Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Betsy DeVos and the Kingdom


I'm not particularly sure I like my people being called "a conservative Protestant sect," but lately at least the shoe seems to fit, so I'll have to wear it, despite the pinching. But then, most of those I call "my people," would say, "Okay, Schaap, what would you expect from Mother Jones, that kind of leftie journal?"

I don't know Kristina Rizga, but she's been following the Betsy DeVos story for some time already; and it's clear she's done her homework on what on the traditional CRC, "a little-known, conservative Dutch Calvinist denomination," she calls us in the latest issue. But her Mother Jones article on DeVos, Donald Trump's choice for Secretary of Education, gets an awful lot about us blushingly right.

Betsy DeVos is just about my age and therefore probably carries the same stamp from our mutual CRC rearing. She's went to Holland Christian and Calvin College, and, even though she and her husband aren't CRC today (they went over to a mega), like so many others she can't really wash away that stamp (Trump would say "brand").

There's are differences between us--five billion dollars worth, and that's spare change. The DeVos kingdom probably exceeds that of the the man who chose her. We don't know that to be true because he won't release his tax returns--you know that story.

I used the word kingdom for a reason. Kristin Rizga does too in Mother Jones. "Betsy DeVos Wants to Use America's Schools to Build 'God's Kingdom.'" That's the title of the article, but Rizga puts "God's Kingdom" in quotes. Why?--because Rizga thinks what Betsy DeVos means by "God's Kingdom" is something akin to the U.S. of A. being "a Christian nation." Soon enough, Rizga's warning goes, we'll all become characters in The Handmaid's Tale.  Rizga may know different--she's not dumb; but the spin she puts on her fascinating DeVos (and CRC) profile, and especially on the word kingdom, is to make her billionaire subject into just another right-wing troglodyte with diamonds on the soles of her wooden shoes.

I may be wrong here, but I think Betsy DeVos means something different by "the Kingdom," and I'd like to believe it has nothing to do with patriotic excesses or America being a "Christian nation." I'd like to believe that because that's what we both were taught. I'm no theologian, but I have spent my life in schools that used that phrase as their bottom line, and I never, ever associated "God's Kingdom" with America the Beautiful. To me that phrase always meant the day the lion lies down with the lamb, the day the only thunder birds flying overhead have feathers. As some of us may be too anxious to say, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

So I'd like to believe that Kristina Rizga is wrong about what Betsy DeVos means when she uses the word "Kingdom." I can't help but think DeVos is thinking about a sovereign God of all of life and not Old Glory.


But whether that's true, I don't know. I'm watching her congressional hearing with interest, not leftie enough to burn her at the stake, and still tribal enough to want her to do well, even succeed. I'd like to think of her as one of us.

But Kristina Rizga may be right. After all, Betsy's brother Eric Prince, of Blackwater fame, long ago left and took up the bloody Christian jihad.

For the record, here's what the CRC web page says about the word "Kingdom": 
. . . Kingdom takes in all of human culture throughout the world. Unlike nations on earth, God’s kingdom does not have defined borders. It is not restricted to a certain location, like a cathedral; nor can it be reduced to “religious” activity. By God’s kingdom we mean God’s sovereign rule, God’s sphere of influence. We believe that God’s Spirit is busy extending God’s rule all over creation.
If you ask me, "the Kingdom" means something much closer to what Navajos might call "the beauty way," than it does anything Franklin Graham or James Dobson believe about our politics. 

I think I know what Betsy DeVos was taught. What I don't know is what she believes. 

26 comments:

Dutchoven said...

Good post James, I too want what you describe as the goal of our lives- going through a majority of my education in Christian Day schools of the CRC variety. I think we all are watching and wondering what will become of Betsy who is so much like us- but not. You could perhaps divide "our tribe" into three groups those like Betsy-rather conservative & rich; those like a large group who seek what could be described as less fortunate and with radically leftist leanings; and then a big group who pull there shoes on each day- full of what is described as middle class dreams, ordinary hard working folks who live day to day seeking the good life (not comfortable is suppose) and a eternal kingdom they pray will embrace them in the end. I may not agree with everything stands for or believes but here is a recent article on her hearings that says a lot I suppose of who she is and what she believes- a little different slant the Mother Jones, but you would expect that of the mainstream media: http://www.mlive.com/news/index.ssf/2017/01/betsy_devos_tells_senators.html

Leonard Vander Zee said...

