The Timothy-Lawndale Situation (2)

Note – At the invitation of the Editor I consented last spring to write the first article on this difficult matter. That article appeared in the May 1971 issue of THE OUTLOOK. Due to the many complex developments since the meeting of the Synod of 1971, convened in June, the Editor again requested that I attempt to bring the readers of THE OUTLOOK up-to-date on the most recent developments. I have consented to do so with the desire of keeping the record straight.

“Christian Reformed Church Backs Black Families in Chicago School Suit” – That headline in bold, black type was prominently stretched across page 1. Section D, of The Grand Rapids Press in its edition of Monday, November 15. It was sufficient to arouse a large segment of the Western Michigan Christian Reformed community to a reality which had earlier stunned the immediate Classis Chicago North area, in fact as far back as October 27 when the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of three black families against the Timothy Christian School Board, the society, individual Board members. and others.

The actual reality of a lawsuit did not really surprise the local Christian Reformed community because Mr. Case Hoogendoorn, Attorney for the Chicago West Side Christian School Association had threatened using the Civil Court(s) instead of the Church Court in early slimmer meetings with the Timothy Christian School Board. What did stun the local community was the fact that the lawsuit went far, far beyond an attempt to secure an injunction “barring the school board from denying the (black) children admission to the Cicero school on the basis of their race.” The lawsuit seeks $122,000 in “actual and punitive damages” from the School Board, the society, selected Board members (past and present), and of all things from the new principal of the Cicero Elementary School!

Mr. Karl Westerhof, Executive Officer for the new Synodical Committee on Race Relations, is quoted in The Grand Rapids Press article as stating “that the suit has been filed with the intent of opening the school to black children. not to put money in the plantiffs pockets. Suing for damages is a formal and technical part of a suit such as this and must be seen simply as a testimony to the fact that damages have indeed been incurred.” (Italics mine.) Is that, however, justification for Christian brothers taking Christian brothers to the Civil Court in a widely publicized suit, and stating that the “actual and punitive damages” of $122,000 are just a necessary evil? Are the damages in excess of $100,000 plus court costs to the loser, etc., just a “formal and technical matter”? No Christian School community can look lightly upon the possibility and/or necessity of paying out an unbudgeted (and I might add unnecessary and unbiblical) expense of $122,000. Christian Schools are not generally known to be financially flush! Especially the Timothy system which has already been left with the unpaid bill for tuition and pledges for 1970–71, incurred by the education of twelve black students at the Timothy schools under the Chicago West Side Christian School Association.

Mr. Westerhof also states the “fact that damages have indeed been incurred.” I know of no one who would challenge the accuracy or truthfulness of that statement! The black Christian Reformed community of Lawndale/Garfield (as well as the larger black Christian Reformed community) have indeed been greatly hurt by their unsuccessful attempts to enroll their covenant children in the Cicero facility. and the years of frustration it has occasioned for them. But is the matter of damages a one-way street? Have only the black parents and their children suffered damages? What of our Christian Reformed witness in the Cicero community in the face of the sometimes daily inflammatory-derogatory newspaper publicity? What of the Christian men who have served on the Timothy School Board in the last five or six years whose motives have been challenged, maligned, and viciously attacked, privately, publicly, and in print? What of the ministers within the Classis whose preaching has been questioned as having an “uncertain sound”? What of the Christian Reformed community that has faithfully and generously financially, prayerfully, and personally supported the black churches in the Chicago ghettoes for many years but has been widely called racist, to say the least?

Defendant pays to sue himself – Attorney Hoogendoom informed the Timothy School Board that “the payment of out-of-pocket costs” for the lawsuit were to be underwritten by the Race Relations Committee of the denomination. Disbelieving that the Race Relations Committee would use denominational quota funds in this unbiblical manner, the Elmhurst Consistory initiated correspondence with Mr. Westerhof, only to receive under date of November 1, 1971, the affirmative answer that Mr. Hoogendoom did correctly represent the involvement of the Race Relations Committee in the lawsuit. One wonders to begin with, if the Race Relations Committee does respond to Dr. De Koster’s invitation in The Banner editorial of November 26, whether they will furnish the denomination a complete financial statement of how our monies are being spent? Isn’t it ironic that monies collected by Quota assessment from the denomination, which still includes Classis Chicago North, arc being used by the plaintiff to fight the defendant? This ought to be the first court case on record where the defendant paid to sue himself!

