Return to the Calvin College homepage  
The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of Calvin College
About Jacquie - Kudos For Spark - All About Doc -Getting History Right
More "Class Notes" Dialogue

About Jacquie

I was delighted to hear about the direction of Jacquelyn Nickerson's life (Summer 1999), and I thought that you might be interested in hearing a bit more about how she came to Calvin.

I grew up at Franklin St. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids in the 1930s and early 1940s. There were very few African Americans in Grand Rapids at the time, and in the Dutch community we had essentially no experience with them, since there were none in our churches or our Christian schools. We were almost totally naïve about race.

During World War II, like most young men of my generation, I went into military service. The army was totally segregated - a fact which did not enter my consciousness until 1946, when I was chosen to go to Officer Candidate School, at Fort Eustis, Va., and found myself in one of the very first classes which had both black and white students. At that point my education in the issues of racism began, very intensely. I found that I had no sympathy for those of my white classmates who could not stand being in a racially integrated unit.

During that rather grueling OCS experience, several of my black classmates and I became good friends. After graduation I was assigned, as a second lieutenant, to a Transportation Corps Truck Company in which all the enlisted men were black, and all the officers were white. It was an organization in which the black sergeants had all served honorably in various war zones, and took pride in running a first-class organization. I had great admiration and respect for those men, and I think that I earned their respect. I withstood intermittent abuse from some officers in other all-white units who couldn't tolerate my defense of my black colleagues.

With that background of experience, I completed my army service and came back to Calvin, in 1947, as one of the wave of veterans. There were many issues at Calvin, at that time, but race was not one of them - it simply had not yet come over the horizon there. There were no black persons at Calvin.

In 1949 I became Student Council president. The Student Council took note of the fact that there were no black students, although by that time the Grand Rapids African American community had grown greatly. We decided to recruit. I contacted each of the pastors of the black churches in Grand Rapids and asked to speak to their congregations about Calvin College. At each church I brought the same message: "There are no students at Calvin from this church. Calvin is an excellent college, a Christian college and some of the young people from this church should be going there. Perhaps they have not applied because they feel that they would not be welcome. I am here to tell you that not only would they be welcome, but Calvin needs them, just as they need Calvin. Please apply."

The next year there were two black students at Calvin, Jacqueline Mabin and Don Nickerson. We all admired their courage, poise and ability. They were thoroughly welcomed, so much so that at times they were embarrassed. They succeeded at Calvin and others followed.

Since then, I have often wondered what happened to them after Calvin, and now your article provided that information, which pleases me greatly. Coincidentally, many years later, All Saints Episcopal Church, East Lansing, was my church during the time that I was on the Medical School Faculty at Michigan State, but I did not discover that Jacquie and Don Nickerson were also there. I am glad to know that both she and I are lay Eucharistic ministers.

Gordon W. Gritter '51

Avila Beach, Calif.

Kudos for Spark

Before Frank Speyers joined Calvin's faculty, we were neighbors and friends in Reston, Va. He sent me the Summer 1999 issue of Spark, and I am very impressed with your magazine. It's cleanly designed, very readable and interesting to a reader who hadn't even heard of your college until a few years ago. What sets your magazine apart from others is the Christian testimony of various faculty and students. I graduated from a Presbyterian college 30 years ago but to scan their alumni magazine now, you'd assume the college was secular and possibly even supported by the state. Keep up the good work on Spark.

Aneeta Brown

Washington, Mo.

All about "Doc"

It was with deep interest that I read the article "New Science Facility Gets a New Name" in the Fall 1999 Spark. I realize the Spark article was concerned with the development of the science facilities on the Calvin campus, however, I would like to broaden the summary of "Doc" DeVries as it appeared in Spark. As pointed out, he was indeed an inspiring teacher. He was an inspiring teacher because he was more than just a superior scientist. Similar to many of our great leaders he was truly a "man for all seasons."

Accompanying his spiritual life was a deep interest in each student in, as well as out, of his classes.

He had a broad interest in sports as demonstrated by his involvement in all the intercollegiate sports programs. He was particularly active in the golf and basketball programs and was a regular driver of the teams to their various competitions. He loved to play golf and did so frequently with students and colleagues alike. He was my role model (as well as a role model for many others), my friend, my professor of chemistry and, incidentally, my brother-in-law.

Robert J. Bolt '42

Davis, Calif.

Getting History Right

In "Calvin History: The War to End All Wars" (Fall 1999) a Calvin student is twice referred to as "Colombia." Colombia is a nation in South America; the figure is instead dressed as "Columbia," a literary term for America which is often embodied as a female. Perhaps your spellchecker is more political than poetical?

