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Archive for May, 2011

We reported earlier about the bill pending before the Second Chamber of the States General of The Netherlands, which aims to ban the ritual non-anesthetized slaughter of animals, a ritual that belongs to the historic practice of Judaism and Islam. Our earlier report contained an explanation of both the process of and the justification for this religious practice.

With a view to reflecting on the relationship between church and state, we thought readers might be interested in the approach to this legislative issue being taken by one group of Reformed churches in The Netherlands, the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (liberated). Their synodically appointed Deputies for the Relationship between Church and Government have judged this matter serious enough to make their voice heard. The deputies have written a letter to the Second Chamber that declares on behalf of the churches that the proposed ban against this ritual slaughter goes too far.

By synodically-given mandate, these deputies maintain contact with the national government regarding matters that concern the churches, and on such occasions they appropriately acknowledge the churches’ respect for the government (Church Order, Art. 27). In addition, they work for a greater societal involvement of the churches and their members on local, regional, and national levels. The societal functioning of the churches need to be strengthened and worked out practically, for example, by maintaining contact with the appropriate local and/or provincial governments. The deputies also seek to promote the higher public visibility of the churches. For this purpose, the president of the 2008 general synod, Rev. A. de Snoo, serves as national coordinator. He represents the churches at official occasions, and is authorized by the churches to raise matters for discussion and to participate in public debate. Where possible, this ecclesiastical voice will be strengthened by cooperation with other church denominations. (The Dutch version of this material is available here.)

Here is the letter drafted by the deputies and sent to the Second Chamber on 26 April 2011 (the Dutch original can be found here):

Most highly esteemed ladies and gentlemen,

You must soon make a decision regarding a bill that seeks to prohibit the non-anesthetized slaughter of animals that is part of Jewish and Islamic religious ritual.

We are not doubting the intentions of those in your Chamber who sponsored this bill. Nevertheless, we urge you to consider seriously whether this legislation does not unnecessarily disturb the balance between government intervention and the freedom of religion, to the detriment of constitutional justice.

We appreciate the intention to reduce animal suffering, because that is a mandate belonging to a responsible dominion over the Creation. This issue involves more, however, than animal suffering. In our opinion, more weight should be given to the freedom that has been granted for a long time now to the adherents of these religions for giving expression according to their conscience to the experience of their religion also with respect to this point. The relatively narrow restriction of animal suffering envisioned by the proposed bill is, in our view, not worth this violation of freedom of conscience.

We wish you wisdom for your deliberations.

With respectful greetings,
On behalf of the Deputies for the Relationship Between Church and Government
of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (liberated),

A. de Snoo, chairman

Interestingly, the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands have judged this issue to involve religious liberty—not their own (at this point), but the liberty of Jews and Muslims in their land. As they done so often in the past, our Reformed Dutch co-believers are once again showing their chutzpah as they stand up to defend the liberties of others, including their religious opponents. And I, for one, applaud their ecclesiastical style.

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This morning’s front page headline reads: “Restraining order denied: Measure signed by Gov. Daniels first in nation to cut off all funding to Planned Parenthood” (you can read the article here).

Just a caution: the print headline inaccurately claims that the measure cuts off all funding, and also fails to reflect that several other challenges await a court hearing scheduled for June 6. Interestingly, the online headline reads, “Judge rules against temporary restraining order in Planned Parenthood case.”

Indiana’s governor Mitch Daniels has made a significant political choice by signing a law restricting funding for Planned Parenthood. Warm congratulations to a courageous governor, who may have sabotaged his presidential chances. We’ll see. In any case, this kind of political and moral courage needs our applause and support.

On the flip side, Planned Parenthood president and CEO Betty Cockrum criticized the court’s decision and the new law with a weapon for which her organization has become famous: desperate doublespeak.

“The ruling means that Hoosiers who rely on federal funding have lost access to their crucial and lifesaving preventive health care at Planned Parenthood of Indiana,” the article reports. Hmmm, “lifesaving preventive health care.” A real grinner, that one. Given the “services” this organization offers, every single word really means its opposite!