The Ebenezer Consistory of Berwyn, which originally initiated the Race Resolutions of 1968, in consortium with the Consistories of Oak Park, Western Springs, Elmhurst, Warren Park and First Cicero who have been working together on an appeal to the Synod of 1972 on the Timothy-Lawndale matters immediately appealed to the Synodical Interim Committee to take such action(s) as were necessary to put an immediate end to the involvement of the Race Relations Committee in the lawsuit. In a letter under date of November 24, the Rev. William P. Brink, denominational Stated Clerk, officially responded to the consortium appeal and informed us that before our appeal was received he had “personally appealed by letter to the Committee on Race Relations to withdraw further support from the lawsuit . . . The appeal which I made has been endorsed by the Church Polity and Program sub-committee of the Synodical Interim Committee in its meeting on November 18, 1971, and by the Finance sub-committee of the Synodical Interim Committee in a meeting on November 22, 1971.” We are greatly heartened and encouraged by the forthright actions of the Stated Clerk and the Synodical Interim Committee, and pray that the Synod of 1972 will display the same courage and conviction!

Questions being asked – In conclusion, in answer to many questions that are coming in almost daily from concerned consistories, ministers, church members, etc. from across the denomination, let me give a few answers to keep the record straight.

Q. Is it true that the Timothy School Board refused admission this September to the black children seeking admission to the Timothy system?

A. No! The Timothy Board did require of all parents, without reference to color or race, the payment or arrangement of unpaid tuition from the 197071 school year. The black students under the Chicago West Side School Association did fall under this rule because the Association has to this date still not paid last year’s tuition and pledges. White students also, however, found themselves in the same category. The Timothy Board members did meet with black parents of the Lawndale-Garfield Churches and the way was opened for the re-enrollment of their children.

Q. Is it true that NO negro children are presently enrolled in the Timothy system?

A. No! A black student from the Garfield community has again resumed her studies at the high school.

Q. Is it true that the Timothy facility in Cicero has been sold?

A. Yes! The Timothy Christian School Association in a meeting held on November 23 voted overwhelmingly to sell the Cicero school for $195,000 to District 99 of the Cicero Elementary Board of Education.

Q. Is it true that the sale of the Cicero property is due to the lawsuit?

A. No! While it cannot be denied that the continuing struggle has accelerated the sale of the property, the records of the Timothy School Board forcefully demonstrate that negotiation with District 99 representatives has been going on for over ten years. Furthermore, the long-range plans of the Timothy Christian School Association included the building of an elementary facility in Elmhurst as soon as it became feasible.

Q. Is it true that an Elementary school will be immediately built in Elmhurst?

A. Yes! With Association approval the Board is proceeding with plans to immediately begin erection of a grade school building on the Elmhurst property hopefully to open its doors on September 1, 1972.

Q. Is it true that the six consistories mentioned above have prepared a direct appeal to the Synod of 1972 re the Timothy-Lawndale matter?

A. Yes! However, the Consortium Appeal will not be considered by Classis Chicago North until its session of January 19, 1972. I will withhold any/all comment on it until later.

More than regrettable – The question that will be discussed and debated in the coming months until the Synod meets will be the accuracy of the Grapid Rapids Press headline. Is it true that the Christian Reformed Church does back the black families in their lawsuit? Or did a Committee of the denomination involve the church at large without the support or approval of said church? The latter would appear to be the case from the decision of the Synodical Interim Committee which judged that the Race Relations Committee was not operating under its Synodically-approved mandate when it promised financial support for the lawsuit initiated by the Chicago West Side Christian School Association. Other questions or “observations” that have gone unanswered and unchallenged to the best of my knowledge, are those of the Rev. Edward Heerema in his article “Racial Matters at Christian Reformed Synod” which appeared in the September 1971 issue of THE OUTLOOK.

Rev. Heerema in concluding his article stated that “it is highly regrettable that the Timothy-Lawndale problem arose to disturb this forward movement in good race relations.” That regret was expressed before the lawsuit was initiated! It is more than regrettable that matters have now fallen to this new low.

Garrett H. Stoutmeyer is pastor of the Christian Reformed Church of Elmhurst, Illinois.