WHAT THEN ARE WE TO SAY ABOUT THESE THINGS?

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Karolinska Institutet, University Library]On: 03 October 2014, At: 06:24Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Religious Education: The official journal of theReligious Education AssociationPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/urea20

    WHAT THEN ARE WE TO SAY ABOUT THESE THINGS?Jeffrey Japinga a & Robert DeMoor ba Reformed Church in Americab Faith Alive ResourcesPublished online: 30 Nov 2010.

    To cite this article: Jeffrey Japinga & Robert DeMoor (2003) WHAT THEN ARE WE TO SAY ABOUT THESE THINGS?, ReligiousEducation: The official journal of the Religious Education Association, 98:2, 260-268, DOI: 10.1080/00344080308291

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    Religious Education Vol. 98 No. 2 Spring 2003DOI: 10.1080/00344080390200854

    WHAT THEN ARE WE TO SAY ABOUT THESE THINGS?

    Jeffrey JapingaReformed Church in America

    Robert DeMoorFaith Alive Resources

    What then are we to say about these thingabout a critique of acurriculum project in which we had invested not simply our minds,but our hearts as well; about a critique written by a friend and col-league we deeply respect that minces no words about the shortcom-ings of a curriculum we attempted to make the very best we could.

    What then are we to say about these thingsabout measuring upto and falling short of our own expectations, and Gods.

    What then are we to say about these things?We might start with thanks. Thanks to Karen Cross, for having

    the courage of her convictions; for embarking on a difficult personaljourney that would open new vistas for her life and faith, and for invit-ing others to see with her that to which we have too often been blind;for speaking the truth in love; for modeling a form of Christian dia-logue that can help the whole church continue to seek and embrace aholistic Gospel of Christ.

    And thanks, also, to the educators and staff of the Christian Re-formed Church in North America and the Reformed Church inAmerica, co-publishers of the LiFE (Living in Faith Everyday) cur-riculum, for their willingness to engage in that dialogue; to hear hardwords and not simply look away; and to actively seek a hoped-for andshared future that combats racism, sexism, and classism in all areas ofour lives and faith communities.

    To respond to Crosss critique is an invitation for all of us to exam-ine not only one particular Christian education curriculum, but thewhole expression of the Christian faith in North America. For ques-tions of racism and sexism and classism are questions not unique toLiFE curriculum, but reality checks for every North American

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  • 261JEFFREY JAPINGA and ROBERT DEMOOR

    Christian Church in existence today. Crosss challenge to the cre-ators of LiFE curriculum first to enter into relationships groundedin integrity and mutuality. . . in which the voices of all racial/eth-nic communities are heard and valued is a challenge to the wholechurchReformed, to be sure, but also Lutheran and Baptist andPentecostal alike, and a challenge to all of our curriculums as well.

    THE FACTS OF LiFE

    When the possibility of a new church school curriculum for chil-dren of historically Reformed churches surfaced in the late 1980s,one of the first questions asked was, why? The answer: that the con-texts in which Scripture was being heard and faith practiced hadchanged remarkably in the twenty years since Bible Way, the prede-cessor curriculum to LiFE, had been launched by CRC Publications.So also had understandings of the way children and adults learn andgrow, in both knowledge and practice.

    The new curriculum would be a joint effort of two sister denomi-nations, the Christian Reformed Church in North America and theReformed Church in America, but also of educators, writers, and teach-ers from across those two churches. LiFE was not to be just anothercurriculum, another way of getting information about scripture andtruth into kids. Wrote Patricia Nederveld, a LiFE editor, in the fall of1992, when LiFE curriculum was in development, Its a way to helpchildren and leaders to learn and grow in faith together. The leadersdont just teach the facts; they model their faith to children. The groupsets out on a faith journey together. Concepts and practices like won-dering, imagining, worshipping, reflecting, sharing, encouraging, grow-ing, nurturing, and living were built into the curriculum as a way tohelp young people (and their leaders) move beyond the recitation ofthe right answers into a means by which faith could be discovered andlived.

