Responding to a “strong message of concern and pain,” Synod 2009 instructed the denomination’s Board of Trustees to come up with a strategy to increase multiethnic representation in the denomination’s leadership.
The message came to Synod 2009 via a letter from participants in the CRC’s Multiethnic Conference held at the same time as the opening days of synod (see pp. 28-29).
They wrote regarding a restructuring that took place last fall in denominational leadership that excluded the only person of color who had a voice and vote on a senior advisory team (see “Minority Voice Lost,” June 2009, p. 13).
The conference’s letter was ruled not legally before synod, but its contents were discussed in an advisory committee.
CRC Executive Director Rev. Jerry Dykstra said the restructure had “put us in reverse rather than ahead on nonwhite participation” but added “the restructure was not done with that in mind.”
Some delegates expressed a desire to know exactly what message the letter from the Multiethnic Conference conveyed. “They took significant energy and concern to communicate something to synod,” said Rev. Thomas Dykman. “I am concerned that we do not know what that concern was.” Delegates who had reviewed the letter said they had done their best to represent its concerns.
Although the letter did not come to synod through the normally prescribed channels, Rev. Peter Borgdorff, executive director emeritus, said there is historical precedent for synod receiving communications from the Multiethnic Conference over the years.
He explained that because the conference meets at the same time as synod, there isn’t time for the prescribed channels but that synods receive the communications as a matter of cultural sensitivity.
Synod 2009 instructed the Board of Trustees to be “relentless and faithful advocates in promoting multiethnic communication, dialogue, and leadership development at the denominational, classical, and congregational levels.”
“We believe the current structure of denominational leadership does not adequately address the fundamental concerns regarding advancement of people of color,” read the statement adopted by synod.
Elder Victoria Gibbs, Classis Grand Rapids East, advocated for the mandate but added that she was disappointed with the current leadership situation.
“This [mandate] gets us close to where we were five years ago, but not even close to where we could have been,” she said.
Rev. Dan Ackerman, Classis Grand Rapids South, said he found the need for the directive “insulting,” considering the years of work that people of color have done to create racial sensitivity in the denomination.
“When actions are taken by staff to eliminate positions occupied by people of color, and the Board of Trustees met and said they didn’t have to look at it, we’re going pre-2000,” he said.
“It’s been very unfortunate that it happened not only at the denominational office but at a number of places where people of color were working in strategic positions and have been bumped out,” said Rev. John Hoekwater, Classis Northern Illinois.
About the Author
Roxanne VanFarowe is a freelance writer who claims both Canadian and American citizenship and grew up in the Christian Reformed Church. She is a member of Blacknall Presbyterian Church in Durham, North Carolina.