In addition, the same article indicates that the German government capitulated in November of 1911. The correct date should be November 1918.

David Steensma '92

Rochester, Minn.

More "Class Note" Dialogue

Editor's note: At press time, I received 23 for-publication letters or emails about the "Class Note" from a gay Calvin alumnus, easily the all-time record for response to any content contained in Spark. We chose to print representative letters from a variety of viewpoints; the remainder of the letters are viewable at the Spark On-line Edition website at . The conversation continues and it will be managed with a primary intent to inform and build up this subset of the body of Christ called "Calvin College alumni." Ed.

I was disappointed with the tone of the letters (Fall 1999) attacking the Spark for including Greg Simoncini's class note (Summer 1999). Rather than as an endorsement of the causes that Simoncini has devoted a great deal of time and energy to promoting, I understood the editor's decision as a thoughtful willingness to preserve a diversity of opinion in discussions of the difficult and contentious issues we Christians must grapple with in our efforts to serve God in a complex and pluralistic world.

Among the things that troubled me most about the letters is the authors' presumption that Simoncini's political affiliations are unambiguously contrary to the will of God. To be sure, many church members are certain that the practices defended by groups like the National Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund are "abominations." At the same time, however, millions of Christians see their faith as leading them to share with these groups the common goal of preserving all people's basic civil rights. Such a position is, I think, neither irrational nor morally indefensible. Regardless of what one thinks of the aims of those organizations, to label them derisively as "politically correct" and to dismiss the views of those whose opinions differ from our own is, in my view, avoiding the hard work of seeking to understand what it means to live a Christian life on a daily basis. Instead, it is easy to fall back into the political and cultural sectarianism from which the CRC has wisely been working to escape for decades.

One of the things I am grateful to have learned at Calvin is that being a Christian never absolves us from the responsibility to think. That is, the Reformed tradition compels us to struggle with competing notions of how best to effect scripture's admonition to "love one another." As part of this process, I believe we would do well to assume a more humble, tentative posture than we often do-one that might be call "a disposition of not being so sure." Rather than condemning an editor for printing a note from a Christian of strong faith and good will whose convictions have led him to forms of social activism that differ from those some of us would choose, permit me to suggest an alternative. Let's reserve our indignation for institutions and policies that hinder collective resistance to the injustices that accompany exclusion and intolerance.

Todd DeStigter '83
Chicago, Ill.

I hope Greg Simoncini knows that not all of his classmates share the sentiments expressed in the Fall 1999 Spark. I remember Greg as a person of courage and integrity and I was pleased to read about his recent accomplishments. I feel confident that in all of Greg's work his aim is to relieve the suffering of those who are in pain and to help guarantee the safety and civil rights of all members of society. Acts of violence and discrimination, such as the death last year of Matthew Shepard who was savagely beaten and left to die because of his homosexuality remind us that Greg's efforts are indeed worthy of recognition.

Sue Visser '83
Boulder, Colo.

I was disappointed and saddened to see your response to the letters in the Fall 1999 Spark. I too would object to printing that Class Note. More importantly, I disagree with your view that ".although the Bible has many specific things to say about homosexuality, what is not so clear is how the Christian community ought to relate to gays and lesbians who profess to be Christians."

Scripture is quite clear on how we ought to respond to practicing homosexuals or anyone else who is in sin. Homosexuality is detestable to the Lord (Lev. 18:22). As brothers and sisters in Christ we ought to have compassion and sorrow for our brother who is representing organizations that clearly oppose God's Word. He ought to be confronted on these issues in love with the Word of God.

As the editor of a "Christian" magazine that reaches thousands of people, you have a responsibility to make sure that the content is edifying to readers. This information was not in any way edifying. Overall, you do a wonderful job with thought-provoking and enriching articles. I was just so burdened by the surprising stance you took over this issue.

Julie Smith '93
Warrenville, Ill.

I would like to contribute my two cents worth to the debate about the "Class Notes" column. Please do not censor them. I enjoy reading what alumni are doing even if I do not approve. Tolerance and broad-mindedness are marks of a great university or college.

Susan Lacey '82
Coral Gables, Fla.

I thought your response was good regarding the inclusion of the questionable class note. Somehow "God is Love" gets overlooked or unfortunately leads to condescension.

Ron Dirkse '64
Tokyo, Japan

I was pleased to see what your reply was to the three letters about Greg Simoncini's class note. I agree that although the Bible does say specific things about homosexuality, it is better to err on the side of kindness in trying to understand our gay and lesbian brothers and sister in Christ. It is not easy to interpret the specific things the Bible does say about homosexuality and I am seeing more grey as I get older.