So, Betsy has turned "Mega." I'm not sure what that means either, but I do know that there are lots of "Megas" out there that do, in fact, think that God's Kingdom is pretty much like their vision for America. We'll have to wait and see--with some diligence--which version she's working with.

Ron Polinder said...

A long article in Politico this week also tried to analyze Betsy, her background and her philosophy. Typical of the secular press, it was a thin understanding of our tradition. Jamie Smith's comment showed up on Facebook, noting the the writer managed to get both Calvinism and Weber wrong in the same sentence. I guess we have to expect such in our post-Christian culture, along with an underlying cynicism about folks who claim the name Christian. Such was the tone of the Dems yesterday in their questioning, actually mean-spirited may be a better term.

I did not vote for Trump (or Hillary) so don't label me as a Trump supporter. But I am pleased that he nominated Betsy, because she is such a strong advocate of justice in education. She is undoubtedly more conservative than I am, but on educational choice, she is on the mark.

What I can not understand is how liberal Christians can so easily adopt their party line and stack up their cynicism against Betsy. Here at last is a woman who has demonstrated in word and deed and argues for justice for kids, often minority kids, who are victims of a dysfunctional public school system. Suddenly, the "progressives" don't seem to give a hoot about justice, at least I rarely hear the word from those quarters on educational matters. Our tradition has long believed that parents should make the choice about their children's education, and we have done it at enormous sacrifice, and injustice. Have the elites in Iowa and GR forgotten this part of our Kingdom vision?

Anonymous said...

Executive Director
Rehoboth Christian School
July 2000 – June 2009 (9 years) nuff said.

Anonymous said...

Well Put Ron. Right on the mark!

J. C. Schaap said...

Well said, Ron. I hope I'm not blindly following a party line. You have to remember that I'm a public school grad and my only high school teaching experience was in public schools, where, in Phoenix, I taught with terrific teachers under a super who was an evangelical Christian.

I'm all for justice too, but I'd hate to see public education get shafted for political support given to education as "private enterprise." And it's too easy right now to see that theory modeled by "Trump U," the Pres-elect's own own memorable foray into higher education.

I'll keep watching. Fact is, I couldn't listen to some of the questioning--it was really rough. But Washington, like the rest of the nation, is a war camp, as it's been for the last eight years.

And it seems to me--as I'm sure it does to you--that there is a significant, if not crucial difference between the concept of "kingdom" as you and I see it, and "kingdom" as people like her little brother see it.

Anonymous said...

Betsy's mother Elsa Prince spent a million dollars trying to take away my right to be married in California. That's all I really need to know. She was also a classmate of mine at Calvin, I was friends with her Suite mates. That was back when her husband to be commuting back and forth to school from his parents mansion in a powder-blue Cadillac Seville. If I was a person of faith I would pray that her nomination is rejected, but I guess I'll just be crossing my fingers and hoping that she goes back to buying influence in just Michigan

Ron Polinder said...

Please know that I am not bashing all public schools--nor is Betsy. Like you, Colleen and I had the privilege of starting our careers in a government (BIA) school--four wonderful years. Worked with some great teachers, and some lousy ones. Here in WA i met with public school principals once a month for 14 years, all of whom became friends.

But for those who the public school doesn't work, they deserve some options. We owe it to those poor kids trapped in in low performing schools. On the Rez, thousands of kids consigned to 3rd rate schools--how can we accept that and call it justice--while the wealthy can glibly choose private schools for their well-healed families.

And by the way, whoever "anonymous" is above who reported my recent years in Rehoboth, let me add that we also lived in NM from 68-82. Were you trying to throw a rock, in which case you should leave a note and sign your name.

Anonymous said...


No rock throwing for its own sake, but a little sunlight can be a good thing. How can you defend the family who gave millions of dollars to your organizations (Rehobeth and Calvin) without disclosing that fact ?

Piet said...

To Anonymous who put Ron's info from Rehobeth to make a point, be a man or woman and reveal yourself. He made great points, which I totally agree with regardless of his background. Knowing his background just adds to his conclusions, so thanks for that. I cant stand that troll that hides in the shadows. Piet Westerbeek......full disclosure......Jim Schaap's son-in-law.

