From: LstRmantic@aol.com (Brad Bergman)
Attached is a press release detailing my father's developing situation in Kalamazoo, Michigan (only 1/2 an hour from the infamous Byron Center controversy that erupted surrounding Gerry Crane). My father has a meeting on Monday (1/13) with the full School Board and the initial indicators from some correspondence with the principal indicate they're going to try and fire my dad because his views on homosexual relationships are "unbiblical" and "raise questions about the integrity of the school."
Please do a couple things for me: (1) write or call Kalamazoo Christian High School (2121 Stadium Drive, Kalamazoo, MI 49007 (616) 381-2250) and in a polite manner, tell them that you think Don Bergman should be allowed to keep his job (he's a History teacher). (2) if you know any good lawyers, have them contact me AS SOON AS POSSIBLE so I can put them in touch with my parents. If there are any Human Rights Campaign people out there, PLEASE contact me. My folks have been trying to get ahold of you guys for weeks and no one is returning their phone calls.
---begin forwarded message-----
NR #1996-124: For Immediate Release
Christian Reformed Board of Trustees Removes Homosexuality Study Committee Member for Pro-Gay Views
by Darrell Todd Maurina, Press Officer
United Reformed News Service
KALAMAZOO, Mich. (December 11, 1996) URNS -- Don Bergman and his wife Carmen hoped the experience of learning that their son is gay would help him bring a sense of understanding and compassion to a committee established by the 1996 Christian Reformed synod to study ministry to persons who are homosexual. Instead, a year-old letter written by Bergman supporting his son's desire to find a life partner has cost him his seat on the study committee.
"I encouraged my son to remain celibate and when he said 'I don't have the gift to remain celibate,' the rules are the same," said Bergman, describing the contents of the disputed letter. "The conclusion was to find one person for a relationship, and that was the context, commitment first, then passion."
Those views weren't acceptable to CRC general secretary Dr. David Engelhard, who learned about Bergman's letter only after his appointment by the CRC Board of Trustees had been announced in a letter sent to all classical stated clerks for distribution to all CRC church councils.
"After the board met in September, I received a document [Bergman] sent to the committee on homosexuality of Classis Grand Rapids East; in that document he's fairly critical of the church's position against monogamous homosexual relationships, he says quite bluntly in there that the church's stand is wrong," said Engelhard. "There were a couple of other things in that document that raised some questions in my mind about whether he could and should continue to serve."
Engelhard contacted Bergman and verified that while he felt parts of his letter were overly strong he still held substantially the same position on the permissibility of committed homosexual relationships. Engelhard then reported the matter to the executive committee of the denominational Board of Trustees. "In a meeting of the executive committee of the Board of Trustees when they appointed the additional members I raised that matter with them and it was their judgment, as it was mine, that it would be better that he not serve on a committee of this sort," said Engelhard. Engelhard said the concern focussed on two points in Bergman's letter, one being "his own encouragement that his son find somebody with whom he could have a committed homosexual relationship."
"The other thing is in the document he says that general revelation had led him to come in conflict with the teachings of the church on special revelation regarding whether a person can undo or come out of a homosexual orientation or alter his homosexuality," said Engelhard. Engelhard said that to his knowledge the Christian Reformed denomination had never before removed a member from one of its study committees due to his theological views.
"This is very unusual," said Engelhard, noting that the committee was itself formed by an unusual procedure after synod rejected a motion from the floor to place celibate gay minister Rev. Jim Lucas on the committee, resulting in questions being raised about the views of other committee members. Synod 1996 finally sent the matter of committee membership to the Board of Trustees, specifying that the committee must do its work "in a manner consistent with the decisions of Synod 1973." Synod 1973 encouraged ministry to homosexuals but noted that Scripture clearly forbids explicit homosexual practice. The same Board of Trustees report that announced Bergman's appointment also announced a board recommendation that "delegates to synod will be given opportunity to suggest nominees to the advisory committee, but no new nominees will be accepted from the floor when a committee is recommended."
"The committees are normally adopted by synod where the advisory committee of synod recommends, the officers of synod review, and the synod appoints," said Engelhard. "When this came to the floor of synod it ran into some difficulty and consequently since we were coming to the end of synod it was decided to refer the motion to the Board of Trustees."
