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Dutch, Reformed, and pro-abortion

Two pro-abortion political candidates in Michigan tout their connections with a pro-life church


Hillary Scholten Getty Images/Photo by Evan Cobb for The Washington Post

Dutch, Reformed, and pro-abortion

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—In her campaign materials, the Democratic candidate for Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District, Hillary Scholten, advertises herself as the descendant of Dutch immigrants, a mother of two blond boys, a deacon in a Christian Reformed Church, and a staunch supporter of abortion. The Grand Rapids resident has received the endorsements of multiple pro-abortion groups, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America

Michigan voter Allan Hoekstra, a financial adviser in nearby Holland first learned about Scholten during her congressional campaign in 2020. Her pro-abortion position bothered him then and still bothers him today. Scholten caught his eye because her background, Hoekstra said, is “the Christian Reformed story,” one that he and many others in the area share. Hoekstra is also the descendant of Dutch immigrants and grew up in the Christian Reformed Church of North America, a Calvinist denomination based in Grand Rapids. He was part of the church until about three years ago. But, unlike Scholten, Hoekstra adheres to the CRCNA’s official stance on abortion—that it is the “wanton … destruction” of an image-bearer of God.

“Because Hillary is a member and an office bearer in a Christian Reformed Church, I think there’s an unspoken implication potentially that she would have beliefs on abortion that are in line with the denomination,” said Hoekstra. Instead, in her campaign materials, Scholten pledges to “enshrine Roe v. Wade as the law of the land” and promises to be “a steadfast supporter of a woman’s God-given ability to make her own healthcare decisions”—a right that Hoekstra said is “harder to find … in the Bible than it is to find the right to abortion in the constitution.”

Scholten is not the only pro-abortion political candidate in West Michigan touting membership in a CRCNA church. David LaGrand, a state representative running for reelection, has campaigned on the same platform. The denomination has historically opposed abortion. But some Michiganders with ties to the CRCNA think the denomination hasn’t done enough to clarify its stance in light of these public campaigns—and next week’s historic vote on a pro-abortion ballot measure in the state. If passed, the amendment would add a right to abortion to the Michigan Constitution. To these Michiganders, the denomination’s failure to speak out in these specific cases seems to highlight a drift away from the CRCNA’s official pro-life stance.

In September and October, Hoekstra sent emails (obtained by WORLD) about Scholten’s campaign to Shiao Chong, editor-in-chief of the CRCNA publication The Banner, and to the Rev. Zachary King, the CRCNA general secretary. In them, he encouraged CRCNA leadership to inform members of the denomination about Scholten’s stance and her endorsements from pro-abortion groups.

In a separate reply to WORLD’s inquiry on the subject, Chong said, “While we stand with our denomination's official position on abortion, The Banner does not, as a policy, publish articles on any political candidates during election campaigns, as we do not wish to give any false impressions of supporting or opposing any political candidates.”

King’s office said local CRCNA churches are responsible for overseeing “the doctrine and life” of individual members. His director of communications, Kristen deRoo VanderBerg, said denominational leadership tends not to get involved in directing local congregations on how to respond to members who are running for office under positions that oppose the denomination’s official stance. In response to WORLD’s question about the denomination’s efforts to educate voters about Michigan’s pro-abortion proposal, she said the CRCNA tends to produce materials focused on national rather than state-level legislation. She sent links to the denomination’s online materials on abortion and to the most recent public statement on the topic, released in June in reaction to the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Hoekstra received similar replies. But he said clarifying Scholten’s position wouldn’t require the denomination to break the rules prohibiting churches and other nonprofit organizations from participating in a political campaign. Stating Scholten’s position, he said, would be “simply reporting the facts.”

Laura Alexandria, president of Grand Rapids Right to Life, thinks churches need to be bolder regarding political issues like abortion that intersect with church teachings. In the cases of Scholten and LaGrand, she affirmed that churches can’t explicitly endorse or oppose specific candidates, but, she added, “They can absolutely say, ‘These candidates support abortion. Our stance as a church is that we protect life at every stage.’ … That implies opposition, but you have not said it, and you are continuing to inform your congregation based on the doctrine of your church.”

Churches in the CRCNA and even individual members within those churches aren’t uniform on the abortion issue. Scholten is still a member at LaGrave Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, the church she attended during her 2020 campaign on a pro-abortion platform. That church brought her on as a deacon the next year. State Sen. Mark Huizenga is a fellow member at LaGrave and a resident of the Grand Rapids suburb of Walker. Unlike Scholten, he is a pro-life Republican who has the endorsement of the Right to Life of Michigan Political Action Committee. (The preaching minister at LaGrave turned down WORLD’s request for an interview.)

Meanwhile, LaGrand attends Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids and is a commissioned pastor who has preached in the Kent County Jail. The Grand Rapids resident once identified as a pro-life Democrat, and the state Right to Life group endorsed him during his 2010 state Senate race. Today, his campaign website lists repealing Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban as a priority. Neither Scholten nor LaGrand responded to requests for comment from WORLD.

Other CRCNA churches in the area encourage a stronger pro-life stance among their members. Pastor Lloyd Hemstreet, the pastor at Coopersville Christian Reformed Church in Scholten’s district, described the CRCNA as “a broad denomination that is not all of one mind.” Unlike at LaGrave, he said running for political office on a pro-abortion platform could be cause for church discipline at his church. Although he hasn’t spoken about Scholten’s campaign specifically, Hemstreet recently preached against the pro-abortion amendment on Michigan ballots this fall that could add a right to abortion to the state constitution. He said he has encouraged his congregation to take voting seriously and do their homework on candidates before going to the polls.

Pastor Mark Neymeiyer at another CRCNA church in the district, Rusk Christian Reformed Church, said he’s been so upfront about how abortion goes against God’s Word that anyone with pro-abortion views attending his church probably would have left already. He also preached against the pro-abortion ballot measure and distributed copies of the proposal language in church members’ mailboxes so they could read it for themselves. He said he hasn’t spoken about specific political candidates but has instructed attendees about how to find Right to Life’s recommended candidates.

Neymeiyer said he used to put little thought into who he voted for and, in some nonpartisan races, would just pick “what name looks the most Dutch to me.” Now, Neymeiyer realizes the danger of that method and relies heavily on groups like Right to Life to help him pick candidates who stand for unborn life. He said he’s disappointed that he hasn’t heard the denomination speak out more on the abortion issue. “I’m not looking to their leadership to help us in this,” he said.

Hoekstra praised the CRCNA’s official statement on abortion. “I think it would resonate with all Christians,” he said. “It’s just, how far are we willing to push it? How public are we willing to be about it? I think that’s the question, and I think there’s never been a time in the state of Michigan where we need to be more public about this position.”


Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for World News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.

@leahsavas

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