Anita Henderson '98
Portland, Or.

I received my Spark today and read the "Questionable Class Note" letters. I don't happen to agree with any of them, but that's not the reason for this note. I just wanted to thank you for your "grace"fully worded response: "We are called to follow the example of Jesus, who was noncompromising but overwhelmingly kind-hearted." Thanks for reminding me why I said yes to God's call to enter this thing called ministry.

Don Plasman '76
Downers Grove, Ill.

Every year I get a call from Calvin College wanting to know if I would contribute to Calvin. I always turn to Spark to see if I should give. When I finish reading, I always say a prayer for the college and then don't give, because Calvin rejects the clear teachings of the Bible. In the Fall issue, the letters to the editor condemn homosexuality, but unfortunately Spark does not. Further, we read that "Mastodons probably became extinct about 10,000 years ago. Today, paleontologists are trying to figure out why." Does this mean there was death before Adam sinned? When Calvin College returns to the teachings of the Bible, then I will open my wallet and send my children there.

Glenn P. Palmer '76
Norfolk, Va.

I just wanted to express my appreciation for the wisdom you have demonstrated in including the notice on Greg Simoncini in "Class Notes." It is quite obvious there are plenty of Calvin alumni who would like to ban such notices. Not I. I am convinced of God's love being extended to all, regardless of their sexual orientation. I don't ask that everyone accept my Christian beliefs. However, I do expect those who call themselves Christians to demonstrate generosity and grace in a manner befitting children of a God who sends rain and sun on the just and the unjust.

Tim Grubbs Lowly '81
Galena, Ill.

My, oh my! Whatever happened to a Calvin education in the early '80s? The letters you received from graduates from the early '80s were most amazing. Each person who wrote objected to the mere inclusion of information about Greg Simoncini. The letter writers objected in various ways to Mr. Simoncini's involvement in several gay and lesbian and pro-choice activities. Each of your letter writers seem to believe that is appropriate to censor information about Calvin graduates and limit information to things they think are acceptable activities. That is not the Calvin I learned to love and cherish.

There were problems with those letters, each of which relates to the education I received at Calvin some 20 years later. In all of the courses I took nobody ever suggested that there was some kind of litmus test of Christianity relating to sexual orientation. I took the courses in the Old and New Testament, along with Reformed doctrine and others. I am quite certain that in those courses we, at some point, dealt with Isaiah 56 which welcomes foreigners and eunuchs into God's Kingdom. I cannot imagine that the views expressed by the letter writers would not have been challenged by my early '60s Calvin professors. Perhaps that did not happen in the '80s. I sincerely hope that the writers are not representative of a Calvin education in those years.

Second, I suspect that the views expressed do not reflect the liberal arts education Calvin provided them. Rather, they are more a matter of current societal pressure in certain circles not necessarily reflective of those persons' Calvin education, stating notions that indicate they are not fully utilizing the education they received at Calvin.

Your editorial reply to these letters and the inclusion of the information on Mr. Simoncini should not have been the occasion for any second guessing of yourself or any apologia as to inclusion of all information concerning any Calvin graduate and their activities.

Lawrence R. Van Til '63
Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich.

The letters in the Fall 1999 Spark saddened me greatly. I was pleased when Mr. Simoncini's accomplishments were published. To move forward in areas of justice for gay and lesbian people takes tremendous courage. It is often done without support or understanding from the Calvin College community.

The letters of condemnation by Calvin alumni demonstrate the influence of fundamentalism and literal interpretation of Scripture within contemporary religious thought. Calvin College has tremendous evangelical resources available to help students and alumni move beyond these biases, if it wishes to do so. I believe that Calvin has the responsibility to educate students in critical thought, reflection and prayer on what appear initially to be controversial issues. I have never found condemnation of the marginalized, or their supporters, to be a trait of Jesus Christ.

Likewise, placing blame on Calvin College and the Spark editor for publishing Greg Simoncini's accomplishments only avoids honest communication. The editor's response for continuing dialogue with gay and lesbian Christians is to be applauded. My prayer is that the Calvin Alumni Board will be open to the Holy Spirit's movement an honest dialogue with its gay and lesbian alumni. The incidence of self-harm and suicide prevalent among gay and lesbian people living in isolation from one another is alarming. Calvin's Alumni Board has the ability to put into motion an outreach that is both life sustaining for its gay and lesbian alumni, as well as enriching for the Calvin community at large.