    To name faith modeling by adult leaders as a specific and statedgoal of the curriculum was both its greatest strength and it strongestobstacle. LiFEs emphasis on Reformed covenant theology commit-ted adults and children to a common journey in faith, each welcomed,loved, forgiven, striving to be more Christ-like each day. In askingteachers to be faith models and companions, however, the curriculumfaced key hurdles, both institutional and personal. In the late 1980s,

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  • 262 RESPONSE TO KAREN CROSS

    nearly half of the members of the CRC and RCA still claimed somelevel of the Dutch ethnicity of the churchs forebears. Both denomi-nations had established agencies or boards within their church struc-tures as one means by which to intentionally include the presence andvoices of racial/ethnic minorities, but the church population remainedmore than 90 percent European-American. Women were able to holdall the offices of the church in the RCA, but not in the CRC. And asuburban-rural dominance was true of both denominations. Couldwe model anything other than what we already were?

    Patterns of development and evaluation for the new curricu-lum were established that could especially address these issues.Extensive research was conducted; theologians and educators in-cluded in every step of development; and a racial/ethnic panel ofexperienced educators from across North America was establishedto review every aspect of the work. At every turn, with the experi-ence and practice of faith such a key concept, the curriculum soughtexperiences that could lift both children and leaders out of theirimmediate environments and connect them to a more global un-derstanding of faith.

    THE CRITIQUE OF LiFE

    At the 2002 General Synod of the Reformed Church in America,delegates were reminded by the RCAs Commission on Race andEthnicity that [w]hile there is some activity throughout the denomi-nation around issues of race, ethnicity, cross-cultural activities, andinclusion, much of it seems to lack the coordination, urgency, andpassion necessary to effectively address racism within thedenomination. . . The reality of the RCA freed from racism will onlybe achieved when Gods people come together in prayer, will full com-mitment, and led by the Holy Spirit. Christian churches by-and-largeare not where we need to be yet. The CRC and RCA certainly werenot in the 1980s, as LiFE was first being envisioned and developed.

    THE CRITIQUE OF RACISM

    Racism, cites Grolier, is the notion that ones own ethnic stock issuperior; it is any program or practice of racial discrimination, perse-

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  • 263JEFFREY JAPINGA and ROBERT DEMOOR

    cution, and domination, based on racialism, cites Websters; andin that, Crosss critique is most surely correct: LiFE curriculum isracist. Thats a hard sentence to write, hard to hear. Yet explicitlyor implicitly, significant choices were made that clearly reflect thebias of White, midwestern editors and artists who, because of theirexperiences, backgrounds, and training, did not anticipate or seethe full impact of their work. However well intentioned the storyof Maria Benitez-Perez may have been to the writer who used itand the editor who improved it, for example, the ultimate outcomeis regrettably racist. We as the curriculum producers must ownthat, and in owning it, make commitments to minimize or elimi-nate future occurrences.

    (Two brief overall notes here: First, Crosss critique is of one-quar-terthe first quarterof LiFE, thus both honest and incomplete inits evaluation. It is also incorrect of Cross to contend that one white,Midwestern male theologian from the Christian Reformed Churchserved both as editor and writer of the exegesis of the particular quar-ter she reviewed. No writer of LiFEno matter who he or she waswas his or her own editor.)

    But we must also ask questions, for understanding the contentof racism is prerequisite to owning it as your own and seekingchange. Is the story of Maria Benitez-Perez, for example, racistbecause of a negative, stereotype-creating portrayal of a non-Whiteperson? Or is it racist because the leaders guide fails to offer justi-fication of Benitez-Perezs running away, her anger at the govern-ment, or her distrust of the church, as Karen points out, or is itsimply an oversimplistic and overmoralistic view of the world? Oris the failure to fully (or even partially) acknowledge the radicalinclusiveness of the gospel racist, or is it viewing the world througha particular political/sociological point of view? In the RCA andCRC, we have deep divisions over the interpretation of scripture,its meaning for our lives, and the impact on society. Like manydenominations, we are divided over questions of Christ and salva-tion, the role of the Holy Spirit, the practice of baptism, the par-ticipation of gay and lesbian Christians in our churches. Some ofus, in expressing our views, have done so using words too often toougly. But for others, many others, these disagreements deserve tobe part of further dialogue. We must learn from Crosss critiquethat words and pictures and choices can offer not only an incom-

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  • 264 RESPONSE TO KAREN CROSS

    plete view of the world, but a racist viewso that our actions donot become so consistently wrong that they teach racism, howeverunintentionally. And we must do it in a way that engages the dia-logue without watering down the issue or demonizing the partici-pants. We must all strive to listen closely, no matter the pain.

