CRC Takes More Steps Toward Diversity

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Elder Fronse Pellebon Smith, Classis Holland: “We already started too late. . . . We need to rise up together and see each other as equals.”

Photo: Karen Huttenga

Synod 2011 made several decisions with the intent of helping Christian Reformed Church leadership become more ethnically diverse.

Delegates voted 97-86 to set a goal that 25 percent of top leadership positions in the denomination be filled by persons of ethnic-minority backgrounds. Synod also approved measures to encourage “equitable diversity practices” in “hiring, training, communication, and management processes.”

However, in response to concerns raised by classes (regional groups of churches) and by a CRC ministry agency, synod mandated formation of an expanded task force to continue work of the current Diversity in Leadership Planning Group (DLPG).

Elder David Raakman, Classis Toronto: “This is a critical moment. We need to do something, and do something now.”

Photo: Karen Huttenga

“Let’s say we’re in a marathon to obtain diversity,” said elder Fronse Pellebon Smith, Classis Holland, speaking in favor of the 25 percent hiring goal. “If we think we’re going to win, we cannot walk the marathon. We already started too late. . . . We need to rise up together and see each other as equals.”

Elder David Raakman, Classis Toronto, agreed. “Let’s not walk, let’s run. This is a critical moment. We need to do something, and do something now.”

But several delegates protested that the goal was unnecessary.

“My fear is that we run the risk of making minorities feel token,” said elder Katie Ritsema-Roelofs, Classis Hackensack. “I’m a minority in every way at this synod, being young, a woman, and an ethnic minority. I would never want to feel that I got a position of leadership because of the color of my skin.”

Elder Katie Ritsema-Roelofs, Classis Hackensack: “I’m a minority in every way at this synod, being young, a woman, and an ethnic minority. I would never want to feel that I got a position of leadership because of the color of my skin.”

Photo: Karen Huttenga

Elder Tae Kim, Classis Greater Los Angeles, stated that many in his classis felt left out of the process of developing leadership diversity goals. “My heart is torn. . . . This is such an important, sensitive topic that if we do it the wrong way, I think there is a fear of it being tokenism. Going quickly may not be a good thing to do, because this is a sensitive matter.”

Rev. Alvern Gelder, Classis Atlantic Northeast, reported to synod on diversity in leadership and emphasized that the 25 percent hiring goal is not legally binding, but meant to spur on efforts that are already in place. “We speak of goal, not quota. These are things that have already been adopted, but these goals are put in front of us with intentionality,” he said.

Synod was informed by its advisory committee that, “while a target of 25 percent multiethnic leadership in its senior level positions seems lofty to attain, we were informed that the CRC is just four hires away from meeting this goal.” The senior positions referred to include 36 people, and five of those positions are currently held by persons of ethnic minority.

Elder Tae Kim, Classis Greater Los Angeles: “My heart is torn. . . . I think there is a fear of it being tokenism. Going quickly may not be a good thing to do, because this is a sensitive matter.”

Photo: Karen Huttenga

The matter of diversity in leadership resulted from a concern at Synod 2009 that racial minorities were being excluded from a senior staff decision-making body, the CRC’s Ministry Leadership Team, due to restructuring. As a result the DLPG was formed.

Synod declined to adopt the DLPG’s entire report, however, responding to concerns raised by three classes—Greater Los Angeles, Huron, and Pacific Hanmi (a classis of Korean CRC congregations)—and by Back to God Ministries International, the CRC’s media broadcasting agency.

Concerns raised included “lack of clarity,” a “top-down approach,” a “mis-focused strategy,” “lack of time for study and implementation,” and (from Classis Pacific Hanmi) “representatives of the Korean community, the largest minority ethnic group in the CRCNA, were invisible and their voices inaudible in the report.”

In response, synod instructed the Board of Trustees to appoint an expanded task force to “allow for input from a broader range of stakeholders.” The task force will work on recommendations of the initial DLPG report that were not adopted by Synod 2011, including recommendations concerning the role of the director of Race Relations, the addition of measurable goals, and strategies for raising up diverse leaders at all levels of the church.

The new task force will report to Synod 2013.

For more coverage while synod is in session, including webcasts, photos, a discussion forum, reports, and more, see the Synod 2011 website.

About the Author

Roxanne Van Farowe is a freelance writer living in North Carolina. She has reported on synod, the annual decision-making gathering of the CRC, for many years.

See comments (9)

Comments

are any " top leadership positions " filled by women and if so what percentage?
If not does the committee need to consider this?

What percentage of the CRC is Caucasian?
What percentage of the CRC is considered non-white? (Korean? Indian? African-American? etc?)

Just because there are a goodly of these various minority persons does not mean we should adopt a quota system. Qualifications should be the only consideration.

This quota criteria was done at least once with a Banner hire and it turned out to be a very poor choice.

The larger issue here resonates with me. As a Calvin faculty member who is African American, I struggle with diversity issues at the college. The CRC should be applauded for wanting to ensure a diverse leadership. At the same time, there can be no tokenism as the elder from NJ mentioned. This has to done with extreme care and sensitivity. Our God is a God of equity. Beyond this, what are local congregations in diverse cities and neighborhoods doing? Are these churches intentional in sharing the gospel to people groups outside of the predominate people of group of the church? Foreign missions can take place in American cities.

Finally! A chance for Frisians to get a top leadership position in the denomination.

I was once a member of a church where diversity in leadership was a top priority. The methods chosen to get those candidates into positions of leadership was poorly done causing both pain and regret on the part of the congregation and the candidates chosen. I will not name that church but I hope that church will report to the committee on its findings so that those methods will not be used. Ability and qualifications should be major topics of discussion and use for obtaining the water mark of 25% diverse leadership positions in the CRCNA. I hope this is not a "race" nor a "marathon" but a gradual process whereby the CRCNA and the leaders chosen in those diverse positions of leadership will both be blessed and grow in the stature of Jesus Christ. Tokenism is reverse discrimination and will not be blessed by God in His Church.

Does this mean that, when given the choice between 2 equally qualified candidates for a position within CRC, the "ethnic minority" will be given the advantage. What about the "non-minority" applicant
who may be slightly better qualified? This decision of Synod smacks of "affirmative action" (a.k.a. reverse discrimination) which is a bias in and of itself and can hurt both sides of the equation. When I attended law school in a year where only 180 of 1,300 applicants were accepted and met a "First Nations" student, I assumed he was admitted because he was a "minority" who had benefitted from the lower entrance requirements expected of First Nations applicants. As it turned out, I received a lesson in humility (and an awareness of my own bias) when I found out his marks were in the 98th percentile. He himself found the affirmative action offensive. Let's eliminate the bias on both sides of the process.

Our denomination is not some secular institution that must be regulated by government to protect minorities.
All the guidance we need is written on our hearts. And in this case, it's closer to home. We're talking of our brothers and sisters in Christ. So please let's not imitate the carnal world.

Interesting to note -two of the three minorities shown here spoke AGAINST the motion. Is the CRC going backwards in all areas at this Synod - reviving a quota like system for diversity that didn't work in America in the 60's and 70's, retaining the outdated form of subscription, and going back to a top-down form of leadership that has the CRC's direction and money at the discretion of a Board of Trustees that, when given the choice, chose to NOT tell the truth to the entire denomination? (And has yet to apologize in any form.)

I know this is a Christian organization, so why do you seek after worldly values? I don't believe God sees the color of our skin but what is in our heart. Leadership positions should be held by those who are called by God to do so,not because they belong to a minority.

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