Professor Leaves Calvin College over Church Choice

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After negotiating with Calvin College’s administration about her choice to attend a Baptist church, education professor Denise Isom accepted a job elsewhere this spring.

As the official college of the Christian Reformed Church, the Grand Rapids, Mich., school requires all faculty to attend a Christian Reformed church or a church in ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRC.

“We were disappointed that she left,” said college president Gaylen Byker. “Calvin will have to continue to deal with the idea of being a Reformed institution and the tensions that causes with expanding diversity.”

Byker acknowledged that the college had been working out an agreement with Isom whereby she could continue to attend Messiah Baptist Church in Grand Rapids and be a CRC member, but called the details of the agreement “a private personnel matter.”

In response to the issues that cases like Isom’s raise, the college’s Board of Trustees established a “Task Force on Reformed Identity and Mission of the College.” The task force’s mandate includes consideration of faculty and staff church membership requirements and of the college’s relationship to the CRC.  

The task force includes faculty, administrative staff, board members, and the denomination’s executive director, Rev. Jerry Dykstra.

“We think that remaining distinctly Reformed is very important,” said Byker. “Being generally Christian has not worked in the past [for other institutions], and I doubt that it will work in the future.”

Isom declined an interview with The Banner.

About the Author

Roxanne VanFarowe is a freelance writer who lives in the woods with her artist husband James and their five children in Hillsborough, North Carolina. They are members of Blacknall Presbyterian Church in Durham.