Courage and Racism
John Medendorp’s article “The True Courage of Johanna Veenstra” (Dec. 2019) gives our pioneer Nigerian missionary well-deserved praise. But the charge that Synod 1920 was racist in choosing China over Sudan (Nigeria) for its first international mission is overstated. Synod listed six reasons for China and six against Nigeria. Besides the cultural factors Medendorp cited are strategic, theological, and practical issues—China’s rich language and literature, healthy climate, better infrastructure, and schools for children of missionaries, compared to Nigeria’s poor infrastructure, unhealthy climate (think malaria), political instability, lack of schools—and Sudan United Mission (Veenstra’s agency) was theologically Arminian. A follow-up motion to support Nigeria later was rejected on the same grounds. SUM was already in Nigeria. In 1939 Synod adopted the SUM work as its second foreign ministry. Meanwhile, God blessed the China ministry of Revs. John De Korne and Dr. Lee Huizenga.
Robert P. Swierenga // Holland, Mich.
In Rev. Medendorp’s article, he stated that, because of the denomination’s official position that they would not initially support the missionary work of Johanna Veenstra, they “left Johanna Veenstra without support.” He seems to accuse all of us of having a stain of racism and prejudice. Veenstra was a member of the Second Christian Reformed Church in Paterson, N.J., where our family were members for several generations. That church supported Veenstra financially and prayerfully with much enthusiasm. Other churches in the area did the same. In later years, the CRC opened its first church for African Americans in Harlem, N.Y. Our church supported Rev. Eugene Callender in a very substantial way. He became a close friend of our family and had many dinners in our homes. As one can see, Rev. Medendorp’s accusation does not apply to everyone in the denomination.
John Steen // Franklin Lakes, N.J.
Four points in response to the article “Shunned: A Call to Restorative Grace” (Dec. 2019):
- The author states he was an upstanding member of his local church, and three months later he was facing prison. He may have pretended to be upstanding, but he was using, abusing, deceiving, and betraying.
- The author complains that he has not received grace from his local church. Grace is a gift. Grace is not a right. It is unreasonable, wrong, and foolish to think one might be able to demand forgiveness and/or grace from those one has harmed.
- In this situation, the local church community is a victim. Having entrusted their youth to the care of this admittedly guilty individual, the church community has been deceived, betrayed, and seriously injured. That community needs healing, not blame.
- The author claims that the church has not offered grace, but grace has been offered. When the prison fellowship reached out, that was the church offering grace.
Linda Lensink // St. Catharines, Ont.
I appreciated very much your editorial and your willingness to print “Shunned: A Call to Restorative Grace,” the article for which you provided explanation. We have a longtime friend whose story bears remarkable resemblance to the story of “Anonymous,” the writer of the article. … A couple of years beyond parole, our friend has come to see that, among both acquaintances and fellow Christians, the spectrum of acceptance (or not) is wide, often fixed, and sometimes moveable. “Anonymous" was right that “a church ought to respond to an offending member with the same divine grace—restorative grace—that Jesus showed us when we were in our own sin.” For some, this is much more easily said than done. We need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s urging for people who have a hard time with thoughts of restoration. It’s especially difficult to consider in circumstances of willful crimes against another.
Dave Learned // Ann Arbor, Mich.
I appreciate and am thankful that Banner editor Shiao Chong went outside of his comfort zone to publish an unsolicited article by someone convicted of a criminal sexual offense. … (The denomination’s) Safe Church Ministry has gathered resources to help churches navigate the difficult tension between being a welcoming community for those who have a past sexual offense and maintaining a safe environment for all people. This is not easy! Congregations include children and youth, those who are vulnerable for one reason or another, and those who have experienced sexual abuse who may be triggered by having someone with a criminal sexual history at church. Is it possible to create a community that feels safe for everyone? Resources and ideas are posted on The Network (bit.ly/2swbuDO). They include a webinar, a bulletin insert, articles, and policy examples. Please also feel free to contact your Safe Church Coordinator or the Safe Church office for consultation and/or additional information.
Bonnie Nicholas // director, Safe Church Ministry
We are confused at the editor’s treatment of the article “Shunned: A Call to Restorative Grace.” Most of the editorial and the introduction to the article read more like a secular magazine. The editor notes that he is “publishing viewpoints that may be unpopular to some.” Mr. Chong also uses the phrase “morally equivalent” (a political term). These phrases and others suggest ideas to be debated. We are wondering what part of “Shunned,” where a believer asks for mercy and grace, needs debating? God commands us to forgive others (even enemies)! The Lord’s Prayer instructs us to forgive as do countless other New and Old Testament verses. In addition, Mr. Chong writes, “I stand in solidarity with the survivors.” Should not all believers stand in solidarity with the survivors AND the believing offender who is desperately looking for forgiveness?
John and Heidi Slinkman // Beulah, Mich.