John Meulendyk '70
Bloomfield, Mich.

I formerly worked with Metanoia Ministries (Seattle) working with men and women seeking freedom from homosexuality. Even though I left Metanoia ten years ago, I have continued my involvement with this field of ministry.

I am encouraged by 1999 Synod's recognition that the CRC has not implemented pastoral care for its homosexual members. There are individuals and ministries who reach out to people struggling with homosexuality and other forms of sexual brokenness. True, our organization offers its services "to men and women who seek to understand sexuality and relationship." That is a different set of individuals from Greg Simoncini who endorses homosexuality as a viable lifestyle for the Christian. My reason for writing is to remind the Calvin alumni community--that not every person who experiences homosexuality endorses that sexual orientation as a legitimate, God-blessed lifestyle. God has the power and desire to transform the lives of all his children.

Keeping dialogue open between gay and lesbian alumni and the rest of the alumni is challenging. We must learn to talk to each other. We must build relationships with each other. Reminding the "Class Note" author that homosexuality is "sin" is not very important. He already knows what the bible teaches (both points of view). I'm sure he is familiar with theofficial stance of Calvin College and the Christian Reformed Church.

I don't "enjoy" reading about his activities, but they remind me that I have fellow Calvin alumni, brothers and sisters in Christ, who experience their sexual orientation as gay. They find it necessary to fight for the rights of gays and lesbians to express their sexuality in ways that offend other Christians. I hope this causes the rest of us to ask ourselves: Why is it so important for Greg to dedicate his life to homosexuality-promoting causes? What has happened within the church, and with us, that prevents the church from meeting the needs of both Christian and non-Christian homosexuals? Have we set up gays and lesbians so that it is more difficult for them to know our God who loves, forgives and seeks to redeem his children--gay or straight? May we grieve over our rejection of gay persons. May we repent, as the CRC Synod did this summer, over the lack of pastoral (and personal) care for individuals, who like Greg, have found that the church has so little to offer them, except requirements for change in areas that e often seem unwilling to apply to our own individual lives as it relates to our specific sin natures.

Douglas A. Houck '78
Denver, Colo.

"I was shocked and deeply.very dismayed.surprised and upset" by the outrage expressed in the three letters in the Fall 1999 Spark about Greg Simoncini's accomplishments. Mr. Simoncini has clearly devoted tremendous time and talents to attain leadership positions on boards that support human rights issues that he (and I) strongly believe in. While his accomplishments clearly are not appreciated by all Calvin alumni, they are, indeed, impressive and deserving of notice. It was courageous of him to submit the information for publication, and for you to publish it.

What I found very disheartening about the letters, though, was the vitriol with which the writers attacked both you and Mr. Simoncini. I had hoped, and even somehow deluded myself into believing, that the attitude toward homosexuality that I encountered as a student at Calvin 20 years ago would have softened. (I note with dismay that all three writers apparently attended Calvin at the same time I did. I wish I'd had the courage to come out then so I could have challenged their thinking!) I can only hope that the attitude on campus today is not so hostile. I find it ironic that the views the writers express only make it that much more difficult for a gay person to find spiritual fulfillment through the church. And by the way, I live with my partner of 17 years Michael Bacon in Boston, Mass.

Timothy Burgers '81
Boston, Mass.

I almost tossed my Calvin Sweatshirt in the dumpster after reading the three judgmental letters (Fall 1999) criticizing you for publishing Greg Simoncini's "Class Notes" announcement. It took me a few seconds to come to my senses and to remember that you actually DID PUBLISH Greg's Simoncini's "Class Notes" announcement, despite the certain controversy that would be forthcoming from a few pharisees. Three cheers to you for making the right, rather than the radical right-wing, decision.

If the Spark only chose to publish "Class Notes" accomplishments that met with the approval of the arch conservative letter writers, I would think that the "Class Notes" section would be quite brief, indeed! Perhaps we would hear of a newly ordained CRC minister once in awhile. Yes, most of our accomplishments probably wouldn't be Reformed enough, Christian enough, conservative enough or connected to "approved" organizations, causes or communities.

The alumni "Class Notes" section is intended to inform alumni of the personal news and professional accomplishments of ALL Calvin alumni, not just to list accomplishments that pass through someone's litmus test. I, for one, want to know what all of Calvin's alumni have been doing with their lives even if I don't approve of their corporation, organization, political perspective or lifestyle.

David Albright ex'83
San Francisco, Calif.

Thanks for your sensible and thoughtful reply to the letters printed about Greg Simoncini. And thanks for printing the news about Greg. You have at least one alumna (me) who thinks you made the right decision.

