When the church and culture collide Denominations discuss role of church in culture at APCE panel

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. –Attendees from the five partner denominations of the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators annual event dined together here Feb. 3 and discussed diversity, media consumption, use of technology and their churches’ recent handling of cultural issues.

Participants were 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.

Kirsty DePree, the Reformed Church in America’s coordinator for discipleship, said that denomination’s adoption of the Belhar Confession was key. Belhar, adopted by the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa in 1986, is a response to apartheid in that country and focuses on race, reconciliation, justice and poverty.

The 219th General Assembly (2010) of the PC(USA) voted to send the Belhar Confession to presbyteries for ratification.

DePree said adopting Belhar reflects her denomination’s goal to have a multicultural future free of racism.

“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 proposal of a new form of government addresses changes in culture, said Landon Whitsitt, vice moderator of the 219th GA. The proposal —now being voted on by presbyteries — seeks to make PC(USA) governance less regulatory, more flexible and more focused on mission.

“We’ve needed for a long time to address the fact that society is becoming more decentralized,” Whitsitt said, adding the proposal would help congregations pursue mission and ministry in a “boots-on-the-ground way.”

Panelists discussed ways to present church-related topics in the media while helping Christians listen more critically to what is presented.

Whitsitt said mainstream media don’t care about listening to real Christian voices so churches should stop listening to them.

“Nobody likes nuance. Nobody likes tolerance,” he said.

He said that, as educators, APCE members help people think critically about their faith and they should also help people measure information in the media against the word of God.

The panel also 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.

Bonny Mulder-Behnia, family ministries pastor of a Christian Reformed Church church in California, said she’s learned things about people from their Facebook pages that she might never have known otherwise, adding that an online connection should be followed up with a personal one.

Whitsitt called technology a tool, not a solution to ministry.