>Bret McAtee Interview: The True Scoop

>I interviewed Rev. Bret McAtee after the CRC Synod 2010 in order to provide an opportunity for him to state clearly opinions that were not always reflected so clearly in the official CRC press releases. Several releases include “quotations” from Rev. McAtee, some of which were taken out of context and some of which he does not recall ever saying. Here’s the true (if somewhat tame) scoop, which appeared on pages 16-17 of the September 15, 2010 Christian Renewal (for readers’ convenience, I’m inserting hyperlinks below):

Reflections on CRC Synod 2010: An Interview with Bret McAtee

by Glenda Mathes

Rev. Bret McAtee is a CRC minister in Charlotte, MI, the author of the “Iron Ink” blog (http://ironink.org), a vocal participant in internet discussion groups, and the subject of “The Rev. Bret McAtee Appreciation Society” on Facebook. He was active on the floor of the recent CRC Synod 2010.

GM: Rev. McAtee, how long have you been a CRC pastor and was this your first time as a delegate to the CRC Synod?

BMA: I have been a pastor at Charlotte CRC for nearly 16 years now and this was my first time as a delegate to the big show.

GM: It seems that there were four important issues facing the delegates at this year’s CRC Synod: the admission of children to the Lord’s Table, the foray into climate change, the illegal immigration issue, and the requests to transfer to another classis. Let’s look at each of these issues.

Children at the Lord’s Table

GM: The Faith Formation Committee of the CRC, which for the past few years has been studying the issue of participation in the Lord’s Supper, is scheduled to bring its full report to Synod 2012. Synod 2010 agreed, however, to “fast-track” the question of children partaking of Communion by addressing it next year. Is that an accurate summary of Synod 2010’s action on this issue and what do you anticipate will happen in 2011?

BMA: I do think that is an accurate summary of the action of synod 2010. Of course it is possible that 2011 will say that they are not comfortable with the fast tracking work of 2010, but were I a gambling man I would wager that 2011 will pass the necessary work to find children coming to the table in the CRC.

Now, I believe this is a decentralizing kind of pursuit that will find different churches handling children at the table in different ways, and so it will be interesting to see how that works itself out concretely. The fact that it is a decentralizing move can be seen in the report, which states that the committee’s approach “allows for diversity of local practice within a standard principle.”

The language for children to come to the table is that they make an “age and ability appropriate obedience to biblical commands about participation.” Now, by necessity, what one church believes to be “an age and ability appropriate obedience to biblical commands about participation,” will vary from what another church believes to be “an age and ability appropriate obedience to biblical commands about participation.”

Creation Care (Climate Change)

GM: Synod 2010 voted to establish a task force to write a report on the CRC position of
“creation stewardship, including climate change.” In a related action, Synod voted to delete 1991’s “Declaration F”: The church declares, moreover, that the clear teaching of Scripture and of our confessions on the uniqueness of human beings as imagebearers of God rules out the espousing of all theorizing that posits the reality of evolutionary forebears of the human race.

You were quoted as saying: “No one here challenges our need to care for creation. But I question the need for a task force to identify a biblical and Reformed perspective on climate change.”

Would you like to expand or clarify what you expressed on the floor of Synod? What do you view as the implications of these actions?

BMA: I did say that “no one here challenges our need to care for creation.” This is a basic Christian stewardship idea with which no Christian should disagree. Man was given dominion over creation and he remains responsible to care for creation. So, I stand by how I was quoted in the first sentence.

I do believe that there could be such a thing as a Biblical and Reformed perspective on climate change. There were some delegates at Synod who wondered if there was a “need for a task force to identify a biblical and Reformed perspective on climate change,” but I was not one of them.

In terms of clarifying how I spoke on the floor of synod regarding anthropogenic climate change, my overall emphasis was that the report should not be received because it assumed that anthropogenic climate change is true when in fact the science is far from settled on this issue.

Implications of these actions:

A. Implications of deletion of declaration “F”

1. There have been, through the decades, reputable Christian men who believed in theistic evolution. I think such a belief is a contradiction to the Christian faith, but no one can deny that reputable Christian men have believed it. Having stipulated that, however, I think one implication of this deletion could be that a theory yet to be substantiated (theistic evolution) will gain revived credibility.

2. I also fear that the implication of deleting declaration “F” could be that children in Christian schools could be more easily taught that theistic evolution is true. Deleting declaration “F” does not require teachers to teach theistic evolution, but it does give them allowance to do so. Since evolution remains the dominant worldview myth for our culture’s cosmology, I am concerned that deleting declaration “F” will make it all the easier for Christian school teachers to follow that mythology, while adding some theistic flavoring, as opposed to teaching the Christian cosmology that an unconstrained reading of Genesis gives. In short, I fear Christian children, who are yet ill equipped to see the problems with theistic evolution will be taught that theory as true.