Al Mulder said...

I too have aopreciation for choice if it's a choice for more than just those who can afford the co-pay. In Michigan the voucher system is a lot like white flight; it's great for those who can afford it. But in the process it further impoverishes the system for those whose circumstances allow no choice.

ronvdm said...

The problem is not just Dem vs Rep. Charter schools are not held to the same standards as public schools when it comes to students with disabilities. Neither are there employment protections for the teachers in most cases. Charters can be run more cheaply, but not necessarily more justly.
Thanks, Jim, for the kingdom thoughts. Civil religion seems to be the kingdom view of Dobson and F. Graham - and many who support them with prayers and cash.

Anonymous said...

I am the troll who made those comments about Betsy. And I will now release my identity. I am.......Obama.

Anonymous said...

Al Franken, Minnesota embarrassed himself and his party by opening his mouth. For the record, he was trying to ask a question about criterion referenced and norm-referenced testing and his ignorance of the topic "be-fuddled" Betsy. She gave a mis-guided answer to a mis-guided question.

I, like Betsy, have left the CRC [guys mowing their lawns with white shirts on will not address the problems she will encounter] but have been involved in public education for over 30 years as a teacher, a state director for DPI and union member. I encountered many quality teachers and administrators throughout my career BUT found the union was everything I was not. It supported every position I was against and visa versa. Betsy will find the "Union Kingdom" to be formidable and loaded with many miss-guided Al Frankens.

Her vision is fantastic... When I provided consultation and support to Milwaukee Public Schools I needed an escort to enter North Division and Lincoln. If learning occurred there, it was by accident. These schools were a slippery slide to the criminal justice system or the cemetery. Equal opportunity is needed... Betsy, go get em...

John Suk said...

Most (Christian) Reformed expressions of the KOG suggest that it is something divine out there that God runs and that we can somehow replicate in our institutions such that we can say, "Look! It's here, in our Christian school!" or "See, we're doing kingdom work in our xian labour union!" etc. To me, this is a very triumphalist notion, and one that always, always runs the risk of having "our" institutions mistake their aims for what God wants. I'd rather think of the kingdom (as someone else once suggested) as not being the CPU in our institutions, but as something that we try to make room for in our hearts.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not particularly sure I like my people being called 'a conservative Protestant sect,'" -- don't fret, she was referring to the Reformed Church. The CRC wasn't around. (I thought you went to a Presbyterian church?).

Her quote: "Dutch immigrants from a conservative Protestant sect chose this 'little Holland' in western Michigan more than 150 years ago". You're worried about someone's descriptor of a group, 150 years ago? About as bad as the writer above who remembers every detail about the Prince family, down to the color make and model of the brother's car. Green with envy.

Liberalism is a mental disorder.

Thank God for Trump!

jcdekker48@gmail.com said...

OK, here I am as a dual citizen (US/Cdn), having lived in Canada since 1986 and before that for years in Latin America. I have no special view or insight, but have been, as many, terribly saddened and disheartened by the evangelical crowding into Trump's actually quite small, significantly monochromatic tent: you know--popular vote loss, low voting by minorities. Yet I sure do resonate with you, Jim, about feelings with a fellow member of the tribe. You've put it better than most anyone else.

We welcomed the DeVos and Van Andel kids at Camp Roger for many summers and they were, quite frankly, darn good kids in all kinds of ways. I don't recall the Prince scions. Yet I believe it is frightfully difficult not to adopt American Imperial values and mix them in almost inextricably with Kingdom of God talk--if not valid biblical, self-critical historical thought. Just think, for example, of one of Robert Schuller's books being flogged onto CRC pastors for a few years after being paid for by not very anonymous donors of whom we are now speaking. Those were also years when Amway's founders were under indictment in Canada for Amway's alleged tax evasion, which took years to adjudicate.

Now, the point of this ramble is merely to say that I have more faith in Betsy De Vos's training and spiritual commitment to lead her conscience in directing the Dept of Education than I do in her new boss's administration to permit that. But it's going to be difficult, b/c the prosperity gospel heresy and the breath of American Exceptionalism have been pretty deeply part of the culture which her parents and in-laws helped promote, perhaps naively, but demonstrably. I do pray for Trump, his admisitration and the US every day, in hope, but not without significant anxiety.

