Not the Time or the Place

Vantage Point
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Having had the honor of being a delegate to several synods of the Christian Reformed Church, I’m always so pleased and thankful for the ethnic variety I see today on the floor of synod.

We’ve had ethnic advisers for some years now. And Synod 2004 marked the first time an African American, Rev. Emmett A. Harrison, was elected an executive officer of the annual meeting—in his case as vice president. That’s cause for rejoicing.

My experience at Synod 2004 was, as usual, a positive one. I found a good balance of serious business and good humor. One negative situation, however, just won’t leave me, so I’ve decided to share my concern:

those of us who’ve long been a part of the CRC seem to have an ongoing need to affirm our Dutch origins in inappropriate contexts.

I’m thinking in particular of a luncheon organized during synod to honor retiring Calvin Seminary and Calvin College staff. The food was great, the ambience festive. In the course of the luncheon, though, something rather sad happened—at least in my opinion.

A poem was read that included various Dutch words. As someone conversant in Dutch I had no difficulty with the words and their humorous intent, but I couldn’t laugh. I was painfully aware of others around me in that festive room: a black vice president, ethnic advisers, and delegates of Hispanic and Native American origin. What were they to think of the Dutch words and the laughter that came from at least a few corners?

I’d talked with an African American leader in the church earlier that week. She’d indicated that even though she’d been part of the CRC for a good number of years, she still did not feel totally embraced by the church.

I’m proud of our racial and cultural inclusiveness, but I’m concerned that some will continue to experience it as tokenism as long as events such as the one I’ve described continue to happen.

I love the CRC. I simply wish to plead that we practice what we preach and teach. Let’s affirm our inclusiveness by excluding words and ethnically exclusive behaviors that are not appropriate in public contexts such as gatherings of synod, classes, or local congregations.

About the Author

Rev. Henry Jonker is pastor of Ladner Christian Reformed Church, Delta, British Columbia.
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