All Around Us

Denied Admission to the Ministry

Several accounts have been presented in church papers about the recent action of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in denying admittance of a candidate for the ministry in the C.R.C. The action was certainly unprecedented in recent years in that denomination. This candidate questioned the literal character of the first chapters of Genesis. The account of what happened is interestingly presented inCalvinist Contact of July 3, 1981.

For the first time in many, many years, a candidate for the ministry was denied admission into the ministry of the Christian Reformed Church, because of his belief of the event character of

Genesis 1-3

Clayton Libolt is a 34-year-old Old Testament Scholar who graduated from Calvin College and Seminary a few years ago and who pursued his MA degree at the University of Michigan and was working on his doctorate. 

Mr. Libolt had been recommended by the faculty of Calvin Seminary and by the board of trustees of Calvin College and Seminary. 

When his name came up for approval at synod’s advisory committee, that committee chose to interview him. Six of the 13 members of that committee were unhappy with what they had heard. The remaining seven, a majority of one, recommended that synod approve Libolt’s candidacy only after interviewing him on the floor of synod. The committee itself was united on only the second part of that recommendation: that Mr. Libolt should be interviewed by the full synod.

…When asked how the Bible is different from other books regarded by some as “holy”, he responded directly: “It’s inspired by God.” 

But the anxiety of some delegates was evident when, on several occasions, Mr. Libolt expressed his belief that the opening chapters of the Bible are “not transparent to the event.” Here the chairman of the advisory committee which had earlier interviewed Libolt—Rev. Peter Brouwer, delegate from Classis Minnesota South—zeroed in on the young scholar’s views: “When in

Genesis 3

it tells us there was a tree, was it a real tree? When it tells us there was a voice which spoke to the woman, was it a real voice?” After wondering aloud what was meant by the questioner’s use of the word “real,” Libolt explained that, “because of the kind of God we have, it’s quite possible that the events happened just that way.” 

But he would go no further than possibility, although he was invited to do so several times over. At each point, he noted that “because of the kind of literature we have been given at that point in Genesis, I don’t think the

Genesis 1-3

narrative says or means to say that these things are ‘real’ in the sense of your question.” The kind of writing one finds in Genesis’ early chapters, he insisted, is “not like a newspaper report.” 

When asked to interpret a New Testament passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (the fifth chapter in which “the one man Adam” is compared with “the one man, Jesus Christ”). Libolt argued that the purpose of that passage was to teach that “in one man, Christ, there is the possibility of life,” but in his view the passage would not require the presence of a historical character named Adam. 

…At 7:30 p.m., the synod re-entered closed session to consider what it had heard and what it would do. An hour later, Calvin Seminary president John Kromminga came out of the session. He took Libolt aside to explain that the delegates had reached their decision. 

By an unofficial count of 95 to 58, the synod of the Christian Reformed Church had decided that Clayton Libolt would not be made a candidate for “the ministry of the word and sacraments” in this denomination in 1981.

The synod is to be commended for its action. One could be encouraged, too, by the rather sizable support for the rejection of this candidacy. Surely a Reformed church could not do otherwise. 

Yet some very troubling questions must remain within the C.R.C. What are the views of the faculty of Calvin Seminary who recommended this man for the ministry in the C.R.C.? Were they ignorant of Libolt’s views—or do they hold to and teach them too? What of the board of trustees of Calvin College and Seminary and of the seven members of the advisory committee—all of whom also recommended Libolt for the ministry? Are his views acceptable to them? What of the 58 members of the synod who voted for accepting Libolt as candidate in spite of the clear statement of his views on the floor of synod? 

Other disturbing questions must remain. What of those who substantially maintained publicly these same views—which were condoned by classis and synod when protests and appeals against these views were rejected by the broader gatherings? Some men, maintaining the same views of Libolt, remain ministers and professors in good standing in the C.R.C. 

It seems to me that two actions must follow out of synod’s decision. First, the synod ought to insist that the views expressed by Libolt are not acceptable in the C.R.C.—and that those who nevertheless maintain them, walk contrary to their ordination vows and their signing of the formula of subscription. After all, to reject one man while allowing many others to teach the same things, would be the height of hypocrisy. But secondly, those who agree with Libolt can not in good conscience remain silent. Either they properly protest the action of the synod, or they resign from the office of the ministry. Surely these can not teach and preach what synod now rejected. Nor can one in good conscience go “underground” with his views until such time as they prove to be more popular in the C.R.C. 

Union Dues Vs. Religious Beliefs

The Grand Rapids Press, June 28, 1981, presents a report of a court battle concerning the paying of dues to a union in spite of one’s religious objections:

When Doris McDaniel was fired nine years ago for not paying her union dues, she began waging a battle on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that labor unions fear could hurt their pocketbooks. 

At issue are sections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires companies and unions to accommodate employees’ religious beliefs unless doing so causes the union or company “undue hardship.” 

Dozens of cases like the one involving McDaniel are before courts across the country, and the battle now centers on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. There, a three-judge panel on Jan. 15 heard two separate but similar cases involving Seventh-day Adventists’ challenges of union dues paying. 

…Among the teachings of the Seventh-day Adventist Church is a recommendation against union membership or financial support of labor organizations. 

“We have members who are union members and we leave it to their individual conscience,” said John Morgan, a spokesman at the church’s national headquarters in Washington. “But we think there is an inherent problem in any organization in which people unite for suppression or coercion—where a small group of people seeks to manage or control all activity in a given area.” 

In “closed-shop” states—where laws allow labor contracts that require union membership as a condition of employment—unions argue that religious objectors can remain non-members but should be required to pay the union an amount equal to regular dues. 

This year, U.S. District Judge Noel Fox in Grand Rapids ordered Essex International Inc. of Berrien Springs to reinstate and give back pay to McDaniel, who was fired in 1972 because she would not pay dues to the local chapter of the International Association of Machinists. 

Officials of the union and Essex had denied her request that she be permitted to contribute an amount equal to the dues to a local, non-religious charity. 

…The union contended that the Title VII section was unconstitutional because it amounted to governmental “establishment of religion,” which is prohibited by the First Amendment. But Fox disagreed, saying there was a “great distinction between unconstitutional government sponsorship of religion and constitutionally permitted protection of religious beliefs and practices.” 

“This opinion may force defendants in these cases to at least attempt to make an accommodation, rather than stonewall,” Boothby said. “Normally, what we face is the union and the company doing nothing until we get into court.” 

…Since the court cases began, Congress has acted—amending the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit the requirement of union membership or financial support from members of seven religions “historically holding conscious objection”—Seventh-day Adventists, Amish, Plymouth Brethren IV, Mennonites, National Association of Evangelicals, Christian Missionary Alliance and Old German Baptists.

It appears that courts, in some instances at least, give legal redress to those who for conscience’ sake can not belong nor join nor support the union. We, perhaps, ought to take advantage somehow of this fact. There ought also to be investigation into the “amending the National Labor Relations Act to prohibit the requirement of union membership or financial support from members of seven religions . . . . ” Could not the name of our churches, small though they may be, be added to that list?