Anonymous said...

Back in the day, I paid some good money to attend a Reformed college in northwest Iowa and learned that the KOG is any place where the will of God is being done. That was in John Kok's Philosophy 201 class. Or was it VanderStelt's?

Dan Plasman said...

Whatever Betsy DeVos believes about the Kingdom (can we please say Reign?) of God, her uninformed and woefully lame answers during the confirmation process proved she is unqualified for the position. By now we should know it's all about political contributions and nothing more.

And while we're at it, let's expose charter schools and school vouchers and many Christian schools for what they truly are: yet another form of segregation and another flavor of passive racism.

Ron Polinder said...

Dan:
I would need a fact check on this, but Dick and Betsy DeVos did not donate to Donald Trump's campaign until very late, if at all. They supported John Kasish, (as did II) So a comment about about their "political contribution" is merely a cheap shot.

And while noting cheap shots, your charge that charters and vouchers are forms of segregation are intended to be just the opposite--such enable low income families to actually attend charters or private schools. As a long time Christian school administrator, I pleaded and prayed for more minority students to attend our schools, Our students would benefit from that diversity--so don't so cheaply accuse us of segregation or passive racism.

bigbrother said...



No rock throwing for its own sake, but a little sunlight can be a good thing. How can you defend the family who gave millions of dollars to your organizations (Rehobeth and Calvin) without disclosing that fact ?

Ron, where is your answer ?

Ron Polinder said...

It never crossed my mind that I needed to disclose that. In the process of getting to know the families, I became very impressed with the character and substance of these people. Is that not a good reason to support them?

Are you suggesting that they bought my meager enforcement? How cynical and even stupid is that! Whoever you are, you have a complex of some kind, , and not integrity to hold yourself to the same standard your are asking of me. So, how about some sunlight from your end

Ron Hofman said...

Maybe simplistic but Reformed vision of kingdom as I had it articulated by Spykman back in the day could be the following:
It might look like folks who get involved with the local health care systems sitting on its committees and boards to bring the best health care to all the children of the region, not just those of the rich, and in so doing donate very large amounts of their largesse to make it happen (well before any buildings were named and continue to do so long after the buildings were named). It might look like folks who underwrite the symphony, go to its board meetings as they contemplate the arena of peformance and hire the new directors. It might look like being innovative in bringing a striking new approach to the display of art in a city engaging the artists, the media, and the businesses to vitalize a downtown for three weeks every year. It might look like engaging the educational arena including public institutions like Grand Valley State, Grand Rapids Public Schools as well as faith based educational institutions where the formulation of kingdom vision might be articulated. Or it might look like creating an innovative new high school that engages young people in future interest in aviation. It might look like being the quiet champions of non-profits that bring health care and daycare and last chance options at places like Baxter Community Center in Grand Rapids in addition to having passion about the unborn children of the disenfranchised.

Ron Polinder said...

Ron--that is a terrific statement--can you find other places to post it? Please?

I swear so many of our people have lost that vision, that understanding of what we are called to do. So disappointed in some Calvin grads who spout off without a clue of what this family has done. The good news is there are still lots of Calvin grads like you who can articulate it and live it full well.

Ron Hofman said...

I am not a social media junkie, just happened to be directed to your comments Ron. As a guy who grew up with a CRC preacher Dad whose every third word might have been kingdom and pastored Dutch immigrant churches as well as inner city churches, I grew to disdain the Falwell crowd that had a very skewed view of kingdom. But having been a first hand observer of the person(s) at the heart of this Blog- the DeVos family, it is fair to come to the defense when the criticism seems to come from folks who grew to reject their youthful exposure to kingdom articulation (often for good reason) but lose objectivity. Too easy to get in spittin' matches.

Ron Polinder said...

Ron, would you mind if I copied and pasted on my home page, with some slight editing. It is just so dog gone good--at least a few more people will read it.

Are you Laura's dad--she helped me find an attorney to help on a deportation case. This fella was just released after 10 months in detention--she was part of the process, which is likewise part of the Kingdom.