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Calvin College's board has denied the request of an African American professor to worship at a Baptist church. If Denise Isom continues to attend her primarily African American congregation, Messiah Missionary Baptist, she will be taken off tenure track and given a one-year term to end after the 2008-2009 school year.

Faculty members at Calvin are required to be members of a Christian Reformed Church (CRC) or a church in "ecclesiastical fellowship" with the denomination. Isom, an assistant professor of education, was aware of the rule when she joined Calvin in 2003, but believed she could apply for an exception. Calvin, which has a student body that is 94 percent white, has previously granted exceptions, usually to faculty members whose spouses are ordained in another denomination.

Isom spent several years visiting some of the more than 100 CRC congregations in the Grand Rapids area. While several CRC churches are beginning to reach out to the African American community, none are "there" yet, Isom wrote in her request. "I need a place of worship that is already consistent with my culture and able to grapple with issues of race in ways which make it a respite, a re-charging and growing place for me, as opposed to another location where I must 'work' and where I am 'other.'"

Calvin's board decided that upholding the school's denominational requirement was necessary for Calvin to remain a Reformed institution. "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," Bastian Knoppers, chair of the Calvin College board of trustees, wrote in a statement.

Shirley Hoogstra, vice president ...

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In the Magazine

January 2008

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