Karen Helder DeVos '61
Grand Rapids, Mich.

I was shocked and deeply offended to discover you had printed a letter written by a resident of Virginia. Since tobacco is one of Virginia's chief crops, that alum is condoning a highly addictive activity responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people annually. Doesn't that alum know that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? Are there really no limits as to what you would print in Spark?

Next, I was very dismayed that you printed a letter from Colorado, where the Columbine tragedy demonstrated vividly the evil lifestyles of some Colorado residents. If you really cared for that letter writer's soul, you wouldn't publish anything from his anti-God state. Instead, you would lead him out of Colorado and out of Satan's grasp.

Third, I was surprised and upset to read the letter by a Highland, Indiana, classmate. The Bible makes is abundantly clear that women are to keep silent on issues affecting the church! (Keep in mind that I love you, the sinner, but hate your prideful sin of speaking up on church matters.)

Editor of Spark, why must my alumni magazine be poisoned with these blatant violations of God's Word? Isn't it your job to eliminate information that doesn't fall within one of the God-ordained, God-inspired, God-sanctioned categories? It's not your job to reflect the Calvin alumni; it's your job to make sure people's names eventually get listed in "Marriages" and then pump out a few "Newcomers" in the years that follow. Now run along and do your job.

Cathy Sproul '89
Tucson, Ariz.

Why do you say "gays and lesbians who profess to be Christians?" Why can't you just say Christian gays and lesbians? I do appreciate your comment about following the example of Jesus to be kind-hearted, in some ways comparing the current opinions on homosexuals to past (I hope) opinions on women ministers. I'd love to see Calvin and the Spark support people who respect people, not discriminating by race, sexual preference, gender or religion.

Audrey Feyen Watson ex'74
Bainbridge Island, Wash.

The issue of gay alumni seems to haunt people associated with Calvin College. So, okay, the Calvin administration has deemed that there will not be a gay alumni association. But there is simply no way to deny or cover up the fact that Calvin College has gay alumni. And Greg Simoncini wanted to share his achievements with classmates and friends through the alumni magazine. Well, good for Greg! I don't know him from Adam, but he sounds to me like one cool dude.

Some time ago, in the midst of the gay alumni chapter debate, my husband, Dan DeVries, wrote a letter to this magazine about our teenage daughter, Gina, who has been identified as queer since she was 11 years old. We continue to be supportive and extremely proud of her accomplishments (the latest being a 1999 recipient of a Giraffe Award and 1999 recipient of the Wonder Girl award from the local chapter of the National Organization for Women.)

But here is what really struck me as I read through the letters in this latest publication:

One reader doesn't like Dr. Tiemstra's book on economics, and hopes that Calvin "has other professors who present economics from a politically conservative point of view." (I don't think you really have to worry about that.) But the plain fact is that capitalism and communism are economic systems; politicians use them to promote their own agendas. But this was the part that really got to me. "It would be more accurate to say that conservatives see a world in which behavior is determined by values, and liberals see a world in which behavior is determined by emotions." Well, that was humorously interesting. And then I turned the page to read that one alum was "shocked and offended" by Greg Simoncini's class note; another was "very dismayed," and yet another was "surprised and upset," and even the editor "struggled over whether or not to print" it. Whoa! If those aren't emotions, I don't know what are! And I certainly wouldn't classify those people as liberals.

The editor then goes on to say that it is apparently not "so clear how the Christian community ought to relate to gays and lesbians who profess to be Christians." He doesn't even mention bisexuals and transgenders! What about just treating them all like human beings? The editor goes on to justify the publishing of the class note by explaining that "we are called to follow the example of Jesus, who was non-compromising but overwhelmingly kind-hearted."

A silly institution!

Chris Zupanovich
San Francisco, Calif.


Sorry we GALA folk have gone and caused you a heap of trouble again. We'vebeen watching and discussing all the flack that appeared in the recent Spark letters column about your publication of Greg Simoncini's update.

And some of us were wondering about your standards. You say you "struggled" over whether or not to print anything about Greg. Did you struggle over whether or not to print letters dripping with invective and condemnation?The stuff in the letters column is commonly known as hate speech. It's part of a climate that leads to violence against gay people. But I didn't read anything about your struggle with whether or not to print it.

Or does a different standard apply? We were just wondering.

The letters sound exactly like what I heard when we originally placed an ad in the Banner for the Calvin Gay and Lesbian Alumni, or GALA. Maybe you should count your blessings. That particular editor also did what he thought was best, and got more than just a lot of nasty letters. He got dragged before Synod.

