Editor-in-chief’s Note: This story, published Feb. 22 under a different title, was revised on Feb. 23. We regret unintentionally conveying a diminished sense of the seriousness of the situation for staff in our earlier version.
Christian Reformed Church executive director Colin Watson Sr. informed the Council of Delegates at its recent meeting that there has been an increase in the number of offensive comments, as well as racist posts, on social media and anonymous letters and postcards, leaving staff concerned for their safety. Some of the communications raised to the level of reporting to the police.
The 53-member Council meets three times a year to conduct the work of the CRC’s synod between those annual meetings. Its most recent meeting was by video conference Feb. 17-19.
Council members were shown a PowerPoint presentation displaying some of the concerning material and were told that several of the comments came from officebearers in the CRC. Some of the postcards and a letter were mailed directly to Mark Stephenson, serving as director of the CRC’s Office of Social Justice (OSJ) and Race Relations as well as the director of Disability Concerns. “The letter was sent by someone I know. And the return address was right on the letter,” Stephenson said. He said law enforcement officers visited the individual, and they believe the staff are not in direct danger. “But it's extremely upsetting,” he said.
Stephenson said that people have every right to object to communications that come from OSJ. “The concern is when there are personal attacks. That moves away from civil conversations.” He noted that much of it is publicly posted on social media.
Members of the COD responded with deep concern to the seriousness of the details of the threats outlined in the presentation.
John Lee, Classis Iakota, said it was important to acknowledge and repent.
“This is our problem, our reality,” he said. “And we need to own it and fight against it. Repent of it, confess it.”
Drew Sweetman, Classis Muskegon, said it is hard to think that these are people who are in our pews. “I’ve wondered if some of what we are experiencing is that we might be and probably are engaged in grief work,” he said, “part of what we’re facing as a denomination.”
Other delegates asked about security in the denominational office building in Grand Rapids, Mich. Director of finance and operations John Bolt noted that there is a lot of security, including having unarmed security staff patrolling the building and requiring ID badges for entry beyond the reception desk. “We connect regularly with the Michigan State Police for guidance about security.”
Watson told the delegates that he appreciated their prayers. He implored delegates, “As we go about our daily ministry, if we even hear someone speaking in a derogatory manner, about anyone else, regardless of race, regardless of class, I would just ask that we please confront this. As Christians, I do believe that we can be different, be the salt and light God wants us to be. Please, as you hear folks denigrating others, if we could all just stop right there and say, ‘This is not Christian. This is not what God wants us to be, and we've got to stop this.’ We've got to be a light in society that ends this. Otherwise there is no hope.”