    THE CRITIQUE OF SEXISM

    Is this curriculum guilty of sexism? It is, in ways similar to itsracism: reflective of struggles of the church at-large, inadvertent,subtle, without intent to harm or stereotype, but guilty nonethe-less. That said, this guilty plea would not be accepted as true by asignificant part of our constituency. That reality does not justifyour actionsindeed, it actually raises the bar on our need for aware-nessbut it also points out the difficulty of the issue in our churchand in society at large. Yes, gender sensitivity is a critical compo-nent when writing today, as Cross points out. We cannot forget ourhistory, often a dismal one, especially in the church. We must seekstories that accuentuate courage, honesty, and self-esteem for bothgirls and boys, women and men. All this must be done in a way thatpoints to the grace and justice of God.

    THE CRITIQUE OF CLASSISM AND SUBURBANISM

    One should wonder, with Cross, what a two-thirds world theolo-gian might tell us about presenting salvation without relying on mar-keting strategies. Surely, there is much the North American churchcan learn in this area. The RCA and CRC, like many North Americandenominations, are affluent denominations; our wealth, relative to theworld church, is enormous. Every day we risk mixing dependence onGod and dependence on ourselves (and our money) in unhealthy ways.But as the CRC and the RCA also seek to share the message of salva-tion through Jesus Christ in a culture and context of such wealth, italso holds the risk of selling out in tension with an opposite risk: thatof talking about the saving grace of the Gospel in a language our friendsand neighbors simply cannot understand, leaving the church an ex-clusive club with peculiar terminology and beliefs understandable onlyto a few. Neither is acceptable.

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  • 265JEFFREY JAPINGA and ROBERT DEMOOR

    THE CRITIQUE OF REFORMED THEOLOGY

    Is LiFE the purest distillation of 16th and 17th century Reformedteaching for children on the market today? This is hard to judge.LiFE does seek to represent a Reformed tradition and faith that ex-presses the sinfulness of humanity, the overwhelming love and graceof God, and our living response of gratitude, in ways that utilize latetwentieth century theological reflection and educational methods.Imbedded in that theology are concepts like covenant, and grace, and,yes, election. That those concepts are not always easy, even for adults,is no reason to ignore them or water them down to safe conceptslike love everyone or hate evil. The doctrine of election is tiedclosely to the Reformed understanding of baptisma sign and seal ofGods covenant of grace with us and our children; that God loved andchose us before we knew of any of it, and that Gods love is always andeverywhere stronger than our will. Yes, there are developmental chal-lenges to the term chosen; it can be misused. Crosss cautions are clearand relevant. But we neednt throw out the concept of election, orother pillars of Reformed theology, simply because of possible mis-use; instead, we must use them well, in ways that children can under-stand now and can build on for the future. In our transient and oftenthrow-away society, Reformed principles like covenant and electionare hardly a relic of five centuries past; indeed, they seem more im-portant and reassuring than ever.

    THE CRITIQUE OF METHOD

    The issue of method Cross raises concerns wondering questions,a dialogical pedagogy that trusts the learners abilities to deal criticallywith the text. A good idea, she says, but in the execution of it, LiFEpredetermine(s) every question and every answer, leaving little roomfor learners to discover anything outside its prescribed understand-ing. It is successful at resurrecting the voice of Calvinism but silencesthe questions todays church needs to ask. We wonder if Betsy andKelsey and Austin and Leah and Tim would object to that concern.They have all been students of Jeff over the years, once six-, seven-and eight-year-olds who in the course of using LiFE curriculum askedremarkably perceptive questions. They challenged themselves andchallenged their teacher. Today, they are growing into terrific young

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  • 266 RESPONSE TO KAREN CROSS

    people, each in very different places in their journey of faith and cer-tainly not of one mind, and each still asking hard questions and grow-ing from the dialogue that comes in response. The experiences of Betsyand Kelsey and Austin and Leah and Timand their teacherdo nota principle make; neither, however, should they be discounted or dis-missed.

