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  • Writer's pictureJared Cramer

Hundreds attend event supporting Christianity, but decrying Ottawa Impact

Below is an article from the Holland Sentinel about an event our church helped to host.

Four faith leaders, each representing their respective church in the Ottawa Coalition of Unifying Congregations, gathered in Grand Haven on Thursday, Aug. 17, to discuss the far-right politics displayed by commissioners aligned with Ottawa Impact.

The Mackinaw Ballroom in Central Park Place was filled beyond capacity with attendees of different Christian denominations for the panel: "Faith, Politics, and Ottawa County."

The event was moderated by Nick Brock, executive director of Vote Common Good West Michigan and co-founder of the Unifying Coalition of Ottawa County, a separate group created to “channel all efforts related to the opposition of Ottawa Impact and the strategies to vote them out in 2024."

The panelists included Rev. Kristine Aragon Bruce of First Presbyterian Church in Grand Haven, Rev. Jared Cramer of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Pastor Keith Mannes of the United Church of Christ in Holland and Co-Pastor Gordon Wiersma of Hope Church RCA in Holland.

The discussion centered on far-right political groups — chiefly Ottawa Impact — and how they've misinterpreted the Bible to justify acting "against the common good” of all people, especially in Ottawa County. The discussion went 30 minutes past the 90 minutes allotted to accommodate questions from the audience.

“I’m here tonight because I believe that Ottawa Impact is a religious movement that doesn't have anything to do really with the message of Jesus,” Mannes said. Mannes made headlines across the country in 2020 after walking away from his longtime church in Saugatuck over his parishioners' broad support of former president Donald Trump.

Pastor Keith Mannes speaks during a Vote Common Good event Monday, Aug. 1, 2022, at Park Theatre in downtown Holland.

“(The group) beats with a heart that is not the heartbeat of God and flows from the toxic stream that is religious Trump-ism and white nationalism," Mannes said. "I’m here to urge any person of good soul and good heart and simple faith within this room or outside this room to nonviolently and yet passionately reject and resist these deeply toxic religious and political movements.”

All 300 seats in the ballroom were filled by the start of the discussion, with several more attendees trickling in to stand. Ottawa Impact was not invited to participate.

“One of the problems we’re dealing with right now is that what's going on with Ottawa Impact and the form of Christianity that it represents has been building for a hundred years or longer in America,” Cramer said. "(It's) a very distinctive way of understanding faith, religion, the Bible and theology that has created a worldview that people cannot understand could possibly be wrong, and it’s based upon a continued refusal to pay attention to the insights of biblical scholars and modern and contemporary theologians.

“It’s hard to have these conversations because we exist in totally different worlds. ... I think what we all need to do is sit down and read the text of the scripture more carefully, because I can tell you, throughout my life, there have been times where I have read something and my life has been changed through the word of God, over and over again. When scripture stops changing you, that’s when you’ve given up on the whole thing.”

All of the panelists agreed that many of the political talking points of Christian nationalists are driven by “unbiblical” hate and fear, breaking apart the “beloved community” God intended.

“As Christians, we follow a God who became a man who was not born into royalty but in a barn,” Bruce said. “He wasn’t much to look at … and then he died a criminal’s death on a cross next to two thieves. I had a history professor say, ‘History is written by the winners,’ and unfortunately, in this country, we have made being Christians synonymous with being winners."

The Ottawa Coalition of Unifying Congregations was formed in June by eight member churches who believe their “commitment as Christians” led them to take a stand on various issues facing the county.

"While we do not, as churches, endorse or reject individual candidates for public office, we strive to support policies and programs which benefit all of our neighbors and speak out against those which do not," the coalition wrote in a statement in June.

The churches are advocating for their congregations to embrace diversity and belonging.

"We affirm the sacred dignity of every human being, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigration status, economic status, religion, background or ability. We reject any policies or programs that would undermine the dignity or inhibit the well-being of any resident of Ottawa County.

"We support the healing and reconciling work previously performed by Ottawa County’s Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. We grieve the manner in which this office was eliminated, its employees treated, and residents of our county deprived of its services."

The group went on to voice support for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health, which faces potentially severe budget cuts at the hands of the new board.

"We give thanks for the achievements of our Ottawa County Health Department and the work of organizations that provide needed health services. We affirm the role of physicians, mental health practitioners, and educators in determining public health and educational policies. We reject the devaluing of such professionals as they seek to care for all residents of our county."

The churches said "healing and reconciliation" are "deeply needed" in order for Ottawa County to move forward.

“All people made in the image of their creator have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness,” Bruce said. “I would say to the folks with Ottawa Impact: ‘I’m with you in your faith in Jesus Christ, we go about it different ways, but we just need to realize that we need to think about all people, not just people who think and look like us.’”

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