When the church and culture collide
Denominations discuss role of church in culture at APCE panel
In a different spin on the traditionally separate denominational lunches, attendees from the five partner denominations of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators annual event dined together Feb. 3. The focus of the lunch was a panel discussion on the relationship between church and culture, led by members of the Christian Reformed Church, the Moravian Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Presbyterian Church in Canada and the Reformed Church in America. Panelists answered questions from those at the lunch and touched on topics such as media consumption, use of technology and diversity. The denominational representatives also spoke about how their churches addressed a number of cultural issues in 2010. For Kirsty DePree, the RCA’s coordinator for discipleship, that denomination’s adoption of the Belhar Confession was key. Belhar was adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986 and is a response to apartheid in that country and particularly focuses on race, reconciliation, justice and poverty. The 219th General Assembly (2010) of the PC(USA) voted to send the confession to presbyteries for ratification. Adopting Belhar reflects the RCA’s goal to have a multicultural future free of racism, DePree said. “We have a long, long way to go, but there’s beautiful hope and beauty on the horizon,” she said. In the PC(USA), the discussion about adopting a new Form of Government addresses changes in culture, said Landon Whitsitt, vice moderator of the 219th GA. The proposed new Form Government — currently being voted on by the presbyteries — seeks to make PC(USA) governance less regulatory, more flexible and focused on mission. “We’ve needed for a long time to address the fact that society is becoming more decentralized,” he said, adding that the proposed Form of Government would help congregations pursue mission and ministry in a “boots-on-the-ground way.” The Moravian Church in North America is very small and has a long way to go, said Charlotte Disher, youth coordinator at Unity Moravian Church in North Carolina. Started as a mission church, most Moravians are people of color in developing countries. The Moravian Church, like other denominations, can turn to others in areas where it is weak, Disher said. On the topic of dealing with media, panelists discussed ways to present church in the media while helping Christians listen more critically to what is presented. Whitsitt said churches would be wise to stop caring about mainstream media because media doesn’t care about listening to real Christian voices. “Nobody likes nuance. Nobody likes tolerance,” he said. “We should stop caring about them. We need to be our own media voices.” As educators, APCE members work to help people think critically about their faith, and they should carry that over to media by helping people take in information and measure it against the word of God, Whitsitt said. The panel then discussed ways of helping college students and young adults engage with culture. Jeffrey Crawford, youth ministry consultant for the Presbyterian Church in Canada, said churches need to engage young people in congregations, but also need to seek them out where they are. “How can we be involved in something they’re doing?” he said, adding that churches should tell the story in church and live the story in the world. Technology was another topic the panel touched on, especially how to use technology while still being relational. Bonny Mulder-Behnia, family ministries pastor of a CRC church in California, said that some people are distrustful of the Internet and social networking sites, but she’s learned things about people from their Facebook pages that she might never have known otherwise. But that online connection has to be followed up with a personal one, she said. Technology isn’t a solution to ministry — it’s a tool, Whitsitt said. The point of online communication is to form connections, and connection is still part of the work of the church. Young people don’t come to a church because it uses slideshows in worship — they can view a slideshow on their own at home. They come to church for a connection with God, he said.