It will be interesting to watch and see how many other states follow Indiana’s lead. But for the moment, the sun is shining a bit more brightly across the Hoosier state.

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It seems that every generation feels compelled to slog its way anew through debates involving the relationship between the Bible and science. Today’s animated conversations about the extent of the Noahic flood are nothing new.

But we need to maintain our balance in these discussions, a balance between legitimate diversity of opinion and illegitimate boundary crossing.

Perhaps Abraham Kuyper can help us do that. Consider these words, published near the turn from the nineteenth into the twentieth century.

An esteemed correspondent has objected to our position that the flood most probably did not cover the entire globe, and in connection with this, that predatory animals perhaps remained alive elsewhere in the world.

Let it be stated immediately that we attach very little importance to this dispute. Our only interest was to emphasize the significance of the protection of humanity against predatory animals.

For the rest, we note that Scripture itself says that “the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered” (Gen. 7:19), after which Scripture mentions the highest mountain, Mount Ararat. Nevertheless it is clear that numerous mountains were higher than Ararat.

In the second place, that not all the animals were destroyed appears from the fact that since the flood consisted of water, the fish could not have been killed, but rather received a rare and rich prize of human and animal corpses.

Third, numerous fossils have been found in the earth’s depths, fossils of animals that did not belong to this time period.

Fourth, it is indeed true that in Genesis 8:17 we read that all the animals had to leave the ark, but a literal interpretation of this presents us with insoluble difficulties. Suppose there were eight people, together with a small number of horses, cattle, camels, sheep, goats, etc., and you let loose two lions, two tigers, two hyenas, two snakes, two wolves, two bears, and many more. How could people have defended themselves at this point? What did those animals live on? Would not the entire small stock have been killed within a short time? Were you to say that Noah and his sons might have been animal tamers, or that God might have restrained the predatory animals at that point so that they didn’t attack people, we would certainly admit that these were possible, but precisely at that point justice is not being done to Genesis 9:5.

In any case, we are facing difficulties here that arise from the brevity of the narrative. One person can posit this, while another can posit that, and those opinions should be permitted. But Genesis 8 and 9 are revealed to us not to have a dispute about them. The main point here involves God’s ordinances given to the new human race.

From De Gemeene Gratie, by A. Kuyper (Amsterdam: Boekhandel Höveker & Wormser, 1902), 1.58-59. Translated by Nelson D. Kloosterman. All rights reserved. For more information, go here.

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Okay, I surrender!

For some time now, two dear friends have been urging me to read the book by James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World.

I’m now well into the book.

But this brief post is no review, nor will I resort to filling this post with juicy quotations from the book. You can find a wide spectrum of analysis and response to Hunter’s work online, ranging from fanatical endorsement to frustrated dismissal.

As I’m reading, I am happy to learn that neither extreme is accurate. Moreover, some have championed Hunter’s work because it allegedly serves their agenda of smashing the proud triumphalism of some Christians who pursue cultural obedience. Fine. Let’s de-idolize our own work, our own institutions, our own influence in society. Let’s sober up.

But I am also grateful to learn that Hunter holds high the calling of Christian cultural obedience, albeit in a careful, helpful, and ecclesio-centric way.

Indeed, insofar as Christians acknowledge the rule of God in all aspects of their lives, their engagement with the world proclaims the shalom to come. Such work may not bring about the kingdom, but it is an embodiment of the values of the coming kingdom and is, thus, a foretaste of the coming kingdom. Even while believers wait for their salvation, the net effect of such work will be a contribution not only to the good of the Christian community but to the flourishing of all (234).

You might suspect that I’ve cherry-picked this quote (cherry pick, transitive verb: to select as being the best or most desirable; also: to select the best or most desirable from <cherry–picked the art collection>). To see if you’re right, you’ll  need to read the book for yourself. As you do, anticipate the clarifying discussion of “Affirmation and Antithesis” found on pages 231-236.

Here you’ll learn the pilgrim’s motto: “Yes, but . . . .”

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