Rev. James LaGrand was a courageous and outspoken defender of racial justice and diversity in the church and society. He had great compassion for people who were poor and marginalized. LaGrand’s devotion to Christ defined his life, and this love called him to preach the gospel in word and deed. LaGrand died on July 4 from Lewy Body disease. He was 74.
With a background of teaching in Nigeria and degrees in English literature and divinity, LaGrand graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1969. He served three Christian Reformed congregations: Garfield CRC (Chicago, Ill.); All Nations CRC (Halifax, N.S.); and Beacon Light CRC (Gary, Ind.).
During those years, LaGrand took study leaves to England and Switzerland and worked toward a Ph.D., which he received magna cum laude. His thesis, The Earliest Christian Mission to All Nations. was published by the University of South Florida and later by Eerdmans. “I thought of him as one of the most intellectually gifted pastors of the CRC,” said a pastor colleague. Rather than an academic career, however, LaGrand continued to use his gifts as a pastor.
LaGrand’s fearlessness, energy, and passion accompanied him in his pursuit of the gospel’s mandates. He worked for the integrity of the church’s witness to the gospel, whether in the text of the Heidelberg Catechism, the fight for racial integration in Chicago-area Christian schools in the 1970s, the integration of women in church office, or through disentangling ties between the Christian Reformed Church of North America and apartheid South Africa.
LaGrand was a loving husband, father, grandfather, and friend. He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Virginia; children David and Melissa, John and Patricia, Paul and Sarah, Peter and Kristen; and 11 grandchildren. LaGrand’s most recent grandchild was born the day before his funeral. The baby was named Shalom in memory of the shalom for which LaGrand worked so hard.