It took only a few minutes for Synod 2017 to unanimously pass a minor change to the Council of Delegates Governance Handbook. But some say that minor change may result in lower ethnic minority representation in the new Council.
Synod, the annual gathering of the Christian Reformed Church, was responding to a request from Classis Hudson. The request was to allow each classis (regional group of churches) to select its own representative to the new Council of Delegates rather than having synod select from a slate of nominees.
Synod responded by agreeing to the change, which is intended to give more ownership to classes.
“If the spirit of the move toward the Council of Delegates structure is a return to greater ownership by classis, we wondered if the slate of nominees approach really achieves that goal,” said Joel Vande Werken, Classis Hudson, one of the primary authors of the request.
Reggie Smith, Director of Offices of Race Relations and Social Justice, appreciates the intent of Classis Hudson’s request, but he worries that synod may not have taken the diversity question seriously enough. “Given our cultural default behavior to select people we know and are comfortable with, it may unintentionally overlook very qualified ethnic minorities whose voices need to be heard at all levels of the denomination—classical and synodical."
“It solves a procedural issue,” he continued, “but may unintentionally harm those voices at the synodical level.”
Ethnic adviser David Cheung shares Smith’s concerns. “Even at the classical level currently, non-Anglo churches are rarely represented at the executive of classis.”
Vande Werken made it clear the change was never intended to diminish diverse representation. “We made sure we included a sentence of keeping in mind the CRC’s commitment to diversity in the request,” he said.
CRC executive director Steven Timmermans does not think it makes a huge difference. “Neither approach ensures diversity,” Timmermans said. “Our commitment to diversity in every nook and cranny of the denomination must precede either approach [of single or slate nominees]. The hope is that classes, with the assistance of the nominating services committee, are always generating a diverse pool of nominees for the Council of Delegates.”
Although Cheung thinks this helps, it does not guarantee minority voices are heard. “If [minority representation] is optional, it will easily be overlooked.” Cheung prefers dedicated seats for various groups to ensure their voices are part of the process.
Smith hopes the Council of Delegates will pay particular attention to that nominating process. “I wonder what mechanisms are there to evaluate this process? If, say, Synod 2018 brings forth a council that lacks diversity, what do we do? Do we really pause and grapple with the question of why and try to correct it? Or, do we just simply say, ‘Oh well, there’s always next year’? We can feel bad about it, or do we really change?”
Cheung hopes that denominational leadership will be more sensitive to language and cultural factors that restrict certain ethnic groups from full participation. “Some ethnic communities do not speak up because aggressiveness is not part of their culture,” he said. “We need to be more intentional in inviting these groups into participation, as they rarely assert themselves.”
Smith agrees with the need for greater intentionality. “Classes need to look hard for those voices with different strengths.” In the meantime, he wondered, “Are we choosing expedience over humility?”
Synod 2017 is meeting at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Ill., from June 9-15. For continuous coverage, download the Banner app on your mobile device or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook or @crcbanner on Twitter. You can find more tweeting by following hashtag #crcsynod. News stories will be posted at thebanner.org several times daily. For CRC Communications releases and the webcast, please visit crcna.org. Unless noted otherwise, all photographs are by Karen Huttenga.