Nevertheless, I'm sorry you have to put up with all this. All of us Calvin GALA members are sorry about that. But none of us needs to apologize for being created gay, or for existing, or for having notable accomplishments in this world. Which, in case anybody asks, is not flat.

Paul Spyksma '79
Campbell, Calif.

In regards to the recent letters about Greg Simoncini's Class Note:

Let me begin by saying that I recognize the very difficult position that some of these controversial issues put you in and by giving you my thanks for having the courage to let the issue grace the pages of Spark at all. I am quite aware that you could simply suppress these letters and notes and have a much easier time of your job. Be assured that allowing gay and lesbian alumni to be heard is helping a lot.

Nonetheless, I also want you to know how personally hurtful letters like these are. I doubt anyone, no matter how much they might have agreed or disagreed with Greg's activities or the arguments put forth in various letters recently, could claim they were personally hurt by them; but I assure you, many many people out there were personally and deeply hurt by the kind of hate-filled comments made in those letters. It's also not at all unlikely that in addition to hurt feelings, people's lives might in the future be harmed in very material ways by those letters: I am referring to the climate of hatred such letters create that in turn breeds violence against gays and lesbians as well as the damaging self-loathing that such letters can perpetuate in the many, very vulnerable people who are still struggling with their sexual identity. Those letters deserved to have been introduced with some sort of apology to the people about to be hurt by them. Please remember that gays and lesbians are real people, not just a theological issue.

Ed Nyman '84
Toronto, Ont.

I am troubled by the response that you gave to the three letters that ran in the Fall, 1999 Spark in reference to the Class Note about Greg Simoncini.

The sin of homosexuality is no worse than any other, but blatant sinful acts should never be promoted as accomplishment. Although we are to love the sinner as Jesus did, we are to hate and admonish the sin. Instead, Spark accepts the sin by giving recognition to such 'achievement'. Acceptance of sin does not spawn repentance, but rather encourages the behavior. If the 'church's teaching' about homosexuality includes noting such deeds as acceptable (as implied by your response), then Spark's effort to 'keep the dialogue going between the gay and lesbian alumni' is right on the mark. However, if the church teaches what the Bible says (1 Corinthians 6:9), then Spark is at risk of being a false witness by ignoring the Gospel and making a mockery of God.

Jeremiah 6 is a powerful and relevant passage to our lives today. This is particularly true of verse 16. Every day, when sin is presented, each one of us finds ourselves at a crossroads and we must choose which path to take. If the wrong path is chosen we, too, face the consequences of the remainder of Jeremiah 6. In the end, we are all held accountable to God for each decision and action. Praise God that through His mercy and grace Christ bore the burden of that punishment on Himself for those elect who would take Him as their personal Savior! Likewise, praise God for His justice.

Thomas Boardman '86
Columbia, Md.

The very idea that Spark would publish an update on a Calvin alumnus who is a political activist in the area of gay rights was enough for several alumni to call for Spark to censor its Class Notes and preach their politically correct version of just how Christians are supposed to think about this issue. I hate to be the bearer of bad news or to puncture somebody's myth, but not all Calvin alumni, not all Christians, and not even all Christian Reformed people are in lock step with them on the issue of gay and lesbian civil rights or just how those of us who are gay should conduct our lives.

Some of us don't consider gay and lesbian identities to be "sinful." We are thrilled at Mr. Simoncini's political activism and pleasantly surprised that they were shared in print within the pages of Spark.

If Calvin or the Christian Reformed Church ever wishes to seriously engage the gay community in dialogue, it needs to put down its fundamentalist radical right script and listen to the life experiences of real gay people. We are adults with well-developed ethics and fully formed consciences and are quite capable of knowing what kind of relationships work in our lives and how to conduct them. If the church wants to be a partner in our lives, it needs to listen to our sacred experiences instead of grafting someone else's on our souls.

We simply dismiss those whose only experience with the gay community is to read Leviticus or Paul. If Leviticus or Paul were the only source of knowledge about slavery, we would still be a slave-owning society. By listening to how slaves felt about their condition of servitude, our nation concluded that slavery was a cruel and inhuman institution and abolished it. As Mark Twain observed, it wasn't the Bible that changed, it was our attitude toward the Bible that changed.

So it is with gay and lesbian issues. We who are gay lead productive and useful lives-we value our loves, friendships and families, both biological and chosen. We conduct our lives by the Christ-taught (among others) rules of treating neighbors as we ourselves want to be treated.

