I had originally meant to protect the Christian denomination in which all this occurred by keeping it as well as all individual parties nameless. Since my disappointing (non)interactions (some of which are catalogued here, for example) with some of the higher-ups in the denominational leadership, I have decided that anonymity in this case will only reward the apathy, the deliberate attempts to excuse, deny or cover up the ‘crime,’ and the shocking disrespect shown me as a young Christian woman. At present, I plan to do my best to keep individuals and congregations anonymous.
The denomination in question is the CRCNA, the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Its churches range in size from very small to very large, vary in composition by ethnicity (more on that below) and age (though it seems that in many areas it is aging), and can be found in both rural areas and in large cities. My impression is that, economically speaking, the denomination has been predominantly upper middle class. Doctrinally it has much in common with presbyterianism, but has its roots in the continental rather than the insular (i.e. British) reformed tradition. It has historically enjoyed a reputation for theological conservatism and intellectual vigor, placing great emphasis on the importance of sending one’s kids to ‘Christian’ school (see the About page). Per the Better Together Project Report, some in the CRC believe the intellectual vigor, and indeed rigor, still characterizes the denomination: “[w]e’re very good at carefully building highly cohesive and articulate studies of issues” (5). Whether that is the case remains to be seen. Ethnically, it remains predominantly Dutch, but is growing more diverse and has a considerable Korean contingent. Its strongholds are in the American Midwest, especially Michigan, where the denominational headquarters are located, and in Eastern Canada.
Because I had been preserving the anonymity of the denomination, I did not think it necessary to explain in detail what these components are or how they relate to one another. Now that all know it is the CRC, it is worth briefly describing the different levels of leadership and how they work. More information can be found on the denomination’s website. Further background on this situation can be found at Exhibit A., and more definitions of denominational/situational particulars (e.g., ‘classical deputies’) are included where relevant throughout the blog. Because it is a good-sized group of churches and people, disclaimers about generalizations stated in the Introduction apply.
At the local church level, leadership is composed of the pastor(s) and a council, made up of elders and deacons, typically lay members. These elders and deacons are generally elected to office by their congregations, and hold office for two years. In my experience, some churches have office elections every year for half of the seats; there is thus some continuity year to year (e.g., a church has 3 elders and 3 deacons total; one year there will be elected 2 new elders and 1 new deacon, while the other positions are filled by those who were ‘new’ the year before; in the next cycle those 2 deacons and 1 elder will step down, and so on). The council is meant to be a representative leadership, ideally peopled by Christians qualified to lead according the standards set out in the pastoral epistles. They along with the pastor are responsible for leading the congregation and overseeing the church’s affairs, from spiritual to financial. Interested readers can check out the particulars in the church order. The denomination’s website offers this brief overview of church governance. In practice, I have learned that councils need their congregations’ approval before calling pastors to their churches; they do not need to even inform congregations of their intent to terminate pastors before they do it (see, for starters, Exhibits L, M, & R).
Loosely speaking, a group of local churches in a geographical area make up a classis. Classes are then grouped into regions. These regions vary in size, as seen in the classis page map. These classes meet regularly, with a minimal number of council members and pastors from every congregation in the classis required to attend. For more information on the classes and what they do, see the above-linked page. Classes are the bodies to which local churches and their councils are accountable. In an Article 17 case like that described in this blog, the termination of a pastor by his council must be presented to the pastor’s classis and ‘approved’ by it. Weirdly, the same classis is then responsible to aid the pastor in ‘getting back in the saddle.’
At the top is the denominational Synod, which meets every year (similar to the Presbyterians’ General Assemblies). For more information on Synod, see here. For our purposes, it suffices to say that issues—from theology to morality—discussed and ruled on by Synod are generally binding on all churches in the CRC. Synod is also the place to appeal decisions such as Classical approval of an Article 17. Classes are ostensibly ‘accountable’ to Synods.
Denominational publications include the CRC’s magazine, The Banner, mentioned in a few places in the blog. I am not interested here in discussing what has ‘gone on’ in The Banner over the past several years, but its features, columns, and expressed sympathies have not been without controversy. The CRC also puts out a daily devotional called Today, relevant in the upcoming post on inhumanity and hypocrisy.
12 July 2016.