B. Implications of receiving report on anthropogenic climate change

My concern is that even the mere receiving of this report could set the denomination on a trajectory where science that many consider “junk” and is at best yet “unsettled” could be, in the future, more formally embraced.

Illegal Immigration (Migration of Workers)

Synod 2010 gave a standing ovation to a report on “Migration of Workers” that is to be used as a guideline for “wide-ranging educational and advocacy materials and efforts” by the CRC to address “challenges faced by undocumented persons” in the US and Canada. The report urges CRC assemblies and agencies to “reach out in hospitality and compassion to immigrant people” and encourages churches to display “ministry concern through actions.”

You were quoted as stating that compassion is important, but asking “…what about the others who are touched by this issue of immigration? People wonder how this issue will or won’t impact jobs for persons who are in this country legally.”

In what ways would you like to expand or clarify that quotation? How will the adoption of this report affect the churches?

BMA: First, it is difficult to speak authoritatively on how the adoption of the report will affect the churches since the word “compassion,” while used a great deal in the report, is seldom concretely defined. It is at least theoretically possible that one church’s definition of compassion could be quite different than another church’s definition of compassion.

Second, it could affect the churches by its subtle support for civil disobedience on the matter of illegal immigration laws.

Third, it could affect the churches by nudging some churches in a particular political direction in terms of the problem of illegal immigration. Some people might believe that, in terms of compassion as viewed in a macro sense, the particular political direction in which the report nudges people is not felicitous.

In terms of how I was quoted, there is no doubt that I said something like that. But I said it in the broader context of making the argument that when illegal immigration is considered there has to be consideration of compassion not only for those who are not here legally, but also for those who are here legally and for those who are following the rules to come here legally. The way I was quoted made it sound as if my concerns were only economic.

Classis Transfers

GM: Synod 2010 denied the requests of two congregations to move to a classis that does not allow women to serve as ministers, elders, or ministry associates. Although the majority report recommended a peaceful resolution by permitting the two congregations to change classes, Synod adopted the minority report, which recommended denying the request “for the sake of unity” in the church. You were indirectly quoted on this subject as having said “he was pleased by the way in which the CRC allowed in-depth discussion on this issue. Although his church is one that is not in favor of women in office, it decided to remain in its classis, which has a more open stance on the topic.”

Is that an accurate summary of your address to delegates on this subject? What is your response to the adoption of the minority report?

BMA: Unless I see the tape, I will not believe that I said I “was pleased by the way in which the CRC allowed in-depth discussion on this issue.”

I did concede, on the floor of Synod, that the Charlotte Church had been in discussion with the churches that were talking about trying to form a theological classis of identity that would be comparatively local. When this discussion turned to traveling to Minnesota for Classis meetings, however, the Charlotte Church dropped out of discussions believing that such an approach was not practical. And so we decided to remain in our Classis. Classis Lake Erie does have, what they would consider, a “more open stance,” but that is not the language I used to characterize Lake Erie’s stance on the issue.

The important thing to note though is that I spoke strongly against the minority report, which blocked the transfer of those two churches. I observed that as the denomination has decided to embrace two positions on women in office while also encouraging the need to respect both positions, allowing churches to transfer is one concrete way in which a denomination demonstrates the embracing of both positions while respecting those who hold to one of the two positions. I also argued that this transfer should be allowed since the cultural differences that arise in local churches with different positions on women in office should allow them to seek an ecclesiastical culture (Classis) that is more amenable to their theological and cultural expressions.

My problem with the way I was quoted is that it made it sound like I was arguing, “Charlotte doesn’t accept women in office and yet we found peace in our Classis,” with the implication being “those churches that want to transfer should be able to find peace as well.”

GM: What other issues or actions did you feel were significant at Synod 2010?

BMA: I believe that the soft gender inclusivsm for the Confessions that is being pursued is well intentioned, but misguided. I also believe it was most unfortunate that Synod refused to take a second look at argumentation that has the Greek words “kephale” and “authentein” being appealed to in a improper manner to support women in office.

GM: What was your overall impression of Synod?

BMA: The CRC does a great job of taking care of delegates and looking after their every need while at Synod. It was a delight to get to meet many genuinely nice people while establishing relational bonds with kindred spirits. I was also impressed at the patience of both the committee and on the floor of Synod for the way the process works.

GM: What are your thoughts now that Synod is past and you have had some time to reflect on it?

BMA: I have my concerns concerning the direction in which the denomination is tilting. One of the delegates on the floor of Synod described the CRC as a bridge between evangelical churches and the mainline churches. I am convinced that bridge is a bridge too far. Given the disrepair that evangelicalism is in, and given much of what is found in mainline churches, I find myself reflecting a great deal on whether or not that is a bridge we really want to build.


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