Big News at the Office of Social Justice and the Office of Race Relations


You may have heard that there are some changes afoot in the Office of Social Justice and the Office of Race Relations. We’re excited for the possibilities that these changes create. Have questions? Here are our responses.

Q: What’s happening?

At their September 2016 meeting, the Board of Trustees of the Christian Reformed Church affirmed the decision by senior CRCNA staff to seek closer integration of the Office of Race Relations, the Office of Social Justice, and related diversity initiatives. One key aspect of this closer integration was a decision to combine and integrate the role of the director of Race Relations with the role of coordinator of the Office of Social Justice and Hunger Action (OSJ).

As of February 27, Rev. Reggie Smith is the director of the Office of Race Relations and begins phasing in as director of the Office of Social Justice. Welcome, Reggie! 

Q: Are the two offices merging?

A: No, the Office of Race Relations and the Office of Social Justice are still separate CRC ministries, with separate budgets, structures, and staff. However, these two offices have shared some staff and increasingly have collaborated in joint projects. It is a natural next step that the leadership of these offices now be combined. We hope that this joint leadership will lead to increased collaboration, learning, and sharing of best practices across these similar ministries.

Q: If they’re not merging, why combine the director position?

A: Race Relations and Social Justice are inextricably bound together as pervasive issues in our world today, and issues of race and justice are also commonly found in our biblical narrative. Combining these roles strengthens our ability to be effective in both ministry areas, enhancing our ability to describe God’s vision of humanity and justice.

The decision to combine the leadership roles but maintain distinct offices honors the history that led to the creation of the Synodical Committee on Race Relations (SCORR)*, as well as the synodical task force on world hunger. But it also allows us to make optimal use of our financial and personnel resources, and removes the fragmentation inherent in our current approach to these areas.

*SCORR is the predecessor of the Office of Race Relations.

Q: Will racial reconciliation become a lower priority for our denomination if it becomes just one of many justice issues for this leadership position?

A:  No. When it made a decision to seek greater integration of the two offices and to combine the leadership roles into one, the Board of Trustees was very explicit in stating that the mandate of each office must not be lost. It asked that a healthy budget allocation for race relations remain as part of the whole, and that senior staff continue to report on the work of both offices. It also asked that Canadian and U.S. contexts continue to be considered both for racial reconciliation work and the work of social justice.

Q: What am I supposed to call this new reality?

A:  The present title for the new position is Director of Race Relations and Social Justice. However, the offices of Race Relations and Social Justice continue to remain distinct. When referring to the Director, you can use the official title. In all other instances, please refer to the Office of Race Relations, the Office of Social Justice, or the offices (plural) of Race Relations and Social Justice.

Q: How will this affect the offices’ interaction with congregations?

A: On the one hand, congregations won’t experience much of a difference. Since the Office of Race Relations and the Office of Social Justice are still separate ministries, they will each keep their own logo, website, newsletters, and other communications materials.

On the other hand, by working more closely together, we hope that you will experience more effective and collaborative communications, resources, and materials from us. A justice resource about refugee reform, for example, may also include background information about the racial dynamics behind anti-immigration movements. Similarly, racial reconciliation workshops may include advocacy suggestions as next steps for participants. Our offices have already worked together on projects like the Church Between Borders workshop, the Journey With Me toolkit, and the Blanket Exercise; this change formalizes our relationship and will make collaboration easier, as well as more natural and consistent. 

Q: Has Peter Vander Meulen retired?

A: Reggie began his role as Director of Race Relations as of February 27. Peter will remain in his position as Coordinator of the Office of Social Justice until June 30. Reggie will be fully responsible for the Office of Social Justice on July 1, following Peter’s retirement. This allows for a phased-in time of orientation and transition.

Q: Who can I contact if I have more questions?

A: Should you have any questions about race relations or social justice, please feel free to continue contacting staff in either office (Office of Race RelationsOffice of Social Justice). If you have specific questions about the joint leadership position or the future of the two offices as we work more closely together, please contact Colin Watson ([email protected]).

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Let's Discuss…

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Community Builder

What I hope, and pray, is that under new leadership, political lobbying and other political spoutings off about what government is doing, as opposed to what we are doing, becomes a much, much lower priority for OSJ.  After all, it is not the case that CRC members are in lockstep as to their theories of the role of government, economics and international relationships, and it is the case that the CRC has Article 28 in its Church Order.

How this institutional church (CRC) and its members might respond to those suffering from injustice, hungry, and in need of mercy is beyond a big enough task for us to take on.  We don't need to also take on political lobbying, as if there is nothing else that we can uniquely do (because there is lots of that) or as if we haven't covenanted together to be an ecclesiastical, and not a political, institution (because we have, see CO Art. 28).

Community Builder

I'm so excited to see how God will continue to use both of these ministries for His Kingdom.  My prayers are with you, Reggie, as you take on this new role.  I pray that God will give you wisdom and discernment as you juggle the mandates of both offices and as you work to integrate them when appropriate.  My prayers are also with all of your staff.  Change - even good change - is always tricky during the time of transition.