    THE CONTINUING RESPONSE TO CROSSS PAPER

    What, indeed, then are we not only to say about these things, butwhat are we going to do about them? This article is not the first timeRCA or CRC educators have had an opportunity to interact with Crosssfindings. In March of 2000, the RCAs Council for Christian Educa-tion, an established working group that plans and guides thedenominations efforts in education and discipleship ministries (and agroup of which Cross was a member), first accepted Crosss invitationto enter into dialogue and discuss the implications of cultural bias.Politicians would label it a frank discussion. To be sure, it was diffi-cult; there was not full agreement. But there was careful listening,honest dialogue, and a commitment to continue. This is what Dr. OliverPatterson, a member of the education council, president of the RCAsAfrican-American Council, and a professor of education at New YorkUniversity, wrote in an email following that meeting:

    I thought the meeting was most fruitful, and I also wish to express mysincere appreciation to the group for such a challenging discussion aroundissues of race, class, and gender. I thought the suggestions that came out ofthe discussion were excellent: 1) minorities are to be part of the planningteam for (any) new curriculum; 2) major attempts to hire black and otherminority writers; 3) minorities to be a part of the team that reviews thematerials; 4) draft units of materials are to be tried out with minoritycongregations.

    Those conversations continued in the RCA, both in the Councilfor Christian Education and in new dialogue between the educationoffice and the Commission for Race and Ethnicity; similar conversa-tions were being held at CRC Publications and in the structure of theChristian Reformed Church. In the RCA, Willa K. Brown, associatefor childrens ministry, led a very specific effort for racial and ethnicinclusivity in the whole of the education work of the RCA. In the new

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  • 267JEFFREY JAPINGA and ROBERT DEMOOR

    Learning for Life initiative of the RCA, a full section of their compre-hensive notebook is focused on multicultural education. Staffs of bothchurches have participated in intentional anti-racism training.

    Crosss challenges on racism, and our learnings from these othercommitments, also have impacted a new curriculum, Walk with Me,now being developed by Faith Alive Christian Resources (the newname for the publishing arm of the Christian Reformed Church), andthe ongoing life of the two denominations.

    Multi-ethnic design groups intentionally teased out many of theissues raised by this paper in designing the architecture of the newcurriculum. And so, for example, the new curriculum will feature afour-unit structure expressly in recognition that many churches,especially those in urban contexts, cannot assume regular atten-dance. Each writer was assigned to work with a person from a dif-ferent racial/ethnic group in her or his own development of thematerial; this has allowed a greater inclusion of stories from a vari-ety of different settings. And in multiple setting, including a racial/ethnic panel, there is evaluation of all material before final editing.In that work, Dr. Steven Long-Nguyen Robbins, director of theWoodrick Institute for the Study of Racism and Diversity, has beenespecially helpful.

    The formation of a multi-ethic writing team, using experienced ra-cial/ethnic educators to mentor, train, and oversee new racial/eth-nic writers, to produce specific sections of the curriculum. Thisproject, organized by Dr. Colleen Aalsburg Wiessner and fundedby the RCA, ensured that a significant number of writers of thenew curriculum would be from racial/ethnic communities, and thatparticular sections of the curriculum would be primarily producedby racial/ethnic persons, not White Midwesterners.

    Learning to live well in the diverse culture of North America is nolonger an option, but a necessity. As Christs disciples, it is our respon-sibilityand our joyto embrace the diversity God has created. Thatdoesnt mean glossing over our differences and pretending we are allalike simply because we all belong to Gods family. Learning to under-stand, to respect, to celebrate our differences, is part of Gods plan forthe diverse peoples God created. It is not an easy path to follow. Itrequires honesty (about the past and the future), humility, and com-

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  • 268 RESPONSE TO KAREN CROSS

    mitment; it requires us to take seriously the advice of Paul to the churchat Thessaloniki:

    Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed youare doing. But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those wholabor among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you;esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace amongyourselves. And we urge you, beloved, to admonish the idlers, encouragethe fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them. See that noneof you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and toall. (I Thess. 5:1115)

    LiFE curriculum continues to be an excellent pedagogical toolthat God has blessed and will continue to bless in the hands of dedi-cated teachers in a variety of church contexts and environments. Butthe curriculum, and those who work with it, are better for Crossscautions and challengesspoken with a voice that too often is notheard in our dialogue. We have learned a lot since the late 80s whenLiFE was developed. There is much more to learn.

    Jeffrey Japinga is minister for education and faith development for theReformed Church in America; the former editor of the RCAs denomina-tional magazine, The Church Herald; and an ordained minister. E-mail:jjapinga@rca.org

    Robert DeMoor is editor-in-chief of Faith Alive Christian Resources, adivision of CRC Publications which published LiFe Curriculum in coop-eration with the Reformed Church in America. De Moor served as a pas-tor in the Christian Reformed Church in North America for twenty yearsbefore joining Faith Alive in 1995.

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