Synod 2023, on a voice vote, upheld the appeal of the council of St. Joseph Christian Reformed Church of St. Joseph, Mich. The council was appealing an October 2022 ruling by Classis Holland (the regional group of churches to which St. Joseph belongs), which had held that suspended church members have standing to file overtures, overruling the local consistory.
In its appeal, the St. Joseph church council said that Classis Holland did not follow church order in making its ruling, saying that such order gives local churches the decision-making ability to suspend membership privileges.
An overture had been made to synod by two members of the St. Joseph church, calling for providing procedures for reporting of abuse by current and past church leaders in keeping with the 2019 Addressing the Abuse of Power report. However, the committee that reviewed the church’s appeal said the consistory considered the overtures “illegitimate” because of the members’ suspended status.
“Church order gives primary authority to the local consistory in matters regarding church discipline, including the rights and privileges of members,” said Matthew Ford, a delegate from Classis Greater Los Angeles and chair of the committee that reviewed the appeal.
In its appeal, the St. Joseph church claimed a member of the Holland Classis executive team “breached the confidentiality of the parties involved” by reading a portion of a letter where the church’s name was specifically mentioned during discussion. Holland Classis has since apologized for the breach of confidentiality.
“We … discerned that though there were some mistakes made by several parties, it also seemed that several parties were seeming to do their best in the midst of (a) difficult situation,” Ford said.
Looking for clarity going forward for how members under general discipline can seek an appeal, the committee proposed that synod direct the Office of General Secretary to put together a task force (or similar body) to design and/or clarify an appeals process for such cases. Zachary King, the CRC’s general secretary, noted the inclusion of “similar body” and suggested that with the number of committees and task forces that have already been called for, this task might be given to an existing group. Jodi Gillmore, Classis Holland, spoke in favor of “some sort of body taking on creating more clarity for how to do this.”
“I know there is a lot of hurt and people feeling like they had not been heard. I’m in favor of creating something to make it more clear,” Gillmore said.
Synod 2023 is meeting June 9-15 at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod. Visit crcna.org/synod for the synod schedule, webcast, recordings, photos, committee reports, and liveblog. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church.
About the Author
Greg Chandler is a freelance news correspondent for The Banner. He lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.