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Faculty Membership Requirements
updated May 22, 2008

NOTE: The document below was added to the Calvin Web site in November 2007. Because the Grand Rapids Press again covered this situation in May 2008 we have updated this document by adding links to the May Press stories. But the remainder of the document is presented as it was written in the fall of 2007.

In recent days Calvin College has received a variety of communications about the October 31, 2007 Grand Rapids Press story on Calvin professor Dr. Denise Isom. We appreciate the wide array of comments we have received on this issue, both those that are supportive of the college and its faculty church membership requirement, and those that question Calvin's decision in the case of Dr. Isom vis a vis our requirements for faculty.

Our hope is that some further explanation of why Calvin has this requirement might be useful as people seek to better understand this situation.

No Slight Intended of Messiah Missionary Baptist

(Note: Some fall 2007 GR Press links were no longer working in spring 2008 due to the Press' archiving system; spring 2008 link are apt to expire as well)

Before getting to that explanation, however, allow us to address one part of the Press story that has caused many great regret at Calvin: the comments of the Reverend Clifton Rhodes, senior pastor of Messiah Missionary Baptist Church.

Pastor Rhodes is the longtime shepherd of Messiah and is well-regarded in West Michigan ministerial circles. One of his close colleagues was the Reverend Morris Greidanus, the former pastor of First Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids and a former member of the Calvin Board of Trustees.

Reverend Rhodes saw Calvin's decision to deny Dr. Isom's request for an exception as a slight. We very much regret this, as the decision was in no way reflective of him or his church. Indeed Calvin has great respect for Reverend Rhodes, for his congregation and for the work his church is doing in Grand Rapids. Ultimately this decision is not about Pastor Rhodes, nor Messiah, nor the Baptist denominations in general.

Maintaining a Reformed Identity

Rather this decision, and the church membership requirement, are about what Calvin needs to do to maintain its mission and identity as a distinctively Reformed institution of higher learning. For more than 130 years Calvin has been affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church, and we believe that Reformed theology and a Reformed world and life view and heritage have served the college well. The history of Christian institutions of higher education in this country justifies caution in this area. Nearly all Christian colleges and universities that distanced themselves from their founding denominations and theological traditions eventually also drifted away from being Christian in any meaningful way.

We believe that Calvin College holds a distinctive place in Christian higher education. There are many good Christian liberal arts colleges in North America, but Calvin strives for a specific kind of Christian intellectual engagement with modern culture. At Calvin, faith and curriculum come together in an academic climate that can produce students and research that make positive changes in the world. Rooted in this climate, students develop into transformative leaders, eager to work for renewal wherever they are called.

Our faculty membership requirement -- which states that Calvin faculty members be active members of a Christian Reformed congregation or of a congregation that is part of a denomination that is in ecclesiastical fellowship with the CRC -- is, at its most basic level, intended to define, support and maintain the distinctively Reformed mission and identity of Calvin College through its faculty, its most important resource. Simply put the college believes that its faculty can best have the desired combination of Reformed confessional identity and practice if they are part of a Reformed church community.

The Recent Request for an Exception

In the case of Dr. Isom, following deliberations and recommendations by the college's Professional Status Committee and the Executive Committee of the Board, both of which interviewed her, the full board had a chance to extensively deliberate her request for an exception to the membership requirement. After those deliberations the full Board voted, with the outcome that the Board asked Dr. Isom to abide by the college's church membership requirement.

Despite what some have charged, Dr. Isom has not been fired from Calvin, nor will she be fired. She had been on a tenure track appointment at the college, pending her decision regarding a church home. If she chooses to not find a church home that is within the bounds of the college's requirement, she will be placed on a term appointment at the college which would then expire at the end of the 2008-2009 school year.

Our hope however is to continue a dialogue with Dr. Isom and to see her continue her valuable work at Calvin and find a church home that is within the framework of the church membership requirement.

The Case for Diversity

This has been a difficult case for many at the college especially because we are committed to diversity in our students, staff and faculty. In 2004, the faculty of the college formally adopted From Every Nation: A Revised Comprehensive Plan for Racial Justice, Reconciliation and Cross-cultural Engagement at Calvin College (FEN). This document articulates a vision as well as goals and strategies for transforming Calvin into a college that is always vigilant in recognizing racism, always conscientious in promoting reconciliation, and always active in the work of restoring a healthy multicultural community. The FEN document also was formally approved in 2004 by the Board of Trustees.

But we also are committed to remaining a Reformed community. We believe that there is room in higher education for a wide variety of colleges, including secular and Christian, and that within the realm of Christian colleges there needs to be room for distinctively Catholic institutions, distinctively Baptist institutions, distinctively Reformed institutions and many others.

Moving Forward

We know we will continue to discuss what it means to be Reformed and what it means to be truly reflective of God's Kingdom. We know we will continue to face difficult decisions about how those two commitments come together. We hope we will make the right decisions and we hope that we will continue to be supported, but also challenged, even as we have been supported and challenged in this instance. We ask that whether you agree or disagree with us you will pray for us.

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