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 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.

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