We have heard diatribes such as the three printed in Spark's last issue all of our lives. We feel a little angry, a little sad, but increasingly we feel indifferent. The anger is because of the ignorance and arrogance of the writers. The sadness is that we hoped the church in which we grew up would trust us. The indifference is from years of hearing nothing new and concluding that there are other churches and colleges who better serve our needs and interests.

Bryan Ribbens ex'69
Grand Rapids, Mich.

I have a question for those who are so certain that God condemns homosexuality and that there is no place for homosexual couples in loving relationships in the Christian Reformed Church. Are you basing your views on a thorough investigation of biblical history and of early biblical texts, and on a prayerful study of the teachings of Jesus; or are your strong negative feelings based on societal norms and prejudices that are given support by modern interpretations of biblical texts.

It may be easy for you to accept the popular view that the Bible condemns homosexuals without trying to find out where these views came from. It may not be so easy for you to meet and understand your Christian gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and, with love in your heart, work with them to find out what the early biblical texts actually said and did not say about homosexuality.

One more question: When Jesus meets you in heaven, will he thank you for protecting the church from the evil influences of homosexuality, or will he ask you why you turned your gay and lesbian brothers, sisters and children away from the church.

For one view on the biblical passages misused to condemn gay men and lesbians, see John Boswell's book, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.

Robert Veltkamp'73
Alexandria, Va.

To the Editor:

Responses in Spark (Fall 1999) to the note about Greg Simoncini expressed outrage about a perceived endorsement by Calvin of the Gay Rights movement. I regret that the three letter writers do not acknowledge that people of the Christian faith will have differences of opinion on matters of sexuality.

In fact, the argument that Spark should have censored news about Greg was based in cultural and social intolerance, not Reformed theology. As a case in point, one respondent suggested that Biblical sanctions against gay rights activists are stronger than those against Ku Klux Klan members. Another correspondent wrote that God will deliver calamity to the United States because of tolerance for gays and lesbians. It should be evident that the suffering of nations in this bloody century has been a manifestation of evil, not divine justice. In fact, many disasters -- the Holocaust, Rwanda and the Balkans -- were the result of prejudice much like that expressed in Spark. The horrible results of bigotry demand that we absolutely oppose it in all instances. This world so desperately needs Christians to emulate Christ's tolerant example.

It is not satisfactory to claim you "love the sinner, but hate the sin," when your condemnation creates a climate that endangers and discriminates against the person. It is not responsible to claim you are against violence or unfair treatment and then deny that those who are its victims have the right to organize against it or publicize their activities.

The editor is to be commended for not embargoing information on the activities of gay alumni. This is not a matter of "political correctness." This is not a homosexual agenda. This is a human rights agenda. This is the agenda of justice and tolerance in an unjust and violent world. Surely, these are the values taught at Calvin College? There, I learned about New Testament love and Old Testament outrage against injustice.

Nancy Joy Jacobs '83
Providence, R.I.

I was concerned by the mean-spirited, judgmental and self-righteous language in the three letters to the editor (Fall 1999) criticizing the inclusion of the Class Note which referred to a gay alumnus. The writers of these letters showed little appreciation for the differing views of the Christian church (of which the Christian Reformed Church is but a small part) on homosexuality, Biblical interpretation and God's transcendent love for all people. They showed no willingness to learn about a fellow alum without rushing to judgment. There was no attempt to engage in the "dialogue" you referred to in your reply to their letters.

I was far more concerned, however, with the gays and lesbian students currently at Calvin who may have read those three letters. What message do those letters send to students, gay and straight, at Calvin? As a gay student at Calvin 25 years ago, I would have been threatened and hurt by such bigoted and angry rantings. Whether Calvin's alumni want to accept it or not, there have been, are and always will be gay students at Calvin, all of them deserving of our Christian love and support.

Your reply to the three letters promised to look at future class notes individually in deciding whether or not they follow the example of Jesus, "who was overwhelmingly kind-hearted." I suggest you do the same for the letters to the editor that you choose to print.

Given the furor over the lives and work of Calvin's gay alumni, you may or may not choose to include a class note that I am an attorney with Williams, Kastner & Gibbs PLLC in Seattle. My partner, Bill Hammer, and I are members of the United Church of Christ and I recently completed a term on the board of Lambert House (Seattle) which provides support and services to gay and lesbian teens, many of whom have been rejected by their families.

Jim Miersma '76
Seattle, Wash.

I recently received my Fall 1999 Spark and certainly was neither shocked nor surprised to find three letters published regarding the "Class Note" about Greg Simoncini. Though only a handful of my fellow Calvin grads know that I am a lesbian, I have found that I can no longer stay silent in the barrage of such negative reaction.

