Christopher Meehan’s book Growing Pains: How Racial Struggles Changed a Church and School documents the impact of a group of African-American parents from Lawndale CRC who sought to enroll their children at Timothy Christian School in Cicero, Ill., in the 1960s. The book is filled with historic pictures, excerpts from archival documents, and first-hand accounts from many of the key players in the story.
Yet it is more than just the recounting of an effort to integrate a school, Meehan asserts, “I began to realize this was a story about racism, when it lives in our hearts and plays out in our everyday lives,” he says.
It does not take long to realize that this is neither a pretty nor a simple story. The book takes a hard look at the politics of race in a particular community in a particular time in U.S. history and in the Christian Reformed Church in North America. People took sides. Lives were disrupted, relationships were strained, hopes were dashed, and the convictions of faith and conscience were tested.
Ultimately, the African-American Lawndale parents lost their fight to enroll their children at Timothy. Many—both African-American and white—emerged from the conflict with emotional scars, but some emerged with a deepened faith and a heightened determination to work for racial reconciliation in the church and beyond.
Meehan does not seek to place blame, though it is a great temptation to the reader to want to find fault somewhere. The book is not about blame or shame, it is about truth telling and understanding. It takes readers back to a painful time in the history of the CRC.
However, careful readers will find that the book is not just about the past, but also about the present and the future of the church. The book ends on a note of optimism and points to some positive changes that came out of this painful time. The future will depend on the lessons we learn from our past. (Eerdmans)