another post’s worth of wonderings about the CRC and RCA and the question of merger. I’m no expert on all the history and theology, and I confess that I haven’t even read Divided by a Common Heritage. But, for what they’re worth, some further observations based on my experiences:
- I really do love both the CRC and the RCA. I think our common heritage continues to have tremendous offerings to share with the world. I am deeply grateful to find myself in the midst of ongoing relationships to people and congregations and institutions in both denominations. And, and, it has been tremendously formative for me to have spent time living and developing vocationally in places where few people have even heard of either the CRC or RCA (this can be roughly measured for me by the geographical points at which I stop getting asked “are you related to _______ Bratt? and start getting asked, “Bratt?! were you teased a lot as a child?”). I think I’ve met about 3 people in Boston who are familiar with either. Humble pie does a body good. Just last week a middle aged Catholic nurse I work with admitted that she thought that “Protestant” was simply a denomination that included everyone except Catholics. And a couple months ago, I was at a loss for words when trying to give a quick primer on Christianity to a rabbi, the same age as I am, who was interning at the hospital with our staff. He wondered where my denomination fell on the spectrum of Protestantism, so of course I did a quick google image search for one of those charts of the different branches of Protestantism, and was hard pressed to find one that didn’t strikingly resemble hairs that just keep splitting (let alone one that included the RCA or CRC, for that matter). These situations force me to keep perspective about the bigger catholic (little ‘c’) narrative of the body of Christ in which our churches are located. At the same time, I’ll keep singing praises for the particular emphases and downright beauty of Reformed theology, polity, and, yes, worldview. And I’ll keep looking for reminders that the gems of the Reformed tribe have value far beyond the largely Dutch tribe of the CRC and RCA; this happened recently when a Baptist, African-American professor from one of the Boston area seminaries told me, upon finding out about my background, about how profoundly influential Alvin Plantinga’s work has been for him. I guess what I’m trying to say on this point, as it relates to the matter of merger, is that, regardless whether we remain separate or join together, we aren’t called to keep what we have to ourselves. As with all churches, all members of the body of Christ, our existence as a church needs to be for the sake of the world, not for our own sake. Keeping that ethic in mind if we consider merger will be crucial.
- Along with many other women who are ordained ministers of Word and Sacrament in the RCA, I was raised in the CRC. It was pastors in the RCA who encouraged me to discern my call to ministry, and demonstrated that there was a place for me to exercise that call. I was by no means flatly rejected by the CRC (although I have listened to plenty of stories from women who did have that experience) but I guess you could simply say that I went where I was welcome, as one CRC-turned RCA woman pastor advised me to do. I am glad that there are places of welcome in some areas of the CRC, but as we all know, a policy change doesn’t mean a culture change, and I lament when I read things like the post just yesterday on a social media site from a young CRC woman yearning to find a role in which she can preach and wondering if that will happen anytime soon. There are probably about 8-10 times as many ordained women in the RCA as there are in the CRC currently (one difference is the RCA’s much higher proportion of congregations in the eastern US, where ordained women are more apt to be welcome), and scores of other women who have left for other denominations over the years. I have some women clergy friends in other denominations who are appalled that I would stay in a denomination that still has something like the conscience clause (let’s see how the discussion of that matter goes at this year’s RCA general synod, by the way). I vividly remember one of my seminary professors, when I told him I’d grown up in the CRC, lamenting that the CRC “has been impoverishing itself” far too long because of all the women who have not been able to serve in its churches. As to the matter of merger, I really wonder what women’s roles would look like in a combined church. Merger could be a tremendous opportunity to set new patterns. It would be naive, though, to simply look at how our official stances and numbers align and to stop there. A lot of relational work would be in order, just as it would be, say, in a situation where a child had felt unwelcome or downright mistreated in the home of one of his parents and was faced with the prospect of his parents getting back together; he would rightfully wonder what his place in the new combined home would be, even if official joint custody were a simple thing to establish procedurally.
- Beyond women’s roles and voices, too, I wonder about how efforts toward merger would impact each denomination’s stated intentions to become more racially and ethnically diverse not only in sheer numbers but in patterns of power and representation. Perhaps merger would offer a unique opportunity to reshape these patterns, but it could just as easily, even unwittingly, reinforce the marginalization of minority voices.
- More in two weeks (again!). Meanwhile, what do others think?