Some alumni would like to characterize the gay and lesbian community as participating in some kind of calculated infiltration of Calvin to overthrow its values. Others would like to forget entirely that gays and lesbians lived with them, laughed with them, learned with them and worshipped with them during their time at Calvin (whether they knew it or not). And many (both homosexual and heterosexual), I am sure, are having a difficult time determining where they ought to stand on this issue-torn, as I am, between wanting to support the alma mater that I love and conscience that I follow.

The letters displayed in the above mentioned issue essentially said that certain alumni should not be allowed to have their lives published or their activities divulged. While the writers respectfully have a right to their opinion, I fail to see the benefit in excluding certain people or their accomplishments from "Class Notes." The fact that I am a lesbian takes nothing away from the appreciation and devotion I have for Calvin. It takes nothing from the education or overall perspective I acquired during my time there. And it makes me and my accomplishments no less important that those of any other alumni.

Printing informative blurbs about fellow alumni is, above everything, a service. The Spark gives us an opportunity to see what some of our old friends are doing and answer that question of "What ever happened to.?" More importantly, it provides a forum for us to see that alumni are taking their knowledge and applying it to things they feel passionately about and are drawn towards. We, as a body of several thousand different individuals, are not always going to be particularly fond of what each of our fellow alumni are doing. But shouldn't we prefer to know that alumni are out there making a difference for that things that make them who they are? While not all alumni activities will be praised by the group, should we simply ignore the actions of somewhat controversial sectors of alumni and pretend that they do no exist? That resembles discrimination and borders on "blissful ignorance."

The gay and lesbian alumni of Calvin are not a subversive group of degenerates. We are professionals, educators, church members and positive citizens. There is nothing politically "correct" or "incorrect" in simply providing information about one's whereabouts and life. I commend Spark for taking on the enormous responsibility of serving such a diverse population of alumni at a time when it is struggling with it's own diversity. W can either choose to open or close the door on our diversity. For some of us, however, the door has been closed too long already.

Barbara Manwell '92
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

The letters and the editor's reply, in the Fall 1999 Spark, reveal, regrettably, that homophobia remains alive and well amongst Calvin's alumni. It is disheartening how vigilant some fellow alumni remain for any sign of apparent slippage in Spark's presumed standard of editorial purity. That Spark's editor feels called upon to, apologetically, agonize about how good a job he is doing in maintaining this purity is equally disheartening.

One letter writer calls homosexuality an ".abomination worthy of death." and compares Spark's publishing of Greg Simoncini's note with the reporting of a Calvin alumnus having "been elected Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan." What an odious comment the former is, and, what a hateful and extraordinary comparison the latter!

Another writer, charitably, concedes "God loves Greg Simoncini." but then relieves himself of this apocalyptic forecast: "God's judgement is very soon to befall this country.because of this nation's acceptance of the homosexual agenda.."

A third letter writer wonders if Calvin "condone(s) homosexuality.?"and seems hojpeful of hearing the alumni's loud, rhetorical "No!" Fortunately, for us straight, ordinary, meat and potatoes, run-of-the-mill sinners, God knows we do a much better job than he does in selecting targets worthy of his judgement.

We don't know why some of us are "straight" and some of us "gay." We do know that our gay friends are not so out of sinful choice and that they don't deserve to be listed under some category of particularly egregious sinners. The distressingly virulent language of the letter writers, particularly, and the Spark's editor's sympathetic, apologetic reply, reveal precisely why Greg Simoncini's active participation in gay rights organizations, and our support, is so necessary.

Frits '67 and Clarice Brouwer Kwant '67


There was an incomplete response to Art Mulder '85 in the Fall 1999 Spark "Letters" section. He wondered why there were new buildings going up on campus as conversations about stabilizing enrollment were occurring. There was a lengthy and direct answer to that query. But Mr. Mulder also asked about the cost of maintaining buildings once constructed. The answer: The new construction happening on campus today includes endowments for building maintenance. In addition, some construction (such as the conference center) brings with it revenue producing potential (e.g. conference fees).

Class Notes
See what's new in your class.

Info Update
Update your alumni information on-line.

About Spark
Learn who's behind the magazine.

Spark Archives
Missed an issue? Take a look here.

Find out the latest news on campus.

Get the latest on Calvin Athletics!

Homecoming, Reunions, and more.

Chapter information,

Go To
Calvin's homepage
News and Events
Information about
About Calvin College
Contacting Calvin
Search for
People at Calvin
Departments at Calvin
Items on Calvin's website

Contact Spark