Bergman, who has taught for over two decades at Kalamazoo Christian, declined to confirm reports that he could face dismissal from the school if he publicly contradicted the official Christian Reformed synodical position that gay marriages are not permitted by Scripture, but did confirm that his teaching contract had been revised as result of his views on homosexuality. Bergman also noted that the disputed letter to the study committee of Classis Grand Rapids East predated the addendum to his contract.
"The original contract has an addendum that no other teacher has," said Bergman. "If [the principal] asks me to release the addendum, I will agree to it, but I will not release it without his permission."
Kalamazoo Christian principal Larry Baker declined comment. Others at Kalamazoo Christian were more willing to comment, but requested that their names not be used. "In the beginning of the year he explained that his son was gay, to clear it up," said one of Bergman's students, noting that she did not know that Bergman's son was gay until he disclosed that information to his classes this past August. "He didn't try to say it was wrong or it was right, he just explained that his son was gay, and the judgment was in God's eyes and it was not for us to judge."
Contacted for comment, students consistently confirmed that Bergman had never contradicted the CRC's stance on homosexuality in classroom discussions and expressed surprise that his views on homosexuality had led to his dismissal from a synodical study committee.
The news also came as a surprise to Kalamazoo Christian parents. "You wonder how the synod puts people on these committees," said one parent who has known Bergman since his own days in high school. "You would think they would know what they are doing and when they don't you've got to wonder."
News of Bergman's termination didn't sit will with Pastor George Vander Weit, stated clerk of Classis Lake Erie which has submitted overtures asking synod to respect denominational diversity in such areas as ethnicity, gender, and theological orientation.
"I think it's the wrong decision but I already said that on the floor of synod," said Vander Weit. "I said about Jim Lucas, quoting your news article, 'I think it's very valuable to have him on the committee if we're really serious about being sensitive to the struggles of homosexual members.' My position hasn't changed."
"We make wonderful claims about our desire to ascertain truth and then we make sure that we exclude from our committees those who see things differently than we do," said Vander Weit. "We like to say that we can accomplish the very same thing by interviewing people, by calling them in for an interview, and that was said on the floor of synod, and that is helpful, but it's better to have a person like that in the committee itself for the give-and-take of the committee and to correct or at least to voice his opinion on things that are being said rather than hauling him in after the committee has more or less made up its mind."
Nevertheless, Vander Weit said Bergman's termination may have been inevitable. "Synod specifically indicated that it wanted people on that committee who agreed with the 1973 decision," said Vander Weit. "If this guy couldn't assent to Synod 1973 the Board of Trustees had no choice but to say he couldn't serve. The Board of Trustees can only carry that decision out."
While disappointed that he will not be able to serve on the committee, Bergman said his removal caused him no anger toward the denomination in which he has been a lifelong member.
"I'm not upset or angry or resentful about their decision," said Bergman. "I do hope I have some opportunity to spend some time before the committee."
According to committee chairman Dr. Melvin Hugen, professor of pastoral care at Calvin Theological Seminary, the committee will be seeking input from people with a variety of theological positions although it will continue to work within the framework of the CRC's 23-year-old position opposing homosexual practice. "We will attempt to give more specific guidance to consistories, classes, and perhaps the denomination on how to structure and implement ministries to persons who are homosexual and educating the church in changing some of her attitudes toward persons who are homosexual," said Hugen.
Among the attitudes Hugen said he hoped the church would change was "the rejection of people simply on the basis of their homosexual orientation from full participation in the life of the church."
In addition to Hugen, the committee membership will consist of Mrs. Rose Alons, a Wisconsin mother whose son died of AIDS; Pastor Mary-Lee Bouma of Trinity CRC in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan; Rev. Corky DeBoer of Orland Park (IL) CRC; Dr. John Kreeft, a physician in London, Ontario, and chair of a committee at First CRC in London studying homosexuality on the local level; Rev. Yong-Ju Oh of Han-Bit Korean CRC in Rochester Hills, Michigan; Rev. Herman Van Niejenhuis of Willowdale CRC in Toronto and member of a Classis Toronto homosexuality study committee; Dr. Robert Van Noord, a clinical psychiatrist in Grand Rapids; and Rev. Gerald Zandstra, chair of a Classis Grand Rapids East homosexuality study committee.
Last updated 1/28/97 by Jean Richter, richter@eecs.Berkeley.EDU